Mike Reeves – September 20th, 2010

I met with Mike at his home on Lambert Lane in Boonville last week and we each enjoyed a strong cup of good coffee as we sat down to chat…
Mike was born in 1950 in the Children’s Hospital in San Francisco to parents who were both native San Franciscans – Ed Reeves and Irene Johansen. On the Reeves’ side of the family, Mike’s grandfather had arrived at Ellis Island in 1921from Berlin, where he had moved to from the town of Szatmar in Transylvania in what is now the Hungarian/Romanian region of Eastern Europe. Their original name was Revesz. Grandfather Ludwig Reeves caught the train to S.F. where his Uncle Lucien had a furrier shop on Mission Street. Mike’s paternal grandmother, Blanca Wallerstein was from Aranyos also in Transylvania… On his mother’s side, Grandfather Rangval Johansen’s family were of Norwegian descent and they had been in the States since the early twenties, also settling in S.F., where Rangval met Mike’s maternal grandmother, Pauline Malinowski, whose family had arrived in the country in 1907 from Tahiti where Mike still has many relatives to this day. “Grandfather Johansen was a longshoreman on the bay and he was involved in the famous strike there in 1938. Apparently he was quite a character.”
Mike is the oldest of four children and he has three younger sisters – Debbie, Donna, and Laura. “I was a bit of a terror with them sometimes, chasing them with jars of bees, especially Debbie, the oldest. We grew up in San Mateo, south of San Francisco, and I attended St. Matthews Catholic Elementary School – where Merv Griffin went! I was an outdoors kid and from the age of seven would fish on the Bay at Coyote Point that was near to a huge open space that is now Foster City. I would also shoot rats with my .22 rifle… At school I was often in trouble with the nuns. I had a very hard time with them and received lots of physical abuse and corporal punishment. I later went to Serra High School where the priests were just as bad if not worse, and ten years after I left there was an abuse scandal there that made the news. I was often involved in minor mischief and pranks such as food fights etc, but I wasn’t a bad kid – that kind of mischievous stuff helped me deal with the unbelievable drudgery that school seemed to offer me most of the time.”
Although he was raised Catholic and the family would attend mass on Sundays, Mike was not religious and by his sophomore year in high school he had stopped going. “My family really only went for the ‘8th Sacrament’ – ‘Bingo at the church on Friday evenings’! I was pretty outgoing as a teenager and had always played lots of sport – Pee Wee football and little league baseball, and later wrestling. Then, when I was about fifteen, I not only stopped going to the church but I also quit sports. I was at this all-boys school and I now discovered girls. I gave up on the smelly locker rooms and started dating girls. I still got my studying at school done though and was on the honor roll for my final three years at high school. I enjoyed history and the sciences and maintained a B average before graduating in 1968, although they only let me graduate when I had cut my hair, shaved my sideburns and moustache, and went one more time to confession!”
In the summer of 1966 Mike and John Loomis, a best friend from school since 1959, had hitchhiked all over the western United States, working on farms to supplement their trip, sleeping in barns and garages, and earning the minimum wage at the time – $1.25 hr. “The people we worked for fed us like kings though, especially the Mormons in Idaho. We were only sixteen or so but my parents were not strict on things like that and didn’t mind us going. Besides, times were different then and it was not regarded as too dangerous like it would be now. The following summer I worked at an A & W store and saved enough money to buy myself a motorbike. I had always worked various jobs during the school holidays – stocking shelves in a liquor store, a busboy and dishwasher at a restaurant, where I got to join the Culinary Workers Union, and then in the summer after graduating I started for the City of San Mateo in the civil engineering department as a pipe survey worker. I had always been encouraged to support myself by my parents and they encouraged any kind of independence shown by me. However, when I refused to cut my hair at the age of seventeen, they threw me out of the house!”
Mike lived in a house in San Mateo with friends and for the next two years attended the College of San Mateo (C.S.M.) before transferring to U.C. Berkeley in the fall of 1970 where his major was Agricultural Science but he only stayed there for one quarter. “I had met Arlene Botham in my chemistry class at C.S.M. and we were married in 1970, despite the fact that her parents thought I was a bad ‘catch’. I got a job for a time working on the oil slick that was out on Stinson beach in Marin and had $3000 saved up. We decided we wanted to travel while we could – before raising a family and careers took over – so in 1971 we went to Europe on our ‘honeymoon’, backpacking for nine months on what turned out to be a mind-blowing experience. We hitched everywhere and paid $2 a night for hotels. I am still in contact with some of the friends I made back then. However, Arlene got pregnant and we came back to the Bay Area. We couldn’t find anything affordable to rent so we bought a Dodge pick-up for $400 and headed north…”
Back in 1969 Mike had camped for a couple of weeks at the 4.85 mile marker of Hwy 128 on the Navarro River north of Anderson Valley and, so having experienced the rural regions of western Europe, he and Arlene now thought they wanted to be part of the back-to-the-land movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s. “We drove through the Valley on October 8th, 1971 and spent the night out on the coast in Albion. The next day we drove back through and stopped at the T.J. Nelson Realty office. I still had money left from our European trip as we had only spent about $1000 of my savings from the oil spill over there because I’d worked in Germany in construction for a time. We found a rental on Lambert Lane and moved in for $135 a month with Steve Tylicki and his wife Clarissa as our neighbors. Another neighbor was Alvin Ingram who was always giving us good advice. That first Christmas was really hard. I had no job, little food, and it rained really heavily – we got between sixty and seventy inches that winter. I scrounged firewood on the river but our house was very cold still. It was miserable. One bright thing was that we received an anonymous Xmas card with $100 inside it – a lot of money back then. We never did find out who that was from but it told us a lot about the new community we had joined here in the Valley.”
As for the continuing war in Vietnam, Mike had received a 2S deferment but by 1972 he was now assigned 1A. “I just hoped they didn’t call me up. I would not have gone anyway and probably would have gone to Canada. By that time they were getting a 50 % refusal rate and I was strongly against the war… Unless you did logging or worked at the Clearwater Ranch School for disturbed kids, there was not much work around here but I gradually found some jobs. My first job was for Willis Tucker splitting wood, and then I earned $2 hr for hard labor in the apple orchards for Lucille Hotel, and I also became a handyman for various elderly folks such as Iva Richmond, Stella Croft, and Grace Whiting… I had lot to learn about country life and I remember trying to plant a garden in October with old-timer Phoecian McGimpsey watching me and chuckling to himself. The only people I got to know in the early days who were similar to me in being ‘new-age types’ were Mike Shapiro and Doug Johnson. However, I was generally welcomed by the locals, particularly Berna Walker, who worked at the Post Office in Boonville was always very nice to me… Our son Sean was born in April 1972 in Ukiah and at that point my mother-in-law and I patched up our differences to some degree. She never did like me though – I was olive-skinned, had no money, had long hair; not at all like the doctor or lawyer she was hoping her daughter would marry. I was just a hippy with no prospects.”
As an unskilled laborer, Mike began working for John Burroughs Construction at $3 hr. “I wanted to work. I enjoyed working. I had been floating around looking for a career and by default I found myself in construction but during one winter, when there was no construction work, I did tree planting for Masonite. I did odd jobs for Bob Mathias, including moving his azaleas on to his property, and was a general handyman helping whoever needed it, and in later years I would go mushrooming with Bob ‘Chipmunk’ Glover. I also started to get politically active and with the likes of Brad Wiley and Steve Tylicki, I was on the protests to stop P.G.& E from putting in a nuclear power plant in Point Arena. The A.V.A. publisher and editor, Homer Mannix was away at the time and we put a story about the damage such a place would cause on the front page of his newspaper. He did not like that and it caused some controversy but in the end the fact that it was on an earthquake fault line put a stop to it anyway… It was during those days that I also became fanatical about my fishing and would often go out for abalone with Harold Hulbert.”
Having rented for five years, by 1976 Mike had saved enough money to buy the property on Lambert Lane and purchased the 1½ acres with two houses on it for $24,000. This gave him some rental income and he was able to pay it off in four years, with Kay Clow generously waiving the pre-payment penalty… He began his organic garden around then – one of the first of its kind at the time, initially working with Steve Tylicki and using fertilizer they got from Ernie Waggoner and Bill West who were fairground employees… With his five years of experience he was able to join the Carpenters’ Union in 1978 as a journeyman and began to earn $13.67 hr plus benefits, up from $5.50 hr as he worked at the Elementary School, on bridges, at hospitals but Mike was never year-round and had no retirement benefits other than an annuity on the house.
He continued his political activism into the early eighties and in 1981 joined the Abalone Alliance, forming the Anderson Valley branch specifically to stop the nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon. “I was at the protest and was arrested and put in jail for three days for ‘failing to disperse’. That was o.k. – Jackson Browne was also arrested on the third day and played for us with a guitar that the guards had brought in for him. I was also at the big protest at Livermore in 1983 where they were developing weapons of mass destruction. I was a real idealist at the time and was in jail for ten days on that occasion, initially going on a five-day hunger strike. That was a big protest and people such as Daniel Ellsberg and Wavey Gravy showed up and we were all kept in a big circus tent and had lectures and talent contests. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and then they did not hear our case. I was busted for trespassing – just for singing songs and sitting in the street.”
