Cyndee Ahrens-Hollinger – July 17th, 2009

smaller pic for AVI met with Cyndee (Cynthia Dee) Hollinger, nee Ahrens, a couple of weeks ago and we sat down to talk she admitted to being a little nervous. I assured her it was just a pleasant chat that we were going to have and hopefully it would be ‘painless.’ She has read most of my previous Interviews and soon relaxed as we began our conversation.
Cyndee is the daughter of William ‘Bill’ Ahrens and June Carter. Her father was from Chicago and was an advertising executive working for the Army/Navy Times and Now Magazine – “a hip sixties mag.” Mother June was from Nashville, Tennessee, and the daughter of very strict parents who were often absent. “She was raised by her Grandmother – Cynthia, my namesake, and was to be a schoolteacher all her life.” They were married in Illinois, each at the age of seventeen in 1941. Bill joined the Navy in World War 2 and was deployed on a wooden P.T. Boat in the Pacific Ocean. Following the war Bill and June moved out to California and settled in the Los Angeles area where brother Wayne was born in 1946. They later moved to San Mateo where sister Patti was born in 1950, followed by Cyndee in 1960.
“My brother graduated form Hillsdale High, got married, and when I was only five I had a little niece – Erica. We moved into a large house in Woodside with horse properties nearby and my father’s love for the rural lifestyle began around that time and we talked about moving to the country quite a lot. However, my mother liked the urban life, with all its conveniences, and was very unsure about country living… I was the youngest by ten years and you know how that can go, but I don’t think I was spoiled – my siblings might disagree! My parents were very loving, nurturing and forgiving, but I knew very well when I had done wrong and upset them. I had a great childhood and my parents were always there for me. They also managed to live a very hectic social life, dancing often and going out with friends, with my Dad maintaining his links to the service for many years… I attended Woodside High and despite not being a good student I loved it. I had a great art teacher and was a cheerleader and very much into the school social scene.”
Cnydee graduated in 1978 by which time her brother Wayne had got divorced and had moved to Anderson Valley. He had met Valley resident Bob Brendlen many years before and they had ended up good friends, Wayne even moving in with the Brendlen’s for a time. The first time Cyndee’s family visited the Valley was for Thanksgiving at the Brendlen’s in 1968 when she was just eight years old. “My Dad loved Anderson Valley from that time on but my Mom remained unsure. She gradually relented and when I left high school, my Dad retired as the Advertising Manager for the San Jose Mercury, sold our house in Woodside, and they moved to Ornbaun Road in Boonville, to the property where I live today. Patti had moved here with her son Marcel whilst Wayne had met Donna Ronne, the1964 Playboy Magazine’s Playmate of the Year, and they had become common law husband and wife, settling in the Valley. Following their split, Wayne’s daughter Erica moved in with him and attended A.V. High School – my family was all here.”
Despite this, Cyndee remained in the Bay Area where she “dabbled” in some art classes, led a full social life, and worked as a waitress near to Stanford University. She would visit her family in Anderson Valley every other weekend. She loved these visits and her Mom had set her up with ‘Insta-Friends’ – Palm Holcomb, Nancy Durham, Julie Pardini, Denise Groves. “I missed my family and found myself feeling closer to my Valley friends so in 1980 I moved here. Something about here just drew me in. I found work at several different places including Edmeades Winery, the Redwood Drive-In, Lemons Market and for a time was the P.E. teacher at and cheerleader coach at the High School.”
After a year or two Cyndee attended the wedding of friend in Vegas where she met and fell for one of the guests. “We were smitten with each other and when I returned to the Valley I broke up with my boyfriend, said goodbye to family and friends, and moved to Vegas.” This was in 1983 and in 1984 they were married in a big wedding in Vegas and settled down there, buying a house with help from Cyndee’s parents. Cyndee found work as a liquor sales rep. with Southern Wine and Spirits where she befriended a fellow rep. – Terry Hollinger. She left this job after a time to train waitresses at the first of the Olive Garden chain of restaurants to open in Vegas but all was not well domestically. “It was a super bad marriage. All sorts of craziness, and I had to get out, so I returned to Anderson Valley around late 1987and moved in with my parents.”
“For the next couple of years I was content in the Valley, working for Scharffenberger Winery and then Parducci Vineyards in their tasting room in Boonville, at what is now ‘All that Good Stuff’. One evening I was in the newly opened Buckhorn Saloon and it was just chaos, an absolute disaster. I had worked all day and had already had a drink but Kim Allen asked me to help in any way I could, knowing I had restaurant experience. I stepped in and we got through that night. Ken and Kim Alien then wanted to hire me so I gave notice at Parducci and went to work at the Brew Pub. It was a good time overall. The ‘Open Mic’ Night on Mondays drew all sorts of great musicians from all over the County – Hansen and Raitt, Pilar Duran and Kevin Owens, an incredible Blue Grass duo called the Fern Creek Boys, and Big Dan who used to do a wonderful version of ‘Sweet Judy Blue Eyes.’ I enjoyed the job although the ownership were very demanding to work for.”
Death had already begun to haunt Cyndee with the tragic passing of her niece Erica in a car accident at the age of twenty-one, when a girlfriend from Vegas, Earlene, whose husband had died earlier that year, called to say that she was terribly lonely and asked her to go out there and be her roommate. “I thought ‘why not?’ and once again I left the Valley and returned to Vegas.”
It was October 1989 and Cyndee became reacquainted with Terry Hollinger, now a graphic artist for Southern Wine and Spirits, and they began to date. “I got some work as a checker at Lucky’s and then we got married on November 17th, 1990 in a more modest wedding than my first one. My daughter Cassidy was born in July 1991 (‘do the math’, Cass is fond of saying!) She was born in the Women’s Hospital in Vegas and we had signed up for the ‘package deal’ – five-day hospital stay, steak dinners, and a limo back to your home – very Vegas. Life was good but after my son Gunnar was born in April 1994, we decided to leave town and had found a place called Hamilton in Montana where we thought we’d like to live. We were planning to do so when my Dad got ill and I returned with the kids to Anderson Valley with Terry going to Hamilton to scout out the work and housing situation.”
On November 1st, 1994 had an aneurism operation and almost died as a result of poor hospital care. He returned to the family home in December. Meanwhile Terry had found a place for the in “the beautiful Bitterroot Valley”, but then Wayne, who had had married again (to Valley resident Margaret Pickens) was diagnosed with the very rare multiple myeloma bone cancer and Cyndee stayed in the Valley longer than planned. “My Mom was shaken badly by Dad’s illness – he had been her ‘Rock of Gibraltar.’ The local doctor was very blunt in telling her that Dad was so ill. He freaked her out in fact. I know you have to be told these things but there is a degree of ‘bedside manner’ that was definitely lacking on that occasion”…On April 9th, 1995, as they watched the U.S. Masters golf tournament together, her father Bill suffered a heart attack and died the next day in hospital. He was seventy-one…After staying around for a month or so to sort out various things for her mother with Wayne and Patti, Cyndee finally moved to Montana.
“It was tough to find work there. We didn’t really settle and moved on in the mid-nineties to Monroe, Wisconsin, not far from Terry’s relatives, where there were more opportunities and the homes were very affordable. Wayne went into remission and came out to visit us and we went to a cousin’s wedding in Iowa together. Soon after this my Mom was diagnosed with cancer…My relationship with Terry had been getting difficult and I was missing my home. I had kept in touch over the years, off and on, with a high school sweetheart and he gave me support at this time. I decided I couldn’t stay away any longer and took the kids out of school, returning once again to the Valley in 1997 and taking care of my Mother, who by this point was carpooling with Wayne to their radiation treatments.”
June Ahrens peacefully passed away at the age of seventy-four at home on February 19th, 1998. “She had a form of mild dementia in the last few days – the condition seemed to take her gently out of one dimension into another, where she could see my Dad. It seemed to be God’s interesting way of dealing with this. She had amazing hospice workers to help with her care – Ling Anderson for one, and Judy Nelson, an angel on this planet. It was a very calm passing. We all cried but it was very groovy – her favorite Daphne plants were everywhere in the room, the songs of Perry Como were playing. We had told her Dad was waiting and when I told her we were all there she uttered her final words- ‘It’s about time’. As she was slipping away, we put our hands around her head, not actually touching her, and you could feel her aura and energy. It was very tangible. I said, ‘Go and dance with Dad to Benny Goodman’ and she passed on. After she had gone we did the same again and there was nothing.”
What followed was a very tough time for Cyndee. She had lost both parents and her older brother was critically ill. She was going through a divorce and raising two young children alone. Her siblings each owned their own houses but she was at her parent’s house and both Wayne and Patti decided they wanted to sell. Wayne wanted money for his long dreamt of trip to Europe and Patti needed the money. “I was very despondent but it was two against one. Wayne found a buyer – Captain Rainbow, and it was sold for a meager amount. I found myself paying nearly twice as much in rent as the mortgage had been”… Cyndee’s relationship with Wayne’s wife became strained. “I guess these situations are not uncommon and there are two sides of course. I found her difficult to deal with and as time went on whenever Wayne talked it was as if they were her words. Our family thought the difficulties between us and Wayne were caused by her and just before she got really ill I heard my Mother swear for the only time in her life and it was in reference to this.”
On the bright side Cyndee had finally found her calling in terms of her career. She was hired by Jim Roberts as one of his designers at the Taylor Roberts Company in Philo, specializing in merchandising and interior design for model homes. She would be there for almost nine years from 1998 until being laid off when the company folded in November 2007. “We saw the problems coming for a couple of years although we were not sure how bad it would get. It was my favorite job by far and I am very thankful for my time there. It was a fabulous place to work, very professional, and I loved every second of it.”
Wayne died at the age of fifty-seven in September 2001 at his home in Philo. Over the final period of his illness Cyndee and he made big strides in healing some of the wounds of the past. During this time Wayne was volunteering for all kinds of research to be done on his case, including some stem cell research at U.C.S.F. hospital and he referred to himself as a ‘lab rat’. “He was lucid to very near the end. Hospice workers Tom English, Larry Nelson, and Butch Paula are some I remember who were there at the end and Wayne said, ‘What are you guys all doing here?’ “

