Jerry Cox – January 22nd, 2009

101_0046I met with Jerry at the High School on a Thursday afternoon and we sat in the staff common room for our little chat. Several teachers came in and out during our talk and it seemed very apparent from the brief exchanges that Jerry was liked and respected by all… Jerry was born, Gerald Cox, on May 30th, 1925 in Oakland, California, to parents of Irish descent, both sets of his grandparents having come over from the ‘old country’ in the late nineteenth century – his paternal grandparents had arrived with “$0” according to the records Jerry saw when he visited Ellis Island. He was the second oldest of seven siblings which included one set of twins and a set of triplets!…Following his attendance at a Catholic elementary school, at the age of fourteen he entered St. Joseph’s Seminary College in Mountain View and began training for the priesthood, graduating to St. Patrick’s in Menlo Park when he was twenty. His training continued until he was ordained as a priest on June 16th 1950 at which point he was assigned assistant pastor to St. Mary’s Church on skid row in Oakland. Here he spent five years working in a community that was predominantly black and Hispanic and it was during this period that he began his mastery of the Spanish language. In 1955, it was felt that a combination of his position as a priest plus some knowledge of the social services system would be beneficial so he was sent to study for his Masters in Social Work to the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. He returned to the Bay Area two years later where he was assigned to Catholic Social Services in San Francisco before continuing his vocation at the Hanna Boys Center in Boyes Springs, Sonoma County. This was “the Boystown of the West”, where from 1957-62 he was the Assistant Director at a facility dealing primarily with delinquent kids. In the early sixties, Jerry was involved in the creation of the new Diocese of Santa Rosa, covering several counties in northern California, and he became its Chancellor, meaning he was involved with mainly administrative duties. This had the effect of moving him away from what he really liked to do – “it was not my thing” – so, when he was given the opportunity, he seized the chance to become the Director of the Youth Program for the Catholic Social Services and this enabled him to re-hook up on a daily basis with the Spanish-speaking community. “There were quite a few radicals around – the Mexican American Political Association (M.A.P.A.) was one group, not as radical as the Black Panthers but they were certainly prepared to take on the powers-that-be and it included Cesar Chavez, who had his first ‘house meeting’ at this time, and who was to eventually form the Farm Workers Union and make a real difference.” Jerry was the only Spanish-speaking priest in the whole diocese and focused much of his time into getting the Mexican community more involved in politics and officiating at marriages, funerals, and quinceanera celebrations all the way to the Oregon border. He started a new parish in West Santa Rosa called the Resurrection Community Center which was a unique place at the time in that it was used for far more things than as just a church. It was a center of the community with meetings, dances, and dinners all held there. Furthermore, and something else quite different from the norm, Jerry lived in the community not on the church property. He asked for and was given permission to buy a house in the neighborhood. ‘I told them I’d move into a priest house later but it never happened. I was living amongst the parishioners and the community appreciated this I’m sure…. I was very active during this period with farm workers rights, the boycotts, and social justice. I almost went on Martin Luther King’s march to Montgomery – I always regretted that I didn’t.” At this time a new assistant was needed to help Jerry in his work and two nuns were interviewed for the position. “The Bishop advised me to take on the older one but I told him I’d prefer the younger one – she was more my style. I got my way and that was Sister Kathleen Snyder – the future Kathy Cox!”…We worked well together but a couple of years later, with the dam was starting to leak in the church and many leaving, Kathy decided she was no longer connected to many of the older traditional viewpoints and she joined the Peace Corps and moved away. We kept in touch – we were certainly attracted to each other and I began to seriously question my priesthood position. Finally, in 1973, I sought dispensation from the Pope to legally revert to a layman, as it was important to Kathy and I that we get married in church. This was granted and in June 1974 we were married in Spokane, Washington, where her family is from, before we settled back in the Bay Area.” Jerry returned to a job with the Catholic Social Services and became its Assistant Director whilst Kathy attended U.C. Berkeley at the School of Public Health. He also became Executive Director of the Easter Seals Society during this period and then in the space of a couple of years they became the proud parents of two daughters, Rebekah and Mary Anne…They had visited the Anderson Valley area a few times previously and when Jim Ferhoff, who as it turned out had grown up on the same block as Jerry in Oakland, began developing Rancho Navarro in the late seventies they decided to buy some acreage. They would come up for short visits, camping with a trailer, and soon realized that this was “a fantastic place to raise kids” and made plans to move to the Valley permanently. “In 1983, we made our move to the Valley and were talked into buying the Floodgate Store – a general store and beer and wine bar – the stupidest mistake we ever made. We signed a five-year lease and after initially living there we bought a house on Rancho Navarro. Kathy didn’t like the business and she got a job at the Health Center and it was during this time that she formed the Anderson Valley Housing Association. She became very involved with the Mexican community and helped to find them real housing as opposed to the culverts and chicken huts many had to live in at that time…I stayed at the Floodgate, selling groceries, ice cream, general supplies, fishing licenses, etc and then beers to the loggers who would come in at 4pm every day… However, I was not a businessman at all and so when Johnnie Schmidt came along looking for a place to set up a little restaurant it was like a gift from God. We became partners – I was the maitre d’ and he was the chef – and in 1986 the Floodgate Café was born. We served predominantly upscale Mexican food, good salads and desserts, and a Sunday breakfast – a very simple menu actually. It became very popular with people coming from many miles around; so popular that on some nights, being such a small place, people had to wait in their cars until their tables were ready. I remember going outside and serving guests their beer and wine and saying things such as, ‘Smith, party of four in the blue Chevy – your table is ready!’