Throughout the eighties Mike continued to work in construction, primarily for John Burroughs. He bought more property in 1981 and then again in 1987, putting rental houses on both. In his leisure time fishing completely dominated his time as he fished on a boat called ‘The Miss Demeanor’ out of Albion that was owned by Ken Oswald, with friend Wally Hopkins also on board. “We’d catch salmon, tuna, rockfish and there were few rules and regulations like there are now. By 1997, we had another boat, a former commercial fishing trawler out of Ft. Bragg – ‘The Jeanine’ and we’d go after crab as well as fish. Those days were very special, an unrepeatable, once-in-a-lifetime experience and fishing had become an all-encompassing hobby for me.”
That fishing obsession played a big part in the break-up of his marriage to Arlene. “We parted ways after twenty-seven years in 1997, getting divorced in 1999. My fishing was certainly to blame to some degree – I was obsessed and it took up all of my time when not working. Arlene was a very dedicated teacher at the elementary school; a very serious teacher and she would often be stressed out. Our relationship was just not working anymore. She threw Sean out of the house when he was seventeen and he had to move to Ukiah and go to the high school there for his last two years. He had attended the high school here and had some great friends – Ben Anderson, Jason Paige, Guy Gephardt. They were known as The Tunnel Rats as they used to follow the culvert at Robinson Creek that ran from the school into Boonville, scaring people from the storm drains beneath the street. This was a great place to raise a kid. Sean went on to U.C. Santa Cruz, then got his M.B.A. at Pepperdine in southern California, and now works for Charles Schwab in Santa Ana down there.”
The recession slowed things down in the construction business but Mike continued to get about 75% of his work with John Burroughs’s construction company, mainly building house in the Valley, although he has often found himself working beyond, including jobs at Outlook Creek Bridge in Willits and in Ukiah at the Adventist Hospital, the cafeteria at Mendocino College, and J.C. Penny’s department store. “They were all union jobs and I have always been well-paid by John, and when not working in construction my garden has also kept me busy for years and years.”
Mike is not into joining organizations, although he is a member of The Grange, and has not directly been involved in many community fund-raising events, preferring to help people on a more personal, one-to-one basis, such as Mike Langley in recent times. “I have been very fortunate to have had a full-life so far and being here in Anderson Valley has greatly helped in achieving that. I read Maurice Tindall’s book, ‘Down to Earth’ which captured the essence of this Valley’s history and that has inspired me over the years… In 1979 I had briefly met Sheila Morgan at a funeral for the boyfriend of a friend of mine, Linda Newton. She had gone to Hillsdale High down in San Mateo and was a friend of Linda’s. Linda then moved to the Valley and Sheila had visited her here many times over the years but we had never really met. However, in 2002 we formally met for the first time and hit it off right away. She was living in Markleeville in Alpine County, California’s least populated county, about 250 miles away, so we dated long distance for about a year before she retired from her librarian job there and moved here in June of 2003… Speaking of friends that moved here who we’d known down in San Mateo, I must mention Wayne Ahrens and his sister Patty. I think they both went to Hillsdale too, and it was Wayne who had taught me how to surf.”
“I love the relative peace and quiet of the Valley, and watching the seasons change. Being close to the ocean has meant that living here has been the source of real adventure for me. I still go out on the ocean and have seen many wonderful things there – the dolphins’ migration, the albatross swooping, literally thousands of tune jumping, and that’s no bull either… I’ve caught some pretty good ones – a 48-pound salmon and a 42-pound tuna, are the biggest. It’s all been great – even dealing with my nemesis – Bull Rock in Albion – now that has given me some scary times.”
“What I don’t like is that the amount of trash here is getting worse. Plus, people do not have as much respect for others that they used to have, although that is a problem everywhere. It’s also a lot noisier these days, and there are far more bad drivers – too many of them on the phone. The amount of racism here is getting less though, thankfully. I remember it was still legal in Ukiah as late as 1971 to have segregation in the movie house where the upstairs was for the Indians – they could not sit downstairs. I got into a confrontation about that with the manager over there.”
I asked Mike for his opinions on a few Valley issues… The wineries and their impact? – “Well they are better than sub-divisions and have provided a lot of work for me personally. Overall I think they have been beneficial to the Valley and it was not until this last few years that the fishing was really affected. A lot of damage had already been done by then, by road building, logging, and the resulting silting of the spawning grounds. I have been told that there were so many salmon in Con Creek in the fifties that you could walk across the water and I can tell you that I caught a nine-pound steelhead on Lambert Lane creek in the seventies”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I like the leftist perspective but it does get a little gossipy at times. I used to subscribe”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I don’t listen to it. There is too much talking by self-anointed experts”… The school system? – “I think it is somewhere between good and excellent. There are lots of people working really hard there and we should not be too critical of teachers. They deserve their summers off in order to maintain their sanity. The school is one of the best things about the Valley in my opinion”… Drugs in the Valley? – “Well obviously I hate meth, and cocaine too, which rarely gets talked about here but is around a lot, I think. As for marijuana, it should be legal and I am all for Proposition 19 in the upcoming vote. We should not have prohibition on alcohol or weed”… The changes in the Valley? – “Overall I think they have been positive. There was nothing here when I arrived, it was very depressed and the renaissance in recent times has been for the better.”
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…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Sitting under the stars at night in my hot tub… Or being out on blue water a couple of times a month, although in eight trips this year on the ocean we have caught just four salmon.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Right wing politicians and evangelical religious fanatics being pushed on me really bums me out. I can’t stand Fox News or those phony preachers on television.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “A quail talking; birds singing and calling in general.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “Boom boxes playing on the street so loud that the house shakes inside.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “Crab Louie that I have caught at 10-mile with Harold Hulbert, John Burroughs, and Jed Adams.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “President Kennedy – a man I always admired… His brother Robert, too – it was certainly a low point in this country’s history when he died. A lot of us were hoping he’d stop the war. I couldn’t even vote and they could send me to war! It’s always struck me as strange that there hasn’t been any interview with his assassin, Sirhan Sirhan?”
7.If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “My fishing pole, a couple of family photo albums, and my guitar.”
8.Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “Well I have always admired the film ‘2001- Space Odyssey’ – a new style of film when it came out… As for a song, how about ‘Stairway to Heaven’ by Led Zeppelin?… And a book would certainly be the one I mentioned earlier by Maurice Tindall.”
9.What is a smell you really like? – “The salt air.”
10.What is your favorite hobby? – “Fishing and panning or prospecting for gold and minerals.”
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 oceanographer.”
12.What profession would you not like to do? – “Working in an office under lights, wearing a suit – utter torture.”
13.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “When my son was born – 6am, April 23rd, 1972.”
14.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “When my Mom passed away at the age of 62 in January 1987.”
15.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I am very tenacious and will stick with whatever needs to be done. I don’t give up easily and will pursue my goal through hardship or whatever.”
16.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well if he were to say’ Welcome Mike – there is sex here in heaven even though those nuns said there wasn’t!’ that would do me. A buddy of mine always said he wanted to go to hell because that’s where all the loose women were…”

Published in: on September 30, 2010 at 7:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Doug Johnson – September 10th, 2010

I met with Doug at his property just south of Navarro where he has several showrooms full of his pottery along with the very quaint house where he lives. He made a pot of strong coffee and served up some delicious ‘Tomato Breakfast Pie’ and we sat down to chat…
Doug was born in 1950 in Berkeley, California, to parents Robert Johnson and Georgette Tagg. “I really don’t know much about my heritage. I do know my grandfather Johnson worked as a welder on the making of submarines and his wife, my grandmother, was a seamstress whose parents were dairy farmers in southern California. I know even less about my Mother’s side – except they were of English/Irish descent and before moving to Walnut Creek in the East Bay, they were originally from Oregon where they owned a movie theatre and a candy store.”
Doug’s parents were both graduates of Acalanes High School in Lafayette who met after graduating – his father was five years older. Doug has a brother, Steve, two years older and another brother, Rob, thirteen years younger. Doug was initially raised in rural Pleasant Hill in the East Bay but when he was seven, the family moved to Oakland where his parents had bought a grocery store. After renting there for two years they bought a house in nearby Orinda and that is where Doug attended grammar and high school. “I was the worst student but my parents were wonderful and understanding, My Dad once said to me – ‘We don’t care if you don’t get A’s and B’s but just get C’s’ but I didn’t even manage that and eventually flunked. Coincidentally, I was in a class with Leslie Hummel who now owns ‘All that Good Stuff’ in Boonville although we did not know each other at the time. I was the class clown and was always in some sort of trouble; not anything serious just silly stuff. My best friend, John White, and I would cut classes to go on some peace march – there were lots in the area at that time, 1967/68, and then we’d get suspended for the next day too – but we’d already have a fishing trip planned for that day! This worked well for a time until they got wise to it and then we were kept in school. One day in my final year at Campolindo High School I noticed a ceramics wheel in the corner of the craft classroom. I had never seen anyone working on it so I tried. I fell in love with it and never looked back – that was forty-three years ago. My grandmother Tagg, who was a piano teacher and who gave me lessons at the age of four, also happened to be a hobbyist potter and had her own little kiln from which she made hand and foot prints and pots out of clay.”
