Bill Harper – March 3rd, 2011

A couple of Saturdays ago, and in a significant break with ’tradition’, Bill somehow managed to get an invite to my house to do his interview and after opening a couple of beers we sat down and began out chat…
Bill was born on Labor Day 1954 in Los Alamos, New Mexico, the older of two children, sister Lynn came along a year later, born to parents Wallace Harper and Doris Inez Eddings. “My father’s side were of Scottish/English descent but had moved to this country many generations earlier and around the 1870’s they had settled in the Ouachita mountain region in south central Arkansas – as a result my heritage on that side is highly dubious and I never did find out much about the curly-haired aunts my grandmother didn’t like to talk about. With the extreme prejudice of the time, people arriving in Arkansas at that time had to declare their race and they would change their racial identity designation, as there was a big advantage to be gained from doing this. My grandfather and his family settled in the Bryant/Malvern area and he worked on the Mississippi Central Railroad cutting the grass alongside the tracks with mule drawn mowers. He later became a pit boss in the clay mines where there was a brick factory – a cushy job, and my grandmother would take him his lunch and he’d often be fast asleep at work.”
On his mother’s side their ancestors were English who had also been in the country for several generations, eventually settling in the Ozark mountain area of northern Arkansas. “My maternal grandparents had a two hundred acre subsistence farm and when my mother was a child they grew cotton. It was a hard lifestyle, the ground was poor and they could not afford any workers so the children had to work. In 1908, when my grandmother, Viola Lyles, was eight years old, the family went to Oklahoma in an ox- pulled wagon to make a claim on Indian land but this was denied, as their Indian identification had not been maintained over the years. From around 1880 on, you would get $5 and some tobacco for registering in West Memphis, Arkansas but that was a twenty-day ride, you had to feed your mule, and you were probably going to be robbed. Besides, there were no other benefits in being Indian so they had not registered and now they could not get the land. My grandparents eventually moved on from cotton and when the kids grew up they had cattle that were hand-milked and the milk sold to the Kraft Company for their cheese. However, my grandfather was never willing to mortgage the farm and so they always had horses, never tractors – I learned to milk cows and hitch a team of horses when I was twelve.”
Both of Bill’s parents went to college. “My mother put herself through college at the Arkansas State Normal School in Conway, where she got straight A’s – ‘I was not going to pick cotton anymore!’ she said. She was two years older than my Dad and she graduated and got a teaching job in Rolla, Missouri, where he was attending the University of Missouri, School of Mines. They met up and were married and then my Dad got a job with the university of California in Los Alamos as a ceramics engineer working on the bomb and nuclear technology. My sister and I were both born there but when I was two, in 1956, we moved to Murrieta, Georgia where Dad worked for Lockheed developing missiles. We had a very nice lakeside home with wraparound porch, television and a maid.”
The family moved again in 1959, when Bill’s father began work at Lockheed’s facility in Palo Alto, near to San Jose in northern California. They settled there and the Bay Area and the south peninsular is where Bill went through all of his schooling, with his mother continuing in her teaching profession. “The schools around where we lived, near to Stanford University, were excellent and I did have an ideal childhood. I had the benefit of very good schools coupled with that depression-era ethics I received at home… My parents divorced when I was eight and my mother went on to get her masters in education while dad carried on ‘launching missiles, saying in his defense, ‘as soon as it is two feet of the ground it doesn’t belong to Lockheed – it is owned by the C.I.A., N.A.S.A., whatever… With my mother being a teacher she would have the summers off and every other year we’d go Arkansas to see family and I’d learn ‘country skills’ such as hunting, fishing, horse work, and catching hens and putting them in the stew pot. I got to eat fried chicken and sip cold sodas after catching chickens in the dark – eight at a time, twp trips back to the truck and you had sixteen in a full coop. Twelve years old and being a man – it was great! I went to lots of Giants baseball games and Stanford football, and played Little League baseball. When we stayed in the area for the summers we did not go to Arkansas, Mom would take classes through the University of California in the Sierras and kids were welcome to go too and I got a big dose of nature and the natural sciences, plus my parents had taken us camping many times. That and the summers in Arkansas, both gave me a love of the countryside, and ultimately resulted in me being here now. Those summers were great – we caught chickens and hauled hay communally; work was shared – both the labor and tools, plus we were fed really well!”
Bill attended Awalt High School in Mountain View but didn’t really like school that much. “Well, not until I had been to Europe, drank beer, and lightened up on myself and realized that I was not the center of the universe. I got over myself, I guess. There were the usual factions at school – the pot-smokers who got good grades, the lawn crawlers who smoked and didn’t. I hung out with the outdoor nerds who smoked and got A’s and my grades improved to solid B’s. I ran cross-country and that took the place of playing the saxophone, which I had done for several years. As I said, one summer, when I was fifteen I went to Europe for six weeks with a teacher and eight students from the Palo Alto School system. The Mormon Church organized these visits and students from all over the country went so we got to know kids from other states. I remember there was a questionnaire for the parents that asked if their kids could date, drink, or smoke – cigarettes that is. My folks said dating and drinking were fine; generally speaking the Midwestern kids were told they could only smoke – they couldn’t date or drink. That always amused me.”
In 1970, with the Vietnam War still raging, graduation was still two years off yet Bill’s mother was already looking into jobs in Canada. “I only found that out ten years ago. It was a tough time in this country obviously – watching the life go out of people as their kids and loved ones didn’t come home. Around then, they ended the college deferment and the lottery began. I graduated early, in January 1972, and decided to go and see my Dad in Europe where he was bumming around after being laid off work. I had no real plans. I had maintained a B-average – that was fine withy me. I have always settled for that kind of performance – if I finished fortieth in a race of eighty that would be fine with me. I am certainly not an over-achiever. Anyway, my Dad had been absent during my adolescence – a period of low self-esteem. I had issues at that time but was now much improved and he was now more involved – he would lend me his Porsche and give me a six-pack of Lowenbrau beer to go with it and have fun… We traveled in Britain and France, drinking beer together, and I developed a palate for better beers on that trip.”
On his return to the south Bay, Bill was pleased to discover that the High School Ecology class had taken off and was now involved in recycling materials for the city of Los Altos so he took a truck driving job with them while taking classes in geology and anthropology at Foothills Junior College. “The recycling business took off and was very lucrative. I moved into a house with friends, cycled to work and after a few months we were able to give ourselves a raise as well as donating money to ecological causes. It was a collectively run business and I was one of the main five people involved – the principal truck driver and mechanic… Around that time, following my trip to Europe, I taught myself to make beer and made some at home, which was actually before Governor Reagan changed the existing law and made it legal to do so… Then in late 1972, the driver whose job I had taken over wanted some help building a house up in Comptche, beyond Anderson Valley. I had been to Ft. Bragg as a youngster, camping with my parents and riding the Skunk Train so I was vaguely familiar with the area. I started to come up on weekends and help with the house on Orr Springs Road and during this period I began to think seriously about moving up this way.”
Meanwhile, back in Los Altos, the garbage company was angry with the recycling company for taking their business and some stores were canceling the garbage company’s service. “I went out one morning at 3am and caught the garbage company taking cardboard left for us at the back of a store. We had a showdown meeting and we won the right to continue. I had decided I had no use for further schooling at that point – I had a well-paid job and was doing something worthwhile. However, by this time I really wanted to move to the countryside and lots of my friends were moving away from the city area. I went to Arkansas for six months and built a house for my Mom on the backside of the family farm so that she would have somewhere to live close by to her mother, as she got too old to look after herself. I then spent the next five years working a variety of blue-collar jobs in northern California – a forklift driver, in a motorcycle shop, a property manager, driving a tractor – mostly unskilled labor jobs. One of the jobs was part-time at the Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico on their bottling line – not because I knew how to make beer however… I had enough money for a down payment on a house but never a steady, reliable job. My mother aid she was going to retire in a couple of years and said she would pay for me to go to college then or the opportunity would be gone.”
