Via Keller – March 20th, 2010

I met with Via at her house that she shares with partner Dave Martin on the Prather Ranch, just off Hwy 128 past The Grange Hall. She made a good strong cup of coffee and we sat down to talk…
She was born Victoria Keller but was never referred to by that name. Growing up she was known as Vicky amongst family and friends and changed her name much later to Via. She was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1956, the 4th child of Ed Keller and June Ritze, and she has three older sisters, a sister three years younger, and a brother thirteen years younger. “My parents are from several generations of German Catholics. I have visited Germany and in the south there are lots of Keller’s. It’s where they particularly enjoy lots of beer, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. My parents are still around – my mother is 76 and my Dad 86.”
Via’s father worked for Ford Motor Company for thirty-five years, selling cars to the various dealerships, and he traveled quite often with his job. The family grew up in Forest Park, “a beautiful suburb” and, although the German influence was not great, beer-drinking was done and Via grew up eating lots of sauerkraut. “It was a very conservative place but my parents, although strict and somewhat conservative in many ways were Catholic so they had voted for Kennedy in the 1960 election. When he was shot I remember being shocked to see my mother sitting on a footstool and crying and I knew something terrible had happened. They changed at that point and voted for Nixon in the 1968 election.”
“My parents followed authority and were set in their ways about how things should be done. My mother was a ‘clean-aholic’; she was meticulous about it and we were all on a cleaning schedule. If somebody was smoking the ash was cleaned out of the ashtray as soon as the cigarette was finished. I did not get the full-on German gene though – I think I thought I had better things to do… I went to a Catholic grade school and high school but in my sophomore year I was always in trouble – minor stuff like skipping school, never at odds with the law, but it was horrendous for my parents, so when I announced that I wanted to go to the public school they agreed. I calmed down at my new school and loved my last two years in high school. Nobody was mean, there was no dress code, and I was encouraged to be creative. I remember I organized ‘glitter day’ and spent all day painting faces. I hung out with the liberal crowd and got good grades; it was not hard for me and I’d get my homework done quickly and then do my own thing. It was a great school and I still have a dozen or so friendships from that time.”
Via’s favorite subjects were humanities, literature, art, ceramics, painting. “I didn’t take wood shop and auto because I was too chicken – not quite as adventurous as I wish I’d been. I loved art and had taken private art lessons with my oldest sister when I was thirteen. I remember my mother saying when she was pregnant with my much younger brother, ‘I hope he’s not another artists’ – a temperament she classified as hard to handle… She thought all longhaired people, hippies, were like Charles Manson and put those who protested the war in Vietnam in that category. I guess the whole anti-establishment movement of the late sixties must have seemed very scary to my parents… I loved to hang out with school friends, many of whom were over-achievers in activities such as music, acting, writing, and art. My tastes were formed in those years; I just soaked it in.”
Via graduated from high school in 1974 and with no desire to go to college joined the workforce and left home at nineteen. She had various jobs, including working at the concession stand at a cinema and a short-order cook at Friendly’s Ice Cream, an East Coast restaurant chain, where she stayed for four years. Then in March of 1979 she was driving in freezing weather when she hit a patch of black ice and crashed into a power pole, totaling her car. “I had been getting very restless anyway, so when the accident happened I said to myself, ‘That’s it, I’m leaving.’ I was sick of restaurant work and my life in Ohio, and so with my friend Valerie, I hitchhiked across the country to California. A few sleazy truck drivers picked us up but we had learned a form of sign language to use in church when we were in 4th grade so we got out of a few scrapes by being able to ‘talk’ to each other that way. It was a great adventure and generally people were very protective of us and we were invited to their houses and fed. It was pretty safe to hitchhike in those days.”
Valerie had friends in Richmond in the East Bay and the girls stayed there on their arrival. One of these was Ron Davis and immediately he and Via started a relationship. “Things were moving very quickly, too quickly for Ron, and after five months I took off to Louisiana to give him some space and went to stay with my oldest sister. I hated it down there and after a few months I returned to live in Richmond permanently in March of 1980, moving in with Ron and other roommates. I found work at a health food store, which I loved – it was a ‘Ma and Pa’ operation and many of the staff were radical lesbian feminists. I was really into the whole Berkeley scene and started to take psychedelic drugs regularly. I was very comfortable on it, having first taken it at high school when I can still remember sitting at home eating dinner with my parents and giggling as the green beans stared at me! Most of my drug experiences were very positive and I remain very pro-psychedelics although obviously it is not for everyone. You have to pay great attention to the set and settings to do it right; you can’t be a dumb ass with that kind of thing. They can be really bad and strongly affect your sense of well-being but equally they can be a potent tool and very positive inn the right set up and environment. The world can be seen in so many different ways and it helps to keep you more flexible with regards to this.”
In 1981, Ron wanted to visit an old friend in Santa Barbara so he and Via moved down there with no job and no place to live, staying initially in a motel. Soon however, she found a job at another health food store, Ron got a job in the office of a lumberyard, and they decided to stay. They were to be there for ten years. “I worked part-time and after a few years we moved into a mansion owned by a friend of ours. There were other tenants and we managed it for our friend, living there for free. Santa Barbara is very clique-ish, very appearance-oriented, and for a long time we found it hard to make friends. Then one day a longhaired hippy guy came into the store. His name was Richard Aaron, a poetry seller, with one of the biggest collections in the country. I recognized his name and told him that Ron sometimes bought books from him and immediately wondered if I could ask Ron if he would want a job working for him. Ron jumped at this, he loved poetry, and began doing the cataloging for Richard.”
In 1982 Via discovered the band R.E.M. and found listening to them really helped her creativity. She would spend hours doing art and listening and began to contribute art, words, and poetry to Short Fuse magazine, based in Santa Barbara. “Most of those involved with the magazine were ten years or so younger than me, in their late teens. It was a mix of punks, hippies, beats, and weirdo’s. I began doing more and more cut and paste work in creating my collages. It was during this time, in the mid-1980’s, that I was fortuitously introduced to the work of Jess (Collins), San Francisco’s superb beat-era paste-up artist, whose art and correspondence was my greatest source of guidance and inspiration. He also served a lovely and gracious lunch when I visited his home in ’94. I became a ‘collaholic’ and put on shows around town and my work featured in the Santa Barbara calendar one year.”
In 1988, Via gave birth to son, Ellery, at the mansion where they lived. “I was terrified both physically and of the responsibility but it was an awesome experience.” Then later the next year, Ron’s employer, Richard and his wife Lilia, visited Anderson Valley and soon after announced they were moving here. They told Ron he could keep his job but would have to move up here too. “It was ironic. We had finally settled in Santa Barbara. We had taken a second room in the mansion, had a new baby, many friends, and were enjoying the scene. Ron thought it was a good move though and I agreed. In December 1989, we got a U-Haul and drove up; when we passed through Boonville at night I remember thinking ‘is this it?’ We moved into a rental mobile home on Airport Road in Boonville – one of the worst places I’d ever lived in, expensive, cold, and ugly. Our neighbors were Dick and Lovella Sands and they were very nice to us. There were cows nearby and Ellery’s first word was ‘mooo.’ We were married in the sheep field behind the senior center in 1991 but for the first few years I met hardly anyone except mothers of other toddlers. They were very nice but not necessarily the kind of people I was used to speaking with. I did make a great friend in Kathy Pistone at the pre-school – we were like-minded and we became best friends. Eventually, when Ellery was about four, I got a part-time job working for Leslie at ‘All that Good Stuff’ gift store.”
For a time they lived at Van Zandt’s property on Ray’s Road just north of Philo and then Richard decided he did not need Ron anymore, preferring to catalog and sell using the internet. Ron became the bookkeeper at Wellspring Retreat, later becoming the director there. They moved again, this time to the property owned by Kevin Burke, south of Philo on Ruddock Road. By 1996 Via was working for both Leslie and at the Rookie-Too gift store and gallery. However, things were not working out between Via and Ron and she moved out in 2000. She moved into a cabin on Mountain View Road and Ron lost his job soon thereafter and he left the Valley, taking Ellery, who was unhappy here, with him to Chicago where Ron’s sister lived. “My cabin was very small so Ellery stayed at his father’s place. He was at the high school but wanted out. He’d grown up here and had lots of friends but he was a creative kid and his options here were limited. He thought they’d be better in a big city. Besides, he was a great support for Ron who was having a difficult time. We were no longer friends at that point.”
Via lived in the cabin for six years during which time she left her job at ‘All that Good Stuff’ – “I was not doing a good job there, although I stayed at Rookie-Too and continue to work there to this day. I continued my collages through the years. In 1988, I had become friends with Michael Horowitz who was psychedelic guru, Timothy Leary’s editor and also father of the actress Winona Ryder. We kept in touch and this led to some of my illustrations being included in Timothy’s book ‘Chaos and Cyber Culture when it was published in 1994. I met Timothy at some of his book signings and he loved my work, telling me I had ‘got it’, which was very nice to hear. I have done my own art shows here and there and at times have produced collages like crazy – not all great of course. My collage work can be defined as the magic of using common imagery from popular culture to explore, de-construct and reassemble one’s perspective provides an endlessly rich opportunity for insight and creative expression. It’s through these unexpected juxtapositions that the logic of linear thinking is stripped away, revealing something both indicative of human experience and transcendent of it.”
“Having settled happily into rural valley life, I’ve taught classes at several county schools while contributing to local events and various commercial projects. Most recently, I designed CD covers and websites for the bands Outersect and II Big, and have had my artwork animated and projected by the talented folks at Coil and Radiant Atmospheres for various Bay Area events. I’ve also made illustrations for a book and an audio CD for Sentient Publications and Wetware Media in Boulder, CO.”