“I had a good childhood. My parents had a pool and I was always playing outside. My grandfather, George Tagg, was the projectionist at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland for nearly forty years and we’d always go to the front of the line and be let in first for the movies that were showing – it was fun to feel important… From the age of thirteen I worked at my parents’ grocery store three days a week after school and on Saturdays too, so by sixteen I had quite a bit of money saved and could buy my own sports car. I smoked pot like everyone else and managed to flunk American government at school and therefore failed to graduate on time in 1968. It was not my fault! The teacher was so boring and I ended up sleeping a lot in the class.”
Doug then attended Diablo Valley College where much to his mother’s joy he completed his high school diploma (“I never needed it”) and studied political science but, by the third year at the college, he was doing ceramics only. “I had an apartment with my brother Steve and a friend Chris Zimmerman but in 1970 I married my high school sweetheart, Kris Shaff. I was twenty, she was eighteen, and we lived in an apartment in Oakland. My father had always talked about living in the country and, with us having little money in the early days, all of our family vacations had been backpacking and camping. As a result I loved the country and always thought it would be a better place to live than the city.”
“Kris and I had visited my friend John White, my buddy from high school, who was working at the Clearwater Ranch residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed kids in Anderson Valley. We loved the area and so in the fall of 1971 when John told us we would have a fairly good chance of getting a job there we moved up tom the Valley. We had $140, which was two month’s rent for a two-bedroom mill shack on Big Oaks Drive in Yorkville owned by Fayne and Evelyn Hanes. My parents stocked us up with lots of dry goods before we left so we had some provisions and then almost immediately Kris got a job as a counselor at Clearwater and I was hired as ceramics teacher there too. We stayed in Yorkville for several months before moving into the ranch house at Clearwater where I stayed for about six more months.”
Mary Cathcart, who hired Doug, was fired about six months after Doug started and the new person in charge, Gordon Bear, decided there was no money or space for ceramics and many other of the arts so Doug became a counselor and then a teachers aid for a couple of years. During that time he and Kris broke up and he moved to a rental he shared with Kathy Bailey on Blattner Road in Philo. For a time in 1973, after the breakup, Doug would travel down to the Bay Area on Saturday evenings and work at his parents store all day Sunday for $60 and then come back up. They would always send him back with meat from their butcher and groceries at half price but after six months of this he returned full-time to the Valley, living initially in Navarro behind the Navarro Store with John ‘Pogo’ Moats. In 1974 he met Kristy Gould at a party at the Philo Foothills Ranch and they started dating. “She was a fellow potter and there was a real attraction between us. Pottery was my consuming passion; it was my thing in life. Kristen was learning and studying it and was really into it too. We moved in together just outside Navarro on Hwy 128, where Dave Dart now lives, and opened Pepperwood Pottery. I am not a businessman so she did the business side of things as well as some of the pottery. We were together for thirteen years…”
The seventies saw the early days of many of the current wineries in the Valley and they would hire locals to pick at harvest time. “They would give you a drink at the end of each row as a bonus. My friends Tom English and Wayne Ahrens were at Edmeades and they had a great time. Not surprisingly, the wineries stopped that practice after a couple of years. Meanwhile I would supplement my pottery income by planting trees for Masonite in the winters. I was on Tom’s crew for three years and then had my own crew in my final year on that job… Some other friends of mine, Richard and Teresa Piedmont, had property for sale next to Perry Gulch that was originally an old chicken farm owned by the Pinoli family, and in 1977 Kristy bought the half-acre parcel and we moved the Pepperwood Pottery business here, where I have lived to this day. We had no highway frontage at first so Wayne made us a sign that stood for years. The extra money from tree planting had also meant I was able to buy forty acres of raw land on Clow Ridge for $17,500 in 1978 and put up a cabin and dug a well.”
Meanwhile, while being very enjoyable, the pottery business provided only a meager income for many years. “It was not great and going to craft shows in a VW bus and pick-up truck, loading up all your things before and after, was a hard way to make a living. In 1980, after four years of that, we opened a shop in Mendocino on Main Street where ‘Creative Hands’ is now, and where we remained for six years. It was a good move. We went from the craft show scene, where you never knew if you would do any business or not, to getting a steady income. However, in 1986 Kristy and I split up. She wanted to go to the City so I sold my forty-acre piece and I bought her out of this property here, adding more land over time and renovating the buildings etc.”
For a year Doug wasn’t sure what to do as he kept the business going alone but then he saw an ad for a realty job with Mike Shapiro at North Country Real Estate. “Mike was an old friend and we talked. I said I’d get my license if he held the job for me. He did and I started work there in 1987… Real estate was a good change for me. I found that I could make some money and still do some pottery and now I was able to keep the stuff I made for myself and it was always in my heart to return to pottery one day.”
For a couple of years Doug worked full-time for North Country out of the office at the old gas station alongside Rossi’s Hardware Store in the heart of Boonville. “However, working down there in the office could be very boring so in 1989 we agreed that I would work from home for less money but where I could continue to work on my pottery and then respond to any realty calls that came in. I had made many contacts in the Valley and had many referrals so it worked out really nicely that way – I was able to make a nice living selling real estate while still doing my pottery.”
Doug was driven by his pottery but managed to have a good social life when not working, attending many dances in the Valley (he is known amongst some as ‘Dancing Bear’), playing volleyball in the gym with the same people for many years, enjoying the local restaurants and bars, and more recently the live music scene in Navarro that is just a couple of minutes from his home… He was with Mike Shapiro for nineteen years until four years ago in 2006 he underwent major ankle surgery and called it quits. “The real estate job was originally just a five-year plan – it changed. I really enjoyed the job. Most people looking for a home are having a great time and I’d get to see so many wonderful properties. However, I’d always planned to be a full-time potter and now that’s all I do. The new sign on Hwy 128 works well and we have a website up that needs more work but it helps also. I have several small showrooms here at the property and things are going quite well. I have five kilns now, three of which are fired every week as I’m always adding to inventory as things are sold, and I also have a much wider range of products these days. I work on something nearly every day but ultimately I just love throwing pots – it’s my favorite part of the process.”
Doug has been in the Valley for nearly forty years now and has no plans to leave, although, like many others, the upkeep of his property sometimes gets in the way of other things he’d rather be doing… “I love the people in this Valley and I have many friends here. It’s a really good community. I do love to get away sometimes and one of my favorite things to do is to go fishing in Haines, Alaska with that old school friend, John White. It’s phenomenal fishing up there and I recently went with Dennis and Palmer Toohey from the Valley, but to live there during the winter would be very tough. Fishing in the Valley has really gone downhill a lot in recent years. I remember how great it was catching steelhead on the Navarro River etc. It’s too bad. Crabbing still happens in Big River and rock fishing can be done year round but for me diving for abalone is about all I do around here now… Apart from that I have traveled quite a lot – Europe a few times, Egypt with my Mom, Mexico several times, Costa Rica, Panama, and many fishing trips with the ‘Mendocino Fishing Team’ of Dennis Toohey and John Buckner – I just love to fish… However, pottery is the thing for me. Day and night, it’s like living my dream, my real passion. I read about it and I’m constantly thinking about what I can do next. It’s still very exciting to this day and there is an endless amount of things to do or experiment with for the rest of my life. It’s like opening Christmas presents all the time – very exciting.”
I asked Doug for his responses to some of the issues often discussed by Valley folks… The wineries and their impact? – “For me personally they have been really good. They bring people here and my business is often with the same people. The vineyards look really beautiful and having grapes is better than having houses. The water usage is certainly a concern though. It seems like there is a lot of water going to waste here too, and it’s not just by the wineries”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I like it and buy it every week. There’s a lot I don’t read and I’m not really into politics but I do enjoy all the local stuff”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I never listen any more. I listen to The Coast radio station – 95.3FM”… The changes in the Valley? – “Well in my time here there have been some really big changes but I like what has happened”… The drugs in the Valley? – “I have no problem with marijuana at all but the methamphetamine situation is bad. It is a horrible drug and hopefully we can get rid of it.”
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 Doug’s answers interesting…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Pottery… Music too – I like to play guitar and sing.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Nothing really bothers me.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “Birds singing; old rock ‘n’ roll or folk music.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “Heavy metal music.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “Salmon.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “President Obama.”
7.If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “My guitar, my potters wheel, and some clay.”
8.Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “Ireland.”
9.Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “I loved ‘Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightly and went out and bought the book by Jane Austen… I read mainly ceramics books and love when my ‘Ceramics Monthly’ magazine arrives.”
10.What is a smell you really like? – “Narcissus.”
11.What is your favorite hobby? – “Fishing.”
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 singer/songwriter.”
13.What profession would you not like to do? – “Working at Philo Mill!”
14.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “The day I was born!”
15.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “When my parents died – my mother passed two-and-a-half years ago and my father fifteen years ago. Many years ago they had moved to Mt Shasta and had a grocery store there. They never really liked it though so they went to Chico where they lived for seventeen years before my Dad died. My mother then went back to her roots in Walnut Creek in the East Bay… My brother Steve is a retired schoolteacher (Ukiah H.S.) in Redwood Valley and brother Rob has a dog-grooming business in Napa.”
16.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I have an easy-going personality…That I am very creative with my hands and a good ceramic artist.”
17.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Come in, Doug, you are very welcome.”

