Emil Rossi – November 14th, 2008

101_0039Last Friday afternoon I sat down with Mr. Emil Rossi on the porch of the Rossi ranch nestled in the foothills just east of downtown Boonville – a beautiful spot on lovely day. Even though I had interrupted his garden work Emil, along with family dog Duke, had greeted me warmly and we sat down to talk about his life and times in Anderson Valley …
Emil was born in 1925 and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. His Italian father and mother, from Venice and Genoa respectively, had each settled there, like so many others from Europe, in the period before the First World War – a conflict that was to see his father join the army and head off to the fighting in Western Europe. His parents met after the war and were soon married. They had two sons – Gene and, two years later, Emil.
Their father bought a house and some property in Anderson Valley in 1932 and brought his young family out here in 1933-34 to stay for one year – to experience country life. Emil attended school at what is now the Veterans Building – he enjoyed his stay. On their return to New York, Emil was enrolled in an agricultural school situated on fifty acres in Queens, New York – “yes there was such a thing there then”, says Emil, knowing it sounds strange today. His father had plans to move here to rural California at some point and wanted Emil to be aware of the rural way of things.
The family moved here permanently in 1940 when Emil was 15 and he went on to complete high school at Anderson Valley High. ”The A.V. school only had 52 kids at that time, just 12 in my graduation class. Some of them are still around– James Gowan, Ray Pinoli, Dick Mailliard – and they’re all still working!”…Before enlisting in the army in 1943, and whilst still in school, he built a large chicken barn and by the time he went to war there were over 1500 chickens on the ranch – just one of four large chicken farms in the Valley at that time.
When he came out of the army in 1946 he returned to the Valley to discover that his father had let the chicken farm run down and had bought the hardware store in town. “My pop loved to farm but he was lousy at it. However, he was a good business man”. Emil went to work at the store with his dad and lived with his parents in the same house that his father had purchased in 1932 – the one in which he still lives and of which he says, “it’s probably the oldest house in the Valley that is still lived in– it was built sometime in the late 1860’s”.
John Rossi and Sons (Gene was going to be involved but never really was so the sign was eventually changed to read “& Son”)) opened in 1945 and has been in business ever since, with Emil still working two days a week – Tuesday and Saturday. Emil’s sons Chris and Nick run the show the rest of the time. Emil has worked at Rossi’s Hardware Store for 62 years but has had numerous projects and jobs on the ranch that have kept him busy when not there serving the people of the Valley from behind the counter.
In the early days, before he got married, he would work hard each day and then hang out with friends at The Boonville Lodge. There was always a Saturday night dance in town and, although not a big drinker, he thoroughly enjoyed the vibrant social scene of the Valley following the Second World War. It was a thriving community thanks to the booming logging industry and he found himself in demand as an entertainer both as a leading light in the Boontown Players, who were the mainstays of the Valley’s variety shows, and also as a fine accordion player in various bands, despite the fact that he had been a saxophone player in school. He still loves to get together with his sons and other musicians and they play the night away in the old converted cabin on the Rossi property now called the ‘Band Room’.
Emil has never been much of a traveler although he and deceased wife Jeannie did travel back to the old country and visit with relatives on his mother’s side of the family who still live in the small rural town in which his mother grew up, a few miles outside Genoa. He thinks he probably has some family property but the family has never settled on who is entitled to what and probably never will. He also retraced his route around Europe as a soldier but other than that he has always stayed pretty close to home. He has never really been interested in vacations. When he goes to San Francisco it is for a brief visit only. “I like it but I’m always glad to come back after one day”
When asked what he most likes about life in the Valley he hesitates before saying, “I love it here – never wanted to be anywhere else. I love my work and chores and to see this land every day. My wife planted the flowers in this garden. She was a real flower girl – I see them and think of her.”
One of the things Emil is most proud of is that he was recalled as a member of the C.S.D. because he caused them too many problems and always spoke his mind, much to the consternation of some other members. A vote was taken and as he puts it, “I was he unelected –just like former California Governor, Gray Davis…I can’t help but think that there was some phony baloney in the vote counting process”, he says with a chuckle and knowing grin.
He says he is no committeeman and prefers to get his point across in letters to the Anderson Valley Advertiser. He did run for public office on three occasions in the nineties on the Libertarian ticket for the first District of the California Congress. He never won but did receive quite a lot of votes, on one occasion getting more than any other Libertarian in the nation! “I was just making a point,” he laughs. “No way would I like to sit in Congress”. He laughed out loud, “ I don’t like meetings and I don’t like government!”…
When asked about modern life he mentioned the current state of affairs in our schools where he believes sometimes kids need to hear the word ‘No!’…”It can only help them in later life when they enter the real world. It was such strict schooling in my day. The head teacher, Mrs. Murphy, made sure everyone did as they were told. Even the teachers were scared of her but we all seemed to do quite well with our studies”…
Finally, I asked Emil what he would change around these parts if he were ‘Mayor’ for a day and could change/introduce anything he wanted. Being the Libertarian that he is, he had was in no doubt that the Parcel Tax added to the property taxes in our Valley should be removed and that any new taxes should be outlawed from now on – “they just create big government and that’s not good”…
To end the interview, I posed a few questions from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert”, Bernard Pivot, and featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton”…
– What is your favorite word? – “Accountability – I use it a lot”
– What is your least favorite word? – “Taxes”
– What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Work – I love to work. I feel good when I’m working”
– What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Religion. I don’t think much of any of them”
– What sound or noise do you love? – “Music – all sorts”
– What sound or noise do you hate? – “ My alarm clock”
– What is your favorite curse word? – “’Bullshit’ – I use that a lot too”
– What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “I always thought I might have enjoyed being a stock broker but that would be just a hobby. In reality I wouldn’t want to do anything else other than what I do and what I’ve done already”
– What profession would you not like to do? – “ Politician – I would hate to be a politician”
– Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “ ‘Welcome, Emil’ – that would do. It would be so much better than ‘what the hell are you doing here?’!!

Published in: on November 17, 2008 at 6:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

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