I asked Cyndee what she most liked about Anderson Valley. “I thank the Valley for welcoming me back a ‘million’ times. The people here are wonderful and have been very good to me, my family, and my kids. It is an eccentric place, exciting, yet often boring. I have always come back here – it’s my home.”…And what don’t you like? – “I don’t like the prejudices that some people have. It is just blind bigotry and normally comes from those who have not experienced other ways of life or cultures. Some people keep their minds closed and yet if they opened them up a little they would become so much more accepting. I have seen it happen. Many people here make me happy, some piss me off – sometimes it’s the same people.”
As I do every week I asked Cnydee for her responses to various ‘hot-button’ Valley issues…The Wineries? – “They have provided jobs and seem to be good employers for the most part. Obviously the tourist business they have bought into here has helped many. However, I hope we can have some sort of moratorium on just how many vineyards we can have here. I am also not sure that some of their fertilizing practices have been good for us either – what’s with the six-legged frogs in some of the winery ponds?”…The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I love it. I appreciate it even though it’s not always correct, and I believe it supports the local school and its sports teams, despite what some have incorrectly said.”…The School System? – “I am at a place with the school where I have undergone two very different experiences. My daughter Cassidy has just graduated and will attend a great college, Vassar, in the fall – the school has been great for her overall. Events like the ‘Sombrero Six’ so-called ‘scandal’, when teenagers on the school trip to Mexico were drinking alcohol, got blown out of all proportion by the authorities. There is worse stuff they can get up to every weekend in Boonville. However, Cassidy rode through this and has come out fine…My son, just like myself, is not nearly as academically inclined and I have to say that the school has been slow to help in the past, although to this point he has always managed to get through. Some of my options for him were under the radar and I was not made aware of them…In my experience, some of the rules and procedures in the Student Handbook have been inconsistently followed. Having said that, the efforts in support of Cassidy’s further education by the school, and by Cass herself, have got her to Vassar. I think the tri-fecta of school, student, and parent can, if all three pull together, lead to great things for our kids here in the Valley.”
Cyndee is currently employed at The Boonville Lodge Bar and Grill and continue to live as a tenant in the old family home on Ornbaun Road. She is content in many ways with her life in the Valley but does not count out any future moves. “I would love to travel more, to New Orleans, to England (thanks to the Harry Potter movies), and Australia ‘calls’ for some reason.” She is very excited for Cassidy’s future at college but admits to knowing she is not going to deal very well with her departure when the time comes – “I am going to be a complete wreck but I will have Gunnar around.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Cyndee, many of which are 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? – “I love you.”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “ ‘It’s not possible’ – when I hear people say that I just want to say, ‘then step out of the way’ and get it done myself.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Humor…Art in all forms…Hidden meanings and the quirkiness of life.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Lack of kindness – between people; by people towards animals. People not taking a few moments to try and understand things, being unable to get past things – stubbornness, I guess.

What sound or noise do you love? – “My children’s laughter. It always makes me smile or laugh myself.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “Well the most heart-breaking is an animal grieving over its dead offspring.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “I think it’s now ‘shit’. I’ve toned it down from ‘W.T.F.’ which friends would probably still say I use the most.”

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “Films that show justice prevailing usually stick with me; also haunting films like ‘Mystic River’, although justice did not prevail there… As for songs, ‘Landslide’ by Stevie Nicks has always stayed with me; and ‘Cassidy’ by Suzanne Vega – not just because of the title but also because the lyrics are very appropriate for her.”

What is your favorite hobby? – “Working, or rather dabbling, with my ‘brain drops’ (business name one day?) in art has always been a hobby – recently assembling collages in particular…Over the past year or so, my son Gunnar has turned me on to U.F.C. – the cage combat, mixed martial arts sport. It’s for real – definitely not the World Wrestling Federation.”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “May be an architect; or something in animation, a cartoonist for Pixar.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “Any of those things on the TV. program ‘Dirty Jobs’ on Discovery Channel…And I would not work in a slaughterhouse for anything.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The births of my two children – absolutely magical.”

What was the saddest? – “The passing of each of my family members. I’ve had enough – I don’t ‘do death’ anymore, I cannot deal with it for now.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “I think my sense of humor. I got it from my father and try to find humor in most things. Just last week or so, I couldn’t help but think that Farrah Fawcett must have been angry at Michael Jackson for dying on the same day as she did – ‘Couldn’t you wait one more day??’ she probably said to him.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “It would be fine if he said, ‘You did alright kid’…and I would reply, ‘Was that it? – Seriously, isn’t there any more I can do?’, or something to that effect.”