…We lasted two years until 1988 when Johnnie moved to the Hotel in Boonville and I joined him there. Although I feel I am a very hospitable person I never really liked the hospitality business and left after a relatively short time.” Jerry got a job with the Teenage Rehab Center in the Valley and then in 1989 he and Kathy opened the Indian Creek Ranch to house those undergoing treatment and recovery. It lasted for three years until 1991 when social service cut backs in such ventures took effect, resulting in them closing the facility down. Jerry went to work for the Social Services Department in Ukiah. Here he set up Nuestra Casa (Our House), providing counseling, drug and alcohol rehab services, and various kids’ programs…He commuted to Ukiah for three years during which time he also got involved with fund-raising for the church under the name of ‘Gerald F. Cox and Associates’ – “although it was just me – there were no associates.” Then in the mid-nineties Jerry and Kathy decided on a complete change of direction and pace. From 1994 to 1998 they went to Hong Kong to work at The American School, teaching Spanish to American and wealthy Chinese kids in the Language Department. ‘It was a great few years. We had a wonderful time in Hong Kong and during our stay out there we had a ball traveling around much of Asia”… On their return in 1998 Jerry approached School Principal and Superintendent, J.R. Collins, and suggested a job as a counselor for the Spanish-speaking kids. J.R. thought it was a great idea and that’s where Jerry remains to this day, working three days a week with about fifteen kids in total…With social activism not as prevalent in his daily life, he and Kathy now love to spend time with their four grandchildren – Rebekah’s Gerald and Gigi Rocha who are in Windsor and Mary Anne’s Cadence and Milo Doble in Ukiah, and yet he still found time in recent years to lead the fund-raising campaign for the addition to the Anderson Valley Clinic, ultimately raising over a million dollars. I asked Jerry what he most liked about life in the Valley. “I love the people here. We have many friends and have lots of fun here. The community is very caring and of course there is the natural beauty of the Valley…We love to eat at Lauren’s and go out to Navarro Beach at the coast…The one disappointing thing about our time here has been our inability to really develop significant housing for farm workers and others that need it. I was very disappointed that the School Board voted down the project to build housing for public employees on school property.” “We attend many of the Valley’s events – the Crab Feed etc, and had a great time at Lauren’s on New Year’s Eve…I’ve been to Mexico about twenty five times and to Ireland on three occasions to check in on my roots. We don’t travel as much now and like to spend time with our kids and their families…I can’t imagine ever leaving here – you can bury me here; strew my ashes along the Navarro River.” I then asked Jerry for his responses to various key topics of conversation in the Valley…The Wineries? – “They naturally provide lots of jobs for our Mexican community. Unfortunately, perhaps their presence means we don’t have a more balanced agricultural base and it’s also a problem that many owners do not live here and are not part of the Community.”…The local public radio station, KZYX? – “Kathy listens a lot and I get much of my news from her. I subscribe to the New York Times but I can’t tell her anything – she’s already heard it on the radio! I like Democracy Now and the Celtic music on Sundays and I’m a station member.”…The A.V.A.? – “I love it! Bruce and I have been buddies for a long time and although we certainly have our differences, particularly about the school, we have a mutual respect. I like Alexander Cockburn’s columns, he’s certainly a radical Irishman, and I like to know what’s going on around the County which the A.V.A. covers well…I’m glad Bruce returned – the paper’s better for it”…The High School? – “We have an excellent high school. People who take their kids out of the school are losing a lot. We have no racial problems amongst the kids and the staff are to be greatly admired – they are not just teachers; they are very compassionate and caring and the kids get the experience of being around very loving people.” I asked Jerry whom he’d vote to be Mayor of the Valley if such a position existed. “Donna Pierson-Pugh would get my vote. She knows the Valley backwards and forwards and is a very talented administrator”…And if you were the Mayor, Jerry? “My first project would be to bring people together from all walks of life in the Valley to try and solve the housing problems…And secondly, Kathy and I would love to establish a family fitness and swimming center near to the school – if we won the lottery, of course” To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Bob 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? – “Hola – ‘hi’ in Spanish” What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “Asshole” What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “I really enjoy communicating with people, telling jokes and making others laugh.” What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – ”Militarism and corporate greed. Some of these people, one being Bernard Maldoff who has ruined so many lives with his recently exposed fraudulent financial schemes, should burn in hell.” What sound or noise do you love? – “Sea waves” What sound or noise do you hate? – “Blue Jays squawking.” What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – “Shit” What is your favorite hobby? – “Writing, walking, swimming.” What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted? – “Conducting a symphony orchestra – creating beautiful music.” What profession would you not like to do? – “Business administration.” Do you have any words to live by? – “Well I am a Christian and I believe in a God of Love and a God of Justice. All of my community involvement has been based on feelings of caring, fairness, and peace – nobody can preach the gospel without considering these issues and those of housing, education, health, and economic welfare…I try to ensure that there is a direct connection between what I believe in and what ought to happen in society.” Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Come on in, Jerry, you did a good job.”

