Mary Aigner – December 27th, 2008

GEDC0099Last Friday afternoon, I met with long-time KZYX & Z. program manager, Mary Aigner, in the production room at the local public radio station. She made us coffee and we began our chat…
Mary was the third of eight siblings born to Frank Aigner and Eileen Sheedy. Her father is of German (Bavarian) descent whilst Eileen, who passed away in 2000, has Irish heritage – “and yet I don’t like beer!” says Mary…They lived in the western Pennsylvanian town of Altoona, a railroad town with strong southern influences – hence the area’s ‘Pennsyltucky’ designation. In the early 70’s, the family moved to Holidaysburg, a smaller town a short distance away, where Mary initially attended a Catholic girls school. “My father’s side was working class with little schooling whereas my Mum’s was educated and somewhat wealthy. I was Catholic on both sides – priests everywhere – and it was the various churches that were the focal point for each of the different ethnicities in the area – German, Irish, Polish, Italian. We would gather at the Bavarian Aid Society for social events – this was a group that would often help southern Germans to settle in the area.”
Mary really disliked the Catholic school and “finally bailed on the Catholic church in the tenth grade” and attended a public school – which, as it turned out, she hated even more. “It was where the teachers didn’t seem to care too much about education – it seemed like the dim bulbs had become teachers”, she added with a laugh. Mary may have disliked school but it was during this time that she was a fifteen year-old keyboard player in a rock ‘n’ roll band. The band, ‘Pulse’, played at lots of bars and the drummer had to act as her legal guardian!…She graduated a year early and began attending a college in the Penn State system back in Altoona. She studied various liberal arts including anthropology, astronomy, and she particularly enjoyed a course called ‘Science, Technology, and Society’. “Basically I studied the most interesting stuff I could find but when I graduated in 1985, (the keynote speaker at my graduation was legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno), there were few jobs and it was some time before I could save enough to get to the Bay Area – Berkeley in particular – a place where I had known I wanted to be from an early age in rural Pennsylvania. The politics and music in that area of northern California had always appealed to me.”
It was during her couple of years in the East Bay that Mary met partner Joseph Leon-Guererro and they frequently traveled to Mendocino for getaway weekends, initially discovering the south coast area around Pt. Arena and Gualala, before realizing that Anderson Valley was “gorgeous, really beautiful” and they decided to move here in the summer of 1989. At that time Mary was pregnant with daughter Maya and they rented a cottage from Diane Paget and partner Bill Seekins, who had said, “Joseph and Mary? Pregnant? – We should definitely rent to them!”…A couple of years later, daughter Sara was born, but Mary and Joe were to split up a couple of years later in 1993.
Mary worked as a ‘bun babe’ at Bruce’s Bread (“when they had real handmade stuff)” and then in 1993 joined KZYX & Z, the local public radio station, with Phil Tymon as Station Manager and Brian Wood as Program Director. She initially worked on the underwriting side before becoming Program Director herself in the late nineties – the job that she has performed ever since.
In her first year up here she was involved on the periphery of the Earth First movement during the Redwood Summer Protests of 1990. “It was a polarizing time – very interesting and often quite tense. I was involved with setting up a network to gather food from people’s gardens that would eventually make its way to the demonstrators on the front lines in the Headwaters Forest who were protesting the logging of the last large unprotected redwood ecosystem in the U.S.. I also went to various demonstrations during that time – a big one in Ft. Bragg stands out in my mind – cops on the roofs of building watching the developments below, logging families venting their anger at us – it was very tense indeed”.
When I asked Mary about her favorite place to hang out in the Valley she had no hesitation in saying that it was certainly her home. However, when visitors come to see her she does all the “touristy things” that, despite being a local, she never gets to find the time to do otherwise. Her favorite place to take visitors is the walk amongst the old growth redwoods in Hendy Woods and it is this kind of natural beauty that is Mary’s favorite aspect of Valley life, “along with the real sense of community that we have here.” Mary does go to many of the Valley’s events and never misses the Variety show – the good and not so good being part of the “variety” but as a result she needs to be near to an exit to take a break – “some acts have to ask themselves if its about them or are they providing entertainment for others”. I nodded in agreement…She has never really though about moving away from here since her arrival but she’d like to travel more at some point. “Sailing around the Mediterranean for an extended period sounds great…Or the Gulf of Mexico perhaps – places that are warm and tropical”
As for anything she does not like about life here, Mary believes it has become too crowded in recent years – “having said that, the global population won’t peak until 2050 so I guess should get used to it. But I do not like the arrival of people who come here to just make money. This county was fine before the money found it around ten years ago or so. The whole ‘dot.com’ thing led to a big influx of money and people who have strived for many years to make a living here find it hard to own their own property these days – the Valley is a little too beautiful and close to the Bay Area for its own good…Of course, if some of this new money was given to KZYX & Z then that would be great!” she added, bursting into a raucous laugh…
I now turned to asking Mary for her responses to various Valley entities and organizations…The Wineries? – “Well,” she hesitated for several seconds, “They do make a good product but I am very concerned about the water issues and I certainly do not want this to become Little Napa and in the meantime they must give back to the community”…KZYX & Z? – “It’s mostly pretty good. I’d like to see our programming evolve to a higher level but it’s very difficult. Our 20th anniversary is coming up in the fall of 2009 and we’re constantly working on such improvements. Getting more young people involved is important, along with people who have a different perspective. I’d love to hear people come on the air in response to something we have said and reply, ‘I completely disagree with you’ – it makes for better radio. We do provide access to much good information that is not influenced by the corporate interests. Not a lot of rural communities are like ours and we try to be as community-based as we can and we like to think that our community is much better informed as a result of our efforts”…The A.V.A.? – “Like other media sources, it is both good and bad. Bruce Anderson has mellowed on his return to the Valley. He was very mean-spirited but is not nearly so much these days.”…The local school system? – “I feel that both of my kids received a good education here. We have some strong programs and some not so strong. The school is under-funded and many wonderful people have left the system because it has become so expensive and they are unable to afford to buy homes here. I would also like to see more enrichment programs in the field of the arts – having to choose between music and art is too bad. Also parents pulling kids out of our school to attend private schools elsewhere is disappointing. It is elitist and it would be so much better if the school and community could work together to make a model public school. Of course the School District and the Board should be open to such community involvement and to getting input from that source”…
As has become a custom in this series of interviews I now turned to my guest and asked whom she would vote for Mayor of the Valley, if such a position existed? – ”Oh I don’t know,” she replied, “Err, Geraldine Rose perhaps – but there’d have to be a strong system of checks and balances”, she added with a wide grin…“Or perhaps Bert Cohen from Boontberry? – He’s very fair-minded and seems to have the ability to see different sides of the issues…Actually I believe the Valley should incorporate – we should have more local control instead of dealing with the ineptitude of county government”…And what if you were Mayor, Mary, what would you do? – ‘Well I’d make it a felony for any slow-moving driver who does not use the turnouts when there are vehicles behind them!” she chuckled loudly…“And somehow I’d like to keep our population to a reasonable level here in the Valley. We have plenty of people here right now. As I said earlier, those here just making money and not contributing are not welcome in my book.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, 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 or phrase? – “Well then…”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “That would have to be “You betchya!’ – thanks to Sarah Palin”…
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Good music, art, literature, conversation…The higher expressions of the human experience.”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Greed and stupidity…And the Bush administration has got way with so much. It is disappointing to me that more has not been done to protest his wrong-doings but I’m afraid that as a society we seem to have lost our sense of righteous indignation”.
