Bruce ‘Pat’ Patterson – October 19th, 2010

I met with Pat (he much prefers that name to Bruce) at his house in the lower reaches of the Valley’s western hills overlooking Anderson Valley Way. After giving me the “5c tour” of the property, as he put it, he very kindly made me some lunch – delicious chicken cacciatore and garlic bread and we sat down to chat…
Pat was born in Cook County Hospital, Chicago in November 1949 to parents Amelia Moravcik and Charles Edward Patterson, whose daughter, Patricia, was born six years earlier. The Moravcik’s were originally from Slovakia where Pat’s grandfather, a veteran of World War 1, was a machinist in Bratislava. He came to the States as a refugee from that war and was a janitor in Chicago. When he was somewhat established he sent for a mail order bride, Teresa, from his home country, who worked as a washerwoman in the downtown Loop district. They lived in Chicago’s west side where Amelia grew up.
Pat’s father was the Irish bastard son of Pat’s grandmother, Alberta Rose. She was born in 1903 of Irish farming stock, and had arrived alone in the States, pregnant at the age of 18. “My paternal grandfather’s last name was Boyd, but he was sent to prison for rustling hogs and my grandmother had to leave town, pregnant, and headed for the States and a new life. Meanwhile Donald Bruce Patterson, of Scotch/Irish descent, who had been a coal miner in Florence, Colorado, had moved to Chicago because as a gifted artist he had received a scholarship to attend the Chicago Art Institute in 1920. Around that time he met Alberta Rose and they fell in love and were married, and when my father was born he took my step-grandfather’s name.”
“My parents grew up in the multi ethnic west side of Chicago that had some of the city’s poorest slims. There were all sorts there – Irish, Polish, German, Ukrainian, but it was pretty much run by the Italians. Most of my family dropped their heritage and wanted to be known as ‘Americans’ with my Dad proudly serving as a pilot in World War 2. I was from a very dysfunctional family and I was a ‘mutant’ kid with a terrible stutter, although it should be said that my grandfather Patterson was a large and very positive influence on me.”
At the age of four, in 1953, the family moved to the Highland Park district of Los Angeles. “My Dad called us ‘bats out of hell.’ To poor families living in Chicago’s slums, California was the ‘promised land’, Los Angeles in particular. My father was a regional salesman for Firestone Tires, working in southern California and Nevada. Over the next few years my mother became physically and mentally ill and my sister got married at eighteen and left home. My parents split up around that time and I basically became a juvenile delinquent at the age of twelve. We went on welfare although my father did give us money under the table. My mother could barely take care of herself so I brought myself up. I had no ability to see the consequences of my actions and had been committing petty crimes since kindergarten, nothing malicious but still not a good thing. My stutter was bad, and I was ridiculed because of it, so I started to hang out with the bad boys for protection… From the age of twelve to fifteen I did whatever I wanted to do – petty crime, violence, etc. I was kicked out of three high schools and was basically out of control. I was stupid, and always shocked when I got caught. I hung out with a kid called Michael Reagan, my best friend, who was even wilder than me – he is doing life in Folsom after he killed a guy just for fun… He was into the Mexican gang scene and although I was never in gangs I had many friends who were. There were many Okies in our neighborhood too, and Italians, and lots who had moved from Chicago, although no black families. I hung out smoking cigarettes and drinking beer with many foster home kids and former high school football players who were too out of control to practice. The cops were thuggish but not corrupt as far as I knew. You learnt very quickly to not mouth off to them and to say ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, sir’ and not to run away from them!”
Pat continued to get into lots of fights as he responded to taunts about his stutter. “It was me and Michael against the world and we found many stupid things to do. We were misfits, outcasts, basically f***ed up”… When he was fifteen, Pat’s mother was admitted to the State Mental Hospital and his father got custody. They lived in a suburb of Pasadena near to the Santa Anita racetrack, along with his father’s second wife and her two kids, Tim and Susan, who became Pat’s stepsiblings. “My Dad tried to straighten me out and, thanks to his connections, at the age of sixteen I left school at the end of 11th grade to work for Firestone, busting tires. That was o.k. for a time but I was not content.”
On November 13th, 1966 Pat volunteered for service in Vietnam as a soldier in the Army infantry. He signed up for three years and during a year of training, and waiting until he turned eighteen, he was in the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions before joining the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam, arriving there on November 27th 1967, just fourteen days after his 18th birthday.
“It was all volunteer units, I figured I would join an airborne division for the extra $55 a month hazard pay. I was scared of heights so I soon had to overcome that. I was with some real gung ho guys who were very serious about their soldiering… I had totally believed what my government had been saying about the war and that as a patriot I belonged in a foxhole. I was an able-bodied single male and wanted to help my country if it was at war – it was as simple as that. I wasn’t going to tell my grandkids that I didn’t help do my bit in the war and hung out smoking dope in a commune instead – not that there is anything wrong with that!”
