Stephen ‘Steve’ Sparks – April 15th, 2011

    Many people have asked Stephen over the past couple of years about when he was going to be in the ‘other chair’ and be interviewed himself. Well, as we were in the U.K. recently, visiting his family and our friends for a couple of weeks, we decided that the time had come. So, on a warm April afternoon, we sat down at the dining table in his parent’s home in Birmingham (a big city – the second largest in Britain) with a pot of tea and some chocolate biscuits (cookies) in front of us, and a bottle of wine and two glasses in reserve, and I began my interview of the Interviewer…
Stephen was born in Birmingham (Brum), England on February 14th (Valentine’s Day) in 1957 to parents Alan Sparks and!  Margaret Dean. The Sparks family had been in the City for a few generations, and as such are called ‘Brummies’  – the name given to anyone from this fine city. They had been in the city since at least the 1850’s before which time Stephen has surprisingly not researched that side of his heritage. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, as a working class family during the upheavals of the industrial revolution, which was centered in and around this part of England, they learnt various trades – Birmingham is known as ‘The City of a Thousand Trades.’ The Brummies are quick to tell you that their city has seen the manufacture of ‘everything from a nail to a train’ although the heavy industries have now mostly disappeared. They also proudly, and truthfully, proclaim that they have ‘more canals than Venice!’- canals being a key mode of transport for goods and services back in those times.
His paternal grandparents were both from Brummie families, with his grandfather, Herbert George Stephen Sparks, being born 1896, the eldest of ten siblings. He fought and was wounded in World War 1, before settling into a lifelong job at the post office. He was a ‘bit of a scallywag,’ often in the local pub, wheeling and dealing, bartering his home-raised chickens for whatever might be available. He was also a master of the monologue, an art that has virtually died out now, and Stephen’s earlier memories of him are of his grandfather’s renditions of various tales to a respectfully silent and enthralled crowd in a packed bar or club. “He virtually chain-smoked unfiltered cigarettes, two or three of his fingers on both hands were brown with nicotine stains, and he often had a bottle of beer when sitting around the house. Yet despite the drinking and smoking he took care of his family well and during the rationing years of World War 2, as a result of his many successful ‘deals’ in the pub, the family ate!  well and my Dad tells me that during those difficult years they were the only ones on the street with bananas!”
Stephen’s paternal grandmother, born in 1900, Gladys Hunter, or Nanna, as Stephen called her, was a ‘salt of the earth’ type’, never complaining, always working. She came from a very large family, some of who were professional soccer (football) players. She even washed the local professional team’s uniforms in the thirties. Gladys and Bert had three children, Roland, Barbara, and their youngest, Alan, Stephen’s father.
On his maternal side, the story goes much further back. Thanks to the research done by Stephen’s Great Auntie Doe (Dorothy, his grandfather’s sister) they have traced their roots back to the English Civil War in the 1640’s, at which point the Dean family, strong supporters of the Parliamentarians, had fled to Wales to escape the Royalist forces. Stephen’s great, great grandfather was George Stephenson, who discovered the steam engine and this side of the family were all well educated. The family was from the more rural Leicestershire, about an hour outside Birmingham, but they had settled in the City before the First World War. Stephen’s grandfather, Frederick Ralph Dean, was born in 1891 and he and his two brothers and two sisters all served in the Great War (1914-18) on the Western Front, either in the trenches or as nurses behind the lines in the case of the two girls. After being shot and wounded during the slaughter at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, he rehabilitated back in England and, following graduation from college in Birmingham, he became a music teacher. Stephen’s maternal Grandmother, the extremely caring and kind Ada Mary Smith, called Mary, was born in 1900 into a working class Birmingham family and she and her two sisters and brother were very close. “I can remember spending many happy summers at my Great Auntie Rose’s home in Oxford and there were lots of other family gatherings at which my Grandma and her sisters would laugh and laugh as they told story after story of their times together. My maternal Grandparents were married in 1924 and they had one child, Margaret, my mother.”
Stephen’s parents were born in 1929 and grew up in the city of Birmingham, although both were evacuated to the countryside, along with thousands of other children, to avoid the German air raids on this important industrial region during World War 2 – it was where the fighter planes, the Spitfires, were being built, together with so many other things necessary for the war effort. “My mother and her mother were gone for two or three years, boarding with a family in rural Leicestershire while my Grandpa spent much of the war with the students at his school who were unable to be placed with families in the countryside. My Dad was also sent away but after repeatedly running away back to Birmingham from his ‘new country home’ he was eventually allowed to stay in the city.”
“My Dad had left school at fourteen and did odd jobs before doing his compulsory national service in the army from 1946 for a couple of years. He then worked in various factories and was a draftsman for a brief time, before finally settling into a steady job in 1952 – as a fireman in the City of Birmingham Fire Brigade, a job he was to do for the next thirty years. My mother went to a good school but despite having the ability to go on to college very few girls did at that time and so she entered the workforce as a shorthand typist and later a secretary. I think she always felt she could have bettered herself career wise but it was not to be.”
Alan and Margaret met at a dance and dated for a year or so before marrying in 1954. Stephen was born in 1957 with his sister Judith coming along in 1960. “We lived at Grandad Sparks’ house at 4 Western Road in the Erdington district of Birmingham. It was an old house with coal fire heating, outside toilets, and no phone until 1968. Ice on the inside of bedroom windows in the morning was a common occurrence in the winters. We lived on the north side of the city and as a child from a sports-playing family – my father had been a semi-pro football player and my mother a club tennis player, I was playing football (soccer) as soon as I could walk. With a public park a matter of yards away, I would play all day long, until it was dark, and as a result I made many friends in the neighborhood. I also played for my school – Birches Green Junior and Infant School from 1964-68, where I did well academically too, and at the age of eleven I passed exams to go to Handsworth Grammar School, one of the top three ‘junior high/high schools’ in the whole city. After Nanna died in 1960, Grandad stayed with us before dying of lung cancer in 1971 when I was fourteen. The house was sold and we moved about two miles away to 12 The Mount, still in the Erdington district but only 1/2-mile from Europe’s biggest traffic interchange – known as ‘Spaghetti Junction’, at the confluence of some of the country’s busiest roads.”
As a young boy, and until he went to the Grammar School, at which point his studies would take preference, Stephen was expected to help around the house with the tidying up and dishwashing chores, but most of the time he was outside, playing sports, riding his bicycle, playing ‘war’ games with friends, or walking the dogs. “My Mum and my aunt rescued abandoned Border collies (sheepdogs) from various farms outside the city and found homes for them. We always had those dogs around and I fell in love with the breed from an early age. Obviously in the city they were not working sheep but they were great with tennis balls and nipping at the ankles (‘herding’) of kids on bikes whom my friends and I didn’t like!”
Stephen also liked to read a lot and would spend hours in his room reading mysteries, war books, and encyclopedias. This studious side to his nature had paid off and at the age of eleven, in September 1968, he began what would be a very important period of his life at Handsworth Grammar School. “The school was a few miles from home so I had to take public transport  – no school buses in Brum, and I have lots of not very fond memories of waiting for the bus in the freezing rain or really thick fog – smog actually, that was so prevalent in Birmingham at that time – before the ‘Clean Air Acts’ were introduced. It was a very different experience from the idyllic one I had enjoyed to that point in my young life. The school was very old-fashioned, reminiscent of something out of ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’.  It was all-boys, the teachers wore caps and gowns, adherence to school uniform was very strictly enforced, everyone was called by the last names, it was ‘Yes, Sir’, ‘No, Sir’, and ‘Please, Sir’, and after-school detentions and a liberal use of the cane/stick were very common as forms of punishment… That first day was awful – I remember waving goodbye to my Mum who had come on the bus with me. She was crying and I was trying my best not to. I was scared to death that whole first year. The older boys were bullies and the very strict teachers terrified me. Fortunately, sports came to my rescue, not for the first or last time. I had played football and cricket for my previous school and this continued in the new school where each year or grade had its own team, although football was my main sport. I played on the team representing the whole district at 15 and then got to play for the School’s First Team when I was 16, becoming the team captain in my final year, during which I also represented the County (State) of Warwickshire in three games.”
Stephen was not only school soccer captain, but he played for the school at cricket, cross-country, and athletics (track) where he set a school record in the mile of 4 min 34 seconds that was to stand for several years. He also performed well in his academic work. His favorite subjects were History, Geography, English Literature, and Latin, and although he did well at the sciences and mathematics he was not nearly as interested in those subjects.  He was also a House Captain and a Senior Prefect and in his final year won the school History Prize.
“Over those years, when not studying or playing sports, my passion, and one which remains to this day, was following the local professional football team, Aston Villa. I could write a book about my experiences watching and following the team but suffice it to say here – with my whole extended family being Villa fans too, I will be a Villa fan from conception to the grave… Meanwhile, I was driven to succeed academically by a desire to pleas! e my Grandfather Dean – Grandpa. He and my Grandma were major influences and we saw them all of the time. My Grandpa had played sports at a high level and was a highly regarded teacher so his interest in my activities in those areas led me to try so hard – I desperately did not want to disappoint him. I was also gifted in some ways but if he had not been around, encouraging and enquiring, perhaps I would not have done so well. My parents were very supportive too although not nearly as imposing, and ultimately if I did poorly at a test or in sports I was not too concerned about their reaction or that of my Grandma – they would have said ‘bad luck, better luck next time’ but my Grandpa may have show disappointment and that would have been a heavy cross to bare. Looking back, he was a very strong character and tough for some to deal with but he was most certainly the biggest influence in my life and as he lived until he was ninety-four, dying in 1985, his presence has been felt in whatever I have done since.”
In Stephen’s final two years at Grammar School, 1973-75, he had a steady girlfriend and as a result he went against his family’s better judgment and decided he was going to go to a local university to study something as yet to be determined. This despite the fact that he had been accepted, pending final exam results, by Oxford University to study History. Then the girl became pregnant and, without telling anyone, the two teenagers paid for and went through with an abortion. They stayed together for several months after that but in the summer before his first year at Aston University in Birmingham, where he had decided to study Business, the girl ended their relationship and Stephen found himself studying a subject and attending a unversity, neither of which would have been his first choices in different circumstances.
“That was a tough summer. After so much had gone right for me for my whole life I found myself floundering somewhat. My parents, as always were there for me and had instilled in me a good sense of what was right and wrong, a sound base for making good judgments and now I had taken a ‘wrong turn’ somehow. I know my Grandpa was disappointed about me not going to Oxford – he was a bit of a snob and would have loved telling his friends in the world of education about me if I had gone there. However, in his defense, he was very supportive and inquisitive about my studies and sporting activities at Aston. Speaking of sports, in that autumn of 1975 I tried out for and made the University football team in my first week at Aston and that ‘saved’ me once again. I had a lot of instant and like-minded friends and I was one of just two first year (freshmen) players that made the starting line-up. I was readily accepted as the only ‘Brummie’ on the team, but therefore had to deal with a constant barrage of good natured verbal a! buse for being a ‘townie’ on a team of students from all over the rest of the country. To make matters better, we went on to win the National Championship that year (1975-76) – the 35th anniversary of which I was celebrating last weekend at a reunion in Brum.”
The drawback to this was that, after his six years of hard study and discipline at Handsworth Grammar, Stephen had now spent a little too much time at play and not at his studies in the far less rigid and structured environment of a university in the mid-seventies. As a result he failed his first year and had to repeat it. “That was a shock to my family but not entirely unexpected on my part. I had discovered the wonderful world of University sports, beer, and college girls. However, a year after being accepted by Oxford, to find myself failing at Aston was certainly a bit of a comedown to say the least… I obviously take the blame for it but there were ‘extenuating circumstances’. The football was great and the celebrations after each victory were extensive – I missed lots of lectures. Then, on top of the University social scene I was also still very much a part of the activities of the friends I had grown up with over the previous years – my local Brummie friends – ‘The Lads’ as we referred to ourselves – who were at that time, and continue to be, my closest friends of all. I’d go out with them one night and the University football team the next, sleeping on friend’s floors often and therefore failing to go home where my patient parents were still being understanding, but not as much!”
The good news was that Stephen got to play five years of top quality football, still graduate with a degree in ‘Managerial and Administrative Studies’, and remain close to his family. “I had the ability to do well but did not like the course very much. I continued to lead a full social life but always made sure I did a sufficient amount of studying to get by. In that period, and during the final couple of years at the Grammar School prior to that, I had really become interested in America’s recent history and it’s films made during that same period – the sixties and seventies – JFK, his assassination and those of M.L. King and Bobby Kennedy, the war in Vietnam, Nixon, Watergate, etc; and the early films of DeNiro, Pacino, Nicholson, Eastwood, Hoffman, Jane Fonda, etc. These interests, coupled with the fact a close friend of mine on the football team, Jim Reid, had been to the States for a summer and shared his experiences with me, led me and some of my similarly interested Brummie friends to go over there in the summers of 1978 and 1979.”
“What a truly fantastic time we had. On the first occasion we had Greyhound bus passes for two months and traveled from New York, where one of the lads had relatives, via Niagara Falls, on to Chicago – more rel! atives to stay with and show us around, on to St Louis, Denver, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, where we stayed one block off Union Square at a youth hostel and went to Baker Beach to catch some California sun and had to keep our jackets on in the freezing fog, to L.A. – where we stayed with more relatives – some gay show business-types, to the Grand Canyon, to Austin Texas – more relatives, and finally to New Orleans, where our tickets expired. There were four of us – me, Mick, Moz, and Graeme and we split into pairs, with Mick Cusack and I hitch-hiking back to New York City. It took us two four days and over thirty rides – a story for another time”…In 1979, Stephen, Mick, and another Brummie, Tom Mannion (who had come over with other members of ‘The Lads’ the previous year too – Austin, Eugene, and Brendan) returned and rode Amtrack trains from New York to Chicago and then down to Austin again – a place they had fallen in love with, and where a number of the local women seemed to like us almost as much as we liked them!”
Stephen graduated in June 1980 from Aston with a 2nd Class degree and before he had even heard the results he was in New York once again. “I had signed up for a student exchange work program with a friend of mine at University – Andy Hall. We had been offered legal work through this program on the Boardwalk in Asberry Park, New Jersey and I started as the guy in charge of the bumper cars – ‘treat these like your babies’ said the owner Mel. He was as close to one of the ‘Sopranos’ as anyone I have ever met.”
Stephen and Andy worked the Boardwalk that summer before Andy returned to the U.K. and Stephen headed down to Austin in the September. “That was a great few months. I played football on a local pub team, worked for a landscaping firm, had numerous dates with some lovely Texan girls, and even got a job on an oil rig in Giddings, an hour or so east of Austin. There I worked alongside the most redneck and ultra-macho men I’ve ever met and where my job was as ‘the Worm’, so called due to the amount of watery mud you get covered in every time a new length of pipe is added. They never once, in two months, called me by my name – it was always ‘Worm’ – ‘Hey, Worm, get me a beer’; ‘Hey, Worm, fetch me my gun.’ It was fun, I think, and very well paid so I dealt with it.”
By December, following Ronald Reagan’s victory in the Presidential election and with Stephen’s visa about to expire, it was time he headed back to England, via New York on a Greyhound bus. During that trip, as he peered out of the bus window at the headlines on a newspaper stand in the bus stop in Memphis, Tennessee, he learned of the shooting of John Lennon… He returned to Birmingham that Christmas and after a few months at his parents home he got a three-bedroom apartment with two more of his Brummie friends, Paul and Gregg, in Erdington once again. He could not find work; it was Margaret Thatcher’s England and the industrial Midlands of the country was suffering from unemployment as badly as anywhere. He received unemployment money, read books, and regularly visited the pub with his close circle of ten or so friends. He played some semi-pro football to earn a little of his beer money and did get some temporary jobs for the local government and then spent six months as a psychiatric nurse in a hospital where both his mother (as a secretary in the social work department) and his sister Judith, as a Ward Nursing Manager, also worked. He bought some drums, learned to play, and formed a band with friends, eventually doing gigs around the city and making a couple of c.d.’s, or tapes as was the case back then. “We were quite good I suppose, and I even transported my drum kit to the State! s when I moved back there, but being in a band was never a priority or major part of my life.”
In the spring of 1982, Stephen started to date another unemployed graduate, Marie Morrissey, who lived nearby with friends. Marie wanted to find a teaching job, but in the meantime, as a talented seamstress, she, Stephen and a friend of hers started to design and make fashionable women’s clothes and sell them at the indoor market in Birmingham’s City Center. The business was a big success over the next year or so, and by that time Stephen had convinced an unsure Marie that they should take a break and spend some of their savings on an extended visit to the States and down to central America – a region both had become very interested in, particularly Mexico and Nicaragua. Little did he know at the time that he would be leaving England for good, apart from annual visits, and that his home for the next twenty-seven years, half of his life to this point in time, would be the United States…

