Diane Herron – December 13th, 2010

I met with Diane at her home on Estate Drive in the Boonville ‘suburbs’ and we shared some persimmon cookies and soft drinks as we sat and chatted…
Diane was born in Los Angeles in 1933 to parents Lewis Kingsbury and Jeannette Krekeler. According to her family ‘historians’, the Kingsbury family was Pennsylvania Dutch with her father and his family moving to southern California when he was four. Initially Lewis worked in construction but he later became a dental technician, primarily making false teeth. The Krekelers were German and it was Diane’s great grandparents who came over from Europe, eventually crossing the country in a covered wagon and settling between Bakersfield and the Mojave Desert, in Tehachapi where Diane’s mother was born. The family moved to Los Angeles and Jeannette attended Manual Arts High School where she met Lewis Kingsbury. Jeannette went on to graduate from the University of Southern California with a degree in music and she and Lewis were married in 1930. After Diane, another child, Richard, came along nine years later in 1942.
“I grew up on Cimarron Street in the city and attended 59th Street grade-school until the age of nine when my father decided he wanted a complete change and moved us to a farm near to Corona in the Central Valley. His job as dental technician was tough on his eyes and with the war on and air raid safety drills being the norm he decided enough was enough with the city life. He was one of those entrepreneurs that never quite got there. It was wartime and he raised squabs (baby pigeons) on a large scale, selling them to restaurants, particularly in Palm Springs, where they were quite a popular dish for a time. He would also take live ones to the restaurants in Chinatown in L.A. He had raised racing pigeons for years and so he knew the pigeon business. It was very rural where we lived and we were on eighty acres. We also had corn and other agricultural crops, a cow, some pigs, and obviously lots and lots of pigeons. I fed the pigs every day.”
Diane attended Corona Junior High and High School. “I was a pretty good student but really only concentrated on art so in the end I barely scraped through. I had a small group of friends but in the summer before my senior year, I had to go and join my family who had moved a few months earlier to Willows, a couple of hours’ drive north of Sacramento in the northern part of California’s central valley. I had been staying at my grandmother’s house and did not want to go. I was not happy. I had a boyfriend, a couple of years older than me, in Corona but my Dad decided he wanted to get into pig farming and Willows apparently gave him that opportunity so we all moved. However, in 1951, just a year later and after I had graduated, the family was off again, this time to Winton, near Merced in the heart of the Valley. Not me. I went back to Corona and married my boyfriend, Jim Herron, who worked for the California Department of Forestry – C.D.F., now Cal Fire.”
It was the time of the Korean War and her husband was drafted into the army so Diane moved to Winton and stayed with her family. “I had moved so many times at that point. The good thing about that is that you don’t collect a bunch of junk. I lived at home with my parents and brother and got a job with Farmer’s Insurance as a file clerk and typist and in the end Jim was not sent to Korea but ended up in Panama instead. He was discharged in 1954 and we moved back to Corona where he resumed his job with the C.D.F. By that time I was an office assistant at a sewer pipe manufacturing plant.”
Jim was transferred to the C.D.F. station in Sonora on the far east of the Valley and Diane took some part-time office work there before she became pregnant, something she’d long-hoped for. In October 1957, son Steven was born and Diane became a mother and homemaker. “Jim was always on the lookout for promotions, and transfers that might lead to that, so we moved again, to nearby Twain Harte, and then on to Lower Lake in Lake County east of Mendocino County where he worked alongside a prison crew as their C.D.F. guide. That was not a good situation and I remember we spent a lot of time in the local bar there. We would socialize mainly with other forestry people and then later, when Steven was older, with friends from the school. We bought our first house in Willits but not long after Jim transferred again, this time to the C.D.F. station in Boonville, Anderson Valley, where he became the Captain. With Steven in the local school, I stayed in Willits and Jim would come to see us when he had time off. That went on until 1976 when Steven graduated and went to college and then I moved to the Valley.”
Back in 1963, when living in Lower Lake, Diane had started to represent and sell Tri-Chem Embroidery home party plans. “I would go to people’s homes and teach them how to use these special paints as a form of embroidery on table cloths, napkins, all sorts of things. I don’t like to compare them but it was something like a Tupperware party. That slowly became my social life as the afternoon visits became evening gatherings with more and more women starting to work in the daytime. I became the regional manager, responsible for the instruction of new representatives and their meetings from Santa Rosa to Redding to Eureka. I was very successful and won may trips as prizes for my sales and recruiting work – to Mexico, Hawaii, even London. I also attended conventions all over the country and although I never made a lot of money I did have lots of fun. I was able to schedule my classes and meetings so that I could be at home when Jim was off too – being the good little wife that I was.”
On moving to the Valley, Diane and Jim lived on Clark Road, on the Pinoli Ranch, and she continued to work for Tri-Chem for a time, now driving a company car. She did not know the Valley or anybody who lived here so she threw herself into her arts and crafts but eventually she joined a group for ‘Business and Professional Women’ – the forerunner of what has become Anderson Valley’s Independent Career Women (I.C.W.), and she became friends with such women as Charmian Blattner, Eileen Pronsolino and Isabel Miller. “When I became President of the I.C.W., Isabel called me ‘Chief’. We broke away from the other organization because their dues were too much and we formed our own group – the I.C.W. It’s for the betterment of women and at the same time, with our sponsorships, we aim to help kids to further their education. Our monthly meetings are not just ‘party time’ like some might think they are. We haven’t always given scholarships, sometimes we have contributed to various projects in and around the Valley instead.”
Over time, Diane and Jim became good friends with people such as the Millers, June and Elmer Lemons (of Lemons Philo Market), Bill and June Ahrens, and would regularly socialize with people at the Bear Wallow Resort on Mountain View Road where they would have dinner and a drink at the bar, hosted by Ron and Nancy Jones.
In 1979, Diane and Jim sold their Willits house and bought the property where she has lived ever since, on Estate Drive just outside Boonville. They attended many potluck parties in the Valley over the years and she went to work for Ken and Kim Allen when they opened their brewpub in 1987. “I was there behind the bar on opening night – it was crazy. I enjoyed working there very much. Jim and I divorced in 1989 – the less said about that the better – and I went full-time at the pub for two or three years before working in the Brewery gift store in the building next door, where the Mercantile Store now is, eventually becoming the manager there… Then when they opened their new facility down the street, at the south end of town, I was a part-time bartender there too. I always got on very well with Kim. Meanwhile I had kept my job for Tri-Chem until 1993, by which time I had pretty much lost interest. So, with the company not doing very well also, I decided to quit. I had become an ‘Avon Lady’ in the mid-eighties, working out of my home selling beauty products through a catalogue, and I have been doing that for over twenty years now.”
All told, Diane was with the Anderson Valley Brewery for seventeen years, from 1987 to 2004. She took some time off and then in 2008 she noticed an advertisement in the local paper for a position at the ‘Rookie-Too’ gallery and gift store in Boonville. “It was the first time in many years that I had to produce my resume but I got a job working there for Karen Altaras, and along with Via Keller. It is a really nice job. I get out of the house for a couple of days each week and see and meet many people. It is very good for me.” Apart from this part-time job, Diane is kept busy with other activities, such as her membership of the American Legion Auxiliary; treasurer for the Meadow Estate Water Company – the local water board for the subdivision where she lives, and continuing her work as an ‘Avon Lady’.