Pat was in combat for six months in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. ‘”I was an infantryman, a grunt, out in the sticks looking for the N.V.A. (North Vietnamese Army). I saw many Vietnamese soldiers, mostly dead. I was rarely in the villages with the civilians and never saw any of the violence that happened there, although we did pass through many destroyed villages and witnessed thousands of refugees. I spent most of my time riding on the edge of a helicopter with my rifle on my lap and saw lots of destruction. I saw the war; I lost many buddies. I was there to kill Communists, they were no better than the Nazis, but many others were killed too. You learned to have a mind set that you were already dead, psychologically. After that, and spitting in the eye of god and the devil, the rest of life can be a bit of an anti-climax.”
“I had knowledge and a sense of history but we were misinformed. I had role models who had fought in World War 2 and Korea. It was very natural for me to volunteer for Vietnam. There was a lot of anti-communist hysteria in the U.S. at the time. So much of it was ignorance. The Iraqi and Afghan conflicts are just extensions of this.”
After six months in the combat zone, Pat caught malaria and spent three months in hospitals, returning to the States and experiencing the conditions and sights of the hospitals there. “I turned against the war after what I saw over there and then back here. In 1969, along with a buddy, Joe Miles, and others, I co-founded a group called ‘G.I.’s United against the War’ at our base, Ft Bragg in North Carolina. It was the home of 60,000 G.I.’s, the 82nd Division, the U.S. Guard of Honor. We put out a newspaper, ‘Bragg Briefs’ and put forward our point of view, agreeing with a general who had said the war was ‘one of the most base and cowardly acts of the twentieth century.’ I had had the privilege of killing enemy soldiers but I would never have consciously shot non-combatants. By forming this group, in the minds of many, I went from being a professional communist killer to a communist sympathizer or traitor. We didn’t bend and got lawyers involved so that in June of 1969 seventeen of us brought a class action suit against the President/government, accusing them of violating the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 9th Amendments to the Constitution. It went to the Supreme Court where they ruled we had a right to say what we wanted but only if we were given permission. We didn’t win the civil rights issue but the military code of justice was changed and there are a lot less ’kangaroo courts’ today as a result of our actions.”
In December 1969, Pat was honorably discharged. He was twenty, “still not old enough to vote or drink legally.” He moved to Taos, New Mexico where he worked on a ranch and dated hippies. “I was not a hippy. I was a young person who smoked pot. I had married ‘Sam Laing” who I had met in Carolina and we moved on from Taos to Los Angeles. By this time ‘my L.A.’ had gone – it had become a city built for cars not for people. I never even visited my old house and neighborhood – those guys only wanted to know how many ‘scalps’ I had got in Vietnam. I didn’t want to talk about that. I had changed a lot… I went back to busting tires once again and went to college for three semesters on the G.I. Bill. In the fall of 1970, I co-founded, along with Ron Kovic (of ‘Born on the 4th of July’ fame) and others, the L.A. Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans against the War and met the likes of Tom Hayden and Joan Baez– good people, celebrities yes, but good people and working towards the same cause as myself… I also volunteered in veterans’ hospitals and on the McGovern presidential campaign in 1971, which ended in defeat to Nixon. During the following few years I was involved in a number of acts of civil disobedience including the occupation of the Naval Reserve Training Center and many others, resulting in being arrested in four states between 1969 and 1973. Only once in California though, for pouring lamb’s blood on the steps of the induction center… Sam and I split up during this time, which was too bad – my Dad had said she was a lot like me only smarter. I left L.A. in 1973 and moved to work on an organic farm in Fresno, CA. set up by Joan Baez and friends.”
Pat basically re-invented himself at this time, cutting ties with many people, including family. He felt all-alone and threw himself into work on the eighty-acre farm. “I had changed so much. I had to get out of L.A. before I killed somebody, or myself. I was now by myself, for myself, and had been born with a love of nature so this move suited me.” Pat threw himself into this new environment, working mainly on irrigation projects before he fell out with the boss and moved on. He was in contact with an old friend, Todd Friend, who had served three years for draft resisting and so in the winter of 1973-74 he moved to where Todd lived in Raison City and worked on an organic farm there. From there he moved in with Todd and Todd’s girlfriend in a barn in Healdsburg in northern California. “I worked for the State Office of Rural Manpower working in the fields picking grapes and plums, on a ranch with chickens, and basically all aspects of farm work in the Healdsburg / Geyserville area. I stayed in that barn and it was the worst period of my post war life, yet in some ways looking back it was hilarious and has become the topic for my latest book – ‘Turned Round in My Boots’. I was hanging out at ‘Hippy Heaven’ in Yorkville, officially called the Pomo Tierra Commune, where there were lots of loose, topless women which was good for an ex-G.I. like me who was all alone. I met Tricia there and while I had no intention of ‘going hippy’, I fell in love. She was from Chicago, was well-educated, and had been in the Peace Corps. I had no real intention of staying here but once I fell in love and had spent time in the redwoods I did not want to leave.”