Part 2

Following the success of their women’s clothes business, Stephen and his girlfriend, Marie Morrissey, took their savings and left the U.K. in August 1983 and headed for an open-ended visit to the States. After staying with Marie’s relatives in New Jersey for a time, they bought a 1971 Chevy Nova for $300 and headed down to Austin, Texas. After a brief stay there, they went on to Mexico and Nicaragua for a couple of months before settling down back in Austin, living in a small apartment and both finding work in the restaurant business – Marie as a waitress in a TexMex restaurant, Stephen in a submarine sandwich shop – Thundercloud Subs. With two or three of his Brummie (from home town Birmingham) friends also in Austin working at various jobs at that time, things went well as the group of friends thoroughly enjoyed Austin’s thriving social scene. However, by mid-1984, Marie and Stephen were not working out as a couple and Stephen was a little down in the dumps. He was unsure what to do next. Then one day, as he sat miserably at the serving counter in the sandwich shop, he claims that “a breath of fresh air came into my life” – well, that was me, Patty, because I had walked into the shop and said ‘Hi! Can I get a job application form, please, I’d like to work here.’

Steve and Patty became good friends but nothing more than that for a time before Stephen and Marie split up in the late fall of 1984. “It was a mutual decision, but not an easy one to deal with as our social lives continued to be so entwined. I lived in a trailer with a friend for a time, then a filthy house with a dying dog for several weeks. I eventually got an apartment with a couple of friends next to the University of Texas campus and on December 10th that year I asked Patty out – we went to see the classic movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. Patty had become tired of Austin by the next summer and decided she was moving to stay with friends in San Francisco. I was welcome to go too but she was going regardless of what I wanted to do. I decided to ‘take the plunge’, leave my friends and the very comfortable Austin scene, and in June 1985 we set off in the Chevy Nova and drove to S.F. where I didn’t know a single person.”

