America Through My Eyes-  Modesto

Telugu Original : Dr K.Geeta 

English Translation: V.Vijaya Kumar

Most of the American families of the nearby surroundings affected by the recession over the past four years, have fled to Modesto.  Analysts predict that people who do not have technical qualifications, will have to travel hundreds of miles to reduce the house rent when house rents in the Silicon Valley around San Francisco and San Jose have not  fallen, despite the lack of jobs. Some of the classmates of our children’s parents have been caught up in the crisis.

Modesto is about a hundred miles away from Silicon Valley. Spacious houses are available for low rents in this area. In addition, Modesto is a notable agricultural production center in California. There are processing companies of eggs, meat, nuts and fruits, milk, cheese, and almonds. There are also wineries and agricultural implements steel companies. The majority of those companies run on machines, so the city, which has a population of about 3 lakh has a job-keeping rate of just under twenty five thousand, and its unemployment rate is higher than any other city in the United States.

Travel: On one Sunday morning, we started there to see the village and the surrounding location.There are things that are of interest to the children that we added to our itinerary, so we stayed there until 9 pm.

It takes almost an hour and a half or two hours to reach there after crossing two or three freeways from our hometown. It can also take more time on busy days.  Some even commute to the Bay Area on a daily basis to attend their jobs.

Modesto is located in the Central Valley, California.  It is located 70 miles south of California’s great city, Sacramento, 100 miles east of the coast, and 60 miles from travel destinations such as Yosemite.  From Sacramento, the coastal region of Oakland to Baker’s Field, the railroad passes through Modesto, so there is also transportation from the city to those who work around it.

Hilmar Cheese Factory: We left our house at 9 a.m and reached Hilmar Cheese Factory, the first stop on our journey at about eleven o’clock.

Hilmar is about 15 to 20 miles away from Modesto. On the way, near a village called Tracy, you can see a vast expanse of plains that seem to move away from the city environment. There is also an aviation academy nearby. In the surrounding gardens they grow vegetables, fruits, almonds and mid-pasture grass crops, so we felt more hot in the atmosphere. We stopped at the cherry fruit shop on the way, bought some fruits and waited there for some time. As we were very thirsty, we ate all the fruits.

We first chose Hilmar Cheese Factory to show it to Varu. Hundreds of cows were seen feeding in an order in the large sheds nearby.  We did not know that it was a big corporate factory until we got there. When we opened the car door we smelled hot air filled with a foul stench. It didn’t not smell like the usual cattle that we feel in our country. It’s the horrible stench of broken milk. Varu felt nauseous and ran to the car and closed her nose and shut inside the car. The reason for that unbearable stench was understood when we were explained by the guide inside.

On the factory premises, after the milk was used to distill the essence, the leftover watery liquid was stored in ponds and reused as domestic water.

At the front gate of the Factory, there is a gift shop, a coffee house and an ice cream shop at the entrance. The gift shop sells a wide variety of cheeses ranging in size from One Kg.

There is an arrangement to show the processing of cheese from the collection of milk to Cheese making, through a video and a demo. We can watch through the transparent glasses. There’s a guided tour every morning. As the tour already started, we ran up the hall and joined them. During this tour session it is said that they teach ice cream making to children who attend from the nearby schools  during school working days. As we went on Sunday, there were only five  people excluding us.  However, Varu heard everything well attentively. In the first exhibit, it’s quite interesting to watch the milk being drawn from the cows with machines.

They milk the cows four to six times a day with the help of machines. They can do it in ten minutes without wasting time and the milk. We can take photos with those various coats and hats worn by the milk staff, from an ordinary worker to a doctor there. 