In 1974, the barn burned down and so he split time between staying at the Pomo Tierra Commune and a farm in Geyserville where he and other friends had found work. At one point he joined a sheep shearing crew where he ‘stomped fleeces’. One day, a logger, Colin Wilson (now the Valley’s Fire Chief), turned up needing someone to help in the woods as a choker setter for work in Rancho Navarro. Pat took the job in the woods earning $4.50 hr. “I worked back and forth between the woods and vineyards and would often stay away from the commune for periods of time. Eventually though, I went full-time in the woods and became a timber feller and moved full-time into Commune in the Valley. I was in between the two groups – the hippies and the loggers. I loved working in the woods – the sense of danger, the adventure, and the guys on the crew. I did it for seven years. I had long hair but was hired to work in the woods because I was a vet – they would not hire hippies or Mexicans… I also loved the sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll of the hippy lifestyle – I went to many ‘hippy be-ins’ in the Valley and beyond during that time. I was actually neither a hippy or a redneck – I was a Veteran and belonged to neither group but was sympathetic to both. I was an outcast, a misfit – but a relatively successful one. I don’t take orders very well although I do find myself making more compromises as I’ve got older, particularly after having kids.”
In 1978, Pat and Tricia had son Abel, with second son Jeff coming along in 1981. Then, in 1982, Pat left the woods and moved to a job working for Lawson’s Xmas Trees in Yorkville – a working ranch where he worked on roads, land clearing, construction, destruction, cattle, and Xmas trees. In 1986 they moved to Navarro and around that time Tricia got a teaching job at the school. “That was a huge thing for us. It sprung us out of poverty and living hand to mouth. It took the weight of the world off my shoulders and changed my life.”
In the mid-eighties, Pat and a friend from his logging days, Danny Bender, started an independent firewood and redwood split stock business. One of their clients was Nick Alexander of Horse Haven Ranch who bought a lot of fence posts from them. “I had learned a lot from Wayne McGimpsey in the woods and Danny and I could split and stack a cord of wood in an hour.” In 1989, Danny was hired by Nick and they then hired Pat. However, Danny had a falling out with Nick and so he left to work at Starr Auto in Philo. Pat was initially torn about Danny’s departure and considered leaving too, but with a young family to support he decided he had to stay on at Horse Haven. “In 1989, I became Nick’s foreman on his two ranches – the one up above Navarro and the other one opposite Jack’s Valley Store. There were all aspects of ranch work and we had between twenty and thirty thoroughbred horses to take of. I was there for fifteen years until 2004 and the boss let me do things my way and gave me plenty of independence. It worked out very well.”
At that point Pat thought it was time to move on and has now applied himself to writing full-time, although he still is a part-time woodsman and ranch hand. “I still get involved in irrigation projects and reforestation work – that is my thing. If you have some woods that are struggling, then hire me – redwoods, fir, cedar, Ponderosa pine. There are several locations in the Valley where I have planted trees by hand that are over fifty feet tall now… Meanwhile, my writing has gone very well and my new book has just come out. It’s actually a prequel to the first book, ‘Walking Tractor’, and is called ‘Turned Round in My Boots’. It’s a different kind of book in that it’s autobiographical instead of short stories, After finishing that, I challenged myself to write a story every ten days for a year and I am managing to do that. They are on my blog at http://www.4mules.com”
As I usually do with each guest, I now asked Pat for his opinions about various valley topics of interest… The wineries and their impact? – “I support the owner operators in the wine industry. I am entirely sympathetic to the farmers, not the corporations. They are sucking the water dry – everyone knows it whether they admit it or not. I don’t believe in drip irrigation, or the use of herbicides and pesticides. Dry farming works – has done for a long, long time. Long pruning has worked for thousands of years and these other methods of frost protection aren’t needed. Farm the soil not the plant… Wine grape farm work is the aristocracy of farming but the monoculture here at this point is bad. The loggers, ranchers, farmers, tradesmen, etc were multi talented – they wouldn’t get lost in the woods like some of the more recently arrived residents do. They wouldn’t shoot somebody out there, unless intentionally… It’s the government’s fault. The subsidies given to the wineries are all wrong. How do they have the right to our water? They claim ‘beneficial use’ if they can prove it. Taking the water is not beneficial.”
Logging? – “We need to do more reforestation. Here we are in the heart of the richest soft wood forest on earth and it is overgrown with weeds. This is prime timberland – the best in the world – we need to get on this and in twenty years we can be back to that. People said the lumber companies would ‘rape and run’ – they did. When they started killing baby redwoods I knew it was time for me to get out”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I love it. It has the best stable of writers you will find anywhere. It is the thoroughbred racehorse of small town journalism. Bruce Anderson is more accurate than any journalist you are going to read”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “It needs some new young blood. They do have some good programming though. Why don’t they play Mexican music during the day when the guys are working in the fields? Opera and jazz are probably not received too well at that time and when most of the Valley is Mexican then surely this is what should be played more”… The School System? – “The general problem of a public school system is that it is designed to make the kids as bigger morons as their grandparents. It no longer serves the corporations to have an educated populace – tyranny has never liked that and feudalism has lasted because of this”… The Changes in The Valley? – “There is a big difference between the homesteader economy that existed for many people up through the seventies to the rural gentrification and corporate entities that we have seen here in recent years. Add to this the import of Mexican labor, of which there was very little in the seventies, and the Valley is very different today to when I arrived. The world is in bad shape ecologically and the Valley is a microcosm of California’s problems. There were thousands of sheep and apple orchards everywhere here but that’s all gone now obviously. It is still a beautiful place and the tourists like that too so I guess that’s good. Besides, if I didn’t like it here, I’d leave.”