Not long after Diane’s divorce, a local high school girl, Kerri Scott (now Sanchez), whose family was no longer living here, moved in with her for two or three years. “It was good for me, and a lot of fun too. I also became good friends with a local man, Jim Bowen, and we were close companions for about ten years until he passed in 1998. I inherited his son Jim Jr., of ‘All-Phase Electric’, and Jim’s daughter Michaela, who calls me ‘Grandma.’ My own son Steven has two children, my granddaughter Melissa who is twenty-five and my grandson Louis, twenty-one. Steven lives in Medford, Oregon where he originally moved with his job at Georgia Pacific, and where he now works as manager of a manufacturing plant for Linde Gas… Socially, I like to go out here in the Valley to various events and I am in two different Bunco groups (women’s dice evenings) that meet once a month each. I also enjoy dinners with my close friends, Carolyn Eigenman, Liz Dusenberry, and Jeanne Nickless, amongst others, and I just had a lovely Thanksgiving with Cindy and Kirk Wilder, Larry and Janet Lombard, Jim and Jeanne Nickless, Jerry and Barbara Bowers, Ross and Joyce Murray, and my son Steven was here too. I am lucky to have good neighbors here, particularly Frank Wyant and Lucille Estes, who is coming to Hawaii with me in January… I do miss my family and if I could somehow gather my friends with me I’d move us all to Oregon and have the best of both worlds.”
I asked Diane for her brief thoughts on some issues that frequently crop up in and around the Valley… The Wineries? – “I don’t think of them as being a hindrance if they can keep their water use under control. With the decline of the logging industry they have helped with employment in the Valley. I like to drink wine and some of my best friends are amateur winemakers”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I read it every week – I get Liz Dusenberry’s copy and pass it on to Lucille across the street and then it goes on to Karen at the gallery”… Changes in the Valley? – “Well, it is hard to find affordable housing these days. I do like what has happened in downtown Boonville, apart from the fact that those dilapidated old buildings at the south end of town are still there and look terrible.”
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 and I asked Diane to just reply off the top of her head without too much thought…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “My cat, Scooter. He is diabetic and I have to give two shots a day… Being with friends is always a fun thing – I am basically a happy person.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Well this is supposed to be the ‘Golden Years’ but some parts do not want to keep going.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “The quiet. I also like the music of the forties and Christmas songs.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “Loud music played in cars. It’s just a thumping noise.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? – “Fried Chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Probably my Mom – I miss her the most. She died in the early nineties after going through the whole rest home process. My Dad was more fortunate – he died in his sleep in his chair.”
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 cat; my art pencils and a sketch pad, and a stack of mystery books.”
8.Do you have a favorite book or one that has influenced you? – “I have several favorite mystery writers.”
9.What is a smell you really like? – “Vanilla.”
10.Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “Much more of the U.S. – with a driver to take me along the backroads. I went to British Columbia last year with my friend Carolyn and that was a real treat.”
11.What is your favorite hobby? – “Arts and crafts – I’ve always been that way. I used to enter my knitting and artwork at The County Fair.”
12.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? – “A kindergarten teacher.”
13.What profession would you not like to do? – “I did enjoy bartending but I never thought I’d like to be a waitress.”
14.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “When my son was born and the years that followed when I could play ‘Mom’.”
15.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – The period of my divorce when I also lost my brother to a major heart attack when he was just forty-seven years old, and then my Mom passed away not long afterwards. It was a tough time certainly.”
16.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I am resilient, and usually happy.”
17.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – Well, I am not a believer though I was raised a Christian Scientist so I imagine he’d say ‘Surprise!’… Actually, ‘Welcome’ would be just fine.”

Published in: on December 23, 2010 at 5:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Maria Goodwin – December 7th, 2010

Maria was born in 1941, a third-generation San Franciscan on her father’s side, the only child of Daniel Goodwin and Mary Fragulia. “I used to joke that I was conceived by osmosis; I’m sure my mother was frigid. My mother always told the story that she heard the news of Pear Harbor while hanging my diapers out on the line – her neighbor ran out to tell her.” The Goodwins were of Scotch/Irish/English/Welsh descent – “the whole catastrophe” – and they were not a close family. Her paternal grandfather, a longshoreman who had been involved in the famous strike of 1934, died when Maria was nine and she grew up surrounded with relatives from her mother’s side.
Her maternal grandparents, Enrico and Angela Fragulia, were from northern Italy before coming to the States and settling in San Francisco’s South of Market District near to the Bay just before the 1906 earthquake. Her grandfather was very hard working and enterprising and he bought three horses and a wagon and started a garbage collection business. He saved money and bought a building in the Mission District at 20th Street and Florida St. with a couple of extra houses attached and the family lived in one and rented the others out. Her mother was the second oldest of ten although only the seven girls survived. “My grandfather was quiet but he would explain ‘who can talk with eight women in the house?’… I grew up in this working class neighborhood with blacks from the projects who came up from the south to work in the shipyards, plus the European immigrants – I loved it and thought the whole world was like that. I spoke Italian and saw my grandparents every day as we moved into a house just one block away. All of my mother’s sisters were nearby too. I did not identify with American culture at that time – everything was Italian – the food, the music, the behavior.”
“When not at school, the only children I was allowed to play with were my many cousins – they became the brothers and sisters I didn’t have. I love them all dearly to this day and try to see them every time I am down that way… As a child I read and wrote a lot and won awards for that, even at the age of seven. I attended St. Peter’s Academy for twelve years, a small poor Catholic school four blocks from my home and there I had friends who were first generation Americans, daughters of Central Americans, Mexicans, etc. as well as the children of other immigrants. We all got a fine liberal arts education and I was reading Tolstoy’s works and Chekhov’s short stories in the eighth grade. Most of the nuns who taught us were from Ireland, Germany, and Scotland. I loved school.”
“My mother was somewhat neurotic and given to screaming fits and flinging furniture and whiskey bottles, especially after my working father came home drunk (or was carried) on Friday night. He was a kind, loving man who wouldn’t harm anyone. It was my mother who used to beat him up and the neighbors would call the cops and then my parents would deny everything of course. It was so awful. My father was the greatest influence on me; he had a fine library from his Depression era work at Butterfield and Butterfield, the famous auction house. He loved music too, and played many instruments. Every night after dinner he would play for several hours. So music and books were always present. I had a piano at nine and would practice for a couple of hours most evenings.”
Maria grew up a solitary child as her mother didn’t allow her to go to anyone’s house, or to have anyone visit. She read, played music, painted oils and watercolors and lived for school. She joined every after-school activity so she could stay at school as long as possible. “I hated weekends and summer. I had lots of friends and girls would come to me with their problems. I was mischievous, sassy even, well as much as you could be at the strict school like ours. I played some volleyball and basketball but was always second string, preferring my studies in English, Latin, and Biology to sports. I was never allowed to get a part-time job, not even baby-sitting.”
San Francisco in the mid to late fifties was a place where the beat generation was blossoming. “I didn’t really get to know much about this at the time but I did go with a good friend to North Beach sometimes and listen to some poetry and jazz. I loved it but I could not ‘escape’ to do it very often… I remember writing a poem when I was around seven, sitting at the kitchen table, and I felt in the grip of something although I didn’t recognize what it was at the time. It was a complete love for words and writing, something that has never left me. I submitted the poem to a children’s magazine Wee Wisdom and it was published, so I can say I was first published at age seven!”
“San Francisco was like a village then with distinct neighborhoods, small businesses, civic pride, and consideration for others. Looking back I can say I’m glad, despite all the drama, that my parents were hard working, totally unpretentious, and honest. Because my mother didn’t drive she seldom took my anywhere – occasionally on the bus downtown, once during summer she’d take me to lunch and a movie. So I think I satisfied my desire for friends and fun in other ways, longing to see my cousins and spending much of my early life reading and writing.”
