George Bennett – June 21st, 2010

George Bennett is the father of Beverly Bennett, former owner, along with Monika Fuchs, of the Philo Pottery Inn. While the Inn no longer operates in that capacity, Beverly and Monika still live there and a couple of years ago, following the passing of George’s wife, Sheila, he moved here from London, England, to live with his daughter. We sat down in the lovely garden, with a cup of coffee and some delicious cookies, and began our chat…
George was born in India, in the East Bengal city of Calcutta, the oldest child of Sidney ‘Ginger’ Bennett (he had red hair) and May Carvey. Both the Bennett’s and Carvey’s were originally from the south east English county of Kent where the Bennett’s worked in the fruit and vegetable business before Thomas Bennett, George’s grandfather joined the British Army in the 1920’s and went to India, which was under British rule at the time. When he retired from the service, he decided that he liked India so much that he stayed. “My grandfather had a great long handlebar moustache and went everywhere with this large drake, a male duck, who was like a dog in the way it followed him. He married my grandmother, Sophie, and they started a family. My father grew up to be a train driver, or engineer as they called them, on the Indian railroads. His route went from Calcutta all the way up into the Himalayas that took one-and-a-half days each way with an overnight stop up in the mountains. He’d take me when I wasn’t at school and we’d be gone for four days before arriving home with a loud hoot on the train whistle as he pulled in near to where we lived on the railway company’s property. That was the sign for my mother to send a servant to help him with his luggage.”
George’s mother was born in India to parents of Portuguese descent and was one of several siblings and George spent a lot of time growing up with this side of the family. His parents met in Calcutta, were married as teenagers, and started their family in the suburbs. George had two brothers and three sisters and just he and the youngest, a sister, are alive today, with two of them dying as teenagers from the plague (cholera) and meningitis. “We lived in a very nice house with marble floors, a large and beautiful garden and several servants. Mother had a ‘bothey’ – a cook; a boy to run errands; an ‘ayaia’ – a nanny; a gardener; and there was a tool boy for both valet and maintenance work. Yes, the railway company certainly looked after us… The social side of life was mixed with both Brits and those who were half English and half Indian, railway people, and retired military people. My parents were in a social club and I spent a lot of time there. It had tennis courts, swimming pools, cricket and field hockey pitches, and a nice restaurant. Soccer was also popular and my interest in that sport began at an early age. My father loved boxing and that became my other favorite sport.”
The family generally ate Indian food – curry and rice – apart from when around his grandmother when a sort of Portuguese/Indian culinary mix would be served. “We seldom ate English food apart from the boiled sweets (candies) we’d get every evening after dinner from two big jars on the table from which each of us kids would take four each. I loved exploring the neighborhood and there was a large rice field behind our house that was infested with water snakes. Fortunately I had Freddie – a mongoose who loved killing and eating snakes. My father found him one day in the garden as a little, pink, mouse-like creature. My father was a sweet-hearted and compassionate man and he loved animals, often rescuing stray dogs. He fed and raised Freddie and the mongoose behaved like a dog, rather like my grandfathers drake. We also had cows, a goat, several chickens and a couple of dogs.”
Up to the age of thirteen George attended a private school for boys and girls with teachers and students that were both English and Indian. Then he was sent to an all-boys Catholic boarding school, St. Paul’s, where he was to spend the next five years, high in the Himalayas, for nine months of each year. “It was very strict and my parents visited me may be just once in each nine month spell for a couple of days. I did not go home at weekends and lived in a dormitory with sixteen other boys. I played lots of soccer and table tennis and did lots of walking. We had very little contact with the outside world except to go to a picture show (movie) once a month in the town about an hour’s walk away, if you had been well-behaved.”
George was an average student and never liked school. Following each visit home during the school holidays he did not want to go back. “There was lots of bullying at school and I loved being home for the holidays, exploring the City and visiting the restaurants and cinema by tram and bus. I was not shocked by the poverty I witnessed every day as it was part of life in Calcutta. It hit me many years later when I returned for a visit with Beverly… My family was quite well off; my mother’s grandmother owned a few supermarkets and had a silver Rolls Royce with red leather upholstery and a chauffeur and the whole family was expected to go to dinner at her house on Sunday evening… My parents were strict with me – “George, you are here to listen not to be heard!” – and when I graduated from school it was decided that I should follow my father’s footsteps in the railways, which was a common thing for families to do. However, my Dad thought I could do better and one of my Aunts had some connections and got me an apprenticeship in the air conditioning business – a big and important industry in India, as you can imagine. Well, I really liked it and did very well, and it became my job until I left India.”
“I had never had any girlfriends, in fact, I was a bit of an idiot around girls. I had three Uncles who were always getting me into trouble in various ways and one of those ways was when they encouraged me to lift up schoolgirls’ skirts! I was easily led and a bit stupid and did what they said and then always got into trouble of course. I was a little mischievous, out of boredom I think, and sometimes stole from the ice cream man, but nothing that serious… World War 2 saw my father join the British Army and he was stationed in Egypt where he ran a supply train for the British 8th Army. His train was blown up and he went missing before turning up a week later with a temporary loss of memory. He was discharged and returned to Calcutta a different man – very bitter and angry. He began to drink heavily, had a habit of playing darts with real knives. I had to go and fetch him his beer on my bicycle and it was tough time and he and my mother nearly got divorced but eventually, following psychiatric treatment, he came round and returned to being the good old ‘Ginger’ Bennett once again.”
After making good progress at his job for a year or so, George fell into bad company. He started drinking a lot himself and hanging out with five buddies who just wanted to get drunk and make fools of themselves. “We’d go out at 7pm nearly every evening and not get home until the early hours, meaning I’d sleep off my hangover at work. My mother became very worried about me and I was getting into trouble at my job…As George was growing up, a girl of his age called Sheila Osbourne, had become a neighborhood friend. The families were friends and she attended the girls’ school equivalent of St. Paul’s up in the mountains. Now in his late teens, George asked Sheila out on a date. “She had many boyfriends and I thought I had no chance but she said ‘Yes’! Her mother, Biddie, did not approve of drinking and I’d sometimes pick Sheila up when I was half drunk so eventually Sheila gave me an ultimatum to ‘smarten up.’ I said I’d try and gradually I changed. I stopped drinking, told my friends I was happier being like this, and became a good boy. From that day on Sheila and I were never separated. Our relationship was simple, very sweet; very, very loving, and it grew stronger every day.”
George moved out of his family home and lived at Sheila’s family – “where they could keep an eye on me.” We dated for a year or so before getting engaged, which was sealed with a kiss at the cinema, and then saved money for a year to buy a wedding ring. We were married in 1950 and moved into a rented one-bedroom apartment with Beverly being born in 1951. I had moved to a bigger company and was in charge of the air conditioning for a whole large factory and building, with a driver picking me up for work every morning. I wore a shirt and tie, which was strange as I would be working on machines most of the day, although my paperwork had increased with each promotion.”
George and his new family were very happy for several years but India was changing following independence form Britain and partition with Pakistan. “They were dangerous times, India was becoming very corrupt, but Beverly was settled, the job was good, and we had a good life, so I wanted to stay in India. However two incidents occurred that changed my mind. There were roving gangs of students on the street, Hindus out for revenge on the British for the two centuries of colonialism. One day about twenty-five guys surrounded me and asking questions and jostling me. They ordered me to take off my tie, a symbol of the British, and wear my shirt outside my trousers like Indians did, warning me to never dress like that again. Then a while later, when Sheila and I were going to the cinema one evening, we had not gone far when someone threw a small bomb towards us. We were not hurt but it was the final warning and despite the fact that we had many Hindu and Moslem friends the extremists were getting more daring. My father’s family left for England but we couldn’t afford it. Then I was also faced with some passport complications that meant I would have to leave too or be possibly stuck there in India. I left for London alone with plans to set things up and to send for Sheila and Bev as soon as possible. It was a very hard decision. I arrived in London in the autumn (fall) of 1955 with five pounds in my pocket and just four days before my passport expired. The very next day I was working at a foundry as I wanted to start earning money so my Sheila and little Beverly could join me.”
George had never worked pouring metal in a foundry before but he kept at it and a year later had saved enough to pay for Sheila and Beverly to join him. For three years they lived in the attic of his parents’ house in Edmonton, North London. “It was a tough time and I felt we were in the way living there. Bev had arrived knowing very little English as the nanny she’d only spoke Hindustani. My Sheila got pregnant but lost the baby – I believe it was due to the stressful situation. We eventually found a two-bedroom flat nearby and moved out, which resulted in my mother not speaking to me. ‘I’ll never stop at your house and you never come to mine’ she said. It was very strange and I never really understood why. She had become a changed woman, very greedy, very bitter, and she often clashed with Sheila, who was very distressed with living there. The Doctor suggested we moved out for Sheila’s health and at one point Sheila asked me to take her back to India. Fortunately my Dad continued to visit us and we stayed.”
George moved to night shifts in the machine shop at the foundry. “England was very cold at night – I slept in my coat – and then the night shift nearly killed me it was so cold. I was not used to such temperatures. The people were very friendly though. Sheila had never cooked in her life but she soon learned and became a very good cook after her mother visited and taught her and then when Bev started school she got a job as a shorthand typist and secretary… We soon had quite a lot of friends at the local Working Man’s Club, a social club with bingo, dancing, darts, and a pub/restaurant. We both loved to dance the jitterbug – we were quite with it I must say. We took Bev everywhere we went and she always had her pacifier with her. She was addicted to it and we still couldn’t get her to stop even when she was six or seven! She was very close to Sheila’s Mom and when Grandma took it off her and threw it out of the window she finally got over it. Grandma used to say to her, ‘You’re my heart’ and as a little girl Bev would reply ‘Heart, too.’ She always called Grandma ‘Heart-too’ after that.”
George stayed at the foundry, Mains Limited, getting his first watch at ten years service and a gold one at twenty-five years by which time he had about thirty people working under him in the machine shop, working on cast iron for cookers, heating appliances, water heaters, gas fires. “I never left. I was loyal to the day I retired. Never late, rarely absent – even when I was sick they would send someone to see me and ask what I needed them to do… I continued to play soccer and field hockey when I was young enough and got into watching professional soccer in England, supporting a top team, Tottenham Hotspur, whose home stadium was just down the street, although the first time there I was so cold I didn’t go for another year! Then I went all the time for many years.”
