The one this story is about is Wanda. She was born in 1929, the year of the Great Depression. The family moved to California in 1941. There weren’t any family handouts as there are now. We all had to work.
Wanda was no exception. She worked right alongside the adults. I remember Wanda from about 1944, when she would bring cold drinks and candy around for the workers.
Wanda’s brother Jack was my and my older brother’s best friend. We truly loved one another all our lives. We, as kids, always watched out for Wanda. When Wanda would give the three of us a ride in her truck, at that time we were kings of the hill! Wanda was absolutely the most beautiful girl in the San Joaquin Valley.
When I reveal Wanda’s married name, which is Bigham, 85 to 90 percent of Crescent City will know who she is. Wanda truly loves my mother; this adds to Wanda’s character: love of family and her morals.
This was in 1948. WWII was over three years before. Wanda was 19 and I was 8. My dad had got me a little red pull-wagon for Christmas so we could haul our ice and groceries home every week.
It was on one of these trips that Wanda became a real-life hero. Mom and I were about halfway home pulling 25 pounds of ice and our groceries.
From the front door of a house across the dirt road a large red-headed woman, with lots of freckles, started yelling cuss words at my mom and telling Mom she was going to pull that big growth off her head. Mom had a growth the size of a soft ball on her head that she tried to keep covered.
I got between my mom and this raging woman. From across the way, Wanda yelled, “Don’t you touch her.”
I could tell Wanda’s Cherokee blood was boiling and she had intentions of doing what was right, and she did! I’ll call the other woman, “Big Red.” She told Wanda to mind her own business. Wanda told her, “This is my business!”
Big Red lunged at Wanda to grab her hair. Wanda stepped aside and caught Big Red with a perfect right hook. Big Red went down on her hands and knees, all the while cussing at Wanda and telling her what she was going to do.
Wanda stepped back and told Big Red to get up. She tried to jump up, but had to stand up. While cussing at Wanda, she made about two steps toward Wanda. It was a thing of beauty. Wanda caught her with a wicked uppercut and Big Red went down. She did say she had had enough. Wanda told Big Red to go on her way.
Wanda has been my hero since 1948. What a lady! I love her with all my heart. Until she passed away in 1985, my mother talked about Wanda until she passed away in 1985. When Wanda gets to Heaven, my mom will meet her!
In 1950, Wanda married Harvey Bigham. I went to grammar school in Earlimart, Calif., until 1953. I left Earlimart with my parents that year. I finished my schooling in Willits.
When I was a junior in high school my civics teacher wanted the class to write about someone we thought to be a hero. I asked her about Wanda and she asked me to explain a little bit about her. In short order she said to me that for anyone, especially as young as Wanda, to step up and do what Wanda did, in her thinking would be a hero.
From 1953 to Dec. 12, 1965, I lost contact with Wanda. When I transferred from Orick to Crescent City, I learned from a mutual friend that Wanda was working at the Hiouchi Market. I worked for Caltrans at the time and couldn’t wait to get to tell my wife that I had found Wanda!
Now everyone at the Gun Club and anyone else who knows her knows Wanda as a real hero.
Les Wake retired from Caltrans in 1984. He and his wife, Aldean, have lived in Crescent City since 1965. They will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in June.