”What sound or noise do you love? – “Hearing nothing but the wind in the redwoods…Or a really good Grateful Dead song.”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “When a KZYX & Z hosts says ‘Are you there’ to their guest instead of welcoming them correctly…And audio feedback of course.”
What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – “Probably ‘Goddam it!!!’ – We lapsed Catholics tend to use the Lord’s name in vain quite a lot.”
What is your favorite hobby? – “Cooking, gardening, playing piano.”
What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted? – “I think I would like to work for some sort of international development group with regards to world population issues.”
What profession would you not like to do? – “Anything that would require me to work in a cubicle in the corporate world.”
Do you have any words to live by? – “It’s not all about you.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?  – “Come on in, Mary – the party’s just starting!”…

Published in: on December 31, 2008 at 7:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bill Owens – December 19th, 2008

GEDC0100Last Friday afternoon I met with Bill Owens at The Boonville Lodge Bar & Grill and following his warm greeting comprising a firm handshake and his patented train-whistle impression, we sat down to talk. The first thing he said was, “Sorry I’m a little late, my grandmother just died”…”Oh, I’m sorry, Bill “I replied, thinking he is must be much younger than he looks and she still must still be into her hundreds!…”It’s o.k.” he said, “they saved the baby!” He paused before breaking into a big grin. “That’s an old Okie joke” he quickly explained…He then added, “Sorry I didn’t shave. I look bad. If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself” –his face creased up as he displayed a wide smile, his eyes glinting with mischief.
Bill was born in the small town of Stillwell, Oklahoma in 1929, one of fifteen children (eight boys and seven girls) born to Emmitt and Linnie between 1914 and 1938 – “and yet they would still ask my Dad what he did when he wasn’t working?!!”…Emmitt worked at a blacksmith’s with three of his brothers, each earning $1 for a day’s work which sometimes meant shoeing ten horses each. They moved to Tahlequah in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains and then on to Bristow, a town the size of Ukiah, when Bill was eight years old. Times were very hard – “There was fifteen of us and we often had no clothes. Fifteen nekkid little Okies in the house! One day my Dad bought us straw hats so we could then look out of the windows”…He completed his schooling at the end of 9th grade in El Reno and then moved to Temple, Oklahoma where in 1942, aged fourteen, he went to work with his father at a ranch where he was responsible for feeding six hundred head of cattle each day, starting at 5am and finishing when it was dark…”Do we even have to work on Sunday, Dad?” he once inquired…”Them steers gotta eat on Sunday, son” his Dad wisely replied…
From the age of eleven Bill had being playing the guitar and, with friends on banjo, violin, and mandolin, he was to spend many evenings during his Oklahoma days entertaining other neighbors at their homes, everyone enjoying their homemade beer and moonshine, although Bill himself wasn’t to have his first drink until July 29th, 1959. They would play late into the night and then Bill would try to get some sleep despite living just yards away from thirteen sets of rail tracks on the main line to Oklahoma City. It was during this time, as the house rattled and the trains roared by all night long, that Bill worked on his train whistle impression that so many friends have heard and marveled at ever since. His impression became very accurate – “‘Be quiet in there, Bill’, my father would yell in the night. ‘It isn’t me, it’s the trains’, I’d reply”…
During the summer of 1946, the family moved to Arizona for a few months before continuing west, this time settling in Madera, California where he began work on the irrigation systems of the central valley, mainly amongst fields of alfalfa and sugar beets…In the winter of 1947/48, Bill made a trip to Boonville where his sister Cleo had settled in 1941. He looked for work but found nothing and returned to Madera after just a few weeks.
