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Dust Bowl survivor Gladys Antle has been a part of Ceres for nearly 70 years
Gladys as young.tif
A pimply-faced Gladys Wynona Nutt, 13, lived in Perry, Okla. In three years she would be married. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Gladys Antle ambles onto the side yard of her rural Moffet Avenue home to an orange tree that is exploding with a new winter crop. She squeezes a ripening orange dangling above her short frame and proclaims that they are the best that she's ever had and that the tree must be as old as her 1912 home.

The oranges are just a continuation of the good things that Ceres has given Gladys, who has found enough reason to stay for the past 67 years.

Her tree shows no signs of stopping -- neither does Gladys. At age 92, she still likes to do her own yard work, has shunned use of a scooter, just renewed her driver's license and carries out homemaking traditions which she learned in her girlhood days of Oklahoma many decades ago.

"I've been through the Great Depression, seen man walk on the moon, seen a world war, seen all of the changes in electronics," said Antle. "I've seen a lot of tragedies and a lot of heartaches. I don't know what keeps me going."

Two heartaches were recent. She buried her son Marvin in 1988 and her husband in 1992. In 2011 a heart attack claimed son Jack and sister Leautha Anderson passed away.
"It's been two of the hardest years I've ever put in."

Her early years - following her March 10, 1920 birth in Niles, Oklahoma - were just as hard. Gladys Wynona Nutt was the eldest of seven girls. Only two sisters survive today: Joann Delhart and Janice Pence, both of Ceres. Their parents, Loyd and Mary Nutt, eeked out a life of toil in Lucine where he tried his hand at farming.

"My father was a wanderer. Every year we moved to a different farm. He just thought one would do better than the other. I grew up with young parents. We had a good time. They were fun. We didn't know we were poor."

Her parents put on "house dances" with dad playing the harmonica and mom the organ. Loyd also called square dances.

The Dust Bowl and Depression bankrupted her dad's farm and broke his dreams of making it as a farmer so he resorted to jobs in "broom corn" in Kansas. When he landed a job in the oil fields, "life got better."

"I had a good teenage life," said Gladys who never finished high school in Perry, Okla., because she "had a bunch of little sisters to take care of." That job fell to her as the oldest because her dad sustained a 1936 accident in the oil fields and their mother had to be away in Oklahoma City to be with him in the hospital.

She remembers the horribleness of the Dust Bowl, with its skies choked in dark clouds of thick dust, that drove many from Oklahoma to California.

"We couldn't even hang out clothes," Antle remembers. "We had two babies by then so we couldn't hang out the diapers. We would keep them in cold water and then when the dust would settle down then we would rush out and hang the diapers out."

She remembers the dust clouds starting in 1931 and ending some six years later.

"Most all the people were already gone and had already lost their farms and everything. You couldn't keep the dust out of the house and you'd have to keep your food all covered. And so many children lost their children to ‘dust pneumonia' but we made it."

The Dust Bowl occurred as the result of the Kansas prairies being disked up in preparation for the planting of wheat in the 1920s since wheat prices were going up. But when the drought hit and the Oklahoma winds dried out the soil, the dust blew from the Midwest all the way to the east seaboard. That started the mass exodus of "Okies" to California in the mid-1930s.

Gladys, then 16, remembers meeting Clifford "Bud" Antle at a 1936 barn dance. She didn't care for him at first because he smoked cigarettes that he rolled by hand and he reeked of cigarettes. But when he called on her for a date six months later, Gladys said yes and "really fell in love with him" despite the habit. They were married that year.

While in Oklahoma, the couple had their first baby, Marvin, in 1937. Melvin "Buddy" came in 1939 and Patricia in 1941.

Life only grew more stressful in 1940 when Bud lost his thumb and finger while using a saw to cut up and sell firewood for Christmas gift money. The injury disqualified him from the draft as a 4-F classification.

While many fled Oklahoma for work in California, Gladys and Bud stuck it out for a while. They liked being close to family and the prairie was all they ever knew. But the outbreak of World War II in 1941 created a labor shortage in the United States, particularly in California where ships were being manufactured for war.

"We were thinking shipyards," said Antle.