The detail of the processed products from the milk is a great story. Once the cheese making process is completed, the remains of it are dried up and used as baby milk powder, bakery products, in making of chocolate products and in the pharmaceutical industry. Products are exported to China and other countries. This Cheese factory is the largest of all the cheese factory groups in the United States. It is the largest concentrated cheese production center in the United States. We can watch this continuous process through the transparent glasses of making hundreds of kilograms of Cheese Molds that come through the large tubes. In such a large factory there were only two or three people working inside. In this country, people do not seem to have much work to do, because of the high cost of manpower and the low cost of machine power.  Employment opportunities also appeared to be limited because of this phenomenon.

Then we watched the cattle breeding farms from a distance. The nutrients in the fodder that they feed to the cattle can never be fed even to our fellow beings in our country. We can watch from the car from the road side the cleanliness they maintain, the sale of animal waste for the biogas production, and using it as firewood, and supplying soil-enhancing fertilizers to nurseries.

No trace of a single soul was seen anywhere in such a large processing unit. The cattle are roaming with discipline in the respective sections in the location. One or two persons may attend  during working hours. When I watched all these things I felt that the myths of machines invading humans may come true!


Bulldozer” Building: From there, we proceeded to another interesting location “Bulldozer” building. It is the office of the Bulldozer Company that’s built like a bulldozer. We came there as if it was worth watching and laughed when we really saw it. There’s no entry on Sunday.

We headed back to Modesto for lunch.

John’s Incredible Pizza: We arrived at John’s Incredible Pizza, a play place for kids. It’s like a theme park all over Indore. Apart from that, with a buffet ticket, we can eat our favorite pizzas, pastas, etc. for as much as to our hearts content. We can enjoy varieties of about ten types of pizzas, some pasta noodles, two or three types of pasta sauces, ten to twenty types of green vegetables, cakes, pies, ice creams, four to five types of desserts and drinks. For drinks we book separately.

We ate hot pizza slices very fast as we felt ravenous all the while. There is no entry into the place unless we buy a meal ticket. Park tickets are purchased separately. We could enjoy everything in the park. It’s a great place for kids to play. That’s the right place for Siri and Varu to spend time all day.

Satya and Varu were away watching around the location. I took the responsibility of Siri. Now she is a toddler. She acquired a new skill of running. When she saw a ball there, she began to run behind it, chasing it through the crowd without bothering about the surroundings. I’m behind her! The game ran until the evening.

We went out in the meantime with a return stamp in hand to see the village. There is no significant difference in the  construction of the houses, streets and the colonies there in particular.

The greenery was less and so the range of visibility is rather vast.  There seemed to be no air pollution anywhere, no matter what industries were there along the roads. Perhaps  It’s all because they were all fruit and seed related industries.

We headed towards downtown.

McHenry Mansion: We went there to see the McHenry Mansion that we wanted to visit. It’s the largest mansion built here by a local landlord, Robert McHenry, in 1827- 1890.  However, in the middle of 1923-1972, the building was converted into apartments. However, in order to preserve the building as a cultural symbol of the time, it was recently restored to its original appearance and made available for free visitation. It’s like the Rings Trophy building in Mountain View here, but a little bigger. From the outside the white mansion with a courtyard surrounded by trees, stands wonderfully majestic.  As soon as I stepped on the stairs, the memories of the past and the present were swarmed.  A guide unlocked the main entrance. There the high-engraved doors, Victorian-era carpet, and wallpapers with vines on the walls are inviting us.

Two rooms on either side of the front porch, a staircase in the middle, a dining room and a kitchen from the back porch were there. The first room contains photos of the first generation who lived there at that time.

Many of the art pieces made of hair, hanging on the walls of the building attract our attention.  Above all, the Bonsai tree, made of hair, is amazing and fascinating.

Every living room has a fireplace. In the first room, which is supposed to be the guest room, a long peacock sits on the table that looks like a real peacock.

Expensive sofas, beautiful upholstered European paintings on the walls. The guide showed the light in the alley from the porch.

It is an art form with the head of an American Indian which looks like a sprouted one. Bird feathers are a part of their way of life. They had in belief that keeping bird feathers in a corner was auspicious to the rich. Not only the rich men, whoever had beliefs in any country are the same.