By January 1951, the Korean War had broken out and Bill was drafted into the army. He trained as a medic and, apart from the five days R & R over Christmas 1951 spent in Tokyo, Japan, he ended up driving ambulances in that conflict until September 25th, 1952 when he was honorably discharged. On his return to Madera his father decided to return to Oklahoma but they had to wait until Bill collected his soldier’s benefits. It was while waiting to collect these benefits at the Unemployment Office on January 3rd, 1953, that Bill heard of the passing of his music hero, Hank Williams – “there was great sadness at that news, I can tell you”…A few weeks later, driving a ’41 Buick, he joined the rest of the family in cars and trucks with trailers on their trek home to Oklahoma. However, once there, Bill felt unsettled and decided to give northern California another try. He returned to Boonville in early 1953, moved in with his sister, and began working in the woods for Kay and Frank Hiatt. This was to be his future and at various times he worked at other logging companies such as Van Pelt Logging, Elmer Logging, and Three Co Logging. His co-worker for many days in the woods was Paul Hughbanks – “a great guy and one of my closest friends”…
There was lots of work in those booming years of the logging industry – “well, I should say, lots of work for those who wanted it!”…Often, after a hard day’s work in the woods, Bill and friends would spend evenings at the various Valley drinking establishments, particularly The Track Inn and The Boonville Lodge, then owned by Russell and Gladys Mann. “To win a bet I once walked on my hands from The Track Inn to The Lodge. I could even stand on one hand and drink a beer at the same time. Not anymore though!”…The bars were very busy – “it was quite a wild scene” – and Bill would frequently entertain the customers with his singing and guitar playing from the corner of the Lodge or at The Track Inn where he would be joined by Bud Johnson, Harold Fryman, and Jack Baker – their music adding to the great atmosphere… Bill also hung out at two other lively Valley bars – Weiss’s in Boonville  (“it had a nice restaurant too”) and The Last Resort in Philo, where he often tended bar even after a day of logging.
During his early years in Anderson Valley he met and married Patricia Lawrence, but they split up after five years in 1960 when she ran off with his best friend, Quinton Jones. “We all remained good friends – I still see them. It was meant to be that way and both she and I were happier”…In 1961 he fell in love with Wanda Housley – “an Arkie who was working at both Gowans’ fruit company and Jack’s Valley Store. We were married on August 4th, 1963 and over the next few years we had three sons – Mike, Bob, Ricky, and then some time later, James.”…Sunday was family day – “I love seafood and we’d sometimes take the family to Ft. Bragg and eat at one of the restaurants on the Wharf where Wanda loved the fish sticks”…Talking of wives, Bill tells of an incident when he was pursued by a C.H.P. officer along the highway going at 120 m.p.h. whilst driving on both sides of the road. The officer finally caught up and forced Bill to pull over. “What do you think you’re doing, you were driving like a mad man?”…”I’m sorry, officer”, Bill replied, “But my wife ran off with a C.H.P. officer and I thought you were bringing her back!”…
On December 6th, 1965, Emmitt Owens died and Bill returned to Madera with Wanda and their two kids to stay with his widowed mother, who was to live there until 1994 before passing away when she was 98 years old. The family remained there for three years, during which time he returned to ranching. “That was a really tough job. It was well over 100 degrees day after day in the summer and there were 18,000 head of cattle to be fed. I also had to haul hay – the bales were over two hundred pounds each and in one season we hauled 98.000…I also got to meet Ronald Reagan during that time – when he was campaigning for Governor he came by the ranch and we shook hands and talked a while…The owner of one ranch used to brag about the size of his property. He told me he could set off in his truck at 2pm one day and still be on his land at 2pm the next day. I replied that my Dad had a truck like that too!”
They returned to Anderson Valley in 1968 and have been here ever since with Bill working in the logging industry until his retirement in 1995, at which point he was working for Charlie Hiatt, the son of his first employer in the Valley. Bill has continued to play music and, although he stopped drinking in 1976 as a promise to his wife and kids that he has kept ever since, he has often appeared at the bars and other Valley functions with his guitar and a story to tell.
“I love the Valley. I always have, ever since that first visit to see my sister in 1947. I used to know everyone here – I still do know many of them. Going out, playing music in so many places, and talking to so many people is what I love about this place. I love to talk to people – I’ve never had a problem with that and here I get to talk to so many people I like…
“ I used to like hunting at Jim Clow’s place – we never wasted anything we shot, not like some hunters these days. That comes from my days back in Oklahoma when we used to raise pigs and they’d get to be 800 pounds or more. We’d butcher ‘em and never waste anything, except the squeal of course! I also had rabbits – I ate so much rabbit that I could look at a rabbit trail and tell you how much soup it would make!…Back in Madera we’d often hunt with the retired Yankee pitcher, Don Larson – the guy who threw a no-hitter in the World Series. He told me he was hung-over on that day!”
I next asked Bill for his responses/opinions on various Valley institutions/entities…The Wineries? – “They provide work for many but I think there are too many grapes now – at the expense of apples. Soon you’ll have to throw in some peaches to make a good apple pie”…The local radio station, KZYX & Z? – “It’s pretty good. I enjoy Jimmy Humble’s show and have played on it a few times”…The A.V.A.? – “I like it. I was a neighbor of Bruce Anderson for many years and we got along real good. I know some people have bad things to say about him – they may be right; but I always liked him. Yes, I enjoy the paper”… The School? – “When they were discussing building it back in the late fifties I voted ‘yes’ – that was the only thing I have ever voted for”… Talking of voting, when asked whom he would vote for to be Mayor of the Valley, assuming such a position existed and he had to vote, Bill suggested Donald Pardini. “He’d do a good job. I like his boys, Tony and Ernie too, but I’m not sure I’d vote for them to be mayor”…
As for any thoughts about ever moving from the Valley, Bill says that Wanda has mentioned the possibility of one day going back to Arkansas but it probably won’t happen now. Besides they are needed here, he explained, as they are kept busy delivering the Ukiah Daily Journal to all its customers between Ukiah and Navarro. Wanda and Bill have had this job for nearly three years now and it takes them about four hours each day. Bill thinks that at 79 years old he may be the oldest paperboy in America!
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, 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 or phrase? – “Hello, Bill, how are you today?”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “When somebody says. ‘I hate that guy’ “
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “I love the Valley’s community events. They inspire me. We recently missed the Christmas Dinner at The Grange and were very disappointed.”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Mistreatment of the elderly or kids.”
