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!

5 thoughts on “Screaming through Bakersfield

  1. Love ALL your stories Paula. I forgot the details of this one so reading it again was super duper. Keep them coming. I like the idea of a PULITZER PRIZE for a compilation book!!!

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  2. Travel for me of any kind was rare. I think I would find your experiences exciting if for no other reason but being different. My life was so routine I could have just stayed in bed.

    I have trouble today with all this racial activity. You have to hate to have it. I lived in Wilmington, port town of Los Angeles Harbor, and you wouldn’t see or hear anything racial. What a mix of nationalities, and we all got along great. You have to be taught to hate I think. Wilmington, at least during my time, was a fair place too live. I haven’t been there since 1949 when we built our first house in Rolling Hills. I don’t want to go back and see it. At that time the area was exactly what the name said, Rolling Hills. Hills green with grass, of cows grazing, wild peacocks, a famous red fox, horses and very few homes. It was a fantastic place to raise kids, but perhaps I’ve mentioned it before. The funny thing about our moving there was it had a different affect than what Glenn had been expecting. We had lived so centrally located that all Glenn’s seamen friends would stop by all the time for a cup of coffee and conversation. Glenn didn’t like that, so he isolated me by building our house far enough people stopped coming by. I was amazed how many people called to tell me just that, “Glenn is isolating you.” He did from our old friends, but I made many more by organizing a property owners association which turned out very successful. What a fabulous place to raise a family. We had our own school system so it was like going to a private school. Glenn tried once again years later to isolate me by building a home in Caldwell, Idaho of all places. The farmers and Glenn just didn’t hit it off, so a year later we moved again, this time to San Francisco. >

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