Published in: on September 23, 2010 at 8:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Betsy Taylor – September 4th, 2010

I met with Betsy at her home on Vista Ranch behind the Breggo Cellars Winery a week or so ago and we sat down to talk…
She was born in 1945 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the hospital where her mother, Rosemary Fleming, was a registered nurse. At the time, her father, Boyd Bell, was with the U.S. Marines on Iwo Jima. Both sides of her family were of Scottish/Irish/German descent that had been in the States for many generations (the paternal side since before the War of Independence) and were keen members of the Presbyterian Church. Her parents had met when at Penn State University where both were in the choir. “My parents were both musically inclined – my mother was a piano player and my father a very good tenor who perhaps could have been a professional singer but decided he didn’t want to make a living with his voice, preferring to be a farmer instead.”
Betsy was the oldest of four with two younger brothers, Raymond and Tom, and a younger sister, Marily. The family grew up near to Penn State University in the borough of State College, PA, and her father worked for Eastern States Fertilizer and Pesticides while Betsy’s Mom did some nursing in between raising the four children. “When I was two, my parents had lost a baby who was 8-months old. That was very hard on them and the Church was very helpful to them through those times. So much so that they decided they wanted to become missionaries. My Dad was not satisfied with his job and so grabbed the chance when offered a job in the Philippines as a missionary and teacher of agriculture at a university. They were not holy-rollers up until that point although religion and our church was certainly important to them and they had all the Christian values. So when I was three we moved and Dad started his job at Silliman University on one of the Philippine islands and Mom worked there too, as a nurse. It was the beginning of many years of great happiness for us all and I was there until I turned thirteen, apart from one year spent back in the States.”
In 1954, the family, now with three more children who were born abroad, returned to the States for a year in which Betsy attended 4th grade in State College. “I have very good memories of that time. I got to see snow for the first time, television too. My parents got the refresher they needed and spent the time visiting churches and speaking about their experiences in the Philippines. After a year, we returned to the Far East to Dumaguete, a good-sized city, and I went to the school there that was part of the college there. (Coincidentally, a couple of years ago we had a student at the high school in the Valley called Orianne McEwen who was from Dumaguete). Most teachers at the college sent their kids to the International school so I was the only white kid in my school… It was a very lush and beautiful place to live and the people were so warm and gracious. My-pre-teen years were idyllic – I had many good friends, enjoyed school, swam in the ocean, and played on the beach. I understood the local dialect but couldn’t speak it. I spoke English with a Philippine accent and was certainly an outsider who was accepted. As a result of this experience, I feel I can relate to the kids at our school here who have moved here from Mexico. We Americans were appreciated at the time but eventually it was time to let them control their own country and it was time to leave.”
In 1959, when Betsy was thirteen, her mother became unwell and the family decided it was best to return to the States and so they came back to Pennsylvania. “We moved in with my grandparents and I was in shock as I entered 9th grade. I knew very little about western ways and of how to be a teenager in the States. I was lonely and missed my friends. I remember with great clarity when I realized for the first time what prejudice was about. I was looking at photos of my friends in the Philippines and I saw them in a different way for the first time – they were dark-skinned and different. This is how my new friends in the States would see them and I had never thought about them in that way. They were just my friends. I cried. I missed them; they were not part of my world now.”
Betsy made some new friends but after a year the family moved again. Her father felt the church had helped the family so much that he wanted to be a lay-preacher for them. He was offered a position at a church on an Indian Reservation in Arizona – The Mojave Presbyterian Church in the town of Parker. “We moved to the reservation and I went to Parker High School – it was 115 degrees on my first day… My father changed the name of the church to Parker Valley Unified Presbyterian Church to attract a larger and broader congregation and he was quite successful. He endeared himself to the Native Americans by accepting some of their own religious practices and he eventually earned their respect. They were wonderful people with a great sense of humor and theirs was a culture I got to enjoy and respect. My mother worked full-time at the Indian hospital. My parents were strict about homework but we had a fair allowance and I worked in a job at a drugstore that served burgers and coffee etc for extra money. They were very supportive and wanted us kids to strive for what we wanted to do – to figure that out and go for it – that was the way this country was in the fifties and early sixties… Also, for the first time, I began to enjoy school. I really started to study seriously and was soon getting all A’s – I had never thought of myself as an intelligent person before that. I earned a reputation as a good student and was Valedictorian of my class. I enjoyed Math and Science – I didn’t enjoy English yet now I teach it! It was a small school, just a little bigger than Anderson Valley, and music soon became my favorite subject. I had been singing since I was a small child – the whole family loved music and we’d sit around the piano and sing for fun. I sang solo through high school and also learned the violin and clarinet. I had been thinking about nursing as a career but received a voice scholarship to attend Arizona State and so after graduating in 1963 I went to Tempe, about three hours away, with music performance as my major.”
“In retrospect, a degree in music is not going to give anyone a good living although I would not change a thing about studying it and I really loved my years at college. As a freshman I discovered opera and had a tiny part in a one-act opera. I thought it was fantastic and really focused on it for the next couple of years. During one of those summers I had a scholarship to attend a music program studying voice and performance and worked with coaches for the first time. It was a significant move because in my junior year I had the lead role in ‘La Traviata’ at Arizona State.”
As she immersed herself in opera Betsy was quite oblivious to the political goings-on at the time. After her junior year, in August 1966, she was married to Everett Taylor a young man who was a year older from the same high school in Parker. He had attended the R.O.T.C. at Arizona State and was on his way to Vietnam in the fall of 1967 as a 2nd Lieutenant. However, there was some confusion with his paperwork and he was held back and sent for training to Baltimore before being transferred to The Presidio in San Francisco. Betsy left school before graduating and followed her husband. “So instead of having a young husband fighting in Vietnam, I had one working in the army in San Francisco and as a budding opera singer that was heaven to me – you had to be either there or New York to make a real career of it.”
Betsy found a job with the office of Housing and Urban Development and she and Everett lived in officers housing on the Presidio base. In the evenings, Betsy continued to be coached and her teacher, who was the music director at the Calvary Presbyterian Church in the City, hired her as the church soloist. Meanwhile, Everett was in the survivor assistance office which meant he had to help/support the bereaved families as they dealt with the loss of loved ones in the war. “We attended so many funerals – he knew every cemetery in the Bay Area, I think. He almost had a breakdown but he came through it and eventually got his doctorate in counseling psychology. That whole period was a real life lesson for us.”
Betsy and Everett left San Francisco in 1969 so that he could work on his masters at Arizona State where Betsy worked full-time as the secretary to the Dean of Social Work. She then finished her Bachelors degree and went on to get her Masters in Voice Performance and Pedagogy – so she could teach this subject. She then went on to perform two roles at The Oberlin Music Festival in Ohio in the summer of 1972 and a leading role for the Arizona Opera Company in Tuscon in the fall of 1973.
In 1974, Betsy auditioned in San Francisco for a Rockefeller Grant to receive further voice lessons. She got the grant and moved to New York to study, living in Connecticut where Everett became the director of the suicide hotline and Betsy commuted to her studies in New York. “I had a wonderful teacher and made great progress, being hired to sing in a couple of operas that summer in Des Monies, Iowa and also getting a leading role in ‘The Magic Flute’ for the Arizona Opera once again. We moved back to Tempe in the late fall of 1974 for Everett to get finish up his doctorate.”
Betsy was trying to get her career going on a more sound footing but over the next year it was increasingly hard to get hired regularly unless you were living in S.F. or New York. At that point Everett was basically saying either her career had to take off soon or the marriage was in trouble. They both agreed that Betsy needed to go to New York to achieve this, which she did, alone, in January 1976. “It was really scary for a few days but I did get to know a few other singers and then after three weeks I got a call from the Western Opera Company (the touring arm of the S.F. Opera) to perform a role I’d done in Arizona. I went to S.F. and had a great time. It was opera all day, every day; working with other young singers and touring with the company. That spring we went to Alaska on tour and that was the most incredible experience. We even got to sing for the guys working on the pipeline and all told we were there for six weeks or more through May. It was one of the highlights of my life.”
During these heady days, Betsy had fallen for a younger stagehand, Jim Allen, but when the tour was over she found work as the administrative assistant and stage director for an opera in Rochester, New York and then returned to New York City where she became quite miserable as the opera work dried up. To make things worse, in early 1977 when she re-applied (as you have to do every year) for a position in the company with which she had been on the Alaska tour etc, she did not get accepted. “My voice seemed to be affected by my being in New York. I foresaw myself getting a series of temporary jobs and walking the streets looking for work – and there was a soprano on every corner in New York! I returned to San Francisco, via Tempe where I realized that my husband and I could not get back together. I felt I’d changed and that the marriage was over for good. I really wanted it to work but a part of me had come alive and if I went back with Everett that part would die. In S.F., I moved in with the Jim and we were married. I got a series of secretarial jobs based on the typing I’d learned in high school and I then got a job at the same Calvary Presbyterian Church – this time as the secretary. I stayed there for several years and really became a part of the church community. I attended the services but more for the singing than the religion, although I was definitely a Christian at that point.”
Betsy found work with different local opera companies in the Bay Area such as Scala, The S.F. Spring Opera, and The West Bay Opera Company. She performed more and more concerts at the church, did more solos for the operas, and her career grew. In 1980 she performed ‘La Traviata’ with the West Bay Opera, then ‘La Boheme’ in Monterrey, and was pregnant when she was performing in S.F. that fall. However, complications arose with the pregnancy and she had to quit work some time before her son Justin was born in November of that year. She was contracted to perform in ‘La Boheme’ in March 1981 which she did while her mother watched Justin.