As a result, in 1982 at the age of twenty-nine, Bill started at U.C. Davis studying Viticulture. He graduated in 1985 and went to live and work in Napa where he was a vineyard technician for a couple of years. “I had studied the grape and making wines and found myself in tasting rooms and on bottling lines at some really nice wineries, which was fine for a time but I could never have afforded to buy property there. Then in 1987 the parents of a friend of mine from college, John Farrington, bought some vineyards just outside Boonville (Farrington Vineyards), the vineyards towards the hills on the right as you first leave town heading north. They needed a vineyard manager and I took the job and moved to the Valley… This was the Farrington’s first vineyard and my first management job – it didn’t work out – barely for one crush/harvest. I quit… I bounced around on a few people’s couches but decided to commit to living up here even without a job and rented a place in Comptche in the fall.”
In January 1988 the Anderson Valley Brewery opened its brewpub doors as The Buckhorn Saloon in the heart of Boonville. “I was talking to one of the new owners, David Norfleet, and the other one, Ken Allen, had been talking to the people at Sierra Nevada Brewery and the guy there mentioned that there was ‘one of our guys’ now living in Boonville. He approached me and I took the job as brewer. Even if I so say myself I do have the knack or the touch for brewing beer… This move was very good for me. I am a ‘hermit’ to some degree and this new place was the only show in town apart from The Boonville Lodge so I got to meet many people. Apart from having a drink after work I also took on the coast sales route twice a month and got to know people out in Mendocino, Elk, Little River, and Albion too.”
The business went very well although there was a big turnaround in staff at the restaurant. Bill continued to meet people and was soon friends with those involved with the Magic Company – particularly Henry and Rainbow Hill and also the group that played ‘Jungle ball’ at the Cheesecake property. “The Grange had burned down and people across the whole spectrum of the Valley came together to rebuild it. I began to get a real sense of the community, with different kinds of people getting together for the communal good, and decided to buy ten acres on land in the Rancho Navarro development where I put a trailer to stay in. I had grown up with that sense of community in Arkansas and it was happening here.”
By 1992, it was time to move on from the Brewery. “In some ways it was not easy working there. I found a much more lucrative job on the bottling line at Navarro Vineyards – better paid than the brewing position at the Brewery. I liked wine and although I continued to drink at the brew pub, this was a good move for me.”
Bill became vineyard manager and stayed at the winery for three years before deciding to move on again for various reasons and he found work at different construction sites. By 1993, he had become involved with the Magic Company’s shows and by 1994 he had a shell of a house on this property and socially, He had also been making beer at home with a brewing and wine-making partner, Bill Rafael, with whom he also dove for abalone. Then he moved into vineyard management with Steve Williams for a year and was also hired to run the local recycling center at the high school, which effectively led to the County being “shamed into picking it up at the County Dump.”
In 1997, Bill decided to help some contractor friends out in San Francisco on various building projects and for a year or so he was splitting time between the Bay Area and his “bachelor shack” in the Valley. By this time he had paid off his mortgage and decided to travel in the southwest (Utah, New Mexico, and Texas) and southern California, which he has tried to do every spring since, while supporting himself with odd jobs in the Valley. In1999, with gas so cheap at the time, he traveled even more in that area and joined a desert hiking/activist group.
“We do 100-mile back packing trips into the desert. In 2000 I met Robyn on one of the easier trips and we began to date. She was living in Castroville by Santa Cruz and we took a number of long vacations together. I had become involved in the Variety Show in the Valley by that time and doing odd jobs to bring in a little income, but basically doing what I wanted to do for the past ten years or so. We got married in 2008 and in 2009 she retired from her social services job in Gilroy and moved up here full-time, which she likes very much. Her moving in led to lots of upgrading at the house in the last two years to a nice home from its previous bachelor pad status…She has been through a tough few years with both parents and one of her two sons passing over a relatively short period of time. She has become involved in a number of Valley organizations and I have followed her – we are in the Lions Club, The Grange, and behind the scenes in the variety Show and Magic Company.”
Bill has also become a passionate desert activist in recent years particularly, writing letters to the Bureau of Land Management protesting the plans to install solar facilities in untrammeled desert areas. “They plan to disturb vast areas of land covering seven western states. These are public lands and the wildlife and ancient trees will be destroyed. It is basically a big land grab by the likes of Chevron, B.P., etc, etc. These installations will be triple the cost of roof top solar, the charges will be passed on to the consumer, and the land will be destroyed forever.”
I asked Bill what he most liked about life in the Valley. “The people and their attitude – not everybody but the vast majority certainly”… And anything he didn’t like? – “Well there seems to be too many people with too much silly money but that is the same story all over the country at this time, while many others go short”… And how about an image or memory of his parents? – “Well I can vividly see my Dad at our wedding in his cowboy hat – that will always be with me… And I have a very strong memory of my Mom driving the Studebaker across the desert and at the same time reaching into the back seat to slap us kids in the back seat…”
What about the wineries and their impact? – “The sheer volume is the problem. There is no diversity now but they are doing more or less the same as other industries before them. Besides, the solar panels and dope growing have enabled as much tree felling and water extraction as them and the large-scale marijuana growers are just as destructive in terms of the environment”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “It is a necessary evil. I meet many reporters on my travels and in my dealings as an activist and every one of them has heard of it”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “Well it sure needs some fresh something. I don’t like its general direction and it seems like there are fewer and fewer local people with programs”… The A.V. School System? – “We just don’t spend money on schools like we used to. Having said that, do we need to give money to the knuckleheads in charge?”… Drugs in the Valley? – “We’re American; drugs are us”… Changes in the Valley? – “The Hispanic influence has been a part of my life always so that is no different for me. I’m not so sure about the British, French, and German though!” (Bill was chuckling loudly at this comment)…
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to my guest. Some of these are from a questionnaire featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “A cup of coffee in the morning.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Well I try very hard to not think about the negative…”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “A faint breeze through the trees.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Rich people whining.”
5. What is your favorite food or meal? – “Real Texas pit bar-b-q.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Derham Giuliani – the entomologist, naturalist, and all round desert rat.”
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? – “Some naturalist books; some beer and wine; and a pipe-load perhaps.”
8. What is your favorite word or phrase? – “Thank you.”
9. What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “No problem.”
10. What is your favorite hobby? – “I don’t have one – that’s a problem. I used to dabble in model railways and making beer and wine – not any more, although I did run the still with David Norfleet a year or so ago and we made some plum wine, cider, and some eau de vivre/ water of life – you know what I mean…”
11. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? – ‘A real field entomologist or naturalist.”
12. What profession would you not like to do? – “In the defense industry, making the machines of war.”
13. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – “It was on that trip to Europe in 1969 when I was fifteen. I took a girl from St. Louis to a led Zeppelin concert in Frankfurt, Germany.”
14. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “I wish I had kept up my saxophone playing, or the piano.”
15. What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “Getting married.”
16. What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “When the children of friends have died.”
17. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “My sense of humor – I try to keep things light.”
18. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well I think he’d order an emergency gate closure in the belief that the database had been compromised… But if I did get to talk to him and ask a few questions I’m pretty sure I’d soon be looking for a bus going the other way.”

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Published in: on March 31, 2011 at 4:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Kelley Hiatt – March 1st, 2011

I met with Kelley in her classroom at the High School where she has worked full-time as a teacher’s aid in the Special Education Department for the past twenty-five years. She made a lovely cup of tea and we sat down to talk…
Kelley was born in the small rural logging town of Scotia, about seven miles south of Fortuna in west-central Humboldt County, northern California. Her parents were Lasca ‘Lassie’ Wilburn and William ‘Bud’ Johnson. The Wilburn’s had come to California in the late 1800’s from Tennessee and her great Grandmother was 100% Indian and as a result her great Grandfather had been disowned by the family – he was with a ‘squaw.’ The family settled in Trinity County and Lassie grew up there and Humboldt County too. She was boarded out with a family to attend school during the week in Fortuna, which was many miles from where they lived.
The Johnson family was from Arbuckle, Colusa County, and at some point they moved and Kelley’s grandfather worked on a large cattle ranch in Trinity County. The ranch was near to the Wilburn property and Bud Johnson was also boarded out to attend school in the town too. He and Lassie had known each other as kids for some years before they were married in 1949 and Kelley was born a few years later.