Published in: on January 28, 2009 at 6:35 pm  Comments (1)  

Lauren Keating – January 17th, 2009

GEDC0003I met with Lauren (of Lauren’s Restaurant in Boonville) at her home on Anderson Valley Way and after I’d received the approval of Elvis the dog, we sat down for a friendly chat – something that Lauren is very adept at, as many Valley folk can attest…
She was born in San Francisco in the mid-fifties but shortly thereafter moved north of the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County. Lauren was the second of the five girls born to parents of Irish/Portuguese descent who had lived in Marin for a couple of generations and who had encouraged her interest in music at an early age – even taking her to see the hip(py) musical ‘Hair’. They were into jazz and Frank Sinatra etc and although Lauren was aware of the ‘new’ music (the Beatles etc.), which was popular amongst her school friends and enjoyed it, she preferred to listen to the jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Billie Holliday.
She attended Drake School in San Anselmo and although not pushed that way by her parents she ended up in the school’s Alternative Education branch with 125 other kids – it was part of a new movement in education, S.W.A.S. – a School Within A School. It was where students and teachers jointly directed the project-based programs and Lauren was on various Steering Committees to discuss and decide on the curriculum. This was when Marin was on the cutting edge of new and various alternative, very liberal, and innovative lifestyles and this led to it being ridiculed in some quarters – “C.B.S.’ television show ’60 Minutes’ ran a famous story about the area showing people sharing hot tubs and hippies stroking each other with peacock feathers!”…
Lauren thoroughly enjoyed her schooling and this type of education, which was very suitable to highly motivated kids like herelf, and she became Student Body President at one point. “I was looking for something different, reading a lot, and wanting to know more about the world and the politics at that time”…When not at school, Lauren and her family would attend various events that connected with the ethnic Portuguese side of her upbringing of which she has many fond memories but when she graduated in 1974 she wanted to extend her experience of the alternative education system so she embarked on a college education at U.C. Santa Cruz where she studied Environmental Planning – “urban planning, not necessarily ‘saving the forests’ which was what the environmentalist were all about at that time, more a study of how the bulk of the population was going to live.”…The university was split into various colleges and Lauren attended Kresge College which had apartments for the students, not dormitories, and once again she became involved with the numerous teacher/student decision-making committees.
Whilst she enjoyed her studies it was at this time that she became involved in the food/restaurant business when she started work at the student-run café that served lunches to students in the daytime and in the evenings became a sort of ‘place to be’ and was the center of the college community’s social scene. It was not long before Lauren had become co-manager and eventually manager. In her senior year she took some time off to write her thesis about how to confront the elitist nature of the environmentalist movement and to bridge the gap between social justice and the environment. “It was a very difficult topic – ‘saving the beautiful’ was the focus of the movement and at the time the urban issues were not considered – a key issue which remains today. I wanted time away to work on this so I moved to Berkeley and then ended up never finishing it and I didn’t go back.”
It was 1978 and Lauren had no real thoughts of making a career in the restaurant business but over the next few years she worked in the East Bay at various restaurants. ‘I just thought of restaurant work as a way of paying for me to live my life at the time and tried to save some money for the future – whatever that might be.” It was the early days of California cuisine and the sustainable farming movement and by the time she was thirty she had decided that she’d done enough “armchair farming” and read enough ‘back-to-the-land’ books – “It was time to actually go and do it! I was glad not to have a career and therefore not stuck in the Bay Area”.
During her time in the restaurant business she had begun to date Gary Miller and they agreed to move away and try their hand at small-scale farming and agriculture. A friend of hers was the college roommate of Bert Cohen (Boont Berry Bert) who lived in Anderson Valley and so they’d had a contact up here for a few years and had attended The County Fair on several occasions. She was a very “urban girl” and had wondered what people did up here but now with property any closer to the Bay Area being so expensive they began to check out places to live. “We looked in Potter Valley but it lacked a sense of community. We kept coming back to Anderson Valley to look before finally, after about a year-and-a half of this, in September 1986, we bought five acres on Anderson Valley Way with a run-down house for $90K. We wanted to live as small-time farmers and we called it “Inky Dinky Farm’.“
In the years prior to this ‘The New Boonville Hotel’ had appeared in many of the ‘foody’ magazines read by Bay Area folks and the Valley had began to attract many such food-knowledgeable people. Following the mysterious, middle-of-the-night’ disappearance/escape of the hotel owners, Vern and Charlene Rawlins, the building had been empty for a couple of years before Johnnie Schmidt had taken over the building and Lauren, realizing that the farming life would not pay immediate dividends and needing to pay bills – “I would have worked at McDonalds in Ukiah if necessary” – began work at the revised ‘Boonville Hotel”. Her experiences in the Berkeley restaurant scene and her knowledge of the new food movement were a great help in her job at the Hotel, which served this kind of cuisine.
“Philosophically, the farming is great, and I now have chickens once again, but the economics did not support small scale farming and supplemental income was needed so it never really worked out as a business, although we did enjoy it very much. We sold our produce at the farmers’ market, of which I became manager in its second year, but working nights at the Hotel and then all-day on the farm was too much. Then my daughter Nora was born in 1990 and we just concentrated on making money for our little family”
After a brief move to work at The Toll House six miles out of town on Hwy 253 – “it didn’t work out – the phrase ‘location, location, location’ was never more appropriate” – Lauren returned as Inn Keeper for Johnnie but not long afterwards she came to an arrangement with The Soundbite Bar/Restaurant, owned by Jennifer Schmidt, Johnnie’s cousin, whereby Lauren would run a catering business out of there. Jennifer wanted to focus on making the Soundbite a place for music but over time this didn’t work out so it was suggested to their landlord, Ed Karsay, that they reverse roles – Lauren would take over the restaurant business and Jennifer would do some catering. Ed agreed and in February 1995, Lauren’s Restaurant was born…
“I thought the Valley definitely had a need for a restaurant such as ours, with our cuisine. Jennifer wanted to pay the musicians well but the business couldn’t support this with the audience numbers being so inconsistent. I decided we’d do much less music and pay them realistically based on our takings. With the Hotel and The Buckhorn Saloon under Ken Allen as our immediate competitors there was definitely room for something else and the community seemed to want it too…It wasn’t my dream; it was more about being here in the Valley and being able to support a life here. However I did not want to work endlessly. I decided to open in the evenings only – I was forty-one with a five year old and wanted to have a life away from work.”