Published in: on July 29, 2009 at 5:56 pm  Comments (2)  

Milla Handley – July 10th, 2009

101_0002I met with Milla Handley at her winery (Handley Cellars) on Hwy 128 between Philo and Navarro and we sat down to chat in a conference room. I first asked her about the name ‘Milla’. “It was my grandmother’s name and then my mother’s (Milla Louise Hart), then I as the second daughter, and finally I then named my second child Milla too, but she uses Lulu after her middle name – Louisa. At one point I was going to be ‘Millicent’ so I’m glad they changed their mind!”
Grandfather Handley had left Baltimore during the Depression and gone to Dutch Guyana in South America to work on exporting hardwood back to the States. “It was a failure so he ran a General Store there instead before moving to British Guyana, but not before he had met my Grandmother and my father had been born. They returned to the States in 1940 when my father was sixteen. Following World War 2, father came out to California where he had a friend from his Navy days. He settled in the South Bay, which at the time was full of orchards. In 1952 he began buying fixer-uppers in the City, renovating them, and selling them on. In 1954 he started the first industrial real estate firm in Silicon Valley.”
“My parents met in San Francisco after the War. My mother’s father was an engineer on the Golden Gate Bridge, later dying in a plane crash off the coast of Pt. Reyes, and her family had been in the brewing industry in Portland at the Henry Weinhard Brewery which her great grandfather had founded.”
Milla was born in 1950 in San Francisco and the family lived in the Peninsular in rural Hillsdale. She has a sister a year older – Julie. They moved to Los Altos Hills in 1953. “I attended multiple schools in the area – public, private, parochial private, and public again. I graduated from Gunn High School in Palo Alto in 1969. I was an O.K. student but didn’t like school. My classmates were all very bright – this was Palo Alto and their parents were all exceptionally well educated. If I had been at a ‘normal’ high school I would have been one of the better students but at this one in Palo Alto I was never more than just O.K. Anyway, I survived it and can’t imagine liking it. I was shy and certainly ‘different’ at a young age. I kept to myself, unlike my father who was very outgoing. Because I kept myself to myself I was not popular. I was concerned about this at one point but once I realized I didn’t want to change then I was fine with it and my concerns stopped. My friends were horses and the people I knew from being around horses. From an early age, perhaps six or seven, I have never not had a horse. They have helped me survive life.”
Milla began her college career in the fall of 1969 at U.C. Davis where she wanted to study art. However, having stayed briefly at the Art Professor’s house while he was on sabbatical she decided against it. “He was crazy, although very talented. Besides, I’d already figured out that I might not be very good at art anyway. The professor was extreme in his designs, very controversial, a shock artist, certainly not ‘warm and fuzzy’. After staying at his house for a time I felt I needed to be more grounded and doing an art major can leave you emotionally vulnerable. It is not an easy major as some people think.”
Milla had realized at a young age that she wanted a rural lifestyle. She did not like cities. So with U.C. Davis a leader in both brewing and winemaking studies, and with very few rural breweries, Milla chose to study the winemaking business, breaking with the family beer connection. “I was not wine savvy but certainly knew a little about wines – my parents had always had a glass of wine with dinner so I was familiar with the culture to some degree. I like the idea of being tied to the environmental cycles, the idea of every vintage being different and having to adapt to the environment…Of course, most premium wine grapes are grown in nice climates and that is always a good thing too,” she added with a smile.
In those days of the late sixties, most college campuses were politically active and Davis was no exception even though it was an agricultural college and the ‘hippy protesters’ were not as prevalent there as at other U.C. campuses. Milla was involved in some of this and once sat on the rail tracks in town to stop a train that was carrying missiles. “That was very dangerous and we could have been killed as the train did not stop. I had previously been at a huge rally in San Francisco with my father who was not that liberal but was certainly against the war in Vietnam. Our high school organized a bus to the rally and my sister and I marched with the S.D.S. (Students for a Democratic Society) who were more radical than we realized. The march was peaceful, mainly just regular folks protesting calmly, although an uncle of mine who worked in the State Department was convinced that radicals and extreme leftists organized the protests. As fate would have it, over thirty years later my own daughter attended the San Francisco anti-war protests against the Iraq war.”
She met Rex McClellan in her first week at college and had been in the same circle of friends for some time before they began dating following his transfer into her  “hippy dorm.” Upon graduation from college in 1974 with a degree in Fermentation Science, Milla began an apprenticeship at the Chateau St. Jean Winery in Sonoma County and she and Rex moved together to the Santa Rosa area. They were married in 1975 – “I kept my name – my mother said it was because I couldn’t spell his.” Initially her job was in the labs but she stayed on beyond the temporary position and had become the Quality Control Manager by the time she left three years later. “My time at St. Jean taught me a lot about all aspects of the winemaking process and I often worked sixteen hour days. It also taught me how important it is to work well alongside others.”
In the fall of 1977 Rex had secured a job as Ranch Manager at Navarro Vineyards and they sold their house in Santa Rosa and bought property in Anderson Valley where daughter Megan was born in 1978. “I had been up this way just once before, not long after we started dating. Some friends had been in a motorcycle crash in the Valley and, whilst they were o.k., they could not come and get their bike so Rex and I rode up here to pick it up. As we rode along I remember saying to Rex, ‘How far away is this place?’ and every time we came into another small valley on our journey, ‘Is this it?’ ‘Is this it?’ It is far away I suppose but now that I live here I am fine with that.”
They bought the property that eventually would become the Claudia Springs Winery on Holmes Ranch/Guntley Road and Milla made wine in the basement. She got a winery permit and planted vines in 1982, producing her first vintage in 1986. Meanwhile she worked in the cellar and labs at Edmeades Winery under the mentorship of famed winemaker Jed Steele. Nevertheless, with her love of horses of paramount importance, some of the land on their property was set aside for horse pasture even though it was perfect for vines. “It was never going to be for vines why I was there!”
In 1985 they bought the nearby fifty-nine acre property that was to become Handley Cellars and the following year they planted vines. The property consisted of the historic Holmes Ranch house, the old barn, and iconic water tower. The winery was finished in 1987, in time for that year’s harvest. They finally moved in to live permanently in 1989 when they sold their property to two partners who each had a wife called Claudia – hence the name of the other winery. “Because of all the time I had spent in the basement the winery could well have been called ‘Handley Basement’ but, although we do allow for some quirkiness in the wine business in these parts, that would not have worked and so it became Handley Cellars.”
A second daughter, Milla Louisa McClellan, was born in 1986 and Milla believes she may ultimately be the one who comes home to stay one day. “She is a free spirit, definitely a ‘Lulu’, and has firm opinions about agriculture. She is currently in Berkeley staying with friends, cooking, working farmers’ markets, and she came up for harvest last year – she absolutely loved it. Meanwhile, Megan is now an attorney in Hawaii.”
Milla still loves being involved in the every day running of the winery and takes may be just a couple of days off a month, balancing the roles of proprietor and winemaker as she continues to be a part of every aspect of the operation from the vineyards and wines to the unique tasting room. With P.J. Nielson as her Controller at the winery and co-winemaker Kristen Barnhisel around most of the time, she feels they have great team leadership and the rest of the staff are all doing a great job. “I was captivated by the Valley’s possibilities from the moment I arrived. The people here in the Valley possess an independent spirit and I felt I could follow my own path, somewhat removed from the entrenched winemaking culture. I want the wines to capture the essence of this extraordinary place.”
The Handley Cellars Estate Vineyard was organically certified in 2005 by the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) which is accredited by the USDA. “I think we are the only organic winery in the Valley.” The winery label reflects Milla’s love of tribal art and the tasting room décor emphasizes her love and respect for the natural world – a passion she received from her parents. She does not socialize in the Valley very often and since the death of husband Rex she believes she’s perhaps become even a little more reclusive in recent years. However, when not at work, she continues to spend special times with her horses and fellow riders.
“I love this Valley. Superficially, I love the weather but more important than that I think we have a wonderful and diverse community, always willing to step up and help each other when in need. This is good and bad as it also means that everyone knows all about you and your business. Some of the petty gossip is irritating and can be harmful. I have often called people on it – I think this is a good way to deal with it, having checked your facts first of course. The only other concern I have is that, being in a rural setting, medical care for the elderly who are without transport is an issue. Our volunteers are amazingly fast when 911 is called, spread out as they are throughout the Valley, but it is something I think about more and more as I get older.”
As I do with most guest interviewees, I now asked her opinions on various Valley issues and what better topic to start with for Milla than the Wineries? – “Overall I believe we have been a relatively good thing for the Valley. We at Handley firmly believe in sustainable and organic farming. Our goal is to preserve the land for future generations. If the wineries were not here there would be a significant effect on all the other businesses in the Valley. I hear the ‘monoculture’ argument against the wineries but whichever other agricultures people may suggest as a better alternative it has to be commercially viable. You had better be a damn good marketer to succeed in anything else here.”
“Wineries may be the only answer. Apples use more water and chemicals than vines and the timber industry has been in decline for years. Sheep and apples are all very well but are they viable financially and will they provide enough employment? I am part of the winery business obviously but I honestly think an alternative is difficult to come up with. We had a meeting of the wineries and local people some years ago and came up with some fine ideas. Organic farming is one. Fish-friendly is another. We do not do close-spacing of our vines; we want vines that do not need to be watered after they are mature. We try to support the community and have an event every year to support art in the schools. It has been important to me and my family to do this.”
“We have made wildlife corridors between our vines, more than some, not as many as others. We are very aware of this problem. Obviously water is a huge issue and the Navarro River Project will have a big effect on us all. We in the winery business have to be aware of not being arrogant. We must not set schedules about how many vines we must have and sustain; we should be flexible. We must make reasonable choices; we must be sustainable obviously. These are all issues of any rural/agricultural community but in this Valley we are often a little more vocal about things so it is always being discussed – which is fine of course.”
I asked Milla about the loud, frost-preventing fans that upset many people at certain times of the year for several hours, night after night. “That is a problem. It is no worse than the helicopters that used to carry out logs in the past or spray herbicides on the tanoak. I have to say that when you live here that is part of the way of life and it’s something you have to deal with when living here. However perhaps those residents who are affected by this should approach the wineries. I would think the wineries concerned would be accommodating. Using more water is an alternative frost-prevention but who wants to do that? Planting where there are no frosts would be a way for the future but not everyone can do this. Not having the fans on for such a long time by having someone paid to wait until it is absolutely necessary to turn them on is another possible answer. This is a problem, I agree, but to some degree it is part of life here.”
Now it was on to other issues…The School System? – “Not many schools have the diversity of backgrounds, ethnic and economic, that we have at our school and that is a good thing. I sometimes think our school is like life. If you do not like a teacher but are stuck with them then you have to ‘suck it up’ and try to treat it as an opportunity to develop character for the future – it is like the real world in that way. Our school is doing a good job with many kids going on to good colleges every year. The educational opportunities are provided by our school for the children and if the parents take responsibility too then the results will be positive”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I used to subscribe but not now, although I do read it if I see one around sometimes. I did enjoy the article about Jim Jones and the People’s Temple tragedy on its 30th anniversary last year – an excellent piece. I have often not agreed with Bruce. Being somewhat isolationist by nature, more so these days, I just don’t get to read it very often”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “A good idea but I rarely listen.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing every week, I posed a few questions to Milla, many of which are 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 turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – ‘I love harvest – it is always something different every year.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Dishonesty; duplicity.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “The birds singing – except the squawking blue jays.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “Any really loud noise.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “Shit!”