Maria’s parents never went on a vacation, but when she was nine, somehow it was arranged that the family go to Ray’s Resort in Philo (now Wellspring). That was another life-changing event. “It was there I hung around Lenore Ray (later Falleri) a wonderful woman; and her husband Avon who was nice to be around also. I learned a lot about cooking; I learned how to bake bread, milk a cow, slaughter a chicken. Most of the food we ate was grown there. It was the best place for a kid to play and I wished I could have lived there forever. It was also the first time in my life I had any freedom from my hovering mother and I escaped her any chance I got. I wanted to work at the resort in summer when the Rays hired teen-aged girls to wait tables, but my mother wouldn’t allow it. Who could know that many years later I’d end up, for the time being at least, in Comptche?”
Maria was an excellent student and won many awards, stocks, cash prizes, etc. for her writing and piano playing, and graduated first in her class (of 44) in 1959. She had a scholarship for college but “stupidly went to work full-time in SF’s financial district at Owens Illinois Glass Manufacturing (at that time the largest glass container manufacturing company in the world). I was a secretary/assistant to nine men, some of whom were scientists so it was educational and interesting; I also did black and white film developing, enlarging and printing. Photography was one of my father’s hobbies and we had our own darkroom at home. I started night school at University of San Francisco when I was sixteen, but due to life’s interruptions didn’t get my undergraduate degree until 29 years later!”
Maria had no interest in getting married, being a mother – all the things most young women of that time were concerned with. “My mother saw me as some sort of Shirley Temple type but I was a tomboy. It was just on the eve of women’s lib and, unfortunately for me, I had no older mentor to encourage me to go to college instead of marrying my high school boyfriend. I had a scholarship to Lone Mountain College for Women, but I wanted to go to Europe so I saved my money, married the boy, James O’Connor, in 1962 when I was nineteen years old, and went to Europe.”
Maria was knowledgeable and aware about many things but says she was” tremendously ignorant and naïve about so much else. I married this stubborn dogmatic Irishman and I had my first son soon after that, Daniel O’Connor, born in July 1963. My husband was student teaching then, you don’t get paid for that and we needed $500.00, a princely sum then. He refused to borrow half from each set of our parents (and they would have gladly loaned it) and I stupidly went back to work leaving my newborn in my mother’s care. I missed out on so much with him. I still feel cheated.”
She then worked at the Mark Hopkins Hotel for the executive director of public relations and also worked with the banquet and catering department. “I’d go back into the huge kitchens of the hotel and hang around the Viennese bakers, all men. They had massive forearms from kneading two mounds of dough, one with each hand. I asked a lot of questions and learned more about baking and food preparation that came in handy when I worked a second job with caterers.”
The 1964 Republican Convention was held at the Cow Palace in S.F. and Maria managed all their events held at The Mark. It was a fun place to work and she learned a lot. She was also recruited to be a high priced call girl, but declined… “My first marriage was short lived. He was not a bad person but we were both too young and clueless. I had no intention of ever marrying anyone again for any reason. Then I compounded my troubles by involving myself with an older man, the house printer at the Hotel, who turned out to be pathological liar, gambler, womanizer, and later a counterfeiter. Of course I was not aware of any of this at that time. I was so naive. I blame my mother. My father was too sweet to ever say anything to the contrary about my upbringing. Sure I was smart and had common sense, but I had no idea about the nature of men and women. I actually thought that if I was a good person then nobody would lie to me. How embarrassing.”
Maria and the counterfeiter, Sam Gonzales, moved in together but in 1964 it was against the law to cohabitate with someone to whom you were not married. Her first husband sued her, and a social worker was sent to inspect her and the child to see if she was an unfit mother. The ex really didn’t want custody, but wanted to hassle her and he succeeded – she was always broke paying off lawyers over the next few years. “Compounding things further, I got bad legal advice from a lawyer who advised, ‘Oh, just get married and he (the ex) wouldn’t have grounds for the suit’, so in my ignorance, that’s what I did – another mammoth error the repercussions of which I still suffer from to this day. He’s still alive, the f***er; he won’t die.”
During this time she had become pregnant and the future counterfeiter advised her to have an abortion. “Although I believe in choice, I felt deeply connected to this unborn person, and chose to have the baby, accepting full responsibility, and Anthony was born in 1965.”
Her husband, meanwhile, had left the Mark Hopkins and set up his own print shop. He got in with a bad guy and they started printing counterfeit money. “I was the bookkeeper for the business although I had no idea about what was going on. We never had any money but I kept thinking he’d change his ways and that it would get better. I literally had no money and sold my blood – $7.50 a pint; it bought a couple of bags of basic groceries for my kids. My mother would drop off clothes and food for the kids and she never threw my stupidity in my face.”
Then, in 1966, during a heat wave in July, two guys in hats and overcoats knock on the door wanting to serve papers on her husband, Treasury men. “And then, in a twist of fate perhaps only seen in bad movies, it turns out one of the agents had served in the Navy, as had my husband, and they knew each other and it was like old home week with them jabbering about WWII and past times. The counterfeiter denied everything. By October we were in federal court with a public defender, the T-man testified on his behalf and he got off with five years probation. It made the inside page of a Saturday morning San Francisco Chronicle.”
For Maria, the next few years are a blur of lawsuits, debt collectors, and the counterfeiter’s previously unmentioned wives popping out of the woodwork. It turned out the counterfeiter owed back child support in the thousands, and had reneged on a large federal loan. Collection agencies sent people to seize their assets. “I screamed at them when they were going to take my Smith Corona typewriter upon which I typed for an insurance company making $2.36 an hour. They left with nothing, as we had nothing of value to seize… I kept what was left of my sanity by connecting with good people – I was among the first founders, with others, of Noe Valley Nursery School, which still exists today. I had a lot good friends and made sure I had some fun in my life for myself and my children, and I had now had a third, son Christopher born in 1970.”
In January of 1971 Maria’s mother was talking on the phone to one of her sisters and dropped dead of a brain aneurism. “My father gave me money to buy a house in Noe Valley – we got it cheap because it needed a lot of work, but it was big enough for my three sons, husband, and my father. My father was really the dad to my kids, playing with them, making toys for them, and teaching them to read. The counterfeiter failed as a husband and father. My father spent a lot of money and we fixed up the house plus he paid down the mortgage. I was able to return to night school so that I could finish my long-abandoned attempts at getting my undergrad degree. I didn’t finish until much later when I was employed at USF where I completed my B.S. and then got my masters.”
Christopher was six when she was finally able to extricate herself from the counterfeiter and had to work two half-time jobs to support herself and sons. Even after she kicked him out, things worsened to the point where, through a third party she made contact with a Samoan guy who said he would get rid of her husband for $3,000. “Cheap at twice the price, I thought, but my eldest son talked me out of this. Another long story that’s going into my memoirs.”
Maria worked two jobs as many single parents do and it really shortchanged her youngest son. She knew for two years beforehand that she was going to leave the counterfeiter, so she got a job as a teacher’s aide and banked every check she made. “I knew it would be a contentious divorce and would take me a while to kick him out and I was right – soon to be the recipient of rubber checks for child support. By some miracle though, all my sons turned out to be decent human beings. They are all happily married and very good to their wives. I guess they saw me go through so much and they couldn’t do much about it – it has made them very giving and strong, but also very caring for their respective spouses.”