”What sound or noise do you love? – “Music…or train whistles.”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “I can never forget the screaming noise of the big chainsaws we used to have in the woods…Oh, and I hate to hear the alarm clock at 4am but I’m o.k. once I get up”
What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – “Oh, shit!!!”
What is your favorite hobby? – “Well, music definitely – I love the banjo but cannot pick really so I play guitar and harmonica…I also like to make redwood split products.”
What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted? – “A musician definitely. I had a couple of chances to go and do that but each time I decided to stay with my family”.
What profession would you not like to do? – “I did it. Heaving heavy bales of hay for $2.25 an hour, fourteen hours a day, seven days a week.”
Do you have any words to live by? – “Treat people respectfully and try not to look like you’ve been sucking a dill pickle for five days.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?  – “Well, Bill, I had my doubts that you’d ever get here, but you’re very welcome”…

Published in: on December 24, 2008 at 8:07 pm  Comments (1)  

Carroll Pratt – December 12th, 2008

GEDC0087Last Friday morning, I drove up into the hills above Indian Creek in Philo to meet with eighty-seven year old Carroll Pratt. We sat down to talk in the lodge behind the family home, surrounded by several statuettes and plaques awarded to Carroll for his work over many years in the film and television industry…
Carroll was born in Hollywood, California in 1921 to a Canadian mother and a father from Seattle, who worked on the sound for many of the movies being made at M.G.M. Studios during those early days of cinema. This line of work eventually led to the family moving to Australia for three years in 1930 where Carroll’s father worked on the first ever sound movies to be made ’down under’. They returned to southern California in 1933 and Carroll attended Santa Monica High School, graduating in 1939 with the goal of one day working in the Forestry Department, “I thought that it was time to control the deforestation that was occurring at an alarming rate”.
He attended Santa Monica Junior College for two years and intended to go to Oregon State to pursue his forestry studies when, following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and the resulting U.S. embroilment in World War Two, the Air Force dropped its age requirements and he signed up for flight school. Within six months, by the summer of 1942, he was a 2nd Lieutenant and the co-pilot of a B24 Bomber, and following his marriage to Mary Ellen, off he went to war…
Initially stationed in England he spent the next year flying missions over Italy, Romania, and southern Germany from bases in North Africa. “I flew with some wonderful young men and an excellent lead pilot – much better than me!” Then in October 1943, with his plane and its crew now at the lead of the 44th Air Force Division, they were shot down over Austria, just outside Vienna. “I had never seen a barrage like it. We had no chance and, with the plane on fire and so much fuel on board about to blow up, we parachuted out. One of our guys was petrified and couldn’t jump. His parachute was open and wrapped around him as he sat semi-conscious with fear at the door. I grabbed him and held on to him as we jumped out. When the jet stream hit us he was ferociously pulled from my arms and I was helpless as he fell to earth – his parachute never did open.”
Not long after landing Carroll was captured by the local militia and, following several days of interrogation in solitary confinement, he was loaded into a box car with many other prisoners and transferred to Stalag Luft III prisoner-of-war camp in Poland. “Whilst in the camp I learnt that my daughter, Mary Katherine, had been born”. He was there for over a year until the winter of 1944/45 when he was moved to Stalag VIII Camp near to Frankfurt in Germany following a terrible five-day forced march.” It was very hard that winter in the camp – supplies were getting very low. By early 1945 the Russians were approaching and the Germans were sending many of the younger, trigger-happy prison guards to the Eastern Front to hold them off. As a result, the camp was left in the hands of elderly soldiers in far fewer numbers, so five of us were able to break out through a part of the fence where there were no guards and we headed for a nearby town.”
“There was complete chaos everywhere. At one point we met up with some fellow American soldiers. One was a tank commander who, in exchange for my leather-flying jacket, gave me a handgun without a hammer or bullets and an old car! We remembered the guys back in the camp who were starving and so we went around to various farms in the car and, using my useless gun as a threatening weapon, took potatoes and chickens, which we killed in a bloody mess. One farmhouse belonged to the Mayor and when he saw me covered in the blood (from the chickens), and with my gun in hand, he went down on his knees and begged for his life – I just took his chickens. Another family cooked them for us before we returned to the camp at night and passed the food through the fence for the starving prisoners.”
Carroll and the others then headed for France in the car and, after a brief delay following their discovery of a transport plane full of brandy which they drank too much of and were all violently ill, they were amongst the first escaped P.O.W.’s to arrive in Paris. “I weighed about 100 pounds and could hardly walk due to lice bites so I was in hospital for a time before eventually being put on a liberty ship heading back to the States. During that trip to New York we were told that the war in Europe had come to an end.”
He returned to Santa Monica and began working at M.G.M studios where his father now worked as a supervisor in the sound department. Shortly thereafter he and his wife split up and, due to her health problems, he was given custody of his young daughter, whom his parents helped to raise…In the following years he fine tuned his skills in audio as a recording engineer, play-back editor, and eventually a production mixer. He then began to work with Charlie Douglass, the inventor of the ‘audience reaction machine’ – “Not the ‘laugh machine’ – that’s a no-no. And I did not invent it. That myth drives me crazy. Charlie invented it and we worked on it together”…
Over the next few years Carroll was completely immersed in his work, performing ninety-hour weeks in the film and television world. He was involved in many, many films made in the fifties and when he set up his own company, Sound One, with his brother, they went freelance and worked for other studios such as Fox and Paramount, as well as M.G.M. He received special recognition for his work on the Oscar-winning musical ‘Oklahoma’ along with several Emmys during this period and then when his brother emigrated to Australia, Carroll took over the running of the company and staff by himself. In 1957 he was married again, to Jean, and son Scott was born a few years later but he and Jean eventually split up in 1965.