Sister Kristy was born, two years after Kelley at which time they were living in Cloverdale with Bud working at the Crawford Ranch in Anderson Valley. “My parents split up not long after that and Mom moved back up to Trinity County with us girls and married again, a couple of times in fact. We did not see much of dad over the next few years. We were always moving as my stepfather was in construction and worked on dam building. He worked at the Ruth Dam, the Whiskytown Dam, the Trinity Dam, and the Shasta Dam and each time we moved I went to a new school so that before I graduated high school I had been at fourteen different schools in total. Fortunately I was very outgoing so I made friends quite easily everywhere we went. Meanwhile, my Mom would find work as a bookkeeper or elementary school teacher. When she wasn’t doing that, or raising us girls, her hobby was horseback barrel racing and with my stepfather being a bucking horse rider, we would go to rodeos as a family since as far back as I can remember. I had been on a horse with my grandfather as a baby and then rode one at the age of three. However, I did have a couple of serious horse wrecks a youngster and that was hard to overcome for a time.”
For a time they lived in Hetton Valley, Bridgeville, in southern Trinity County and Kelley attended the local school along with ten other children, in total. “My Grandmother, Hazel Wilburn, had a ranch there, my Grandfather had died, and she ran the ranch and was also a teacher for thirty-two years, as well as being a local judge and a supervisor for the 5th District. There was quite a large extended family of Wilburn’s around and my grandmother spoiled us all rotten. My mother was a heavy smoker and this was linked somehow to her having to stop teaching for a while and she began to run cattle on the ranch – she had always wanted to grow up and be a rancher, and now she was… My stepfather was a strict Catholic and so we had to go to a Catholic school in 6th grade – Sacred Heart Elementary in Eureka. Yes, I went through the whole catholic scene – I was baptized, and regularly went to mass and confession. I did not like being forced to do that at the time but it made its mark and I think I’ve continued to practice a lot of those Catholic ways ever since – you know, the guilt, the doing what you are supposed to do, etc… When I left that school and went to a public school – Winship Junior High, it was just the greatest thing in the world to me. To be away from those strict nuns, no school uniforms, and be able to do some sports, although we still had to go to mass every Sunday.”
“ We moved to Ferndale, a town about the size of Cloverdale, and I went to Ferndale High School. My parents bought an old Victorian house there and my Mom was the Principal at nearby Grizzly Bluff Elementary School. My parents were strict and we were assigned household chores, while at school I was an average student and didn’t apply myself very well but I played on the school tennis team and had lots of friends. We lived next to the fairgrounds where I was able to keep my horses and my sister and I worked the Fair, a seven-day event, mucking out the horse stalls and walking the horses after a race, cooling them out. It was good money for a high school kid. When I was about fifteen or so, my parents split up and for a time Mom had to take an extra job working at a mill as well as at the school before she decided to return to running cattle on the property in Hetten Valley and bartending at a nearby resort too. This was too far away to go into school every day so for my junior year I had to board out once again during the week. I hated being boarded out with a family that I didn’t know and my schoolwork declined. In the summer before my senior year, my Dad showed up and his wife thought it would be a good idea to go and live with them. It seemed like a great idea to me too – I was so unhappy with the boarding situation. My Mom was very upset at the possibility of me moving but I went ahead and grabbed the chance to get out – I was like many other self-centered seventeen year olds and did not really consider her feelings at the time. My sister stayed with her – she was a wild child, and I went to live with my Dad and attended Anderson Valley High School for my senior year.”
Kelley had visited her father a couple of times in the Valley and had entered her horse at the Mendocino County Fair in Boonville the previous year, but on this occasion she left her horse behind. She was in a senior class with people such as Peggy Gowan, Angela Pronsolino, and Lindsay Clow and soon settled in. “My mother had wanted me to be a teacher so I had rebelled against that and enrolled in beauty school part-time during that final year at school – she did not like that. I now regret leaving her. It was very selfish of me but you don’t realize that until you become a mother yourself. We kept in touch and remained very close but she was a heavy smoker and it led to her dying at the age of fifty-three.”
Kelley dated local logger, Wayne Hiatt, who was from one of the original families who had settled in the Valley in the 1860’s. He was a couple of years older than her and he worked for his father Kay, at Hiatt Logging. “I graduated from high school in 1971 and we were married a couple of months later in a redwood grove – to avoid all religious conflicts that may have come up. My father’s bear-hunting friend, Andy Burgess, was a judge and he married us and we moved into an apartment between The Boonville Lodge bar and the Anderson Valley Market, and then into a house on Fitch Lane on the edge of town. I did finish beauty school but found a job working for Evelyn Berry at her apple packing shed, before getting work at the Redwood Drive-In for Donna Pardini and Eva Johnson. They closed down for the slow winter months of 1974-75 and I did not go back because I was pregnant with my daughter Amanda who was born in 1975. We moved to the place on Ornbaun Road, ‘Kelley’s Place,’ which we rented from my Dad. We later bought the property from him and I continue to own it and rent it out to my half-brother W.T. It’s where I have corrals for my horse and other people’s horses too. W.T. is a partner at Starr Auto in Philo and my other half-brother, Houston, works at Maple Creek Winery… When Amanda was in grade school, I volunteered as a part-time teacher’s aid and in 1985 they hired me full-time at the high school in the Special Education department under Bill Dawson. A year later Brian Schriner took over the department and I worked alongside him for twenty years until he retired in 2006. I then did two years with Sarah Cornsweet, one with Marie Bryant, and now it’s Raye Sokolow.”
“Wayne and I had several steady friends we would hang out with – people such as Dave and Sandy Knight (Tucker), Craig and Marty Titus (also a Tucker), and Ricky and Stephanie Adams. We’d go to the Boonville Lodge and often over the hill to Ukiah to watch the stock car races. Wayne was riding bucking horses by this time and my Mom gave me a barrel-racing horse so I started to learn that sport – I’d only shown horses to that point because I had been pretty scared after my two wrecks. Then we both really got into roping and that became our social life, attending rodeos with friends every weekend, all over the State and into Nevada. People would say a girl couldn’t be a good ‘healer’ (roping by the heels), so I wanted to show people they could and won Girl Healer of the Year two or three years in a row and also the Women’s Team Roping Association title a couple of times and then, after my third victory, my prize was a wonderful saddle. My Dad had married a friend of mine, Vicky, and he was very well known in the rodeo scene and we’d all go together; he and Wayne always got along well. By the time she was three, Amanda was riding in the County Fair parade and at five she was barrel racing… Over time my priority became roping and I did very little barrel racing. I bought a real nice horse from Jim Clow here in the Valley, and we did this whole thing as a family for many years.”
“Wayne and I split up in the early nineties. Around the same time my sister was killed while working as an under-cover narcotics officer in Texas, and then on top of that I was diagnosed with cancerous cells – that was a time of real learning experiences… I stayed on at the Ornbaun Road property with Amanda and my sister’s youngest boy, Patrick, came to live with us there. A year or so later, I met a man called Scott playing pool in the Boonville Lodge. He lived on the Hanes Ranch about ten miles west of Boonville (his mother Meda had married John Hanes), and he was building a house for himself on the property. We went on our first date to a Halloween Dance at The Grange. He was in construction and was helping to build the Lazy Creek Winery building and would cash his check at the Lodge – that’s where he asked me out to the dance. We have been together ever since and I moved into the place with him on the ranch about seven years ago and we are very happy there. I totally love living there although it takes me about thirty minutes each way to get to school so I don’t want to forget anything.”
Amanda went away to college at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and Patrick (Upchurch) attended A.V. High School where he excelled at sports, particularly football and baseball, and graduated in 2000. “He is like my own son and Scott also really helped in raising him… Amanda got married and in 2003 had a son, Jace. After Wayne and I split up, I pretty much stopped roping and went back to barrel racing, although for years I did not compete anything like as often as before. However, in the last five years it has become quite a serious hobby once again and now Amanda is into it and she is a very good competitor. She gave me a well-bred barrel-racing horse and he is very quick but a little too ‘hot’ or highly-strung. I have had him three years and a good relationship has slowly developed. I ride him three or four days a week, a couple of miles up into the Deer Meadow hills overlooking Boonville. Most times it’s a nice quiet ride but if I’m angry with him then it’s all the way to the top without stopping! Last year we did quite well in a few competitions and one weekend won $700. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve done but I love the whole thing as I go with girlfriends, Amanda too sometimes, and I always take my dog, Chub – half Border collie, half corgi, and we stay in a motor home or at a motel and we always have a great time, win or lose. I actually think barrel racing is harder than roping although I’m sure some people would argue with that. Anyway, I want to be good at racing before I die, or at least before I am too old to do it anymore.”
