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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Orange Trees of Los Angeles

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by Stan Morris

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Besides the taste, the memory I have of visiting the orange groves is of all the cars parked along the road. We were not the only ones, it seemed, who had the idea of picking up oranges that had fallen on the ground along the side of the road. I'm sure this made the adventure much more difficult than it would have been if we had been alone, or at least with only a few other pickers about, for it meant that my dad and mom had to contend not only with the other pickers, but the likelihood that me or one of my brothers or my sister would thoughtlessly run out into the road in the path of an on-coming car.

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I’m sure my dad, who was a young earnest minister, did not consider it stealing to pick up oranges that had fallen over the fence onto the shoulder, or else his conscience would have bothered him, and if he had harbored any reservations about the morality of this, he would never have involved his wife and his four children. However, he sternly warned each of us that we were not to pick any oranges from the trees, even if the branch was clearly not in the field, but on the other side of the barbed wire, and even if we saw other people picking from the branches. However, oranges that lay on the ground in the public thoroughfare were fair game.

Since I remember this from a time when I was about eight years old, I cannot say how far from home we had to travel to get to the orange groves, but it must not have been far, for I don’t remember any of us kids asking, “Are we there yet?”

At that time, Norwalk was suburbia, but just barely. Behind our house was a barbed wire fence, and on the other side of the fence was a cow pasture for the dairy. On our side of the fence, there stood a cinder block, fireplace looking structure in which we could place our trash and burn it. This was one of the new and modern features of our track home. Los Angeles had not yet come to grips with air pollution.

We left Norwalk in the 1952 white and blue, four-door Oldsmobile that my grandfather had given to his son-in-law. It also was a modern wonder; it had an automatic transmission. I remember how much fun it was to ride in the back seat. The cushion on the bench seat was deep and we could bounce around, hang our heads out the side windows, look out the rear window, and even climb onto the wide ledge in front of the rear window, until my father yelled at us to get back down into the seat. There were no seatbelts in automobiles in those days. Unfortunately, there was also no air conditioning in that car. Traveling long distances in that car was an uncomfortable experience, especially when we visited our relatives in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. I hated Route 66.

But driving out to the orange groves was not unpleasant at all, and when we ended our orange gathering adventure and climbed back into our car, I was feeling happy, and I was looking forward to eating one of those sweet oranges. By then, other people were leaving also, but most of the traffic had cleared from the narrow rural road, and we had a leisurely drive home. Our adventure was over and tomorrow was Sunday, so my parents had to prepare for church. Monday I would be back at Elmcroft Elementary School. But as we drove home, I could always look forward to the next adventure. Perhaps we would visit the beach, or even Knott’s Berry Farm, or even, if my Dad was feeling rich, go to Disneyland.

Image: the four Morris children, provided by Stan Morris

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Stan Morris now lives in Kula, Hawaii; he may not have left the orange groves behind but he did leave Route 66 far behind – no more wide expanses of nothing but highway & far too few fruit stand oases.

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