“My work took over my life at that time. I went all over the world working on films and television” and more honors followed – his work on the classic television show, ‘M.A.S.H.’, earning him a further Emmy in 1971. During one of his few vacations, in the summer of 1976, Carroll and new companion, Carole, were heading for the Trinity Alps when they passed through Anderson Valley. ‘We loved everything we saw and I thought what a wonderful place to retire”. He bought property in the Valley in 1979 and married Carole in 1982. They made numerous visits to the Valley over the next few years before moving here permanently in 1989 to what had previously been the Golden Fleece Ranch, where he has lived ever since.
Carroll immediately threw himself into various Valley causes and was to join the boards of several organizations over the ensuing years. His main focus was on the local public radio station, started in 1988 by Sean Donovan, to whom he donated money to get the project off the ground. Carroll had two studios from Sound One and gave then to the station and in the early days had his own show, ‘T.G.I.F.’, but these days, whilst he continues to give support, he is far more in the background. Whilst continuing to be on many boards/committees he is now also the co-owner of the Boonville Lodge Bar & Grill, but again he leaves most of the hands-on work to others.
When I asked where he liked to hang out in the Valley he answered, “I love to be here at my property. It is my favorite place. I used to love flying in the Valley and had two planes at the airport but not anymore. My physical disabilities have curtailed many of my activities. I have spinal stenosis – the calcification of every vertebrae in my back – and the curvature of my spine will continue to get worse and worse, along with the pain”.
“I love the Valley and the way in which the people here support each other. So many hands come out to help. Where I come from, next-door neighbors don’t know each other. It amazes me, such a close community – ex-hippies, rednecks, loggers, city-folk – all coming together. The factional problems between the various communities have improved immensely, the quality of eating venues has greatly changed for the better, and the Health Center changes have been great. There’s nothing I don’t really like about the Valley. I suppose law and order could be more of a presence sometimes but overall, really, what’s not to like?”
I wondered if Carroll had ever thought of moving away, and if so where to? “I have thought at times that I could live back in Australia. My brother is still there, in Tasmania actually. As for vacations, Maui would be nice, or perhaps Mexico. I speak quite fluent Spanish so that would be somewhere I’d like to go again. Now my physical limitations will probably prevent me from going anywhere but that’s fine, I’ve been to so many places around the world and had wonderful times everywhere”…
I then asked Carroll for his responses to various entities in the Valley…The wineries? – “They are a big part of our economy. They contribute to the community in one-way or another. I have no problem with them as long as they operate within acceptable guidelines of decorum. They must contribute to the welfare and education of the families of their workers”…KZYX & Z? – It is certainly an attribute to the Valley. It is well handled and is much needed in a rural community such as ours. Some of the on-air volunteers are not the greatest but they are faithful to the cause and I applaud them.”…The A.V.A.? – “Since Bruce Anderson returned it is 100% improved. The community spirit he now displays shows to me that he is more conscious of his readers. In the past it seemed he was out to give everyone a hard time but that seems to have changed”…The High School? – “I am amazed at the achievements of our High School. I am very proud of it. Having said that I was disappointed in recent times to discover that some students were not advised thoroughly as to the scholarships available to them and the teachers and counselors should be more on top of this”…
The next poser for Carroll to think about was his choice for Mayor of Anderson Valley, if there were to be such a position – “Well, I think that there are two positions to consider here. For a functioning Mayor, someone making decisions on the Valley, I would choose Kirk Wilder from the Airport. As for a position of Honorary Mayor, I believe that Eva Johnson or Jerry Cox would be excellent choices”…
This led me to ask what he would do if he was Mayor and could make improvements to Valley life – “Well, I’d love to see a bank in town once again. This would be useful for the whole community…And perhaps a taxi company of some sorts, although this might be difficult of course. A parking set-up in downtown Boonville would be beneficial also; instead of the current ‘Chinese fire-drill’ we have where people do not respect others with their parking habits”…
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 pr phrase? – “Contentment”.
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “Factionalism – strife between groups”.
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Forgiveness and compassion”.
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Those with quick-tempers and who negatively categorize people”.
What sound or noise do you love? – “Orchestral music”.
What sound or noise do you hate? – “Screams of pain by humans or animals”.
What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – “Shit!!!”
What is your favorite hobby? – “Gardening”
What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted? – “A novelist – writing was my favorite subject at school…Or perhaps even a vet”.
What profession would you not like to do? – “I would not like to be in a job dealing with people’s physical pain and suffering…Nor a psychologist, or worse yet, a psychiatrist”.
Do you have any words to live by? – “The phrase ‘do unto others as you would have others do unto you’ is a doctrine I have tried to follow”.
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?  – “You did what you could”.

Published in: on December 17, 2008 at 5:03 pm  Comments (1)  

Gloria Ross – December 5th, 2008

100_1737I met with Gloria at her home in Boonville and we sat down for a chat at a large table in her lovely big kitchen…
She was born, Gloria Friberg, in Ft. Bragg in 1934, her father having moved to this country from Sweden in 1923 and her mother a first generation American with Italian immigrant parents. They lived at the homestead Valenti Ranch on the Greenwood Road, about halfway between Anderson Valley and Elk. As a young girl she attended a one-room kindergarten schoolhouse called Blossom School before, along with four other children also living up in the hills, traveling to Elk Elementary everyday from 4th through 8th grade.
Her life revolved around school and also, with all the men away fighting in World War II, helping with the ranch work, as did the whole extended family. She learnt a lot about running a home during that time, knowledge that was to bear fruit in later years. “My life was all ranch and school, ranch and school – a real family ranch, everyone helping out, everyone eating together, working together – delightful, I loved it. I was an only child but had many cousins. During the summers our City cousins from San Francisco would be there too – until we got our fill of them!”…Her mother had died when Gloria was just eight and her father was away a lot – he was a logger and traveled to various logging camps wherever there was work so during these years she was raised by her grandmother and aunts at the Valenti Ranch.
