Editor’s note: An occasional series on the people who have helped build Manteca as the city gets ready to celebrate the 100th anniversary of incorporation this year.
Rosalene Brumley’s love of Manteca runs deep.
While she won’t hesitate to tell you how Manteca has changed in ways that she is less than thrilled about — too much traffic for starters — she is unequivocal in her insistence that she wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
“I still like living in Manteca as much as I don’t like (how it has changed),” Brumley said. “Manteca is the place to be if you want to settle down and raise a family.”
There aren’t many people — if any — who can say they are a first-hand expert of sorts on what Manteca has been like over the years as a place to live, work, and play.
That’s because Brumley beat Manteca to the punch.
Brumley was born May 27, 1917 — one day prior to Manteca’s incorporation as a city.
Her parents — John and Lillian Cardoza — along with her siblings moved to Manteca to farm from Castroville in 1917 bringing with them 50 dairy cows.
“My mom was pregnant with me when we moved,” Brumley said.
It was a move some have questioned over the years given the contrasting summers of triple digit heat in Manteca and the fog shrouded farmland along Monterey Bay.
But the place that some people told her was a “hell hole” was heaven on earth when it came to family, friends, and good times.
A trip into town to deliver
milk for shipping
to milkshake treat at Creamery
“That’s what is important,” the 99-year-old said. “You knew everyone. You’d go into stores and they’d treat you like family.”
Her father was an immigrant from the Azores Islands while her mother was born in Castroville. When they took up an offer from Manuel Rodriguez to move to his ranch just east of Manteca, her mother traveled here in a horse and buggy and her father went by train along with their 50 cows.
Her father, mother and brothers would get up at 4 a.m. to milk the cows and do so again at 4 p.m.
She recalled how her father tried to teach her to milk cows but it didn’t take. He’d milk 20 cows while she was still working on one.
“I don’t like the taste of milk,” she said. “When it comes from the cow it is foamy.”
Her father, however, was firm in his insistence that she needed to drink a glass of milk placed in front of her at the table.
That said, she absolutely loved what could be made with the cream including freshly churned butter and whipped cream.
She recalled how her mother would wait until after her father milked the cows and then went to work in the fields to send her to skim off a cup of cream from the top of the milk so she could make whipped cream for cakes.
Brumley noted the cream content is what determines the price a dairyman gets for his milk.
Brumley and her siblings looked forward when their dad would let them tag along when he was delivering cans of milk to The Creamery on Yosemite Avenue at the railroad tracks. That’s because it usually meant they’d get a treat — one of The Creamery’s highly regarded milkshakes. Her favorite flavor was vanilla.
They did not live in a house with an inside toilet until well into grammar school that she attended at Calla.
A few years later another move put them in a home where light bulbs hung from a cord from the ceiling meaning Brumley and her siblings no longer needed to study by the dim light of kerosene lanterns.
“When I went to Manteca Union High classmates were surprised we had a house without inside plumbing but (it wasn’t unusual as) we lived on a farm,” she recalled.
Walk was 5 miles one
way to Manteca High
The walk to high school was five miles one-way from where her family was living at the time a mile south of Highway 120 east of Manteca. Brumley and her siblings would join up with other farm kids along the way as they walked toward town.
“It was always fun walking to school,” she recalled.
When it rain, her father would give them a ride.
“We’d stop and pick up other kids walking along the way because my father was one of the few that had a vehicle,” she said.
It was the depth of the Great Depression. Brumley, who graduated from Manteca Union High in 1937, noted it was World War II that finally got the country out of The Depression.
“It was much worse than the (last) recession,” she said. “A lot of people didn’t have food to eat.”
She remembered how when her father would slaughter a cow for meat he’d make sure that others he knew that were worse off than his family got meat too.
“People were always looking out for each other and helping each other back then,” she said.
At Christmas they had stockings that were filled with an orange, banana and two walnuts. Kids considered fruits and nuts to be great Christmas gifts given they were a major treat.
Her first job was as a seventh grader when she got hired to work at Ben Goodwin’s almond huller near their home.
“It was a dirty job,” she recalled.
Back then, she noted, farm kids that worked were allowed to not show up for school in September and October if they weren’t employed.
“You still had to make up your school work,” she said. “Almond hulling usually went on until the end of September.”
One of the biggest treats growing up was for her parents to take their four kids to the movies. For years it was at The Lyric that was housed where American Furniture is today in the 100 block of East Yosemite Avenue.
