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Growing up where everyone knew everybody

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Growing up where everyone knew everybody

Anita Montiel lives next door to the home she was raised in.


POSTED January 7, 2012 2:11 a.m.

LATHROP – Imagine this. It’s summertime in the valley. The days are oppressively hot. But the nights are cool with a hint of Delta breezes, and the soft Bermuda grass carpeting the spacious back yard conveniently conspire to create an attractive cocoon for a rendezvous with Morpheus right there under the stars.

Arnita Montiel does not have to imagine this scenario. This is not just a figment of her imagination. She lived it.

“We slept outside all summer long. We just had beds out there,” Montiel said with nostalgia, reminiscing her childhood in a bygone era. “You can’t do that anymore. Times have changed so much that you wouldn’t dare do that anymore.”

She was talking about her growing-up years in the small community of Lathrop in the late 1930s and early 1940s and just before World War II.

And even when she was already married to her late husband, Manuel Yepez, sleeping al fresco in their back yard during summer time was the rule rather than the exception – just like it was when she was a little child. After living for six years on Gold Street in Manteca, she and her husband bought the “little house” that her parents owned next door to where they lived on Seventh Street, right across the street from the railroad where her father was employed. The little house also had a spacious back yard where they camped out at night during the hot summer nights.

“We had a refrigerator and TV out there and slept out there at summer time,” said Montiel who still lives, with husband Jim, in the same compound that her family had called home for decades. Her daughter also lives in another house built on the property.

“You could go to bed at night and not worry about locking your windows” in those days, she added.

Montiel, who worked at Tracy Defense Depot for 27 years before she retired, shared other “best memories” growing up in Lathrop.

Hot water bottles from everyone in town helps save preemie baby

“Mama said that I was a preemie,” recalled Montiel, one of Lathrop’s busiest volunteers, along with husband Jim.

“So daddy went over to get Dr. Hidy (in Manteca) and he delivered me. In those days, everybody was born at home. Then daddy went around Lathrop gathering all the hot water bottles from people and Dr. Hidy made me an incubator. Mama said he came several times a day, and at night, to change me and take care of me. I weighed about 3 lbs. Isn’t that something?” Montiel said with awe in her voice.

Her father managed to collect hot water bottles from practically everybody who owned one at the time because, as she explained it, “Lathrop was such a small town you knew everybody.”

In fact, she said, “half the town was related to us.” Among her relatives is former Manteca mayor Carlon Perry who grew up in Lathrop.

Montiel recalled that Dr. Hidy’s medical office was located two blocks from Manteca High on a street corner, but can’t remember the cross street. After he retired, a heart specialist whose name Montiel recalled phonetically as Dr. VanderGroban, took over Dr. Hidy’s office.

Incidentally, Arnita’s name is a combination of her parents’ names – Arnie and Juanita. She was the baby in a family of four children.

Her father came to California from Wisconsin in 1909 when he was 10 years old. Her mother, who “worked at Frozen Foods and was forelady there,” was a California native. She was born Juanita Gallego in 1906, the year of the great San Francisco earthquake. “That’s why I used to tease her that she caused the earthquake but she would point out that she was born in September that year,” Montiel said with a laugh. The catastrophic earthquake happened on April 18.

Her mother had an older brother and sister who also lived in the area. Their father, Montiel said, was the constable in Lathrop at one time. His name was Reynaldo Gallego who was married to Pilar Gallego.

“Our roots go very, very deep in Lathrop. My mama and dad went to the old Lathrop Grammar School. I’m thinking it must have been the one on Fifth and J Street. In her later years, mama went to Lathrop Grammar School, because I have pictures of her and her classmates.”

Montiel’s two brothers, Leland and Jack, are both deceased. Her sister, Donna Toggle, lived in Manteca for a while and is now living in Ripon to be close with her daughter.

“There were five generations of us that went to Lathrop Grammar School,” said Montiel who, like many Lathropians in those days, attended Manteca High “because that was the only high school at that time. But that stopped with me.”

By that time, East Union High School had opened and that’s where all of Montiel’s children graduated.

“I have grandchildren that went there (at East Union), and I have grandsons that went to Sierra High. Now, I have a great-grandson at Lathrop High School.”

Between Arnita and Jim, they have 8 children, 18 grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren.

Horseback riding around Lathrop and playing at the train depot

Montiel also remembers horseback riding all around town with her dad as a child, and playing with her sister at the train depot where their father worked.

“My sister and I used to go down at the depot and play at the depot. We’d play inside in the waiting room, and outside on those big – I don’t know what they called them – baggage carts, I’d say. Dad had to change baggages from one train to the other, because lots of trains came here when I was growing up. Lathrop was booming. We had troop trains with troops in them. Both my brothers were in the war (World War II), so those were good memories and sad memories of that part of our life,” Montiel remembered.

“Just growing up in Lathrop when it was such a small town and everybody knew everybody,” is her fondest childhood memory, she said.

“It was a joy to live here. Too bad that it had to grow, but that’s the way it goes. We have made a lot of progress. For a while, it didn’t seem like Lathrop wasn’t gonna grow big, but we have a lot of homes now,” Montiel said.

“Lathrop used to be agricultural fields. That’s what I grew up in. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to have lived in those times, because the kids nowadays don’t know what it’s like. Everything is electronic to them. They don’t have the fun times that we had. I’m so glad that I had the chance to be raised here,” Montiel concluded.

— Rose Albano Risso

staff reporter

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