When I was a little girl, I was afraid of a multitude of things, including lawn mowers, elevators, cat’s eyes, cuckoo clocks, the mosaic stone tower at Valley Fair Shopping Center in San Jose, and the revolving Hamm’s beer display (with a giant bear) at the local supermarket. Sometimes, with luck, those things would disappear. For example, my grandparents would nail shut the little door of their cuckoo clock whenever we visited. And the revolving Hamm’s display was ultimately taken down. I spoke Italian at that age, and when the scary things vanished I would ask my father where they had gone. “Dov’è la statua che gira?” (“Where is the statue that turns?”) And Dad would always answer, “It went to Bakersfield.” That town clearly had a lot of open space.
Well, one day when I was three years old, our family was driving to the L.A. area to visit our grandparents, and in those days you had to drive down Highway 99, which ran through the San Joaquin Valley and was the only major connection between northern and southern California.
Most of the towns along the route had arched signs over the highway, welcoming travelers to their communities.
So, visible from the highway was a big banner that announced “BAKERSFIELD” in enormous capital letters as we approached that cowboy town.
That would have been just fine, except that Jerry and Beverly Bocciardi had forgotten that they had taught their daughter to read at the age of three. (It was absolutely unheard of then, although common now.) So they were startled, to say the least, when an ear-piercing scream such as they had never heard before issued forth from their hysterical daughter in the back seat.
The scream did not relent. I shrieked all the way through Bakersfield and continued to shriek through the next three towns. My parents both suffered partial hearing loss. The sheer decibel level caused all the Bakersfield residents to stop in their tracks. Local lore has it that Buck Owens even wrote a song about “The Unending Scream.”
In my mind, all the lawn mowers, elevators, cuckoo clocks, disembodied cat eyes, stone towers, and Hamm’s beer displays were waiting along the side of that dusty road to attack me.
More than half a century later, my terror of even the word “Bakersfield” was finally alleviated when I reluctantly spent the first night of a ’cross-country trip there and was not assaulted by a marauding bear statue.
Whew. One totally unreasonable terror that I can now check off the list!