George bought another flat and then a modern three-bedroom house in 1961 for four thousand pounds ($8,000) and was to live there until 2008. “We were always busy socially and when I wasn’t working or socializing I worked on the house, something I really liked to do. Over the years I learned lots of handyman and home decorating skills, although in the early days I manage to hang some wallpaper upside down, I must tell you.”
George and Sheila had friends whose daughter lived in San Francisco and Bev visited her there. She loved it and wanted to stay. “We were very hurt and angry at first. She came home for about six months but we knew she was not happy in England. She left for the States permanently in about 1970, living in S.F. and working as a nanny. We visited a couple of years later when I got over my fear of flying and then we’d come once every year, sometimes twice… I finally retired in 1984 at sixty-five and never worked again. Sheila couldn’t do that though; she couldn’t sit around doing nothing so she found a part-time job in a catalog shop. I never told her what to do. I was happy for her to do this for a few hours a week, every morning, and I’d meet her for lunch every day and then we’d go to a movie or for a walk or go shopping. She taught me how to cook and left me instructions on what needed doing every day. I kept myself busy with cooking and various projects around the house.”
In 1995, after a period of forty years, George returned to India with Sheila, Beverly, and Beverly’s partner Monika, visiting his old haunts in Calcutta and the Himalayas to seek out old friends but they could not find any relatives anywhere. “Every last one of our relatives was gone. The school was still there but everything else had changed so much. Sheila and I cried to see it all gone. I had had a great time in India and we were very sad to see how it had become. The poverty was much worse than I remembered it although that may be down to me having been away for so long. Bev in particular was very upset at all the poverty. We saw one guy lying on the floor, down to the bare bones, panting, seemingly about to die. We called the local council and asked if they could do something. They just said that if we couldn’t help him he’d have to stay there until somebody helped or he’d die. He died on the street a few hours later…”
Beverly and Monika moved to Anderson Valley and took over the ownership and running of The Philo Pottery Inn. “Sheila and I visited the Valley every year and when Sheila retired in 2005 we began to make plans to live here. We loved the people we had met here and the slower pace of life suited us after so many years in London. Bev was Sheila’s life and she’d go anywhere to be near her. We were here for Sheila’s 80th birthday and returned with plans to sell our house in London and move over. Then Sheila had a slight stroke, not life-threatening, and was in hospital for a few days where she caught a bug and three days later she was fighting for her life. Bev flew over and saw her but she died on the third day…”
“It is like it happened yesterday. My life went with her… I stayed at the house alone. I lived in one room and apart from getting clothes I never went in our room again. I dreaded every night, being alone with my thoughts and memories. I would sit for hours every day in the dining room with my head on the table and lived on takeout food as my health declined. My family told me I should go to America but I could still feel Sheila there and I wanted to be there with her. I gave up and almost committed suicide twice. We had been as one; we always knew what the other was thinking and we slept together holding hands. Friends said we were welded together. My Sheila was a lovely, lovely lady…”
After a year, Beverly persuaded George to move to Anderson Valley and in 2008 he sold his house and made the big move… “I watched the house slowly break up as I gave everything away and then sold it. It was very hurtful to see everything we had worked for just go. All I bought to the States were some clothes and pictures of Sheila. I moved into a room with my own bathroom at Beverly and Monika’s… I’ve been very mournful and difficult I’m sure; I’m not really interested in anything and am very quiet and not easy for Bev and Monika to deal with. They have tried their best to make me feel at home but I haven’t cooperated much. I just have been going through long periods of wanting to be alone, talking to Sheila in my room. It’s my fault I’ve not been more social but I can’t seem to get out of it. I can’t explain it but I’m now trying my best to move forward.”
George has been getting out on occasions to the Trivia Quiz at Lauren’s or to the Senior Center sometimes. He plans to go out more often and he does like to follow the English soccer on television and the World Cup that is currently taking place.
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 George’s answers interesting and illuminating…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “I have this cloud over me but I do like to get up and make my own breakfast and sit outside in the garden. Watching sports cheers me up, soccer and boxing mainly. I suppose I’m a bit of a bore these days.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Not having my Sheila around.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “Music – opera, classical, country, English comedies, musicals.”
4.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “Well over here it would be a hamburger; in England it would be chicken curry and yellow rice with an Indian salad of cucumber, Spanish onions, lime, vinegar, and sugar.”
5.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Max Bygraves, an English singer and comedian.”
6.If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “A photo of Sheila, a sports encyclopedia, and some country music by Johnny Cash.”
7.Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “A film called ‘Broken Arrow’ with Jimmy Stewart; a song would be Tony Bennett’s ‘I left my heart in San Francisco’; and a some books by Mickey Spillane.”
8.What is your favorite hobby? – It used to be working in the house. Sheila would mention that something needed doing and I’d be working on it the next day.”
9.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? – “A professional soccer player. I wish I’d been good enough. I was quite good but there were few opportunities in India for that.”
10.What profession would you not like to do? – “A deep sea fisherman.”
11.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The day I married Sheila.”
12.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “The day Sheila died.”
13.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I am modest and often think of others first. Sheila taught me to be like that. She also turned me on to religion and we never missed mass every Sunday at 9am.”
14.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Welcome home… Your Sheila is waiting for you.”

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Published in: on June 30, 2010 at 3:16 pm  Comments (3)  

Jim Clow – June 11th, 2010

I met with Jim at his home just south of The A.V. Grange on the opposite side of Hwy 128. He lives there with wife of over sixty-two years, Bernice Gaskin, who is not too well but sat nearby throughout our conversation, as did granddaughter, Alicia…
William F. Clow Jr. was born on March 15th, 1929, eighty-one years ago to William Clow Sr. and Vera Pearl Simpson, who was born in Canada. “There were lots of ‘Bill’s’ in my father’s family and when I was a kid some guy, a friend of the family, started calling me ‘Jimmy Skunk’ and soon I was just ‘Jim’ and have been ever since”…
The Clows came to the Unite States from Germany around the 1880’s, first working as lighthouse keepers in Michigan before moving out to Anderson Valley and settling into ranch and timber work at the turn of the last century when they owned one of the Valley’s early saw mills at a time when the logs were pulled by oxen. “My Dad, who was a free spirit, left the timber industry and found work on the Cloverdale-Eureka railroad. He was one of seven or eight kids, as was my mother. On her side, my grandmother, Lisa Grey, was born in Scotland and around 1890 she went to Saskatchewan, Canada to be a servant in the home of a rich Canadian family. She married a Simpson and they moved to the U.S. where they moved around a lot, working in the mines, before settling in California around Alder Point where her father became a mailman. My parents met in Eureka, were married, settled in the Valley, and had us two kids, Jack and then me seven years later.”
“We grew up on the Clow Ranch a little further down the road from the store my Dad built and opened – ‘The Valley Store’, later becoming ‘Jack’s Valley Store’ when my brother Jack took over. I always wanted to be a rancher, a Wild West character, but we had to do all the usual chores when we were growing up – though Jack and I still found time to get into enough trouble for four!… My Dad had to go to San Francisco to get his orders in for the store and I’d go with him on many occasions. It was before the Golden Gate Bridge was built and over time I saw that go up across the Bay in the thirties. We’d stay at the same hotel every time, the Hotel Spalding and then when the manager, my Dad’s friend, Lem Shibley, left and took over The Golden State Hotel we stayed there instead. I remember he bought me my first ever chocolate sundae. I also ate Chinese food for the first time and tried to buy cheap trinkets to bring back to the Valley from Chinatown… When I was ten, my parents got divorced – very rare in those days – and our father raised Jack and me. Our mother was remarried to a sawmill man by the name of McMillan, who worked at Charles Lumber and we still saw a lot of her. I must say that when my father remarried, my stepmother, Georgie Ridley, could not have been a better step-mom. She was so good to me and kept me busy. She sure was nice”…
“I went to the Indian Creek School on Philo School Road next to Lemon’s Market in Philo – where the P.G. & E substation now is. There were about sixteen kids in the whole school and we caught the bus into town. I can hear that old bus rattling along to this day. I was the only boy in my class all the way through until 8th grade. I went through 7th and 8th grades at the Little Red Schoolhouse, which is now the A.V. Museum, and then on to the high school on the sight next to where the Elementary School now sits. My teachers included Blanche Brown, Miss LeBeau, Miss Mossler, and Mrs. Beth Tuttle, wife of Walter ‘Shine’ Tuttle. My school friends included Berna Macabee (who married Gene Walker), Kay Hiatt, Barbara Crispen, the Pressley girls – Melissa and Virginia, Betty Smith (later married to Guido Pronsolino), Beverley McGimpsey, Bob Bennett, and my good friend Colin Cooksen, who died one day in an accident when he was hauling wood instead of horse-riding with me – we were close buddies, he was a good guy.”
Jim was not a good student however. “I was a screw-off and hardly made any time for my school work; I was too busy playing and at the age of fifteen had my first job when my Dad offered to irrigate a field of alfalfa and then he ‘volunteered’ me to help him. It did not do well – this is not alfalfa country lets’ face it. I then got a job as a ‘swamper’ in the woods – it was a busy time in the tan bark industry and the peelers would get the bark off and I would pack it out of the woods on mules to where a truck was waiting.”
Jim’s big passion was sports; in particular baseball, and he became a very good pitcher at one point. He also loved horse-riding, fishing, and hunting deer. ‘We were little outlaws, always up to mischief, throwing spears at the fish there were so many, and as I said, much of the work in school did not appeal to me. I did like history though and then for a couple of years in high school we had two new teachers who taught agriculture, one of who was Russell Miller. I learned more from him than all the rest of the teachers put together and when I went on to college much of what he had taught me had stuck and was very useful. Guido Pronsolino and I learned a lot and Mr. Miller certainly earned our respect. He told us he did not give ‘A’s as nobody was perfect so Guido and I set out to prove him wrong. We worked our tails off. Guido got an ‘A’ and I got an ‘A-‘ and Mr. Miller admitted that he had to go back on his word. I got to tell his widow that little story. The man was a big influence on me and I had been a real knucklehead before he arrived. He even checked in on me many years later to see how I was doing as the County Fair Manager!”
