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”…

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

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I hope that both of you fully understand the intense POSITIVE magnitude that your shear presence had on hundreds of people’s lives.
    To that, I thank you both with all of my heart..
    Cheers…

  2. Patty, even though I’ve known you and loved you all of my life I learned so much from this blog!

    Much love and respect my sister.

  3. So great to hear more about my wonderful friend Patty! It’s been too much too long since I’ve see her…hopefully will make it out to California son!


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