To end the interview, 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 the rest I came up with myself…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Felling trees; shooting pool.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Gold-plated ignorance.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “Desert silence.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “Helicopters – I have too many bad associations… Gunfire and explosions too.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “When you’re hungry, all meals are a feast. You’re hungry all the time in war. If you’re backpacking and eating rabbit food for days then even a Big Mac will taste good afterwards.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Too many. How about Jesus, Buddha, Mark Twain and me in the same room?”
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? – “I’d go stark-raving mad so I wouldn’t need anything.”
8.Do you have a favorite film or book or one that has influenced you? – “Well I loved ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ – the book and the film… I like the books by Kafka and George Orwell too. My weakness is buying books, along with drinking and smoking.”
9.What is a smell you really like? – “Sage after a rain in the desert – that’s my kind of country but you can’t make a living there unless you’re a successful prospector.”
10.What is your favorite hobby? – “Hiking, exploring.”
11.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? – “A junior high school history teacher.”
12.What profession would you not like to do? – “Anything corporate… And there is nothing more stupid than the military authority so I’d hate to work for them.”
13.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “When our first son was born – his eyes were not open at first and I moved my finger across his line of vision and his eyes opened and he tracked my finger. I was hooked instantly.”
14.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “That winter of ’73-‘74 in the barn.”
15.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I’m still alive and not in prison.”
16.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well, there is all the heaven and hell you can want right here on earth so it doesn’t matter.”

Advertisements
Published in: on October 28, 2010 at 8:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

James Dean – October 13th, 2010

I met with James last week at his office just outside Philo on Blattner Road. He’s a very busy man (“24/7/365”) as executive Director of the Unicorn Youth Services School and Group Home and it had taken even more persuasive powers than usual to get this interview arranged.
James was born in 1938 in the very rural community of Pickens, Oklahoma, near to the Arkansas border, to parents William Grable ‘Shorty’ Dean and Juanita Hill. The Dean’s were longtime farming residents of Arkansas but with Grable in the mining and lumber industries, when James was a youngster the family was always moving to wherever work could be found. The Hills had been in Oklahoma for many generations but James’ parents had actually met in New Mexico and were married in Arizona and continued to move around the southwest. This resulted in James’ sister (the oldest sibling) and six brothers – James was the fourth eldest – being born in several different towns across southwestern states.
James attended school in Grants, New Mexico, on Route 66, at one time the ‘carrot capital’ of the U.S.A. and in more recent times better known for the Uranium discovered there. In 1948, when James was in 4th grade, the family, apart from the sister who was now married, decided to leave the region and move to Prineville, Oregon, a small town in the center of the state, to where some uncles had previously moved and where Grable found a good job in a lumber mill. “We lived there for three years but then Daddy decided to move us all again and we went to Modesto in California’s central valley where he started to work in a small manufacturing plant putting zinc-coating on the large metal milk containers. He also put us boys to work in the fields around there at that time to earn money to support the family. Around Modesto there was all sorts of fruit and we’d pick everything from apricots, apples, potatoes, and a little further away we’d work on picking grapes in Lodi and cotton in Los Banos.”
James was a decent student, enjoying English and History, and he was good at math although he didn’t really like it at the time. “I was certainly more a scholar than an athlete but I did like to play some tennis and really enjoyed swimming. When not at school, when I was not doing my chores or in the fields, I liked reading about archeology and anthropology and was a keen stamp collector.”
James went on to attend the large Modesto High School with a senior class of about eight hundred students. ‘I was an easy-going kid and never got into any trouble. I was very obedient and, like all of my brothers, I knew my parents view of how important discipline was. It was a different time back then. There was great respect for parents, family, and adults in general. These days a lot more parents have abdicated responsibility. They are often unmarried and have kids at a young age. I guess the first major break with tradition came in World War 2 when women were working and moved out of home and then when the sixties came along with the hippies, free love, and the women’s and gay rights movements, the traditional family values that I had grown up following were lost forever.”
James graduated in 1956 and for two years attended Modesto Junior College before moving on to the College of the Pacific in Stockton where he studied for a major in Education. “We had always had food and clothes growing up but once I was at college and I met people from different backgrounds, it hit me for the first time that I was from a poor family. In high school I had no thought of going to college, it was always going to be the military or possibly working in the hospital industry somewhere. I had uncles in the military and an older brother too. However, a school counselor had put my name in for a two-year scholarship and I got it. Then, after the two years at the J.C., another counselor did the same thing and I received a Ford Foundation Scholarship to go and train to be a teacher. I graduated in 1960 and found a job teaching at an elementary school in Modesto.”