Jim graduated from high school in 1946 and attended Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo – a well-know agricultural school, or ‘Cow College’ as it was known. It was an all-boys school and many young men went there at that time after serving in the war. “I did like it but after just one year I came home to get married, which I did on November 15th, 1947 – Bernice had chased me ‘til she caught me!” Jim added with a big grin… “I played college baseball and may be I could have been a good player. I still love watching it to this day on the television. I had a tryout with the San Francisco Seals, many years before the Giants came to town, and got to pitch at Seals Stadium in the City. I was a good pitcher and they offered me a contract. I accepted and went to Amarillo, Texas to the minor leagues. I didn’t like it there; it wasn’t a good fit for me and I quit and returned home. I played on our local Boonville team that was backed by some mill owners and also for the Eureka Crabs, a semi-pro team. It was before the black players were allowed in the major leagues and most of the teams we played had many really good black players and were from the Bay Area.”
Bernice’s family moved left Oklahoma following The Depression of the thirties – “she was the original Okie from Muscogee here” – and settled here in the Valley in 1942 when she was aged thirteen. Bernice added, “I hated it here. I told my mother I would be going back to Oklahoma when I was fifteen but I’m still here at eighty-one. One day I was getting supplies at The Johnson Store in Philo (now Lemons’) and this guy came by on his horse. He tried to make friends with my brother so he could get to talk to me. I was not impressed – he was a ‘smart Alec’, showing off on his horse.”
Jim went on, “Some locals had given the Okies a hard time when they arrived. They had been treated badly and she was very wary. They were good people though and very hard workers, just like the Arkies some years later who were also not welcomed by some. My Dad liked her though and he thought me seeing her was a very good idea. He became very fond of her; she was his favorite… Anyway, I returned to the Valley and we were married in the Boonville Methodist Church. For the first three or four years of our marriage we lived in one of the old houses back on the Clow Ranch, nine miles out of town up on the Peachland Road and I started the sheep ranching. I ran many sheep and had some of the best dogs helping me that I ever had – the McNab breed was very well-suited to that terrain up there. It was homesteading and we’d come into town on horseback for the stuff we couldn’t get back in there – the road was too bad for vehicles. But we did have a beautiful garden and Bernice could can anything, and there was lots of water out there.”
Jim and Bernice started their family in 1950 when Bill was born, followed in 1954 by Lindsay, who was nicknamed ‘Smiling Jack’. “Living so far out of the way was not ideal for the new family and it was time to get the wife and kids off the mountain. My cousin Arnie, ‘Fat’ Clow, kindly offered to buy this 55-acre property for us but I eventually found the money myself but always remembered his kind offer. This home was built and I did lots of work on it. I planed the wood, then hauled and stacked every board you see here. So much so that I would really never think about selling. It’s not very much but I helped to put it up and it’s a part of me. We later bought another 57-acre parcel right across the road and I had a flock of breeding ewes, 850 at one point. They were a nice flock of Marino sheep originally then later I got tied up with Targees that were a real pain in the rear. I bought some good rams that Floyd Johnson picked up for me and for some years it was a good business.”
Over the years Jim gradually cut back on the sheep as the problem with predators, coyotes, got worse and worse. “We just couldn’t get a hold on it. One year I had 350 lambing ewes and only 40 lambs made it! I sold the range sheep and eventually there was no money in it at all and Mrs. Raglan bought up the rest of the flock. I miss the sheep. I loved working the dogs on the sheep and had some great ones in my time – Bonnie, Fly, and then Freddie who was a good cow dog who would often get visitors on the leg too… Yeah, give me sheep over cattle every time. I always got a kick out of the sheep; cattle can put a hurt on you. Plus the wife and me dearly love mutton and lamb, and boy, can she cook it. We’d butcher two-year old wethers (castrated males) and they were delicious. I learned how to butcher them from a guy called ‘Bluey’ Wahl, on account of the fact that he was a redheaded guy. He was from New Zealand and could do the whole thing from the kill to the hanging in ten minutes! Anyway, the sheep were gone and after I quit the everyday ranch work Lindsay took over the farm and it’s cattle around here now… I did get into the horse thing for a time – the world’s biggest mistake in my case. You can lose your shirt in that business. We have had some very nice horses but it is not a good investment.”
While working as a sheep rancher for many years, Jim also had a job at the saw mill for extra income and he adds that “we could not have survived without all the hard work of ‘The Boss’ (Bernice) – she worked and worked, raising the family and doing all the running and jumping that was needed to support me, as well as the bookkeeping when I tried my best to go broke many times!… We were very social in those days and were friends with just about everyone in town. I never saw anyone I didn’t like. Once the house was ready we had people over all the time and on that first night I remember they drank five gallons of coffee – that was all the water we had… We’d go to square dances, and events at The Grange and in Boonville; once in a while I’d go to The Boonville Lodge – I got to sleep on the front lawn after one night down there because I was late home and got locked out. It was an accident of course! The Lodge was certainly a wild place in those early days of the timber industry after the war and in the fifties. There were some tough, tough guys here then and you’d see fights that would turn your hair, big fistfights, and sometimes with knives. The Arkies came here and were not accepted at first in the mills. They were often single men, drinking liquor, and with just one or two women around, the situation was like gasoline with matches. Yes, The Lodge was rightfully known as The Bucket of Blood back then, and the other bar in town, The Track Inn, was called The Cess Pool. Weiss’s was the other bar and it had a good restaurant and soda fountain. There was the occasional ruckus there too but nothing compared to the others. Then there was The Last Resort in Philo where many of the Arkies drank. I had some good times there. Those guys were very comical – I never laughed so much in my life as I did around some of those clowns. They were good, good people – Clark Golden and Buster Hollyfield are two I can remember very well. I’d also sometimes hang out at Floyd and Beatrice Kaufmann’s gas station, which was next to the Valley Store and sit there for hours, and never quit laughing. There were so many mills back then – Salsig and Perkins, Burns Lumber, the Charles’ Lumber Mill – old Homer Charles came here with $10K and made a pile; many people made a lot of money, old families and the new guys too.”
In the seventies, the County Fair Board Manager, Dick Winkler, made it known that he was ready to retire. “I didn’t know anything about running a big event like that but I had some time on my hands after cutting back at the ranch so I applied and got the job. I really got into it and although that first one was tough for me I had lots of great help and in the end I held the job for seventeen years. People who helped me so much were Archie MacDougall, Kay Hiatt, Fayne Hanes, John Hulbert, Austin Hulbert, Guido Pronsolino, and the first woman on the Board, Berna Walker (born McGimpsey), who was a day younger than me and we are related – yes, lots of us are related here in the Valley – you may have noticed how many of our foreheads are just an inch or so high – low brows! Anyway, The Fair Board manager position is year-round and it just about paid for itself and I went in five days a week and did a full day on most occasions. I had office staff – Beatrice Rawles and Cecilia Pardini, and a maintenance crew of Bill West, Ern Waggoner, Jim Wellington, and Larry Liebeg.”
Jim and Bernice used to visit her family in Oregon but other than that he has no desire to travel apart from seeing his six grandchildren – five girls and one boy, and now one great granddaughter, who generally come to see them for visits and for small family gatherings on holidays. He has loved his life in the Valley and these days he continues to enjoy the climate and the people here. “Many of the ‘new’ people we met are now becoming ‘old-timers’ themselves. I like most people I meet although I do not like those that put on airs and show their hind end to us sometimes – people who are part-time up here and who don’t listen to our advice”… Jim’s brother Jack sold the store and moved to Sacramento but not long after he suffered a heart attack in 2005 and continues to be greatly missed. “He never smoked, never drank, and he could have been a preacher based on the words he used. We were very close. Fought like cats and dogs – I guess that’s why we were close.”
I now asked Jim for his brief responses to some of the local issues frequently discussed by Valley folks… The wineries and their impact on the Valley? – “Well, they are certainly better to look at than a bunch of houses or motels. However, with the amount of water they use up you could float the Queen Mary. That is an issue. All the streams used to have water dogs (lizards) in them. None are left. There used to be lots of fish and frogs – no more. What about the effect of the chemicals they spray? I think there should be more checks and balances on the wineries here in the Valley”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I pick it up most weeks. I like Bruce. Sometimes he has acted like a horses butt but he’s a good guy. Even if what he writes sounds outrageous there is always a thread of truth there somewhere. His wife is a very nice lady”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I don’t listen that much. I watch television more these days, particularly sports, baseball mainly but also some horse racing”… The changes in the Valley? – “I’m not wild about all the tourists. I liked it more when the Valley was a sleepy place. The winery scene is too busy with traffic. I can remember when you drove through town and had to drive round Maurice Tindall’s old dog if he was sleeping in the road. I hope it never gets to be like Napa or St. Helena – there is a lot of craparoo down there.”
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 Jim’s answers interesting and illuminating…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Coffee in the morning; helping Lindsay around the ranch a little, looking at the livestock.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “I hate to get up to a rainy, windy day. I known it means I’m in for some cabin fever.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “It used to be western music on the radio but not so much now… The birds singing is a favorite…”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “The horns of the cars as they go past on Hwy 128 – I could cry sometimes.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “Leg of lamb – I’d trade that for all the tea in China. I could eat it three times a day, then make a stew and take it to bed, and make a sandwich in case I wake up in the night.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Horace ‘Ban’ Burger – a terrific sheep and dog man who knew and could talk about the country and the old days as well as anyone. He was a funny man too and I loved his stories.”
7.If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “I would have to have my best dog with me (I let lifetime shepherd Jim have this ‘possession’, despite my normal ‘rules’ about living beings); a 30-30 rifle; and may be a book – the biography of Patton.”
8.Do you have a favorite song/book or one that has influenced you? – “Several of Willie Nelson’s songs; or Marty Robbins’ ‘West Texas town of El Paso’… As for a book, may be ‘Smoky the Cowhorse’ by Will James – a wonderful depiction of the West. I read it in school and never forgot it… As for a film how about ‘The Outlaw Josey Whales’ or ‘Dances with Wolves’?”
9. What is a smell you really like? – “Not perfume, that’s for damn sure… A roast lamb cooking – now you’ve got me thinking about it and I can’t get my mind off it!”
10.What is your favorite word or phrase? – “Goddamn son of a bitch.”
11.What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “The four-letter word.”
12.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? – “A game warden, a wildlife conservationist. I enjoyed hunting, sure, but I was always very selective.”
13.What profession would you not like to do? – “I’d hate to work in the woods – hated every minute I was there.”
14.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The day I was married to Bernice.”
15.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “Believe it or not, the day my Uncle George Clow died. He was very good to me and he was the dog man I learned alot from.”
16.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “My wife gets mad at me because I am a little too giving in some respects. I guess it means I am a compassionate person.”
17.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Good job, Jim. Come in and bring your leg of lamb with you.”