“I have always enjoyed the restaurant and continue to do so, but in recent years it has become harder. The demographics of the Valley have changed and with most of our business coming from a gradually ageing Anglo population, who come out to dine less frequently, coupled with the current economic climate, I worry sometimes. I really want it to work and will continue to do my best to achieve that.”
“Meanwhile, I shall continue to support local produce even if it’s a little more expensive. I try to do organic too when I can but I’ll take local over organic – to do both is tough sometimes. I see the restaurant as a place where people can feel comfortable, sometimes with some music, and always affordable I hope. I am social and I think of it as an extension of my living room, providing more than just food, although the food is important of course!”
I now began to ask various questions about her life in the Valley. First was what she most liked about life here…”I know others have said this but the sense of community here is wonderful. The fact that it’s a gorgeous place too makes it easy to live here…One of my favorite things to do is go to the Farmers’ Market where I see many friends; I have fun there, and then I like to just hang out in downtown Boonville for an hour or so.”
“What I don’t like about the Valley is the high property values that are keeping young people from making a life here…I also wish that more of the wineries were owner-operated.”
Next up I put my usual button-pushing issues forward for Lauren’s thoughts…The wineries? – “ Well, I just gave you one thought in this regards…They are important as they do provide a vital economic base to the Valley but their presence has meant that there is little room for agricultural diversity here. That’s too bad.”…KZYX & Z Public Radio? – “A good asset and I support the station in numerous ways but with my schedule and by only listening to the radio in my car, I do not listen to it very often.”…The A.V.A.? – “Again, a good asset and it’s important in that it provides us with a way to communicate with each other. To me it’s an appealing part of the Valley, one of its attractions in fact. I do like its ‘edge’ but Bruce has certainly “mellowed” – I’m sure he won’t like yet another person saying that about him! He used to be so hard on people – those who were often just trying to do their best… It is important to have someone asking questions and to induce alternative opinions and ideas and I hope he continues to do so but when he was so harsh he turned many off and thus eliminated them from joining in.”…The School? – “They perform a very difficult job admirably, particular in bringing an immigrant population into a different culture. There is little room for alternative ‘stuff’ as a result but even as a Mum myself I still accepted that a school system has to take care of the majority first and there are not enough kids to support some of the arts programs that might be good to do. There has been such a dramatic change in the Valley demographics over the past fifteen years or so, this was inevitable to some degree…I was involved in setting up the Art Program at the Elementary School and it has worked out really well and I’m proud of being part of that.”…The modernization of the Valley? – “It’s never going to be another Napa around here despite what some may think. We are too far from S.F. and remain not enough of a destination. The change in property values has made differences but ‘Little Napa’ is not going to happen, I’m sure.”…Law and order in the Valley? – “I’m glad we are getting that second sheriff – I’m sure many people are not aware of what goes on around here at times.”…
I asked Lauren who she would vote for Mayor, if there was such a position of authority in the Valley – “I think Bert Cohen would be good but he’d never do it…Judy Long would be excellent, just as she was on the C.S.D. She’s smart and good at getting people to see other’s points of view”…As for Lauren being Mayor and making changes around here? – “I’d have to be God to change things like property values and so being Mayor just wouldn’t cut it for me. I would not want to be Mayor but thanks to Turkey Vulture for suggesting it some months ago. Despite the fact that so many people are here for the same reasons, getting agreement in this Valley is difficult – even amongst like-minded individuals. We are great at coming together as a community at times of death, or fire, etc, but when it comes to agreeing on change or the way forward it is very tough to get a consensus”…
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Lauren 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? – “Empathy – it’s a pretty word; it sounds good and is a good sentiment.”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “I don’t like the phrase, ‘I don’t care’.”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Music – being able to sing”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Rudeness”
”What sound or noise do you love? – “Silence – I really like it. At home I often like to relax in complete silence even though I do love music”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “People talking on cell phones at inappropriate times or in inappropriate places”
What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – “I’d like to say it was ‘fiddlesticks’ but it isn’t. It’s the other F-word – ‘fuck’. Don’t tell Eva!”
What is your favorite hobby? – “Gardening, reading, music.”
What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted? – “I wish I could have been a writer of history – twentieth century history books. I would love to research something and then write a book. As others have said, an awareness of history is extremely important if we do not want to make the same mistakes over and over.”
What profession would you not like to do? – “A door-to-door salesperson; or these days I suppose that would be a job involving telephone solicitation.”
Do you have any words to live by? – “Like many people, it would be ‘to do unto others as you would have others do unto you’ – if we all really thought about that and acted on it then things would be better everywhere.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Just kidding, Lauren!  – You get to go back, we don’t want you yet.”