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “There would probably several books…Err, there is ‘My Name is Red’ by the Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. I have given it to my sister twice and I imagine I will listen to it on tape again sometime soon.”

What is your favorite hobby? – “Horseback riding, without a doubt, although I also like gardening and like to work on my garden at home.”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “At one point I wanted to be an artist but realized I would not have been very good. Something to do with horses would have been perfect. I used to enter the National Three-Day Eventing competitions – dressage, cross-country, and show jumping. As you may have guessed, I am very passionate about my horses.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “A mechanic working on cars. I do not like vehicles although over the years I have repaired plenty of other things around here and can fix things if I absolutely have to.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The birth of my first child”

What was the saddest? – “The death of my husband.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “I am a good person. I listen well. I am mentally different from many people I come across. This is good and bad. I look at the world with a different perspective than most and overall I think that it has been a positive thing for me.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “I think it would be good enough if he just said, ‘Welcome’…”

Published in: on July 22, 2009 at 5:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ernie Pardini – July 3rd, 2009

GEDC0092I met with Ernie Pardini at The Boonville Lodge on a recent Friday afternoon. I had planned to interview both Ernie and his brother Tony at the same time but Tony had to work at the last minute and so Ernie and I proceeded without him, and without beer too I should add!…
Ernie was born in August 1954, the first child of A.V. High School sweethearts Donald Pardini and Donna Strickland who were living on the Bradford Ranch at the time where Donald worked as a cowboy. Donald had been born in Stockton, California in 1930 when his parents were visiting relatives there. “My Dad is bitter about that,” says Ernie. “He wanted to be born here and is still furious with his mother to this day.” The Pardini’s are long-time Valley dwellers, coming over from Italy in the early 1900’s and eventually settling in Yorkville in the thirties where they ran the Pardini Hotel. Meanwhile, Donna’s family was originally from the town of ‘Rough and Ready’ in the Sierras where Donna was born in 1932, before they moved to the East Bay where her father worked in the Alameda shipyards. Following World War 2, the shipyards closed but there was a timber boom in the Valley, with twenty-nine mills operating by 1946, and the Strickland’s moved here for work in the logging industry, “although my Mom was a City girl and came kicking and screaming.” They lived in a mill shack which burnt down very soon after they arrived, with all their worldly possessions inside. However, within a few hours the community had rallied round and provided tents, clothes, and food and within a week they had built the family a new home with furniture too. “ My Mom said she never wanted to leave after that.”…Following Ernie, Donald and Donna had two more children – Tony in 1956 and Julie in 1958.
Ernie attended kindergarten at the Little Red Schoolhouse (now the Museum) and then the High School at what is now the Elementary School. “I liked the social aspect of school but found the lessons boring. I got good grades because other people did my work for me. My brother and I were really into the sports and both of us played football, baseball, basketball, and track and field. I was all Redwood Empire in football at wide receiver and Tony was a great quarterback – one of the best the school has ever had. We were not bad kids – just mischievous. My parents were strict and we weren’t allowed sleepovers like other kids but when we left school we were wild and crazy – imagine a couple of sheep dogs being tied up for some years then let off into a pasture full of sheep – mayhem – we were like that!…I went to Santa Rosa J.C. for a semester but with all my friends working in the woods and making good money I left and went into logging. That summer of 1972 I made $35,000 in seven months and had money to spend on partying. A few years later I went to Mendocino College but really just to play baseball. By the time I was twenty-one I had been drinking for a few years on my fake I.D. – my Dad did eventually call The Lodge and told them I wasn’t of age but it was just two weeks before my 21st birthday – they kicked me out but two weeks later I was back legally.”
Ernie had married Donna Hibbeln at nineteen, and was then divorced that same year. “I couldn’t handle been in the house. I was into being with friends in the bar. We did some serious carousing in The Lodge; it was probably the final few years that the bar was justifiably called ‘The Bucket of Blood’ – a title that had been around for the generation before us, and probably a lot longer before that… Along with Danny Kuny, Tony and I were always in fights. Our reputations meant that people would come looking for us. We’d be playing pool and some stranger would come up and say, ‘So you’re pretty tough eh?’…‘That’s a rumor’ I might reply. Soon one thing had led to another. It was just fist fighting, no weapons. I must say I enjoyed it – I missed the contact sports, I guess. We did not start many fights; well I didn’t, Tony didn’t seem to mind starting it sometimes. We were not the bad guys but we were definitely wild and crazy and didn’t lose many fights”…
“On one occasion some guy had a bottle in his hand and began to threaten us. Tony said, ‘That bottle might hurt. Do you think it will hurt, Ernie?’…’Maybe’ I said…Tony then picked up another bottle and smashed it over his own head and said, ‘Nah, that doesn’t hurt’ and beat the hell out of the guy… I usually tried to talk it out before getting to the fighting. I didn’t back down though and as soon as I knew it was inevitable I’d get the first punch in. Really I just wanted to be in the bar picking up pretty girls and then the other stuff happened. As I said, Tony, Danny Kuny, and myself had quite a reputation. Those are the two guys I’d least like to fight – my brother just will not quit, you cannot hurt him…In those days there were fights nearly every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Just fist-fights, no knives or guns, and apart from the occasional out-of-towner, we all knew each other and most fights were soon over and the loser would buy the beers.”
“Once a Mexican guy kept bothering us. He flicked Tony’s hat off. He was warned to stop but he wouldn’t and so Tony grabbed him by the throat and pinned him to the pool table before kicking him out. The guy threatened to come back with a gun. I watched him go to his truck and return with a rifle before standing across the street from the bar where there used to be a bus stop. He was waiting for Tony to leave. I walked down the street and doubled back behind him, and disarmed him. He ran into the Post Office lobby. I chased after him, knocked him down, and stood over him with his own rifle at his throat. ‘Now look what you’ve done.’ I shouted. ‘If I don’t kill you I’ve got to be always looking over my shoulder!’ I was shaking and the hammer was cocked. Tony arrived and talked me down…A week later the same guy came into The Lodge. I didn’t want to deal with it so I left. He followed me in his truck with another guy driving as he pointed a gun out of the window. I hid and after making about twelve passes and not spotting me they drove off. Tony and I had to sort this out so we went to where the guy lived and talked to a guy who I was a friend of, who lived with him. I said we were going to blow his brains out. This friend said he would sort it out and gave me his word. I accepted this. The guy then disappeared – I thought they had off’d him to keep the peace. Six months later the guy showed up and had bought me a drink before I could say anything. To this day he still buys me a drink every time he is around. I have no idea what was said to him”…