Along with some of her students Via has entered work in the County Fair over the years. One of those students, Vanessa McClure, attending the Elementary school at the time, had some work censored by the Art Department of the Fair Board, causing quite a stir and making the front page of the A.V.A. newspaper. “It was an anti-war piece and I thought it made wonderful statement, I guess some people thought otherwise. The following year I held an Alternative Art Show across the street, containing art work that questioned the norm… Art can help you stay sane and I feel very strongly about that. Sometimes too much academics can lead to jobs that can build ‘crippled’ people. We must feed the soul if we expect people to lead productive lives. Extreme puritanical thinking is a dangerous thing and people are educated how to make money and not how to have a fulfilling and beautiful life. No wonder there are few ethics and aesthetics at the top. I believe the ‘American Dream’ is empty of beauty at this point and political discourse in this country is far too full of hatred.”
Via has expanded her talents to include web design and now does her collage work using photo shop on her computer. She works on designs for book and c.d. covers, mainly for friends and has produced the annual Variety Show’s poster for the last sixteen years. She also spends time on the Twitter network site on-line. “In many ways it is stupid but it has proved invaluable in getting news out sometimes, instead of relying on the usual media outlets. I heard about the recent brutalities in Iran on Twitter and saw the Iranian woman Neda die on YouTube. It’s too bad though; if Twitter is someone’s lifeline to getting their story out then what does that say about our news services. The computer has greatly influenced my life in terms of work and contact with friends and I am on-line a lot.”
Via was at a New Year’s Eve party at Lauren’s Restaurant a few years ago, performing with The Valley People Band that included Bob Day, Terry McGovern, Kevin Burke, Burton Segal, Captain Rainbow, and Morning Hollinger. The soundman with the band was Dave Martin and they began to date. “We fell in love and following his split with partner Barbara I moved in with him here a couple of years ago… Ellery came back for a year and a half recently and stayed with us. He worked at Dig Supplies, which has now closed and reverted back to the A.V. Farm Supply and we had a great time together. He and Ron are currently in Mexico.”
“I love it here in the Valley. The air smells fabulous, so clean. The countryside is beautiful. This is the best community I have ever lived in. We have lots of fun here; they are good people and have their hearts in the right place. People will give you the benefit of the doubt here and I appreciate that. And we throw the best parties here in the Valley…The only negative is that we are too far away from everything, which is a good and bad thing. Most of us are all relatively far apart from each other and have to plan to get together. You cannot just go next door and talk, the Valley’s landscape keeps us far apart and getting together is not easy. Oh, and I have all kinds of allergies here, that’s another thing I guess I don’t like.”
I now asked Via for her brief responses to some Valley issues… The wineries? – “I am a wine fan but there are too many wineries here now and that sucks. The water issue is getting worse and people’s supplies are being affected. Why should a winery’s requirements take preference over people who want bath water? Of course they are providing jobs but we need to have a limit”…The school system? – “It does not seem set up to moving the kids forward except in terms of passing tests in academic subjects. I’m sure they mean well but Ellery was not given the best support when he wanted to pursue music. He was helped at grade school but then lost his way. Money seems to determine too much and it becomes ‘corrupt.’ Music and art need to be as equally encouraged as pure academics”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I have always loved it. It is well written and often funny. People say it makes mistakes but I believe its heart is in the right place and I’m sure editor Bruce Anderson isn’t doing it for the glory”… Drugs in the Valley? – “I don’t care about pot at all; legalize it, tax it – it’s pot for god’s sake. As for methamphetamines, that is the worst drug of all. I know from personal experience that it messes you up without exception. You cannot play with that drug. Listen, people have been doing drugs since the beginning of time, they are not going to stop. It’s all about personal responsibility. Kids need to be told the truth. Not all drugs are in the same category so tell them the truth, not ill informed crap. They can find out about so much on the pro’s and cons on line these days and I am very open to discussing my previous drug experiences, not that I have covered everything”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I’m not a big listener but I do like some shows – Pippa’s World Music, Trading Times, and it’s very helpful in times of power outages or road closures.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to my guest. Some of these are from a questionnaire featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself many months ago. I have also recently added a few more new questions and hopefully you will find Via’s answers interesting and illuminating…
What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Collaboration; beauty; people who keep their hearts open to others; creative expression of all kinds; the natural world.”
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Close-mindedness; disrespect; stupid people. It costs nothing to be kind.”
What sound or noise do you love? – “Birds singing.”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “The noise of traffic.”
What is your favorite food or meal? – “Indian food… Libby’s mole sauce; Lauren’s mushrooms in creamy sauce over noodles.”
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one, who would that be? – “Harpo Marx of the Marx Brothers. He was a Buddha, I’m telling you. Read his autobiography.”
If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “My prescription glasses – I need to see; my computer (no internet, I told her); and my camera, as I love taking super close-up micro-shots and seeing them on bigger screen. That way, I get to see parts of the natural world I could never see with my own eyes, even with the glasses!”
Do you have a favorite film/song/book? – “For a book I would say a tiny novel called “The Holy Man” by Susan Trott. I’ve bought more copies of that book for gifts than any other. I even sent it to my dad for his birthday last year (which befuddled him greatly, though he took it well.) It’s about the sweetest, most unpretentious, wise little book I’ve ever read… A song would be ‘Sanvean’ by Lisa Gerrard of the band ‘Dead can Dance’, and as for a film probably ‘Serenity’ a film based on the television show ‘Firefly’ – heartfelt, female empowered, and some important things to say.”
What is your favorite hobby? – “Collaborating…Singing… Gardening.”
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “An art director in the movies.”
What profession would you not like to do? – “A secretary or any sort of office work.”
What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The day my son was born. It’s a miracle; awesome – the most psychedelic thing you can imagine.”
What was the saddest? – “I have not had a purely sad day. The passing of Gail Ednie here in the Valley – it was an honor to be with her and her family as she passed… The death of our family dog, ZuZu Belle was a very, very sad day too.”
What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “The bottom line is that I really believe in life and that I have a profound capacity to love and that is the only thing that really matters.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well I think he might say ‘April Fool’s!’ but it would be nice if he just said, ‘You did o.k., Via’…”

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Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 11:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Robert ‘Butch’ Paula – March 12th, 2010

I drove down to The Floodgate Store a couple of miles south of Navarro and pulled up the driveway behind to the home of Butch and Buffy Paula. They gave me a delicious cup of coffee from a French Press along with a wonderful antipasto platter of cheeses, salami, and fruit, and we sat down to talk.
Butch was born in 1945 in Petaluma, California, the third child to Bill Paula and Bobbie Bentley (and much later, Peterson). His father’s side had come over from Portugal a few generations earlier while his mother’s side was Irish/English, his maternal grandfather, Rufus Bentley, settling in Cloverdale where he was the town blacksmith. Butch has an older brother and sister, John and Christy, and a younger brother, Jim, who died tragically at the age of twenty-six. The four of them were each born two years apart. “My older brother John and I did not get along very well and then my younger brother always did what John said so I sometimes clashed with him too. Nothing serious, just sibling stuff.”
Butch grew up in rural Petaluma in Sonoma County, northern California, on the family dairy farm about six miles out of town (“it was always a treat to go into Petaluma and visit my grandmother”) and attended nearby Liberty Elementary and later Kenilworth Junior High and Petaluma High. ‘I was not a good student. I had no time for school and just did not like it, not that I was a bad kid. I had my chores at the dairy in the morning, then got cleaned up, went to school, and then came home and did more chores. I sometimes did get into trouble but my Dad had always said that we could raise hell at the right times as long as it didn’t cost anyone any money or lead to any damage to somebody’s else’s property. I tried to follow that advice… What time I did have for myself was spent with motor scooters and later hot rod cars. I got my first car when I was thirteen – a ’48 Plymouth four-door sedan. I couldn’t drive it so my cousin Ralph did and we entered the demolition derbies with it. Then later I got a ’29 Chrysler which has now been in storage in Cotati for thirty five years and after that a ’56 Chevy, a really nice car that I should have kept but sold when I was drafted.”
When he was thirteen, Butch’s family sold the dairy and moved into town, where his father worked for a tractor company and later as a janitor in the school system. Butch enjoyed sports at school but never gave significant time to playing them and preferred to work with the cars, although he did hang out with the players socially. “I was short and stocky. They called me ‘The Roundman’. My Dad had been a varsity football player and a champion wrestler at school and college but I never followed in his footsteps in that way. I was also called ‘Little Red Shorts’ because I insisted on wearing red shorts even though the school colors were blue shorts. Eventually my parents were called to the school and I had to change but it had caused quite a stir and I got the nickname.”
In 1963, with Butch just two weeks away from graduation, he quit school following a conflict with a teacher. “My mother was so upset. She had already sent out graduation invites. I went to the high school evening classes instead and graduated a few weeks later. I was a little belligerent at school, I guess. Anyway, I did not want to go to college and wanted to be a truck driver with the Teamsters Union – a strong union. A friend said he could get me a truck-driving job if I started out at his family’s chicken processing plant in the icebox. I did that for a short time, initially joining the butchers union, then went to the Teamsters when I moved on to the loading bay and eventually I was driving the trucks on local deliveries. I had always liked trucks and had learned to drive at a very young age, plus it was a well-paid job and I did that for a couple of years, during which time I also started to really grow and was 6’ 1” by 1965.”