At high school, James and Vivian Hilts had become sweethearts and continued to date through college. “I was already teaching before I graduated and finished up my degree in night classes, and then when Vivian graduated from San Jose State in the June of 1960 we got married and were both teaching. Through a friend we had both been exposed to private education and were interested in starting something together along those lines. However, we soon started our family with James Bruce being born in 1961 and then Deborah Alice in 1963. I became active in the boy scouts and Vivian in the girl scouts and we made lots of friends on both sides of Modesto – a town with a significant ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ side of the tracks – I grew up on the south side, the ‘wrong’ side… We moved three times within Modesto in those early years as our family grew but over time I became more interested in finding something new and wanted to move on within the educational experience, whereas Vivian was always happy wherever she was.”
As a teenager living in Oregon, James had occasionally traveled out of state to work with his father wherever he went and at some point he had found a winter job for Dorsey Logging in Anderson Valley working on the split wood. “I was really pushing for a change from Modesto and remembered this place and talked to Vivian about it. I did have a brother and sister in Redwood Valley, but Vivian still said ‘No’. However we did begin to look to move somewhere and checked out Oregon, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. At some point I even suggested Australia and she said she’d think about that! I jumped at the opportunity and we went through the process and were pretty much set to go and start a new life with our kids down under. Things were held up though as to get a visa we needed either a firm job offer or have $5000 in an escrow account over there. Well, all of our savings would be used in getting there so we would have had to wait for a firm offer from the Sydney Board of Education, who were definitely interested in us.”
While waiting for this to happen, James and his family took an Easter vacation in 1966 and camped in Dimmick Park on Hwy 128 just beyond the Valley towards the coast. They were sightseeing in and around the Valley and came across a workday for the staff at the school that was taking place in preparation for the new library at the Little Red Schoolhouse. They stopped and talked to various people and met the School superintendent, Bob Mathias. “It was a nice visit and we returned home a few days later to find a job contract from Bob to work at the school. We signed it and our Australian adventure never did happen, although the job offer did arrive shortly afterwards. It nearly turned out so very differently.”
They moved up to the Valley, living south of Boonville and both teaching at the school. During that first year, the department of Social Services in Stanislaus County contacted James about a troubled youngster who had been a student of his in Modesto, wondering if they could take him into their home. The social services came and checked out their place and gave them a license to have as many as six children there. Not long after that Bob and Lois Mathias announced they were going to go to Brazil for an extended stay and offered their ranch, between Boonville and Yorkville, for lease to James, with a home and new A-Frame building to act as a schoolhouse if James and Vivian wanted to start their own school there. “We accepted this great opportunity and started a summer school, The Rio Rancheria School, in 1967, keeping our jobs at the elementary school for the time being.”
Soon James and Vivian had six kids placed in their home who attended their school too, with local kids also there in the summers. It became too much so James left his job and ran the school while Vivian stayed at the elementary school in town. However in 1968, the new Superintendent, Mel Baker offered James the job as Elementary School Principal, which he accepted, and so they reversed roles with Vivian taking over at the ranch. By 1971, Bob Mathias was planning to return from Brazil and James knew they needed to get their own place. “I knew by then that we wanted to run a full-time residential school. With the help of friends we found and purchased a thirty-acre ranch on Ray’s Road just north of Philo here in the Valley and together with friends and the boys we built the place up and in 1971 opened the ‘New Hope’ school. We ran the residential group home and the private school there. At the time there were also other such places in the Valley, such as Clearwater Ranch and the Bachmann-Hill Group Home. I retired from the elementary school in 1972 to concentrate full-time on this – we had eighteen kids at this point.”
In 1979, Howard and Ynema Daniel, James and Vivian’s partners in the ranch, retired and wanted to be bought out. This could only be done one way, so the property was sold and a new, five-acre location on Blattner Road was bought, developed, and the program moved there, with James and his family now living in the main house there. This became the ‘Unicorn Youth Services’ we are familiar with in the Valley today. The final big move came in 1985, when the people who had bought the first property in 1979 wanted to sell it back and so James did so and re-opened there in 1985 with Jerry Blattner, who had joined the project in 1977, running the school there, as James and Vivian kept the set-up on Blattner Road going too.
“We still have the two places and have now been going in one place or another for nearly forty-five years. For all of that time we have treated the kids like family. If Vivian and I took a vacation they came with us, all of them. They really are our family. I should say that Vivian and I did take one week off alone in 1985 to go to Hawaii… We offer individual educational programs for kids with difficulties. They are generally placed here by social services from foster care homes, although some come from the probation department. They are mainly rural, country kids – ‘softer’ kids, and most are between twelve and fifteen years old, all boys.”