Bud had an idea to take one of Gladys' sisters with them to California to babysit their three children as they worked. But Glady's mother said "Geneva won't go without Lorita. She was 13. So we took two girls with us."

The family ended up in Oceanside in 1944 with the intent of working in the shipyards. However, Bud found work as a mechanic at Camp Pendleton Marine Base. Glady's teenage sisters loved the beach and the men who came courting but Bud's homesickness caused them to abandon California for Oklahoma in four short months. Bud's distaste for living so far from family and his preference for his native state caused them to miss out on an opportunity to buy an acre with a little house on the Southern California beach surrounded by avocado trees for $900.

The couple would yo-yo back and forth between Oklahoma and California before the Antles stayed in California, this time in Patterson where a sister of Bud's had moved. Bud worked in the fields.

On a whim they decided to set out for Alaska but "never got that far," laughed Gladys. Something grabbed them about the Modesto area. The Antles purchased a house on Walnut Avenue in Ceres in 1946, the same year that their last child, Jack, came along.

Ceres had an appeal because it was small -- approximately 1,542 residents - and was not unliked the countryside that they knew in Oklahoma.

"We didn't even have a stop light," said Gladys of Ceres. "We saw Ceres grow."

Gladys was a stay at home mom but after the kids were grown she worked in the cannery.

"I worked hard at home because I was dress maker, alteration and cared for all the children. My husband was real firm about that. He sort of came from the old school. The women didn't work. So I never got my shipyard either."

Downtown Ceres was a short walk away with places with things to do. Gladys remembers Carl Miner at Miner's Department store on Fourth Street. Her memory also recalls Red's Pool Hall, Joe Berg who had the men's clothing store, Muscheo's Shoes and Mae's Café, Aspinal's Hardware Store, Better Way Market, the small Vincent family operated Ceres Water Works, Florence's Dress Shop, and a tiny five and 10 cents store whose name escapes her. She remembers Claude McKnight at Ceres Drug Store.

"We didn't have a telephone and lots of times I'd walk there to use their telephone in the drug store and it was an old French telephone. I would love to have that today."

The post office was on Fourth Street then as was a small movie theater in the building across the street from Ceres Drugs today. Gladys' kids would collect soda bottles and redeem them for change to buy 10-cent movie tickets.

Homer Barbour had his service station near the frontage road at Richland Avenue back then. Ted Fiskin always accommodated the kids when they only wanted 10 cents or a quarter for gas at his service station on Whitmore Avenue at Fourth Street. Fiskin would go out of his way to help others with car trouble or jumping dead batteries by making "house calls."

The Ceres Dehydrator - located on the site of the AM/PM and Sutter Gould medical offices on Whitmore Avenue - is where just about every kid in town worked cutting peaches and apricots during summer months. In fact, the start of school would be delayed to accommodate harvest.

Gladys remembers swimming in canals and picking wild berries - things kids today don't get to do.

"We would look at our life now and compared to then, that was the happiest time of our life."

Because the family only had a pickup and there was a lot of walking into town, Gladys remembered calling attention for the city to install a stop light so kids could safely cross the highway, which at that time was at grade level much like South Ninth Street in Modesto today. In no time a light was installed next to Hendy's Drive-in, which Gladys swears provided the tastiest hamburgers ever.

Far from wealthy, the Antles enjoyed their quiet life in Ceres. They owned a Model A and were part of the local Model A Club.

With the kids grown, Gladys opened a shop in 1978 with Maud Lindsey, in the Fourth Street building that today houses a thrift store. For nine and half years the Dollar Saver was a place where Cereans could buy reduced overstocked items from such stores as Mervyn's.

"They would stand in line to get in the store," she remembers.

Alzheimer's claimed her husband in 1992 and Gladys learned life on her own.

Daughter Patty knows she can't get her mom to slow down but an ominous heart condition threatens that pace.
"She's very independent but we just found out the other day that she's got other heart issues that have no treatment and no cure," said Patty. "The valves on the heart, one is hardening and one is leaking. It's not good."

Doctors say there is little promise for a cure, but then again, Gladys knows that she's surpassed life expectancy. She is grateful for her life experiences, most of which have been spent in Ceres.

"I've had a wonderful life."