Published in: on June 23, 2010 at 6:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dave Evans – June 7th, 2010

After trying to get together with the very busy Dave for many weeks we finally sat down to talk in the small restaurant area of his Navarro Store a couple of Monday’s ago. I grabbed a coffee and, with time once again not on our side, we got right to it…
Dave was born in 1962 in the San Francisco Children’s Hospital, the older of two children born to Art Evans and Margy (Margaret) Fisher. He also has an adopted sister from Korea. His biological sister, one year younger, was to tragically die at sixteen in a horse-riding accident. The Evans clan came to the West coast from the Boston area while the Fishers arrived out here from Pennsylvania, although Dave is not sure of any of the family history prior to that, other than that all four grandparents grew up in the San Francisco area. Dave’s parents lived in Alamo, in the East Bay, and that is where Dave grew up.
“My Dad was the Director of the San Francisco Re-Development Agency and my Mom stayed at home and raised us kids. We lived in a pretty rural area with lots of livestock and farming all around us. The countryside was rolling hills and there were may be a couple of thousand people in our town. It was very quiet and relaxed and I went to the very small Alamo Elementary School. My sister loved her horses and I loved my motorbikes, fishing, and camping with friends and family. I never liked the small school very much, although high school was much better. I enjoyed the basic subjects, played soccer, and was an average student. That was at De La Salle High, known primarily for its football team, one of the country’s best for many, many years.”
“When I was about fifteen, my father left his job and started up his own development company with just Mom to help. It was a risk but at the time land development was the right move and he did extremely well, building communities for those with low income and the elderly all over the area. My Dad was a very hard worker, he made a lot of money, and until the recent economic crisis he looked like he was set for life. From just him and my Mom at the start, they eventually transitioned into huge offices in Oakland with well over a hundred employees. He retired a few years ago and put a bunch of his savings into my store here in Navarro. However, with the economy going the way it did, his business was in serious jeopardy and he had to come out of retirement at the age of sixty-seven to try and stop any more mistakes been made. Ultimately he filed for bankruptcy, having lost $50 million.”
In 1979, teenager Dave was involved in some horseplay that resulted in him falling out the back of a pick-up going at forty mph. He was in a coma for nine days and his right wrist was badly shattered. “I was never the same after that for many years.” He graduated from high school in 1980 and went to the Feather River Canyon Community College in Quincy, California, between Oroville and Reno, Nevada. “I wanted to work in the Forestry Department in some capacity. With my love of fishing and nature I knew I wanted to spend my future in the forests. However, like others when they first get away from home and go away to college, I spent a year doing very little schooling, riding around in my new four-wheel drive truck, drinking, doing drugs, carousing, and fishing. I met my future wife at the school though – Laverne Hunter, an American Indian woman, and she got pregnant and we were married. Our son David was born in 1982.”
They moved to the Fresno area to be closer to Laverne’s family where he enrolled in the Kings River Community College. “I studied landscape architecture but still had thoughts of working in forestry at some point… I played racquetball with some guys who were into the drug scene and soon I was involved too. I had done drugs at school but this was a whole other level. I became the middleman in a big operation and got in way over my head with these disreputable guys and their operation at the airport. We were caught but the judge found some pity for me as a result of the effects of the coma and gave me a break; plus I was not the guy they really wanted. However, he told me that this was my only chance and that if I so much as jay-walked in Thailand, he’d find about it and I’d be done.”
“I was close to my family and so we moved to Concord in the East Bay not far from them. I found work in construction through some of my Dad’s contacts and attended Diablo Valley College in the evenings. As the son of the owner of the property that was being built, the other workers really used to give me a hard time and I had to work very hard to prove myself. I did some carpentry but was mainly a laborer and I joined both unions. The money was very good and in 1987 we bought a condominium in Walnut Creek. Eventually I quit the laboring and started a painting company of my own. I had lots of contacts through my years in construction but the first job I was offered was to paint all the trim work at the Sheraton Hotel in Dublin in the East Bay. I had no idea what to price to bid so I worked it out based on how much time it would take to paint each piece and went from there – it took me a whole day to come up with an estimate. My bid was accepted and I hired a guy who knew what he was doing and, with his helper, the three of us did the job. They both knew more than I did about painting and we got the it done on time and made about $3K profit in a couple of weeks. I was full of confidence; I had my own painting company – D.J. Evans Painting – I could do this. The business took off from there, we got as much work as we could handle in and around the Bay Area, and for a few years we were very successful.”
Over time Dave had hired quite a few guys who were friends but in the end most of them let him down in one way or another. He turned to hiring Mexican guys whom he found to be great workers and very reliable. However, some of these were heavily into cocaine and Dave found himself involved in that world once again. “I was wrapped up in it and ultimately, by the late eighties, I had lost the business… On top of this, my wife had an alcohol problem although we worked hard at our marriage, staying together for the sake of our son. Over time however it was worse for him to see how we were; I had lost touch with reality and so we separated. I moved in with the Mexican guys and got into lots of trouble over the next few years. Fortunately Laverne pulled herself together, kept the condo, and did a great job with David. Eventually I realized I had to do something. I had lots of remorse about not being there for my son. I had been in thirteen rehabs in just a few years; I was either in there or in jail.”
At the age of 31, in 1994, Dave had never even heard of Anderson Valley when a friend of his talked about it after a visit up to the Mendocino coast. Dave felt he no longer needed rehab but more a halfway house situation that would allow him to move forward. He heard of such a place in Albion. “I resisted coming up here in my mind. I had no plans to stay and was looking to get back to the Bay Area as soon as possible as I drove up here. But as I went along Hwy 128 through the Valley on my way to Albion I thought this was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. It was like an ‘epiphany.’ I vividly remember uttering ‘Yessss!’ from deep inside myself… Then when I drove up E Road, inland behind Albion, to the Primary Purpose House the views of the ocean were wonderful. I knew than that I would not be going back to that other world. I had found a new place where I would not get caught up in all the crap. This was how life was supposed to be. ‘I’m free’, I thought.”
Dave did well at Primary Purpose and really got into A.A. and studying The Big Book and its Twelve Step program. “It does not work for everyone. Over the first one-and-a half years there I felt that I had the spiritual awakening to do the first eleven steps completely. Then I met a girl, Jody Knight, who lived on Albion Ridge and moved in with her. There were too many methamphetamine addicts around in Albion and the temptation was always there. At the time we thought we had each found each other’s soul mate and so we moved away to Cleone and then to Westport and finally back to Little River on the coast in 1998. I was receiving a small trust from my maternal grandmother as long as I kept going in the right direction, and supplemented this with some painting work and odd jobs. One day we were at the beach and Judy lay down for a nap. A couple of hours later the dog started to bark and she did not wake up. She had suffered an aneurism and was on life support for a week before her family decided that was enough and she died. I was devastated and once again I lost my grip on reality, dipping and dabbling into the drug scene, letting myself go, and getting pretty bad once more.”
Dave moved from the coast and began living in a tent inside what was known as The Compound in ‘downtown’ Navarro. “It was a bunch of people with nowhere to go. Not a good scene and there I was, in my tent in the middle of it all where I stayed for about a year. The meth scene was getting bigger and the hippies who lived in the Valley had no idea about this relatively new drug. I had hung out with the Albion hippy scene and it had been new to them too. The meth scene was bad; the drug is a terrible thing and leads to people doing bad things and turning to petty crime affecting innocent people. I then met Kim who was the caretaker of lifelong Navarro resident, Tommy Hopper, whose parents had both passed and who needed assistance. I moved in to the Hopper house in East Navarro and became involved in Tommy’s care – he has had a very tough life. He calls Kim ‘Mom’ and me ‘Pops, even though I am twelve years younger than him.”
By 2001, after all his experiences, Dave knew there had to be a better way. “I needed to get it together but meth is very difficult to quit and to get a grip on cleaning up. I was dabbling in explosive materials – it goes hand-in-hand with the methamphetamines, and I was messing around with detonating pipe bombs. One day I had taken some meth and was therefore not really together when I was messing with some explosives and had them too tight in a vice. It went off and I was blown a few feet away but landed on my feet in a cloud of smoke. I asked the guy next to me if he was o.k. and he was. I then looked down and saw that my left hand had gone. It had been blown off and my lower leg had been partially blown away too, leaving a big hole in my leg… I knew to get through this was going to take every ounce of strength and will that I had. They called 911 and I told them we had to start driving to meet the emergency services’ vehicles as every minute would be important given the amount of blood I was losing. We had only gone a mile or so, to the Floodgate Store and post office, and I asked them to pull over, saying ‘I have to get my mail and some groceries.’ It was funny at the time but not to those with me. Not to me either I guess, I thought I was going to die right there and then but made that joke anyway. A helicopter picked me up there soon after and I went to the hospital where they saved my life. Really, I should have had my head blown off and died.”
It was the final wake-up call for Dave – “I simply had to stop or be done forever.” After his recovery, he managed to get a top attorney, David Nelson (later a Judge) who managed to get him a sentence of just eight months in the County Jail from which he moved to the Narconon clinic near to Watsonville. “It is a very expensive treatment. There are no public meetings, no narcotic anonymous techniques. It is a very interesting program, based on some of the teachings of Ron L. Hubbard, the scientologist. They believe that since childhood we are exposed to all sorts of toxins and chemicals and these, together with the drugs, all have to be removed before recovery can be made. Without this a relapse is always a good possibility. It is a similar philosophy to that of American Indians – you sweat and sweat and sweat. Olive oil and vitamins then replace the fluids. Then the teachings begin and they result in you being totally tuned in with the here and now. Everything seems possible if you can let things go. It is not scientology as such but a specific branch of that philosophy’s teaching. I was there for three months and was cleansed mentally and physically – the pain in my arm was finally released and has never returned. It is an amazing program and although it is very expensive it was the only thing that worked for me and I had tried many options before it. My parents were also very helpful and supportive during that time, as was Kim.”
Dave had no idea what to do next but when he returned to Navarro he found out that his family had bought the Navarro Store and now wanted him to have it and make something of it. The store been closed since 1996 and had deteriorated into decay and virtual collapse. It was condemned and nobody had wanted it. “My folks invested more money into the renovations and my Dad said he wanted Navarro to become a community once again – that could not happen without a store. I had no idea what I was going to do – I had lost a hand; what job could I do? He told me that he hoped I’d find myself and move forward with my life. The store was all fixed up and we opened in 2002. I clearly owe a lot to my folks, the community, or ‘village’ as my Dad calls it and wanted to see re-built here, is slowly coming to fruition.”