Meanwhile, James and Vivian also added two more children of their own, Laura in 1971 and Eric in 1980. Vivian passed away in 2006. Eldest Bruce passed away in 2008 and his wife a year later so James has their children, his grandchildren, with him at the house. Daughter Deborah (Hart) has four children with her husband in Windsor, Laura (Cannon) is in Philo with her two, and Eric is with his child and wife in San Diego. All four of the children went through the A.V. school system. “At this point we’ve had close to five hundred kids go through here that we’ve had for between one and three years each. We had one for eight years. We work with the social services departments in Mendocino, Lake, Sonoma, and more recently Contra Costa counties. They refer the kids and I review them before coming to a decision whether they would fit in here or not. I have Barbara Blattner as the Site Director and my secretary is Nancy Meyer. They do a great job. We have about twenty-two staff in total – childcare workers, social workers, psychiatrists, cooks, etc. We also have people come in to teach specific classes such as pottery – Alexis Moyer, and music – Don Paslay.”
“The whole program had evolved from an idea Vivian and I had many years ago to combine schooling with home life and recreation, all together at one place, supporting one another and therefore being more effective. We then added the clinical component and treatment and it is now a multi-layered, integrated system. It has worked. We have had a success rate of over 90% who have graduated through our program and gone on to productive lives and more than 50% keep in touch with us over a period of time. I have asked my own kids how they have felt about all this and they all say they would not have traded it for anything – ‘it made us what we are’ is their general comment. I have always had my faith to turn to and remain a keen follower of the Mormon Church, attending services every week in Ukiah.”
During the eighties, James began to do the accounts for a computer data processing company he started, becoming an enrolled agent in accounting. He went on to do tax returns for friends and started a computerized bookkeeping service. “I have done the accounting at the County Fair for some years now. That was a program written by my son Bruce. I now have a dozen or so clients for bookkeeping; we do six or seven payrolls, and perhaps one hundred and fifty income tax returns, both individuals and companies. Nancy, who has been with me for fifteen years, is a big help with all of this.”
“The Valley has changed a lot in the forty plus years I’ve been here. There were no vines back then, it was mainly apples and sheep. When I arrived to stay in 1966, there were just the old families and a few hippies were slowly arriving. There were may be three or four Mexican families here then… Vivian soon settled down here and, as I said earlier, she was perfectly happy wherever she was – she could see the good in just about anyone and anything. She was a remarkable influence on many, many of the kids, who all had so much respect for her, always calling her Mrs. Dean. In fact for a time our own kids called us Mr. and Mrs. Dean! We insist that the kids call all of our staff ‘Mr.’ and ‘Ms.’, except some of the teacher’s aides who can be referred to by their first names. Most of then have been with us for some years now and they add to the family feel that we strive for and which has led to so much of our success. We live here together, this is a family first and a business second.”
I now asked James for his thoughts about various Valley issues… The wineries and their impact? – “They have probably been a good thing overall in that they have certainly provided permanent jobs for many and have brought lots of visitors and their money here too. They have been very significant in terms of the Valley’s population growth and have been responsible for the influx of the Hispanic community here that has been viewed differently by different people. Water is an issue of course, as is the use of pesticides, and they have not been very active with the problems of affordable housing for employees, while also resulting in housing prices going up for long-time Valley folks to buy”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I have read it since it was owned and run by Homer Mannix when it was more of a little family weekly. I have kept old copies since then, and over the years, when my kids articles or pictures were in it. It has done more than its fair share of rabble-rousing and became quite radical in flavor when Bruce Anderson took over. I like Bruce and have always got along with him but it must be tough to be a flaming radical and a liberal at the same time. He tells it the way he sees it and sometimes stirs the pot – he’s not always right but he’s not always wrong either and I think he sometimes likes to play the devil’s advocate”…
The School System? – “It has changed a lot over the years. By and large it is pretty good but there are problems there. I think teacher loyalty to the educational process over time has dwindled and to some perhaps it is just a job. In my day it was done for the ‘love of teaching’ and I sense that this is not the main purpose for some in recent years. That’s the case for all educational institutions, not just our local one. There has become too much bureaucracy and concern with legalities rather than getting the job done and moving forward with the kids’ education. Education to me has always been a profession, not a trade. Be a teacher, not a friend of the kids; teachers should dress accordingly, not like the kids; they should be spoken to accordingly, with respect, and be referred to by ‘Mr.’ and ‘Ms.’ There should be a level of respect from the kids for the teachers but it does have to be earned. I guess I’m old fashioned.”
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to James and asked him to just reply off the top of his head…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Working with my kids.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Pettiness.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “Nice soft music – generally country and western.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “Rap music – it grates on my ears.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? – “Breakfast – bacon, pancakes, and eggs.”
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 scriptures; my painting supplies; and my Sudoku books – the number-placement puzzles.”