“Another thing I love to do is fish. Scott and I like to travel to British Columbia to fish for salmon whenever we can. What a fantastic time that is – fishing all day long. We both love it – he is very good and I’m getting better every time… The other thing I do is my crafts. About ten years ago I started to make barn-wood picture frames and moved on to cowhide covered redwood stools. I then took some classes and now make necklaces – flashy and elaborate, hammered metal earrings, and other different kinds of jewelry. I have my pieces at Scharffenberger Winery and at Susan Spencer’s new gallery in Ukiah, and I always have a stall at the Christmas bazaar, plus a few of the teachers have bought my stuff too. Sometimes what I make is a disaster but sometimes it’s pretty cool. I have a certain gift for crafts and have knitted my whole life, and sewed too, and I can continue to have time to pursue these crafts because of where I live. I love being there but you need something to do to stay busy. I often spend the whole weekend up there – working on crafts, reading – I read anything that does not take a lot of thinking – mainly fiction but not mysteries or scary stuff.”
I asked Kelley what she most liked about the Valley? – “I love the Valley’s climate and it is a beautiful place to live. In the spring it is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to. I have never wanted to leave and don’t think I ever will. There isn’t anything here I don’t like”… What does she think of the wineries and their impact on the Valley? – “I don’t think they have had too bad an impact. They have provided lots of jobs and certainly have attracted tourists and their money to the Valley”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I like it and buy it every week. I don’t always agree with what is written but it is always entertaining”… KZYX & Z – the local public radio station? – “I don’t listen much although I do like trading times. Scott listens far more than I do. I like country music so apart from the shows by Diane Hering and Jimmy Humble there is not much on there for me”… The A.V. School System? – “I think we have a very good school but I’m obviously biased. I do know first hand that a lot of individual effort is put into each and every kid and the teachers genuinely care about the students”… Law and Order in the Valley? – “I am very concerned that the deputies are not patrolling the Valley like they used to”… Marijuana and other drugs? – “I have never used any of them but I would think it makes sense to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana by now. As for methamphetamines, it would be a good deterrent for the kids to see addicts up close, when they first enter rehab perhaps, when they are at their lowest point after using this very addictive and harmful drug. I think it’s a horrible drug, none are good but the effects of that one seem to be the worst of all.”
I asked Kelley for a memory of her mother. “She was a great lady. She was strict though and would take a belt to you and blister your ass if necessary. I never doubted her love for me though. Even when I was thirty-five, I remember her coming into me at bedtime and sitting on the bed and talking to me. I can still see her crying when I left to come here to live. I shall never forget it. She raised me and made me who I am.” And her Dad? “He and I are close now but I don’t see him as much as I should perhaps. We do try to ride together every couple of weeks and that is important to me.”
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 I came up with the rest myself…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Helping somebody.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Lack of respect for others.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “A cow moo-ing.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Fingernails on a blackboard – that happens a lot when I’m wiping down ours here in the classroom.”
5. What is your favorite food or meal? – “Rib-eye steak with veggies.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “My Mom – she died too young from emphysema in 1986. I smoked like a fiend too but hypnosis helped me stop once for six years then I went back to smoking for ten years or so before quitting for good, thanks to hypnosis again, in 2004.”
7. If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out, what three things would you make sure you took with you? – “My dog Chub, an old gun my Dad gave me; and the saddle I won in competition.”
8. Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “A film would be ‘Legends of the Fall’ with Brad Pitt; a book would be ‘All the Pretty Horses’ by Cormac McCarthy; and the song may be ‘Red, red wine’ by Neil Diamond.”
9. What is your favorite hobby? – “Well it would be two – barrel-racing and fishing.”
10. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? – “A full-time cattle rancher.”
11. What profession would you not like to do? – “A nurse – it would be tough emotionally and heartbreaking at times I’m sure.”
12. Tell me about a memorable moment; a time you will never forget. – “Catching a 35-pound King Salmon in British Columbia. Oh, my God! It was all I could do to get it in. I am quite competitive and that makes me want to be as good at fishing as Scott is.”
13. What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “Seeing my daughter give birth to her son. Being older I think I appreciated it more than when I gave birth to her, although that would be right up there too.”
14. What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “My sister Kristy’s death – she was just too young – in her thirties.”
15. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “That I care about other people’s feelings. That I’m an honest person.”
16. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Welcome, Kelley, I know that Hazel, Lassie, and Kristy are waiting for you.”

Published in: on March 24, 2011 at 6:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sandy Creque – February 23rd, 2011

I met Sandy at her home on Indian Creek Road a couple of weeks ago and after being introduced to Rosie her wonderful old dog, we sat down to eat with a some scones and a nice selection of cheeses, salami, and crackers…
Sandy was born in 1936 in Oakland, California, the oldest of three children born to Alice Nitzberg and Clem Abrams. The Nitzberg family had come from Germany and Poland and settled in New York City where a philanthropic friend of theirs took an interest in Sandy’s mother (born in 1913). He would take her to the meetings of the city’s Algonquin group of famous writers and thinkers in the twenties, where the young girl would sit and write and draw. Grandfather Nitzberg lost his money in the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and so they decided to move out west to the Bay Area, settling in a nice neighborhood of Oakland, where Alice resumed her studies at Oakland Tech High School.
Clem Abrams was born in 1911 to parents who had also come over from Europe (Russia/Poland) about the same time as the Nitzberg’s – the early 1900’s. They lived in Butte, Montana and were one of the very few Jewish families to settle there. This was near to the very busy Anaconda Copper mine and Clem’s father had plenty of work as a cobbler. The family moved to Oakland in the twenties and Clem attended Oakland High School and then went on to U.C. Berkeley where he graduated with a degree in Chemistry.
“My father’s side, the Abrams, lived in a bad part of town but he became the youngest Eagle Scout in Oakland and would swim across the nearby estuary every morning for his exercise. Grandfather Abrams was a big imposing man who ruled the roost in their house. He would pound the table if dinner wasn’t ready when it was supposed to be, although I loved him dearly and he loved his family very much. He had a brother, Abe, whose wife Betty was as nutty as a fruitcake. They had no kids of their own so sometimes Abe would give us kids money and one day it was $50 each – a huge amount. His wife went crazy and a big fight ensued. To keep the peace, my grandfather said it had not been $50 and asked me how much it really was. I said it was $50. I was about ten years old and my grandfather picked me up and grabbed my tongue between his fingers, saying, ‘With this tongue, she lies.’ I was really taken back – I was in trouble for telling the truth.”
“Three of my grandparents spoke little English, certainly not enough to help any of their kids with homework. My maternal grandmother, however, spoke three languages and learned Yiddish after meeting her husband – my maternal grandfather, who particularly butchered the English language. On top of that he thought everyone was Jewish and referred to television’s Ed Sullivan as ‘Ed Solomon’ and ordered ‘Vinx’ cigarettes, when he meant ‘Wings’ cigarettes. He had a little money and would give some to the homeless for food, saying ‘better to be the one who is asked than the one who has to ask.’ “
Sandy’s parents met and were married in Berkeley in 1932. The family lived at 2233, 10th Avenue in Oakland and brother Marc was born in 1941 and then, much later, they moved to Oakland Hills and in 1951 brother Lannie came along– “That was when I was fifteen – it was terrible, all the kids knew what my parents had been doing!… My maternal grandparents lived across the street and the Abrams were about ten blocks away so we saw lots of them and had many family gatherings. It was a very mixed neighborhood – black, Chinese, Japanese. During the war I walked to school and would pass two lovely houses with beautiful gardens and every day I said ‘hello’ to the people who lived there. Then at some point the gardens became overgrown – the owners were Japanese and had been interred in camps. I remember we had a local Italian-owned grocery store and, with Italy fighting on the other side, they had a big sign on the window saying ‘We are Americans’.”