In 1979 Maria found an interesting job as assistant to the head of public affairs at the University of San Francisco, a private Jesuit university. “It was there that I was able to witness firsthand the hypocrisy of religion, the perversion of truth, rampant incompetence and waste. It was there also that I met the love of my life (who is still in that position). My boss got fired shortly after I started there and the managing editor and I ran the office for six months better than it ever ran under the pitiful administering of pompous fatheads. However, I couldn’t bust the good ol’ boy network and got pissed off enough to quit right in the middle of negotiating to buy rental property; my broker almost had a stroke. So I quit USF and my love and I went off to backpack in Yellowstone. After a few months I was hired at The Foundation for San Francisco’s Architectural Heritage (an architectural preservation non-profit) in the historic Haas-Lilienthal House built is 1886 on Franklin Street in SF. It was another interesting job, which I loved, and in which I got to use my brain.”
“When we sold the set of flats we had bought in Noe Valley, my partner suggested buying a house in this area (Mendocino Country). We had often camped up here and I had known it since the days of Ray’s Resort. So it ended up that in July of 1986 we returned (at least part-time) to the place I have always loved and bought 40 forest acres in Comptche.”
By 1991 Maria was “out of love with San Francisco, fed up with how the city had changed. My friends were shocked when I said I was leaving. They thought I’d die there, but no….time to move on – I left and never looked back; I lived here 17 months alone and then my partner joined me. One of my hopes was to have a certified organic garden and we did that – a tremendous amount of work, but lots of fun. I sold produce to restaurants in Mendo and at farmers’ markets.”
“I eventually quit the job I loved at Heritage and moved up here full time as I was hired to be assistant to the superintendent at AVUSD. There were 27 applications and I think I was hired because though I had a strong resume and lots of good experience, I think not being from Boonville was a factor. It was good that I had had experience working for nuts previously, because I was there (at the District Office) for about two weeks and realized what I was in for. That superintendent was bought out and thereafter I had the pleasure of working with J.R. Collins as superintendent and other administrators – a much more productive and sane effort. I still have many friends among the teachers and staff. Having worked in education in SF, I had long known how teachers are undervalued and underpaid. Our country has some skewed thinking about such matters.”
Maria liked living in Comptche and working in Boonville. “I avoided the big drawback of small town gossip and lack of privacy – not that I have such an interesting life. In Comptche I can be somewhat anonymous, with friends on the coast and in Boonville – the best of both worlds. I worked at the school district with Vicky Czapkay and Dee Pickus – two women with great integrity, and am very proud that we never broke any confidences over the years. I would not have lasted without them.”
After thirteen years, Maria retired in 2004 at the age of sixty-two to concentrate on her writing and editing work. Prior to that she was involved with the group, Solstice Productions, which would put on movies every month at different places in the Valley. “It was myself, Tim Bates, Eric Labowitz, Charlotte Triplett, Dina Anzelotti, and lots of volunteers. I also typed up and/or worked on the ‘Secrets of Salsa’ cookery book, the local phone book, and the ‘Voices of the Valley’ oral history book with Mitch Mendosa, and currently attend a writing group in Ft. Bragg every Thursday. I continue to be in the Valley quite often, visiting friends, doing the Quiz at Lauren’s, and generally keep in touch with the Valley news. I’m looking forward to my next adventure, whatever that turns out to be. I’ve been able to travel to Europe several times as well as the usual, Mexico, Hawaii, Thanks to staying with friends I’ve been able to return to England, Ireland, The Netherlands, Spain, Mallorca, north Africa, and intend to do so again.”
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Maria and asked her to just reply off the top of her head…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Laughing with friends, and people being true to themselves.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Self-absorbed people with their proprietary attitudes and intellectual arrogance; despite technologic advances, I think mankind is only about three steps out of the cave. So many people seem to be ignoring the spiritual aspect of what it means to be a human being.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “All kinds of music; the wind in the trees; the ravens on my deck; real laughter.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “Intrusions on silence.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “Risotto Milanese or Osso Buco.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Thomas Merton – the American Catholic writer, poet, social activist and student of comparative religion. He wrote more than 70 books, mostly on spirituality, social justice and a quiet pacifism; or may be Julius Caesar, or Krishnamurti.”
7.If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? – “My cats, photographs, my Oxford English Dictionary set.”
8.Do you have a favorite book or one that has influenced you? – “Krishnamurti’s ‘Think on Things’ or Alan Watts’ ‘The Book: On the taboo against knowing who you are’.”
9.What is a smell you really like? – “Onions frying in butter and olive oil – it reminds me of my grandmother’s kitchen.”
10.What is your favorite hobby? – “Refinishing furniture.”
11.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? – “Movie director.”
12.What profession would you not like to do? – “Office work.”
13.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “There have been many – births of my granddaughters Isabel and Olivia, traveling with Charlie in Yellowstone, graduating from university, and the day I knew I was truly loved for who I really am.”
14.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “There have been many – the day my father died stands out – I don’t think I had ever felt more alone.”
15.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I am true to my word; that I value integrity.”
16.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “You have been a good person. Raising three boys that are decent human beings is no small contribution to society and you should take great credit for that.”

Published in: on December 16, 2010 at 6:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bill Kimberlin – December 1st, 2010

I met with Bill last week at his home up on Peachland Road on the outskirts of Boonville. We sat down in front of a nice fire and enjoyed a delicious sandwich and German lager beer as we began to chat…
Bill was born in San Francisco in 1947, the second of two sons, to Lester Kimberlin and Margaret Mason. The Kimberlin’s had originally settled in Virginia in about 1700 when immigrants received a land patent of several hundred acres. By the early 1800’s, Great Grandfather James Monroe Kimberlin, who was quite a character and world traveler, had a successful hemp farm, providing much sought after rope to the British navy. “I have researched this extensively and found that he had twelve slaves, registered as ‘property’ in the town hall. I looked up the manumission document and it says our slaves were freed in 1852. Lincoln freed all ‘non-Kimberlin’ slaves ten years later, in 1862! James Monroe not only set them free, he also paid for their passage back to Africa. That cost him $1000 and was a very rare occurrence. He went to Dickinson College in Pennsylvania and graduated as a scholar of Latin and Greek before moving out west to Santa Clara. A few years later he was one of the founders of the University of the Pacific, which is now in Stockton, and was a teacher there. He became embittered that his fancy education could not support his family so he quit teaching and founded the Kimberlin Seed Company that was very successful and this resulted in him building a big mansion in Santa Clara and becoming known as the ‘Seed King’. As a consequence of his experience though, he refused to educate his children at college but this skipped a generation and my father, his grandson, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and Stanford Medical School in 1911, before becoming a doctor and surgeon.”
On his mother’s side, maternal great grandfather, John Mason, came to California in 1849 from Ireland, working initially as a carpenter, helping to build the San Francisco’s first synagogue. He moved on to opening his own brewery in 1851 – Mason’s Brewery – one of the City’s first, and many years before the now famous Anchor Steam Brewery began. He moved the facility to Sausalito in 1892 and eventually became the largest alcohol producer west of the Mississippi. His son Clint took over the business in 1906 and raised his family in Sausalito where Bill’s mother was born in 1909.
“The Mason side provided me with the link to Anderson Valley. My mother’s sister Leonore married Avon Ray and they owned Ray’s Resort, now known as Wellspring, here in the Valley. In the fifties, I visited the Valley every summer as a child – the 60-acre resort with a mile of riverfront was a wonderland to me. Avon’s mother was a Prather, one of the oldest families in the Valley – she was the daughter of Cornelius Prather and Avon’s sister was Pearl and she was married to ‘Kid’ Dutro who was the Valley’s blacksmith and they lived in what is now the Mathias’s Rancheria Realty office. Coincidentally, I was at the high school here with Sheri Mathias, now Hansen, who works at the Realty office… My aunt Leonore later married Frank Falleri who owned the Philo Market which is where Starr Auto is now. He also bought the Anderson Valley Market in Boonville so he had both of the main general stores in the Valley for a time.”