Patty moved in with friends on Fillmore Street in the heart of the City and Stephen found a place nearby with a Russian student for a couple of months before a friend from college, Willie McGee, came over and the Russian moved out. “I found a job as the only straight man on a five-man house painting crew – an eye-opening experience indeed. We would meet in the Castro (predominantly gay) district before work every day, return there for lunch, and finish up there after work for beers. They were a great bunch of guys – four have since died from AIDS and at that time in The City the epidemic was a major topic of discussion every single day.”

In September of 1985 Stephen’s Grandpa passed and Stephen joined the San Francisco branch of the World War 1 Society as a way of remembering his grandfather. His leisure time was spent with Patty and her girlfriends plus, as a big fan of American sports, his new found teams – the Giants, Warriors, 49ers – San Francisco’s professional sports teams from baseball, basketball, and American football respectively… In the summer of 1987 Stephen and Patty were married with about twenty guests coming over from the U.K. joining many friends, new and old, who lived in different places in the States, for a very special week-long celebration that included the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge…The couple moved into a place at 720 Fillmore Street (at Hayes) and not long after Stephen set up a solo house-painting business…

In October 1989, following several months of hard work, Stephen and another friend from college, Roger Howell, opened an English-style pub in the Lower Haight district at Fillmore and Haight – The Mad Dog in the Fog – “another way of saying ‘an Englishman in San Francisco’. Just six days later, with Stephen in attendance at Game 3 of the World Series (Giants/Oakland A’s), the earthquake struck. “I was still in the parking lot at Candlestick Park – the tarmac appeared to be rolling like a slow moving river. I got back to the bar where a crazy scene greeted me because unlike most bars around we still had power and were able to remain open that night – it was an incredibly busy night and some great advertising for the bar – everyone desperately needed a drink and we were the only place able to give them one for a couple of miles around!”

Meanwhile, Patty remained at her administrative job at U.C.S.F. hospital because it offered both of them health benefits and they had no idea how the pub business would do. As it was, Stephen threw himself into the new venture and it proved to be the right place in the right location and at the right time. It was very successful and there would even be lines out the door even on a Tuesday evening – the slowest night of the week. The bar continued to grow and in time there were thirty staff on the payroll. Patty was getting increasingly stressed out at the hospital dealing with hemophiliac children with AIDS and, with the Mad Dog bartenders making very good money, she left the hospital and became a manager/bartender at The Mad Dog, working the very busy Friday and Saturday night shifts, doing supply runs, and booking the Saturday night bands that included acts such as Train, Third Eye Blind, and Alvin Lee – who all went on to much, much bigger things. Other ‘celebrity’ visitors over the years, as the bar became quite famous, included musicians Elvis Costello, Ray Davies of The Kinks, and world-renowned classical violinist, Nigel Kennedy, although in each of these cases it was to watch soccer, the pub being known as the place to see soccer in San Francisco. “We had some great employees, a real strength of what was achieved, many of whom became our friends, and to this day we have a reunion almost every year up here at our land in the Valley where they camp and get very rowdy for a weekend. Patty would go out with the girls for karaoke and I would often go with the guys to the Giants, where I had a season ticket from 1986 to 2001. The pub had a great atmosphere on both sides of the bar. Many customers met their future spouses at our place and apart from the live music on Saturdays, we’d also have d.j.’s, pub quizzes, live soccer from the U.K. on the televisions, and we sponsored several sports’ teams – men and women’s soccer, softball, and darts. For the bigger soccer matches beamed in live from Europe it was not unusual to have 300 people packed in at 7am in the morning as we served beer and a full English breakfast. The pub became very well-known, eventually even becoming the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question!”

In the summer of 1991, through two sisters who had a vintage clothes shop in the Lower Haight near to The Mad Dog, and whose father lived in Yorkville (Gareth Birch), Patty and Stephen heard about a classic old-time County Fair in Mendocino in the town of Boonville. They visited that Fair in September 1991 with their new Border Collie puppies, Frank and Bing, and met local shepherd Kevin Owens who was competing in the sheepdog trials. “We had been looking to buy something out of the City but not this far away. However, we checked out the realty notices in the window of North Country Real Estate and met realtor Don Hahn. One thing led to another and in July 1992 we bought ten acres on Gschwend Road between Philo and Navarro, with Don phoning to give us the great news with those never-to-be-forgotten words – ‘Congratulations, Stephen, you and Patty now own property in Anderson Valley.’ We spent the next ten years visiting the Valley for three days at a time and working at the pub for the remaining twenty-seven or so days each month – it was tough, seventy hours a week at times, but the business was a great success and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.”

“We loved San Francisco and for a long time our needs and interests suited our lifestyle there. We just never found time for kids. I suppose if we’d both really wanted to have them we would have. In 1996 we bought out our partner Roger and ran the business with the help of the wonderful staff. We would take a brief break every week with our ‘Thursday night dates’ at the wonderful restaurants the City has to offer; we would do the club scene; watch live music; frequently go to the cinema; go to as many of the street fairs and S.F. events that we could; and after playing on the pub’s soccer team with many friends, by the later years I was coaching the team as it evolved into one of the City’s best. We’d host big Thanksgiving Day events at our home on Potrero Hill – the only day of the year when the pub was closed as we even opened and served a big dinner for over one hundred customers every Xmas Day. Patty was in a Book Club; wrote an advice column called ‘Agony Aunt’ for an S.F. magazine, did tarot readings at a place called the Psychic Five and Dime, and once a year we’d either go on a road trip to Michigan or fly to England (and on to France, Spain, Holland, Ireland) and also try to get to Mexico for a short break to ‘decompress’ for a week once a year.’

“In 1997 we bought a large house on Potrero Hill in the City and then in 2000, in an attempt to get a little distance from the pub for our leisure time, we bought and moved to another property in Point Richmond, a lovely little town in the East Bay. However, this plan did not really work out and after thirteen years in the bar business it really became apparent that it had become too much. Despite our wonderful new home, the financial success, and the highly regarded establishment we had created, the stress was too much as our whole life revolved around The Mad Dog. It was time for a change. In May 2002 we sold both our house in the East Bay and the pub on the same day (keeping the Potrero Hill property as a rental until selling it 2005) and headed to Anderson Valley with Frank, Bing, and our new pup, Grace, for what was supposed to be about six months. That was nine years ago.”

For the first year up in the Valley Stephen took a complete break, apart from work around their land. Patty had a couple of months off before getting two jobs – at Roederer and Esterlina Vineyards at the top of Holmes Ranch. Then Stephen took a few shifts at Esterlina and also made deliveries for them to the coast… Another Border collie was added to the ‘gang’ – Rose, and ten sheep were bought from Sam Johnson in 2003 as Stephen began to realise a lifelong dream of being a ‘shepherd’. A rescue Border Collie, Fred, joined the family in 2005 by which time Stephen and Grace had won a couple of sheepdog trials. Bing (in 2005) and Frank (2006) sadly passed away but brothers Alan and John were added in December 2006 with Winston and Beth being born to Rose and Alan in June 2008. “The dogs have given Patty and me so much joy. Not a day goes by when one of us doesn’t say ‘what would we do without them?’ Sadly, the wonderful Grace passed in December 2009 – she was my closest companion, a great herding dog – a ‘natural’, and I continue to miss her.”

In 2003, the Anderson Valley High School soccer coach, Tom Smith, asked Stephen, a near neighbor on Gschwend Road, to help coach the school team. Stephen, who was missing the coaching he had done in San Francisco by this time, jumped at the opportunity, and over the next seven seasons the team had unprecedented success, winning the league title on five occasions and reaching the semi-finals of the postseason regional championships on three occasions. Following Tom’s tragic death in the spring of 2010, Stephen took over the team and, with the help of assistant coaches Eddie Ferreyra and Nikola Milojevich, the high school won its first ever post-season championship in 2010.

Apart from coaching, Stephen wrote reports on the games for the local newspaper – the Anderson Valley Advertiser, and for the past couple of years or so he has been interviewing various Valley folks from all walks of Valley life for his other newspaper column ‘Lives and Times of Valley Folks.’ Having left Esterlina Winery in 2006, he has been kept busy with management positions at both the Highpockety Ox Pub and a bookkeeping job at The Boonville Lodge when it was owned by Tom Towey, who is now the owner of the new Buckhorn pub in town where Patty bartends.

“I have been very fortunate to find myself here in Anderson Valley where I am able to keep myself busy doing things that I regard as hobbies – the soccer coaching – a wonderful experience; conducting and writing the interviews for the newspaper; producing and presenting the weekly ‘General Knowledge and Trivia Quiz’, initially at The Ox, then The Lodge, and now at Lauren’s Restaurant; and my activities at the Senior Center where I am Vice Chair on the Board and also perform the Bingo calling duties once a month. Along with others I also organized the recent very successful fund-raiser at the Brewery for the Anderson Valley Animal Rescue and for the past five years I have been the Director of the A.V. Film Festival from which the proceeds have benefited several local organizations and charities. I love helping the seniors and animals – given my upbringing and the influences on my life I suppose it is perhaps an inevitable way of giving something back…”

Socially, Stephen favorite thing to do is spend time at the local pubs/bars/restaurant hanging out with friends. He runs a N.F.L. pool during the football season, is a founder member of the Valley’s Gentlemen’s Military History Book Club, and looks forward to working more with the Veterans and Historical Society in the future. “I am very busy but enjoy everything I do so it’s rarely a problem. Compared with the craziness of running the pub in San Francisco this way of life is like a stroll in the park on a sunny afternoon. Through this wide range of activities I am very lucky to be able to meet and spend time with so many of the various groups of people here in the Valley – from the winery people to the descendents of early settlers; from the Okie/Arkie families to the back-to-the-land’ers, and from the newly settled brightlighters (city folk) to the Mexican community, who have been a wonderful source of pleasure through my coaching and work with their kids at the school.”