For a number of years all that was shown was silent movies with subtitles across the bottom of the screen. Given her father couldn’t read her mother would lean over and whisper into his ear what the words said. It wasn’t unusual to hear whispering throughout the show as many attending were unable to read the subtitles.
One day as the family was about to go into The Lyric, owner George Peters greeted them and told her father he was in for a treat as they had talkies. When he asked what they were and Peters explained Brumley’s father became irritated indicating if they weren’t showing silent movies he wasn’t going to go in.
“We (Brumley and her siblings) were in tears,’” she said.
Peters convinced her father to try it. After one showing he was hooked because he didn’t need anyone to read to him so he could find out what was going on.
Brumley said her father doted on his children. At Easter, as an example, he’d string thin rope through the fields and tied them to bells. Every once in a while he’d pull on the rope and announce that it was the Easter Bunny telling them he was nearby.
“We didn’t know better,” Brumley said with a laugh.
Father was one of a few
farmers in NorCal to
land Zucca melon
At one point her farther decided to give up farming, sold the cows, and went to work for wages at Romo Winery after he discovered that was how others were able to secure more things for their family. But after a month he had his fill and he went back to farming.
One of her favorite stories involving her father was when he bought his first vehicle.
“He had gone to town but we had no idea what he was doing,” she said.
When she came back, Brumley said he was proudly driving a Model T.
Everything went smooth until he went to drive it into the barn and found himself shouting out “whoa” repeatedly as he forgot he needed to use the brakes. The Model T ended up going through the wall and into the bull’s pen.
“It was a pretty mean bull,” Brumley said. “It threw my father twice.”
She also helped her father with what was one of the most usual agricultural enterprises in the annals of Manteca farming as a grower of Zucca melons.
Brumley and a Japanese farmer in the Sacramento area were the only Northern California farmers to get the coveted contract with S&W Cannery in Redwood City to grow Zucca melons.
A bottle squash that originated in North Africa, a Zucca melon at maturity could be three to four feet long and weigh as much as 80 pounds.
It was much sought after given it was tasteless but had the ability to very effectively absorb the flavors of other fruits such as candied cherries, candied orange peel, and candied pineapples. It was typically used for the making of candied peel for Christmas fruit cakes. Brumley, her sister and others worked at her father’s farm in a big shed preparing the harvested Zuccas melons that ultimately they diced and packaged for shipping to Redwood City.
It was hard work. The cannery paid them cannery wages even though they were on a farm in Manteca. Many who tried doing the work quit after two weeks because the job was so hard.
“It’s amazing I still have thumbs left,” Brumley said of the dangerous dicing process.
Brumley recalled how cannery representative would drop by periodically to check on the progress of the Zucca melon crop. In later years the Zucca melon nearly became extinct.
She had four children — Barbara Jean, Bernice, Ronald, and Judy — with her first husband Manuel Cabral who died 25 years after they were married. She was single for 15 years before remarrying. Her second husband passed away after 25 years of marriage as well.
After her husband returned from World War II, they started looking for a home.
They ended up buying a home 70 years ago on Virginia Street just three blocks from the original two-story brick Yosemite School. At the time she had her first three children that were not too fond of the idea they were no longer living in the country. However, she was pleased they’d be all going to the same school just a short walk away.
But within a few months the school was destroyed in a fire on Aug. 7, 1948. Her children ended up going to three different schools — Lindbergh, Lincoln, and classes at the American legion Hall — as school officials struggled to find places to house students.
The price of home she
now lives in was $7,200
when they bought it
70 years ago
Perhaps the best part of buying that home for $7,200 — a price she thought was on the high side in 1948 — and where she still lives today is the short walking distance to downtown.
She fondly recalled how you used to be able to go downtown and shop and everyone knew who you were and treated you like you were family and friends.
Brumley worked for 15 years for Brown-Mahin Department Store that was located at Yosemite Avenue and Main Street where Century Furniture is today.
“We were always told (working at Brown-Mahin) that they’re not customers, that they’re friends,” Brumley recalled. “We’d greet everyone by their name.”
While not thrilled about the growth and traffic, she doesn’t blame people moving here that have turned land that she passed for years that were dairy farms and orchards into housing tracts noting people have to live somewhere.
That said, she still misses the days when Manteca seemed like “one big family.”
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org