Silver sets and gold-plated spoons in the dining room are seen. The wooden engraved benches and chairs used there seem invaluable. As part of the rebuilding of the construction, the original materials were collected from the sources ​​and handed over to the heirs. The  Smokeless ovens in the kitchen are approximately alike to the modern electric stoves of present America. From a small drill-like tool used to cut the pieces of meat to a small knife, a wide variety of tools representing the time are hung on the walls.

We find from there, all the rooms upstairs are bedrooms and guest rooms. “Have you ever noticed the shortness in the length of the beds in such old buildings?” The guide asked us. The tallest people in the world at those times were only counted on fingers, she laughed and said. Perhaps you could understand that those who were five-footed in the last century had gradually deteriorated in numbers.

There is a toy knitted with old clothes in the children’s room which attracted Varu’s attention. I suddenly remembered the description of the godaguchi doll played by Palakurti Somana. Inside the small shelf of glass doors there’s a toy iron train and many playthings.

There lay a muted telephone in that adjoining corner of the room, and a lot of knitting materials, evening rest time musical instruments, and type-machines made entirely of brass. A ten-year-old girl of the house, who had grown up in the house, was said to have unexpectedly burnt in the fire in a mishap. The girl’s tearful memories were seen hanging on the walls. The persons who used these objects may not be alive now in this physical world now, yet, the tragedy of the mishap hurt me so much. I came out with a heavy heart.

On the side of the building there was a horse-drawn buggy which marked the trace of a forbidden Majesty.

From there, Varu led me into a nearby gift shop to buy something. They’re all old and represent the past but very expensive. Even a small porcelain tea set costs forty dollars. I couldn’t turn away my eyes.

Then we came back to John’s Pizza Place. Varu didn’t get bored of the location though it was already eight. She wanted to spend one more hour there.  But we have to drive a hundred miles back home. So we reluctantly headed forward. 

Berry picking: Fruit picking like cherries and strawberries can be done within a radius of fifty miles around that. But a day should be devoted exclusively to it.

 Of course we didn’t  plan on this trip but, I must mention a previous berry picking experience here.

One Sunday, when we arrived here in the early days, friends who knew us set out to go strawberry picking, inviting us.

We have to buy one ticket each at Fruit Picking and start collecting fruit. Those who buy the ticket will be given an empty basket each. During the picking time we can eat as many fruits as we can. But when we fill the basket and come out to the gate, we have to pay the money for that weight. When we had fun eating strawberries and went to the gate and queued up for the ticket, we came to know that the ones there were raspberries, not strawberries! 

Berries are berries, that’s all! We felt disappointed and got inside. So far we do not know what a raspberry is.  If you want the raspberries to be as big as a strawberry, they are too red sour berries like the tiniest ghee berries.

Scorching sun was above us. Yet, we struggled in those thickets for a lot of time to pick them up, but once we came back home we were confused about how to consume those basketful fruits. We tried to eat the fruits at the picking spot but could not eat more than four to five. Everyone of us brought a basket to home and tried to make juice with those berries with plenty of sugar added. Then, we put it on the stove and boiled it till evening and made raspberry jam. We applied it on the bread greedily to make use of it, but, as it was too much to eat and could not be eaten quickly, we left it aside. After a week, we simply threw out the remaining jam! We had a great time and now we have good fun on the way back home. It remained a strange experience to us. 

So whenever anyone calls for fruit picking I remember the incident. In fact, going for such a pick is just fun for kids and not a happy profitable enterprise. They come at a much lower cost if purchased directly at the store.

I was disappointed when I left for Modesto to see normal day to day life. What do we see in American life? No matter how far you go, no matter the town or the countryside, no matter what life you watch everything looks alike here everywhere! Yet, for a small relaxation from the routine congested urban atmosphere, you may prefer these  semi urbanised outskirts. If you want to show birds like hens to your kids, not visiting any farm or a pet zoo, you may opt for this place. 


Photos & Telugu Original


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