“I did not do much to help around the home. In fact my father said ‘you are only person I know who has to take a nap before going to bed at night.’ Yes, I was lazy! My mother was a homebody who did absolutely everything. My father was a chemist who later owned two of his own paint factories. He was not allowed to serve in the war because he was seen as necessary to the war effort on the home front – the factories made the paint that went on the war ships. He was very upset by that.”
“Kids loved coming over to our house, and my parents threw wonderful parties. I was a very friendly kid, very polite. We had a wonderful family dog, Jezebel, an Irish Setter, with all the papers that showed the great line of breeding the dog had. My father said he knew more about the dog’s family than his wife’s!”
Sandy enjoyed school, attending Oakland Junior High and High School where she did well academically and was a popular kid. “I got on with everyone, from the Principal to the Janitor; from the Class president to the drop-out kids. I had a couple of boyfriends before I met Dave Creque, who was older than me and in the navy at the time we met. A friend set us up but I had decided I definitely wasn’t go to go out with a sailor. However, they pulled some shenanigans and we ended up going to the movies together. He was nineteen and I was fifteen, although I told him I was sixteen. We went to see ‘Strangers on a Train’ at the drive-in. My girlfriend was known as a ‘hot date’ and she was with Dave’s friend but I was very young and naïve so nothing was going to happen but I still ended up with a hickey on my neck. I liked him and tried to hide the hickey but my mother had the eyes of an eagle and spotted it. Oh, my, did she interrogate him!… With the war in Korean about to break out, he was supposed to ship out a few days later, but when he went to get his inoculations he joined both lines of men who were getting shots – including the one that meant he could not ship out for a week. He had that extra shot for me and so we spent a few extra days together.”
While Dave was at sea, he and Sandy wrote to each other constantly. “He was gone for all of my 11th grade at school and came back in the summer of 1952. That November we eloped to Reno for a night, got married, came back to Oakland and then he had to go back to his ship down in Long Beach. My mother found out I had cut school and told my father. He had a temper but had never hit any of us. He took off his belt and gave me three or four whacks – but they were very half-hearted and I began to laugh. He was not trying very hard at all. He asked me if I was ‘damaged goods’ and I said ‘Yes’ because I did not want him to have the marriage annulled. He knew that he would have to accept the situation and a couple of months later, on January 25th, 1953, we had another wedding for everyone. I was sixteen; Dave was twenty. Everyone thought I was pregnant and that we had to get married. ‘Poor thing’ they thought and we therefore got lots of lovely presents. I wasn’t pregnant and look what happened – we were together for fifty-four years!”
Sandy and Dave settled in Long Beach where he was stationed. “The High School refused to take me – I had had ‘carnal knowledge of a man’, so I went to continuation high school which turned out to be a great thing for me – small classes, individual tutoring, and Dave making sure my homework was turned in on time! I made some wonderful friends at school and did lots of swimming and surfing – yes, we had a great time in Long Beach, although we had a very tiny apartment with a Murphy bed (in the wall). Dave was no longer at sea, he worked on the base, but I did not want to live in navy housing – the women there seemed to be very unhappy and at seventeen I knew that place wasn’t for me.”
Dave got out of the navy in 1954, and Sandy graduated high school early that summer. Daughter Geri was born in 1955 (son Stuart arrived a few years later in 1959) and they moved back to the Bay Area and stayed with family until getting a place in Oakland in a low-income and student housing area. “Thanks to the G.I. Bill, Dave went to S.F. State to get his teaching credential while I raised the kids. We moved to San Leandro near to the Marina and bought a four-bedroom house for $19,999 – thanks to lots of family support. Three of my grandparents were still alive and my paternal grandfather had mellowed and left some bonds for us. He had always thought I was ‘pretty, smart, and wonderful’ – although the rest of the world didn’t necessarily agree.”
Dave became a student teacher but didn’t really like living in San Leandro – “it was an all-white enclave and many wanted to keep it that way. He became the President of the Homeowners Association and rocked the boat a little. Over the next decade and more he did lots of wonderful things for many people, both in the neighborhood and through his work as President of the Teachers’ Union. In the late sixties, the local union joined with community groups in protesting the racist hiring practices of the School Board. The opposition culminated in a sit-in during a school board meeting. NAACP representatives and Dave ended up in a melee with the police. Thanks to a policeman’s billy club, he received several broken ribs and was arrested along with the black leadership group. They were charged with anarchy, trespass, and a variety of other charges. The defendants, known as the Oakland Five, ultimately agreed to a plea of ‘Nolo Contendere’ for the crime of standing in the aisle at a public meeting. The case was thrown out but then they tried to take away his teaching credential and I spoke on his behalf at the hearing. It’s amazing what some tears, blubbering, and a little eloquence can do. They backed off and he kept his credential.”
“He was a big activist for many years through those turbulent times and was involved with many civil rights and anti-war protests, and I was often by his side. We had to endure lots of abuse from the ‘other side’ during that time, this included hate calls at home in which they would call us ‘nigger lovers’ and they also put a dead duck that had been stabbed on our doorstep. Dave spoke his mind and no doubt he upset some people but if he thought you were right he’d support you all the way and was active and successful in East Bay politics, government, and labor unions for three decades.”
Sandy had been working at the courthouse in Oakland but decided to further her education. While her mother babysat, she took political science classes at Berkeley for a year or two. However, before graduating, she was offered a job at the office of the Alameda County Registrar of Voters and grasped the chance. “It was a job made for me. I loved it. I worked five nights and weekends on campuses all over the county, getting people registered to vote and teaching others how to register other voters too. It was something I really wanted to do and had a great passion for – people have a right to register to vote.”
By the mid-to-late sixties the Black Panther Party, despite the violence that was frequently associated with them, had become an effective political movement and they joined with the Peace and Freedom movement and became involved in voter registration. “I went to many Panther meetings and would often be the only white face there. I met and loved some of them for the work they were doing, people like Bobby Seale, but some I couldn’t stand – Eldridge Cleaver for example. I remember seeing Huey Newton being led away in handcuffs at his manslaughter trial and I gave him the Black Power salute as he looked over. I was so excited by all that was going on and I was at the heart of it. This was history, I was meeting people I’d read about – it was a marvelous time… “
“An F.B.I. agent came into the office one day, they were concerned that I was attending Panther meetings. He said he thought it was ‘a shame that the Panthers had to feed the poor people of Oakland – it was as if they lived in a third world country.’ He was a good guy and we became good friends over time, but to this day, if I travel by plane I am pulled out of line for questioning… I loved my job and made many good, lifelong friends during my thirty-eight years there. I never wanted to be the ‘Emperor’; I liked being behind the scenes. I loved dealing with people, often very angry people who were the ones always passed on to me. I enjoyed dealing with them and helping them find a solution. At one point, the music promoter, Bill Graham, who had heard about me from various young people who I had recruited, offered me a job as a sort of ‘mother hen’ to the various rock bands whom he represented but I turned him down. I loved what I was doing too much to leave.”
“For many, many years the job was the driving force of my life and even Geri, when she was in high school, organized an anti-war demonstration. Together with Dave, who went on to become on the Central Labor Council, the Oakland Port Commission, the Civil Service Commission, and the Democratic Central Committee in Alameda County, we met many of the powerful Democrats of the times –including Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, plus some Republicans such as Casper Weinberger and Ed Meese from the Reagan administration. I used to get my hair done in San Francisco’s Castro District and became friendly with the gay rights politician Harvey Milk – a very nice man, and Dave was a personal friend of the S.F. Mayor, George Moscone, who was shot and killed along with Milk in 1978. By the time I’d finished I was entered into the Secretary of States’ Board of Participation Hall of Fame.”
This hard-working lifestyle, and the many dinner parties and social scene that accompanied it, continued throughout the eighties and nineties during which time Sandy and Dave moved into the Oakland Hills where they built a geodesic dome home on some property where they raised some goats, and of course they always had their dogs. They traveled extensively, in Europe, Asia, and Africa, but when at home they liked to host parties, Dave being such a good cook.