Butch knew he was going to get drafted so he tried to sign up with the navy reserves but was turned away because of his driving record – he had had his license suspended for racing. Instead he was given the choice to be drafted by either the army or marines. “I had been told that being in the marines was a lot tougher and I wasn’t in it to be a hero so I signed up for six years in the army – two years service, two on active reserve, and two on inactive reserve. I thought it was all a bit of a joke but after joining on December 1st, 1965, I soon found out that it wasn’t.”
Along with thousands of other recruits, Butch found himself at Fort Ord. “We arrived by bus and when the bus door opened we were met by a drill instructor who told us all a few things about being in the service before shouting ‘you have one minute to de-ass this bus and thirty seconds have gone already’. Most people rushed off but I walked nonchalantly off to be met with an ass-kicking from the instructor who added, ‘Bad time (time spent in the brig for ill-disciplined) does not count against your service time.’ I was suddenly very scared and decided to change my attitude to all of this; I didn’t want any ‘bad time’.”
Butch was in training at Fort Lewis for over ten months before being sent to Vietnam by ship with the 4th Infantry Division. “Most people’s experience of Vietnam involved being moved from place to place in small groups, replacing other soldiers. Mine was different in that the 4th was kept together as much as possible. We had trained and lived together for a long time and had become closer to a larger number of fellow soldiers than most. This was real good in some ways and real bad in others – you had known fellow soldiers for a significant time, but it meant you also knew virtually everyone who was killed around you.”
Butch arrived in Cam Ranh Bay and was then sent to Tuy Hoa beach on the China Sea where the Air Force was building a huge base. “The infantry had to patrol the perimeter but it was a pretty safe place where we suffered very few losses. Being the mail clerk, I was even better off than most and had it made there for a few months. I turned twenty-one while I was there and, with every soldier given two beers a day, a few of the guys gave me their ration on my birthday. I was so drunk and sick the next morning – the beer was very nasty, having been cooled and warmed a few times on the journey getting to us.”
In the summer of 1966, Butch and his company were moved to Pleiku in the Central Highlands to join the rest of the division. ‘We were helicoptered in during the day and a few hours later we found out that suddenly we had found ourselves in a full combat zone. We went on search and destroy missions to clear out villages virtually every day and also every other night, as a radio telephone operator, I was needed to go out on patrol into the bush. That was tough, the radio and batteries weighed an extra thirty-three pounds on my back… Some days we took hours to go through a short patch of jungle – it was so thick. Then they would use Agent Orange, the defoliant, and that stuff was incredible. Three days after spraying, the trees would have no leaves at all and you could see everything. Unfortunately that stuff landed on us; you could feel it like the water spray when you run through a sprinkler watering the grass. The repercussions were not known until much later.”
“Sometimes, that far in-country, we would go days without getting supplies and then when it arrived it would be twelve meals and too heavy to carry so we would throw half of it away, destroying it first so the enemy wouldn’t get it. Having said that it was mostly terrible food – in the early days it was food that had been in tins since the end of the Second World War. Then we started to get Long Range Patrol Rations and they were great in comparison. Other than food we were given toilet paper, chewing gum, a few cigarettes and matches, and some hot sauce, which often made the food edible. The only decent thing was the pound cake. The worst was the ham and eggs in a tin – that was ugly and I couldn’t eat it no matter how hungry I got.”
“There were so many young guys there. I was twenty-one but most were younger than me. The 1st Lieutenant in charge, Lt. Johnson, was a year younger than me – a great guy. One day our platoon was moving up a hill attempting to join the rest of the company and unbeknown to us we walked right through the middle of a Vietcong camp. We had no idea – they were masters at camouflage, and they let us go through them. As I was the radio guy I was always in the middle of the group near to the officer in charge, in this case Captain Powers, who commented that he assumed we would have come across the enemy by now. It was about 8am when he told us to take a break and, standing in the only shaft of sunlight in the middle of the overgrown jungle, he was re-checking his compass and map when a sniper in a tree fired off two shots, killing him instantly. Then all hell broke loose. Over the next seven hours or so we were involved in a very intense battle. Our company started with 108 men and 27 were killed, including Lt. Johnson, with 44 wounded – it was the worst battle I was involved in. At one point the artillery guy we had with us shouted that he needed a radio guy to get over to him and send in the request for artillery support. I made my way to him and we were under heavy fire as he told me the co-ordinates where he wanted the incoming to hit. I thought his reading of the map was wrong and that the fire power he requested was going to hit us but he said, ‘if they artillery doesn’t get us then they will’ – the Vietcong could now be seen approaching. It turned out he was a heck of a map-reader and knew the terrain really well because seconds later the bombs arrived right on target, although they were still very close to us… The battle waged all day and we had a hard time getting the injured out because of the dense jungle. I was hit in the right arm but it was not too bad and I was one of the last out around 4pm. They later estimated that about five hundred Vietcong were killed that day, including a Chinese advisor. It was also the first time in the war that Chinese weapons (40 mm rockets) were found in the possession of the Vietcong, although this had been suspected for some time.”
As Butch had suffered no broken bones he was not sent home. He recuperated at a hospital in-country and it was a time for reflection. “The Vietcong were incredible fighters with lots of good equipment. One thing they didn’t have was air power and you always knew when you heard approaching airplanes and helicopters that they were ours. They were no different to us in many ways – all young; many dead. They didn’t want to be there anymore than we did. The war was not un-winnable though, but too many people were making money off it and there was no way to win it fighting in a traditional way as too many civilians get killed, like in recent times in Iraq. The only way I kept going was because I was told we were there to help people lead a free life like we had and to stop the spread of communism.”
Butch was in hospital for thirty-one days and returned to the 4th Division’s camp where he was assigned to talk to the new recruits when they arrived. He and another soldier had been in Vietnam for seven months, in the bush without any R & R, so they went to see the Inspecting General who immediately granted them seven days leave with a flight out the next day to Singapore. “Despite sending most of my wages home, I had quite a bit of money saved up but I spent it all having a great time.”
On their return he was again assigned to help with the new recruits. “There were lots of them by this time and they were very inexperienced. For example, some were lighting up cigarettes on the perimeter in the middle of the night for all to see – they were going to get themselves and us killed. Many officers were also inexperienced and only knew what was in the books, so the recruits listened and learned from us. It was rewarding to share our experience and may be give them a chance of staying alive… I still went out on patrols but we were in a relatively secure area by this time.”
In November 1966, Butch returned to Ft Lewis in Washington and was met there by his parents. “My Mom couldn’t recognize me as I’d lost so much weight. I went from well over two hundred pounds to one seventy-five. We had a steak dinner with other soldiers and their families and at 1pm the next day I was discharged. I did not have to sign on with the reserves and we drove back home. I was alive and out of the army.”
Less than two weeks later Butch was back at work, driving the delivery truck for the chicken factory. “I did think about taking a motorbike ride for a fishing trip but it didn’t happen. I knew I didn’t want to talk about my experiences and didn’t do so for about twenty years, apart from at the couple of reunions I attended. I was to spend many years self-medicating with alcohol and hating the government for what they’d done. I had very bad experiences with the Veterans Administrations in the early days. The medical system they operated was so bad for a time and we were treated like dogs, although it is very good these days and we have top care and are treated with respect. I am totally satisfied now.”
In the late sixties Butch drove a truck for a produce company for several years and was married to Cathy in 1970. They had two children, Brian and Robin, who was born with four separate birth defects as a result of Butch’s exposure to Agent Orange. “The government have never stepped up to the plate on that, and probably never will, but that stuff was very bad and the effects were very serious.”
Going back thirty years, back in the early forties, Butch’s father Bill became ill with Multiple Sclerosis the family 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. They came to the Valley to see her, and rented a cabin at Van Zandt’s and later camped at Dimmick State Park. Eventually Bill Paula recovered and Claudina continued to be great friends with the family, always making the kids feel special and giving them a little ‘treatment’ for their aches and pains. His mother had become pregnant with her third child during the time when they were up here so Claudina always called Butch her ‘Anderson Valley Boy’ and she actually fixed Butch’s crippled foot that had been deemed untreatable by other doctors.
With these past links to the Valley, Butch decided to move here in 1974. “I had said as a child that I wanted to own the Navarro Store and Claudina had always told me that the Floodgate Store would be a better idea. I was drinking a lot and one day at about 9am I went into the Floodgate for a beer – it was a beer bar and store then – and asked the owners Sam and Marguerite Avery if they wanted to sell the store. I had long hair and a very long beard and they weren’t interested. I really wanted it and cut my hair and beard but it wasn’t until I put my house on the market that we solved the problem and in 1976 we traded homes – they moved to Petaluma and I moved a trailer on to the land and took over the store and saw shop next door.”
The Floodgate was a very busy place with a general store and the saw shop both very popular withy the logging community, plus many of those working on the development of Rancho Navarro and Holmes Ranch Road. “Cathy worked the store and the eight-stool bar with help from my mother and Nancy Gowan. We had gas pumps, a pay phone, a television, and nice fireplace and we became a major meeting place with lots of business discussed and bullshit spoken. To survive I had to work nearly every day for the first two years. I was still drinking and my move away from Petaluma and my crazy buddies down there did not stop me from doing that, as I thought it might – you don’t buy a bar to sober up and I had found another crew to drink with.”