At this point Stephen would normally ask the guest for their brief responses to various issues that are frequently discussed in the Valley but he felt that by doing this himself, it might compromise his future questioning on these topics so decided to pass, suffice it to say, “It seems like every one of these issues/topics receives positive and negative responses in almost equal amounts. No matter what you say, about half the Valley will agree and the other half disagree, although I must say that the wineries are gradually winning people over and the school system has recently received a little constructive criticism – there is nothing wrong with that, I would suggest”…

To end the interview, as Stephen does each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to him and he replied as spontaneously as possible…

1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Winning a high school football (soccer) match; the dogs working sheep; the company of friends; the thought of a good meal with a pint of Guinness or bottle of Zinfandel.”

2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “So many people trying so desperately to grab their ‘fifteen minutes’ of fame; people who talk but can’t listen, coupled with those who talk a lot without actually saying anything; sexism is a real pet-peeve of mine; homophobia too; and people who ill-treat animals are scum – what else would you call them? I could go on and on as I do seem to think about this topic quite often!”

3. What sound or noise do you love? – “Patty’s laugh.”

4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Animals in pain.”

5. What is your favorite food or meal? – “Bbq baby back pork ribs with Patty’s potato salad and real guacamole and chips… Or a bowl of crispy cornflakes with very cold milk… Or maybe just a classic English bacon sandwich, or sarnie as we call them…”

6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation over dinner, who would that person be? – “Winston Churchill certainly, and if Hitler could come along too then that would ensure a very lively evening I’m sure.”

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? – “Assuming Patty can get out herself… The dogs and cats; my passport and ‘Registered Alien’ card; and my collection of the original letters my Grandfather sent to his parents from the trenches of World War 1.”

8. What scares you? – “That so many people get their news from the Fox channel and similar such sources; the thought of being at the top of a skyscraper in an earthquake…”

9. Is there anywhere in the world where you’d particularly like to visit? – “Mount Everest but that’s not going to happen so I’ll settle for Burger Rock on the Johnson Ranch with it’s undoubtedly spectacular views overlooking the Valley – when do I get the invite, Gary?”

10. Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “The Martin Scorsese film ‘Taxi Driver’ – a film that really drove my desire to visit New York, which in turn led me to want to experience so much more in this wonderful country; ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens – a book that scared me as a young teen, educated me as an older teenager, and ultimately entertained me no end as an adult and admirer of one of the greatest novelists of all time; perhaps an influential song would be ‘Born to Run’, by Springsteen from 1978 – it appealed to my adventurous side and stirred my desire to move to the States. Many soul/R&B songs from the late sixties and early seventies could also be chosen – that was a wonderful period for the black music scene…”

11. Do you subscribe to any publications or newspapers? – “I get ‘The Economist’ – a good read covering U.S. and world affairs in an intelligent, succinct, and non-partisan way; also ‘Sports Illustrated’ and ‘Playboy’ – for the pictures not the articles, or is it the other way round!?!”

12. What is your favorite word or phrase? – “A couple of English derogatory terms – ‘stupid prat’ and ‘what a load of old bollocks’… I also find myself saying ‘unbelieeevable’ quite often at some of the stuff that happens around here – both good and bad!”

13. What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “When people say ‘You should….’, and also the word ‘bitch’ when used as a derogative term aimed at another person.”

14. What is your favorite hobby? – “The study of certain periods of history – Medieval England; World War One, and the U.S. in the sixties and seventies.”

15. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “Professional footballer (soccer player) or perhaps a writer of History books… When I was about thirteen I wanted to be a ventriloquist but that sounds ridiculous now.”

16. What profession would you not like to do? – “Flight attendant, toll booth worker, or telephone sales.”

17. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – “I suppose technically it was when I was eleven and I took Ann Smith to the Saturday morning matinee. She kissed me on the cheek afterwards and broke up with me a week later to go out with my ‘arch rival’ at school – Andrew Cunningham.”

18. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “I never planned to live here in the U.S. permanently. My life just evolved that way so somehow I wish I could have worked out how I could have spent more time with my parents. I have been here over half of my life and although I get to see them for a few weeks every year, it is not enough – a continuing cloud over my otherwise very fortunate life.”

19. Tell me about a memorable moment or a time you will never forget – “Winning a sheep dog trial with Grace; traveling around this country for the first time in 1978.”

20. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “Opening and running ‘The Mad Dog in the Fog’ – one of the City’s most popular bars throughout the nineties; a place that brought so many people together and where a lot of happiness and good times were shared.”

21. What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “Our wedding day – my face ached for days after smiling so much; or perhaps when I was told we owned property in the Valley.”

22. What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “The passing of my maternal grandparents; Grace dying.”

23. What is your favorite thing about yourself ? – “That I am a loyal and giving friend; that I have what I believe to be a good sense of right and wrong – of course I could be wrong, or right.”

24. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well, I like to keep busy so if he said, ‘Welcome Steve, I need a break so how about taking over here for a time?’ – that would likely keep me occupied and satisfy my meglomaniac tendencies at the same time!”

Published in: on April 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm  Comments (1)  

