Newsletter: Two years after massive wildfire, a reopened general store still offers a helping hand

A woman holds out her palm, with the names Teresa and Xochitl written on it
Roxanne Marshall made a note on her hand to remember who to thank at Cressman’s General Store in the Sierra.
(Diana Marcum / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, May 20. I’m Diana Marcum, and I’m writing from Cressman’s General Store, where a family stopped with a busted radiator.

Cressman’s is on Highway 168 in Fresno County, in the Sierra Nevada. On the drive from what folks in the Central Valley call the flatlands, it’s just above where the road narrows from four lanes to two and a sun-blasted drive turns pine-scented and shady — or at least it did before the 2020 Creek fire.

Now, the only thing here is a new gas station and a store housed in a shipping container surrounded by blackened ghost trees. Cell service is spotty in these mountains, and Cressman’s was always the place people knew to get to if there was trouble.


Roxanne Marshall and Dave Parker had trouble. The smoke poured out of their truck, which was pulling a swanky travel trailer they bought during the pandemic as an escape hatch. “Sometimes it seems like the world is going to hell in a handbasket and never coming back,” Dave said. “Then you meet someone like the two in that store right there.”

Teresa Foster and Xochitl Caballero gave them cold drinks and use of the phone. When they needed to know the size of their radiator, Teresa called her kids’ school bus driver, and he ran over a tape measure. Everyone who pulled into the gas station said hello and asked if they needed a hand.

Roxanne had been rattled at first — she had three little dogs in the back seat and one just had five teeth extracted.

But Teresa came out with Bucky, her 1-year-old Great Pyrenees. “Bucky can calm anyone down,” Teresa said.

He’s had lots of practice. The original Cressman’s — you passed it if you’ve ever been on your way to Huntington or Shaver lakes: white and green, next to an old barn where a man sold chainsaw art of waving bears — had been there since 1904. It had a bakery and deli. But when it reopened in the temporary container, Teresa brought Bucky to work since there was no food around.

Many in the community had moved away. Those who stayed were uprooted, shuffled, scared. People started coming in just to hang out with Bucky.

Xochitl lost the house where she was living before the fire. She isn’t sure if she is in a state of trauma or recovery. “Some days you reach for something you don’t have anymore and it feels like the end of the world all over again,” she said. “But there’s too much to be thankful for to not push ahead.”


She said she’s been seeing clusters of yellow daffodils growing all over the hills this spring. Behind the store, the hill was covered with green grass, orange poppies and lavender lupine.

Roxanne’s daughter Alisha arrived with the new radiator. The 24-year old is a nurse in a children’s hospital, and this was her week off. The plan was for her to drive behind the travel trailer in the car also carrying her 22-year-old brother Alton and Dave’s 88-year-old mother Barbara. Then Dave and Roxanne sent them back for a forgotten generator, then a chainsaw, then to buy a radiator.

“But they remembered the fishing poles,” she said, laughing.

Her mother also laughed as she walked with Alton around the parking lot. He has severe autism and can’t speak. “When you have a disabled child you learn to laugh at everything,” Roxanne said.

On her hand she had written Teresa and Xochitl’s names in ink, so she would remember them for the gift cards she planned to bring them.

Radiator replaced, they they were finally on their way to “boondock” — set up on forest service land without electricity or water. If they’re lucky and fire doesn’t come to the spot they found near a creek, their camp will be waiting whenever they can drive up from their home in Sanger. Someone told Roxanne they’d heard a kid saying that he liked to stare at wildflowers until his eyeballs hurt. She said that’s what she hopes to do this summer.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


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Inside the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, Pastor Billy Chang was in his element reading from the Book of Isaiah: “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint.” A few hours later the parishioners would have to find that strength to save their own lives when a stranger locked them in the auditorium and started shooting. Dr. John Cheng gave his own life to save others. Los Angeles Times

California mothers are sharing their breast milk. With store shelves empty and government help for the infant formula shortage yet to kick in, lactating women from across California are donating their breast milk to strangers. Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles County hospitals are once again filling with COVID-19 patients. A marked increase in the numbers triggers new concern that healthcare systems could once again come under strain. Los Angeles Times


An L.A.-based cash advance app is a spiffed-up version of a payday lender. At a time when so many Californians live paycheck to paycheck, many banks refuse to cut exorbitant fees. Apps like Dave, with bouncy graphics and cutesy names, see opportunity in charging the cash-strapped big money to avoid the bigger devastation of bank fees. Los Angeles Times

L.A.’s beloved Angelyne (who can still be seen driving her pink Corvette around town) is getting the biopic treatment on Peacock. Los Angeles Times


That’s making us recall all of our IRL Angelyne moments. Los Angeles Times

Why can’t you find an apartment in Los Angeles with a refrigerator? How the city became “a fridge-less aberration is one of the region’s more mysterious, least delightful eccentricities,” writes Liam Dillon. Los Angeles Times

We know you have a story about “that time when…” Help us celebrate the Hollywood Bowl by sharing your memories as the venue rolls into its 100th season. Los Angeles Times

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Richard Riordan, L.A.’s last Republican mayor, has endorsed Rick Caruso. In the early 1990s, Riordan ran a mayoral campaign similar to that of Caruso — a former Republican who is now running as a Democrat focused on public safety and making the city more hospitable for business. Los Angeles Times

FBI tapes reveal a secretive “cabal” that runs Anaheim, home to Disneyland Resort, the National Hockey League’s Ducks and Major League Baseball’s Angels. The corruption scandal imperils a deal for Angel Stadium. Los Angeles Times


A Pennsylvania Democrat paid for an ad blitz attesting to a candidate’s MAGA bona fides. It was a move straight out of the California playbook for picking your opponent. Los Angeles Times

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California’s powerful oil lobbies and trade unions helped kill a bill that would have banned oil drilling in state-controlled waters. Seven months after a major spill fouled the beaches and wetlands around Huntington Beach, Senate Bill 953 failed to win passage in a gatekeeper committee. Los Angeles Times

A century after an agreement to divide Colorado River water among western states, there’s an urgent call to rework the pact amid ever-worsening drought. “It’s absolutely urgent that we start thinking now, while there’s time,” former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt told our water reporter Ian James. Los Angeles Times

A chat with Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek might have you paying closer attention to rainbows and considering the difference between curiosity and wonder. Los Angeles Times


Babies, babies, babies. Rihanna, who may have changed maternity wear forever, and rapper boyfriend ASAP Rocky welcomed their first child in Los Angeles on May 13. TMZ


And twin sisters gave birth to sons on the same day at the Kaiser Permanente hospital in Anaheim. It wasn’t planned that way. Washington Post

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Los Angeles: clouds breaking, 69. San Diego: breezy, 66. San Francisco: sunny, 71. San Jose: sunny and windy, 78. Fresno: sunny, 83. Sacramento: sunny, 82.


Today’s California memory comes from Marilyn Heyler Hettick:

In 1946, my father, William F. Heyler, sold a property on West Pico Boulevard to Alan Baker from Chicago, and then Mr. Baker built the iconic Apple Pan restaurant. I had the very first Steakburger and a piece of apple pie, which Mr. Baker’s mother, Mrs. Gamble, baked. I was on half-day session at Overland Avenue School at that time. It is amazing that the Apple Pan is still thriving three-quarters of a century later. Prices have escalated, but the interior is still very much the same.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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