In the days before the Bay’s bridges were built, people would leave their cars in Sausalito at a parking garage before crossing to the City on the ferry. This garage was a huge concrete structure built by Bill’s grandfather Mason that is now a hotel in Sausalito. It was called Mason’s Garage and Bill’s mother Margaret and her family grew up above it. During prohibition they were bootleggers. “My grandfather Clint and his buddies knew what they were doing, after all they had owned a brewery. They set up a brewing facility in Tomales and did a great business, and he also owned a soda works, although turning down the Coca Cola distributorship for Whistle Soda was not his best business decision!”
Lester Kimberlin was a successful doctor and married Margaret Mason, who managed his office practice, and they started their family. Bill grew up in the Forrest Hills neighborhood of San Francisco in a big house that was full of servants. “Having a servant was much more common in the 1930’s and 40’s. If you look at the old census records, up until after WWII there was often the case in many homes. It was invariably a young female relative from the ‘old country’ given room and board to help with the children. My father just took it a few steps further with a houseboy, cook, maid, and lots of gardeners and handy men… Both of my parents were brought up to be very independent. My grandfather Kimberlin said, ‘Don’t work for anybody – that’s a bad idea’… My father died from a stroke at the age of sixty-five when I was just three years old and my mother became ill so we moved to Kentfield in Marin County, north of the City – there we only needed one maid. Then, when I was twelve, my mother passed away with hepatitis so shortly after I came to live in Anderson Valley to stay with my Aunt Leonore at Ray’s Resort and I went to the high school here from 1961 to 1965.”
Bill describes that period of his life as his ‘American Graffiti’ years. “It was like the movie ‘American Graffiti’ and later I would work for the man who made that film, George Lucas. This was very different to my experiences at private school in San Francisco and Marin. I had a great time. The Resort gave summer jobs to the high school girls so we got to chase after them and that was wonderful. I had a ’56 Chevy hot rod and we drag raced from the gravel pits near to the forestry station to almost the Ukiah Road intersection with Hwy 128. That is when we weren’t drinking beer and roaring up and down the Valley knocking over mail boxes or fist-fighting out in Comptche. The real tough guys were the Bloyd’s – Skippy, Dee De, and Mickey. I’ll save those stories for when the statute of limitations finally runs out… I waited for many school buses on the porch of what is now Lemons’ Market and I enjoyed school. I was actually an academic type but I could also get along with the kids from the old Valley families most of whom wanted to get out of school and into the woods to work. I worked in the summers at various jobs including Edmeades winery that had just planted some grapes and also at the gas station, the Fairgrounds, and at the Last Resort bar in Philo as a cleaner.”
In 1965, upon graduation from A.V. High School, Bill attended Sonoma State initially before transferring to San Francisco State’s film school. “I had become fascinated with the making of movies, probably from attending the Boonville Movies that were shown in the building alongside what is now Lauren’s Restaurant. In my senior year at college, for my thesis I made a documentary on the great black boxing champion, Jack Johnson. This was many years before Ken Burns’ P.B.S. documentary on the man. Anyway, I sent my movie to Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studio on Folsom Street in S.F. – George Lucas was working there, running the elevator, I think. This was when ‘The Godfather’ was in the planning stage and Coppola was trying to raise money. He helped me finish my film and it was purchased for distribution by McGraw-Hill and went out to schools, etc. It won some awards and got some good reviews.”
Bill graduated in 1970 and found a job with a post-production company working on the sound stage, the art department, in the editing room, and in the film lab. “I learned how to make a movie and set out with my brother and a partner to make a bigger documentary on something more colorful, exciting, and loud – this is when I discovered the subculture of drag racing. The crazy antics of “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday” radio ads and the 2000 horsepower funny cars. We traveled around and turned on the cameras, cinema verite style, and filmed the wildest damn circus you ever saw, concentrating on every aspect of this sport. The movie is called ‘American Nitro’ and was distributed all over the country in 1979, mostly at drive-ins, and it made about $1.5million – not bad. I later took it to a buddy who was working at Lucas film where they had already made the first ‘Star Wars’ movie. He watched it and said ‘Has George seen this?’ Two months later, in 1982, I was working there too and was on the crew, as the special visual effects editor on the space battle scene, for the third Star Wars movie – ‘Return of the Jedi’, released in 1983. I went on to work on may big budget films for the next twenty years, including ‘Cocoon’, ‘Jurassic Park’, and ‘The Mask’, which basically kick-started the careers of Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz. Our crew mainly worked for George Lucas but to keep us together we’d work together as a unit for other people also.”
“The most fun I ever had on a movie was ‘Roger Rabbit’. That was a huge success and made history at the box office. They never did make a sequel because the director Bob Zemeckis wouldn’t let them… I was fortunate to not have to go to L.A. very often over the years – that was a bit of a fluke, I guess. I had a wonderful time in the movie-making world, although over the last five years with Lucas it was less enjoyable as the digital age had arrived. I retired in 2002 after working on ‘Gangs of New York’ directed by Martin Scorsese and then finishing with a Clint Eastwood picture called ‘Blood Work’ – Clint is a great guy; loyal to his crew like nobody else I ever met in Hollywood… It was a very exciting time working for George Lucas – making and watching innovative films that the whole world was going to see. I felt I was at the center of the movie-making world when I was there. However, we had to work very hard and all hours and every day if necessary. We had to make deadlines. George is very smart and knows how to make movies and what works and what needs to be done. Our job was to make sure everything was done on time for him. I remember someone saying to me, ‘If you think George Lucas is going to let that opening night premier pass you are very much mistaken’…. I am not a fan of ‘Hollywood’ at all. The motion picture business is that – a business, then a craft and an art, in that order. It depends on technology and that changes so the art has to change with it. When it works it is the fastest return on investment on earth. If it fails miserably, you’re done…”
With Bill being orphaned so young he didn’t really know much about the Kimberlin side of his family so he spent some time over the years trying to piece their history together. “In the Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley I discovered a twelve-page interview with James Monroe Kimberlin that gave me a real window into my history… Following the passing of my Aunt Leonore I had stopped visiting the Valley, hardly at all since high school in the mid-sixties, but by the late eighties I began to look for a place in the country. For a time I did not even think about Anderson Valley and was looking all over northern California. One day I did drive along Hwy 128 and stopped at the Anderson Valley Creek where a guy was talking about the Valley being a great place. It just hit me, ‘Of course, why not here?’ I bought a sea ranch style, redwood and glass house on ten acres in the summer of 1990. It is secluded but not remote and I can be in Boonville in under ten minutes.”
For the next ten years or so Bill would come up here about three weekends a month, mainly in the summer. It is about two hours and fifteen minutes from the Bay Area and he would eat almost every Friday night at The Hotel in Boonville. “The land feels much larger than it is because the adjoining property is in a conservation easement and most of the rest of the hill is made up of very large parcels. I found country life very refreshing and realized the need to get back in touch with the ‘proper’ rate of life. We need to hear birds singing and to spend time with nature. That is a deep part of the human experience and doing so helps us to ‘settle out.’ Having said that I do enjoy the cafes and bookstores in Berkeley and spend almost half of my time down there still. I enjoy the contrast. To me, life is all about going away and coming home again – and it feels like I can do that whichever place I live in.”