Many years earlier, in the sixties, they had gone camping and stayed at Hendy Woods in Anderson Valley. “The convict workers were still putting in the campsites at that time. On maybe our second or third visit, in 1970, we passed a ‘4 Sale’ sign at the end of Indian Creek Road and I called the number. It was a woman in Yorkville who was acting on behalf of the owner who lived in Missouri. He wanted $17,500 for the 7½ acres. I knew we wanted land to retire to but we are city folks – I didn’t even know what the septic tank was. I returned to work in the city and Dave stayed to camp for a little longer. Normally we had to talk everything over, even if we were thinking about buying a sofa, but I thought about the property and I called the realtor and said I could put $50 down – it was accepted and we had our place in the country. We paid it off in five years and Dave always said it was the second best reason for marrying me.”
“For years we camped on the land and used it as a weekend getaway retreat. We finally put a modular home on the property in 2003 and sold our house in Oakland, buying one in Modesto that is not far from my mother who was in Tracy – she passed in 2005. We moved up when we both retired in 2003 and I started to get to know some people here. I met Diane Herron at the Brewery Store in Boonville and she told me about the Independent Career Women’s group so I joined and love our monthly meetings. Then another women I knew, Monika Fuchs at the Philo Pottery Inn, had started a kitting/sewing group – Stitch and Bitch – and I joined that too. I am in the Unity Club and also play Bunko once a month with some wonderful women here in the Valley.”
Sadly, Dave Creque passed on Christmas Eve in 2004, aged seventy-two. “I was driving on Hwy 101 near to Healdsburg and he was in the passenger seat. He turned to me and said ‘I love you’ and then his head rested on his chest and he died. The son of a bitch was supposed to stay and take care of me because I have had cancer diagnosed on a couple of occasions. My humor stands me in good stead, my black humor particularly. I am very thankful it was quick. These days, if I was in the Bay Area I would go back to school but not finishing my degree and taking that job instead is not something I regret at all.
Sandy has three grandchildren from daughter Geri – Aaron, (who has now presented her with two great grandchildren – Jezzie and Bella); Rebekah (who married Mike), and Talia; and three from son Stuart and his wife Carole – Miriam, Chava, and Hannah. “Not to mention many nephews and nieces and Dave’s sisters, Joan and Marci and my adopted sister Linda, who all continue to be like sisters to me.”
Currently she has possible plans to start a non-profit, using her vast knowledge of the voting registration process. “All of these pundits fail to tell us what people say who are not going to the polls. I got together with some old friends and we started calling people and setting up coffee evenings. I think we can make a difference and feel very good that us little people can perhaps bring about change as well as those in the corporate world. I have been trying to make a difference most of my adult life. I have been involved in so many progressive movements – when my son was fourteen, I went on my first gay rights march.”
Before winding down the interview with the usual questionnaire, I asked Sandy for a strong image she has of her father. “A very smart man, a physically strong man”… And a fond memory of her mother? – “She never punished me unfairly – we were very close. Nobody had a bad word to say about her.”
I now wanted Sandy’s opinions on some of the issues we face here in the Valley… The wineries and their impact? – “I do not like them pumping water out of the creeks and I can’t even put in a summer dam in to save the fish. I also think some of them could do more to improve the lives of their workers. They should pay their fair share – thank God we have the medical center that helps so many”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I like it. Sometimes, politically, I question some things, but it is a fun read and I always enjoy any local news”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “It’s right down the road and yet I can’t get good reception so I don’t listen”… The school system? – Well I have little knowledge of that other than when I was a judge at the science fair I was terribly impressed”… Changes in the Valley? – “Too many vineyards, not enough orchards”… Marijuana? – “It should be legalized. Absolutely. The same with same sex marriage – it’s nobody’s business.”
To end the interview, as I do 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…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “My dog.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “I worry a lot about what is happening in the world.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “My birds.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Diesel trucks going by.”
5. What is your favorite food or meal? – “Chicken Fried Steak and potatoes, with creamy, real country gravy.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Dave Creque… Or perhaps Mahatma Gandhi or Winston Churchill.”
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 dog and cat (Snoopy), my insurance papers, and some family photographs… Oh, and a painting I have by local artist Malcolm West… That’s more than three – oh, well…”
8. Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “Tony Bennett songs; the film would be ‘Casablanca’ or something directed by Mel Brooks; and the book would be Barbara Tuchman’s book about the beginning of World War 1 – ‘The Guns of August’ – a fantastic read.”
9. What is your favorite hobby? – Watching movies on Netflix, or reading – mainly World War 2 spy novels or anything by the crime writer P.D. James.”
10. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? – “A aid worker in Haiti – right now. I wish I were younger. There is a true crime going on there as the aid is not getting to those who need it.”
11. What profession would you not like to do? – “Oncologist – dealing with cancerous tumors.”
12. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “I wish I’d had the courage to confront and tell off some people in my personal and professional life. I could never quite go in for the ‘kill’.”
13. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “My work at the Registrar’s office. I think I made a difference.”
14. What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “Our real wedding.”
15. What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “The deaths of close family members. My mother died just six months after Dave – that was very hard.
16. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “That I am not mean-spirited… That I love animals – I always have, my whole life – cats, horses, goats, and of course my dogs – my Border collie, Luna, was very special indeed.”
17. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Hey, Sandy, welcome – I’ve been waiting for someone like you my whole life!”

Published in: on March 17, 2011 at 4:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bill and Gail Meyer – February 16th, 2011

I met with Bill and Gail at their lovely home high in the hills east of Boonville with its stunning views of the Valley far below. Uniquely to this point in my series of interviews, we had decided to do a joint interview and so the three of us sat down with some delicious sandwiches and began to chat…
Bill was born in 1953 to parents Eugene Meyer and Helen Collins, both of whose ancestors had been in the States for several generations. Their families had settled in Pocatello, Idaho and his parents met at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. “My father was in the navy, based at Moffett Field in the South Bay, and he had flown blimps, patrolling the coast on the lookout for possible attacks by the Japanese. Then after the war he went to the Stanford Business School. I have a brother, Gene III, born in 1945 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Hospital, which is where my next brother, Douglas in 1949, and myself were also born – all three of us with the same doctor in attendance. My Dad was a traveling salesman selling farming goods for my grandfather’s company based in Idaho and when I was very young, after living in Fresno, California for about nine months, we moved back to Idaho Falls, Idaho because my grandfather needed help with the business. In 1957, my grandfather died and for the next five years my Dad ran the company. We had a large extended family in the area and we had frequent family gatherings which were always lots of fun, but in 1962, when I was nine, we moved back out to California and settled in San Carlos on the Peninsula.”
Gail was born in 1952, a year before Bill, (“I like younger men!”) to parents Jules Jordan and Isabel Riddle who were both from the East coast, and originally of English/Scottish/Irish descent, although the Jordan’s were previously ‘Jourdan’ and of French extraction. At the age of seventeen, while living in Boston, her mother had a one-time date with an army man ands the next day he went off to war, neither having any intention of staying in touch. Shortly after Isabel found out that she was pregnant and then a few months later she met and fell in love with another military man – Jules Jordan from California. She had dreams of living in California and at the age of eighteen, now eight months pregnant, they were married and made plans to move out West. Isabel’s mother died of kidney disease just before the baby was born and then Jules admitted he could not love the baby as much as if it was his own. It was a tough time for Isabel but she and Jules made a joint decision to offer the baby girl up for adoption and took her to the Salvation Army in Boston. When the adoption papers were being signed Isabel managed to take a peep at the name of the new parents, something she was legally not supposed to do. She did not forget that name and many years later tracked the child down – Gail’s half sister, Susan. “ My mother started looking for her when the girl would have been twenty-one, and found her when she was twenty-five. Then, for four more years, my parents did not tell us who she was, explaining that she was a friend of my mother’s. Anyway, that’s a whole other story… My parents were married in 1946 and settled in the Visalia area of the agricultural San Joaquin Valley where my mother’s father’s family owned orange groves and where my brother Bill was born in 1947.”
“My father trained to be a chiropractor and at some point we moved to Glendale but his profession was not seen as a ‘true’ medical science back in those days and chiropractors were viewed as ‘quacks’. There was little work and we returned to Wilburton, Massachusetts where my mother had inherited a house and where my father found work in construction. We made other attempts to settle in California, taking a couple of cars and trailers with all of our belongings back across the country two or three times. I spent 1st grade and then 5th and 6th grades on the East coast, with 2nd thru’ 4th in Lake Tahoe and then 7th in Aptos, near to Santa Cruz. Overall I had lived in nine different places by the time I entered high school in Watsonville, and then I moved again to the newly built high school in Aptos for my senior year. I found all the moving not as tough as my brother did – he was a few years older, besides, I always seemed to make friends very easily wherever we lived.”