“That was an unsuccessful opera and I only got a trickle of work after that over the next few years. I was at home with Justin and Jim was gone a lot at that time with his work on various film sets and by 1985 our marriage was not going well. I was not brave enough to leave so he did. I was now a single Mom living in San Rafael, Marin. It got tougher and tougher and I basically fell apart. I was quite depressed for three years and didn’t really know how to support myself, my child, and the house – I’d never done it before.”
Eventually, with Justin attending the local Montessori School, Betsy healed herself through her involvement there and in getting more interested in child development. She still did a little singing but had no time for operas. By 1991 she had become the administrator of the school and had become very good friends with the teachers. She also became involved with environmental and political issues – “I guess I finally just got educated. It was a gift to me that Jim had left – I finally grew up. Christianity hadn’t helped and I turned to Buddhism for a time. After that, and ever since, I decided I was going to be in the Church of Divine Ignorance.”
One of her teacher friends, Bridget Graham, had grown up in the Valley and her mother was living on the Holmes Ranch sub-division. In 1993, along with Bridget and her partner Andrew Lehman, who lived on the Yorkville Ranch, Betsy bought property in Yorkville and moved up here, taking Justin out of school as he was going into 7th grade. “I wanted to do things to ‘save the planet’ and so my city-living skateboarding son had to now live on a hill in the country – he was not happy… I had visited the Valley before to see Bridget’s mother, Janet Seaforth, and gone to Hendy Woods, but I thought it was pretty isolated and that Lemons’ Market was the end of the world and where civilization began… There was nothing on the 160 acres and we lived in tents. By 1995 however I had a straw bale house and had got to know a few people, such as our neighbor Fred Wooley. It took Justin quite a time to get used to his new school but gradually we both settled in and I became a substitute teacher at the Elementary and High School. I was really scared at first but discovered that I could do it, although I kept putting off getting my teaching credential.”
Betsy joined the Valley’s Community Chorus in 1994 and met many people through that over the next thirteen years – friends such as Doug Read, Lauren Keating, Janet Anderson, Gail Meyer, Barbara Lamb, Robert Waring, and many others. Her first really close friend here was Patty Narrin, the mother of Nick Birch, who was friends with Justin at the school. “Eventually I found that I had a place I could call ‘home’ for the first time since I had lived in the Philippines about thirty five years before.”
For a year she worked for Jack Graves at the Life Works group home where she learned a lot but ultimately it was too tense and doing so many extra things such as cooking and driving was not what she wanted to do. Betsy finally decided to get her teaching credential and did so over a year at Dominican College in Marin County, during which time she was renting a room from Leslie Hummel who became her other very good best friend. “I thought that I had a lot to offer the kids. I had traveled a lot and done a variety of different jobs. Music was not the right thing for me to teach though. It requires too much high energy, field trips, competitions, etc. Plus it is not high on the school district’s priority list. I decided I’d teach English instead. I was very lucky to be a student teacher with Kim Campbell and David Rounds – two great teachers, and in 2000 I was hired to work at the Junior High School with Mary O’Brien who mentored me –I was really lucky to work with her too.”
That same year Betsy decided to sell her portion of the Yorkville property and bought just less than four acres on the Vista Ranch where she lives today. Her mother, Rosemary Bell, moved in with her and became a part of the community and Betsy got to meet a bunch of new people also. Sadly Rosemary died in 2005 but Betsy is very glad they had the time here together.
“I now teach English and reading at the junior high and also A.V.I.D. – the course to prepare the juniors and seniors at the high school for college. I finally feel like I know how to do it. It’s a talent and a skill that can be developed. Teaching full-time meant I could no longer do the choir too so I left in 2007 but I had picked up the violin again and got hooked. I took lessons and now play with the Symphony of the Redwoods. I also play in a trio with pianist Pippa Thomas and a cellist from the coast – classical music has been brought back to life for me. I have done a couple of operas on the coast and still have hopes to do more someday. The teaching and my music consume me and take up most of my time and so this past summer when I played in the Mendocino Music Festival’s Orchestra it was so exciting for me. However, on the Friday before school began, just a month ago, I fell and broke my arm so I’ll not be playing for quite a while….”
Her son Justin graduated from nursing school last December and is employed in Travis City, Michigan as a Registered Nurse. He is a single Dad, co-parenting with the mother of Betsy’s grandson, Quincy, who she visits twice a year. She loves the Valley but does get pressure to move to Colorado where her brother and sister live. “As long as I can physically and financially afford to be here in Anderson Valley, I want to stay. I love the quiet here and that most people know me when I go to the store. I love my friends here and will meet up with them for a movie night at Leslie’s or occasionally some champagne with Mary O’Brien at Lauren’s.”
As I always do, I asked my guest for her brief responses to some local issues… The wineries and their impact” – “Well they do provide jobs but I worry about the water and the monoculture that we have here now”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I enjoy it and am very glad we have it. It’s a nice combination of things and it’s important we keep in touch with what’s going on in the community”… The School System? – “I think we have a pretty amazing school. I know how hard the teachers work and we are lucky to have the staff that are here. The class sizes are good, the numbers going to college are very good, and the dropout rate very low. We get to really know the kids and make sure they do not fall through the cracks. We’d love for all of them to go to a four-year college with scholarships and our community has given us great support on this. My biggest wish is for the Dream Act to pass so that undocumented kids can apply for aid, prove they are good students, and then have access to citizenship… I do worry about the music program – it needs more support and should have a better status, with people understanding that it can be good for your brain and your development. It can add so much fulfillment in life.”
To end the interview, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Betsy…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – ‘A successful student in a class.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “If I feel unjustly criticized or judged, so I don’t like to do that to others.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “The wind blowing through the pine trees outside my house.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “A whistle at an indoor sports game is painful to my ears.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “The chicken tostado from Lauren’s Restaurant.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Mahatma Gandhi – my hero of the last century.”
7.If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “My violin, the tapes of my singing, and as many of my photo albums as I could have.”
8.Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “I read a lot of natural health remedy books – my ‘bible’ is ‘Prescriptions for Nutritional Healing’… As for a song, I just love the theme from the film ‘Cinema Paradiso’ – a violin solo with a piano accompaniment.”
9.What is a smell you really like? – “The first rain after a hot summer.”
10.What is your favorite hobby? – “Playing the violin.”
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? – “I would like to have been a natural healer.”
12.What profession would you not like to do? – “A politician or lawyer. I do admire some lawyers but just cannot imagine myself being one.”
13.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – Touring with the Western Opera Company… Or when my son Justin called and told me he had passed his state licensing exam.”
14.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “When my mother died. I didn’t think it was time. She was 83 but she wasn’t ready to go.”
15.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “My patience.”
16.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “My first thought is I’d want him to say ‘Everything is going to be o.k.’ because I’m a worrier. My second thought is for him to say ‘You don’t have to do all that again.’ That’s because for many years it has been a real struggle and a push for me to accept being independent. Considering how afraid I am in some ways, I am actually a pretty courageous person considering what I have accomplished – I have been a late bloomer.”

Published in: on September 16, 2010 at 4:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Lee Serrie – August 28th, 2010

I drove up the Philo-Greenwood Road to Vinegar Ridge (Signal Ridge) and met Lee at her lovely home in the woods. We sat down and she served up good strong coffee and some delicious sausage from Lemons’ Market in Philo, along with ciabatta bread and jam. (Later, I would also get to enjoy a ham sandwich on that wonderful bread too!).
Lee was born in New Jersey in 1947 but her family lived in upstate New York about an hour from Albany at the time. She and her sister Martha, who is two years older, were the two children born to Hendrick Serrie and Josephine Galietta. The Serrie’s were displaced French Huguenots who had settled in Amsterdam and worked on the barges there for several generations. Lee’s grandfather went to sea at the age of eleven but after his third ship went down and he was the sole survivor he emigrated to the States and settle in Hoboken, New Jersey where he lived and worked on the freight barges around Manhattan and New York harbor… The Galietta’s were from a small hillside community outside Naples, Italy, and Lee’s grandmother had decided at the age of sixteen that she wanted adventure so she came alone to the States to stay with an uncle in Jersey City. This was a town that had become a landing stop for many immigrants, many of who stayed for the first generation.
Lee’s father had two children with his first wife who had died and so when he married Lee’s mother in 1942, on the recommendation of a friend at the Dutch Reform Church, they came too, although they were fourteen and ten years old when Lee was born. “That same family friend at the church had introduced my father’s family to another Huguenot family upstate and my Dad went to work there as a farmhand every summer from the age of fourteen to nineteen. That family was very fond of my father and he loved the lifestyle. He went on to serve in the Navy and then returned to Jersey City where he was to own a butcher’s shop and deli from about 1930 to 1943 but he always wanted to be a gentleman farmer like the family he had worked for. He finally was able to buy a dairy farm in the area and move up there. My mother had little say in that – she had married a successful businessman and would go with him. She was a city girl but she went along with it and soon she was into her garden and canning and managed to put a smile on her face and became a good farm wife and farm manager.”
Apart from a four year spell from the age of four to eight when they sold this farm and returned to Jersey City before getting another farm close to the first one – this time a chicken farm. Lee therefore grew up on a farm and went through grade school, elementary, junior and most of high school in and around the small rural town of Breakabeen. New York. “It was similar in size to Philo and I led a sort of Huck Finn childhood, riding my pony, having fun at the swimming holes and playing on bikes. I helped on the farm and we’d plough the fields initially with two horses, Tom and Jerry, before we got our new John Deere tractor. From the age of eight I was responsible for maintaining and collecting the eggs from about one hundred chickens out of the twenty thousand we had on the farm – at one point we had the largest egg-laying operation in New York State with huge mechanized barns.”