Nadia Berrigan – March 29th, 2011

I met with Nadia at her home on Signal Ridge a couple of weeks ago. She made us some coffee and we sat to talk…
Her father, Jack Upper, worked for the State Department at the time and he and Nadia’s mother, Claudia Reid, were living in Cairo, Egypt in 1953 when Nadia was born, the first of two girls – sister Elizabeth coming along three years later. The Uppers were possibly German Jews who had come to the States in the early 1800’s and settled in Michigan where they farmed the land, probably hiding from persecution there as Mennonite Christians – “denying their dark curly hair and their schnoz. My (paternal) grandparents moved to Detroit, but when my father was just five years old, my grandfather died at forty-five, and my father’s early life was marred by poverty. However, my father was extremely bright in school and later won scholarships to go to Yale and then the University of Michigan”… The Reids were of Scottish descent, Nadia’s grandfather being a lawyer in Detroit and her grandmother Overington was the heiress to a small fortune that her great-grandfather had earned from starting the first cotton mill in the North. This fortune was mostly decimated in the Depression.
Both of Nadia’s parents studied the Middle East in one way or another in College, where they met, at Yale and Wellesley. They were married in the suburb of Birmingham. “My father worked for the Ford Motor Company and had learned to speak Arabic – lots of oil in that part of the world, and with this skill he went on to work for the State Department and then the World Bank. My first memories are when we returned from Egypt and after a brief stay in Maryland, we moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan where I had a very pleasant childhood – one of the happiest times of my life. So much so that when things have gone badly for me, which they have, I draw on that time, on that ‘baby happiness’ that I had. My grandparents lived in an upper-middle class neighborhood with a maid and a gardener, and a local Country Club membership where I went swimming, sailing, and horseback riding… as I grew older and visited in the summers. My parents lived in an old farmhouse in the suburbs on the edge of Ann Arbor – a somewhat rural upbringing. – Then when I was five my Dad got a job with the World Bank and we moved to Washington D.C. Initially I was very excited but that first year there was hard. I had been very close to my grandparents (there were still three alive in Michigan at that point) – I had been the first grandchild – and my grandmother and I were particularly close. Then my beloved kindergarten teacher died of cancer and my father went on an extended business trips to Chile and when he came home things had changed between him and my mother and things got very complicated, although they stuck it out and are still together in their eighties to this day. It was a very traumatic year.”
Nadia and her family lived in a very nice neighborhood, and had some very wealthy neighbors with huge mansions. “Our home was on a big lot with a beautiful garden, a fish pond, large patio, three terraces, and lots of large trees. Gradually life became stable once more and I could run wild in the woods once again… My mother became a professor at the American University and my father continued traveling for work, often for months on end and he became a bit distant in my life. They were a very high-powered couple and asked a lot of my sister and me, although on a daily basis they did not particularly supervise us, and we were often left on our own. I learned to play the piano at an early age and really grew to love music. I also liked science subjects at school and took up photography at the age of nine. Then in junior high I began to put on weight and dieted for the first time – something that has always played a big part in my life… I had experienced a tough relationship with my parents in my teens and always felt a little on edge, unhappy in some basic ways.”
“In my teen years Washington DC was a very exciting place. I remember well the funeral of President Kennedy and watching the parade and the extreme mourning that everyone felt. I really got into the ‘big city’ life although it was not always good for me. There were lots of wild parties and I experimented, even though I was basically a ‘good girl’. It was a very exciting time and being in the nation’s capital felt like we were at the hub of so much that was happening. I was a bit of a tomboy at that point, although I did have two very close girlfriends. We all experimented a little with sex as our high school years went by and I continued to go to some wild parties – it was a party town and we were exposed to lots of that… By the mid-sixties, my father and I were split politically and I rebelled in many ways. He had close friends in the government and in the C.I.A. and I was this idealistic, hurt girl acting out, and the family’s wild child.”
“My life has a soundtrack to it. I had grown up on Soul music in D.C. and before that Motown in Detroit – great music scenes in both cities – I had seen the Beatles live in D.C., and now on the West Coast I got into the new music of the day – Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Traffic, Cream, the Stones and Led Zeppelin etc – meanwhile, I myself am playing Bach on the church organ! While that sounds like a complete contrast, Bach actually complemented those bands very well… ”
By her sophomore year, Nadia had a steady boyfriend, Russell from California, who was the son of an engineer on the Manhattan Project. “In the fall of 1969 the situation was getting explosive in D.C. with increasingly violent anti-war marches, and regular tear gas use by the police – it was everywhere. Then in May 1970 the killing of four students by the National Guard at Kent State University took place and the protests really stepped up even more. I graduated a year early, that June, and with a place at Tufts University waiting for me in the fall, I took the savings from my allowance – my parents had refused to let me get a job – and I caught a plane to California where Russell had returned to a few months earlier. Russell picked me up at the San Francisco airport and we went straight to Golden Gate Park to hang out. He had some hash on him and we were stopped by the police who searched him but they let us go – he had hid it on me! We had a wild time that summer – he was very adventurous and it was not always pleasant but certainly exciting. Drugs were a big part of the scene at that time of course, marijuana was seen as something new and exciting, a ‘healthy’ experience even, not like smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol – that was generally shunned – it was what our parents did! I actually didn’t enjoy smoking it, but everyone around me did. My time with Russell that summer was a little heaven on earth.”
Nadia and Russell drove across the country in the late summer in a 1950 Ford pick-up that could go no faster than 45mph. They stopped off in Detroit to see family and particularly her grandmother before continuing on and in the fall Nadia attended Tufts University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Russell got various hauling jobs. “It was a terrible winter and Russell had no work. I gave him my meal tickets at college and we were caught. I could have stayed but decided I did not want to be there and so in January 1971, Russell and I returned to California – my Dad was very disappointed, and in some ways it was one of the worst decisions of my life.”
Nadia and Russell rented a house in Lake County where she took her first job – as a waitress at the Candyman Café in Clearlake Highlands. “I was hired by a so-called ‘witch’ – Joyce, who said I was a good girl at heart, (and so was she!)… Russell and I split up that summer and I had a wild time after that before settling down and turning to religion. I joined a cult-ish group called The End Time Body ø. The people were very nice and it was a musical church, singing in tongues actually. I found it very cathartic and it was what I needed at the time, giving me stability and peace. I studied at the Mendocino Art Center that fall but then fell seriously ill. Thanks to a wonderful doctor and a spiritual healer I recovered, enough so that I could still have children. That was a wake-up call and it toned me down a lot. I needed to control myself and focus on school. I lived at the Antioch ø Ranch and became involved with the Christian community. From there I gravitated towards a more mainstream religious discipline and began to attend the Presbyterian Church in the town of Mendocino. To this day I still have faith and it underlies everything I do, including my teaching, and it underlies my refusal to acknowledge socio-economic boundaries.”
While at the Antioch Ranch, Nadia had met Gary Berrigan, and a couple of years later, in 1974, they were married – she was twenty-one and he was twenty-five. She was working as a waitress at both the Seagull in Mendocino and at Navarro Inn-at-the-Sea further down the coast. “I had been unsuccessful at various retail jobs. I lacked the sales confidence that is needed; perhaps I showed too much sadness from my childhood… I took a position as a teacher’s aid working with kids with emotional difficulties at the Mendocino Grammar School and found that very interesting. I had never really thought of any career at that point, although when I was fourteen I had taught African-American kids at through the Unitarian church in D.C.”
In October 1974 both Nadia and Gary enrolled at Humboldt State University and for the next five years they were students as Nadia also did various waitress jobs while studying teaching and fine arts. They paid just $55 month in rent, and grew most of their own food. At that time the timber industry was aerially spraying the valley and the surrounding mountains with 2,4,5-T (agent orange), 2,4-D, and Garlon. “We were very careful about our food and water supply, but I think it caused problems with our children.” She graduated in 1979 with a newborn baby, Suzanna, in her arms. Then Nadia’s grandmother gave her $10K to put down on a house in Blue Lake nearby, just outside Arcata, and Gary, who had studied geography and political science, got a job with the Coastal Commission. “I was a Mom and did a little teaching when I could – mainly piano lessons and a little art at a private school. Our second daughter, Caitlin, was born in 1981. She had a birth defect and following a blood transfusion she contracted hepatitis C at four months, which led to problems developing in her late teens. This is the tragedy of my life; her life too, but she is a remarkable woman and I am so proud of what she has achieved. Suzannah also had some problems at birth – a heart defect but that is under control and she can have surgery to take care of it, but she hasn’t yet. She is a very special young woman too and although our marriage was not good in many ways; it was very difficult at times in fact, but we were blessed with two great kids… Gary has been a big influence on my life.”
In 1985, when Gary got a job at the Mendocino County Planning department the family moved to Ukiah but after a year there he moved to the planning department in the Ft Bragg office on the coast and the family moved to Little River. Nadia went back to the grammar school in Mendocino but she did not get her teaching credential until 1991 so for a few years she was an aide and taught piano, while also working as a waitress at the Albion River Inn and taking a job at Glendeven Bed and Breakfast, south of Mendocino on the coast, where she managed their small art gallery, the housekeeping duties, and the Inn’s marketing. “I was doing some painting and still playing the organ at the church in Mendocino – I did that every Sunday for ten years or more, often taking the girls with me too. Gary and I worked through our problems. We did have lots of fun despite our different values with regards to parenting. I was very uptight and fearful but liked to socialize and have a drink with friends. Gary didn’t really have very many friends. It was a dysfunctional relationship. The girls did very well though.”
In 1997 Gary moved to a job with CalTrans in Eureka and began a weekly commute, and then in 2000 a temporary art teaching position opened up in Anderson Valley, which Nadia took and she drove in from the coast every day. “Suzannah (she added the ‘h’) eventually moved to the bay Area where she met and married Steve and has a very good job in the insurance industry as well as having a little girl, Marissa, while Caitlin attended Andover High School in Massachusetts for three years, before getting her masters in art at M.I.T.”
Nadia continued to work on her art over the years. “Much of it is based around plants and sex – I am a quintessential flower child. I came out of very rebellious times – rebelling against misogyny, sexual shame, war, racism, dress codes, etc, etc. We were exposing and uncovering all the shame that had gone on before in society about sexuality and many other things. Yes, art still excites me the most, although I do love music too.”
After two years of commuting, and with the temporary position of Art teacher at the high school having become permanent, Nadia came full-time to the Valley in 2002, moving into a lovely house on Steve and Janet Anderson’s property on Signal Ridge, high above the Valley. From 2006, she has also taken on the very demanding project of the school yearbook. “I didn’t know anyone here in the Valley, my friends were all on the coast and I still see them as much as I can. I also try to get back to the east coast to see family and friends and my parents who are still there – in Alexandra, Virginia. I guess I am a bit reclusive apart from the occasional dance or dinner with friends. Since 2001 I have played the piano in the Big Band and try to socialize with my fellow teachers sometimes. I also enjoy my walks with neighbor, Lee Serrie… Teaching is a passion. I learned to love art in D.C. where there are so many free museums. My parents love of history has also helped in my teaching and I value every kid and try to understand each and every one of them.”
I asked for Nadia’s brief responses to some of the issues that many here in the Valley frequently discuss… The wineries and their impact? – “They seemed to have doubled in number in a relatively short time and I do have concern for the land. We need to guard our soil; it is very precious. I hate to see vineyards grown on steep hillsides without terracing. Yes, the wineries bring prosperity and jobs but I am strongly opposed to the use of chemicals which some still use – organically produced wines are the way to go”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I love the newspaper – it is awesome. I enjoy it on line too. It’s amazing that it is read all over the country. I find that I never have time to read it all but try to get to most of it. It is very entertaining, even spellbinding at times, and it is produced by a motley crew of characters!”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I live by the news on that station – it is my main way of getting news, many excellent programs are produced by such dedicated volunteers. I am appalled that Congress will not give support to N.P.R.”… The A.V. School system? – “I think we do a good job. We work really hard with this diverse population and continue to send many unlikely candidates to college who are well prepared. The education is available at whatever level a student is able to absorb it and work for it. Funding has been abysmal and some of our equipment is so out of date. We have a high-performing, high poverty, small rural school – I am very proud of it.”
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to my guest. Some of these are from a questionnaire featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and the rest I came up with myself…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Living in this Valley – my artistic senses just love its beauty.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Well, I have a hard time ploughing through negativity… I also don’t like people’s power trips.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “The saxophone and the trumpet.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Too much loud machinery – trucks, planes, chainsaws.”
5. What is your favorite food or meal? – “Pork medallions in a cherry Madeira sauce with asparagus and new potatoes, served with red wine – a heavy Pinot Noir or Zinfandel. I do like wine – I guess I live in the right place.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Gandhi.”
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? – “Well during the fires of 2008, I had to do that very thing. I first grabbed some family photographs, my birth certificate and passport, and some family heirlooms.”
8. Do you have a favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? – “The film might be ‘Restoration’. ‘Dangerous Beauty’ or ‘like Water for Chocolate’… The book would be something by the Egyptian writer, Naguib Mahfouz – he seems to really understand humanity, or perhaps something by Laurence Durrell or ‘’One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or ‘Jitterbug Perfume’ by Tom Robbins – that sums up a lot of my thinking and philosophy about life, beauty and the role of sex as the underlying force of life… That’s too many I know… Err, a song would be ‘Ballad for a Runaway Horse’, a Leonard Cohen sung by Jennifer Warnes… And of course Bach produced some of the most beautiful melodies ever written.”
9. What is your favorite hobby? – “Well I still like to garden but it is not easy here with all the deer. Painting, music, and photography all remain big hobbies of mine.
10. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – ‘I would have liked to have been employed at the Smithsonian in D.C. as their botanical illustrator of plants.”
11. What profession would you not like to do? – Waitress or nursing.”
12. Tell me about a memorable moment; a time you will never forget. – “A summer I spent here in this house with a special person.”
13. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “Of being an accomplished pianist and painter. I am most proud of my two daughters… And of my understanding of people.”
14. What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “When Caitlin graduated from Andover – the whole family was there… And when Suzannah got married.”
15. What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “Being at the funeral of a friend who had committed suicide.”
16. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “That I have ultimately been able to relax, finally; that I have a good sense of humor, that I am sensitive but also like to have fun.”
17. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Come on in, sweetheart.”