Dave had been into putting on parties and events since he was in grade school and now that he had his own venue he decided to go in that direction. He booked a couple of bands to perform in 2007 including the Black Horse Blues Band who played at an event to support the Action Committee to Clean Up Now, an anti-meth group, and now for the last two summers he has had top quality music acts performing live almost every Saturday evening. The second event was a memorial to Arrow Jones, son of David and brother of Stringbean) and they did a bbq along with the music. It was a big hit and the bbq has been a feature of Saturday evenings ever since, along with beer and wine sold through the store. “”I always wanted to book bands, I like dealing with that sort of thing. It helps the business although given the acts we get to play here there really should be even bigger crowds. The music has been a success, expensive sure, but we’ve had some great shows here, in the middle of the woods, miles from anywhere!”
The bands used to play in the gravel field alongside the store but before the 2009 season a new grass amphitheatre was put in and a wonderful atmosphere created for some of the bigger acts. In 2010 there will be a few less shows but the quality will be even better. “Sometimes it felt like one big, long party last year, not what I wanted really. I realized that some people want a smaller crowd and a bbq, which is fine, so I have cut back on the number of gigs this year – mellow evenings work well too. I have a knack for dealing with the bands but I guess I got a little carried away with the community loving it all and did not foresee how much work it would be and how I had created this ‘monster.’ I didn’t take a day off all last year from April 19th until Christmas Day, which I spent with my family, only to return and work the next day. I wanted to make up for the things in my past and decided I would work every day for a year, which I am now well past. It is not good for me but I realize it and will be taking a few days off this summer… The community here is why I am here. I love it and want it to get better. That’s why I do what I do. It’s as simple as that.”
I asked Dave for his brief responses to some of the Valley issues that are often raised… The Wineries and their impact? – “Well they are very important to the Valley’s economy and jobs – there is a lot more money spent here thanks to them. From a small business owner’s perspective, they are certainly a positive thing; we are taxed so much that we’d be closing down if the winery visitors were not here spending money. In terms of water usage then it’s not so good and I don’t think they contribute directly as much to the Valley as they should – to the school etc”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I love the newspaper and those that are involved in it. A community newspaper is very important and they have really supported us down here in the Deep End”… The school system? – “Well it seems like a wonderful place to go to school – I hope that is appreciated. We need to do a community fund-raiser for the school and get the wineries involved more in that.”
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 Dave’s answers interesting and illuminating…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Knowing that I’m now doing the right thing, having not done so for far too long. Doing as much as I can do each day for others and my own self-fulfillment. All this work is not always fun but it often is and it’s what I need, and that’s the way it is.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Taxes… And disrespect of others – there seems to be a lack of consideration for others in the world as a whole these days.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “People having a good time.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “The coffee pot running out early in the morning.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “Steak, baked potato, and a salad… I like Chinese food too.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Abraham Lincoln.”
7.If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “A family photograph; a radio, and a fishing rod.”
8.What is a smell you really like? – “Clean air.”
9.What is your favorite hobby? – ‘Collecting wood – we have some great wood carvings here at the store… Or just learning something new… Or reading a dictionary…”
10.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? – “An astronaut or a fighter pilot.”
11.What profession would you not like to do? – “Garbage man.”
12.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The day my son was born.”
13.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “The days my sister and my grandmother died.”
14.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I really care about people, animals, and nature in general.”
15.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well I have been there twice already, you know. When I flipped over in a pick-up truck and then the bomb explosion. On each occasion I felt I was leaving the Earth; I passed black and blue lights, through stars, and I could look back on life. I could see all those I knew who had passed before me, in spirit form with faces perfectly formed. It was the weirdest and best feeling. I could have gone then but decided to say ‘hi’ and then come back here. I know that they are all there – wherever it is and whatever it was, it is a great place… So to answer you, if he just said ‘Welcome, Dave’, it would mean I am there and it’s all good.”

Published in: on June 16, 2010 at 8:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Karen Ottoboni – May 30th, 2010

As I drove up the Yorkville Ranch Road to the upper reaches of High Roller country the scenery became increasingly spectacular. At the very top I could see into three counties and, if it had been a little clearer, Karen told me, the Pacific would have been in sight too. She met me at this spot, looking down into her ‘cauldron’ of land, and we decided to do the interview sitting on the tailgates of our trucks. Unique in my experience, but with such views I couldn’t see why not…
Karen was born in 1952 and grew up in the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. She is the oldest of three girls – herself, Terry and Kathy, all born within a three year period to Carlo Ottoboni and Claire Johnson. Karen’s paternal great grandfather, and his brothers, came to the States from northern Italy in the early 1900’s, settling briefly in San Francisco before moving to Portland where he was a truck farmer. Soon after, his wife and kids joined him, including Karen’s grandfather. On her mother’s side, Karen’s heritage is English/German and they were an old firefighting family who had been in Portland for many generations. Karen’s parents met in Portland and were married as teenagers.
“I watched my Dad build a house for us on the outskirts of Portland and learned a lot from that experience. The area was kind of like the outer areas of Ukiah and I was definitely a kid who loved to be outdoors. My father owned a few grocery stores by this time and he was always busy. Basically, I was raised by a single mother, who also did bookkeeping – something I picked up from her and use extensively in later life. My parents were divorced when I was fifteen and my mother and we three girls moved to the rural town of Gresham – we were like four sisters and were very close. Ours was the house where lots of other kids would gather, and with both sets of grandparents nearby, it was quite a social environment. My Dad was just not a family guy, my sister Terry is close to him now but I actually feel that some of the Old Timers here in the Valley are more of a father to me.”
Karen was an average student who liked the sciences, particularly biology and physics. She was fairly outgoing and was active in the Choir, the Band, and was interested in politics, becoming involved in student government. She also got a Varsity Letter in golf! “I had my first girlfriend when I was fifteen but we were busted when we were seen kissing under the bleachers. This was not at all acceptable in a small town back in 1969 and was a very traumatic and stressful time for me. The doctor they sent me to thought I was just going through a phase and suggested I find something to do to help me relax – he thought of golf… Anyway, that’s enough about my younger years, let’s move on… I knew I wanted to be a science teacher or an astronaut so when I graduated in 1970 I applied for student loans – we had no money – and went to college.”
Karen attended Oregon State to study physics that soon became biology, but she did not really enjoy her time there and left after two years. She spent the next three years working both as a waitress and in a manufacturing plant that produced vitamin tablets for the ‘Fred Meyer’ hypermarket retail chain, Oregon’s largest. In that time she joined a small local union, The International Chemical Workers, and with another young woman began to attend union meetings. ‘It was all guys and we could never get a word in. I finally bought a copy of ‘Roberts Rules of Order’ and when they tried to squeeze us out of discussions I referred to this. It was apparent that these guys didn’t care about the workers and soon I was on a committee that worked out a new contract for the employees with Fred Meyers. It went to federal mediation and we won. We had changed things, made a difference and the union became a vibrant operation.”
During her three years working Karen attended night school and was now studying health and safety issues in the workplace. She quit her job in 1975 returned to school, attending Portland State where her focus was on Occupational Health and Safety. Meanwhile she had been saving much of her earnings and in 1973, at the age of twenty, she had bought a piece of land west of Portland, living in a mobile home there while she developed the property herself, doing the majority of the building’s electrics, plumbing etc – stuff she learned from asking a lot of questions.
Karen was now ready for some work where she could make a difference. “Cal OSHA was falling apart and the Unions were not helping with regards to health and safety. I was a safety officer with the union that represented workers at ‘Johns Mansfield’ a leading manufacturer of building insulation. They were losing one employee a month to asbestosis. I pushed for health and safety changes and was behind a new test that had been developed which could forewarn employees that they may have a problem before it had gone too far. Meanwhile the union failed to back me, preferring instead to push for a five cent an hour pay increase. Worse still was the fact that the company had its own doctor and therefore chose to keep the records of its employees to themselves, not even telling the workers in some cases. I was so frustrated and in the end I just quit, figuring I would go postal on them if I stayed. The battle was just too big for me to fight, particularly with the supposed good guys, the unions, not being that good at all. I really got to see the ugly side of politics and unions during that time.”
Karen felt she really needed a break from all of this and decided to visit her Uncle Fred (Ottoboni) in California. She arrived in Anderson Valley to spend Christmas 1976 with Fred and his partner ‘Aunt’ Bill Spenard; they had met in the army and bought property in Boonville in 1970. “My Uncle and Bill owned half a block on Haehl Street in downtown Boonville, what is now commonly called The Blight – those ugly buildings at the south end of the commercial section of town. They also owned three houses behind that and the apartments just south of this on Hwy 128. I thought this was a beautiful Valley and the weather was perfect so I could wear shorts and short sleeves – in fact I had fallen in love with the Valley immediately.”
She returned to Portland for a year before coming back down to the Valley once again and soon found that it was not only a beautiful place but that there was quite a community of women here, many of them working at two ‘schools’ – Bachmann Hill and Clearwater Ranch, which both dealt with difficult youth and/or special education. “There was no gay culture in Portland and this made my decision to move here even easier… I needed to have some work so I looked for some sort of business venture and there were two available – The Philo Café and The Redwood Drive-In. The latter had offered the property as well as the business and so in June 1978, after selling my property and house in Oregon, I bought the Drive-in and moved down, initially renting living quarters in Tom Cronquist’s property on the west side of what is now the Pick and Pay.”
It was the height of the summer trade and The Drive-In was in the heart of the downtown area. At the time it was a fast food restaurant only, no mini-mart or gas station, but many locals were regular customers and of course there was the ever-increasing tourist trade. “It was the hub of the community, having been built in 1966 and run by Charles, Bates, and Rawles who lasted two years. They sold it to the Pardinis and Johnsons, old time Valley families, with Donna Pardini and Eva Johnson running the business. I bought it from them. I would not have survived had it not been for a dear woman by the name of Bev Durham (of the McGimsey Family), who had worked there for many years. She got me through. She taught me some of the local dialect, Boontling, and was a regular customer at The Boonville Lodge with her friend Dorothy Bloyd so she had the ‘dirt’ on everyone in town!”