Bill has a house in the Berkeley Hills overlooking the Bay and it’s bridges. Currently he is distributing his old hot rod movie, ‘American Nitro’. “It has been digitally re-mastered and has become a cult film with currently about 44,000 fans on the Facebook business page and on the movie’s website. I think it is the best example of that kind of racing on film. I still make my own movies and I’m working on a screenplay about a bank robber whose story I bought.”
Bill’s other big interest these days is in paleoanthropology – the study of ancient humans. “I am on the board of Directors of the Stone Age Institute which is in Bloomington, Indiana. This is funded by Gordon Getty amongst others and a couple of summers ago the Chairman called and asked that I attend a meeting. He told me that Getty was coming and suggested that I come with him on his private jet airliner. I did. That plane was worth millions of dollars with living rooms, bedrooms, dining rooms, everything. Five of us were on board and apart from the meeting we went around the country, all run by Gordon on his cell phone – he just makes a call, says ‘fuel her up’, and off he goes. He received ten billion in 1983 and is very dedicated to the Institute. I am dedicated to it too. You know what, folks, that is where we come from and it has become a passion of mine to learn about this. With modern technology we can find out the answers to the big three questions – ‘Who are we?’, ‘Where did we come from?’, and ‘Why are we here?’. There are unsung heroes studying this, ‘famous’ people that nobody has ever heard of… Meanwhile, it is perfect for me being able to come up here. I was looking for a place to escape from the movie business, to enjoy music and my large library of books. I collect modern first editions, art, and antique toys – mostly electric trains from the 1920’s and 1930’s. I am fortunate to have had the time in recent years to pursue these kind of interests – non-productive for a change – except for the mind.”
Bill met his future wife Beverley in 1969 while he was at film school and they are still together, with no children. In 1990, he started http://www.andersonvalley.net, a website devoted to the Valley. “I really thought people would use it but it has not worked out that way so far. When I am here full-time, or close to it, I’ll spend some time with the site and hopefully people around here will benefit from it and the bulletin board on there that I thought would be very useful.”

I asked Bill for his brief responses to some of the Valley’s more common talking points…The Wineries and their impact? – “I was one of the first employees of Dr. Edmeades Winery. He was the first to plant grapes in the modern era and everyone thought he was crazy. When I was young it was a monoculture of apples here so now it’s grapes. We are lucky to have them. The wineries help the Valley stay solvent, keep it viable economically, and maintain it as an agricultural zone. We don’t want a Sonoma Mission Inn here; it is the last unspoiled and beautiful place in America”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I find it amusing but behind the times in some ways, although Bruce Anderson is clearly a talented writer”… The changes in the Valley? – “It certainly makes my life easier to have places that open at the times they say they will; to have a good coffee shop like Mosswood Market. The Valley has developed away from the Napa style of things and it looks like we can maintain that for some time – we are still a small town really.”

To end the interview, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Bill 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 on movies; still photography; oh, and redheads.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Republicans.”
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “Blues, some jazz – Miles Davis, Muddy Waters; wildlife sounds in the Valley.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “I really dislike badly ‘tuned’ restaurants – some are just too loud and you can do something about that.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? “Grilled salmon with Vicky Brock’s ‘Early Girl’ tomatoes from the farm just down the road here.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Besides my father, that would be Ulysses S. Grant, U.S General and later President. He was a favorite of Mark Twain’s who used the profits from ‘Huckleberry Finn’ to publish Grant’s autobiography. It sold more copies in the States than anything other book apart from the Bible and it was the model Hemmingway later used to learn brevity in writing.”
7.If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? – “My laptops; mementos from my movie studio days – they are irreplaceable and mean a lot to me; and some antique toys.”
8.Do you have a favorite film /book or one that has influenced you? – “Well, ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ was a movie that had a big influence on me, as was ‘Chinatown’ which had the almost perfect script… As for a book, perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Tender is the Night’. I love my books and have a particular interest in those about the Civil War, slavery, Grant, and bank robbers of the thirties. Mark Twain too – I have just started his autobiography, withheld at his request until one hundred years after his death. Well he died in 1910 and so we can all read it now.”
9.What is a smell you really like? – “The grass on a warm summer day here in the Valley.”
10.What is your favorite curse word or phrase? “Probably ‘Goddamn’ – it is very interesting word, people use it without thinking what it means.”
11.What is your favorite hobby? – “Collecting modern first edition books and antique toys.”
12.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? – “Film directing. I’ve done some and want to do more.”
13.What profession would you not like to do? – “Any non-creative occupation. I have been very fortunate to have always worked in a creative field.”
14.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “When ‘American Nitro’ was released and I was walking down the street in New York City reading the good review it got in Variety magazine. That was pretty cool.”
15.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “When my mother died – that was a very tough time. Years later, a girlfriend of mine said that I was remarkably un-screwed up considering I was an orphan at twelve. I had never thought about it. I know it makes you very self-reliant, I can tell you that.”
16.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I am relentless; that I will get it done. That comes from my training in the movie business. I am no big fan of Yoda from Star Wars, I assure you, but he did say ‘Try? There is no ‘try’. There is do or not do’ and that fits me well.”
17.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “I am a Darwinist so I’m sorry, but that question is from the wrong century”. I explained to Bill that it did not necessarily have to be answered in a literal sense. It is meant as a way of finding out how you would be satisfied in summing up your life at that point. He now answered, “Oh, in that case, perhaps ‘You have done movies or writings that have been of some value to others’ would be good. Actually my favorite epitaph is the one on Marlon Brando’s grave that says ‘What was that all about?’…”

Published in: on December 10, 2010 at 6:51 pm  Comments (3)  

Jim Nickless – November 19th, 2010

I met with Jim at his home on Airport Drive overlooking the Boonville Airport and the surrounding hillsides. His wife Jeanne was busy with chores and after meeting Lucky, the Schnauzer dog, Jim and I sat down to chat…
Jim was born the oldest of two boys in January 1927 in Farmersburg, Indiana to parents Edgar Nickless and Mimi Freed. His mother was visiting an Uncle’s farm and a blizzard hit and the doctor had to drive out to the farm in his Model-T Ford. “I am a couple of months younger than Jeanne, who was born in November 1926, but then I always preferred older women!”
The Nickless family was Dutch/German and were farmers in the Terre Haute area of Indiana. The Freed’s were Scotch/Irish and were from southern Ohio. Jim’s family settled in Barberton, a little city outside Akron, Ohio. The primary industries were tires and rubber, and dirigibles or hot air balloons were built there too, along with engines for ships in World War 2. “I went through all of my schooling in Barberton, graduating from the local high school in 1944. As a kid I had always been interested in aviation and one of my hobbies was building model airplanes. I played a little football but didn’t like being beaten up by the bigger guys. I played some basketball too, but when I was sixteen, with the war going on, they changed the school hours to just 8am to 1pm, after which many school kids, including me, went to work in the factories from 2pm to 10pm at night. I worked on army boots in a factory that also made bulletproof gas tanks for the B24 bombers. It was all piecework and there were no breaks unless you could get ahead of your schedule. I managed to do this quite often and would go across the street in those breaks and have a sandwich with a glass of beer and a shot. My Dad always had wine at the dinner table so I was used to a glass of wine with a meal… With all the war effort going on I had considered joining the Air Force during my last year or so at school but then the Army Air Corps came around the schools recruiting and I took their exam and passed. I took summer classes so I could graduate early which I did, six months early, and on my 18th birthday, January 10th, 1945, I was called up for active duty.”