In 1980, Butch and Cathy split up and Butch was in a fog for the next four years. Then one of the customers, Buffy, caught his eye. “I knew from day one that she wanted me,” he says with a loud laugh. (Buffy, who was present during the interview at this time, replied, ‘I don’t think so – I was the new blond in town and you wanted me!”). They began dating and in 1985 were married. She moved in with Butch and the two kids to the house he had bought in Navarro. “She fell in love with the kids and they felt the same. Apart from my mother, Bufffy was the first real stable influence in their lives and then we had a son, John in 1991. I give credit for everything my kids achieve to Buffy.”
On Halloween 1987, Butch was on one of his drinking binges. “I was with some buddies in Santa Rosa and I ended up in the drunk tank. I really thought about things and realized that all my problems were as a result of the bottle. I decided I had to stop and that decision probably saved my life.” He has not drunk alcohol since.
In the mid-eighties, they leased the Floodgate Store to Jerry and Kathy Cox, who later took Johnnie Schmitt on as partner and turned it into a fine restaurant, while the saw shop business was sold to Roy Laird, who continued to lease the space. Butch then returned to a job with the Teamsters Union at Shamrock Cement and Building Supplies in Cloverdale and did that commute for a couple of years at which time he bought his own water haulage truck and began to work for himself, moving water from place to place, compacting the dirt on construction jobs, and working on fires whenever necessary. And that is what he has done to this day.
Apart from when he is working, Butch loves to work on his tractor on the never-ending projects around the property and he and Buffy are getting to the point when they can think about retirement. They continue to spend a lot of time watching son John, now an accomplished academic senior at the high school, play his sports – basketball, tennis, and soccer. Butch’s first two children both graduated from A.V. High and son Brian is now in Redway with wife Cinnamon and four children whom Butch likes to visit regularly, while daughter Robin is in good health and is generally self-sufficient in Ukiah, receiving advise and guidance from a case officer. “The authorities have tried to shut me up over the years but I strongly believe that Robin’s problems were due to my exposure to Agent Orange. At nineteen and in battle you don’t question what stuff is coming out of your own planes and I can still vividly remember that stuff falling on us like a very light rain. As I said earlier, the government cannot fess up – it would break them financially.”
As I do most weeks, I now asked Butch for his thoughts on a few of the issues confronting Valley dwellers these days… The wineries and their impact? – “They’re here to stay I think and they obviously create jobs, but I have to ask whether we have enough at this point. Most of them keep their properties really well and I like that. I’d rather see cows and sheep but I’m told the wines produced here are very good. Having said that, it seems they should kick down more for the Valley – a little extra tax on each bottle that goes exclusively to this Valley. That money could be put towards any number of things, perhaps public restrooms for their customers. Most of the wineries do huge business here and to give some back directly to the Valley would be good. The biggest issue is water of course and the current state of the River Navarro is sad to me.”
The A.V. school system? – “I’ll take the Fifth on that one! I believe it needs a major overhaul but then all schools seem to be struggling and perhaps ours is no worse than others. Let’s just say I’m glad John will be at college next year”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “We buy it every week and enjoy it, particularly the Valley stuff. Bruce is Bruce and he likes to stir the pot but that’s fine with me”… Law and order in the Valley? – “They are doing a better job these days. They need to concentrate on the big fish and bust the guys working the methamphetamine labs and not the single mother driving without a seatbelt. The courts in Ukiah are screwed up. Deputy Keith Squires will tell you he can take the bad guys over the hill but they’ll be back in the Valley before him!”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to my guest. Some of these are from a questionnaire featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself many months ago. I have also recently added a few more new questions and hopefully you will find Butch’s answers interesting and illuminating…
What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “My family – kids and grandchildren.”
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “My lack of memory – that brings me down a lot.”
What sound or noise do you love? – “When my grandchildren call me ‘Papa’.”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “Squealing brakes down on Hwy 128 by the Floodgate Store.”
What is your favorite food or meal? – “I love to eat most things. My favorite? Well, whether it’s St. Patrick’s or not, I do love Buffy’s corned beef and cabbage with roasted potatoes and carrots. I could eat it every night.”
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one, who would that person be? “President Obama or Bill Clinton… May be Sandra Bullock (‘Your girlfriend’, teased Buffy)… Or even Elvis…”
If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “My boat, my fishing gear, and my tractor.”
What is your favorite hobby? – “Boating and camping.”
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “It would have been cool to have been a rock star.”
What profession would you not like to do? – “Anything inside; an office worker.”
What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “When I met Buffy.”
What was the saddest? – “When my little brother died.”
What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I was able to conquer my vices that were taking me down…That I served my country and am a proud veteran… That I can be proud of my kids.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “I just hope I can get there. If I do, hopefully he’d say, “You’ve been a good person, Butch, welcome.”

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 9:07 pm  Comments (2)  

Leslie Hummel – March 6th, 2010

I met with Leslie a week or so ago at her home overlooking the Valley from the low hills behind the airport on Mountain View Road. After enjoying the view and the affection of Grace the dog I sat down to begin our chat…
Leslie was born in 1950 at the Alpha Bates Hospital in Berkeley, California, the same hospital where her mother had been born. Leslie’s parents, Robert William Hummel (of German descent) and Alice Lorraine Bagley (Irish) were both at least fourth generation Californians – “something we are all kind of proud of – there doesn’t seem to be that many of us.” She is the third of four children born to Robert and Alice, with her older siblings, Cathy and Keith both currently in Sacramento and younger sister Gail, now in Arizona.
“When I was born we were living in Walnut Creek but at an early age we moved to Danville, still a rural town in those days, and we lived in a converted barn on three or four acres of land. I was into the farming lifestyle but while my older siblings had horses I was very active in 4-H with my sheep – I used to compete in fairs and won a couple of blue ribbons. I remember one of my better sheep getting ill with pneumonia and then dying just days before a fair. I was very upset. They were my pets.”
During those years Leslie’s mother was a homemaker while her father was a furniture salesman which involved him traveling all over the West coast for a few years before settling into the manufacturing side. At school she was a decent student – “If I’d applied myself I would have done much better I’m sure but at it was I remained a ‘B’ student. Coincidentally, one of my classmates was Doug Johnson of Pepperwood Pottery fame here in the Valley, although we did not hang out together – I was a good girl and he was a bad boy! We didn’t realize we’d been to school together until I’d been up here for a time and we got talking at a Halloween party one year.” When Leslie was in 8th grade her father was sued over some faulty furniture. He lost in court and the family had to give up their home and move into a rented duplex in Moraga, still in the East Bay.
“It was a tough time but I don’t remember ever being deprived of anything. However, I found it very hard to adapt to my new school – Campolindo High School. I eventually settled down and by my junior year had a ‘steady’ boyfriend. You know how it is at that age – we were just glued on to each other and focused on little else, least of all school work, and my grades suffered. He was a year younger than me and that made it even more scandalous. Eventually our parents made us break it off. I really wanted to be a cheerleader but failed to make it so instead I played some basketball and at the same time my grades gradually got better. Having said that I was a good kid at school. I never skipped a class, never did drugs or drank – perhaps I was too good. If I was tempted to do something ‘bad’ I always talked myself out of it because I knew I’d hate it afterwards… My parents did their best, they were good providers, but looking back they were not very affectionate. They were quite conservative and pretty strict with all of us. Over time they have mellowed and in their later years they have become very accepting of us all. They are both eighty-six.”
Leslie graduated from high school in 1968 and attended Diablo Valley Junior College to continue general education. It was a time of great social and political upheaval but, even though she was near to the hotbed of unrest that was Berkeley, she did not get involved. “I have never been that way; never been that political. Besides, I always seem to see points of view of both sides.” She was still living at home and was shopping at Safeway one day when a very helpful Produce Manager, Don Guerin, helped her pick out a watermelon and next thing they were dating. A year later, in September 1969, they were married and moved into an apartment in Walnut Creek for $125 a month. Dan had been working at Safeway to support himself through college and became an accountant upon graduating. With Leslie working as a cashier at Longs Drugs, and Dan earning $1000 a month, after a couple of years they had saved enough to buy a condominium in San Ramon for $30,000 and soon after had their first child – Terri, born in January 1974, with Heather following three years later.
Unfortunately the marriage did not work out and Leslie and Dan were divorced in 1979, with the children only five and two years old. “We co-parented the kids and it was very hard. Then Dan remarried and the kids went to stay with them during the week while I had them at weekends. It was a more stable environment for them at their father and stepmother’s.” Leslie was by this time working as a sales rep. for McKesson, an industrial chemical company among other things – “Really exciting, eh?!! I worked the Bay Area and stayed in that region when I moved away from McKesson to various other sales jobs. I did not really know who I was or what I wanted. I felt lost in so many ways. I thought ‘how can I give direction to my kids when I have no direction of my own?’ It had all happened so quickly – high school, marriage, two kids, and yet I was still floundering. I was like that for much of the eighties. I had been in a couple of steady relationships for a time but they were not very healthy for me. I moved twelve times in ten years so clearly I was adrift and in search of something.”
In 1989 Leslie was involved in a serious car accident on Hwy 680 in Benicia by the Cartinez Bridge. ‘I had been working many hours and had just dropped the kids off. I was very aware of how tired I was and fully intended to get off the freeway at the next exit but I still fell asleep at the wheel and flipped the car over. I remember it all very well and can visualize it perfectly. I remember the car being upside down and my head scraping against the road before I came to a stop. A few minutes later I remember thinking, ‘oh look, I’ve stopped the traffic.’ It was a big knock on the head in a literal and metaphorical sense as it turned out.”