8.Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “I like Disney movies – my favorite is probably one called ‘The Ninth Avenue Irregulars’ – a comedy with Cloris Leachman and many others…As for books there is the ‘Cat who…’ series and mysteries such as the ‘Miss Seaton’ books with an English clairvoyant/art teacher/detective… As for a song – I like country, gospel, and also stirring songs such as ‘Climb every Mountain’ or ‘Dream the Impossible Dream’ – emotive songs like that.”
9.What is your favorite hobby? – “Landscape painting; reading mystery books – nothing too graphic, ones that require deductions to be made.”
10.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? – “An anthropologist… A journalist may be… Working with the mentally ill…”
11.What profession would you not like to do? – “Fruit-picking… Construction. I have done both and wouldn’t like to do them again.”
12.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “My wedding day; the days my children and grandchildren were born and then later when they graduated; the days we make breakthroughs with the kids here.”
13.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “Whenever I lose someone close to me – I’ve lost quite a few.”
14.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I do care about people.”
15.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well, I follow the Mormon faith and we believe that life is eternal and that we will sit on the right hand of God. If he said ‘Welcome home, you’re family is waiting’ that would be good. I am married for all time to Vivian, not just in this life.”

Published in: on October 15, 2010 at 12:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Harold Perry – September 25th, 2010

A week or so ago, I met with the Valley’s second oldest citizen, Harold Perry, at his home in downtown Boonville and we were joined by his daughter Linda, who sat in on our discussion to may be help Harold remember a few things…
Harold was born in Lone Wolf, Oklahoma on November 8th, 1916, making him ninety-three years old, almost ninety-four in fact. The town is about one hundred miles west of Oklahoma City and is named after an Indian Chief of the Kiowa tribe. His parents, Clabe and Nannie Perry had eleven children in total and Harold is somewhere in the middle in terms of age, with three younger sisters and Harold himself still going strong. “My Dad was from Tennessee originally and some of my siblings were born there. I don’t know where my mother was from and I can’t remember her name before she was married either – it was nearly one hundred years ago, you know!… I do remember that we had a small farm and we kids spent many hours picking cotton – that was what our family did for a living.”
Harold attended the local school where he was very good at sports – basketball in particular, and spent his leisure time hunting for deer. “We were a close family and on most days nearly all of us sat down to eat dinner together – those of us who still lived at home, of course. When we weren’t at school or playing sports I was picking cotton with my brothers and sisters… In 1929, when I was about thirteen, the basketball coach left our school and went to Pawnee, a larger town about eight miles away. He wanted me to play basketball for him there and so our family all moved there and I played on the high school team at a young age. I guess I was pretty good… Then at sixteen, I decided I wanted to earn some money so I quit school. Problem was, this was 1932 and the Depression in Oklahoma was real bad so I hitched rides and caught trains out west to where my older sister lived in Clovis, California, and I got work working in the fields and hauling fruit and vegetables.”
Over the next few years, Harold returned to work in Oklahoma on several occasions and frequently split time between there and California but he also lived and worked in Texas and Arizona too. He did whatever work he could find but had become a very good welder and his skills were used on the many large oil containers built in those states during those years. At some point he was married to an Oklahoma girl by the name of Stella and they had two children – Pat (Patricia) and Judson. “I can’t remember much about those days to tell you the truth – it was a long time ago, you know!… I do remember working as a welder in the shipyards in San Francisco during the Second World War and staying there afterwards for a few more years until the late fifties.”
Harold and Stella were divorced and for a few years he was a single man before meeting Alma Pagel from Harrington, Kansas, and getting married in 1950. Alma had a young child, Rex, from a previous marriage and he lived with them and became the older brother to two children born to Harold and Alma – Linda, born in 1952, and Leroy, born in 1953.
“I had left San Francisco and gone to live in Fresno for a time where I bought a Ford truck and began hauling logs. After a few months I realized that this was not working – logging there was not a big business and it took too long to unload and that was wasting my time so when some guy told me that there was a logging boom going on in this place called Boonville I thought I’d give that a try. My new wife stayed put and I came to Anderson Valley in 1950… I got some work with a logger called Harry Avelow in Philo and I lived behind the Live Oak Building in Boonville before, after about a year, my family came and joined me here.”
Harold and Alma lived in what had been a schoolhouse on the bend in Hwy 128 about two hundred yards north past Gowans’ Oak Tree. Their neighbors were James Gowan and his family and George Gowan and his, and Harold did some welding for Art Gowan and also continued to haul logs. At some point the family lived on the Philo/Greenwood Road and then settled on Blattner Road in Philo before, in 1959, Harold stopped working in the logging industry and went to work for the State Highways – Cal Trans. Soon after that he was transferred to the Cal Trans crew in Manchester out on the coast and the family moved out of the Valley for a year. “I enjoyed my ten years hauling logs here in the Valley and had some great times and hauled some mighty big logs, I can tell you. One of ‘em was over twenty feet across and I got it on my truck and took it to San Francisco – it ended up in Italy! After a year on the coast we were ready to come back to the Valley and I was transferred back here and we moved into the house where Fritz Kuny now lives, next-but-one to the Drive-In in the center of Boonville. Then in 1964 we bought this house here, across the street from that one, and have lived here ever since.”