With the Battle of the Bulge waging in Europe, the army suddenly needed more infantry rather than air corps personnel so Jim was transferred to the infantry and went to basic training in Macon, Georgia for six weeks. “That was a place where I first experienced racism – it had not been an issue growing up. After training, we went to the west coast and shipped out of Portland in the spring of 1945. We landed in Lady Bay in the Philippines and went ashore at the same beach where General McArthur had landed earlier. We did some ‘clean up’ work in the hills surrounding the Bay where some Japanese were still fighting and then everything was concentrated on loading up ships for the planned invasion of Japan. We knew that was going to be hell.”
“However, soon after news reached us that they had ‘dropped the Bomb’ and that the Japanese had quit. We had no idea they had such a bomb. I don’t care what some may think about President Truman for making the decision to drop that bomb – it almost certainly saved my life and the lives of tens of thousands of others. Sure, it was a terrible thing, but the losses that would have followed an invasion would have been far worse, fighting for every inch of Japanese soil against soldiers and civilians… My unit was now sent to Japan a month earlier than the original schedule, to Aomori at the northern most part of the main island. With the war now over, all we wanted to know was when we’d be sent home. They did this on a points system based on time spent there, landings made, etc. – based on that I’d have been there for a few years! However, they wanted to form an amphibious engineers outfit that you could sign up with for eighteen months service but in the meantime you would be sent home for Xmas 1945. A couple of buddies and I signed up and were soon on a train down through Japan. The countryside was very different to back home and the country was not nearly as developed as the States. The same could be said of their military equipment and I think that when they saw all the advanced stuff we had when we landed in the Philippines they realized that they could not win… We carried on to Tokyo and Yokohama, and then on to a ship that would take us home. That ship ran into a typhoon as we went by the Aleutian Islands in the northern Pacific and we had to turn back. Two soldiers were washed overboard and never found. We lost a few days and then finally arrived in Seattle where another delay occurred before I caught a train across the country. Those delays meant I didn’t get home until Dec 27th, 1945.”
Jim spent the next year or so on the west coast training with the marines and the 2nd Army until in 1947 he was honorably discharged. “I was a young kid and had really enjoyed my army experience. I had seen little action, more just mopping up operations in the Philippines. Probably the scariest thing that had happened to me was when some soldier would forget to switch off the automatic fittings on our new carbines and at night something might be heard in the bush and they would fire into the darkness. You would think the Japanese were coming and were scared to death. It always turned out that in the morning there would be a dead cow where he had fired blindly into the night.”
On leaving the military Jim went to study thanks to the G.I. Bill. “That made a big difference in many people’s lives. I signed up for aircraft and power plant mechanic and got my license in 1948. I had some money left over from that and applied it to flying school and started to fly out of Burbank Airport while I worked as a mechanic in Glendale nearby. I was there for a couple of years, working for a private enterprise that had a contract with the Chinese government’s air force.”
In 1949, the U.S. Air Force starting work on the B36 bomber in Texas and needed knowledgeable mechanics. Jim had met a girl who was the secretary at the school and they were married in 1949. “She was well-endowed and that’s how she originally caught my eye!”… He applied for the job in Texas and moved there while his pregnant wife stayed in Van Nuys, California and had the baby, Michael, before joining Jim in Texas. “I didn’t like the job and wound up living check to check with little money and no savings. I quit and returned to work in Glendale once again.”
By 1950, the Korean War was threatening and two jobs opened up for Jim, one at Lockheed and the other for the Flying Tigers Company. “I took them both. They were at Burbank Airport and I’d do eight hours at one, take half-an-hour break, and then go to the other for eight hours. I did that for several weeks before I heard that they needed a ground crew person in Hawaii for the airlift of supplies as the war heated up. I took the job and was in charge of a ground crew working on the C54’s that were transporting troops, supplies, mail, etc, on their way to Korea. I had two shifts a day but if there were no planes to work on I had the time off. We lived one block off Waikiki beach and so I learned to surf that year! As long as you told the bartender at the Beachcomber Bar where you were and could be found if planes were coming in, then you were fine.”
Unfortunately Jim broke his arm while refueling a plane during this period and could not work or surf so he returned to the mainland, although he had made good money and saved too. “We took a family vacation to see my wife’s family in Iowa and I bought my first new car – a Ford in Detroit for $450. I returned to work at Flying Tigers and they sent me to Brownsville in Texas to work on the ground crew for the planes returning illegal immigrants to deep inside Texas. It was hoped by the government that they could not return so easily if they were dropped all the way down at San Luis Potosi.”
In 1953, Jim was again faced with two job offers. He could work for United Airlines as a commercial pilot or for North American Aviation as a field engineer on the F100 fighter planes. He was having eye problems, a stigmatism, and decided he’d hate to work as a pilot then have to leave for failing a physical exam so he took the job with N.A.A., teaching the systems to pilots and the maintenance to the crew chiefs. He was to be with N.A.A. for many, many years in total … After three more years in Texas, during which time a second son, Patrick, was born, the family was once again on the move, this time to Florida for two-and-a-half years where he worked on testing weapon systems that included a spell in Alaska for cold weather testing. It was during that spell that a third son, Mark, was born.
Then on New Year’s Day 1959, Jim flew out of San Francisco headed for Korea for a new job as field engineer with N.A.A., this time for the Korean Air Force. After a year there he moved to work for six months as an engineer in Aomori, where he been during the war. “It had been flattened back then, but by 1960 a whole new city had been built, an amazing change. I liked being there, working for the air force, right on the base. In my field I was the equivalent to a Colonel, I guess, and was a member of the officers club, enjoying quite a social life, and doing lots of drinking. After a year or so there we uprooted the kids once more and returned to the States, this time to Buffalo, New York, near to Niagara Falls. That whole time was tough on the boys, very hard for them to develop friendships in such short periods of time. It’s a big part of the reason that I have such a dysfunctional family… That time we settled for about four years before moving on once again, returning to the Los Angeles area in 1964. I was laid of on a couple of occasions before finding work back with N.A.A. in 1966, working on the Apollo space program.”
Jim had bought a house in the San Fernando Valley a few years earlier and had rented it out during their ‘travels’. The family lived there during his spell with the Apollo program before selling up and buying another place in Orange County, which he in turn sold and bought a motel in Big Bear Lake near to San Bernardino. He moved there with two of the boys, the oldest was now in college and his wife remained in L.A. where she worked at Disneyland. “I had been laid off from the Apollo program in 1974 as it began to close down. The motel did O.K. but I sold it after a year or so. I did finally get my degree at that time. I had studied when in Korea in the late fifties and, following many hours at night school, I had finally graduated in with a B.A. in Business Administration in the early seventies, and had gone on to get my Masters after another five years in 1976, along with my realty license – all my education came through night school.”
Jim and his wife were divorced and while working for a Ameron fiberglass pipe and paint company back in Los Angeles, Jim met a woman called Jeanne who worked in the paint division and they started to date. Job opportunities in San Francisco opened up with the company for both Jim and Jeanne and they seized the chance to move up here, leaving L.A. in 1979. “We moved up and I was a field engineer once again. Around that time, Jeanne’s older son, Steve McKay, who had graduated from U.C. Davis, was a teacher at the high school and he and his partner Bert Cohen had bought property off Lambert Lane in Boonville. In the meantime, Jeanne’s father bought the property alongside and we would visit both places for weekends so I began to get to know the Valley at that time. Jeanne and I were married in 1981 – cheap bastard that I am, it meant I would only have to get one present every year – for Xmas, our anniversary and her birthday which is in November!… Over the next few years when we weren’t on skiing vacations in Tahoe or Oregon we would visit the Valley. However, I left the fiber glass outfit in 1981 and went to work on the Shuttle program for Rockwell who had bought out N.A.A. – once again we were on the move as we left San Francisco and headed back to L.A. for a few more years, but by returning to the company I could use my accrued time towards retirement. We’d also visit the Valley quite often in those years.”
