Growing up on the west side of the Valley on the family turkey farm in the Burrel area was a great childhood experience that still affects me profoundly. It was a life from another era, with few worries and lots of hope!
I remember in my grammar school years that it was always a treat to have visitors, but I especially loved it when city-raised kids came out to the farm. That’s because I could indoctrinate the naive unsuspecting youths with a world of excitement they had no idea existed! It always seemed after it was all over that they were changed forever and never wanted to leave.
When a new kid came by with their parents to see my folks, I usually grabbed this latest “victim” ( I mean “recruit”) and started the process of getting him up to speed on what real fun was all about. The first step was getting him on the bikes so we could head out for the back of the ranch and hunt for the elusive horned toads hiding in the sandy soil. Since they had never seen one of these critters before, it was a great way to break in a new kid — especially when the horned toad would push blood out of their eyes, as they do when threatened, while they held it. Yikes! First test!
If they passed that test, it was off to the cardboard fort we had built in the alkali weed forest. Pretty neat deal if I say so myself. Lots of lizards in the area, too, so seeing if the new kid could catch them, and also handle it when they lost their wiggling tail (that kept wiggling after the escaping lizard scampered off), was another moment of truth. Did this kid have any guts or not!
The next level of testing came with the obligatory clod fight. The rules were simple: Stand 20 paces away from each other in a newly furrowed field and try to hit the other guy! Hard rocks were prohibited, but they snuck into the lobbing war at times; and I thought I had killed my cousin one time when a perfectly thrown clod caught him on the side of the head, just as he looked up from searching for a perfect “missile” to lob at me. He staggered around for a minute or two, but I was greatly relieved when he told my aunt that it was an accident — even though all the matted dirt in his hair was hard to overlook!
After that it was on to our BB guns and shooting at the birds in our farm shop or the bottles and cans near the trash cans out back. If the newbie showed that he was a farm kid at heart, we were now ready to share our real “treasures,” which meant that we were going fishing! In the very back of our ranch, about three-quarters of a mile away from our house, was an irrigation ditch that carried a good flow of water in season. My Dad had shown me that if you fished right behind the small cement weir in the boiling 3-foot water, you could entice little bass, carp and bluegill into biting a worm. Whoa!
Breaking out the small trout poles tipped with a small egg hook and a little sinker, we would mount our bikes for the trek down the dirt road, headed out for the nether regions and bent on an exciting fishing expedition! Once we got there, we would dig up a few earthworms in the watergrass, put them on the hook and drop ’em in the water. A massive 2-inch bluegill would usually grab it and take off about then. The city kids? They usually flipped out! This was real fun!
The bite was sporadic, but the fish were hungry and willing to hit ferociously. Once in awhile, we even got a 5-inch bass, which was a trophy! Funny how aggressive the carp could get in the current as they vied with the other tiny fish looking for a meal! These city kids had never had so much fun and it was funny to see the transformation in their attitudes about country living as we “broke them in” to the real joys of being a farm kid and fishing! It was the best of times … and I miss it! Never give up!
New Melones the destination for bass and trout anglers, John Lietchy said. Shaver Lake trout limits possible, Dick Nichols reported. Don Pedro kicking out big bass, Dave Hurley reported.