Published in: on January 21, 2009 at 7:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Buckhorn” Bob Wright – January 9th, 2009

GEDC0007I met with Bob in his new “compound’ at the far back corner of Tucker Court, on the east side of Hwy 128 just south of Jack’s Valley Store. He and wife Dee Dee have recently moved their vehicles, camper and trailer to this spot and as I drove up he was sitting down basking in the sun with a can of Natural Ice beer in his hand. There was nowhere for me to write outside so we moved into the trailer and sat at the table surrounded by books, postcards, magazines, and all sorts of personal affects and knick-knacks. It was very cozy…
Bob was born in 1936 in a town called Niles, California, situated at the east end of the Dumbarton Bridge, a few miles north east of San Jose. Bob’s parents were of English/Irish heritage but they split up when he was just two years old and his mother and new stepfather moved to San Francisco soon thereafter taking Bob with them. He grew up in the Inner Sunset district and attended St Anne’s Catholic School from 1st through 8th grade, where school uniform was compulsory and he had to wear a tie every day. “I enjoyed school but when I wasn’t there Golden Gate Park was my playground. I knew every inch of that place.”
At the age of thirteen, he moved north to join his father and four half-brothers and sisters in northern California in the town of Dunsmuir, between Mt Shasta and Redding, where he attended the local high school. He played basketball for the school and was regarded as a very good player with the potential to go further in the game. He loved animals and even had thoughts of becoming a vet but in his final year at school he fell in love with Donna Malapig, a Philippina girl, and she became pregnant. He graduated in the summer of 1954 and they were married in early 1955. “If you got a girl pregnant in those days there was no alternative – you got married and had the kid; any thoughts of a college career were gone.”
Bob got work in the logging industry and joined the National Guard. He and Donna were not doing well together and they parted ways when daughter Marsha Lynn was just a year or so old. Then, following his refusal to go on a weekend of National Guard duty, the commanding officer, who happened to be his brother-in-law who was upset at Bob over the split with his sister, decided to make an example of him and he was court-martialed for this ‘offence’. “I was working six days a week and just didn’t want to go on a weekend away. I was put in jail for thirty days!”
He was drafted into the Army and although there were no conflicts it was the time of the Cold War and troops were still being sent to Korea to “keep an eye on things”. Bob had flat feet so he avoided that particular tour of duty and was sent to Ft. Lewis in Washington instead. By coincidence his wife was not far away, in Tacoma, and they got back together, resulting in a second daughter, Monica Louise, being born in October 1957. Another girl, Melody, and a boy Richard, were born in the next couple of years. His son Richard was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at five and although told he wouldn’t live very long he actually didn’t pass away until he was twenty-three.
In 1959, Bob moved to Stockton and got a job with P.G. & E, a company he was to stay with for seventeen years. He climbed poles, flew in helicopters looking for trouble spots, and worked as a ‘hot washer’, which involved the use of a high-pressure water hose to clean off the high voltage insulators. “It was hard work and we had no idea of the dangers to our health the exposure to pcb’s was doing. These were highly toxic compounds and pollutants that the company didn’t tell us we were working with. They stopped making them in the early 1970’s.”
In 1972 Bob was lucky to survive a horrific crash on his motorbike that left him with multiple injuries, including a fractured skull and other serious head injuries. It was a life-affecting accident – not only was he off work for five months but it would affect his ability to hold down regular work for the rest of his working life. Furthermore, when he finally left the company in 1976 Bob had no idea that he had already contracted a form of skin cancer as a result of his work on the cleaning of the electric transmitters and distributors.
During his time in Stockton he and friends had often traveled up to the Cloverdale area on their motorbikes. Meanwhile he had received a settlement as a result of being the innocent party in the bike accident and so when he and his wife finally split up for good he gathered his savings and moved to the area. To his disappointment, and still causing him sadness, Bob is now also estranged from all three of his daughters. “It was all my fault”, he says regretfully…
Soon after arriving Bob decided to put his savings into a venture with friends Bob and Chris Yarmie and in 1977 they opened a bar, ‘Elmer’s’ in Cloverdale, now called the ‘Eagle’s Nest’. “I had been in bars since I was five years old. I was very experienced in the bar scene”…He initially lived at the bar but he soon moved into a house at the front of some property in Yorkville. There were two cabins on the property with the one at the back of the property occupied by Bob Murdoch. Hence they became Back House Bob and Front House Bob of Yorkville.
It was during this time that Bob used to first visit Anderson Valley on a regular basis. He drank at The Boonville Lodge and quickly got to know many Valley people. He sold his bar in 1979 and bought twenty acres and an unfinished house on Holmes Ranch Road from Cheryl Schrader. He loved the Valley lifestyle and began to grow pot on his property. “I had done all the ‘up-the-nose’ stuff in my earlier days but it was not for me. I do not do any pharmaceuticals and find people who do that stuff are generally unpleasant to be around. Cannabis is my drug…and alcohol of course.”…
“I was at most of the social events that took place in the Valley. We always went to the Cheesecake Complex on the Philo-Greenwood Road for the jungle ball games once a week. It’s like volleyball but with few rules. It was co-ed and therefore lots of fun!…I would always turn up with Buckhorn Beer – they don’t make it anymore.  It cost me ninety-nine cents for a six-pack – from that time on I was known as Buckhorn Bob.”
“I particularly liked the music scene in the Valley and have followed the music of Pilar Duran, Kevin Owens, Rod DeWitt, and John Becker for years. My favorites were A.J. Soars and David Dart. I loved his “you never miss your water until your well runs dry” song. I’m getting goose-bumps now just talking about these time.”
