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Remembering what used to be locally
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Those who want a stroll down memory lane ought to pay the Ceres Museum a visit this Saturday. Open from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., the museum on Fifth Street offers some neat old photographs of Ceres and shows what the town used to look like.

Being a local historian, I am fascinated by old photos of Stanislaus County and admit that some old have jarred my memory of things that were once part of the local landscape.

Many of the images I've seen go deeper into past history than 1961 when I arrived on the planet. I now have a much different view of Ceres now that I've seen from whence it came. For example, I saw a photo of the movie theater on Fourth Street in what is now a church across from Ceres Drug Store. It was a small one-screen theater but a reminder of how times have really changed. Another photo shows the murals going up on the downtown Ceres buildings a few months before I was born, which are still visible today.

This journey down photo memory lane got me thinking about some of the local color that is both gone and some still around today.

Remember trips driving south down Highway 99 where all those "Giant Orange" stands were located? Those were the days when you could actually pull your car off the freeway without use of an offramp to get a hot dog or hamburger. The hokie things were made of bent plywood. I remember the one near Merced, and the Mammoth Orange near Chowchilla. These giant oranges operated as juice stands, eagerly awaiting thirsty travelers to pull over and partake of their fresh cold OJ. Frank Pohl started the chain of "Giant Orange" stands in Tracy. The franchise peaked in the 1950's with approximately 16 different stands built throughout Northern California from Bakersfield to Sacramento to Merced and Redding. I think I remember hamburgers being served there but I could be wrong.

On trips to Fresno I remember the Oberti Olives billboards planted outside of an olive orchard where the kid is reaching through the "O" to grab for olives. It was my first realization that billboards were able to catch my attention.

I remember days when Highway 99 was not the freeway it is today but went right through Ceres, Keyes, Modesto and Turlock. That meant you stopped at the red lights. And I recall the accidents at those red lights. I remember being a wide-eyed kid who passed by one gruesome accident in Keyes, getting a view of bloody bodies.

It was a big deal, I recall, as a kid in the 1970s to see this huge mound of dirt being built up south of Keyes which later became an overcrossing at Taylor Road.

Speaking of Keyes, I remember Hugh Bagley, the perennial candidate who had a roadside exhibit for his candidacy for governor in the 1980s. My dad came home one day and gave me a fake dollar bill which was a campaign piece which he signed for my dad to give me. I still have the corny souvenir. Talk about local color! Bagley boasted that he was born so prematurely that his mother put him in a shoe box and fed him with an eyedropper. But honestly how could any man with that name expect to be elected to any office?

As a kid we'd often drove from Modesto to see grandparents in Merced County and we'd often pass by those drive-in theaters at night. I remember seeing the movies flickering on the outdoor screens in Keyes (Starlite Drive-in) as well as the Ceres Drive-In. We'd try to get as much as the movie as 65 mph would allow before they disappeared from sight.

Much in the same way that a song can immediately transport me back to a specific memory or experience, some views are stuck in my mind as an association to an event in my life. My grandmother in Livingston kept me and my younger brother when my mother gave birth to our youngest brother 5 1/2 years my junior. Nana drove us up 99 to see him in the hospital and I remember fascinated by the wrecked car in the wrecking yard to the east of 99 just south of the Tuolumne River. It's still there and when I see it I think of that 1967 ride to see Jason for the first time.

When my parents moved me to Modesto in 1966 one significant memory was my mom taking me to Montgomery Ward on McHenry Avenue. I'm sure that I probably saw Gary Condit who was working there as a college kid in the 1970s. I didn't care about Montgomery Ward (now Burlington Coat Factory) except for the toys and possibly the pet shop in the back of the store. I did, however, relish in the one and only McDonald's in Modesto located across the street. I remember cars being able to pull up to the landscaped median and watching squirrels stealing away french fries.

In those years in Modesto, I recall the intersection of Tully and Standiford being "out in the sticks" with orchards surrounding it. Today the corner is swallowed up by city, anchored by a McDonald's, Taco Bell, Boston Market and two shopping centers.

I also remember when the MID canal went smack dab down the middle of Briggsmore and was our favorite swimming holes. Those were the days when Kmart at Briggsmore and 99 was one of the few inexpensive places to buy clothing. But then again I also remember when Sears and Penney's were located in downtown Modesto. That was before the Vintage Faire Mall opened in the 1970s.

When I was a teen I became intimately acquainted with the old Whitmore School which in the 1970s was the CUSD headquarters. I spent many a Wednesday afternoon and evening learning the art of putting a newspaper together in the ROP newspaper production office. Little did CUSD know they were grooming a future editor of the hometown paper.

I realize my memories may be a lot older than most living in the area. But there's some like my Dad who remember more, such as when McHenry Village was once so far out in the country north of Modesto that many were thinking it was ridiculous. And old-timers may remember the Burger 19 eatery in Ceres located near the drainage basin of the Pine Street overpass; it's gone today but it's one of those things that I wish had survived. But much of downtown Ceres was obliterated during the expansion of the highway during the 1960s.

Boy, I don't feel old but my memory is starting to tell me something very differently.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know at