In 1948, knowing some people in Boonville, she chose Anderson Valley High School over Mendocino and joined 55 other children at the school. “This was a big school for me!” There was no power on the Mendocino Ridge so she would have to study by kerosene lamps at night; “no indoor plumbing either”. She was very social and joined as many groups/teams as she could – band, choir, cheerleading with lifelong friend Eva Holcomb, and played on the volleyball, softball, and basketball teams. If there was ever a dance in the evening she would stay overnight at Eva’s – “I just loved to dance; of course in those days boys and girls danced together, not in separate groups!” However, most of the time she would be at home, helping with the chores – “it was when I really learned things – how to cook, work with cattle, make cheese, bread, butter. My grandmother, who could only speak Italian, taught me a lot…I was very happy just being with my family. We had so much fun just chatting together; we enjoyed each other’s company. We didn’t need many toys – perhaps a few dolls and Lincoln Logs. The whole family would sit around and play games and cards – Lemonade, Red Rover, Steal the Sticks. My father was also around a little more – he had suffered the loss of a leg in logging accident at Brown’s Camp in the woods to the west of where the Grange now is. He had to retire but thanks to his prosthesis he continued driving and dancing”…
Gloria graduated in 1952 along with fellow classmates and friends Eva Holcomb, Pat Hulbert, and Julia Pinoli and “although I loved Anderson Valley – everyone had always been so friendly and helpful – I decided to move away to college, attending San Jose State to study Home Economics. I had four good years there and graduated in 1956”. She knew that at some point she wanted to teach but initially she found work in other fields such as food analysis in San Jose – “not social enough for me” – and at one point managed the restaurant at Stanford University and an accompanying catering business.
In 1958 she met and married Bob Rhoades – “my parents had met ‘the love of my life’”, she cryptically comments. “He was very good-looking and personable. It wasn’t long before we had two kids and I stopped working. Bob worked for P.G. & E and had met my family when they were installing power on the Greenwood Road but over the next few years we lived all over the State – wherever he had to work”…They finally settled back in the Valley in 1965 and for a time she was a stay-at-home Mum raising the kids, Steven and Jenny. However, she inquired about jobs at the school even though at the time she did not have teaching credentials. The Superintendent was Bob Matthias and he gave her a job in the school library – she ended up working there for seven years. It was during this time that she and Bob parted ways and he went abroad. “It just wasn’t working”…
Gloria enjoyed her job but when the Home Economics teacher retired she seized her chance and went through her teacher training on the job thanks to the help of Superintendent Mel Baker. “I had found my vocation”…She was unable to socialize very much and, whilst she had her fair share of suitors, she focused on raising the kids and her job. “I did go to dances sometimes, particularly with my friends and relatives on the coast, but I was never really interested in anyone and focused on being a mother and good worker”…
“I loved my job. Every aspect of it, but perhaps my favorite class, surprisingly, was the Boys Home Economics cooking class. I had four kids to a kitchen and four kitchens. It was so much fun. In one kitchen I had Rick Wyant, David Wallace, Eddie Walker, and Tony Pardini – I am still convinced that they put Copenhagen chewing tobacco in the brownies!…However, you know, I think the boys took more pride and were often more interested in the food than the girls…I always attracted the kids who were more vocational, unsure of what they wanted to do. That was the way it was for twenty-nine years, until I retired in 1995”…During those years Gloria was also deeply involved with the School Yearbook and taught General Math. When Home Economics was dropped due to expenses, she led the food catering service at the school, teaching the students how to order food and prepare menus, as well as cook. She also helped some of the struggling students with their studies in her free time…
At this point in the interview Gloria offered me some of her absolutely delicious zucchini bread and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and husband Jim Ross briefly joined us. They have been married since 1976 at which point Gloria finally moved out of the family ranch, where she had been sleeping in the same room and same bed as she had as a child, and came permanently to the Valley. Jim’s family had been friends of the Valenti family for years before then (ironically Jim’s mother had nearly married Gloria’s father at one point)…”Jim, my kids, and my grandchildren – Andrea, Justin, and Nicholas are the lights of my life. Giving and receiving hugs from them is something very special to me”…
Apart from family and work, Gloria has also made time for the St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church in the Valley and its sister church in Elk. There they have had a St. Patrick’s Day event every year for 116 years that in recent years she has organized, although she’s been actually involved with the event for over sixty of those years. “I missed the job at the school, the friendships and the kids, but gradually I have been doing more and more with the church and its fundraising efforts. Retirement has been very, very busy for me”. Gloria runs the monthly Barn Sale, held behind her house here in the Valley, and also the annual Crab Feed – one of the most popular events in the Valley’s social calendar.
I asked Gloria what her favorite place to hang out was. “My home definitely…The Barn too, I guess – I like to go there alone sometimes. But definitely my home and most of all, my kitchen”…I then asked what was her favorite thing about life in the Valley? “Its beauty; the people of the Valley, my friends here. I can look out of virtually any window in this house and see wonderful things and get lost in thoughts about my life here…I have never thought seriously about living anywhere else but may be Hawaii would be somewhere I could live – I was once offered a job there and nearly went; I haven’t really traveled much – apart from those years when we lived all over California. I would like to visit Sweden and Italy to see relatives I have never met – but just to visit”…
“Is there anything about the Valley that you don’t like”, I inquired…’Nothing really”, she answered,” although I am irritated by those ugly buildings next to the ‘Elegante Video’ store in downtown Boonville. That used to be a nice drugstore and soda fountain in the early fifties. I wish the Chamber of Commerce would do something about it. It’s a real eyesore”…
I then asked Gloria for her reaction to my mentioning of a few Valley entities…The Wineries? – “I love them – I have no problem with the ones we have”…KZYX &Z? – “No comment”…The A.V.A.? – Well, I don’t go a week without it. Sometimes I don’t care for the language but I understand why it is there”…Tourists? – “Fine with me – I’ve met many very nice visitors to the Valley”…The apparent Napafication of the Valley that some claim? – “Naah! You can’t stop progress. It’s fine with me. We used to be the last to know anything – now Pt. Arena is!”…
I thought I might get a few opinions on the next one, and I did…The High School? – “I wish more attention was given to activities like the performing arts, band, drama, art, choir – not everyone fits in to athletics and sports. I like sports, I go to watch some games but we need to encourage more vocational activities and try to get the flight program back – the airport is right there. It was so successful…Another thing – why are the trophies the little kids get so big? They end up at the Barn Sale you know! Maybe they can be given when they are older, yes, but the little kids too?…And why do we have four graduations at our school? There should be just one; the others should be the handing out of ‘certificates of completion’ without a big ceremony…I don’t know. I worry about the kids of today. They do not seem to be able to take responsibility for their actions. Little kids are the same as they’ve always been – they are just kids; but the parents have changed and as the kids grow up they seem to be more into themselves – very different than in my day. I was told that ‘whatever it is you become, be a good one and always do your best’ – I have tried to follow that advice”…
Who would you vote for Mayor, Gloria, if there were such a position? – ”Danny Kuny – he was not a great student but I enjoyed teaching him. As Mayor he would tell it like it is and be honest I’m sure”…And if you could be Mayor for a day, with the power to change anything, what would you do? – “I would make downtown Boonville beautiful. It’s o.k. but I would try to make it really something beautiful to match the surrounding countryside”…
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 pr phrase? – “Do you want to dance?”