“Money was tough. The injuries from the accident meant I could never really find regular work. I sold the house and lived rough for a time. Then in 1989 Bill Ahrens told me about a Dodge Overland trailer that was for sale in Ukiah. It was in good shape and a good price. I’d been to Germany, Denmark, and England but I’d not really seen much of this country so I bought the trailer and set off to see the likes of New Orleans and the south…I loved the books ‘Travels with Charlie’ by John Steinbeck and Blue Highways’ by William ‘Least Heat’ Moon and they inspired me to want to travel more.”
During his travels Bob had some wonderful times and particularly enjoyed attending the harmonic convergence at Mt. Shasta in 1990 but then when Bob returned to the Valley in 1991 he was involved in another accident just south of Boonville. His motor home was wrecked and he was homeless once again. “The insurance investigator found that the accident was the other guy’s fault and I avoided any fines or penalties but I had lost my home and received no compensation. I’d met Dee Dee around that time – I guess you’d say we are soul mates, it’s weird how we connect at times – and we moved around the Valley in an old camper I’d bought and stayed on various properties. I’ve been all kinds of homeless in my lifetime but when you see what is going on in this world and how many others are homeless you realize you’re just one of many, brother.”
In recent years they moved to the space on Cheryl Schrader’s property in Boonville behind the Redwood Drive-In where he and Dee Dee helped with the Animal Rescue run by Cheryl. “We walked and fed the animals twice a day, seven days a week for three years”…His health problems continue and he has had a hip replacement and more neurological treatment in recent years “and every time I go to the hospital and the doctors read my charts they say how lucky I was to survive that crash. I have a medical marijuana card and my many aches and pains are soothed legally.”
I asked Bob what were his favorite places to hang out in the Valley. “I love to go to the river with the dogs and hang out there and throw sticks and enjoy the sun. I need the sunshine and it’s warmth – it helps me live…I also like going to The Lodge in the late afternoon for a beer and a game of pool…I love the Valley. Maybe it’s because I know so many people here and can get whatever I want whenever I want it from friends and to help them if they need some favor in return. Then every Wednesday Dee Dee and I go to Sweetwater Spa and Gardens in Mendocino and for $6 each we get a shower, hot tub and sauna…There’s nothing about my life here that I don’t like…
Next I began to put forward the usual button-pushing issues for Bob’s comments…The Wineries? – “I just think they are part of what we should expect. Growing up in San Jose area I remember all the orchards and now look at that part of the world.”…KZYX? – “Well, I have some negative feelings about that. I simply don’t think they play enough ‘good’ music. They now finally have some coverage of school sports which I welcome. The technical difficulties are annoying and never seem to end. Overall, give me the Beatles on a Sunday morning over that Celtic music anytime.”…The A.V.A.? – “Without a doubt it is better with Bruce at the helm. He’s definitely softened up – good for him, although he still tells it like it is and there’s nothing wrong with that.”…The High School? – “I’d like to support the school but we don’t have the means to. I used to play pick-up basketball games in the gym right up until the early eighties – I suppose I’ll always have my basketball ‘jones’…We are friends with Assistant Principal Jim Tomlin and his wife Suzanne. They have always treated us very well and I admire his relationship with the kids…And what Cassidy Hollinger has achieved in getting accepted by Vassar College is remarkable – good genetics right down the line in that case. Bill Ahrens was a great guy; his radio show was one of my favorites”
We took a break and Bob went outside and asked Dee Dee, “Did you roll me a doobie?’…”I did”, answered Dee Dee, “but I smoked it.”…”Good answer” Bob replied as he raised his bushy eyebrows and gave me a grin as he began to roll another one…
On our return to the trailer Dee Dee joined us and gave me a slice of delicious homemade lemon pie with a gram cracker crust along with a can of Natural Ice beer…I now asked Bob who he’d vote for Mayor if such a position was created. “Emil Rossi would be right up there. He calls it like it is and that’s what I’d want in a mayor.” And what would you do if you were Mayor? – “I’d have a well-marked crosswalk in town with people stopping traffic and giving tickets for those who failed to stop. People drive far too quickly through town and nobody gets after them. We have lost Lorkin who was hit on the crossing. It’s a matter of time before someone else gets seriously hurt.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Bob 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? – ‘Voluptuary – it means a person devoted to the pursuit and enjoyment of sensual pleasure. I’ve tried to do this to some extent and I’ve done quite well considering I haven’t had much money.”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “Hypocrite.”…Dee Dee then added, “And what about ‘damn flies’ – as a baby, according to his baby book, that was the first thing Bob learned to say”…Bob replied, ”Well, that’s a good one too – life in a trailer can certainly be miserable with those damn flies.”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Growing things and having animals around.”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – ”The radio cutting out in the middle of an interesting conversation – hint, hint!”
What sound or noise do you love? – “The flute playing of Herbie Hancock.”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “The sound of boulders being dropped off from the back of a dump truck.”
What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – There are so many but I suppose ‘oh shit’ is the one I use the most.”
What is your favorite hobby? – “Playing pool”
What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted? – “I wish I could have been a vet. I love animals and I know how to handle them. Animals trust me, and I wouldn’t think of doing anything to them so that they wouldn’t trust me.”
What profession would you not like to do? – “I couldn’t be a doctor or M.D….