At the age of twenty-one, in 1975, Ernie had married once again. This time to Sandra Abernathy and over the next few years they had two daughters – Christina and Stacey – but it was not to last.  “She was a great mother and a great wife – if I’d been smart we’d still be together perhaps. I take the blame for that one not working and I have a great relationship with her to this day.” Over the years Ernie found regular work in the woods, originally setting chokers, then driving bulldozers, and eventually as a log loader, which he did for twenty-five years. He mainly worked in the Valley with Hiatt logging (initially for Kay Hiatt, later with Charlie and Wayne) but he also worked in Willits and Ft. Bragg at times.
By 1984 he had got divorced and wanted a break and decided to leave town. He had $5 and hitched a ride out of the Valley. He had no idea where he wanted to go but ended up in Las Vegas where he found a job selling vitamins. “I was just good at it. I earned $500 a week in commission and lived in a three-bedroom house with a Jacuzzi. It was good for a time but I did miss the Valley and my kids. I had a girlfriend, Gina Galliano, who was from New York City and we decided to come and live in the Valley. We got married and were here for almost a year but it was too small-town for her and she wanted to return to New York so I went with her.”
“New York City was a culture shock but I’m nothing if not resourceful and found work for a tree service company. It didn’t last long once the freezing weather arrived so in January 1986 I found a job in the service department of a Chevy dealership. I had no experience but the guy interviewing me said I seemed reasonably intelligent and then when he asked to see my hands, which were badly calloused, he knew I didn’t mind hard work so he hired me. I did pretty well for them. A few months later the local Toyota dealership offered me double the salary and commission so I took that job and was soon the Service Manager there. Meanwhile I began to take night school classes in Kitchen Design and when the opportunity of a job in that line came along I took it. We lived on Long Island and in total I was gone from the Valley for a total of four and a half years. Once again I was missing my kids and Valley life and told Gina ‘I’m going back to California – you can come if you want.’ She had three kids who had to stay in New York State so she decided to stay so. I returned and that was it between us.”
Ernie returned to work in the woods wherever he could find it. This sometimes meant more than seventy hours a week with an hour’s drive each way. He married his fourth wife, Shannon Elger whom he had known since she was a small child, having gone to school with her mother. They had a daughter, Sarah Jane and all was well for a time. However, his work was taking its toll and he fell into the trap of taking methamphetamines to stay awake. This led to big problems that were to last for many years. “My ex-wife Shannon and I are sixteen years apart in age and we were having many issues and drugs added to the mix. We lost parental rights and Sarah was put into a foster home. She is still in the foster-care system but I get to see her at weekends and I am working towards getting custody…The work and drugs were tough on any relationships and my health suffered. At one point it got so bad that my lung collapsed and I was in hospital for twenty-one days. I almost died. It was a real bad time of my life but we were both to blame for our problems. Meth is a very, very destructive drug when you are addicted. It ruins marriages and relationships with your kids. At the time I didn’t think I could function without it – it was the number one thing I had to do every day, everything else came after. I never stole for my drug money, I paid for them with my own money so I guess I didn’t completely abandon my principals, although my relationships with family and friends were definitely strained.” These days Ernie has pulled things together. “I’ve now been clean for one and a half years and help run the Valley’s Narcotics Anonymous group as the secretary and meeting facilitator. We meet once a week at 7pm on Thursdays at the high school and I encourage those with problems to attend. We can definitely help.”
In recent times Ernie has continued to work in the woods, recently with Ed Slotte, “a great logger”, who does sustainable logging, although work is far from frequent in the current economic climate. He has also found work over the years in construction around the Valley and for a time had his own salvage business. He views Navarro as his home, not Boonville – “My family is from there. I grew up in Boonville but my forefathers were from Navarro and I feel at peace when I’m there. I love that end of the Valley – The Deep End – it’s my favorite place in the Valley…There have been so many changes to the Valley. When I was a kid you could sit and count cars in Boonville and if you saw sixty-five in a day that was a lot. I also used to know everyone here – not anymore…Some things stay the same though – The Lodge is one. It no longer has any fighting and it’s a nice place for many different people now, but it’s still feels like the Lodge and that’s a good thing.”
I next asked Ernie for his responses to some of the various issues that are frequently discussed around the Valley…The wineries? – “I am not pleased at all the vineyard development. Logging, if done right, doesn’t do as much damage as the vines. Having this one species – grapes – everywhere is not good. They go eight feet down with their soil treatment – it is an environmental crime. As for the water, that is a big concern. We used to be able to swim in all the creeks in August –it’s not even close to that now. It’s not all the wineries’ fault but the extra traffic coming through the Valley bugs the shit out of me – it blows me away sometimes when I try to pull out of the Drive-In and have to wait for such a long time.”……With Ernie and his buddies constantly ‘misbehaving’ in their youth what does he think of the Valley’s law enforcement? – “Sheriff Keith Squires is a classic Keeper of the Peace in a country environment. He will bend the rules where he thinks it will help the overall situation. He had the respect of all of us during those crazy times; no matter how ‘bad’ some of them thought they were. He is the perfect small-town sheriff. If he got his hackles up we knew it was time to stop. Today he does what he needs to do but knows when to look the other way. Tony and I have paid for the windows to be repaired, and the chairs and tables to be replaced in The Lodge many times. Keith would come to our house on a Sunday morning, politely waiting until he knew we’d be up, and give us our bill, shake his head, and turn away. If I was bad he’d put me in his vehicle and take me up Hwy 253 a few miles and drop me off. He’d tell me to walk home, and that if he found out I had got a ride he’d take me to jail. ‘Yes, sir’ I would say and then begin walking”…

Before taking a break I asked Ernie whom he would vote for Mayor of Anderson Valley if such a position existed and had significant power to change things? – “It would be Emil Rossi – no doubt in my mind. He is a fellow libertarian and on the money with his political views. He is a realist and I like that.”……

