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Recalling good times in Manteca
Marion Street Gang holds reunion during BBQ social
Kenny Bedsaul waves at former neighbor Kathleen Cotta upon her arrival at the Old-fashioned Barbecue Social benefit for the Manteca Historical Museum on Sunday. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Kenny Bedsaul remembered “playing in the cow piles” around the Manteca Golf Course.

The golf course was a sewer plant then. At least, that’s where the city’s sewer treatment plant was at that time. And right where the clubhouse is today – “it was the city dump,” he recalled.

For Robert McCracken, it was the 5 p.m. whistle and the 9 p.m. curfew siren that stood vividly in his mind. Claudia Cotta Machado still remembered those sounds as well. So did Linda Duran.

Bedsaul, McCracken, Machado, along with nearly a dozen of their childhood playmates and neighbors from the 1950s who had a reunion of sorts at the 19th annual Old-fashioned Barbecue Social on Sunday were harkening back to the time when, they said, Manteca was truly a Family City of just 3,000 to 4,000 neighbor-friendly souls. They called their reunion table at the social The Marion Street Gang.

Marion Street is a quiet, tree-lined residential neighborhood three blocks south of West Yosemite Avenue which runs from Locust Street to Union Road. The section of Marion that the reunion members were reminiscing about was a stretch of about 16 homes clustered close to the west end toward Union Road.

Machado lived on Marion Street until she was in sixth grade when her family “moved to the other side of town.” The other side of town she referred to was Powers Tract near Spreckels Sugar. Machado said she was the “instigator” of the Marion Street Gang reunion at the summer social fundraiser.

“Kenny and I are old neighbors. We grew up across the street from each other,” she said.

“It was like one big family; all the kids hung out together,” Machado said of the Marion Street neighborhood where they grew up.

In fact, that was literally the case for about four to five Marion Street families whose houses were right next to each other. They were known as the McCracken cousins.

As far as crime was concerned, “there wasn’t any,” commented one of the former Marion Street residents.

“Nobody locked their doors!” she said.

“We could walk all over town and our parents wouldn’t worry about us,” Sylvia McCracken said.

“I used to go to the grocery store and know everybody there. Now, I don’t know anybody,” she added.

At that time, the popular grocery stores were Low’s Market and New Deal Market. Both of them are long gone but the buildings are still there being used by other businesses.

“It was a big thing when Alpha Beta came to town,” Sylvia McCracken said with a big smile. Alpha Beta became the second home of Big Boy Market, which is now the shopping Center on East Yosemite Avenue where the Dollar Store and Grocery Outlet are located.

“It was pretty cool growing up on that street. We all played in the cow piles,” Bedsaul said with a chuckle, adding all around them were fields and farms at the time. Today, those once open fields around the West Yosemite Avenue and Union Road intersection are now shopping centers, fast-food restaurants and a car dealership, among others.

“We lived on the edge of town. Now, we’re almost downtown,” Bedsaul said about his boyhood Marion Street neighborhood.

Several of the former neighbors who had much fun reminiscing about the daily whistles and sirens had a hard time describing the sound of the five o’clock whistle. Robert McCracken’s wife, Sylvia, who grew up on Pine Street said the 5 p.m. whistle was “like a sick-cow sound.” The whistle, they said, came from the water tower that was located near the Library Park.

The 9 p.m. curfew siren, on the other hand, came from the old Cannery, said McCracken. Everybody knew what the siren meant, the old playmates said.

“As a kid, it was time to go home,” Sylvia McCracken said.

But she did not know what the 5 o’clock whistle was for, and neither did the others.

Among the former neighbors and playmates, only Bedsaul and his family still live on Marion Street.

Some of those who came to the reunion have since left Manteca. Kathleen Cotta now lives in Hayward. Linda Duran came to the reunion from Modesto which she now calls home.

Outside of Sunday’s reunion at the historical museum fund-raiser, the former neighbors said they still saw each other from time to time at funerals of mutual friends. “So this is a happy time to see each other,” one of the former neighbors said of their Sunday reunion.

But although they no longer live in today’s Family City of nearly 70,000 residents, Kathleen Cotta said, “Our hearts are always in Manteca.”