“Dad, What’s a Cherry Tree?”

I grew up in a poor, small Mexican barrio in south Modesto during the 1940s. As a boy, during summers, I picked fruit, apricots, peaches, grapes and even pears up in the Clear Lake for spending money. I loved the valley’s orchards with their “complimentary” bounty. Our swimming pools were the Tuolumne River and surrounding canals. My mom worked in the cannery and smells of tomatoes and peaches permeated the air.

I never imagined I would leave Modesto, but the opportunity came to me in an unexpected way when two of my high school art teachers prompted me to go to art school in the Bay Area. The thought of living in a huge, cold metropolis frightened me, but I went anyway.

Then, I fell in love. The beauty and lure of Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco was intoxicating. Here was culture, art, music, concerts, museums and a chance to meet people from across the country and the world. It was the late 50s and 60s, the epoch of Beat Generation, Beatniks, Hippies and protests, and I lapped it up, fell right in line. More and more Modesto, became for me a “hick town” a “cow town”, and I knew I could never return.

There is a Mexican “dicho” or proverb that says “A liar falls before the lame man.”  Yet, a complex series of events, including a three-year stint in the Army after college, brought me complete circle. In 1966, I settled back into my uncles’ house, smack in the barrio where I had grown up! And I looking around I noticed the small town tranquility, its untrafficked streets, and the lovely orchards of my childhood, so I stayed.

But the valley’s orchards are under siege. Moving to Stockton in 1975, I’ve witnessed this slow death. On Holman Road, near Chavez High is one of Stockton’s last cherry orchards. I looked forward to blossom time and seeing the workers picking cherries in early summer. Recently, they have begun to plow it under. Now, I will need to draw a picture of a cherry tree for my great grandson.

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  • Blog Author

    Richard Rios

    Richard Rios is a retired English and Chicano Studies teacher after 33 years at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton. Born in Modesto in 1939, the son of Mexican immigrants, he graduated from Modesto High School in 1957. He went on to study art at ... Read Full
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