What is your least favorite word? – “Drunk”.
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “My Sunday observance at Mass”.
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Negative people”.
What sound or noise do you love? – “Music – particularly country music and the voice of the tenor, Pavarotti””…
What sound or noise do you hate? – “Boom boxes in cars”.
What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – “Oh, crap!!”
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “A hostess in charge of events and catering on a cruise ship – I could do my job and travel at the same time”.
What profession would you not like to do? – “Anything that would involve work on computers. I do my organizing the old-fashioned way with hand-written lists – I’m from the old world”.
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?  – “Is it o.k. with you that there are no Barn Sales and Crab Feeds?”…Gloria said she would reply, “That’s not o.k. – Oh, well, we’ll have plenty of time to socialize with family and friends”…
I had been with Gloria for over three hours – it had been a most enlightening and enjoyable time. She is clearly very accomplished, wise, and competent. She is also a superb cook, if her zucchini bread is anything to go by, and I now look forward to being on her Christmas biscotti list!…

Published in: on December 10, 2008 at 5:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Amy Bloyd – November 29th, 2008

100_1730The Bloyd name is very well-known to many people around Anderson Valley and points well-beyond and perhaps Amy, although not born a Bloyd, is the most well-known of the current generation – the phrase, “she offers some local color”, is as appropriate in Amy’s case as anyone’s…We met for a chat last Saturday afternoon, November 29th, at The Boonville Lodge Bar and Grill in downtown Boonville…
She was born, Amy Mea Liljeberg, in Ft. Bragg, a second generation American with Swedish paternal grandparents and on her mother’s side the grandparents had come over from Finland. She was the middle child of five siblings and grew up on the coast in Elk on the Liljeberg Ranch, attending the local elementary school before going on to graduate from Mendocino High in 1971. She was not a good student and disliked sports, but she enjoyed being in the color guard as one of the two gun-carriers accompanying the band on marches and at parades.
For a time after leaving school she had been a baby-sitter, but then she began work as a custodian at the Elk Grammar School, a job she was to hold for nineteen years, from 1976 to 1995, traveling to and from work via the Philo-Greenwood Road even after she had moved to Anderson Valley in early 1978. She made the switch to Valley life after meeting Mickey Bloyd and becoming pregnant by him. They got married and moved in together, living on Monte Bloyd Road a few miles north of Philo.
They had met on one of Amy’s regular visits to the bar in The Navarro Hotel in The Deep End. This was formerly called the Pardini Hotel and situated where the new outdoor amphitheater has been installed this past summer. There was a vibrant scene in Navarro at that time, with many wild nights at the bar, which was frequented by the hotel guests – “loggers and working people – no tourists stayed there”.
Within two years of Amy’s move to the Valley, Mea and younger brother Eric had been born but, shortly afterwards in 1981, Amy and Mickey split up. Her two sisters helped raise the kids with Amy moving out of the Bloyd place and soon afterwards into the trailer behind The Boonville Lodge, where she lives to this day. She continued to work on the coast as a custodian but gradually picked up some shifts at the bar and, living where she did, this obviously was very handy. As a result she has been a bartender at the bar off and on for over twenty years, working for five of its owners in her time, starting with Ron Jones right through to today with Tom Towey – “he’s made this a good place for all Valley people now”…There are many “Amy Stories” about her times behind the bar over the years but, being the “family newspaper” that this is, coupled with a lack of space, you’ll have to ask her for the details yourselves – suffice it to say, alcohol, ‘adult’ discussions, and nudity, each played a big part…
During her early days in the Valley, family and friends would meet for after-work drinking sessions in Navarro outside the store. It was one of her favorite things to do – hanging out with people of all ages – old-timers like Mickey’s Dad, Robin, and his buddy Angelo Bacci with their jugs of wine, working men, kids; all sitting on sofa’s and chairs around a big redwood – ‘The Drunk Tree” as they called it…“Once the Navarro Hotel was gone, there was no bar there. We’d all bring what we could and share it, then we’d pee on the tree to help it grow!”…
Another hangout she enjoyed in her younger days was Mary Jane’s Cantina Bar (now Lauren’s Restaurant) that was primarily a place where the recently arrived Mexican community would gather for a social drink. “The Mexicans welcomed us girls into their bar…Some might find it hard to believe now but yes, I hung out with the Mexicans! But if they wanted a drink with us in The Lodge they were not welcomed – in fact they would often be thrown out on the street. Literally thrown out – flying through the air they went!”