Do you have any words to live by? – “Like others, I have tried to live by the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.’ I give everyone respect until they stop giving me respect – then I drop them like a hot potato.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Ha, ha!…It would be, “Welcome home, Bob!’…

Published in: on January 21, 2009 at 7:11 pm  Comments (1)  

Eva Holcomb – January 2nd, 2009

GEDC0002Eva Holcomb has lived in Anderson Valley since 1938 when she was four years old and her family decided to move here from the coastal town of Elk. Her maiden name is Pardini and that means she has a large extended family that has lived in the Valley for many generations and also that she knows people wherever she goes in these parts. Every time I see her, invariably with husband Bill, she is constantly greeted by virtually everyone who passes by, to whom she extends a beaming smile accompanied by the words, “Hi, honey!”…We sat down to talk at their lovely Ornbaun Road home last Friday morning, with Bill hovering around, stoking the fire and making coffee…
Eva was born in 1934, second child of Ernest Pardini and Annie
Bacci. She has a brother four years older, Donald, and one four years younger, Robert (known as Manchard by many old-timers). She also has a half-brother by the name of Dale. On the Pardini side, her father had come over to the U.S. from Italy as a small child whilst, on her mother’s side, Annie’s parents had arrived in the years before the First World War. It was Flavia Bacci, Eva’s maternal grandmother and the local midwife, who had delivered Eva despite the fact that she’d previously announced she would not deliver any of her own grandchildren. However, when the doctor turned up quite drunk on the day of Eva’s birth she felt she had to step in and the rest is, well, history!
Eva’s family moved to Navarro in 1938 where her paternal grandparents ran the Pardini Hotel, one of four such buildings in the town at that time but the only one still operating as a business. Navarro was a boomtown during the 40’s and 50’s with logging and fishing providing most of the hotel guests. The hotel had a fine restaurant and bar and Eva grew up in a very social environment, although her very strict Italian parents kept an eye on her and insisted that she had to do her work before she was allowed to play or go out – there was little time for the latter by the time she had finished all the chores. “I had to clean and do laundry and keep the house and hotel tidy. My parents were both very strict – almost too much perhaps. It made me want to sneak a bit – you know what I mean?!”…Eva attended the small Navarro School with a total of fourteen other children and it was here that she met teacher Georgina Macdonald, who was to become a lifelong friend, but who at that time taught all the kids, first through sixth grade. Georgina was also responsible for maintaining the upkeep of the school building, getting the stove going every morning before the kids arrived, and cleaning the building at the end of each day. Eva was at the school until she moved on to junior high, which meant being bussed into Boonville to attend the little red schoolhouse in what is now the A.V. Museum. Her mother did not like the idea of Eva being put on a bus every morning so the family moved to Boonville, to the Bradford Ranch, in 1947 when Eva was thirteen, moving to a house on Fitch Lane three years later.
Eva enjoyed school, played all the sports, and particularly loved dancing. She graduated from Anderson Valley High School in 1952 with two friends she still sees in the Valley – Pat Hulbert and Gloria Ross. She was involved in the 4-H program and had a small flock of Suffolk sheep, and horticulture was her favorite subject. Upon graduation, she attended Santa Rosa J.C. but did not like it at all, deciding to return to the Valley after just six months. “I wasn’t ready for college. I remember sitting in my bookkeeping class one day and watching other students in the garden pruning roses. I decided I’d much rather be outside doing that!” Many years later Eva was to take flower-arranging classes and has always harbored thoughts of owning her own flower shop.
On returning to Boonville, Eva started work at the Rossi Hardware Store for $1 an hour and it was whilst here that she met the owner of the service station just next door – Bill Holcomb. One day she offered to pick up some lunch for him and they’ve been together ever since, getting married in 1954, the first couple to ever do so at The Philo Catholic Church. Some people were upset that Eva dated an outsider – Bill was originally from Texas by way of California’s Central Valley – and one woman even asked Eva, “Why marry him, he’s not from round here, why not marry my son?”…They settled on Fitch Lane in a house behind Eva’s parents place and within a few years, they were the proud parents of Bill Jr. (now a sergeant in the C.H.P. in Lake County) and Palma, who with husband Dennis has presented Eva and Bill with grandchildren, John and Ben Toohey…Eva and Bill eventually moved to their present home after Highway 128 had been moved east from what is now Anderson Valley Way, resulting in Fitch Lane being split in two and the traffic being right at their door. One day Eva had accompanied Bill to what was to become their current home when he was hauling water to the house – one of his many sideline jobs! She immediately knew she wanted to live there and told him so. She assured him he should not worry about the water situation as, being a “water witch” or dowser, she had divined that there was plenty in the ground so they’d be fine. He wasn’t about to argue with her on this and she turned out to be right – they’ve always had plenty of water for both their needs, and for Eva’s wonderful garden of course!
In the early fifties the Valley was a very lively place indeed and it wasn’t always in a good way. Initially it was hard to get people to come here to such an isolated place so wages were made higher than in other areas. Bill doubled his wages when he came here from Tulare down by Bakersfield. “People would come into Rossi’s and pay their bills on a Friday and then go out and party all weekend long” she says. The influx of settlers from Arkansas and Oklahoma, here to work in the booming logging industry, saw more than thirty mills in operation and lots of bars and therefore lots of drinking. “There were five bars in the Valley – three in Boonville – The Boonville Lodge, Wiese’s Valley Inn, and The Track Inn, The Last Resort in Philo, and the bar at The Pardini Hotel in Navarro. There were also quite a few ‘beer bars’ – no hard liquor but still selling lots of alcohol. Some people amongst the old Valley families were not thrilled with changes around here or with all the new arrivals – the ‘Okies’ and ‘Arkies’. There were lots of fights – just like in later years when the hippies arrived and then later still as the Mexican community grew. It has calmed down now and people seem to get along much better but it was pretty wild here for a time.”