After taking a break, Ernie and I sat back down in the Boonville Lodge restaurant and continued our talk…
Following his four-year stay in New York during the late eighties, Ernie returned to the Valley and not long afterwards the Louisiana Pacific (L.P.) logging company bought out Masonite and began to clear-cut everything. “This really disturbed me. They were raping the woods. One day when I was working with my Uncle Robert we drove through miles and miles of clear-cut woods. I asked him how he could be a part of this. He said he needed the job and had no choice. I said I felt I did have a choice and so I quit…. It was crazy. Green logging could be done. Selective cutting, sustainable logging, was certainly possible but L.P. didn’t want to do it. They wanted to make a quick profit and get out. You don’t have to use all your base volume and you can still maintain the forests. I had logged all my life, cutting down old growth trees, but this was wrong. I loved logging, I am from generations of loggers but these people were destroying our ability to do it in the future.”
“I wrote letters and gave talks about this. Judi Bari of Earth First, the environmental group, had read and heard me, and I eventually became a friend of hers. For some of my opinions and actions my co-workers blackballed me and my family relationships were strained to say the least. What I said was very controversial coming from a member of a long-tome logging family. I know some of them agreed with me but were upset that I had to be the one saying such things. At first, my brother Tony didn’t agree with me but said I had a lot of guts saying such things and that he’d ‘got my back’ if anything was to happen.”
“I’d walk into the Redwood Drive-In here in Boonville and people would walk out. It was a very difficult time for many people and I felt strongly about this. I was soon unable to get a job when people found out who I was. I couldn’t even get a job in a deli. I was a ‘traitor to the logging industry’ and whilst others agreed with much of what I was saying they felt they couldn’t risk their jobs by saying so.”
“After I’d shown Tony some huge clear-cut areas he’d commented ‘What the fuck is all this? – It’s like the moon”, and from then on he joined me. For one County Fair we made a throne out of a redwood stump and put it on the back of a truck with Judi Bari sitting on it and then drove it in the Parade. Half the crowd was cheering, the other half throwing rocks. On another occasion we went in the Lodge with Judi one night and by the end of the evening all the hard-nosed, anti-environment loggers were wearing Earth First t-shirts!”
“L.P. was an investment corporation who wanted to make short-term profit out of the woods and then get out. I said when they arrived that within five years they would be out of Mendocino, having being a disaster for the timber industry. One week short of five years they were gone…Of 300,000 acres, 96% had been harvested. They took all the small trees too. They could have left them and never depleted the base volume. They were not interested in the long-term logging industry and now look at what we have, or don’t have. There are no sawmills left here and many people are out of work. Sure, at the turn of the century and again in the early fifties, they did clear-cutting but in the later years anyone worth their salt in the logging world knows you can do sustainable logging.”
“Judi Bari had many wealthy people behind her movement who wanted to restrict the logging and gave to the cause. After the attempt on her life, in the bombing down in Oakland, she decided to use a little of the income from these sources to provide protection for herself. She asked me to be her bodyguard and I accepted. She said I was the only person she ever felt completely safe with. I drove her everywhere and flew with her when she gave talks around the country. I received training in bomb detection and the self-defense I pretty much had down. She jokingly called me her ‘logger slave’ and we became great friends. Romance? There was something there maybe, and we discussed it, but we both decided not to let it go there.”
Ernie has his own theories about ‘who bombed Judi Bari?” “I did not know Judi personally at the time but the bombing really pissed me off and I spoke up about it with articles and radio interviews. I definitely do not believe that she had knowingly been carrying the bomb. Three weeks prior to the bomb attack in Oakland, I saw a poster of Judi’s head with a ‘scope and crosshairs over it. The F.B.I. had a group (COINTELPRO) within it that infiltrated dissident groups and did what it could to break them up – groups such as the American Indians (A.I.M.) and the Black Panthers. Led by a guy named Richard Held, they went after ‘Earth First’ too…With Earth First planning a series of protests in the summer of 1990 – ‘Redwood Summer’ it was to be called – the F.B.I. had prepared local law enforcement agencies by giving training courses on how to deal with such protests. One such course was a car bomb seminar at which three cars were blown up – two of the bombs were identical to the one that was later used in Judi’s car. One of the cars was the same model as Judi’s. And the bombs were definitely anti-personnel devices.”
“First on the scene of the bombing was an Oakland police officer. Two F.B.I. officers – the same two agents who had put on the seminar, soon joined him. It was as though they had been round the corner with their fingers in their ears, waiting for the bomb to go off. The cop thought the bomb had been under the driver’s seat but revised his original report when the agents ‘told’ him where the bomb had been – on the back seat. The F.B.I. agent in charge of the Bari Bombing investigation was none other than Richard Held, formerly of COINTELPRO.”
“Over the couple of years or more when I was with Judi as her bodyguard we were trailed everywhere. I would drive round in circles sometimes, down dirt roads and back – just to mess with the agents behind us. The same guys would follow us down Hwy 101, be on our plane, and then be at the venue Judi was speaking at. It was comical at times. They were very inept and stood out at all the functions we attended. They tried to look like hippies but were obviously not. People would ask us questions about being followed and Judi would say, ‘why not ask those guys over there?’ and point at our ‘hippy followers’…She was very brave but would always call me if she felt threatened. One night she called and told me there were some weird noises in the woods around her house in Willits. I went over there and searched around. I was leaning down to gather some firewood on the porch when I noticed a little red dot on the woodpile in front of me. I looked around and could just barely hear a helicopter. The dot was an infrared scope dot and I dove away from the pile. They were just scaring her I’m sure – intimidation was their way most of the time.”
“However, the bombing was different. I believe the F.B.I. could have killed Judi whenever they wished, of course they could, but they had other people who could do it for them – some with a reason were in the timber industry. I believe that the F.B.I. taught people from the logging industry how to make the bomb and then helped in the cover-up…I was in a bar in Willows, California with a bunch of loggers. They were glued to the television. They were waiting for the news program. Three days in a row I was there with them. They knew a bomb had being set in Bari’s car. The timer was defective and finally went off when she was driving through Oakland.”
“The F.B.I. did not do it themselves, neither did the loggers – it was a joint effort. Some people suspect Judi’s husband, Mike Sweeney. I was privy to their relationship and although they had separated they remained friends. They had a volatile marriage but had been getting along great since then. Judi confided in me that it had not been Mike – they were good friends by that time… Judi was not against the loggers at all. In fact she wanted their support to change the logging practices. She needed their support to be taken seriously by L.P. but it was tough for the guys to say anything at the time. L.P. were ruthless and would fire anyone who said anything against them. Her main thing was against the corporate destruction of the environment. She had some success but not soon enough. These days much of what she said about the logging practices has come true. It was a case of too little, too late.”
I next asked Ernie for his responses to some more of the various issues that are frequently discussed around the Valley…The school system? – “I think they are doing a good job although there are too many teaching assistants and too much special education for my liking. I wish I knew more before being too critical. The Ag department cuts do bother me – many of the kids will end up working in the agriculture business so why the cuts?”…The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I think the paper is one of the best things about local life. I respect what Bruce does and believe he keeps a lid on the insanity level here sometimes. I don’t always agree with what the paper says but I do read it every week and like that Bruce tells it likes he sees it. The truth sometimes hurts and unlike the Press Democrat, you know it’s not bullshit. I was really sad when Bruce left a few years ago but really glad when he returned.”…K.Z.Y.X & Z local public radio? – “I am just a casual listener. I think some of it is drivel and far too politically correct and wishy-washy at times. I like Trading Times, Car Talk, and some of the stuff from N.P.R. but prefer KGO to be honest.”…

To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Ernie, many of which are 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? – “Bullshit”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “That would be ‘Whatever’. This is a word people seem to use when they can’t think of anything intelligent to say.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Walking in undisturbed forest land or the mountains.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Ignorance by so-called intelligent people. For example, these people who are giving Obama a hard time already – Bush took eight years and got us into this mess. Let’s give the new guy a chance.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “The running water in a stream”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “Sirens – nothing good ever comes from sirens.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “Rotten bastard!”

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “The book would be ‘1984’ by George Orwell – it was required reading in school and I enjoyed it. With much of it coming to fruition, it’s been very prophetic obviously…As for a song, ‘A Country Boy can Survive’ by Hank Williams Jr. is one that I can and do relate to…And a film would be ‘Rocky’ – the underdog thing is big with me – I have always championed the underdog.”

