I Remember When …
In 1960 going to the Fresno River to fish, I managed to catch 18 large-mouth bass in one afternoon. All these were caught under the bridge at 145 and Tozer using rebel lures. These fish all weighed in at a pound or a little more. At the age of 12, this was quite a load to get back to Will Gill and Sons ranch.
We lived on Road 25 1/2 just south of the ranch. But with a bicycle and wagon, anything was possible. Fishing the Fresno River was my favorite pastime. Bullfrogs and fresh water lobsters were plentiful.
You could also catch a turtle but they were plenty mean. I remember when my aunt caught more than one of these at the pond just above the dam. She had to remove their heads to get them off her pole.
I remember when my neighbor offered 25 cents each for every bullfrog I could catch. People were poor in those days and 2 bits was serious money, he was expecting to pay a buck for a nice mess of frog legs. I called my best bud Ed and told him the deal I made. We got together that same afternoon and went to our front gigging area. By 4 p.m. that day, we had collected 50 nice-size frogs and went to settle up.
The old boy that wanted these frogs was very old and couldn’t work anymore. Even if he had worked, minimum wage was 50 cents an hour. He was totally amazed at the frogs, and told us outright he couldn’t afford no 50 frogs. That was $12.50 and was a small fortune to him. Ed and I just laughed and asked for five bucks, which he had. That gave us the money to buy a year’s supply of BBs, soda, and ice cream. And he had several good meals of frog legs, plus we furnished all the carp he wanted as a bonus.
These were very plentiful in the Fresno River and were caught by hand. We called it noodling, where you went along the banks feeling the holes in the river bank. You could feel the fish and run your hand along his back, find his gills and insert your hands and just lift them out.
Only problem was I weighed in at about eighty pounds and Ed was maybe 60 or so. The fish got up over 25 pounds. and did not want to give up easily. What a blast, just good clean fun.
My future wife, when she was 11, caught a big carp while noodling. She was so proud and decided to take it home, where her step dad threw it out and yelled about carps being worthless. The best way to hurt someone is with words. The pain from this is felt till this day.
I remember when we decided to go to the Madera Theatre and watch a movie and cartoon. What a nice place. At night they had an usher to take you to your seat, using a flashlight. My mom and dad would go and watch James Cagney movies. I opened my mouth once and said something and was hushed almost outta there.
What a fancy place, not like the Rex Theatre across the street. When we went there, I couldn’t figure out why people bought popcorn. The floor was covered with it, all you wanted. People waded in it, what a waste. Little kids had all they wanted, FREE!
I remember when my dad would stand in the sun on main street by the Seaberry Copland building. He wore his overalls like all the Okies and Arkie’s who farmed in those days. The men would gang up on the corner and talk about better times, while the wives went to Penney’s or Rosco’s to shop. Then we would all go to Morse and Hass to get groceries.
I remember my dad had a big garden, and he would sell his vegetables there. My favorite was going to Bruno’s Sporting Goods store by the Madera Theatre. The owner rode around on a tricycle, and he carried everything a young hunter/fisherman wanted. If he didn’t have it, he would order it.
I remember when I started Madera High in 1961, he sold Levis at $2.50 a pair. I got all my school clothes there.
I remember when the middle class shopped in Madera, which was a growing city of 10,000 folks. I remember when Madera had a zoo, three theatres and nice restaurants. I remember when you could go out to dinner, then dance with your wife until 2 a.m. while enjoying live music. Couples had a choice of three places you could dance and then go have breakfast.
These are all just memories of what was. Now we live in a gated community on the west side of town. We have a security system for when we leave, we can be fairly sure we won’t get burglarized. All of our doors stay locked with drapes closed on the windows. We won’t shop downtown; afraid someone might see us there and people would talk behind our backs. Same with the dollar stores and even Walmart.
These stores are for the poor and working classes. The middle class now goes to Fresno, or even Merced, to their malls and would move if they could afford to do so. Rancho’s is always full and houses sell rather quickly. The west side of Madera still has some diehard middle and upper class, but is slowly evolving into something else.
I realize I will get tons of replies, and some will actually tell me to leave. But I want you to know that I was born here, went to school here, graduated here. My parents, two sisters and brother are buried here.
This is my home town and I have seen the illegals come here by the car load. The downtown is now their place to shop and looks like old Mexico. Only Social Service offices and banks survive. People traveling the 99 North and South just drive on through. The truck stop and Ave 18 and a half is the only decent stop in the city of Madera.
My wife and I still like to dance, and we would love to noodle along the Fresno River which, we can see from our house. I remember when we could ...
— James D. Brooks,
US Navy Retired