On other occasions, if the bar scene was too rowdy, Amy and friends would gather at John and Linda Hulbert’s place behind what is now the One Horse Espresso in downtown Boonville. “It was a great place for parties and good times without the crazy scenes that were often at The Lodge”…
Overall though, Amy spent most of the time working and raising the two kids. Her wilder days were to come when Mea and Eric were teenagers and she would go out with friends and new companion, Richard Reitz…She met Richard around 1993 when visiting friends in Lake County – he was a barman at The Supper Club in Lucerne and although he had a girlfriend she kept going over there to see him and then one day he gave her the key to his house. Amy knew it wouldn’t be long before the other woman would be out of the picture. She was right. “Richard was good-looking, rugged, and a real professional at his bartending job. It wasn’t until much later that his health became a big issue, and I became his full-time caregiver, that our times together became difficult. It was very hard the last few years. Before that we had a good time and he was a good father to Mea and Eric and they accepted him as their new Dad”…
Mickey Bloyd was charged and found guilty of double homicide and was on death row at San Quentin when he died of cancer in 1997. Amy is convinced he was not guilty – “not his style to tie people up and shoot them” – and had never sought to get divorced. She then waited a year before marrying Richard in 1998. They were together until his death earlier this year and many in the Valley appreciated the couple’s annual Christmas gift of a calendar to family and friends…“We had some good times together. One of our best was the last time we went out together as a family – Richard, Mea, Eric, and me. We went to an Alan Jackson concert this last July at the casino. It was a great concert. Richard died a month later and that last family outing will always be a special memory”…
I asked Amy about what she liked most about living in the Valley – “The people who live here – definitely. They would give you the shirt off their back to help you, even if they didn’t have one!”…And what don’t you like about life here? – “Those kids and their fuckin’ boom boxes. Why so fucking loud – no wonder they can’t learn stuff – they’re deaf and can’t hear the teachers!”…
Amy helps out at various events, particularly the annual Woolgrowers’ Fair and BBQ at which she sells t-shirts or helps prepare the food. She was briefly a member of The Grange but “I forgot the password and never went back – oh, well”…She attends most of the Valley’s events and her favorite is without doubt the County Fair. “I had a great time this year,” she says with a grin, sipping her drink before adding, “Richard wasn’t there!” as she burst into a loud throaty laugh…
I next asked Amy to give me her brief thoughts on various Valley entities/institutions…The wineries? – “Too many”…KZYX & Z? – “Pretty good”…The A.V.A. – “It’s good at times”…Tourists? – “Terrorists!”…What about the changes to the Valley in the past twenty or thirty years? – I would love to see more sheep and apples like the old days but the changes have not been as bad as some say. Anyway, I guess I’ll stick it out here now”…
With that in mind, Amy has never been much of a traveler. She has been to Colorado to see Richard’s family and friends and has also visited Oregon. She would love to go back to Colorado to see Richard’s older brother but doesn’t think she’ll get round to it anytime soon. She has never left the States but “I’d like to go to Finland to see where my family is from but that’s not likely to happen”…Despite not being a traveler too far from home she does like to go to the barn sales, etc. in this area, at which she is a compulsive buyer and adds to her collection of “useless stuff” all the time. “I am a junk collector – just lots of crap. My Mum was like that having being raised in a depression – collect and save, collect and save – my brother and sisters are the same. I collect all sorts of stuff but particularly boxes of all shapes and sizes and, of course, out-houses – all kinds. Yes, my out-house collection is the best part of my junk”…
Numerous Valley folk may be aware of the rumors about Amy’s “flashing” of her breasts in public and so I asked her about this. “Oh, yeh, I have got my tits out many times in public. I even streaked once when the song ‘The Streak’ was playing on the jukebox. That shocked a few people in the bar I was in out at the coast – The Beacon Light in Elk. I have showed my tits many times around Boonville too. I like to do it for any of the young guys turning twenty-one. I tell ‘em to take a look but they can’t have any more!…Showing ‘my girls’ is no big deal…I flashed the County Sheriff at The Fair this year. He tried not to smile and then I realized why – his wife was sitting next to him – I didn’t know that. It’s o.k. though – the Sheriff and me, we’re good buds! He comes around here sometimes to see me, to check that I’m not doing something stupid… I am outgoing. I speak my mind. I don’t care what most people think. I’ve always been like that”…
I then asked Amy what she would do if she was Mayor of Anderson Valley for a day, if there was such a position, and could implement any change to life in the Valley…”I’d hate to do this, and I know people would get pissed, but I’d put in a stoplight at the crossing in Boonville; or at least have it better lit than it is now – getting to the Post Office is dangerous…I’d also do something about the tire-screeching some people do at 2am in the morning… I’m glad we’re going to have two more deputy sheriffs soon – Dennis Miller is one – he was a good cop when he was here before. I know there was some shit that happened in Covelo with him but that’s history – I thought he was a good and friendly cop”…
Who would you vote for Mayor, Amy? – “I’d vote for Tony Pardini. He can stir up all the bullshit around here and then sort it out. He’d keep everyone on their toes if he was in charge”…
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? – She leaned forward and said slowly – “Fu-ck!” – giving the word two syllables…
What is your least favorite word? – “Work”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Well, not much to be honest with you…but at this moment the thought of seeing my new born nephew is exciting”…
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Life in general”, she replied, giggling to herself…
What sound or noise do you love? – “Good country music”…
What sound or noise do you hate? – “Kids crying – put ‘em in a freezer and let them out when they’re twenty-one!”
What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – “Fuck you!”
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “I was briefly an x-ray technician at a dentist office. I really liked that but it closed down and I never did it again”…
What profession would you not like to do? – “Anything to do with computers – I am completely computer illiterate”…
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “About time you got here!”
We stood up and hugged. Amy is a good woman who certainly has a kind heart beneath the intimidating exterior – and, as I mentioned, she undoubtedly provides “some local color”…

Published in: on December 1, 2008 at 11:00 pm  Leave a Comment