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!…

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

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