Published in: on April 21, 2011 at 2:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wes Smoot – March 22nd, 2011

Having had lunch with Wes and his companion, Marianne, at the A.V. Senior Center a couple of Tuesday’s ago, we adjourned and went over to his home on Anderson Valley Way where we could enjoy a chat sitting at his dining table.
Wes was born in June 1932 at the county hospital in Ukiah to Laura Bell Price, an unwed mother of sixteen who lived with her parents Charlie and Sarah and her three older sisters in Navarro in the ‘Deep End’ of Anderson Valley. “That was the end of the road. There was no way to the coast; you had to go in land to Comptche and then out to the coast from there. There was one sawmill in town, three bars, and five hotels, mainly for the timber workers but it was the Depression and times were very hard but the family tried their best to take care of me. However, when I was a year-and-a-half old my mother met a man named Edward Hopper of Navarro and they wanted to marry but he told her he wouldn’t as long as she kept me so I was put up for adoption. The Smoots, Ray and Dorothy, took me in and I was raised and grew up with them in Yorkville. My mother would visit occasionally but she had a new family of her own and that stopped after a few years.”
Wes went through grade school east of Yorkville at the Gaskill School on Hwy 128 – a one-room schoolhouse at which there were never more than twelve kids, and which still stands today.“There was one teacher for the whole school and some of the other kids there at my time were Carolyn Prather, Richard Carlson, Marilyn and Missy Hiatt, Joyce Christen, Lucille Skillman, and my good friend Stanley Johnson, who was paralyzed at a very early age but who was as shrewd as anyone and who has lived close to the school on the Johnson Ranch his entire life… I was always playing around Dry Creek, fishing and exploring, and knew the whole area like the back of my hand. I remember Stanley and I borrowed an old purse from my stepmother, filled it with paper, tied it to some wire, and put it in the middle of the road. Cars would come by, see the full purse in the road and stop. By the time they got out we would have pulled it into the bushes some way off to the side of the road and they were left standing there with nothing. We got a real kick out of that… We had all the usual livestock to live off – chickens, calves, pigs, and Dad would shoot wild goats or deer and we’d have venison – if it had not been for the venison we’d have starved to death! We canned the chicken for the winter months and the eggs were in water glasses and kept sealed to keep them from going off; we had our own butter and cream too. We would sit around and listen to the radio at night if we could get reception and my favorite show was ‘Jack Armstrong – All American Boy’. If the radio wasn’t working well we’d read and once a month we’d get in our Model A, four-door sedan and go into Healdsburg to see a movie – normally a Charlie Chan film. This led to me forming an opinion of Orientals that they would cut you up if given the chance. As a result, when I later joined the army I really did not want to go to the Far East – guess what – I ended up in Korea!… We would go to Cloverdale for the shopping and sometimes to Boonville but not very often – there wasn’t much there. I remember a wonderful childhood and being part of a very happy family.”
In 1946, Wes began to attend the High school in Boonville, where the Elementary School is now located. “My Dad drove the school bus for the Anderson Valley school district and so I went into school with him. It was quite a transition going to this new school – four of us graduated from the school in Yorkville – that left just two kids there, and here in Anderson Valley High there were seventy-four students. By the time I graduated in 1950, following the arrival of the many Arkie and Okie families, there were about one hundred and forty… I was not too fond of many of the subjects at school and my big activity there was Band where I played the tuba, never getting less than an A- in four years. We marched and played in the County Fair every year and a certain Marian McAbee played clarinet with us – almost sixty years later we have now become companions. Others at the school during my time were people such as Gloria Ornbaun (later Abbott), Marietta Hulbert, who died last week, Johnnie Ross, Bob Paul, Eva Pardini (later Holcomb), and Edwina Knivila… The Arkies and Okies were very different people to us. Their accent was the first problem and they didn’t like us making fun of them. There were lots of ‘disagreements’ shall I say… Mills sprung up all over the Valley in those post-war years and depending who you talk to and how you count, there was somewhere between thirty-six and fifty-four in the length of the Valley. They used to say’ there is a sawmill behind every tree.’ The sheep industry was in very quick decline although the apple orchards stuck around for a time.”
In May 1947, Ray Smoot had a heart attack and died. “I was fifteen and my mother and I were notified by the owner of the ranch that we would have to move. We moved to the west end of Doby Lane, just south of Boonville, into a house owned by Bill Nunn. He was a very kind gentleman and helped us as much as he could while my mother found work cleaning rooms at the Boonville Hotel. Then we were told my father had been buried in the wrong plot and that his body would have to be exhumed. I guess my mother couldn’t face any more and in October that year I came home from school and found her in the front seat of our ’37 Sedan, dead of asphyxiation – she had run a garden hose from the exhaust into the back window. The car was still running when I found her. Arrangements were made for me to stay with my father’s sister and her husband, Naomi and Lloyd Ornbaun. I moved in and helped Lloyd with the sheep on his ranch and they took very good care of me and put me through the rest of my school years.”
After a couple of years Wes found he was not getting along too well with Lloyd so he moved out and went to live with his father’s brother and his wife – Emmit and Doris Smoot. “Emmit was a carpenter and I helped him build cabins at the mills for the workers. They were shabby looking things but they worked. I believe there is only one left in the Valley, it was Wally Weeks’ house and it was probably the sorriest one we ever built – it should not be standing today but it is. We also built barns and I gathered a great deal of knowledge from working with Emmit. I had left school by this time and the town was a very lively place with all of the new people here. There were lots of fights between the new people and us and many people would go out on a Saturday night in Boonville just to watch the fighting outside the bars – the Boonville Lodge, The Track Inn, and Wiess’s Valley Inn – it was our big entertainment for the week… There had always been a drinking scene in town. Back in the 1800’s, where the Lodge is now, there was The Anytime bar – so called because you could get a drink there at ‘anytime.’ Then in 1906, following a ‘revolt’ by the women of the Valley who were concerned about the amount of drinking around here, there was an introduction of a local ‘no drinking’ law and the bar was closed down. However, they jacked the building up and took it south of the town limits and they called it The Anyhow – ‘cause you could still get a drink ‘anyhow’! Some years later they jacked it up again and it was placed back in the center of Boonville, becoming a restaurant at that point, opposite where The Boonville Lodge is now. Finally that same building was moved to Philo in the thirties where it remained a restaurant, eventually becoming, many decades later, what is now Libby’s Mexican Restaurant, opposite where another bar used to be – The Last Resort. There have been many fights in bars over the years, and in fact Donald Pardini wrote a wonderful poem about a big one in Philo and called it ’Monkey Joe’s Ball’. If you can understand our local dialect, Boontling, it is hilarious.”
In 1951, Wes got work in the woods in the timber trade working for Tom Sterling. “I earned $1.45 hr working from 4am to noon in the summer, later in the day during the winter. I was setting and driving wedges to fall trees, swamping out brush, and measuring logs. It was quite a chore but Tom was an easy man to work for and again I learned a lot… While I was felling timber out on the coastal road in October 1952, I received a notice from the draft board to report for induction into the army. It said, ‘Your friends and neighbors have chosen you to serve in the U.S. Army.’ Along with a friend of mine from high school, Bob Paul, I reported to the induction center in San Francisco and went through basic training together before I went off to radio operator’s school and he went to the motor pool. About a month and a half later I was in Korea although nowhere near a radio as I was put in an office helping with various Army publications. Bob had gone down with yellow jaundice but I got a call from him a few months later and he was stationed just twelve miles from me. We got together for some drinks and we chased a few Korean girls but I never caught one. I did my one-year tour of duty before returning to the States and being stationed in the Presidio in San Francisco. When Bob was sent home, six months after me, he landed in Seattle where he was released from active duty. I was released the same day and he flew down to the City and I picked him up at the airport. It was November 4th, 1954 and we started a two-month long party, remaining drunk until January 1st 1955! We certainly had some great times together.”
“We had met a couple of girls who happened to come from Mendocino County. After we sobered up and returned to the Valley, Bob and I arranged to take them to the movies in Ukiah. Well my girl had to work at the last minute and asked me to take her sister, Leola Drake – that was the beginning of a fifty-two year relationship. We were married in June 1955 and I went to work for her stepfather Harry Avila, who was a logger, and I stayed with him for three years, doing anything and everything from setting chokers to driving logs trucks. Harry had a ’48 Peterbilt that was eleven foot wide and very tough to drive on some of the narrow roads so when I got the chance to move on I did and took a job paying $2.25 hr at the Philo Mill working for Deady Farrer and Leola and I moved out from the little mill cabin at Harry’s to a house behind the Methodist Church in Philo.”
One day, Wes was hauling some logs on the Fish Rock Road when he had to stop while some County Road workers unloaded some gravel. One of them, Bill Holcomb, informed Wes that there were openings for jobs with the County. “They only paid $1.80 hr and I wasn’t going to go for that but Bill pointed out that with the County it was year-round work, whereas the logging stopped in the winter. I worked it out and found that I’d be much better off with the County and it was much easier work so I took a job and stayed for ten years as a heavy equipment operator, spending over seven of those years working on Hwy 253.”
During that time Wes and Leola moved from Philo to the house on the corner of Hwy 128 and the Manchester Road and then two years later they bought a house at the corner of Hutsel Lane and Hwy 128, near to the junction with the Ukiah Road (253). “It cost us $11,500 but I’d come to realize that paying rent was like paying for a dead horse. Meanwhile, at work I’d reached a situation where I could not get promoted apart from to a supervisor’s position and there were too many politics involved with that so in 1969 I put in for a job with the State at the California Department of Highways – now called CalTran. I knew I could be sent anywhere in the state but I wanted a change and ended up in Willow Creek, east of Eureka, in the far north of the State… I left saying I’d never work on Hwy 253 again.”