What is your favorite hobby? – “It used to be football for many years. I was on our local North Coast Loggers team – a good but rag-tag outfit. We had no regular practices; our uniforms didn’t all match and were fading. Talking of underdogs, we once played a team from San Jose up here and they looked immaculate and were making comments about playing in a sheep field against a bunch of country bumpkins. We were a bit intimidated. Then when the P.A. system started playing the theme from ‘Rocky’ we just rose up and went out and kicked their ass 31-6 – we destroyed them…Anyway, I am still involved with football doing the announcing for the High School and the Pop Warner teams…For many years I was into rodeo and loved it. Being on a 1800-pound bull is something else – no drug can give you a rush like that…These days, I suppose hiking is still a hobby, or perhaps picking mushrooms for commercial sale – doing something I like and making a little money from it can’t be bad”…

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “I think I would have liked to be a lawyer and had aspirations to do that at one point. Again I would like to champion the downtrodden so I probably would have given my services very cheaply.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “I wouldn’t want to be a cop.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The births of my children were each very special occasions.”

What was the saddest? – “The weeks leading up to my mother’s death. She died at forty-eight of ovarian cancer and yet had always been very conscious about health.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “I have a good heart and am a compassionate person. That sounds strange when you know about some of the things I have done. As for the fighting in my younger days it was always important to me to think that I was right or I couldn’t fight. I would go after bullies and stuck up for those who couldn’t defend themselves or who didn’t deserve it. My father used to say ‘quit crying and act like am man and don’t take any shit from anyone.’ My Mom would encourage me to be sensitive and compassionate. I guess I learned from them both.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Err, how about, ‘I didn’t think you would but it looks like you made it after all.’…I have had lots of fun and have many great memories – that’s all you have in the end, I guess. Many people say they wouldn’t change a thing when they are asked about their lives. To be truthful I would have done many things differently if I had the chance to do them again – I have regrets about how I dealt with the relationships with my kids and with my marriages. I think I have learned though. I like what I have become, somewhat wise I hope. I believe I can teach by example. Of course, in my case, that sometimes means learning good behavior by not following my bad example!”

Published in: on July 15, 2009 at 8:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Barbara Goodell – June 18th, 2009

GEDC0084I met with Barbara at her home on Lambert Lane and, with a bowl of cherries, some smoked albacore jerky, and a delicious glass of lemonade, we sat down on the deck to chat…
Barbara was born in July 1946 in Oakland, California, the only child of Gene Travaglio and Dot (Dorothy) Kemble. Grandfather Travaglio had emigrated from Italy at the end of the nineteenth century and had set up a printing and publishing company. “My grandfather was a writer and a philosopher-type; a public speaker and very effusive. They moved out west to Washington State where my father was born in 1914. My grandfather had been in San Francisco for the 1906 earthquake, but he didn’t feel a thing as he was on a boat in the Bay!” On the Kemble side of the family there is paternal Welsh blood and Barbara’s maternal grandmother was from Mexico, of Castilian Spanish/American Indian decent.
Her parents met in Whisky Town Lake near to Mt. Shasta and settled in Oakland where Barbara was born. From 1942-45 Gene had been in the merchant marines but following the war and Barbara’s birth, they moved to Westwood, California in the Sierra’s where they set up another printing business, gradually expanding into several print shops, and the production of a newspaper – The Sugar Pine Press. In her early years Barbara and the family lived in Eureka, where fishing, hiking, and camping played a big part in their routine before, when Barbara was twelve, they returned to the Bay Area and settled in San Rafael. “I was an only child so my Airedale dog, Fuzzy, became my ‘sibling.’ We got her when I was one and over many years, throughout my childhood, she went everywhere with my friends and me. She lived to be seventeen years old, dying the year I went to college.”
Barbara attended San Rafael High School in Marin. “I definitely liked my schooling. We had very good teachers, many of them ex-college professors. I was involved in all aspects of school life – the yearbook editor, class officer, sports, although there were no competitive sports for girls at that time – girls were not supposed to sweat in those days! We got a well-rounded education and academically it prepared me well for college after my graduation in 1964.”
Barbara went to U.C. Berkeley where she wanted to study Anthropology and P.E. It was the time of research scientist Jane Goodall’s animal research in Africa and Barbara had plans to go there too. However, at some point she thought she would like to teach and to get such qualifications she would have to have an academic major – anthropology didn’t qualify. So she changed to English Literature, whilst still taking some classes in Anthropology and P.E. She lived in college dorms, then two years in a sorority, and her final year in an apartment. “I felt I experienced the full spectrum of the college. My background in San Rafael had not been very diverse so my Berkeley experience exposed me to all kinds of new cultures and attitudes. I was particularly involved in the Free Speech Movement and at the same time the Women’s liberation/equality movement was emerging along with the Civil Rights Movement. I graduated in 1968 and left town amidst all this new thinking but by March 1969 there was violence on the streets of Berkeley, all the forward-thinking began to be questioned, and the drug scene had become very negative with the arrival of cocaine”…
During the summer preceding her senior year, Barbara had visited Hawaii and found work in a pizza shop. She met a certain Rob Goodell, a San Diego native, who was into the sea and surf and she joined him and his friends touring around the islands. “We were both very ocean/water oriented and were getting along very well. Then one evening I made him some ‘pineapple upside down’ cake – he was very impressed and we dated the rest of the summer! He was doing his Marine Corps officer training in San Diego and we continued to see each other as we went through our final years of schooling. When Rob visited me in Berkeley he had his eyes opened by all the anti-war protests and burning of draft cards. He was disturbed by this and began to question the whole Vietnam situation.”
Several of her friends were moving to Washington D.C. upon graduation so Barbara went along and got a job for a year at The Brookings Institute, an independent research and policy group at which she taught federal government officials about big business and vice versa. “Being in Washington at that time was a very powerful experience. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated and it was a profound experience being amongst and around the politicians, the Supreme Court, and federal offices, seeing them deal with this and all that was going on during those traumatic times”…
During that year Rob, by this time a Marine Corps officer, was not far away in Virginia and they continued to date…”We decided to get married in May 1969 and then the night before our wedding Rob received his orders to go to Vietnam. It was a shock and by that time he’d decided he would challenge them. At this time, we were at Camp Legume in North Carolina where a part of the prevailing attitude was that ‘we’re gonna go and kill some gooks’ Rob is part Hawaiian, part Chinese and had problems with this, as well as the justification for the war. His classmates were ‘not coming back’ at this point. It was a hard year at that Camp. I was the only Californian girl there; the K.K.K. was certainly a presence in the region – the prejudice was palpable.”
Fortunately, when Rob went to the Pentagon to challenge his orders, he found a senior officer who came up with a different option for him. He would be sent to Okinawa Island working on the supply lines for the troops – ‘in the rear with the gear’. “I was by this time attending graduate school for my teaching credentials in American Literature at San Diego State University and then visited Rob on Okinawa during the summer. The Marine Corps did not allow wives on the base so I got a little house in the local village and we would see each other in the evenings. I was the only ‘round-eye’ in the village but was accepted, even took Japanese classes, and enjoyed my time there. Rob finally left the Marines in March of 1971 and went to graduate school on the G.I. Bill to study creative writing.”
“I applied with ‘thousands’ of others for a job in the San Diego School System and was hired to work in an alternative school program where we created our own curriculum. It involved team-teaching and open scheduling, with an increased emphasis on units such as poetry, speech, the arts. It was the forerunner of what is known as ‘project-based education’ and the test scores were extremely successful. The program facilitated the changes the kids were going through at the junior high age – it taught them how to deal with these changes and how to learn about themselves. After five years my whole life had become wrapped up with this and the kids had become ‘my kids’. I was seven months pregnant and I quit – besides, I believe it’s a good thing to take a sabbatical after five years of such endeavors”…
Bon Goodell was born in 1975 and Barbara became “just a Mom”…They were living in an avocado grove in Encinitas and, with Rob teaching, Barbara focused on motherhood and gardening. They lived near to the beach and for a while felt this was a place where they could continue their preferred lifestyle of water, hiking, camping, etc. Over time however, Barbara realized that she had never really imagined living in southern California permanently. “By 1977 when our second child, Kam, was born, we realized that this was not where we wanted our kids to be brought up. The malls, roads, and sheer numbers of people were getting to be too much. Northern California was far better-suited for our dreams of country living – a back-to-the land, homesteading lifestyle.”
They had become avid readers of the Sunset Book of Western Gardens and began to look for an area that would provide them with the climate to produce the most versatile garden. Financially it would have to be north of the increasingly expensive Sonoma County; the Coast was also too costly. After about a year of looking they came across a twenty-acre parcel in Anderson Valley. “It had been horribly logged in about 1972/73 – the land virtually ruined. However it seemed there was so much to like about the area. Surprisingly we didn’t really check into the actual community and only had a vague knowledge of the Valley from previous visits to the coast to fish, when we’d stop in Boonville for gas, or to buy some local produce. However, we did know the property had gravity fed water and the land was very versatile so we bought it in 1977 for $18,500.”
With their one and a three-year olds, Barbara and Rob moved to the Valley full-time the next year (June 1978) and immediately built a deck off their trailer and a hot tub. Fruit trees were planted, building plans designed, and Rob began the work on the house, virtually alone apart from the installation of the poles for their Island pole-house style home. They used as many recycled materials as possible and as soon as the walls and roof were done they moved in. “It’s still not finished though”, says Barbara with a smile.
In 1982 Barbara started the Peachland Pre-School with a view to offering an alternative to the regular elementary school, with parents actively involved. Their two children were then home-schooled from the 1st and 2nd grade but Bon rejoined the school in 6th and Kam in 5th. “I taught a little at the school at that time – art appreciation, music appreciation – and many parents continued to get involved over the years. The elementary school improved over the years in terms of testing and leadership and the high school became better with improved teachers.”
Barbara is perhaps best known in the Valley for her involvement with many community groups. These include being on the board of The A.V. Land Trust, on the Community Services District (C.S.D.) Board and starting the Community Recreation Program. I asked her talk about her commitment to these… “The schools were getting better but it was felt that activities were needed outside the school and that’s where the recreation program came into being. For example, people let us use their pools and we gave swimming lessons. My life evolved around my kids so I chose activities that helped them and others – in such a small community you can really make a difference. We then began the Adult Classes teaching yoga and volleyball and that led to our work on family literacy. We would teach the parents English after which we could teach them how they in turn could teach their kids how to learn in school. It is a joy to see those kids now graduating and to see that the attendance rate for Parent/Teacher conferences is very high.”
“In 1992, we applied for and received a grant to start the Adult Education School. It was for three years. We approached Superintendent J.R. Collins and he went for the idea of such a school. The School Board then approved it too. The school was very effective and when the grant ran out in 1995 we received State Funding. However only one third of the money comes from this – we have to submit grant applications for the rest – that’s no picnic. All the proceeds from the ‘Secrets of Salsa’ recipe book produced by women at the Adult School, and the film that accompanies it, go to the school and it is a project I am still involved in, going to conferences and events with the film, even though I have retired from the school at this point.”
“My primary motivation in running for a position on the C.S.D. was the water situation in the Valley and the protection of the Navarro River – hence my work with the A.V. Land Trust too. We originally came up with a plan for Anderson Valley and then this was to be incorporated into the Mendocino General Plan that originally had little provision for the protection of the river. It is now ten years since the work on the General Plan was started – it should have been finished in 2001.
“I had met Gene Herr on the C.S.D. and then Kathy Bailey, who had worked on the 1981 General Plan, joined us. The three of us collaborated on gathering a wide range of people’s views to come up with an A.V. Community Plan. Public meetings were held and opinions shared. We included a large group of people (over 200) with a variety of different interests and came up with the Alternative General Plan, which I believe is a reasonably balanced representation of what people want to see in the Valley over the next twenty years. Initially it was all very harmonious but now the Farm Bureau and the Wine Growers consider it detrimental to their interests. It has been accepted by the Planning Commission and by many other people and the final meeting on the General Plan should be soon. The Supervisors will have to put it all together – it really is time to vote on this.”