By 1987, the Shuttle work was winding down and so in January, when Jim turned sixty, he retired. “We had bought the property that was to become the Boon Berry Store, which was going to be Jeanne’s art studio, and the house next door. Then I noticed a ‘For Sale’ sign, hanging upside down at a property on Airport Drive on the edge of town. It was just a shell of a building but I’d never dreamed I could buy a house on an airport. The owner had committed suicide and it had been left empty for ten years I bought the property in 1985, knowing I was going to retire in two years. I had some good knowledge of the property business having got my Real Estate license and my broker’s license many years earlier… Jeanne’s son Steve and partner Bert had been using the store for selling the farm produce from the land they had and for a couple of years this had been going well under the name Boont Berry. As a result, when we came up to live in 1987 we felt we could not install Jeanne’s studio and went into partnership with Steve and Bert at Boont Berry instead and Jeanne didn’t get her studio.”
Jim had a hangar built at the house on Airport Drive and from 1987-89 they lived in a trailer on the property while the house was built. “We will have been up here for twenty-four years in January. I had an experimental plane I wanted to work on but the house came first. I got to know some of the neighbors who flew planes. First I think was Larry Lombard whose hangar was always open for his fiberglass company and I’d stop and talk to him and we soon became well acquainted. Then there was Jerry Bowers, Joe Fox, Pete Benville and later on it was Kirk Wilder, Bob Nimmons, Bryant Whitaker, Ross Murray, and of course their wives – that group became great social friends and all of us looked forward to the ‘T.G.I.F.’ (Thank God it’s Friday) weekly gatherings for drinks which began around 1992. We have been getting together on most Friday evenings ever since and people refer to us as the Airport Crowd. It was just the guys at first, the airport guys, although in recent times we have been joined by others, the wine guys like Jack Ridley and John Leal. Some of us are in the American Legion and see each other through that group too. We started at the Buckhorn but the group could be up to twenty people sometimes which was too big to sit down for dinner so we would have drinks at the bar and then go back to someone’s home for a pot luck dinner. It is not every week these days, may be every three weeks… We love living in the Valley and at our stage of life it is good to know we have a very good medical facility nearby, although a major emergency could be a problem and I have already been airlifted out of here by helicopter on two occasions.”
Jeanne and Jim have done quite a lot of volunteer work in the Valley since their arrival, although Jim is the first to admit most of his has been connected to the airport. “I am on the C.S.D. (Community Services District) Budget Committee and Chairman of the Airport Advisory Committee. Also I’m a member of the County’s Search and Rescue – Air Division, but most of my volunteer work has been in the area of getting support for the airport. The runway was much smaller but we have raised money and expanded. We attend many of the Valley’s events and a few of us will fly to other airports for fly-ins or we sometimes host other groups here. It would be good to get more young people involved. The high school used to offer flying classes and I always thought it was great you could graduate and have a flying license too. It’s too bad that came to an end… Of course, many people will be aware that on the second Saturday in August we have the Airport Social that is a party for anyone in the Valley to attend. We have a potluck and all afternoon we take people up in our planes and fly up and down over the Valley, making anywhere between 120 and 150 flights. We have also had t-shirts made for the airport and apparently they have been seen all over the world at this point thanks to the many pilots who have flown in here. Boonville is a well-known airport in flying circles and although may be a back country airport, it is a damn good one because we take god care of it.”
I asked Jim for his responses to various topics that Valley folks often seem to discuss… The wineries and their impact on the Valley? – “I have seen it evolve from apples to grapes and most people do not realize exactly how many vines there are unless they go up in a plane. I think they are a definite asset to the Valley apart from some detrimental effects of taking so much water”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I remember hearing that when the editor, Bruce Anderson, used to walk along Mountain View Road people would drive by very close to him! He used to call me the bad guy for spraying poison on the runway to keep the weeds off. We do like it when we see it, particularly the local news and events, and are thinking about subscribing again”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “Jeanne listens but I prefer to watch television. I watch Fox News and that makes her mad – she is a Democrat and I’m an independent. It can cause problems!”… The school system? – “In our early days here Jeanne was involved because her son was a teacher. I am of the opinion that two years of military service would be a good thing for the kids’ development into adults but these days with the various wars and terrorism going on who knows where they would end up?”… The Changes in the Valley? – “Well they have been good overall. One thing that has not changed is those terrible buildings at the south end of downtown – the Blight I think people call them. It is a wonder to me that nobody has burnt them down… I was sorry to see the Buckhorn Brew Pub close a few years ago, the tasting room at the Brewery is not the same, but I believe the Buckhorn will be re-opened soon so we’ll see how they do. The Boonville Lodge closing earlier this year was too bad also. It had turned things around and then the landlord stepped in…”
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 added…
1.What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “When I see a nice airplane coming in to land. My ears are attuned to the sound of an incoming airplane and I have the radio here that is set at the frequency for pilots to inquire about weather and runway updates.”
2.What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Democrats!… No, actually all politicians – they are a bunch of crooks. Nothing locally annoys me – I love the whole ambience of the area and enjoy the wonderful people who live here.
3.What sound or noise do you love? – “An airplane engine. People complain but say nothing about logging trucks. I don’t mind that either actually.”
4.What sound or noise do you hate? – “The screaming of tires when they do wheelies.”
5.What is your favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? – “Filet mignon, medium rare, with a delicious glass of red wine.”
6.If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “I’ll miss Carroll Pratt, a local resident and World War 2 pilot and friend who died a couple of weeks ago. I know that… President Truman – I’d like to thank him for saving my life.”
7.If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? – “My money, a pair of pants and a shirt, and that 1904 piano over there. I did have quite a gun collection but gave most of them to my son.”
8.What is a smell you really like? – “Meat on the bbq.”
9.What is your favorite word or phrase? – “Shut up!”
10.What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “How much does it cost?”
11.What is your favorite hobby? – “Playing the stock market – with my fingers crossed.”
15.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? – “I would have loved to have been a captain for a commercial airline. The decision to not accept the offer from United Airlines is something I regret more than anything, I think. Two years after that my eyes were fine… As a child my father was a mechanic and therefore blue collar. I grew up with that mentality, thinking further education was for others, and it was not until many years later that I learned you could better yourself through education. I also realized that drinking in officers’ clubs was not all there was and that college courses were available to me.”
16.What profession would you not like to do? – “Cleaning out toilets. In the army I had to do that whenever I was in trouble, which was quite often.”
17.What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “When I married Jeanne.”
18.What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “When I worked as a field engineer, I was sent to investigate about forty accidents over the years. That was tough – the burning flesh smell from airplane crashes is the worst smell imaginable. At one air show, I remember a pilot I knew as a very good friend crashed and was killed. I found a glove with his hand in it and his helmet containing his head.”
19.What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically / mentally / spiritually? – “That I enjoy a good glass of red wine… I was a womanizer, a bad guy in some ways. I chased women all the way up until the day I met Jeanne. Now I just look and do not touch. I am the dirty old man of Boonville… I am a quiet person, more a listener than a talker. Sometimes I want to tell someone to shut up but it doesn’t come out even though I think hard about it.”
20.Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “I’m not sure I’ll be at those gates; more likely I will be faced with Satan. I suppose I’d like him to say, ‘You’ve been a good guy and a bad guy. I forgive your bad stuff, now come on in.” That would be good.”

Published in: on December 2, 2010 at 4:59 pm  Leave a Comment