Leslie wanted to move on in her life and she had become friendly with a woman she had met at a psychic fair – Marcella Black “We had hit it off right away. We were both unhappy with our lives. She was a New Age person and I was dabbling in that a little too. We had talked about opening some sort of business together along those lines and had been looking around for some sort of opportunity. Anyway, she and her boyfriend were on a road trip a short time after my accident and she phoned me from this little town she was in, a place called Boonville, and told me there was a commercial space available in the downtown area. A week later I drove up to Anderson Valley and checked out the space. It was in the Ferrer Building, and the middle space was available, where the Farmhouse Mercantile is now. As I peered into the window of the vacant space a drunk guy came up behind me and said, ‘what you doin?’ It turned out he was Squint, the town drunk (Dennis something was his name) – he had a heart of gold and was a very nice guy. Marcella and I decided to go for it. It turned out the owner of the building, John Parducci, was someone I had worked with at McKesson who had been quite crotchety but we had always got along. It was as if this was meant to be and we signed a lease in February 1990, paying $435 a month, and then opened the store on tax day – April 15th. It was called ‘All that Good Stuff’ and was a general gift store.”
Marcella kept her job in Napa while Leslie, who still lived in Fairfield in the East Bay, would come to the Valley at weekends and work the store and at first would even sleep there. “Eventually I rented a house on Airport Drive from Cindy and Kirk Wilder. The business was doing o.k., even though the inventory was very small at that time, and Marcella helped when she could but I was there 90% of the time. It was difficult to work it out and her boyfriend did not want to move here. May be Boonville wasn’t a good fit for her either. I bought her out within a year and at that point finally felt, ‘this is it – where all that other stuff has led me.’ The store just kind of evolved. I put feelers out in the community to see what might be wanted in the town and the store almost had a mind of its own. Initially it was just gifts, then the gift cards started, the jewelry, the kids stuff, and more recently fax and copier machines. The town seemed to need the store as much as I needed the town.”
In 1995, Leslie bought The Cream Puff ice cream store nearby from Betty Sanders and called it ‘All that Sweet Stuff’. “Ken Allen from the A.V. Brewery had bought the building from Parducci and suggested I move my store next door, where it is now, with his Brewery Gift Shop going into my space. Over the next few years the ice cream shop changed owners a few times. I sold it to Glad and Saffron Severn and it became ‘Otto’s’; then in 2005 I bought it back with my boyfriend Tim before selling it again, this time to George and Kate Castagnola (‘Buddy’s Ice Cream’), who in turn sold it to Ed and Rebecca (‘Uncle Ed’s’), and these days it is owned by Erica Kesenheimer who has called it ‘Zub Zub’ but now it is for sale again…”
“As for my place, we have been very consistent. I have always listened to the community and what they might want. I have also followed my heart and allowed the business to evolve. I think the store has always been needed here but this past year has been the hardest by far with the economy in general way down and a real decline in the downtown business of Boonville. It’s tough. I want to innovate with my inventory but I cannot invest too much in doing so. Trying to find the balance is very hard to do. However, the store has been a lifestyle choice more than anything else. It is my income for sure, but it also my social life, my creativity – I just have to keep it all balanced because, as I like to say about the current problems, ‘this too shall pass’.”
“Despite the tough year, I have to realize where I live. We are very fortunate to be in this place. I do not work that many hours at this point. I have a wonderful staff of Lydia Mosk, Scarlett Newman, and Bea Ann Garrigues… I turned sixty recently and this spring sees me in business for twenty years. I do wonder what is in the future for the store and me? The economy will decide I imagine.”
In late 1990, having been in the Valley for about six months, Leslie met Ken Montgomery and they embarked on a whirlwind romance; Ken would woo her in the store regularly. “We had a beautiful wedding in Montgomery Woods. We’d met in The Smiling Deer restaurant/bar in Boonville (now Lauren’s Restaurant) and we were both lonely – it was good while it lasted.” They separated after four years and Leslie moved into a house at the edge of Hendy Woods by the river – so close that it flooded. From there she moved to a house she rented from Greenwood Winery owner Allan Green on Signal Ridge before finding her current home as part of a lease-to-buy deal in 1997. She came into a little money for her 50th in 2000 and bought the house at that time.
In 2001 Leslie met Tim Glidewell and, as she says with a loud laugh, she has been “blissfully happy” ever since, but you know she means it. Her daughter Terri, who is a teacher at a continuation school in Sacramento for troubled 4th, 5th, and 6th graders, has given Leslie a grand-daughter, Siana, who is now six-and-a-half, whilst her newest love is the Tibetan Terrier, Grace, now one-and-a-half, and there are the three cats too. Daughter Heather lives in Vermont where she is a science teacher at a junior high school.
I asked Leslie what she liked most about Anderson Valley. “The people and the sense of community we have here. They make living here very special. The beautiful landscape is special too of course, especially at this time of year with all the different shades of green. I can’t think of anything I don’t like, apart from the fact that I am over three hours from my granddaughter. I am pretty simple in what I want and the older I get the simpler I want it. I have made many friends here, mostly through the store. Kay Jablonski was one of the first people I met, as was Betsy Taylor, a teacher at the school. I remember one day saying to Kay, as a logging truck went by, ‘oh, I can feel the trees pain.’ She commented that it was sad but she added that a lot of people here have made their living off that industry and I have always remembered that – there are two sides to so many issues around here… I am a very close friend with Jill Derwinski who was Jill Crane when I first met her. Her husband Drew had passed away and we developed a very special friendship; and then there is Tania Green who has become my adopted daughter!”
In more recent times, as well as being an avid quilter and cross-stitcher, Leslie has thrown herself in amateur dramatics and is a regular cast member of the A.V. Theatre Guild who put on a play every May/June. She says her favorite place in the Valley is Hendy Woods although now that it has a no-dogs policy that is an issue and she does not go as often as she’d like to. She also loves the river walk behind Wellspring.
As usual, I wanted to ask my guest for a few opinions about some of the issues that confront us in our daily lives here in the Valley… The wineries? – “I don’t have a strong position one way or the other. They have obviously changed the landscape and have brought work and business to the Valley. Believe it or not, I have never been wine tasting. I don’t drink. Even at my birthday recently, I didn’t have any wine”… The local newspaper and radio station? – “I rarely read the paper and don’t listen to the radio much. If I do it’s normally to the KGO station. If I get upset with the news I try to create peace in my heart and share it with the community and beyond”… The school? – “ I do help the A.V. Education Foundation with their program that seeks to get high school kids work experience. It’s a very good idea and I have kids work at the store for a few weeks in the summer”… Tourism? – “There are a lot of things worse than this, I’m sure. We need it and after all it’s only fair that we share the beauty of the Valley with others. People feel the magic when they come here, I’m sure; they know they are in a special place. I couldn’t survive in business here without both the tourists and the locals combined”… Changes in the Valley? – “I think we need some more rooms for visitors to stay overnight in the Valley. We have a beautiful Valley but, as it is, most people just drive through to the coast. We need more local businesses downtown in Boonville. Locals would respond to this, as would the tourists. We really need to get some life back in the Valley.”
I asked Leslie whom she would vote for Mayor of the Valley if such a position existed and had some power to wield. “Well I think I would want a woman, a Lady Mayoress. How about Jill Derwinski? She’s my best friend so I’d hope to get what I want!”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to my guest. Some of these are from a questionnaire featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself many months ago. I have also recently added a few more new questions and hopefully you will find Leslie’s answers interesting and illuminating…
What is your favorite word or phrase? – “Well I’m a firm believer that change is inevitable so I like to say. ‘This too shall pass’. Change can be good but also bad, so this has been a mantra that fits for me over the past few years as I try to keep things balanced.”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “Hate”
What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “My granddaughter… Also, I love sitting on the deck with a cup of tea looking out over the Valley… The simplicity of my life…”
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “That the media keeps informing us of everything that could go wrong. The fear-mongers out there annoy me. I also don’t like it when my life gets too complicated.”
What sound or noise do you love? – “Wind blowing through the trees; the running water in a stream.”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “The sound a fax machine makes.”
What is your favorite food or meal? – “Pork roast with apple sauce and roast potatoes or a really good burger and fries – yes I’m a carnivore.”
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one, who would that be? – “Buddha or Jesus – I am not a religious fanatic at all but I’d be interested to know what they think of what has gone on since they were around. ”
If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “A supply of strawberry shortcake; family photographs; my knitting basket.”
What is your favorite hobby? – “Knitting; making collages with magazine pictures and words.”
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “If I’d had a good voice I would have loved to be a singer – like Barbara Streisand.”
What profession would you not like to do? – “A winery tasting room employee – it’s not for me. I wouldn’t want to be a waitress either, although I sort of am one in the store.”
What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “When my granddaughter was born.”
What was the saddest? – “When my maternal grandmother died in 1990. She was ninety-three and I wish I had developed my relationship with her more and learned more about what made her tick. She was a very special and generous lady.”
What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “My ability to always look on the brighter side of things. Tim says that I try to ‘stay in the solution rather than the problem’. I think I have a healthy attitude to life and I do try to live with gratitude.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Job well done!”

Published in: on March 17, 2010 at 5:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

June Lemons – February 27th, 2010

As the rain came pouring down I drove to the outskirts of Boonville and met with June at her home on Ornbaun Road. She graciously offered me either a tuna or ham sandwich for lunch but I settled on some delicious homemade cookies along with a hot cup of coffee and we sat down to talk…
June was born in rural Lincoln County, Oklahoma in 1927. She grew up in the very small town of McLoud, with Shawnee being the nearest town of any size with the much larger Oklahoma City about thirty miles away. She had one older half-brother and four younger full siblings – three boys and a girl. Her father, Joe Basinger, was of German descent while her mother Maude Brown, who was Scottish/Irish with 1/32 Cherokee Indian blood, had come to Oklahoma from Texas around the turn of the century when she was eleven years old.
