Editor’s Note: The Oro Loma Nomad will be a regular feature in the Westside Express, written by Priscilla Del Bosque, longtime resident of Oro Loma.
“Priscilla, I want you to buy my house!”
“What? Oh, Marshall, this is a bolt out of the blue. I don’t know what to say…”
“Well, just say you’ll buy it. You know you love this old place.”
Thus began a telephone call from Marshal Baker to me in mid-1998. Marshall was the owner of a five-acre parcel with the main house of what used to be the old Drew Ranch in Oro Loma, an agricultural area in Fresno County south of Los Banos. At that time, I was working and living in Manila, The Philippines.
I had met Marshall only once when, the previous year, I had traveled to Oro Loma to visit my parents, Joe and Julia Del Bosque. While at my parents’ home, my brother Joe came over to see me for morning coffee.
As he was leaving, Joe said to me, “Hey, Priscilla, would you like to go over to see the old Drew Ranch? I’m going over there right now to see the current owner about some acreage he wants to sell.”
I jumped at the chance to go see a beloved ranch, home to my childhood friends, the grandchildren of the original owners Mae Hammond and Dan Drew.
From several miles away, I marveled at the sight of the property. It rose like an oasis in that flat cropland, the tall trees standing like sentinels guarding that patch of ground. Everything was green and fresh though the summer heat was beginning.
As we drove into the driveway of Marshall Baker’s home, I saw the row of pomegranate trees and the ancient olive trees just beyond the huge cottonwoods. It looked just like I remembered it when I was a child.
Marshall Baker came out to meet us, and my brother introduced me to him. I did not know Marshall as I knew Oro Lomans who had lived in the area for years. I found out he was from Chowchilla and had bought a parcel of the old Drew Ranch sometime in the 1980’s when the whole ranch was broken up and sold off in various pieces.
In the coolness of that shady morning, Marshall took us for a leisurely walk around the grounds while he and my brother talked about the acreage Marshall was planning to sell. As we strolled upon the verdant grass under those towering cottonwoods, I whispered to my brother, “Look, the swings are still there!”
Marshall stopped and looked at me. “You know this old place,” he said, almost as if asking a question. I explained that, yes, I used to come to this place to play with the Drews’ grandchildren when we were growing up.
And those swings! They were the very ones that thrilled us as we swooshed through the air when I was but five or six years old.
A year later, when I was in Manila as Acting Country Director of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the phone rang, I knew who Marshall Baker was, but I was surprised to hear from him.
“Priscilla, I got your telephone number from your brother,” Marshal said. “I’m calling you because I want you to buy my house.”
I was astonished at his proposal and the urgent tone of his voice. “But, Marshall,” I said, “my husband is not even here for me to consult. “
Marshall persevered, “Priscilla, you can buy this place; you don’t need your husband’s approval. Besides, if you buy it, I don’t need much for it.” He explained that he was having serious health issues that prompted him to sell the property. He needed to move to Fresno to be closer to his medical doctors. However, he wanted to see the lovely old ranch home go to someone who would love it and take care of it. “That’s why,” he said, “I thought of you. I could see how you loved it here. I don’t want to put it on the market to sell to some strangers. I want you to buy it.”
“Oh, Marshall, I don’t know how much you would want for it.”
“How about this,” Marshall continued. “If you reimburse me for the bricks that I put on the exterior of the house, you can have it.” I was stunned. “Oh my, of course, I will buy it, Marshall. Of course.”
Thus, began a new journey for me. A return to my origins, to the almost mythical Oro Loma of my youth.
Except for a few visits while I was studying at UC Santa Barbara, then later once every year or two, I had been gone from Oro Loma for 36 years. In those years, I lived and worked in various foreign countries on three continents as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. Tune in to my column in The Westside Express and I will continue this story and tell you some of the adventures of my journey – the Oro Loma Nomad!