Over the years Harold continued to enjoy hunting and fishing, particularly deer hunting in Modoc County. As a family, they would camp out on the coast between Elk and Mendocino almost every weekend when the abalone season was going on. The kids loved it and young Leroy would earn a dollar if he helped the fishermen with their catch… By the sixties, Harold had begun what would be his long association (about forty years) with local youth sports as a referee for the new Junior Panthers program at the school. He had done a lot of work on the new gym when it was built in the fifties and then he went to ‘work the boards’ for seventeen years, refereeing high school, junior high, and town team games before, in the late seventies, he moved into the timekeeper’s seat. “I loved it all. I had to referee a few games that my son, Leroy (A.V. Class of 1971), played in and I’m afraid I was a little tougher on him than I should have been, not wanting it to look like I was playing favorites. He mentioned it sometimes but he understood”… For years and years he never missed a Panther game and while he will say that players have got better and better, he adds, “all in all, they are still just kids having a good time.”
In 1980 Harold retired from Cal Trans but continued to work around the Valley as a master mechanic and welder, making many wrought-iron gates for Valley folks. “I enjoyed my time with the guys at Cal Trans – people such as Frank Wyant, Paul Titus, Donald Pardini, Johnnie Pinoli, Angelo Pronsolino, Dick Sands, Perry Hulbert, Jim Clow, and others, but it was my time to go and at sixty-five I called it a day – but I didn’t stop working. People would stop by my shop here behind the house and ask if I could do some welding job for them – a gate or some racks for their truck maybe, or for me to fix something for them. Just a year or so ago I did a table for Benna Kolinski and she loved it… I also kept involved with sports by coaching a women’s softball team – The Hot Sox, with players such as Debbie Sanchez, Kelley Hiatt, Gwen Smith, and many others. I did that for sixteen years. Also, Alma and I started to bowl regularly with Angelo and Eileen Pronsolino on a team in Ukiah and I won many trophies over the years and didn’t stop playing until I was eighty-nine years old. The four of us retirees would go on trips with our trailer homes too, we went to Alaska a few times, and Angelo and I would also go deep fishing and that was always a lot of fun.”
In July 2003, Harold had a stroke and then, during his recovery, a fire started at his home when roof work was being done and the place was destroyed. Alma passed in September of that year. Harold had a few fainting episodes in the next couple of years and so in 2009 daughter Linda and her husband Pete moved from their house on Airport Road to live and homecare at Harold’s. It was also decided around that time that Harold needed a pacemaker and this meant that he would no longer be able to work on his welding so that long career came to an end at that point… “I’m fine though. I miss doing those things but I like to sit here in my chair and do my word puzzles and can do that for hours. I walk around the outside of the house six times, once a day, going real slow, but I am pretty good on my feet and I can do it, even if I sometimes take a little rest after three laps to get my breath. I like to go to the Senior Center for lunch twice a week too… I have always loved living here and have many great memories of this place. I remember when there were so many trees and it was all apples and sheep, no wineries at all.”
I asked Harold for his brief responses to some Valley topics… The wineries and their impact? – “That hasn’t bothered me any”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I read the Ukiah Daily Journal, but once in a while I will read the local paper”… The local radio station? – “I listen to whatever station is on.”
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 enjoy Harold’s answers…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Walking, reading the newspaper, working on my word-search books, going to the Senior Center, visiting my son Leroy who lives on Hwy 253 towards Ukiah.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Not a whole lot of anything.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “Music – I played banjo in a band back in Oklahoma with a banjo my Dad gave to me. I have now given it to my son Leroy. I met Alma when I was playing the banjo – she was there for the dance.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “Nothing I can think of. I got used to the traffic now.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “Anything. I’ll eat anything anyone will fix for me. I did used to like to eat lots of fish and abalone back in the day.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “None that I know of… When I was younger people were always saying I looked like John Wayne so may be I’d like to have met him sometime.” (Daughter Linda showed me some photographs of a young Harold in his thirties and he did look very much like the movie star).
7.What is a smell you really like? – “Flowers.”
8.What is your favorite hobby? – “It used to be bowling but now it’s my word puzzles.”
9.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fantasy job, perhaps? – “A basketball player. I was never good enough to be a pro but I was pretty good.”
10.What profession would you not like to do? – “Never thought about that…There are some jobs I might not like I’m sure…”
11.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “Most of my days have been happy… I really loved refereeing…”
12.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “Can’t think of one.”
13.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “Getting to live this long. I’ll be ninety-four in November – that’s a long time to be around, you know.”
14.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “That’s not something for me to say, but if I get there I’ll holler for you and try my best to get you in too!”
Upon the completion of the interview, Harold said, “Well thanks for coming over to see me. Can I give you some payment for your time?” On my refusal, he added, “Well just stop by whenever you can, it’d be nice to talk again.”

Published in: on October 7, 2010 at 5:02 pm  Leave a Comment