Wes and Leola found that they could not afford to keep the house up in Boonville, even with renters, so they put it on the market asking for $14,000. “I got a call saying the realtor had accepted an offer for $12,500. That was disappointing but he then added it was cash so I told him to get the papers signed quick! As it turned out, the renters, Clyde and Pat Doggett, bought the house… I hated living up there in Willow Creek but I did enjoy the work. After been there for nearly two years we heard that the operation was going to be shut down – we worked with a prisoners honor camp and they were going to close the prison. This meant that we would be dispersed around the State and I had heard that a new yard was going to be established in Covelo, not far from Anderson Valley and so I put in for a job there and began there in the spring of 1971.”
By this time Wes had become reacquainted with his mother, whom he had not seen for thirty-two years and of whom he had no memories, being less than two when she had him adopted. “Around 1966-67, Leola and I were in Ft. Bragg one afternoon and I decided to see if my half-sister, Lucille Hopper, was in the phone book. She was and I went to her apartment but she was not in. However, a lady there said that Lucille’s mother (and mine) would probably know where to find Lucille and she was a cook at the old coast hospital. We went over there and a fellow worker went to get her. When she came out of the door we just stood and looked at each other for a moment and then we grabbed and hugged each other tightly and this brought tears to us both. She was busy and could not talk but we made arrangements for her to come and see us in Boonville and to bring her children with her – there were three boys as well as Lucille. This was very exciting to me – to learn that I was part of this family for all of those years and didn’t know it. We eventually got together and went out to dinner and all got acquainted. They were all very nice and we got along together. Over the next few years we would gather at mother’s place and she would fix dinner or we would take her and her husband Andrew out to a restaurant. After leaving for Willow Creek in 1969, we did not see much of them over that period but tried to get together whenever we visited the Valley.”
Wes worked in Covelo for three years before moving on in 1974 to Mendota, about forty miles north west of Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley. He received some intermediate promotions in the department before finally taking the plunge and going for a supervisor’s position at Chilao Station fifty miles east of Los Angeles. He got the job and he and Leola moved there in 1976. “Unfortunately, as a supervisor I was not allowed to drive or work the equipment. That disappointed me and I hated the country down there too. We lived at the yard and rarely went into the metropolitan area. However, I had a fine crew and we worked at high elevations so there was lots of snow in the winter – a whole new ballgame for me. I had been around four inches or so but this was somewhere between five and ten feet deep! After three years there I had had enough and began applying for vacancies anywhere north of Sacramento. One day I received word that the supervisor in Boonville was moving away. This was Chuck Haffley and he had been there for several years. Of course I immediately set the phone wires on fire in Ukiah where the superintendent and his assistant were located who were in charge of the Boonville area. The super was Bob Elkins and I had worked for him back in my days in Covelo. I told him that I knew a fellow who knows the roads and the area really well. He asked me who that was – ‘it’s me you damn fool!’ I replied. Anyway, we heard nothing for two weeks so I called again. They called me in for an interview that lasted over an hour and in which we talked about nothing except hunting and fishing and at the end of it he told me I had got the job – we were heading back to God’s country.”
That was to be Wes’s final work move and he returned to Boonville for good in 1979. ‘We first moved into a duplex owned by Bud and Evelyn Berry and then we bought a place right next door to the state yard on the south end of Anderson Valley Way, just north of town, where there was a nice house and an acre of land. I had been hoping to find something for about $25K but everything had changed. Things were over $100K but this place we found was very reasonable at $64K and we moved in 1981… I said to Leola – ‘The first order of business – we are unpacking and we ain’t gonna move no more.”
Wes did ten more years for the State before retiring on July 1st, 1991 at the age of fifty-nine. During those last ten or so years working back in Boonville, Wes and his biological family got back on schedule once again. However, in around 1987 his half-sister Lucille passed away with cancer at fifty-two. “About three or four years later my mother came down with cancer too. She fought it for about eight years but it finally took her as well. Now we brothers have kept in touch with each other on a pretty regular basis… As for my father, well my mother took that information to the grave with her but my curiosity kept working on me and I spoke to some old-timers in the Valley and this led to some enquiries beyond the Valley which led me to the postmaster in Talmadge – a woman by the name of Florence Zimmerman. I called her. She told me to get over to her house immediately and when I got there she said there was no doubt I was her brother’s son – a man by the name of Walter Miller who had died about eight years earlier. I met his four sons who all said there was a great resemblance to their father in me. Since then we have got together on occasions and I have also managed to get this side of the family together with my mother’s side and we have had some very good times together – me being the oldest of nine with my eight half-siblings.”
“Since retirement I have worked around the house and also did small engine repair for several years. Leola and I traveled but she was in bad health for the last ten years or so until she passed in 2008. I guess through my life I have managed to survive a few tragic events but the most difficult thing I had to overcome was Leola’s death. We were married for fifty-two years and she had stayed by my side through a lot of difficult times while I worked for the State. I managed to take care of her the best I could… After her death I could see that I could not survive in a big empty house by myself. The days got longer and the nights never seemed to end. After some time had passed I got in touch with a very lovely lady who I had known most of my life and she had lost her husband some year and a half earlier. He was Burt Crosby, a friend from my late teens and an old drinking buddy of mine and she was Marian Crosby, or McAbee as she was when she played the clarinet in the A.V.H.S. Band. We were both the same age, and as we got more acquainted we decided that what few years we had left in this life we should not go through them all alone. She is now living here with me – the house where she grew up as a girl! It is so comforting to have her here to talk to and go places with as we try to live life to the fullest. Marian has been the best thing that could have happened to me.”
“I still see many of the other old-timers either at the Redwood Drive-In or the Senior Center. I used to go to the early morning gathering at the Drive-In but now I do the 4pm ‘meeting’ where I regularly see Donald Pardini, his son Ernie Pardini, Frank Wyant, Gene and Berna Walker, who is Marian’s sister, Howard Morse – we call him Mouse, Manchard Pardini, Mary Ann Kinnion, Harold Hulbert, and others…”
I asked Wes for his brief opinions on some of the various Valley issues that are frequently discussed around here… The wineries and their impact? – “I was against them at first but now I think they are doing a pretty good job and are good for the Valley – there was going to be nothing else. They provide jobs and bring in the tourists but I do think they should contribute more to local causes. Some do, but some don’t”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I like it although the editor gets kind of radical at times. He has rounded on me bad a few times and people asked me why I didn’t offer a rebuttal. I figured there was no need for both of us to show ignorance. I did once ask him why he didn’t have me on the front page and only on page two or three… As for the rumor that the stretch of Hwy 128 that has remained a ‘Rough Road’ for so many years was called Smoot’s Sink because I worked on it, that is not correct. It was called that way before it became a problem because it was right where my Uncle Emmit Smoot lived – as simple as that, not because I couldn’t fix it, although that is funny of course”… The school system? – There is a lot of room for improvement. We went to school for education and learning in my day. I kinda wonder if that is the case now. We were very concerned about the future and saved for everything we got; this generation seem to get what they want when they want it and have no worries about the future – they should have”… The changes in the Valley? – “Well the biggest change has been the influx of the Mexican population. We old-timers had to get used to that and they do the jobs that others will not do. It is a very different culture to ours but we are getting used to it and apart from the noisy kids taking over the Drive-In after school so that we can hardly hear ourselves talk, it is o.k.”… I do think we need to get some of the visitors to stay here in the Valley but despite all the new wineries there is nowhere for them to stay – something to think about”… Law and order in the Valley? – “Well it seems to be going downhill pretty rapidly – we certainly need two deputies to work here.”
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? – “Birds singing on a clear and warm day.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Rain, rain, rain.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “Western music.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “A bunch of motorcycles raising Cain.”
5. What is your favorite food or meal? – “Venison and gravy.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Ray Salatina – an old deer hunting buddy and co-worker.”
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? – “A couple of my special guns, my gold collection, and my historical photographs of the Valley
8. What is your favorite hobby? – “Well these days I am making bolo ties and working with rocks – although they say it’s about the end of the line when you start working with rocks!… I picked up Boontling, our local dialect or language, and joined the Boontling Club. Many people knew it in the old days and in my day the main speakers were Donald Pardini, Leo Sanders, B.J. Adams, Bobby Glover, Eva and Floyd Johnson, and now their son Gary. My Boontling name is ‘Deacon’ which comes from the fact that I was quite shy and was always looking around at what was going on without really saying much – ‘to deek’ is ‘to look at or stare’ in Boontling. Bobby and I appeared many times on television speaking Boontling – it is one of the few pure American dialects, although many of the words are about sex and women and not for translation in respectable places.”
9. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “A guide at a hunting lodge may be.”
10. What profession would you not like to do? – “Working at a highway rest area.”
11. Tell me about a memorable moment; a time you will never forget. – “Getting re-acquainted with my mother.”
12. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “I am proud of as far as I got in life – I could have done a lot worse. I could have become an alcoholic pretty easy and then it would have been pretty hard to sober up after that.”
13. What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “Oh, I guess the day I retired.”
14. What was the saddest day or period of your life? – “When my wife passed away.”
15. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “Well I guess you could say I done pretty well for myself, and that I like to talk and share stories… Also that I like to help people and have respect for others.”
16. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “ ‘Come on in, Wes, ‘cos lots of your friends are in here too.’ That kind of reminds of the joke about what three guys would like to hear people say as they are viewed lying in their caskets. The first one says he would like to hear people say that he was a good family man; the second one would like to hear people say how he helped many people; and the third guy says he’d like to hear somebody say – ‘hey, he moved!’…”