“During the thirties, there was the Depression of course and Oklahoma was among the worst affected States. We had no means of transport so my father moved the family wherever there was work to be had, mainly in the agricultural industry, and we would crowd into whatever living quarters were available near to the job, mainly simple little cabins. Years later he told me I had lived in sixteen different places by the time I was thirteen years old. We all had our chores to do and being the oldest girl I often cooked dinner – it wasn’t much but I could fry potatoes and cook beans, and we’d have cereal and eggs. We had no refrigeration and did not have meat very often in those days, except Sundays when we’d have chicken and that was a treat.”
From when she was thirteen to eighteen, June stayed in the same place. “My father found work in a grocery store, eventually becoming the manager, and we lived on the store owner’s property. My Dad played the violin and his brother the guitar and they would often play at different social gatherings, passing the hat round for a little income – every bit helped. I can say that we never went to bed hungry though. My parents made sure of that. We had a vegetable garden and my Mother would can things for use during the winter months. Although we moved often it was always within the same area, so apart from two different one-room schoolhouses for the 2nd and 3rd grades, I went to the same place in McLoud for both grammar and high school. I loved school so much that I was sorry when we were out for the summer. I went to school with some Indian kids – they were just a regular part of the community. It was Indian country when my maternal grandparents settled there and homesteaded in the early 1900’s. I don’t think Oklahoma became a State until 1907. I remember that the Indians celebrated July 4th separately though – they dressed up in their tribal dress and it was very colorful… I was very studious and was the Valedictorian in my class, my favorite subjects being math and general business, plus typing and shorthand… I’d say I was a well-behaved child – I knew the rules and went by them. All of us were good kids and my four brothers were all in the military at one point. My oldest in World War 2, the next fought in Korea, the next was in the Air Force for twenty-nine years, and the youngest served in Vietnam. There were twenty-two years between the oldest and the youngest and I remember that my youngest brother was just learning to walk when I was getting married.”
Growing up in the Depression years meant that the family social life was spent at home or at neighbors’ homes nearby or “as my Mother was one of thirteen and my father one of ten, we’d see relatives. With the wood heater going, we would sit together in the evenings around the radio that had been ‘commandeered’ by my Dad and listen to music, comedy, and soaps. I remember the show ‘Finbar McGee and Molly’ and Dad loved the ‘Grand Ol’ Opry’. We also played cards a lot, plus in those days families just sat together and talked… My parents were Methodists but they were not particularly religious and did not put pressure on us to go to church. We lived by the Golden Rule – ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.’ However, I did go to both a Baptist Sunday School and a Quaker Sunday School at an Indian Mission but these were both social occasions to me, not religious.”
During the summer between her sophomore and junior years, June got a job in the town’s department store in the ready-to-wear section. “That place sold everything, from lingerie (behind a curtained off area) to dry goods and groceries. I spent most of my earnings in the sewing department, getting materials for my mother to make us clothes – she made most of them for us kids. Women and we young girls always wore dresses whenever we went out in those days – no slacks, and shorts were out of the question, apart from at home. I earned $18 for a full week. I guess I did a good job because I distinctly remember my boss telling me one day that my cash register was the only one that balanced… The following summer I worked away from home, at the Navy base forty-five miles away in Norman where I was in the kitchen doing prep and clean-up. It was my first time away from home and I was terribly homesick, getting to go home about one weekend a month… This was 1943 and the War was raging but I was not really aware of it that much other than the scrap metal drives that took place to gather things for use in the war effort. My brother was in the Engineering Corps in Italy and he wrote and told us that he spent his time building bridges only to see them blown up again.”
Among June’s parents’ friends was a family who had a son called Elmer Lemons who was a couple of years older than June. He had left school early, much to his parents’ disappointment, but his father told him it would not be easy, as Elmer soon discovered when he began work in the sawmills at an early age. The Lemons eventually moved their family to California for work but the son did not like it and he returned to Oklahoma and stayed with his grandparents, finding work at the Tinker Air Force base in Oklahoma City. Elmer and June started to date in her senior year at high school. Meanwhile she had received a couple of offers for scholarships to college and also could have found work as a teacher, with many of them away at war. “I would probably have become a teacher but looking back I would not have made a good one – I do not have the patience. Anyway, before I made up my mind what to do, Elmer and I became engaged and soon after, when I graduated in 1945, I too found work at the Air Force base, traveling thirty miles to work each way on a bus. I was a secretary/typist and worked on the payroll in the Engine Repair Building where they worked on B29 bombers. Then when the War ended our jobs were terminated and Elmer asked my parents if he could marry me. I remember my mother saying, ‘Yes, but you must promise not to take her to California.’ Elmer said he could not make that promise. Nevertheless, we did get married soon after and my parents gave their blessing. I guess they had been reluctant because I was the first one to leave home apart from my older stepbrother who was in the War.”
By September 1945, even though some jobs were available in Oklahoma, (June’s father was now doing carpentry in Oklahoma City), Elmer and June moved to California, joining the Lemons family in Firebaugh, not far from Fresno in the Central Valley. Elmer was a mechanic by trade and he found work in the agricultural industry for Waldo Rohnert, a wholesale vegetable seed company. By 1947 June and Elmer had started to raise a family of their own with the arrival of William Thomas ‘Tom’ Lemons, followed by daughter Beverly a few years later.
In 1952, Elmer, June, and the young children, visited friends in Anderson Valley for a week. Elmer had a friend who worked in the Sharp and Kirkwood sawmill located where the Fairgrounds parking lot now is. “Elmer was tired of living in the hot Central Valley and had already been looking around for work elsewhere, applying for a job at a sugar factory in Vallejo. Fortunately he did not hear back from them because as we stood in the sawmill yard in Boonville a man asked Elmer if he was looking for work and what could he do. Elmer replied, ‘I can do anything you have.’ He got a job on the spot and we moved into a mill cabin on the property. It was the time of the lumber boom in Anderson Valley with jobs for all and there were three mills on that site alone – ‘Hess’ and ‘Weeks’, as well as where Elmer worked – and between Cloverdale and the coast there were over thirty in total”…Elmer started as a millwright, working on the equipment on a shift that went from late afternoon into the night. With his skills as a mechanic and in welding he was never to be out of work in all their years in the Valley that followed.
June and Elmer soon began to make friends through their contacts at the mill – people such as Howard and Janie Morse, Wilma and Walter Brink, Carolyn and Jeff Short at the gas station, and Harold and Alma Perry. “Most of those we met were from Arkansas, not that many Okies were here in this part of California, despite what you may hear. The old-timers of the Valley slowly accepted the newcomers, although quite a few of these initially said they’d ‘be glad when we’d done what we came to do and moved on.’ I was never mistreated but I did hear some stories. Obviously over time many of them became my friends. That is what happened with all of the newcomers here – it takes time to be accepted.”
June and the family settled down and enjoyed life in the Valley. “I did not have family in either Fresno or here so I did not mind coming to the Valley. I must say that when we first drove into the Valley along those winding roads I did think that if we stayed here I’d be tied to the Valley – around Fresno it’s all long straight roads. I don’t mind the roads now, yet the traffic has got too much and for a couple of years now I no longer drive over the hill to Ukiah… With Elmer at the mill, I was a homemaker and raised the kids. He loved to hunt for deer and fish in the ocean and now he was so close to the sea, instead of having to leave at 2am from Fresno for the ocean. His parents were with us until 1958 when his father fell while working at the mill and was badly injured, returning to the Fresno area to recuperate and never coming back.”
On most weekends during those days of the fifties and early sixties, the family would head to the coast for a picnic on the beach. “Elmer would catch his surf smelt and we’d fry them up right there. The kids would have a great time with their dune buggies and playing softball on Alder Beach – between Elk and Manchester. Sometimes it would get too foggy so we would come back to the Valley and go to the river by the bridge near to what later became Hendy Woods.”
The Sharp and Kirkwood Mill was not run very well so despite the timber boom it went out of business in 1953 and Elmer, his father, and another partner opened their own stud mill up in the hills behind Philo. They produced nothing but 2 x 4 x 8 studs and sold them to Barnes Lumber in Cloverdale. At that time the family moved to a property behind the Philo Market store, with young Tom, in the 3rd grade, attending the nearby school in the building now used by P.G. & E on Philo School Road. The stud mill was not a success and Elmer found work driving a lumber truck and then in 1955 he became the yard manager and maintenance man at Golden Lumber Company opposite Jack’s Valley Store, north of Philo.
The family continued to live in Philo for a few more years during which time, in 1958, Elmer moved once again – this time to work in the woods where he worked on a loader. The lumber industry remained fairly busy for a few more years until it started on a long slow decline that culminated in the final one closing in 2009. By 1960 the kids had finished school and Elmer and June moved into the house in Boonville where she continues to live to this day. Around that time, June found some part-time work in the apple sheds during the fall harvest for both the Schoenahl’s and Gowan’s. She did this for about five years but eventually settled into a job at Jack’s store, then owned by (and named after) Jack Clow, where she worked for eight years.
“Elmer was in the woods for fifteen years, working for different logging companies such as Willie Tucker, Crowfoot Logging, Van Pelt, and equipment repair for the Hiatt’s. He much preferred this work to that at the mills and took great pride in his loading skills. It was tough work and he would say, ‘there is no job more dangerous than logging except crab fishing’ – something else he liked to do!”
