I came home 27 years ago this month.
I switched clay for sandy loam. I exchanged rice fields and cattle land for almonds and vineyards. I traded a place I was raised for one where I could grow.
Manteca is where I fell in love and it’s where I suffered the pain of divorce. It’s also the place I realized because you can no longer be together doesn’t mean you still don’t care about one another.
My first visit to Manteca — or should I say drive through Manteca — was coming back from a bicycling accident on Sonora Pass after I was picked up at Tuolumne General Hospital in Sonora and had driven up to the ranger station near Kennedy Meadows to retrieve the two guys I had been cycling with who overnighted there while the ambulance hauled me down the hill. We stopped in Oakdale to ask the quickest way to Highway 99, the cashier mentioned French Camp Road but said if we weren’t familiar with the area it was best to drive straight through to Manteca and catch the freeway there.
At the outskirts of Manteca I suddenly felt a strange sense of having been here before as we passed the South San Joaquin Irrigation District office, two fruit stands, the PG&E yard and Calla School. It was an overwhelming sense of deja vu.
Six months later I accepted a job in Manteca. That was bizarre on several levels since I never had a desire to leave Lincoln or where I had worked for the previous 16 years — The Press-Tribune in Roseville. And to be honest, a lot of people were surprised but not as much as me.
I found myself parking on the side of the Bulletin 27 years ago this month back when there was on-street parking and no traffic signal at Yosemite and Fremont. After the interview I decided to take a stroll.
I headed down Yosemite toward Main where I happened to walk by the ACE Hardware that was located across from what was then the boarded up burned out shell of the El Rey Theatre. Since my dad and uncles had owned hardware stores in Lincoln and Roseville, I decide to walk in. No sooner than I was in the door than a man who introduced himself as Dale Bordenkircher greeted me and treated me as if I was an old friend.
A bit later as I passed what was then known as the Cottrell House with blue gables across the street from an old church that would eventually become the Manteca Historical Society, an elderly gentleman on the porch waved and shouted out a greeting. I did the same.
Weeks later I took my first bicycle ride in Manteca opting to swing by the Machado Dairy on Union Road and out past the Manteca Sportsmen Club before crossing the San Joaquin River. I immediately fell in love with the countryside.
I mention the Machado Dairy because a dairyman from Lincoln by the name of Joaquin Farinha when he heard I was moving to Manteca told me to look up the Machado Dairy as the family running it were friends of his. The joke was on me. After six bicycle rides I discovered there were about a half dozen Machado families that had dairies at the time in the Manteca area.
There was more of me and less of Manteca back then. Dropping the last 30 pounds was great but so was adding the additional 30,000 residents. I know there are people who would disagree but by far those moving here have enriched the community.
I understand the sentiment of not wanting things to change. Every time I jog down Van Ryan Avenue under the 120 Bypass I think of how great it was to end a bicycle ride coming back from Knights Ferry or Oakdale going past almond orchards on what was then a washboard country road named Spreckels Road before reaching Moffat where the combined odors of the cattle feed lot and sugar beet pulp cleared my sinuses.
But if I’ve managed to learn anything as I close in on 62 years is growing is the only way we learn to appreciate what we have as well as to learn and enjoy new things.
Do I think Manteca and the surrounding communities and countryside are special? Absolutely. Yes, there are warts and problems but there is also a lot of good. We all want life to be a bed of roses but it takes a lot of pain dealing with thorns and hard work to be able to enjoy the sight and smell of rose blooms. And even if you abuse or ignore roses for periods of times, attention and a bit of tender loving care will get them to bounce back and often times be more beautiful and stronger than ever. A community is much like a rose. It can be resilient and it often requires just a bit of effort and TLC to get it to bloom.
It’s why I have no empathy for those who whine and moan about real and perceived Manteca ills.
Dogs have enough sense not to soil where they sleep. You’d think we would do the same.
And if you want to really soak in the reason why Manteca is heaven on earth, be sure to open your windows and fill your lungs in the coming weeks when the elixir created by billions of almond blossoms bursting forth fill the air making for sweet dreams as you drift off to sleep at night.
Manteca is home, sweet, home.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.