“Bev also introduced me to many of the old-timers such as Smokey Blattner, Bobby Glover, Chile Bates, Karl Kenyon and Bill Holcomb, who managed the County Yard at the time. Bill was always the first customer each day and got the first chocolate doughnut. In those days the loggers mainly ate at The Horn of Zeese across the street which opened much earlier for them, before they went into the woods. We got the other workers, the self-employed, and the retired guys, plus the high school kids at lunchtime. It was great to get to know these guys and they got to know me too. It was a little touch and go at first but I am personable and gradually won them over. I started to serve salads along with the burgers and sandwiches and also tacos, with the result that most of the few Mexican workers who were in town at that time would also come by.”
“I worked 24/7 as they say and had few employees, although I did have some high school kids such as Terry Rhodes, Shirley Hiatt, Collette Hahn, and others. I enjoyed it a lot; it was a great way to meet the Valley. One day one of the Kuny brothers came in and said if I needed help to give any one of his guys a call and they’d be there. That was a special moment and I felt accepted… Since the very first day in town, when I came to visit my Uncle and spent the day at The Boonville Lodge, I was accepted in there not only because I drank with the guys, and often beat them at pool, but also because often I’d be the person cooking their breakfast the next morning! This time saw many fights and scuffles in the bar; mostly involving the locals and the newly arrived Mexican guys, who had their bar down the street called ‘Mary Jane’s’. Many is the hot Sunday afternoon when the guys from each bar would end up in fights on the street, and once the A.V. Market, which was located in between the two bars, had to close to protect customers… However, as far as the Drive-In was concerned business was good, we were the only fast food stop between Cloverdale and the Coast.”
In 1979, the local court in Boonville was threatened with closure and this greatly upset many locals such as Homer Mannix and Emil Rossi. Karen went along with them when they met with the Board of Supervisors. “I watched these guys confronting the Supes directly and was very impressed by the impact that a local community can have on the things that affect them. They saved the courts for the Valley for a little while longer, and it gave me inspiration for any future political and social endeavors I would have. Meanwhile I was too busy slinging hamburgers and cleaning toilets to get really involved with local politics at that time.”
In 1980, the State sued Mendocino County over its General Plan and it was decided that agriculture-zoned properties (all of downtown Boonville) could not be changed or built on for three years. Karen had wanted to put up a small commercial building at the back of the Drive-In so this was now on hold. In May her sister, Kathy, was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer which had metastasized (she died in 1983), on top of which her grandmother died from a stroke. It was all too much and Karen decided that there were no guarantees; she had to live each day to the fullest if she could – by working so many hours she was unable to do this. She put the Drive-In on the market and in December 1980 it was sold to Cheryl Schrader.
Karen had moved from the rental at Cronquist’s building to her Uncle’s place and then on to a place on the Miner Ranch south of Boonville. It was now time for a clean break, so after selling the Drive-In she bought ten acres in the Rancho Navarro sub-division and decided on a low-key lifestyle for a few years. She found work with Bob Glover on developing springs, with Steve Mize in construction, and driving a dump truck and backhoe for Bill Holcomb, “who was like a father to me.” Socially she hung out at The Floodgate watching Bobbie Peterson serving beer and burritos to the loggers. By 1984 she found her ten acres to be too small and too full of poison oak, so she started to look for something bigger. She saw a piece of property advertised in the S.F. Chronicle by the realtor T.J. Nelson. “It was 160 acres about twenty minutes up the Yorkville Ranch Road, completely off the beaten track and undeveloped but I immediately knew this was where I wanted to be. I loved the vastness of the place, it was perfect.”
She lived in a trailer and began to build, using the timber from the Track Inn building in Boonville, a former bar, which Karen and a few friends dismantled and took to her property. Her solitary life suited her at this time as she developed the property, although she obviously had to go into town on occasion. Her Uncle Fred died of A.I.D.S. in 1987 and Karen, along with sister Terry, helped out Bill with their rentals in town, although he too was ill and died in 1992. When he passed, Karen took over the house they had owned in Ukiah, did it up, and sold it. During these years, Karen was involved in a relationship with Jill Hannum, a neighbor up in the hills, and they were to be together for eighteen years.
Seeing the ravages of A.I.D.S. up close led Karen to take a quilt, made by her family in honor of Fred and Bill’s thirty years together, to Washington D.C. for the national quilt memorial for A.I.D.S. awareness. The quilt was then brought back to Ukiah in 1993, and put on display at Ukiah High School for three days. “There was an amazing community response and I was asked to join the founding board of the Billy Foundation, a nonprofit to raise HIV awareness in our rural communities and help support those with A.I.D.S. This was the start of my non-profit work and, following the death of my sister, Uncle, and ‘Aunt’, it tied in well with my newfound ‘Be here now’ philosophy that life is so precious and yet so fragile and to live it to the full as much and as often as you can, which for me meant wanting to help others.”
Over the next few years Karen found work in non-profit organizations, doing their bookkeeping, budget reviews, and generally helping guys with A.I.D.S. on a daily basis. In 1996 she was “pulled” in to local public radio. She had volunteered to help with the pledge drive when partner Jill Hannum was the interim manager at KZYX & Z and one thing led to another. “I had always followed Mendocino politics, I am a political animal at heart, and so when they asked me to do a Thursday morning Public Affairs program I readily agreed. It was an exciting time and the public affairs department was just starting. For me, and many others, the radio station was the only way to keep in touch with the outside world and I thought this show could be a very useful service to the community. I left the Billy Board and joined the radio station’s board in 1999 after attending their meetings for three years. I’m into structure and process and helped define their policies, while also doing political interviews and budget assessments. My shows were based around the guests, not my own editorials. I like to think I have the ability to condense and help explain complicated issues for the listener and I continue to be very involved with the County’s politics.” Karen left the radio station in 2008 but does return for Election Specials and stepped in recently when programmer Norman de Vall decided to run for Supervisor and had to leave his show.
Karen hosted other shows too, including ‘Women’s Voices’ and ‘Queer Ear’ and after leaving the station board she kept doing these shows and returned to the Billy Foundation Board. Around that time some Anderson Valley locals were looking to put together an assisted living facility locally. “I attended meetings with Captain Rainbow, Hayes Brennan, Peggy Miniclier, Nancy Wood, and others. We came up with a plan to help the elderly in the Valley with assisted living accommodation. Property for this became available in downtown Boonville but the bank wanted a community member to guarantee the sale, so I did, putting up my ranch for $250K collateral, and the Elder Home project finally had a base. I have been on the Board since 2006 and became treasurer in 2008. This endeavor is my focus now and although progress is slow at times, we have reduced the mortgage by $238K as of this month and the community has been really supportive. This is really an incredible accomplishment in these economical times. The next big leap is to raise the money to remodel the house and garage and the Board is concerned about starting construction without having the funds and or pledges in hand. Many dedicated community members have gotten us this far, but it’s going to take more of us stepping up now to move forward. None of us are getting any younger and the reason the community started this project certainly hasn’t gone away – every week we get more calls asking if the ElderHome is open. I know this community can make it happen and now’s the time!”
“I love living here as much as ever, particularly the small community we have and with so many people knowing each other. I have loved watching so many kids in the Valley grow up. Our community always steps in to help others in need and every good cause seems to be well supported. There’s not really anything I don’t like except that building that was my Uncles’ – the blight at the south end of town. As a community we should stand up and stop the owner from letting it continue to deteriorate.”
I asked Karen for her brief responses to various Valley issues… The Wineries and their impact? – “I have a mixed bag of feelings. I am not happy with the monoculture that has taken over here at the expense of the Valley’s traditional industries. It’s sad but inevitable, I guess. The wineries have brought money in, good in some ways, but it has meant that property values have gone up too much for the children of local families to buy. The small business owners are disappearing; it’s big money people now. Marijuana growing has gone the same way. There is just too much greed”… Local public radio station, KZYX & Z? – “It is a very, very valuable asset that people have to step up and get involved in. Use it or lose it. They either have to get a lot of money to pay staff or get volunteers. As for the programming, I think more local public affairs is needed”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I have subscribed for years. I like it. You can generally figure out what is happening from reading it; not always the whole story perhaps, or the whole truth even, but the general idea”… Tourists? – “Get ‘em in; get their money; send ‘em home… And let’s get a tollbooth for non-residents at the south end of town. What are they going to do – turn round?”
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 Karen’s answers interesting and illuminating…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Wildlife… Mother Nature will bat last.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “When politicians talk about what they will do but then don’t, particularly after endlessly stalling and pontificating.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “The sounds of nature.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – Loud car stereos.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “Lasagna with some red wine from the Graziano family winery. Or a red from Jed Steele with whom I used to trade tacos for wine when his workers ate at the Drive-in.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Eleanor Roosevelt – quite a woman, in her own right and behind the scenes.”
7.If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “Books, a good pillow, and some brandy from Ukiah’s Germain-Robin.”
8.Do you have a favorite book/song or one that has influenced you? – “The book would be ‘The 100th Monkey’…And the song is probably ‘Y.M.C.A.’ from my disco dancing days!”
9.What is a smell you really like? – “Roses – old roses, real roses.”
10.What is your favorite hobby? – “Grilling politicians/elected officials in an effort to help make them more accountable.”
11.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? – “An environmental attorney – defending the defenseless.”
12.What profession would you not like to do? – “A breakfast cook – you can never make the customer’s eggs like their mother did.”
13.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “When old-timer Guido Pronsolino greeted me with the phrase, ‘Mornin’ Old-Timer’. It confirmed my being here. I will always be here; my ashes will be spread here.”
14.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – My Uncles’ passing – I learned a lot from them, and not just how to be neat and tidy!… The height of the A.I.D.S. epidemic was also a very tough time.”
15.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I just like to have fun, even with serious issues, particularly with politicians.”
16.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Err, simple really, ‘Come on in, relax, join the party’. Yes, that would be nice.”

Published in: on June 9, 2010 at 4:49 pm  Comments (1)  

Patty Liddy – May 22nd, 2010

I met with Patty in our living room – it seemed like as good a place as any. She is my wife of twenty-three years and although doing this seemed a bit strange at first, certainly a little narcissistic, I thought about it and decided that her ‘Life and Times’ are as valid as anyone else’s and, as she is appearing in the current A.V. Theatre Guild’s production of ‘Dearly Departed’ at The Grange I thought now was a good a time as any. I hope you enjoy our self-indulgence; we had fun anyway…
Patty was born in 1960 in Detroit, Michigan the youngest of four children born to John Patrick Liddy and Mildred ‘Millie’ Kovich who had Kevin six years earlier, then daughter Robin four years before, and second son Jimmy, two years before Patty. The Liddy’s had come over from Ireland in the early twentieth century when Patty’s grandparents settled in Detroit. Her father had served in the Navy in World War Two and had found a steady career as a barber in the northern Detroit suburb of Madison Heights. He was very close to his two sisters, Noni and Mary, who also lived in the area, and spoke to them personally or by phone virtually every day of his life. Millie’s family history is a little murkier, although it is known that they came to Chicago from Serbia, also in the early 1900’s, and Patty’s maternal grandfather would eventually own a bar in the Windy City. Both extended families lived in the northern outskirts of Detroit and were very close with the result that family get-togethers were big events and with the Irish and eastern European backgrounds in the ascendancy, there was no shortage of alcohol and good times to be had.
