Lifelong resident shares story of family ties to Ukraine

Lifelong resident shares story of family ties to UkraineBy LAURA QUEZADA

News Review Staff Writer

Lifetime Ridgecrest resident, Linda Lee Miller, is of Ukrainian heritage on her mother’s side. She tells us her family in southwest Poland is safe and were able to help friends from Ukraine find safety. Her distant cousin, Ted, and their family were long time friends with a Ukrainian family. Recently “they contacted them and said ‘You’re welcome to come and stay with us.’ And at some point in time, they did accept that invitation and came to stay,” says Miller. The Ukrainian family now has their own apartment in Poland.

Miller says of the events in the Ukraine, “I’ve never been this scared. You know, I lived through the Cold War. I lived through the missile Russian missile crisis. And those were scary times, but this is the most afraid I’ve ever been. When something happens we know about it instantly. In years past it was a couple of days or so before we’d really get the news about what was what was going on.”

Miller became close to her overseas cousins when she traveled with her mother to Poland for a month when it was behind the Iron Curtain. “I met a lot of distant relatives that are fourth and fifth cousins and became very well acquainted with them. The standard of living and the way of life that they had was very interesting. You went to the store and whatever they had in the stores is what you had to buy to take home for dinner. And that was it. People had gardens; that’s where they got their fruits and vegetables for their family. The people that lived in the city were supported by the farmers. Whatever farmers grew, the Soviet Union took the cream of the crop of everything. But the farmers would hold back some things to sell on the black market in the city.” Miller remembers, “You were very careful about what you talked about or discussed in public because you didn’t know if you’d get into trouble for saying things in public. Kind of like the way Russia is now.”

In 1991 cousin Ted and his fiance came to California on a student exchange program with a work visa to better learn English for his chosen profession, teaching English in Poland. “They wrote to me and said they’re coming to the United States and they wanted to come to California and get married. So I arranged a wedding for them to be held at Farris’ restaurant that was in the Heritage at the time, and that’s where I met Bill Farris. He and I coordinated a wedding for them.”

Miller was a tiny tot, only 2 ½ years old, when she moved to Ridgecrest after World War II. Employment was difficult to find in their home state of Ohio. “My father heard about this place out in the middle of California desert that they were just building and needed people to come and help.” Photos remind her where she lived in those days when housing was scarce. There was a trailer park outside of the base around where Casey’s is now. Then there was a trailer park on the base halfway between the main gate and the airfield. Eventually they moved onto the new housing that was build on the base.

Her younger sister was born in Ridgecrest. In those days the work they were doing was secret and their official address was the place of your employment. Her sister’s birth certificate lists her birth place as “Inyokern Paint Shop.”

As with many local old timers, there are fond memories of growing up on the base in the desert. “We used to go out and run around the desert barefoot, in shorts and a T shirt. We would run out and collect the wildflowers and chase the lizards. I have good memories, fond memories. It was one big community and all the neighbors were like your second moms and nobody locked their houses. You could just go to the neighbor’s house and walk in and if you got into trouble, your folks knew about it before you got home. It was a very safe place. There was very little of any crime.

When we were kids, we made our own fun. We would go out in the middle of the street and bring our guitars, sit around in a circle, sing folk songs and play guitars. And we’d go out in the desert and do the same thing. When we got a little older we’d drive up towards where Cerro Coso is now, park our cars in a circle, tune our radios to the same music station, build a campfire, sit out there and dance and sing.”

A unique memory is from the base during the mid to late 1950’s, “They had roll away stoplights (an entire stoplight with red, yellow and green lights). They were on a big base with rollers, they’d roll it off to the corner and then would roll it out during the peak traffic hours.” School days were on the base. Miller remembers it being called Burroughs and attending kindergarten through grade school there. When the high school was built in town, her class was the 2nd class to graduate from the new school.

One time she was asked to take a new student around the original school and orient her. “They had these old quonset huts as part of the Burroughs campus because they didn’t have enough classroom facilities and everybody was going to school there at that time. All of a sudden one of the jets broke the sound barrier and there was that big sonic boom. Windows rattled and everything shook. We were used to it. We lived with it. We grew up with it. It was no big deal.” But not for the new student. “She said, ‘What was that?’ I said. ‘Don’t worry; it’s just a bomb.’ I didn’t know at the time the difference between the sonic boom and a bomb. She just freaked out. I had to explain to her, ‘That’s what they do here. We test weapons.’”

Miller’s mother was very involved with the Brownies and Girl Scouts, as a leader and then as the district representative for Kern County. She was also a charter member of the historical society and involved with the Maturango Museum. Linda’s community involvement is primarily with her high school graduating class, “I’m the class keeper. I keep in touch with all of the classmates.” She also arranged for a Navy memorial service for a former classmate who was MIA in Vietnam when his remains were found. She was instrumental in getting the tennis courts across from Murray Middle School named after him, “the Lt Ralph Fouks Memorial Tennis Courts.”

Jenny Miller. Collection: Christmas on Thompson Street, 1947. Little Karen Miller, 14 months, and Linda Miller four years enjoy the Christmas tree with their grandmother (Jenny Mill’s mother), Mary Pichurko of Ukrainian heritage.

Story First Published: 2022-03-18