In 1973, when Elmer retired from the woods, he and June bought the store in Philo from ailing widow Elsie Skrbek, and it became Lemons Philo Market. “I liked the job very much but by the time I left I was burned out. We used to do longer hours than we do now – thirteen hour days, seven days a week, open until 9pm in the winter months. We felt we had to do it for the customers… Elmer did not enjoy the job – it was just not his cup of tea. He lasted about four months before we could afford to get an employee to replace him. Inventory was very small at first so that was fine. He did come in on Fridays and weekends but basically he became a freelance welder in the Valley and did a lot of fishing. We eventually bought the property too, in 1981, and our son Tom and his wife Connie, a local girl, joined us as partners. The family still owns the store; Tom, Connie and our grandchildren have done a great job and are still involved, with my grandson Matt’s wife, Erica, managing it on a daily basis… Once Tom and Connie became involved they obviously helped out a lot, although Tom did work in the woods for a time at first. We finally got a meat and fish counter in 1985 and for years we caught our own fish. We still get our own crabs – thanks to my grandson Tom Jr.”
With Connie having pretty much ran the business for a couple of years, June finally retired in 1993. “Elmer’s health had declined and he had heart surgery. He did recuperate but his arthritis was so bad at that point, most likely because he had been worked so hard in the sawmills at such a young age, I believe.” Elmer then became ill with leukemia and died in October 1999 since which time June has been greatly comforted by having family nearby, son Tom and Connie just down the road in fact, not to mention that three grandsons are all in town too – Tommy, Matt, and Wade, with Matt and wife Erica (Wallace) providing June with great grandchildren Will and Riley, while daughter Beverly and husband Steve Daniels (also of Boonville) have two daughters, Tanya and Tracey, who in turn have five more children between them, giving June seven great-grandchildren in total.
“This is a wonderful place to live. We moved here sixty-five years ago – do you think that being here that long means I am an old-timer myself yet? I have gone back to Oklahoma to see family a few times, and after Elmer passed I went there with Tom and Connie; and to New Jersey to visit my sister; oh, and to Alaska with my daughter and son-in-law; but overall I have done very little traveling since we came here. Apart from just a few doubts in the early times I always have known that I’d stay here. I have thought about joining various societies and groups here but at this point I am happy to just drive to the Senior Center twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday, and sit and talk with old friends and have some lunch. I met many people during my years at the store too – you don’t own a store, it owns you – and I still visit there and many people stop and talk to me. I go to some of the Valley events and enter my quilts in the County Fair. Talking of the Fair, my daughter Beverly once used my dill pickle recipe and won first prize even though it was the adult section… I don’t get involved with talking about politics or religion so don’t ask me – I vote but I don’t campaign, and even then I only vote on things I think I have a valid opinion on.”
I did try to get some thoughts from June about a couple of Valley issues and she felt comfortable in offering the following… The wineries and their impact? – They have definitely added to our business but I do wonder whether we have enough now. We don’t know what the long-term effects on the water will be, but having said that we’re not sure at this point what taking out all of those trees has done either. Fishing has definitely been affected – we’ve had no salmon season for three years now. Tom Jr. goes out in his boat and gets the crabs for the store but that’s about it”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “Well, many years ago Elmer fixed the printing press when it was owned by Homer Mannix and we were given a life-time subscription. That has not happened though. That’s fine. I do read it but only if I remember to pick it up at the store.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to June 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 can’t think of anything – others could probably answer on my behalf.”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “I don’t like to hear curse words, especially from children. Not that I’m a prude but it’s not nice and we never heard it when I was growing up.”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “I have learned to be pretty content with my life and I never yearn for things I don’t have. I thrive on having my family nearby; I am very thankful that they have all stayed around and seeing them is very important to me.”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “That is not for print,” she laughed.
What sound or noise do you love? – “The ocean – Tom and Connie have a cabin by the coast and at night you can hear the waves and sometimes the barking sea lions.”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “A dog barking late at night.”
Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “Well I can’t think of a favorite but I do like to read light fiction and I do read a lot, even more as I have got older.”
What is your favorite hobby? – “That would be my quilting – I enter my work at the Fair most years and normally come home with a blue ribbon or two. I make mostly quilts for Queen size beds and for wedding gifts. Now my great granddaughter Riley is beginning to show an interest… I do like some television also – drama, romance, and western films; plus one soap – The Bold and the Beautiful. I don’t know why. How can people live like they do on that show? – I guess you get addicted to those programs. I have been watching the Winter Olympics, particularly the skating and ice dance and I like to watch Giants baseball too… I would like to spend more time in the yard and with the garden but it’s hard these days.”
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – ‘To have owned a fabric store – but that would probably have meant that I would have had all the fabric in the world but no time to quilt!”
What profession would you not like to do? – “Very briefly I worked at a laundry and wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Who wants to handle other people’s dirty laundry?”
What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The birth of my first child. Not that I didn’t love the next one just as much of course… And the birth of my first grandchild too.”
What was the saddest? – “Elmer’s passing in 1999, after fifty-four years of marriage.”
What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “Oh, that is such a hard question. I really don’t know. I can say that people always seem pleased to see me so I guess I must have done some thing right.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “That’s a question that for various reasons I just can’t answer.”

Published in: on March 10, 2010 at 5:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bill Holcomb – February 19th, 2010

I drove above Ornbaun Road to meet with Bill at the house he and wife Eva have called home since 1976. We sat down with some coffee and a plate of Oreo cookies and began our chat…
Bill was born in 1933 in the very small west Texas town of Rule, about one hundred and fifty miles from the nearest big town – Abilene. “We lived on my grandfather’s large cattle ranch and my parents were Ed Holcomb and Susie Spradlin. The Holcomb’s were from England and Germany and my mother was born in the Cherokee nation in Oklahoma. She was born in a covered wagon there, her grandmother being a full-blooded Cherokee. Her father was a widower at a fairly young age so he would travel around in his job as a wood cutter bringing his two daughters along with him – my mother and my aunt.”
Bill is the middle child of five born to Ed and Susie – with an older sister and brother and two brothers who are younger – “my parents would feed the two little ones and I’d have to fight the older ones for food, so I didn’t get much!”
Bills’ father was the black sheep of the family and was always moving around for work, not content to stay on the family ranch. “ He was the ‘hippy’ of the Holcomb’s. This meant that times were very hard for us as he constantly looked for work. We were always moving; I’d change schools sometimes three or four times a year, not good for a little brain like mine! My uncles and aunts all seemed to have money and my cousins seemed to do well too, but my brothers and I all worked from an early age to support our family. When I was about seven, with World War 2 approaching, Dad moved the family to Oakland, California to work as a boilermaker for $1.50 an hour. We lived in San Jose – I still remember the address, 71 North 9th Street – and Mother worked at the Cannery with Dad in the Oakland shipyards.”
When Bill was about twelve, his father was seriously hurt in an accident at work, breaking his back, something certainly not easy to treat back then, and he was unable to work for four or five years afterwards. “We moved to Tulare in the central valley, south of Fresno, for his rehabilitation and the family found agricultural work there. We picked fruit and I found a job stocking shelves in a store when I was in high school. By my sophomore year I got a job in theater maintenance – working at night in the local cinema after the shows, repairing seats, fixing anything that needed it, but by my junior year the manager had taken a liking to me and offered me the assistant manger’s job at the ‘2nd Rate’ Theater in town. In those days you had three different cinemas – the 1st rate showed the best new films and was often quite a grand building, the 2nd rate had the next level of movies and was a decent place, then the 3rd rate had the bad films and was not that nice a place. We showed lots of Mexican movies – there were lots of Mexicans in the area working as farm laborers – and some weeks we’d get about seven hundred people in there for three nights in a row. And in those days the Mexican films showed a lot more than the American ones did – boobies and legs, I mean. I liked the job.”
In 1951the family moved to Mendocino County continuing to work in the fruit picking business. Times were very hard for them and their living conditions left lots to be desired. However, Bill remained in Tulare for his senior year, living alone in the family house with an uncle next door. “I continued to work as much as I could – I always have, as long back as I can remember.” He graduated in 1952 and was earning 75 cents an hour plus 15% commission on candy sales in his theater management job but his brother told him he could earn $1.50 an hour driving trucks in San Jose. “I took my tie off and threw it away, moved to San Jose, and became a truck driver hauling fruit and vegetables for a few months.”
At the end of that summer he came up to Mendocino County to see his family who had moved here a year or so earlier, again to pick fruit. Bill checked out Anderson Valley and decided to stay once he’d found work at Weeks Planeing Mill, situated behind the Fairground buildings. His family joined him and they all lived in a house for the mill workers on the company property. “The mill was going twenty-four hours a day and I was now earning $2 an hour tallying lumber. We had cheap lodgings – most of the mills provided some housing for some of their workers, just basic two-room cabins, there were several on the property.”
This was the time of the Valley’s timber boom and lots of young men, and sometimes their families too, were pouring into the Valley, primarily from Arkansas and Oklahoma. “They were earning more than twice as much here in California for the same work as they were doing back home, and many of them were now able to send money back to their families. Similar to what I understand many Mexican workers in the vineyards do here today… I found the Valley to be a very friendly place and soon made many friends among the locals. I got extra work in the woods and then leased the small gas station, now defunct, next to Rossi’s Hardware Store in Boonville. In the summer of 1953, a very pretty local girl began working at Rossi’s to earn money for college and I would see her all the time, working just next door, and we started to date. Her name was Eva Pardini and she did not go back to school. We were married the following year – certainly one of the best things that ever happened to me.” Over the next few years a son Bill and daughter Palmer were born, the latter marrying Valley construction contractor Dennis Toohey and providing Bill and Eva with their two grandkids, John and Ben.