“We were a very loving family and as my Mother often said, ‘The first thirteen years of married life was very, very happy. Then your father got sick with what turned out to be lupus, although nobody knew what it was for a long time. Dad liked to drink and this was a contributing factor to his illness. The disease and the alcohol fed off each other.’ I remember many, many occasions when my Dad was drunk at dinner and you just hoped you were not the one he wanted to pick on that night. I got my first guitar when I was eight years old and could play quite competently at twelve. One of my memories of that time was going to the V.A. hospital to visit my Dad and paying guitar and singing for him. One of the Vietnam veterans there, who had lost both legs, played harmonica and we would perform together for the guys on the ward. Dad was pretty popular with the other Vets because he was only in for short times at that point and used to smuggle in booze for the others. He could be very loving but when he drank it was a different story.”
“I threw myself into my school life and times with friends. I was a very outgoing child with lots of friends and I really enjoyed school all the way through. I went to Madison High School where my favorite subjects were journalism ñ I was editor of the school paper, and English literature. I was in the Chorus and the Glee Club and was captain of the track team where I competed in the high jump and the 4 x 400 relay. I was a cheerleader from Junior High until my senior year and was the Senior Homecoming Queen. Yes, I had a wonderful time and certainly many aspects of my childhood were idyllic but there was always the cloud of my Dad’s illness and his drinking in the background. He would attend many of my brothers’ high school football games (they were both All-State) but invariably he would be drinking and a few times fell of the bleachers much to our embarrassment. He would also take my brothers drinking with him to the bars. There are many stories of their exploits, this wiry little man with the slicked back hair getting into scuffles and then being backed-up by these two great big athletic guys. It was tough; he had a disease. When I was cheerleading similar incidents occurred and on three of four occasions he drove me to school when he’d been drinking and we got into minor accidents. It was a constant issue in my life but he truly loved us all and was able to see me graduate in 1978 and bought me a typewriter as a gift. He died at the age of fifty-two, two months later.”
Money had always been tight and with her father having to stop work at his barber shop job at a relatively early age, Patty’s mother found work in ‘bedding and towels’ at Hudson’s Department store and the kids all had part-time jobs as they went through school. At thirteen Patty began a first job at a restaurant busing tables and then as a cashier at a produce market. “I played and sang in a couple of rock bands, one of which was pretty good and for which I earned a little money but the really good pay came from being the lead singer in a wedding band from when I was sixteen to eighteen where I would sing cheesy seventies love songs by Olivia Newton John, the Bee Gees, Fleetwood Mac, etc, etc. To this day I can remember the lyrics of so many seventies songs. I was three or four years younger than the rest of the band and this was the case with the rock band too but they played at places where you had to be eighteen. I lied at first to get in the rock band but then told them the truth. They said I had to be eighteen so my Dad volunteered to be my legal guardian at the gigs. My Mom put a stop to that, there was no way she would let him go to clubs, drink all night while pretending to look after me and then drive us home. I stuck with the wedding bands and had a lot of fun.”
Even though Patty was popular and outgoing there was a side to her that was, and is, quite ‘goofy’ and ‘out there’ in an artistic/spiritual sense. She went to night classes at the Community College Art School during her junior and senior years at high school and found that she was not alone. She was quite normal amongst this creative, ‘weird’ environment and she decided that going to college might give her many more experiences like this. Due to her family’s financial circumstances, she applied for and received a scholarship and was accepted by Central Michigan in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, where she studied for a religion major. “Dad was a practicing Catholic as were most of the Liddy family. However, on my Mom’s side, she and her sister, my Aunt Chris, had been raised in this religion called the ‘I Am’. It is an obscure American religious cult formed in the thirties but in terms of doctrine is a major predecessor of several New Age religions. I had been interested in this and all religions growing up so I thought I’d study that at college.”
Patty’s two brothers had both gone to college but their social lives took too much away from their study time and both left after one year, although Jimmy had made it as second string quarterback at Eastern Michigan by that time. Kevin got married and started a family, having two daughters, Shannon and Stacey with his wife Betty. Jimmy moved out to southern California…I went to college because I got a full ride and Mom had always wanted me to be a teacher. In my freshman year I took as many political theory classes as religion and I changed to a double major as I became more fascinated in studying why our beliefs create the world around us.”
Patty was at Central for five years and to support herself she worked as a waitress and nude model for the art school. “My mother suggested that. Because I always wore big baggy clothing she had said many times ‘you have a very nice body, you should show it off more.’ I also wrote many songs during those years and accompanied my self on guitar. I had quite a following at school and in that part of Michigan, playing not just at the college bars and in the town but also at some very harvest festivals in front of several thousands of people and a series of concerts called ‘Take Back the Night’ which protested rape and the debasement of women. My whole college experience was very good for me on many levels. Being from blue-collar Detroit, I had thought that those from more privileged backgrounds were perhaps better than us but hanging out with girls from those backgrounds I soon learnt that if anything they were often more messed up than me and in many cases certainly more insecure. It was helped somewhat that I had partied at high school and being around my brothers I had seen and done some crazy stuff – too boring to go into here. My poor sister – relatively speaking she was like an angel, marrying her high school sweetheart, having two kids, Jim and Cherie, and living a ‘normal’ life… Anyway, because of my fairly expansive life to that point, I wanted to be serious about my studies at college, and tried very hard, although I was not a particularly good student. I knew I had the opportunity to make my mother proud; my brothers had disappointed her.”
Patty was close to several of her tutors and enjoyed spending time with them away from class, talking on a different plane than in class. “I realized that I was, and probably always will be, a seeker, and made some wonderful friendships at college – people who remain my dearest friends to this day. College changed me and I knew I would not be spending much of my future back in Detroit.”
However, after graduating in June 1983, Patty did return home and spent the summer at her mother’s, where Kevin had now also moved, having split from his wife. She found temporary work as a waitress in a Country and Western bowling alley and bar while she decided exactly where she wanted to be. She and Kevin got into many fights. “He was lost, He turned to drink and drugs more than ever. He was a talented draftsman but quit and headed out to Long Beach in California to see Jimmy. On the return journey by Greyhound bus, he was drinking and got into an argument with the drive. He demanded to be let off in the middle of the night on I.80 near to Lincoln, Nebraska. The bus stopped, Kevin got off, and crossed the highway. He was hit by a Mac Truck and came home in two bags… This had a very traumatic effect on the whole extended family. Kevin was a larger than life personality, the life of the party. He was indestructible we all, thought, despite his shortcomings and drink problem. I stayed home for the rest of the summer with Mom.”
Towards the end of the year, Patty’s friend from college, Liz, called from Austin, Texas to say a one-way ticket to come and see her was on its way. Patty accepted and arrived in Austin in January 1984 with a suitcase, her guitar, and $50. Her friend worked near to a submarine sandwich shop, ‘Thundercloud Subs’ which was hiring. “Liz said they made great sandwiches, always played great music in there, and she could give me a ride to work every day. I went in and asked for a job application from the person at the counter. He was a very grumpy Englishman. He just turned round and went to get one without saying a word.” (I cannot believe I was like that really!).
Patty got the job despite the fact that, as the manager said, ‘she was a girl’ and joined a crew of mainly illegal English guys, including that grumpy one, who apparently was me. She was sick of men anyway and told everyone that she was a lesbian. “I had been in several relationships and was not ready for another, and with all that had gone on with Kevin I just wanted some time to myself. However, over the next several months the grumpy guy, Stephen, and I became good friends and he was my ally at work. He had a girlfriend he had come from England with and it was purely platonic. Then one day, he just gave me a beaming smile and, just like cupid’s arrow, my heart was struck and I fell in love in that instant, promptly telling him that I wasn’t a lesbian, to which he replied, ‘I know you’re not.’ We remained friends for some time, hanging out for a drink after work sometimes or going to the laundromat and doing laundry together. He and his girlfriend split up towards the end of the year and he asked me out. Our first date was to see the classic film, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in early December 1984.”
Over the next six months, Patty became increasingly unsettled in Austin. “I wasn’t making much money, our social crowd still included his ex and I was the new outsider. In the early summer two friends from college invited me to San Francisco where another friend, whom I’d grown up with, also lived. I told Stephen I was going and he was welcome to come too. Despite having several friends in Austin he had grown up with in England he said he would go with me. We left Texas and drove to San Francisco in his 1970 Chevy Nova that he’d bought for $300 two years earlier. It was a tough drive, we did not get along at all, and by the time we arrived our plan to live together was dropped completely. I moved in with my girlfriends in the Lower Haight and he moved in with a strange Russian guy, a friend of a friend, a few blocks away. To this day I think if we’d moved in together at that time we would have broken up. As it was, we dated and explored that great city both together and with our friends, in his case ones that he made through work in construction.”
Patty worked on the database at Chevron in the City for a year or so before becoming an administrative assistant at the U.C.S.F. Medical Center in the pediatric hematology department. “This was in 1986 when the A.I.D.S. crisis was everyday news, particularly in San Francisco. For a year or so Stephen was the only straight guy on a six-man painting crew – all but one of the others died of AIDS in the next ten years or so… The doctor I worked for had been giving hemophiliacs something called ‘factor’ as a coagulating blood-substitute, obviously thinking she was healing them. Then it was discovered that some of the factor contained the H.I.V. virus. She was devastated and had a mental breakdown. I was drawn to this work and felt I was making a difference with all the contact I had with our patients, often children with A.I.D.S. I was comfortable in that environment, being around sickness, having spent so many hours in hospitals visiting my Dad in his later life. It was the first time I felt really capable in a job.”