Eva stayed at Rossi’s for a couple of years and then devoted her time to raising her own family whilst looking after numerous relatives whose health was not good. She also took care of “my good, good friend” Georgina Macdonald, the teacher who had befriended her as a child and who had made Eva’s birthday cake every year from her 4th to her 21st Birthday. Her father and sister-in-law, Donna, suffered ill health and Eva spent much of her time when not with her kids, being a caregiver to these loved ones. “In those days you kept family and looked after them – you didn’t ‘farm’ them out…Then when my father passed my mother made sure we kids were right there for her until she passed in 2007 at the age of ninety-two…To this day I often have brief feelings of anxiety that I must get home to look after her, only to realize that I no longer have to do that – Mother is not there…You learn a lot when you take care of people. Some are in the here and now – like my mother who just said she wanted to be bathed, sit in her favorite chair, and go to sleep. I bathed her and then got her all gussied up. She went to sleep at 11pm. I was concerned when she did not wake so I nudged her to see if she was o.k. She seemed to be annoyed and kept saying, “sleep, Eva, sleep”. She died the next day at 4pm…Then there are others, like my father, who in his virtual comatose state was speaking to those already dead. He seemed to be on the other side before he actually passed”…Talking of such events led Eva to share that she has always had “the strange yet powerful ability to sense things that will happen in the future. It was unsettling and used to worry me but it doesn’t happen anymore – perhaps I have learned to control it. It has occurred many times and one occasion I remember vividly was when young Billy was in sixth grade his teacher was this well-dressed and handsome man called Jim Jones – yes, that Jim Jones of People’s Temple fame! When I met him and he talked about Billy having ‘leadership qualities’ the hairs on the back of my neck went up and I was convinced this man was no good. I told Bill and we took Billy out of that class. People said I was overreacting. A few years later they changed their mind.”…
Over the years Eva has always enjoyed the Valley’s social scene and has been involved with the County Fair for a long time, particularly in the organizing of the Horticultural Building. There used to be two dances at The Fair each year – a western dance on the Saturday night and then a ‘suit and tie’ dance on the Sunday evening. She and Bill always attended both, plus the regular Saturday night dances at The Grange and The Apple Hall, and they have been involved with many of the events put on by the Lions’ Club. She has continues to maintain an active lifestyle throughout her retirement age. “I just love this place. It has been the perfect place to raise children and a family and we love meeting up with friends wherever we go in the Valley. Although I’ve lived in Boonville for over sixty years I will always have a special place in my heart for Navarro where I spent some wonderful years as a child”…She particularly likes to go to the school’s sporting events – grandson John was the school football coach during this past very successful season and she and Bill went to all his games. They can also be seen at the live music events at The Navarro Store on most Saturday nights during the summer. “Some people have asked ‘why do you go to Navarro, aren’t there lots of people smoking pot down there?’ I say, ‘yeh, there are, but I don’t have to!’ ”…She looks forward to the County Fair every year and the Barn Sale every month but her favorite hangout in the Valley is her very own back yard and garden.
There is nothing she doesn’t like about life here and comments, “it has changed so much but even this has been fine with me. The hippies arrived and whilst I didn’t like the drug taking, I did like their energy and even some of the music. The Mexican community has also added much to our Valley and they are slowly blending in, particularly at our church…It is expensive to shop locally but we try to do so as we want to support local businesses but sometimes we do go to Ft. Bragg or Ukiah…I’ve never thought about living anywhere else – it’s all here”…
I next asked Eva, as I tend to do with most guests, about her feelings towards various local entities or organizations…The wineries? – “I like ‘em” she answered immediately. “In many ways they have made the Valley look even more beautiful. They fixed the fences, they cleaned up a lot of old farm stuff that was rusty and useless, and I don’t have a problem with them”…The A.V.A.? – “Well, we always get it to finds out what’s happening. It’s o.k. – I enjoy it. There was a time when there was bad stuff written in it but it has changed and I think Bruce is a softie underneath”…The School system? – “I support our school in so many ways. Bill and I have given lots of time and money to the school but something is not right when so many people have moved, or are talking about moving, their kids to other schools or to home-schooling.”…
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? – “Oh, jiminy!”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “The ‘F’-word – definitely.”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Music – jazzy, bluesy stuff, or the big band sounds of the old days.”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “People not having respect for others.”
”What sound or noise do you love? – “Hearing a train whistle – I don’t know why but I’ve always loved that sound. May be it’s since the trains ran from Navarro to the coast.”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “The high-pitched, bumble bee-like whine of a small motor bike.”
What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – “Oh, shit”
What is your favorite hobby? – “Gardening…Flower-arranging, cooking, working at The old Barn.”
What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted? – “As I said earlier I have always loved flowers and so to have owned a flower shop would have been wonderful.”
Do you have any words to live by? – “I have always tried to live my life by treating others in a way I would like them to treat me – it is not always easy!”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Hi, Eva – welcome. There are lots of people here waiting to see you!”…

Published in: on January 7, 2009 at 5:16 pm  Leave a Comment