A couple of weeks ago I met with Barbara ‘Bobbie’ Peterson at her home behind and above The Floodgate Store down towards the Deep End. Her son, Butch, sat in with us and our lively chat began…
Bobbie was born in Cloverdale, California, on Dec 6th, 1918, meaning she will turn 91 in a couple of months time. She was the third of four girls born to Rufus Bentley, the local blacksmith, and his wife Christine Thomson, both of whom were of Scot/Irish/English descent. “My Dad wanted a boy so bad he ended up just calling me Bobbie or more often ‘Bob’ and it has always stuck.” She spent her early years in that area before the family moved to Walnut Creek in the Bay Area to stay with her aunt when her father changed his job and became a machine worker at a fruit and vegetable packing plant. “He could work on and fix just about anything.” Bobbie attended school in nearby Pleasant Hill but she didn’t really like it other than just the sewing and cooking classes. “My mother was a dressmaker who worked out of home and sometimes helped me with my sewing. Once the teacher said I would not have enough material for a project but my mother knew better and I was able to finish my project despite what the teacher had thought– I nearly got kicked for that!”
They lived a largely rural area with many fruit farms around, the nearest large town being Concord a few miles away. The family moved again when Bobbie’s father began to work at Marin Municipal Water Department fixing shovels and picks etc and she went to Santa Rosa High School from which she graduated in 1936. She had been working at Woolworth’s in her final year at school but after graduation she went to Santa Rosa Junior College and found part-time work as a housekeeper for a dentist. “My parents were good friends of the President of the J.C. and they had a mutual friend who was an ‘old maid’ who needed assistance. I became the old lady’s helper and received free tuition in exchange and I also worked in the office at the college during that time.”
While at college she met a college football player, Bill Paula, and “we started dating and that was my downfall!” Bobbie said with a wide grin. Her father became very sick at this time and she left the college to help her mother and youngest sister take care of him. “My older sisters had already left home so I helped out. He was bed-ridden – I think he had Lyme disease. My mother was just a little thing but she took great care of him.” Meanwhile Bill and Bobbie were married in 1938 (“I think”), and moved in with his parents at their dairy ranch in Petaluma and over the next few years they started a family with John born in 1940, followed by Christine in 1942, then Robert (Butch) in 1945 and finally Jim in 1947. “We were at my husband’s family but his mother was hell-on-wheels, treating me like a servant and cleaning woman. I was not happy with this situation and went to stay with my sister for a time and when Bill called me and asked me when was I coming home I told him that it would not be until we had somewhere else to live! His mother actually mellowed in her later years and we became good friends.”
They moved to the town of Sonoma where Bill worked at the creamery and a year later they bought a dairy ranch of their own about six miles from the center of town at the city limits on Petaluma’s west side. They went about running the farm and raising the family. “We did not punish our kids very often but we were strict and instilled a work ethic in them. They had jobs on the farm both before and after school and they would have to do them or they’d get whacked with a paddle. It was tough times in chicken and dairy ranching in those days. We were part of a co-operative and along with many other dairies sold to a central distributor – it was the time when Petaluma was known as the ‘Egg Capital of the World’… We made many friends and always seemed to have relatives visiting and have many good memories of those days…In the late fifties sometime, we were thinking of leaving the ranch and I remember sitting the kids down one day and saying if they thought they might ever want to work in the dairy business we could lease out the ranch instead of selling it. They all replied, ‘Are you nuts!?!’…”
In 1958 Bill and Bobbie did leave the Ranch, trading it to a retired vet who owned a two-storey Victorian home with a barn in town. Over the next few years Bill was a janitor in the local school system and Bobbie found work in the office of The Petaluma Auction Company and later for the Petaluma Water Department. “At first, in the office, I could get away with using just one finger to work the adding machine but this was not quick enough for work at the auction so I learned to do it right and became really good at it.” Bobbie left the auction business and found work for two companies at the same time in the same office – one was in hay sales and the other an insurance company – before for the ten years until her retirement she was the bill of lading clerk at Nielson Freight Lines.
Interestingly, Bobbie had links to Anderson Valley in a few ways before she actually moved here. Initially her family had homesteaded here in the Valley in the early 1900’s, living in a cabin in the Yorkville Highlands area and building a five-mile long road to their place. Her grandfather would haul tan bark out for a living and they would have to walk down to the Valley floor to meet the stage as it came through the Valley stopping at the Yorkville Ranch to drop off milk and eggs. Then some years later, as a small child, Bobbie and the family would visit the Valley from Cloverdale and camp in Yorkville… Later, when Bill became ill with Multiple Sclerosis during his days on the dairy ranch, another link to the Valley was made. Bill had lost the use or control of the whole left hand side of his body – his face, his arm, and his leg. Specialists, even one over from Germany, had told him there was nothing that could be done – he would have to learn to get by. Bobbie’s mother then heard of a woman in Anderson Valley by the name of Claudina Pinoli who was a unofficial/unqualified doctor of sorts who had been achieving some amazing results. Bill’s uncle had seen her for some aches and pains of his own and told Bill and Bobbie that this woman had ‘the hands of a saint – you must se her Bill.’