Lee enjoyed her schooling and was a very good student. She was also in the choir and played the French horn and trumpet. While history, geography and music were her biggest interests she did play a little basketball and was very social. “I had twenty-three cousins, mostly in the city four hours drive away, but in the summers they would come to visit us. The small, tight-knit community was primarily of Dutch descent and I had little Italian influence despite my mother’s heritage… In the middle of my junior year at high school, when I was sixteen, the town and the school had all become a little too ‘small’ for me. My father enquired about sending me to a private school in the city and even though it meant giving up a lot I decided I wanted to do it. I wanted to expand my life, open new doors; I was just kind of finished there. My parents realized this and with my sister, with whom I was very close in every way (we had a huge sibling rivalry), having already left home for college, it was felt it would be best for me to go to the city. I moved into my grandmother’s four-storey house, each floor having members of the family living there, and attended Jersey Academy until my graduation in 1964.”
In the fall of 1964, Lee began her studies in the liberal arts at Antioch College, Ohio, in between Dayton and Columbus. “My major was Chinese art and literature – let me explain… My half brother was an anthropologist who had studied Chinese family structure and I had been to Taiwan on a trip with him following which I had become seriously interested in Chinese language and literature. Furthermore, my sister was at Stanford from where she would graduate and become the first registered acupuncturist in the State of California. And finally, my older (half) sister taught English at a Chinese University – we’ve never worked out why all these Chinese connections… I had a good time in college and it certainly really broadened my horizons. I was introduced to the new culture of the day for the first time – the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the various political movements of the mid-sixties; I’d never even had an avocado before then! Antioch was the first college to offer a work/study program and so I would study for about six months and then worked for six or so – one of the jobs, from April to October 1967, was for the Clearwater Ranch residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed kids in Anderson Valley! Actually, I spent most of the time in Cloverdale at their residential home there but I certainly got to know the Valley a little too at that time. It was still basically a ranch area back then and I bought a motorbike and would ride out to the Navarro River beach at weekends with other counselors. Of course that June was when San Francisco exploded and, although I was never a hippie, I visited there often and also saw my sister who was studying at Stanford… During my college days I became quite political – Antioch was very active in the anti-war and civil rights movements and I was on many marches and demonstrations and we would sometimes go to D.C. which was ten hours away… I had begun to get interested in film and Antioch became one of the first schools to get equipment for undergraduate film study – up until then it was either U.C.L.A. or New York University and only postgraduate programs. We made little films and showed them in the assembly hall on Saturday nights and by the time I graduated in 1970 they had hired their first professor of film.”
Following graduation, Lee found a job in social work in the Chinese community in New York City but soon after her sister’s husband died and she came out to San Francisco to be with her sister. Some of her filmmaking friends form college had moved to the bay Area and she hung out with them doing the ‘communal living in the City’ thing. For a time she studied Chinese language at S.F. State but ran out of money and for a couple of years she was another ‘struggling artist’ as she worked in a secretarial job at an architectural firm, although she find time to work on the sound of a drama filmed in a house in Mendocino and directed by Wayne Wang – later the maker of such films as ‘The Joy Luck Club’, ‘Maid in Manhattan’, and ‘Smoke’.
In 1973, Lee and her boyfriend from college were approached by a friend of theirs from Antioch who had been teaching in various International Schools around the world and who was at that time settled in Quito, Ecuador, to join him on a trip along the Andes mountain range in South America. They thought it was a great idea and their year-long journey on horseback began. “We didn’t sleep in a bed for a year and had a wonderful time filming and painting so many beautiful sights on the way.”
On their way back to the States in 1974 the hand of fate stepped in for Lee… “We had sort of adopted three monkeys as pets and wanted to bring them back to the States. We planned to drive all the way but there was no accessible road from Columbia to Panama so we flew into there and were told we would have to fly out too. This meant we would have to fly to S.F. and the monkeys might not have got into the country there. We thought they would have a better chance if we went to New York and landed at J.F.K. airport. We were right and they were let in. Now I was on the east coast for a short time and so I decided to contact an old college roommate who I had been writing to about my career goals etc when we were in South America. She had been the first woman hired by N.B.C. News and she advised me that if I wanted to get into filming news stories for television then I should not go back to California – they were ten years behind. I certainly wanted to work in that business and now serendipity had led me to New York. I stuck around and after a year of politicking I managed to get a union card and a job with N.B.C. News.”
Lee was to live in New York for the next seven years, residing in a loft in the SoHo district. “It was a great time to be in New York – my co-workers were so savvy and smart and I learned so much. I had a good nose for news and worked as the sound engineer on a three-person crew producing news stories and documentaries. It soon became second nature for me to tell the story that was there, with a beginning, middle, and end. I was surrounded by reporters, correspondents and producers who ‘knew the score’ and constantly reviewing what we had been told. It was a very educational process and I had a great time… Besides work, I was young and really enjoyed the New York scene particularly because N.B.C.’s financial constraints meant they were not allowing much overtime work so we had plenty of time to socialize.”
In 1981, Lee was ready for a change of scenery and had always intended to get back to the west coast. Jobs were difficult to come by in San Francisco so when she saw an opening for a company transfer she jumped at the chance and became a sound engineer for N.B.C. News in the Bay Area working on The Today Show, various documentaries, and live broadcasts. In 1982, on a blind date made arranged by her friend and her husband, she met Ron Giuliani at the Chart House restaurant in Montara near Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco. “The four of us went out a second time for sushi and Rob pretended to like it and soon we were going out…Over the next year we traveled together several times and our relationship developed but then I was faced with a major career choice. Rob was the pressroom foreman at the S.F. Chronicle, a career job, and he was going to stay there but N.B.C. News wanted to move our crew, the 2nd S.F. Crew, to Denver. I did not want to go to Denver so I asked if there was any way this could be worked out. I was told that if one of the L.A crews wanted to go to Denver then our crew could go to L.A. This is what happened and in 1983 I started work in Los Angeles.”
For the next eighteen years the two of them commuted between the airports or to wherever Lee may have been in any one of the thirteen western states that she had to cover. “It was what we decided to do. Sometimes I’d call Rob and ask him to guess where I was and having read the papers he would make an educated guess as to where I might be covering a story! I’d apply for every S.F. story that came up and we’d spend more time together when that happened of course. I didn’t enjoy L.A. that much and would take almost any assignment out of town, even ones that others didn’t want… After a few years I wanted to move from sound to the camera and I applied for an opening when it came along. No woman had ever had such a job at N.B.C. and I was rejected. I brought a suit against them and in 1986 I won a settlement for my fees and a chance to try out for the job – that was all I wanted. I got the job and I embarked on the coverage of many big stories in the next few years, such as the Columbine School Shooting – a tough and demanding assignment; the Alaskan Oil Spill; the O.J. Trial; the former Philippine President, President Marcos, in his home in Hawaii; the L.A. riots, for which our crew provided the first coverage from the streets; Governor Jerry Brown on the campaign trail; various Presidential Campaigns; and, because the L.A. Bureau covered Hollywood, various movie stars at their homes or on the set of television shows such as Seinfeld. I remember being in Mexico for The Today Show on the set of ‘Under the Volcano’ starring Albert Finney. He sat opposite me for breakfast and I said I had not slept well because somebody had been singing opera until 4am in the morning. It turned out it was him…”
“In 1988, I was covering the oil drilling off the coast of Mendocino and Rob and I drove up here and through the Valley on Hwy 128 – I remember there was a float protesting the drilling in the July 4th Parade. Anyway, I remembered Lemons Market from my time in the Valley over twenty years earlier and thinking this is a beautiful warm inland Valley yet only forty-five minutes to the coast and Rob’s hobbies – fishing etc. A month or so later we came up for a week’s vacation and on the fifth day we saw this parcel here on Vinegar Ridge (Signal Ridge) and in that November we had bought ourselves the twenty-acre property. It was definitely a kind of impulse buy… For years we’d come up here on a Friday evening and stay in an old trailer we put on the land. We’d clear some trees and brush for two days and then I’d go back to L.A. or to wherever my next story was on Sunday night. We did that for three out of every four weekends for a long time.”
Over the next few months Lee and Rob became friends with their neighbors, Steve and Janet Anderson and soon got to know their friends too – people such as Rob and Barbara Goodell, Jean and Anne Duvigneaud, and the Apfel’s. At the conclusion of the O.J. Simpson Civil Trial in 1997 they were married and Lee took a week off work. Later that year they started to build the house with help from Olie Eriksen and Bob Heller and when Rob was offered a buyout at the Chronicle he readily accepted it and moved up here. Rob didn’t want to visit L.A. really so Lee would come up to see him here in the Valley. “I wanted to come to the Valley despite the long trip. However, I did love my work – my job was my life, and so it took me two years to slowly disassociate myself from that world. The one hundred and fifty hours a week I was doing on the Columbine shooting was certainly a catalyst to my eventual move and besides that the business had changed. Reporters no longer asked the right questions or didn’t ask questions at all. There was no longer any skepticism and that’s something I believe you need when investigating a story. I gradually pulled away and it certainly helped knowing I had a beautiful place in the country to move to.”