“Stephen and I were married in May 1987 in the City’s Alamo Square that overlooks the famous ‘Painted Lady’ Victorian houses. Many family and friends came from Michigan and England and we moved in together on Fillmore Street at Hayes… In October 1989, along with a friend of Stephen’s from his college days in England, we opened a pub in the Lower Haight district, at Haight and Fillmore, called ‘The Mad Dog in the Fog.’ The earthquake was six days later but unlike most bars around we were able to remain open that night – it was an incredibly busy night – everyone needed a drink!… I stayed at the hospital because we both received benefits and had no idea how the pub would do. He threw himself into the new venture and it proved to be the right place in the right location and the right time. It was very successful and there would be lines out the door on even a Tuesday evening. That first year I hardly saw him it seemed and we spent a lot of time apart, as I either hung out alone, played guitar with friends Lisa and Lynda, or studied wicker (white witchcraft) and tarot quite thoroughly – I’d had my first tarot deck at ten.”
The bar continued to grow and in time there were thirty staff on the payroll. The bartenders could make very good money indeed and Patty was getting increasingly stressed out at the hospital. In 1991, she left and became a bartender at The Mad Dog, working the very busy Friday and Saturday night shifts, doing supply runs, and booking the Saturday night bands that included acts such as Train, Third Eye Blind, and Alvin Lee – who all went on to much, much bigger things. Other visitors over the years included Elvis Costello, Ray Davies of The Kinks, and world-renowned classical violinist, Nigel Kennedy, although in each of these cases it was to watch soccer, the pub being known as the place to see soccer in San Francisco. “We had some great employees, a real strength of what was achieved, many of whom became our friends, and to this day we have a reunion almost every year. I would go out with the girls for karaoke and Stephen would often go to the Giants with the guys. The pub had a great atmosphere on both sides of the bar. We’d have d.j.’s. pub quizzes, soccer all the time, and we sponsored several sports’ teams. Many customers met their future spouses at our place and for the bigger soccer matches beamed in live from Europe it was not unusual to have 300 people packed in at 7am in the morning as we served beer and breakfast. It became very well-known, even becoming the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question!”
In the summer of 1991, through two sisters who had a vintage clothes shop in the Lower Haight and whose father lived in Yorkville (Gareth Birch), Patty and Stephen heard about a classic old-time County Fair in Mendocino in the town of Boonville. They visited that Fair in September 1991 with their new Border Collie puppies, Frank and Bing, and met local shepherd Kevin Owens who was competing in the sheepdog trials. “We had been looking to buy something out of the City but not this far away. However, we checked out the realty notices in the window of North Country Real Estate and met realtor Don Hahn. One thing led to another and in July 1992 they bought ten acres on Gschwend Road, and spent the next ten years visiting for three days a month and working at the pub for the remaining twenty-seven or so.
“We loved San Francisco and for a long time our needs and desires suited our lifestyle there. We just never found time for kids. I suppose if we’d both really wanted to have them we would have. In 1996 we bought out our partner and ran the business with the help of the wonderful staff. We had our Thursday night date nights at the wonderful restaurants the City has to offer; we would do the club scene; watch live music, frequently go to the cinema; and get to as many of the street fairs and events that we could. We’d host big Thanksgiving Day events at our home on Potrero Hill – the only day we were closed as we opened and served a big dinner for over one hundred customers on Xmas. I was in a Book Club; wrote an advice column called ‘Agony Aunt’ for an S.F. magazine, did Tarot Reading at a place called the Psychic Five and Dime, and once a year we’d either go on a road trip to Michigan or fly to England (and on to France, Spain, Holland, Ireland) and also try to get to Mexico for a short break to ‘decompress’ at least once a year. After twelve years it had become too much, and yet we were there for another year. Despite the financial success and the wonderful establishment we had created, the stress was too much and our whole life revolved around The Mad Dog. It was time for a change. We sold our house and the pub on exact same day in May 2002 and headed to Anderson Valley for what was supposed to be about six months. That was eight years ago.”
Patty’s brother Jimmy never got over the death of their oldest brother Kevin and turned to drink and drugs. “In the early nineties he was in San Francisco and at one point, when he lived in the Tenderloin, he contracted A.I.D.S. from his use of contaminated needles. He was in the General Hospital for a time then returned to stay with Mom in Detroit. He had a good last year, trying to make amends, tidying things up, and died peacefully in his sleep at home, with Mom and my sister Robin at his side. He was thirty-three.”
After a month or so in The Valley, Patty found two jobs in the wine business – at Roederer Estate and Esterlina Vineyards on Holmes Ranch. “I enjoyed both jobs but decided to leave Roederer after about six months to become full-time at Esterlina, and have worked there for the Sterling Family ever since, now managing the Tasting Room and sort of running the place, almost as a member of the family… I am a very social person and we soon found ourselves embracing whatever the Valley had to offer. The Crab Feeds and the Tri-tip bbq’s are among our favorites. We spent many evenings at The Buckhorn Saloon in Boonville when owned by Diana Charles and then later when Jason Schreider was there at The Highpockety Ox… In more recent times The Boonville Lodge was our scene and for a time I ran the Karaoke Night there. I am involved with several women’s social groups including the Independent Career Women (I.C.W.), ‘The Sassy Ladies,’ a Women’s Manifestation Group, a Women’s Dinner Group, and The Lions Club. In 2006, I was at a party and playing guitar and singing when Rod Basehore approached me to join the A.V. Theatre Guild that he had started. Although I had performed since I was four it had always been singing or guitar; I’d always wanted to act – I have wanted to be Carol Burnett for most of my life. Anyway, I joined and have loved the experience, appearing in four of the five productions that have been produced so far, including the current one at The Grange, ‘Dearly Departed.’ Then for the past two years I have co-hosted The Variety Show with Captain Rainbow… I continue to love my life here in the Valley, helped in no small way by more additions to our Border Collie ‘pack’ which now includes rescue dogs Rose and Fred, plus brothers Alan and John, and siblings Winston and Beth, not to mention the four cats and thirty sheep…Stephen and I get to England and/or Michigan ever year although hanging out with our friends here in the Valley is equally as enjoyable; people such as Natalie and Clay, the women in The Sassy’s group, the Theatre crowd.”
Despite being eighty-one, Patty’s mother died relatively unexpectedly in March and sister Robyn is visiting the Valley from Michigan this week as the two sisters plan to spend some quality time together. Robyn’s son, Jim, and his wife Danielle have a baby boy, Donovan, so Patty is now a great-aunt and while she did enjoy visiting Detroit in January when she had some special and precious times with her mother, she has no plans to live anywhere else but here for now. “I cannot see myself back in Michigan although we have never discounted the possibility of England. Who knows?”
“My favorite thing about The Valley is that it is very ‘live and let live’. I think I may’ve coined a phrase the other day – I’m a “pink-neck” coz I’ve got urban sensibilities with a love of country living. I think there are a lot of us here; we’re here because we like our solitude, but we can come together and be a great community when we need to be…. A pet peeve of mine about life here is how politically correct some folks are here. I mean, I guess having lived in big cities most of my life I just don’t find I have the time or inclination to be telling other people how they should feel or act. People get so smug sometimes and it’s easy to think your way is the only way, but it just isn’t how the real world works. So in other words, I don’t care whether you watch television or not, or who may be a tea-part member, or who eats junk food at McDonalds. I just can’t get that picky and opinionated about issues that are not as black and white as some would have you think”…
I now asked Patty for her brief responses to various Valley ‘issues’… The wineries and their impact? – “Well, I work for a winery and I think they are really nice folks who are concerned about The Valley. I do worry about all the outsiders who own wineries and who don’t really care about Anderson Valley”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I love the AVA, especially Bruce McEwen’s reports on the court procedures; and of course ‘The Life and Times of AV’ interviews; Turkey Vulture too. The paper often cracks me up and informs me too! And you have to look at the Sheriff’s report every week”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I love KZYX because I really think they try. I support them whenever I get a chance. I think the radio keeps me connected and I had never depended on it like I do here living in the country”… The changes in the Valley? – “ A few years ago I was getting worried about the changes which seemed to be occurring at an alarmingly fast rate, but after the financial melt down, it seems to have cooled off somewhat. For a while there, it seemed like there were ‘ego vineyards’ going up every day! The first thing some of those newcomers seem to do is put up a big gate and a swimming pool. Let’s hope that little ‘trend’ comes to an end completely”… The school system? – “I don’t have much to do with the school system, but I have friends who work there and have had fun with some of the kids from there, doing the plays and such”…
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 Patty’s answers interesting and illuminating…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Connection – spiritual, heart-to-heart connection with any other beings”…
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Bullies; people who lord it over others, those who make people feel small”…
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “The sound of our six border collies eating their crispy dog biscuits in the morning as Stephen and I lie in bed with out coffee”…
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “The phone ringing in the middle of the night. It’s never going to be good news; it’s not going to be someone telling you that you’ve won the lottery or something”…
5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “Noodles”…
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one-on-one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “English classic novelist Jane Austen – she had an amazing perspective on life for her time”…
7.If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “My guitar, pen and paper, and a collection of good books”…
8.Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “Egypt – Mom and I both thought we may have been there at one point”…
9.Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “My favorite film is ‘Harold and Maude’ – the dark comedy; my favorite book is ‘Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen… As for a song I have always loved ‘Moon River’ and many of Frank Sinatra’s.”
10.Do you subscribe to any publications or newspapers? – “Harper’s Magazine – a monthly, general-interest magazine of literature, politics, culture, finance, and the arts, The Week – similar but easier, and Playboy – for the articles of course!”
11.What is a smell you really like? – “Puppy breath or maybe fresh coffee”…
12.What is your favorite word or phrase? – “Jeeso Pizza!”…
13.What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “The word ‘Should’ – I can’t stand people telling me or others what we should or should not do”…
14.What is your favorite hobby? – “I am an avid reader, and I love writing songs too”…
15.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? – “Fiction writer”…
16.What profession would you not like to do? – “Working in a toll booth”…
17.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “It sounds cheesy but it would be our wedding day”…
18.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “When my Mom died a couple of months ago. We were very close and even though she was back in Michigan we spoke for a long time every week and were the best of friends”…
19.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “Well to answer the ‘physically’ part, it would be my ears. Mentally/spiritually? – I am a good listener and have played a sort of ‘Auntie Pat’ role to many of my friends when they wanted advice or a shoulder to cry on”…

20.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “I think I’d know quite a few beings up there, including our three wonderful dogs. So if he said ‘Frank, Bing, and Grace are here and ready to play frisbee at your family’s reunion’ – that would mean I get to see all my love ones – perfect”…

Published in: on June 2, 2010 at 4:14 pm  Comments (3)