Over those years, Gail’s father continued to struggle in his profession. “He was ahead of his time and although he was called ‘doc’ by his friends, he never really found steady work in his chosen profession and eventually settled in a job with the State Highway Construction Department. My mother was a bookkeeper, office manager and administrator in various businesses including an ice cream parlor, an insurance office, and even a casino – that was when we were in Tahoe where my Dad had his own chiropractor practice for a time.”
Bill attended San Carlos High School where he was a good student. “I was there from 1967 until graduation in 1971 and that was a time which saw lots of things happening in the Bay Area and way beyond. I began to question everything that was happening, from my school to the government’s policies, and like everyone else I watched Walter Cronkite on the news every night giving the numbers of those killed in Vietnam. My parents were very conservative and I repeatedly clashed with my father in particular – they voted for Nixon in the 1968 election. Kennedy had been this breath of fresh air and had got the country behind him in the early sixties but by 1968 people were asking if the government was telling the truth and my friends and I would go to protests and demonstrations in San Francisco and Stanford at the weekends. Meanwhile, to earn a little money I was mowing lawns, working at an A & W Root Beer place, and also at a bakery.”
“After graduating, I went to U.C. Santa Cruz which was in a wonderful town and community and where I made some lifelong friends. However, a year later, with the Vietnam War was still raging I still had no idea what major to take. School was not really interesting me that much but I had to stay there to get my student deferment from military service. The lottery was in its second year and my number came up – it was in the 350’s so I decided to take a leave of absence from college knowing I would not be drafted with such a low number… I lived with my brother Doug, hanging out in town and on the beach and eventually I got a job earning $3.15 hr at Ingles’ Brussels sprouts processing plant – it was a cool job. I was working nights so I had all day long to hang out on the beach, surf, and ride horses. The plant was two-thirds women and one day the boss came over to me and said ‘I am going to take you to heaven’, and he led me into the women’s side of the factory where he set me to work loading boxes of Brussels sprouts that had been sorted out by the women. I spent all the time watching the ladies work and occasionally loading a few boxes. A co-worker friend of mine had spotted this one girl and was too tongue-tied to talk to her. I said I’d help him out and we went to speak to her at the break…”
Gail was a B-average student at school and enjoyed sports too. “I remember I could spell ‘chiropractor’ at seven and entered spelling bee’s. Around that time I got a job cleaning stables out and later I also exercised the horses. I loved skiing and ran track in junior high and high school, the sprints and relays. My time of 12.4 seconds was the record for the 100 yards in the Central California region for about eight years. I liked riding my bicycle and being at the beach and singing in the choir, appearing in musical plays, and really enjoyed the overall social experience of being at school and had friends in many different circles.”
Gail graduated in 1970. Her parents had separated in 1968 and she had lived with her Mom, who to help with bills had taken in a renter – a twenty-year old woman called Dee Anne. “My parents had always been so supportive of us and each other. I never heard them argue. I knew my mother was eager to do something more, to express herself more. She had been a mother since she was so young. She got a job in the administrative department at U.C. Santa Cruz, eventually becoming the first woman bursar (financial administrator) in the whole U.C. system. She had been itching to do something for herself for years and after a year in the bursar job she took off for Mexico. She fell in love with the country and at the age of forty-eight she quit her job, took a crash course in Spanish, and left. She would never to return apart from the occasional visit, and she lived in rural Mexico for thirty-eight years until she died in 2009… Dee Anne and I lived in the house and I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had no direction after high school and over the next two or three years I did various odd jobs and took lots of art and dance classes. Dee Anne and I got another place and rented out my mother’s house. Then, with some money my mother had put aside for me, Dee Anne and I moved out and went to Hawaii for a time. When we returned we lived in a three-compartment French tent in the yard of a friend of my mother’s – Dee Anne and I have remained friends ever since those days – she is like a sister to me. Anyway, I needed a job and in the fall of 1972, I started at the John Ingles fruit and vegetable processing plant in Santa Cruz. It was a good job and one day at break time a couple of guys who loaded the boxes of Brussels sprouts for us came over to talk to me…”
Bill was living in a barn at the time. “Now that was so cool, but this woman at the factory topped me, she was living in a tent! We soon found out that we had horses and the beach in common so I convinced my friend she was not his type and she and I started to date!”
Gail continued, “Bill wanted to see other people but I said, ‘No – you’re making a big mistake if you do.’ He fell for that. We had so much fun together; we were so compatible from the start and we are still each other’s best friends. His brother Doug moved out of the barn and I moved in. We had a couple of horses and rode on the beaches and in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.”
It was the height of the drive for self-sufficiency and the ‘Back-to-the-Land’ Movement; the hippies having moved on to that scene a few years earlier. Bill was into horses and he needed to shoe them so, while the rest of his friends became carpenters and plumbers, he took a night class to be a farrier – “and I’m still doing it!” They spent a couple of years at the Brussels sprout plant – it was seasonal work and they both worked in restaurants the rest of the year, Bill as a short order cook and Gail as a waitress. They moved into a house a little further north of town where there were lots of good horse trails and good surf and then, in 1975, Bill’s brother Doug invited them to join him and his friends in Half Moon Bay and work at a horse-boarding ranch on a 320-acre property. It was three miles inland in Purisima Canyon and Bill and Gail decided to give it a try. Bill explained, “It had been abandoned for ten years and there was lots of work to be done. There were houses and barns and a workshop but they all needed work. Gail helped exercise the horses and maintain the barns and I built fences and we cleared the brush and planted oats and pasture grass. We become tied to the land however, with the horses, chickens, goats, ducks, pigs, rabbits, etc, and we managed to take just one week off in almost five years. We worked very hard but saved our money and by the time we left, the ranch had seventy-five horses and we had money for a down payment on a house.”
In October 1979, they gave notice of their plan to leave without having anywhere to go. The owners eventually sold the ranch to the singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman and she turned one of the barns into a recording studio. They looked in the Sierra Foothills but found nothing to their liking. One weekend Bill had gone camping in northern California and drove back south along Hwy 1 until he reached Hwy 128 at Navarro Point. Then, for a change, he turned inland and drove through the Valley. “I thought, ‘Wow! This is really, really beautiful’. It was gorgeous and I would have loved to have stayed and checked out properties but I returned home. Gail and I continued to look at properties in the South Bay and on the coast down there but it was too expensive so we started to look seriously around the Valley with the local realtor, Bob Mathias. On one occasion, when Gail was not with me, I was shown this property. We had a house plan we wanted and the house already here on the property was almost exactly that, plus it had a pigpen! Anyway, even though it had no power or electricity and had kerosene lamps, I put a deposit down on it and went home to tell Gail. The property fitted right in with our ‘back-to-the-land’ ideals, which I had had since high school. I was very comfortable with that. It also had a mobile home on the property with renters – Bob and Cathy Porter. We moved up in the spring of 1980 and Gail got a job briefly in the apple packing house at Gowans’ Orchards before becoming a waitress at the Philo Café, owned by Kristy Hotchkiss and Andrea McKowskey.”
Gail continues, “We did not know anybody in the Valley and Bill commuted two days a week back to Half Moon Bay. However, we soon realized that there were many people here who were our age, doing what we wanted to do, and providing a real sense of community. The café had healthy food and live music and there were many apple orchards and not many vines at that point. Then, in January 1982 – the El Nino year, the rains washed our road out and that provided us with the excuse for Bill to stop commuting.”
Bill went on, “I found a job with Norman Charles at his Christmas Tree farm in Philo. I did his fencing and his odd jobs and handyman chores. He and his family were the first people up here that we really got to know and hang out with. Norman introduced me to many of the old-timers such as John Hanes, Buck Clark, Doodles, and Bob ‘Chipmunk’ Glover. We would hang out at the Floodgate, when it was a beer bar owned by Dave and Nancy Gowan, and we’d drink cold Coors with spicy hot sausages.”