In 2000, Lee moved to the Valley full-time, into ‘Rob’s house’ – he had lived there alone for two years. “I was ready and had taken up the hobby of quilting in 1998 and soon got involved with a Mexican co-operative in the Valley that was working on a project in which the women told their life stories in the form of a quilt. Meanwhile Rob and Henry Gundling, our neighbor, had gone fishing together and in time Heidi Gundling and I became friends. She is a filmmaker and together we worked on a film for the health clinic, along with the school’s film teacher Mitch Mendoza, and then the three of us did an anti-methamphetamine film called ‘The End of Silence’ which was made with help from Patty LeFaveri’s advanced computer class. This film has now been shown at schools in seventeen states and the any profit all goes to the school. Then our friend Barbara Goodell wanted to have a film made about the book she had worked on with the Mexican women in the Valley about their salsa recipes and so Heidi, Mitch and I worked together once more and made the ‘Secrets of Salsa’ movie which did very well indeed. I had continued with my quilting and was regularly entering my work in the County Fair and eventually I ended up making the film about the quilt project called ‘Los Hilos de la Vida’ – the quilt of life. In the last couple of years I have spent many more hours on the quilt project which not only touches every aspect of the Mexican women’s lives but also allows them to spend time together, socializing away from their homes, empowering them more than ever before.”
Lee and Rob are now living the life they both worked so hard for and dreamed about. Lee spends a lot of time on their land, enjoying her work on the garden, quilting, canning, going to trivia nights at Lauren’s Restaurant, dinner parties with friends, and fund-rising events. “I love living in a place where I know most of the people I see. Having grown up in a small town this is important to me. This Valley is a very positive place to live; most people here are working for the greater good… One thing I do find a little annoying is that some people handle information/gossip poorly. It’s the one area in which people are not great with each other around here.”
I next asked Lee for her responses to some of the more discussed Valley issues… The wineries and their impact? – “It’s better than having no economy at all. However, in this house fishing is very important and what is happening to the rivers is directly related to the wineries being here. The rivers are just a trickle in the summer and the sediment at the river mouth is well, what can I say? I love agriculture but it is incumbent on everybody to practice it at the highest of standards”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “Some people gripe about the newspaper but I believe the Valley would be a ‘poorer’ place without our community newspaper. Its amazing that we have it given what has happened to the newspaper business in recent times”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “The same thing as the paper although I do wish we had more local news rather than hearing about Garberville and Southern Humboldt county. I was also very disappointed to see Christine Aanestad leave because her efforts gave a certain level of professionalism to the news broadcasts”… The school system? – “It’s the biggest employer in the Valley and it’s wonderful how many kids we send to college”… Drugs in the Valley? – “Any drug that is not within our control can be, and often is, detrimental or harmful to the people living here.”

To end the interview, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to my guest…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; inspires you, gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “When someone stands up for someone else, possibly at a risk to their own social capital – I find that very admirable… Trees also inspire me.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “ Loose talk; people speaking without thinking. Some gossip is fine and it serves a function, but knowing the line between that and hurtful gossip is important.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “The owls at night.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “When music is too loud. It’s harmful too.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “A rib-eye steak.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Paul McCartney – he seems to be a very eclectic person and I’m an admirer of many of his lyrics.”
7.If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “An electric book reader with 2,000 books; some paper and a pen to write and draw; a piano.”
8.Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “Back to Machu Picchu in the Andes; this time with Rob. He wants to go to Australia – that would work too.”
9.Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “I think Star Wars is one of the greatest films – a western in space age costumes… As for music I love the songs by Harold Arlen who wrote the music for many Broadway shows and films in the forties and fifties, his most famous probably being ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’… And a book would be James Clavell’s ‘Shogun’, because of my interest in Chinese culture.”
10.What is a smell you really like? – “A rose by the name of ‘Jude the Obscure’.”
11.What is your favorite hobby? – “Playing the piano and quilting. I have also just started to learn knitting.”
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 designer of some sort – clothes, objects, tools.”
13.What profession would you not like to do? – “Something that entailed doing the same thing every day, whatever that might be… Or a job where I was under the thumb of some tyrant boss.”
14.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “It’s all been pretty good – from being a farm kid, my time at college, my job at N.B.C. and I loved the day I moved here and started a new life.”
15.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “When my father died in September 1975 – he was my best friend.”
16.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I am eclectic and have lots of different interests. That I am adaptable, mostly.”
17.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Welcome, Lee – you have helped as many people as you could along the way.”

Published in: on September 8, 2010 at 11:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Elaine Busse – August 20th, 2010

I met Elaine at her home on Gschwend Road a couple of miles back beyond the Christine Woods region. I was greeted by the 14-year old Chocolate Lab, Pepper, and 7-year old McNab Mix, Ziggy, before Elaine and I sat down with coffee and water and began our chat…
Elaine was born in 1961 to parents Salvador Rubalcava and Sara Gallegos in the town of Maywood in Los Angeles County. Her father was born in Tampico on the Pacific coast of Mexico and came to the States when he was thirteen. He later served in the U.S. Army for four years and became a prominent radio personality on the Spanish stations in L.A. and on the nightclub scene and also worked in the used car business. Elaine’s mother was born in Oceanside, California and her family was also from Mexico, with her father a migrant worker splitting time between Mexico and the States for many years. They moved full-time in the 1920’s and Sara is one of eleven children, five of them half-siblings with the same father. Salvador and Sara were married and had four children – Louis, Elaine, Irma, and Cynthia. “My Dad also had had four other children with four other women prior to being with my mother. He was often not around and we found out later he had a whole other life away from us.”
When Elaine was a small child, her mother moved with Louis and her to Santa Barbara to stay at the home of Elaine’s grandfather, Francisco. “For a time we moved back and forth but settled in Santa Barbara when I was five and that’s where I grew up for the next twelve years, going through Elementary, Junior High, and most of High School there… The town was not like it is now, although there were certainly tourists. Now when we visit it’s crazy. When I lived there the town would be quiet on some days – Sundays were like Sundays in Ukiah now – deserted.”
Elaine’s mother did daycare and was also a seamstress at a dry cleaners for extra money. Elaine’s father sent money and would visit once every couple of months. “My Mom busted her butt to support us. My Dad was not around but I didn’t know any different so it wasn’t strange to me at the time. My mother’s side of the family was all around us in Santa Barbara and we went to lots of family functions – I had twenty cousins or so in town. I was the oldest and would baby-sit many of the others. My social scene was mostly with a girlfriend, Linda, who lived a block away. We were fairly well behaved and didn’t party every weekend, spending most of our time on skateboards – that was a very big thing for me. I went everywhere on that thing. I guess I had lots of acquaintances and just a few close friends. Then I had a steady boyfriend in my sophomore and junior years… I really enjoyed school – I was upset if I ever got sick and couldn’t go. I was not a good academic but I did enjoy the social life at school and with my junior high just three blocks away in one direction and my high school three blocks in the other, I walked to both. My favorite subject was art and I did like history but I didn’t absorb very much. I played volleyball and ran track – the mile. I worked part-time jobs when I was at school. My grandfather had a Mexican restaurant and I bussed tables there when I was about fourteen. My Mom used to work there too as a cook for a time – she was always working but she never complained. She is an angel and tries to think well of everyone but will not tolerate a complainer for very long. Later, in my high school years, I worked as a counter clerk at the dry cleaners after school and one day at the weekend.”
In the summer of 1978, between Elaine’s junior and senior year, her father bought a house for the family in Bell Gardens, a suburb of L.A. “It was absolutely horrible for me to move and to go to this place which was no comparison to my life in Santa Barbara. It was emotionally very traumatic. I’ve advised parents here that the child has to want to move if that trauma is to be avoided – it can be so upsetting”… Elaine was mature beyond her years and like to dress stylishly too. “I guess I often stood out in a crowd as I carried myself well and dressed a little differently. I had helped mother a lot and was always taking care of my younger cousins so perhaps in some ways I was quite a bit older and wiser than many in my class.”
Elaine attended Bell Gardens High School and as part of her P.E. Class she took weight training in the gym. “The social studies teacher, Dennis ‘Buzz’ Busse, used to work out there too and we used to run together after the class. There was no attraction there on my part. He was a charming man but we were just friendly”… (A couple of years earlier, in 1977, Dennis had mentioned to an old girlfriend who was living in Sebastopol that he wanted to buy some property in the Mendocino county area and she had suggested this area to him. He and a friend, Chris Wallace, a former student of his who was married to D’Ann Wallace (who was to later own the Horn of Zeese), started to look around the Valley. There was nobody on Gschwend Road year-round at that time except perhaps Hayes and Linda Brennan but when they drove back in past the private road gate they ran into Thor and Leona Robertson who were visiting their land. They told them that Mary Bell, the recently widowed retired schoolteacher wanted to sell her parcel nearby and shortly afterwards they bought her twenty acres for $12,500)….