Bill was a workaholic. He hired a kid, not much younger than himself, to work the gas station from 7am to 1pm while he was peeling lumber in the woods, then Bill would work the rest of the day and night at the station, from 1pm to 11pm. “The town and the Valley as a whole was full of people, business was good even late at night. There were three bars in Boonville – The Track Inn, The Boonville Lodge, and Weiss’s, then there was The Last Resort in Philo, and the Pardini Hotel and a couple of beer bars in Navarro. There was virtually no television – just one channel if you were in the right location, and for entertainment you went out into the towns. There were dances all the time, big parties, bbq’s, and a huge July 4th event for the whole Valley at Hendy Woods every year, and of course the County Fair, at which there used to be a dance on all three of the nights in the old days – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday…. After some initial mutual distrust and several ‘incidents’, the locals and the newly arrived Okies and Arkies began to accept each other and the social scene was very busy most nights of the week. Today it’s much quieter, with fewer places to go than we can ever remember.”
In 1954 Bill started to work for the County on road maintenance. He was to be with them for over thirty years. A year later he and Eva built a home on her family’s land on Fitch Lane, the building where the Lifeworks Group Home is today. “I had taken carpentry at school and had some help with the labor. My father-in-law, Ernest Pardini was good friends with the owners of Cloverdale Lumber and Supply so we got a great deal on the materials.”
Bill received benefits with his job at the County and with his strong work ethic he gradually moved up, eventually becoming the Superintendent of Roads for his final seventeen years until retirement in 1985 when he was offered a very good ‘golden handshake’. Nevertheless, through many of those years he still worked as a mechanic in the evenings at various times for both Hiatt Logging and Apollo Trucking. “I guess my poor upbringing drove me hard towards trying to obtain a more comfortable life for me and my own family. The job with the county was good enough to live on but to actually get ahead I felt I needed extra work. At one point we bought ten more acres on Fitch Lane off Anderson Valley Way and had plans to set up a mobile home park. We got what they call an ‘open’ permit which meant the work could be stopped and changes made at any time. Some people did not want us to do this project so we decided they might prevent it happening by challenging the permit so we decided not to go ahead and sold the land. I had bought the equipment to do this job so instead I now used it to put in septic systems in the Valley – there were lots of newcomers needing such work, and this was a business I continued to do when I left the County. I did that on my own, along with two or three employees, until finally quitting in 1996. Retirement was tough. Being someone who loved to work meant that retirement bothered me and it took me several years to get used it.”
Bill sold most of his equipment at that point and spent quite a bit of the money over the following years in pursuit of his favorite hobby – collecting and restoring vintage cars, something he does to this day. “It is an expensive hobby, but it keeps me busy. I also very occasionally help out if my nephew Danny Pardini needs some work done with his heavy equipment but I have cut back on much of the stuff I used to do – hey, I’m 76 years old… I am still on the Fair Board, on which I’ve served for eighteen years, and Eva and I have been in The Lions Club for thirty years or so. We still help out with the Catholic Church’s fundraisers – the Barn Sale and the Crab Feed, and try to attend as many social events as we can – the Saturday evening live music events at the Navarro Store in the summer, the County Fair, the bbq fund-raisers at the Fairgrounds, etc, etc. We used to like going to The Boonville Lodge for dinner and were saddened to see it close recently – it had been a watering hole for Valley people for decades. I was never a really regular customer but I have been going there for nearly sixty years. I hate to see such a part of our community disappear like that… Other than that, the big thing Eva and I have been doing is watching the high school football team coached by our grandson, John, and some of the Pop Warner football games coached by our nephew, Tony Pardini.”
“These days I walk the two miles or so to the Redwood Drive-In in town most mornings and meet up with friends and family for coffee. The same guys go most days – The Pardini’s – Donald, Robert, Danny, Eddie, and Ernie, Emil Rossi, Wes Smoot, Bo Hiatt, Wayne Hiatt, Ed Slotte, Rick Adams. We’ve been doing that for years; so long that Eva’s brother, Robert, has a key to the place! Eva picks me up and brings me home and then sometimes I’ll be there in the afternoon at about 4pm with a different group – Gene Walker, Frank Wyant, Harold Hulbert, Wes Smoot again, etc. We have all known each other for many years.”
“The Valley is very different these days. For a very long time it was all fruit and sheep, then came the lumber years and the arrival of the Okies and Arkies in the forties and fifties. This lasted for quite a few years then with the mills all closing things changed quickly. First it was hippies and Back-to-the-Land’ers in the sixties and seventies. It was that group that voted down the mobile home idea and also the plan to build a dam on the river to provide more water for the Valley. The ranchers certainly wanted that but the new majority of residents rejected it. Over time, we may not have liked it either, but I do think that many of the proposed changes here have been turned down simply because of the fear of change held by some residents… The wineries also started to slowly arrive in the early seventies. Before that there was just one Mexican family – the Vargas family, but since the early eighties, the wineries have increased a lot and many more Mexicans have arrived so that now at the Catholic Church there are just a handful of white folks in the congregation. That’s fine of course, and we all work together for the church and its community – it just clearly shows the change in the population of the Valley over the past twenty years.”
“The Valley was, and may be still is in some ways, a great place to raise a family. It is so much friendlier than where I grew up and that makes a big difference. This place has always felt like home to me and even though I had offers to move away for better-paid work, I never really considered going. I love the Valley and the people here, it must be one of the most wonderful places in the world to live… I was very fortunate to end up here. As I said earlier, I came from a very poor background and had to work even as a child to help the family. My Dad being the black sheep and deciding not to have the benefits of staying at home with his family, meant life was hard for us growing up. My brothers and I speak about this today, now that we have all done quite well. My parents did their best for us but it was not easy. My father died when he was sixty-five, my mother at eighty-six – she had kidney problems and in the end willed herself to die. She was ready to go. She simply stopped taking her treatments, got all us kids around her in the home in Ukiah, and passed away.”
I asked Bill for his brief comments on various Valley issues and topics… The wineries and their impact on Anderson Valley? – “I think that the Valley would have been worse off without them. They provide work for many and keep it very pretty and clean around here – the old ranchers could not have afforded to do that. I think that perhaps more of the wineries should support the Valley a little more, although many of them do already. The sheep and apple industries were dying so what else could have come in here – it would have been a dead Valley”… The A.V.A. Newspaper? – I like it and look forward to reading it every week. It is the ‘gossip’ column for the Valley so it keeps me up with things. Bruce does a good job and I like him telling it like it is”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I am not a radio listener”… Law and Order in the Valley? – “I am thrilled we have two deputies in the Valley, one is not enough. The Sheriff should be commended for getting us Deputy Walker and the plan to get him a dog, which is something various Valley groups are trying to pay for, is a good move”… The school system? – “I think there is too much emphasis on getting the kids into college. Not all kids are gifted in that way. Those kids should be offered more vocational training to become mechanics, electricians, etc. Not everyone can be a white-collar worker or professor. I also think the teachers should be more involved with the sports programs, the kids would respond well to this. I don’t see many teachers at the games. Having said that the school today is much better than at sometimes in the past – there’s no more Jim Jones of People’s Temple fame teaching there! Eva did not like him at all; he made the hair stand up on the back of her neck. He was very slick and a good talker. He gave the kids too many A’s and B’s – now not all the kids were that good, even our own! He was very convincing about things so some people said she was over-reacting when she took Billy out of his class but she knew otherwise. It turns out she was right didn’t it? On that subject we have had more than our fair share of bad guys here in the Valley of course – apart from Jones, there was mass murderer Leonard Lake; child kidnapper, Tree Frog Johnson; and Charles Manson and his gang a few years before they committed those murders in Los Angeles – they were on Gschwend Road having wild parties until some locals got together and basically told those guys either leave or die! They left.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Bill 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? – “Beautiful old cars.”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “As I have always believed if you work hard you will get ahead, I find it depressing if people do their best and work hard only to then fall on hard times. I hate to see hard workers fail in their goals.”
What sound or noise do you love? – ‘The wind blowing through the firs and redwoods.”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “Too many people talking at the same time.”
What is your favorite curse word? – That’s probably ‘bullshit’ or ‘oh, shit’.”
What is your favorite hobby? – “Well for most of my life it would have to be work. That’s all I ever did and I loved working with the heavy equipment in particular. These days it would be the vintage cars…Oh, and I do enjoy peeing outside, but that’s not really a hobby is it?”
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “I always wanted to be a commercial airline pilot. My son did that for a time – he lived my dream, and since then he has been a C.H.P. officer for over twenty years.”
What profession would you not like to do? – “Anything involved with crawling in mud underneath vehicles. Or working under buildings or in small tight places.”
What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “When Eva and I got married at Philo Catholic Church in 1954 – we were the first couple to marry in that church.”
What was the saddest? – “Probably when Eva’s Dad died – Ernest Pardini. He was a great guy and we got along real well.”
What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “That I’m just wonderful, I’m sure! No, seriously – that I was a tireless worker and could be relied on to do a good job.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “ Something like ‘Welcome, Bill, you were a good man.’ I am not very religious but I do believe that if you are a good person you will end up there even if you don’t go to church very often.“

Published in: on March 4, 2010 at 2:56 am  Comments (1)