They came to the Valley to see her. “She said she would need to see Bill for a couple of days so we rented a cabin at Van Zandt’s. I returned to get the kids from home and Claudina came with me. We had a great time on that visit and really got on well. The treatments on Bill worked great and each time we came up we all camped at Dimmick State Park on Hwy 128 towards the coast and Claudina would come and visit us there from where she and her husband lived at what is now Lazy Creek Vineyards. Eventually Bill recovered and was able to return to the dairy ranch and Claudina and I continued to be great friends, going on trips to Reno and Eureka together. I would visit her up here, at her house with the two-seater outhouse, and she would always made the kids feel special and give them a little ‘treatment’ for their aches and pains. She actually fixed Butch’s crippled foot that had been deemed untreatable by the other doctors – I became pregnant with my third child during the time when we were always coming up here so she always called Butch her ‘Anderson Valley Boy’.“
In later years Butch, home from serving his country in Vietnam, had sought solace and had moved to Anderson Valley in 1974, buying the Floodgate Store and the ten acres behind it. When Bill and Bobbie both retired in 1978 it was an ideal spot for them to live and be close by. On getting up here Bobbie went straight to work at the Store. “The Floodgate was an 8-stool beer bar, deli, and grocery store in those days. Sam and Margarite Avery had owned it for 27 years and it had been said, ‘there’s nothing you can’t get at the Floodgate.’ At first I did the books and the clerical stuff.” (Butch added, “Mother kept things afloat why I was getting stupid.”)
Bobbie continued, “We catered to the tree planters in the winter and the loggers in the summer. We had a pot-bellied stove in there and had a loyal customer base. We sold them everything from provolone cheese to beer but it was not just about making a living, we were there to provide a service too… Bill was kept busy on the ranch and at the saw shop that was alongside, connected to the Store. He was the Mayor of Floodgate! Over time I worked in the store out front and tended bar for many years. I never had any trouble with the customers and would just tell them off if they misbehaved and they’d always listen when I threatened to wash their mouth out with soap for any bad language. I had two dogs with me to help though – a German Shepherd and a Doberman. They were wonderful dogs and would sense if there was a bad customer around”…The Store was sold to Jerry Cox and Johnny Schmidt (see earlier interviews) in 1986 and it became the Floodgate Café.
Having been so busy at the Store and not getting out very much, over the next few years Bobbie began to socialize a lot in the Valley, something she continues to do to this day. She joined the Unity Club, The Garden Club, and The independent Career Women (the I.C.W.) and regularly attends meetings with friends Sue Davies (who very kindly picks her up and drives), Cleo Hickman (who is not well these days but who for many years was Bobbie’s traveling friend to places such as Alaska, New Zealand and Australia, and all over Canada), Wilma Brink, June Lemons, Joy – Sid Frazer’s mother, and Joanie Clark amongst many others. She also loves to attend the lunches at the Senior Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Bobbie continues to be arguably the biggest single exhibitor at the County Fair with her flowers. She entered thirty this year and her geranium won Best in Show. “I just love people to see them and I think my ribbons were all blue this year,” she adds with justified pride. She likes to attend many of the Valley events such as the tri-tip bbq’s for charity held by the Lions Club, the Spaghetti feeds, and the Crab Feed but her passion remains her gardening and judging by the many wonderful exhibits on her long porch/deck she must be kept very busy with it.
Husband Bill died in 1986 at the age of 68. The Store had been closed for a time and Bobbie had been helping to look after Mildred Peterson, wife of John Peterson a local sheep, apple, and timber man. Mildred passed away and Butch recounts the tale of his mother staying in touch with ‘Mr. Peterson’ as she always referred to him. That was until one day, after going huckleberry picking with ‘Mr. Peterson’, she returned to the ranch and announced that ‘Johnnie’ would be joining the Family for Christmas. Butch adds, “She was so nervous about this that she finally blurted out ‘What would you guys think if I were to get married again?’ We said we all thought it would be great and then at that moment John walked in and seeing the looks on all our faces said, ‘You couldn’t wait to tell them could you!’ He was a great husband to my mother for the seven or eight years they had together until he passed away.”
Bobbie stayed at John’s house, which he had left her, for a short time after his death but it was too big for her so she moved to back on to the property into a new house close by to Butch, daughter-in-law Buffy, and grandson John. “I love this home I have and I have my cat Tiggy and just down the drive there are Butch and Buffy who have been just so wonderful to me.”
Bobbie is a quite reserved lady and a pleasure to be around. She is a very unassuming and gentle and not one to ‘rock the boat’ in any way but I still wanted to get a brief response from her on some of the issues that concern many local folks…The Wineries? – “There are too many of them”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – My eyesight is nearly gone and I can’t read very well so I don’t read it”… KZYX local public radio? – “I don’t listen to it”… Changes in the Valley? – “Some are good I guess; some not so good. Livelihoods need to be made though”… The School System? – “I think it might need some new blood.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Bobbie, 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’m not sure but my family tell me I say ‘Quit acting like a boob’ quite a lot.”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “I don’t like to hear people say ‘I can’t’ – why not try harder?”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Working out in the yard or with my flowers and plants – it’s getting harder though. I love to sit and watch the hummingbirds on my deck too….”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Those yellow jackets chasing off my hummingbirds!”
What sound or noise do you love? – “I like to listen to music from the big band era… And songs by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin.”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “Frost protection fans at the wineries making that awful sound in the night.”
What is your favorite curse word? – “I don’t curse – ‘dammit’ sometimes may be.”
What is your favorite hobby? – “My gardening. I like leatherwork too, and I used to love sewing. My eyesight is so poor now that it affects these and all my actions these days.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “I’ve never really thought about that. I have had a real good life as it is.”
Is there a profession you would not like to do? – “I loved to work so no.”
What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “I have so many, it’s too hard to think of just one.”
What was the saddest? – “The loss of both of my husbands, especially Bill… Perhaps the saddest was the loss of my youngest son, Jim.”
What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “That I raised four good kids. I suppose being a good mother is the best thing about me.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well, ‘Welcome Bobbie’ would be nice – though he’d probably say that I’d taken the wrong turn!”