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Colusa follows Steinbeck back to 1930s
To read how some Colusa County families came to the area, or to learn more about the Virginia Yerxa Community Read, visit www.virginiaread.net
Bonnie Emery remembers seeing a little girl at Davison’s Drugs one day, her arms, legs and face swollen by insect bites.
Then, the store was located at Fifth Street.
“Mr. Davison went through the roof,” Emery recalls.
Arch Davison, the father of Jim Davison and grandfather of current owner Frank Davison, provided the girl with some skin medication, and sent her on her way.
The girl was part of a migrating farm family, many of whom simply set up camps in the orchards or near the fields where they worked.
“As a 10-year-old, I remember thinking how horrible it was to live that way,” added Barclay Braden.
The women’s memories of their early days in Colusa County were triggered by an old film reel, converted for use on a laptop, and featured at the third annual Virginia Yerxa Community Read on Saturday.
The event is held in honor of Virginia Yerxa, who had a passion for children’s education and promotion of reading. She died in October 2009.
Sacramento Valley Museum officials said the original film was given to a board director about 20 years ago, though the name of the donor was not recorded.
It showed some of what life was like in during the Depression years – the time frame of John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer-winner, “The Grapes of Wrath.”
It included images of the county that are still recognizable today, such as one of the earliest crop dusters, as well as snippets of a beekeeping operation – perhaps that of the Foster family, which expanded their apiary business from the Idaho and Montana area to Colusa County when Howard Foster purchased Tom Burleson’s operation.
Diane Bransford, Foster’s daughter, told that story on the Virginia Read website, one of several short biographies that recall how some Colusa County families arrived here.
“Reading the catalog of Oklahoma towns in The Grapes of Wrath is like listening to my Granny Brown tell a story,” Matthew Brown wrote in his family biography.
“Her people were from Tahlequah, just about fifty miles north of Sallisaw where the Joads rolled their ancient Hudson out onto the highway. My Granddad was from down around Cordell, and just about every other part of Washita County, southwestern Oklahoma. They traveled a path between those ends of the state for many years. My uncle, Billy Brown, was born down in Washita in 1940 in a town called Port that ceased to be recognized by the state as a town that same year.”
Brown goes on to describe the drought that gripped much of the country, and became to be known as the Dust Bowl years in the Oklahoma area.
The Joads are the family in Steinbeck’s novel, and tells of their migration to California in an attempt to find work and a new life.
Within the trials and tribulations of that one family, Steinbeck explains the difficulties facing farm laborers, everything from the competition for jobs, the greed of the farm owners and the pressures of an increasingly mechanized industry.
The novel was this year’s Virginia Read selection, following “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “Moby Dick.”
The Sacramento Valley Museum returned to the Virginia Read this year, after participating with gusto in the inaugural year with items that related to the Mark Twain classic.
Museum director Kathy Manor admits, with a chuckle, the Williams-based museum had little to offer to Capt. Ahab’s obsession for the great white whale last year.
But that was not the case this year.
The project, spearheaded by volunteer archivist Emily Conrado, showed a number of items from the Depression area, from furniture to table goods.
Among those were Coors Pure Malted Milk and an item from the Pabst company. Conrado said it showed what those firms turned to during the years of Prohibition.
But the real story was how Colusa County, like much of California, actually drew during those years.
“While the rest of the country was going through the dust storms and drought, Colusa County was creating a lot of agriculture,” Conrado said.
Artist Jeff Myers dazzled visitors with his “Land Series” work, and Gordy Ohliger entertained folks with story and music as well.
There was also a discussion about the book headed by California State University, Chico, professor Matt Brown.
In conjunction with the Virginia Read, the Arts Council of Colusa County had a black and white photography show that had the feel of those same years.
Next spring’s choice of literature will be announced in December. Suggestions are welcome.