by Jeanette M. Neyman
photography by Laura Ambriz and Juan Garcia
Growing up in the Pomona Valley during the early to mid-1900s, particularly on a citrus grove, steeped families in an adventuresome spirit. A green sea of citrus groves filled the valley, and the fresh air was almost heady — except on cold nights when the “smudge pots” were fired to save the citrus trees from winter frost.
“A simple country life” is how Mary Glasgow, born in 1912, describes her upbringing in the house her father Lewis C. Meredith originally built in 1887.
Mary and her twin sister Louise Edmondson remember a feeling of isolation growing up on the 50 acres of land spanning from Sedalia Avenue to San Dimas Canyon Road. “Many an afternoon was spent frolicking on the screened-in porch,” Mary says. “The wind would pick up the moisture from the tree leaves and sweep the cool air through the house and grove. On hot days, it was our air-conditioning.” Mary and Louise spent a great deal of their time chasing the chickens or climbing the back side of the barn to jump off the roof into a pile of manure. “Mother never liked that much,” Louise chuckles. “She didn’t like us to get dirty, and she would scold us for doing so,” Mary adds. “But we thought it was great fun.”
The twins left home after high school to study home economics and education at Santa Barbara College. While away, Louis met her husband, Jack Edmondson, and moved to Chicago. Mary graduated and went to work as an elementary school teacher. She met Price Glasgow at a church social and was married shortly thereafter herself.
Several years passed. First their father, Lewis, died in 1936, followed by their mother, Grace, in 1946.
Louis and Jack ran the grove for the next 10 years. Later, Mary and Price with four children, Ron, Richard, Larry and Joan took over, continuing the citrus growing tradition Meredith started 69 years earlier.
The Glasgow siblings have fond memories of growing up on the grove. “Fun and free” is how eldest son Ron Glasgow described his adolescence.” “A feeling of solitude and adventure,” says middle son Rich Glasgow.
Long summer days were often spent hand-crafting toys and inventing games to pass the time. “We built a go-cart made from an old orange crate with skates attached to the bottom. My brothers and I would push each other up and down the street in it,” recalls daughter Joan Stevens.
“The Metropolitan Water District across the street would send a bit of water down our street every day,” Rich adds. “The dirt became muddy, almost tar-like, and we had fun racing up and down in that.”
A few years later, the siblings replaced the go-cart with a sparsely-built dune buggy. “It consisted of a mere frame, seat and motor, with a rope to the carburetor that served as a pedal,” says Larry Glasgow, the youngest son.
The buggy was wildly driven in and out of the dusty groves by the siblings and usually resulted in calamity. “My brother Larry accidentally ran over me with the dune buggy,” Joan says. “There were tire tracks on my arm, but I wasn’t hurt.”
Joan also recalls a game the siblings would play that entailed pulling up the long grass beneath the trees and throwing it at one another. “The roots were so long that the mud would cling to the end.” “The game was called “Bombadeer,” Larry says. “If you were hit, you became the captive of the thrower.” The pasture across the street also provided entertainment for the children. After school, the siblings and their cousins would ride the calves or stand on the balcony of their home, taking target practice at the cows’ backsides with their BB guns. “I don’t think it hurt the cows,” Joan says. “We were pretty far away. Plus, I never heard them complain.”
Adventures were not limited to the groves. Larry remembers a time, during the late ’50s, when he and his brother Rich rode their bicycles to elementary school. “We used butch wax in our hair to make it stand up in a flat top; when we rode to school, the bees would swarm around our heads and feed off the butch wax. We would pedal like crazy,” Larry says.
Through the years, most of the menial work of the grove was taken on by the family members instead of hiring help. Since Price worked full time as a P38 line leader at Lockheed Aircraft, each of the siblings pitched in. “I ‘bitched’ about it [chores] the whole time,” Rich says. “I didn’t realize until later how much fun I was having.” Mary and Joan drove the water truck and sprayed zinc on the trees to keep the red spiders from destroying the crop. The brothers drove the tractors, disking the soil and cutting in water lines. “I remember one time my cousin Jimmy and I had just finished up at our alfalfa ranch up north and decided to race our tractors back to the gas pump. I forgot that the axle on my tractor was sticking out, so when I tried to cut around a tree to get there first I took the front side of my father’s white four-door ’47 Chevy with me,” Rich recalls. “I was scolded by my father, but he was the one who caught hell from my mother for letting me drive the tractor at such a young age. I was 9 or 10-years old.”
Ron, the eldest son, describes a time when he and his father picked the whole grove by themselves, which was 13 acres by then. “I got really good at falling off the ladder, because I would try to pick oranges out of my reach, rather than get down and move the ladder,” Ron says. “It wasn’t so bad. I liked being out there with my dad.”
Rich recalls laying in a sleeping bag out on the soft dirt floor of the grove. His job was to keep the smudge pot drums lit and filled with #2 diesel oil. “It was exciting,” Rich says. “We would sit around all night, and talk and drink coffee. You could never get the diesel smell out of your clothes. You would have to throw them away afterward.”
On particularly cold nights Rich remembers when he, his Dad and his brothers would drive around to see how the other growers were faring. “That’s how it was back then,” Rich says. “Everyone looked out after one another.”
While citrus was still big business in the ’60s, a change in the environment caused many citrus trees to die. “They called it quick decline,” says Mary. “There were rumors that it was brought on from the smog. This caused many growers to sell their land to developers.”
The Glasgows responded to the plight by planting new trees. But they soon found that the odds were against them. The city of La Verne rezoned the growers land for housing and began increasing the property taxes one-third every year. “The citrus growers were against the tax increase, but we were in the minority,” Mary says. Although the groves had always been run economically, the family struggled to keep the groves solvent and finally realized that it was no longer lucrative to stay in operation.
The west groves, which were one-third of their operation, were sold to developers in 1970. Shortly thereafter, they sold the east grove in 1975. Eventually, the front grove was also sold in 1977.
“There are many times when I wish we would have kept the groves,” Rich says as he shakes his head.
As the new century dawns, La Verne is no longer sprawled with citrus trees as far as the eye can see. Instead houses occupy most every corner of the city’s area. Few orange groves still stand, and children are more apt to play Nintendo than build handcrafted toys. But for the children who grew up on that blessed fertile land, memories filled with adventure will be carried with them forever.