As we were on this topic I asked Barbara to expand on her view of the Valley’s Wine Industry. “At this point, a fruit stand and a winery tasting room are treated the same – neither need permits because they are Ag. Products. However, they have very different impacts on the community. Sure the wineries bring in money and give jobs but the dichotomy of economic stimulus vs. challenges to the local resources seems reasonable to confront and is ubiquitous. The question of when do we know we have hit critical mass/capacity has to be asked. Preferring locally-owned wineries that participate in the community–especially those that use sustainable viticulture practices and are fish-friendly–is almost even positive. My thing is that we must be smart about the water situation – ‘water is gold.’ Sustainable agriculture is tough and we just do not know if there is enough water for the future. At what point do we say ‘No’ to new wineries/vineyards? What if the wine industry fails? What’s next? We need to ensure we have jobs for the next generation… have no problem with the small, locally owned wineries. My Italian blood dictates that I love a glass of wine and we produce some wonderful varietals here. However, I don’t think it’s fair for the big wineries with absentee owners to move in to simply make a profit off the Valley, not to mention those who do it for ego, and then they use up valuable Valley resources. Do we want to be like Napa or stay as Anderson Valley? That is what we have to decide.”
I asked Barbara for her brief responses to some other hot-button issues that are frequently discussed in the Valley…The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I believe you should read it with your truth/lie ‘detector’ on. The paper has stimulated a lot of interest in many topics that should be discussed or at least be known to the community. The paper is not always right but it is the reader’s job to decide on that. I do think that Bruce’s personal vendettas have not been good but I’ve always liked him and his family.”…The current School System? – “I am impressed. The dedication of the teachers is wonderful. Perhaps I am biased but I believe that any child can get a good education here but it is very difficult to keep good teachers and that concerns me. Both of our kids, when they went to college, felt that their education had been as good if not better than the other kids at college. Furthermore very few of the A.V. school kids fall through the cracks, great friendships are very often made, and from elementary school on social behavior and conflict resolution is stressed – they do a great job.”
Barbara loves the fact that the Valley community is small enough to work together to influence what our lives are like. Her and Rob have traveled extensively around the world over the years but now they seldom go away, preferring to stay here in the Valley. She loves the rural nature of the Valley and believes that her work in the community came about simply because “I am someone who likes to protect the rights I think I have.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Barbara many of which are 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? – “That would be ‘si, se puerde’, which means literally ‘one can do that’ but more commonly, ‘Yes, we can’.”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “I can’t do it’.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Being outside, interacting with the natural environment – the ocean, the mountains, right here in the Valley.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Being inside four walls.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “The birds singing, the breeze rustling through the trees, crickets chirping…or my kids.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “Finger nails on a blackboard – having been a teacher I know it well.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “Rats!”

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “Often the book I am reading at the time – frequently histories or biographies. ‘Collapse’ by Jared Diamond has influenced me recently with its focus on the fact that the over-use of resources has led to the collapse of societies time and time again through history.”

What is your favorite hobby? – “Gardening, hiking, growing food, volleyball, stuff in and around water – I am half fish!”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “Teaching marine biology.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “A repetitive job, one without any creativity.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The birth of my kids – and nearly every day I’ve been with them.”

What was the saddest? – “The deaths of my parents – my Dad at 84, my Mother at 87. My Mom was still driving a car – she was such a trooper and I got my love of the outdoors, animals, and plants from her.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “I try not to be judgmental…I like to stand back and assess what’s happening and keep my emotions on hold, not displaying them directly at first.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Hello, Barbara…There’s the path to the beach and volleyball court, and here’s a map of all the trails.”

Published in: on July 1, 2009 at 4:44 pm  Leave a Comment