“Going to college was not really on my radar although I could have gone to Cal State Long Beach and sometimes wish I had, looking back. Because my high school in Santa Barbara had been so good, I was ahead of the class so during my senior year I was able to work in the afternoons at a Fosters Freeze, which is like a Dairy Queen. During that year at school I took a Regional Occupation Program in banking and when I graduated in June 1979 a friend of mine and I both got jobs at the local Bank of America…. Around that time, Dennis came up to work on his property and then went to the Caribbean for a month’s vacation. When he returned we started to date and I got to know him better although I was in Bell Gardens with my mother and he was in Huntington Beach, thirty-five miles away. I continued to work at the bank and tried to get as much time off in the summer to coincide with his school vacation and we were able to travel a lot. To some people the twelve-year age difference was eye-roller stuff but we didn’t care and were married four years later in 1983 and I moved into his house in Huntington Beach. We lived for twelve years and raised our sons – Travis who was born in 1987 and then Tyler in 1990. I moved to a couple of different branches with the B of A and went part-time at the Costa Mesa branch in Orange County when the kids were young. We’d go up to Anderson Valley for a couple of weeks in the summer and by 1990 Dennis had begun work on building the house.”
Back in 1981, along with Chris Wallace and his father, and Buzz’s sister, Dennis had bought Thor’s parcel on Gschwend Road when Leona died and that’s where Elaine, buzz and the kids stayed when they visited although it had no power and was very basic. “Dennis had always wanted to live here – ever since we’d met I’d known that and so when we finally moved here full-time in the summer of 1994, with our four and six-year old kids, I was fine with it. Buzz kept his job in southern California for a year and would drive up every weekend, eight hours each way; otherwise I was here alone with the kids and worked part-time at the B of A in Ukiah for three days a week. Buzz could not find work here although he was close a couple of times at both Mendocino and A.V. high schools. It was tough but finally he became a long-term substitute teacher for the Athletic Director at Ukiah High and got the job permanently a year later. Our kids went to Anderson Valley until high school, which they attended in Ukiah where Buzz taught.”
Elaine and Buzz knew few people in the Valley with her work in Ukiah and him doing twelve to fourteen hours at the high school over there. “I had become friends with Alexis Moyer, when I’d taken her summer pottery class some years earlier, and also others in the class such Eileen Pronsolino, Pat Daniels, and Linda Baker, and then once the kids were in school I gradually got to know others here, plus neighbors – the Tripletts and Smiths, although overall I did not have much contact with most of the Valley… By 1998 I had become tired of the bank – it had been nearly twenty years by that time and had become all big business bullshit. I needed to do something else. One day I was at Lemons Market in Philo and was talking to Yolanda Ibarra at the meat counter – her son Rodolfo and Travis were the same age. She told me that Valerie Gowan had just quit at the Boonville Hotel and although Jeanne Eliades had taken over the job there might be something else available there. I knew Jeanne from playing volleyball at the Triplett’s house and so I met up with her and Johnny Schmitt, her husband at the time and the owner of the Hotel. They hired me as the innkeeper three days a week and I kept one day a week at the bank for a few months to get my twenty years in.”
Elaine pretty much learned on the job and also did bartending at lunchtimes, with Libby (now of Libby’s Restaurant in Philo) in the kitchen. Gina Barron was the hotel’s event planner and head waitress but she quit and at various times Elaine started doing those jobs too. “I was soon almost full-time and was pretty much the general manager. Johnny was fairly easy-going and let me run the place on some levels, certainly in terms of staffing, reservations, organizing, hosting, and innkeeping, although I was not in the kitchen or doing any bookkeeping. I ended up being there for twelve years and really liked it most of the time but it did become a little ‘weird’ in the last couple of years, for want of a better word. It just wasn’t the same anymore even though the staff still loved the place and did our best to keep it going. In November 2009, Johnny decided he needed to make some changes and I understood that. He laid most of us off saying he would take us back as we were needed. Gail Meyer had been there for twenty years, Saffron Fraser and I for twelve, Joel Leach for five; Jonesy DeWolf and several others too had been loyal employees. Over the past few months some have gone back part-time, all except Saffron, Joel and I… I signed up for unemployment and was quite mad and upset at what had happened, although it also felt like a lead weight had been removed after a very stressful couple of years there. I had liked the job, had thrived on it, but I did not enjoy having to put myself through the situation where the staff had pretty much held it together for the last two years. In the end I felt a sense of relief.”
While the two boys were at the school in A.V. Elaine was involved with their sports activities but she acknowledges that she is not too community minded. “I volunteered to help if the kids were involved. I was busy with my jewelry making, which is now sold at the Mercantile Store in Boonville. Talking of which, my mother has lived with us for several years now in her own suite at the house. She keeps very busy in the garden etc and with her sewing skills she is able to make things that are also sold at that store… I was a homebody and Buzz even more so with all the hours he worked in Ukiah – people were always asking where he was. I think they thought I had made him up! We rarely attended events in the Valley although sometimes I would go out for a drink with friends. Once the boys went to Ukiah H.S. I was over there more and got to know the parents of students there… Buzz retired in June 2009 and then on December 18th last year I was laid off. I was convinced something would come up. I enquired at some wineries and even thought about bar work at The Lodge if it had stayed open. I didn’t want full-time or any stress and for six or seven weeks I was happy being unemployed. I saw an ad in the paper for a tasting room manager at Greenwood Ridge Winery but knew I wasn’t qualified. Then out of the blue, the owner, Allan Green called me at home one evening – he knew me from the Hotel where he had sometimes been a customer. Gail Moyer from the Hotel had recommended me and I set up a meeting. That lasted for three hours by the end of which I was freaking out with all the stuff he showed me. I was doubtful about the job until Chris, who works in the tasting room, took me aside to say he would help me settle in and that greatly encouraged me. I was offered the job on the spot and accepted. I was flabbergasted.”
After a shaky start Elaine settled in. She had been hired for her personnel management skills and abilities with the public. The other stuff – she learned quickly. “I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason and I wish now that this opportunity had come earlier. I am thoroughly enjoying the job and am very grateful to Allan for believing that I could do it. Ironically three other job offers came in just afterwards but I had made a commitment and am so glad that I did. I am at a good point in my life.”
Travis has now graduated college from U.S.F. with a degree in Media Studies and lives in San Francisco where he hopes to develop a career in music and song writing. Meanwhile Tyler is entering his junior year at Sonoma State with Art as his major. “We told both of them to give college two years and then decide whether they wanted to stay or not – too many kids give up too early.”
Elaine loves her life in the Valley but some winters she thinks she could move somewhere with sandy beaches and a Mediterranean climate – Santa Barbara weather. “We came here to raise our kids in a small town, away from the hustle of L.A. The slow-pace of life here suits me even though I stick out sometimes with my city-side and appearance. That’s just me. I enjoy visiting the City to see Travis but it’s always so nice to come back to Anderson Valley.”
I asked Elaine for her thoughts on some of the Valley issues that many here discuss… The Wineries and their impact? – “We should have a limit on how many we have. Surely the effect on the environment is too great if we keep adding more”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I pick it up occasionally. We used to subscribe when we lived in L.A. but since moving here we stopped but occasionally still get it”… The local school system? – “Well our boys were here through junior high so I did think about keeping them here. However, I felt that the school board had been entrenched too long and then with Buzz teaching at Ukiah we thought it would be a good fit. There seemed to be more options for our kids over there too, it is a bigger school obviously and with Buzz driving there every day it worked well. I am a little out of touch with the school here now to offer a current opinion”… Drugs in the Valley? – “I have no problem with people growing pot but I don’t really want it close to my home. I used to walk back in through the woods to the river but I don’t risk doing that anymore, which is too bad.”
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 Elaine’s answers interesting and illuminating…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “A bright sunny day… Talking to people.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Whiney people who are full of themselves.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “I like the quiet… But I do love music – classic rock music and I am a big Elton John fan.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “Logging trucks; the fan on a hood of the stove; a drunken neighbor screaming in the middle of the night.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “My Mom’s enchiladas or her menudo.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “It would be Elton John – you known that. I’ve seen him over fifty times in concert.”
7.If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “Family photographs; a comfortable bed, a record player and my records… I guess I can live without my lipstick!”
8.Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “I would love to go back to the British Virgin Islands. We were there a couple of years ago for our 25th wedding anniversary… Or the Yucatan Peninsular in Mexico – I love warm beaches – not the North Coast beaches I’m sorry to say.”
9.What is a smell you really like? – “Cinnamon or mint.”
10.What is your favorite word or phrase? – “I used to say ‘oh shit’ all the time – it made me feel better… I like to say ‘if it’s true it ain’t gossip’ because my friends kid me that I like to gossip.”
11.What is your favorite hobby? – “It used to be making jewelry or painting – both the house and artistic stuff. I like to read mysteries and non-fiction – autobiographies mainly… And I do like to collect folk art.”
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? – “I always wanted to be a disc jockey on the radio… Or a supermodel perhaps!”
13.What profession would you not like to do? – “A house keeper. I like to do my own but it would be a thankless job I would think.”
14.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “When I got married and also watching our kids grow up.”
15.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “Moving from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles… I have not had much loss or deep sadness. My dad dying was sad but we were not close.”
16.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I’m happy with myself, very comfortable in my own skin – what you see is what you get. I am more approachable than some may think or than I seem to be… That I like to make jokes out of serious stuff sometimes… That I try to be positive – people have much bigger problems than I do and I have to stop myself from being negative because I have many positives. I tell the kids this all the time.”
17.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Even though I am not a big party animal, I do like to have fun so if he said ‘Welcome Elaine, let the party begin’ that would be good.”

Published in: on September 2, 2010 at 4:06 pm  Leave a Comment