Gail meanwhile was also meeting many people while working at the café. “The Clams local baseball team would come in after games, then there was Smokey Blattner, the Holcombs, and many others. Our son Russell was born in July 1984 and I left the café. When I returned to work I took a job at the Boonville Hotel when Vernon and Charlene Rollins owned it – they had some interesting ideas and I thought that would be fun. Bill worked days and I did evenings so we never had to get a babysitter. However, the Rollins turned out to be very difficult to work for and things became quite desperate as their strange ideas were not working and the business struggled. One morning we were about to open when we realized that they were not around. They had just left and were spotted pulling out of town in a truck loaded up with furniture; they had always been up to no good and now they had fled town. It was ‘night and day’ when Johnny Schmitt took over – a good community guy, and I worked three evenings a week there with Bill looking after Russell and later Scarlet too – she was born in November 1986.”
By that time Bill was working for himself. “I had learned pasture fence-building at the horse ranch and noticed that all of these new vineyards would need fencing, plus a new influx of people were moving here and they needed deer fencing which I had learned to do at Norman’s farm. As a result our phone never stopped ringing with requests for fence-building work. Well, I say our phone – we did not get one until 1990 – it was actually the phone in Bob and Tim Mathias’ realty office and they would keep messages for me until I stopped by. We had finally got PG&E power to the house in 1988 after our road association did lots of prep for them, although Gail and I had been happy with solar.”
Until 1997 their job situation worked really well and did not change as the kids progressed through school. Then Gail developed carpel tunnel in her wrist from all the bar/waitress work and so she left the hotel and got a job at the Elementary School as a part-time P.E. teacher. Four years later, in 2001, she returned to the Hotel to help Elaine Busse with the Inn keeping and perform various administrative tasks. “It seemed like I’d waitressed all of my life and although I liked the variety of that job it had become physically too much. This new position was more mental and less physical and, apart from a four month lay-off when Johnny restructured the business, I have been there ever since.”
Bill meanwhile was kept busy with two jobs. “Since the early nineties, I had had a small flatbed truck and so when Steve Williams, the vineyard manager at various wineries, asked me to haul some grapes at harvest time, I took that job on, working at lots of the smaller wineries, while still continuing with various fencing jobs. As for the farrier work I was semi-retired by that time and remain so today, although I have five or six clients I have kept. It is hard work, in fact it’s said that shoeing horses is the second hardest job in farming, after sheep shearing.”
For many years both Gail and Bill were involved with many school activities as Russell and Scarlet went through the A.V. school system. When in 3rd grade, Russell, along with his friend Gabe Shapiro, started a radio show on the local public radio station, KZYX & Z, called ‘Rubber Biscuit’, which later became ‘Teen Scene Live.’ “Other than work and parenting, we also seemed to go to parties all the time”, said Bill. “And to the Philo Café, The Burlap Boys were always playing– that was Bill McEwan, A.J., Alan Kendall, and Jack Tyseling. Our social scene involved attending lots of community events and then through my contact with Tom Smith, whom I had helped in the early days of the school soccer program, we started to go to the Magic Company events, featuring Henry and Rainbow Hill, Jonesy, Doug Read, Terry Scott, and Tom of course. An offshoot of that group had been The Variety Show and in it’s third year I signed up to help behind the scenes at that annual event. One day I was just sitting around with Captain Rainbow and I came up with an idea for the opening act – if only I’d kept my mouth shut!” Over the ensuing years Bill has continued to be one of the main organizers of this event. “I helped Tom backstage and Rainbow with the organizing, although Rainbow does most of it and I do about 20%.” Gail quickly corrected him – “more like 40%.”
What do Gail and Bill like most about Anderson Valley? Gail replied “The community, the people. They care about each other and everyone helps out when somebody is in need. Plus everywhere we go around here we seem to know so many people. And, it’s a beautiful place – we don’t see places any nicer… “ Anything you don’t like? “Seeing the apple orchards disappear was very sad and took some adjustment.”
What about the wineries and their impact? – Bill – “Lots of our friends have vines – we have two acres of Sauvignon Blanc ourselves. We are conscious about the water usage and some sort of less invasive frost protection method should replace the noisy fans”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – Bill – “I love it. Gail buys it on Sundays at the Hotel, along with the S.F. Chronicle”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – Gail – “We support it wholeheartedly. We are big fans and are familiar with many of the voices. We don’t know what we’d do without Terry Gross and her wonderful interviews. We do not like commercial radio although we do like to listen to The Coast radio station too – which is commercial but not overtly so and very community-minded”… The school system? – Gail – “Well it’s been really good to us. Our kids did very well. Russell graduated and went on to get a degree in marketing and advertising at Emerson College in Boston – for now he’s a bartender in New York City; while Scarlet went on to study nursing at Hawaii Pacific University on Oahu and she has recently been hired to work at a hospital in Lodi, California…You cannot leave it up to the school to teach your kids everything. Our teachers were always very supportive and we never ever considered having them go to another school. I thought the Elementary School especially did a great job”… Marijuana? – Bill – “I love it!… No seriously, I am shocked that it’s still not legal. Back in the sixties, we thought it would be legal within about ten years. It is obviously not the bogeyman that some people make it out to be but having these huge grows of thousands of plants sucking up water really does bug me”… Law and order in the Valley? – Bill – “It’s very disappointing that we can’t fund our deputies. We have been very lucky to have had Deputy Keith Squires here – he knows everybody and we need to have that kind of guy here in the Valley.”
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to both Gail and Bill and asked them to just reply as spontaneously as possible…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – Gail – “All of nature – it’s my church”… Bill – “A cup of coffee!”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – Gail – “People who say they are bored”… Bill – “Narrow-minded people; people not open to change.” Gail added, “And he hates voles too.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – Gail – Birds singing”… Bill – “Water running in streams; the sounds of the ocean.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – Bill – “The sound of helicopters”… Gail – “I agree.”
5. What is your favorite food or meal? – Gail – “A good bbq – chicken, potatoes, corn on the cob, salad”… Bill – “Spaghetti – classical ‘American’, homemade.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – Gail – “My maternal Grandmother. My mother always said I reminded her of her own mother and there are so many great stories about her”… Bill – “I’m not religious but I’d like to speak to Jesus and ask him what has been going on.”
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? – Gail – “A box with my art and craft stuff inside; dental floss; a solar radio – I am very practical”… Bill – “Some books; some sun block; and a guitar to learn to play.”
8. Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – Gail – “The book would be ‘Shogun’ by James Clavell; the film would be ‘Harold and Maude’; and the music would be something by Stevie Wonder – great songs and lyrics”… Bill – “The book would be something by T.C. Boyle; the film would be ‘Little Big Man starring Dustin Hoffman – I loved its anti-war sentiment; and the song would be virtually any Motown song.”
9. What is your favorite hobby? – Gail – “Crafts”… Bill – “Gardening.”
10. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? – Gail – “A jazz dancer”… Bill – “Somebody behind the scenes in show business – perhaps Gail’s dance instructor!”
11. What profession would you not like to do? – Gail – “In a slaughterhouse”… Bill – “Anything in the medical field – I am too squeamish.”
12. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – Bill – “Our first date was to a rodeo at the Watsonville Fairgrounds.”
13. What was the happiest day or event in your life? – Gail – “Giving birth to our kids and thinking ‘we made that!’ “… Bill – “Yes, I agree. And I have often thought about how the world’s leaders would not be doing some of the things they do if they were to see birth more often.”
14. What was the saddest day or period of your life? – Gail – “The death of my mother was very tough on me – she was a great example of how to live. At various times in my life, I have often said ‘what would Mom do now?… Also my half-sister’s tragic death at thirty-nine when she was hit by a car when riding her bicycle”… Bill – “Yes, Gail’s mother Isabel’s passing was hard. We saw her most summers either here or in Mexico. As for my parents, I kind of knew they were going, they were ready to go.”
15. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – Gail – “That I am very even tempered and non-judgmental”… Bill – “That I love to play and am fun-loving. I take care of business but love to have fun as often as I can.”
16. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – Gail – “Welcome, Gail – I hope you have as much fun here as you did on Earth”… Bill – “It would be great if he said ‘Get in here, Bill, the Giants are about to win another World Series’ – it will take divine intervention for that to happen again.”

Published in: on March 10, 2011 at 5:54 pm  Comments (1)