Published in: on April 13, 2011 at 4:41 pm  Comments (2)  

Judith Dolan – March 12th, 2011

I drove into the Boonville ‘suburbs’’ to meet with Judith Dolan at her home on Estate Drive and after a friendly greeting from her Labradoodle (half Labrador; half Poodle) Hachi, we sat down to chat…
Judith was born in Long Beach, California, the oldest of the six children of Dorothea Hill and William Dolan Jr. On her mother’s side her grandfather (Bill Hill) was one of seventeen (17!) and her grandmother (Edith) the only girl in six, who all hailed from Minnesota, south of Minneapolis/St Paul. “My grandfather was a salesman for International Harvester while my grandmother taught piano and was a free spirit. She left home for a time and traveled in Europe and they were divorced when my mother was in her teens… On my father’s side, my grandparents had come over from County Cork, Ireland, settling originally in North Dakota where he worked on the railroads and was a big union man, later becoming the Vice President of the Brotherhood of Railroad Workers Union. My paternal grandmother was a teacher and very religious indeed, going to mass every day.”
Judith’s uncle and aunt were a priest and nun respectively and her father had wanted to enter the priesthood at one point also. However, he was the oldest of five and with his father often away in his job as a brakeman on the railways, he had responsibilities to take care of his younger siblings. “After high school my mother went to nursing school in Minneapolis and my father was at the University there. My mother then found a job working for an oral surgeon in Chicago. The Dolan’s moved to Chicago at some point and when my father was at home from school he met my mother there. My Dad graduated and joined the navy in 1942 but then took a year as part of his officer training course to study at the Harvard Business School and, with my mother converted to Catholicism, they were married that year in Boston. They moved to San Diego with his navy job and in June 1944 he shipped out to war – on the day I was born. My mother then returned to live with my grandparents back in Chicago.”
After the war, the family moved to north Minneapolis and bought a house there. “We were about fifty blocks from downtown in an area that was developed in the post war housing boom and my Dad worked for Arthur Anderson Accountants as a C.P.A. while Mom was having kids – six in total, and doing a bit of ‘nursing’ in that she gave neighborhood kids their shots. I grew up in that aspiring middle class neighborhood and we had the Studebaker car with the running boards that has always stuck in my kind for some reason. It was an idyllic childhood in many ways. I went to the local Catholic school, which I loved, and where I had many friends. However, in the summer of 1951, when I was seven, I went to stay with my Grandfather Hill and his new wife in Wisconsin and when I returned my parents had bought a house in south Minneapolis and had moved. I was so upset at having to leave all my friends and I cried and cried – my Dad spanked me to stop me, I remember it well. Leaving all that behind was so painful for me at the time. I enrolled at Resurrection Catholic School nearby and had scrambled egg sandwiches each morning before attending mass virtually every day before school. I was very much into the Catholic Church and went to mass of my own free will. I did that from 3rd through 8th grade.”
Judith went on to Holy Angels Academy High School where she made good friends, enjoyed being involved with the school newspaper, and took part in school plays. “I got on well with the nuns and did well academically, but over time I gained a lot of weight and was quite chubby – that was really hard. I did not have an athletic bone in my body, unlike my siblings who were all good at sports. I skated a little but not in competition or performance and while the rest were doing such things I would sit and read, becoming a bit of an outsider.”
She graduated in 1962 at which point she wanted to be an actress. However, that idea never really materialized and she went to nursing school instead where she could also earn some money as a nurse’s aid at St. Mary’s Hospital. She also continued to attend mass every day. She moved on to St Catherine’s Nursing School in St. Paul from where she graduated in 1968. “It was a very volatile time in this country, I was very aware of the Vietnam War and attended several anti-war protests. For a time I was involved with a group that helped get potential military recruits across the border to Canada to avoid being drafted. It was a tough time and I Iost friends who did not come home from the war… At home politics were never discussed because my father was a Democrat and my mother a Republican. He was a big supporter of George McGovern in the 1968 General Election won by Nixon, and was an acquaintance of Hubert Humphrey, the U.S. Senator from Minnesota. My Mother meanwhile was very active in the Catholic League and was later the President of the School Association.”
Judith found a job at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul in the I.C.U./Coronary Care unit and a year later she was one of the nursing instructors. Then in the fall of 1970, she went to graduate school at Yale University to study Psychiatric Nursing on a full scholarship. “I lived in a dorm in the first year and then got a part-time nursing job so that in the second year I moved into an apartment. I just loved it there – the best time of my life. It was very good for me, meeting so many interesting people, all doing so many different things. I still went to mass, although by this time it was just on Sunday, but I did bake the bread for the service – yes, as you will have gathered, I was very Catholic for a very long time.”
At one point Judith was set to study in Edinburgh, Scotland and had interviewed and been accepted by the Dean there. She had finished at Yale and was preparing to leave when she received a telegram to say that the college had pulled the money from the Psychiatric course she was planning to take and the offer had therefore been terminated. “I was in a big quandary. I had been dating a teacher at Yale, one of the professors, but decided I was not in love with him. He lived in New York City and we had many wonderful times there but I was not in love and therefore not willing to be part of his divorce… I called a friend of mine from nursing school, Jean, in San Francisco, and she suggested I move out there. I agreed – I needed to get away – and so in August 1972 I drove across the country in my little VW, stopping in Minnesota to pick up my sister, and we went to live in California, settling initially Mill Valley in Marin County, north of the City, across the Golden Gate Bridge.”
Judith soon got a job at St. Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco, in a program for the elderly with both psychiatric and medical problems. “I had been doing that for a few months when I bumped into Harvey Weinstein, whom I had known as a psychiatrist in training at Yale. He’d moved to the City and suggested I come and work with him at the Pacific Medical Center (P.M.C.), which I did in January 1973. I was the Assistant Director of the Outpatient Department and that was another fantastic experience for a time… However, I had wanted to work with kids and families, as I had done at Yale, and this hospital had no plans to set up a Children’s department so in the summer of 1974 I accepted an offer from the Menninger Foundation to work in Topeka, Kansas. I was to be in the children’s department at a private psychiatric hospital for half the time and setting up a childcare training program at nearby Washburn University in the other half.”
“I lived in a cute little house and loved my students and much of the work there. I met some really good people and it was one of the best training experiences of my life but… Well it was a cultural desert there. I had no social life. I was thirty but everyone else was married at eighteen and those that weren’t married with children were into cocaine. I could not stay there and after nine months I returned to San Francisco, later learning to my delight that every one of my students had passed their exams.”
After another job opportunity failed to materialize at P.M.C., Judith became a night nurse on the adolescent unit at Mt. Zion Hospital. “That was chaotic and not well run at all so when I had the chance to leave psychiatry and become the night supervisor of the hospital I seized it. Some aspects of that job I liked, particularly my co-workers, although it could get very hectic, like the night of the Chinatown Massacre in 1976 when the whole city was on triage, sorting patients out according to their chances of survival and needs… After a year or so there, one evening I was at a baby shower where I happened to meet a girl from my high school, Pat, who had been my ‘Big Sister’. She told me that the director at the Children’s Hospital was leaving and so I went to apply – I couldn’t not go! I got the job and began running the Adolescent Day Treatment Center (A.T.C.) where I stayed for fifteen years, apart from one year out in 1979. It was a wonderful place to work, which is what I did with my life for that whole period of time.”
In that year away that Judith mentions, 1979, she was recruited to become the Director of Youth Campus, a residential program for troubled teenagers in the City, those who had committed murder, arson, rape, and other serious crimes. This was set up in the Visitacion Valley area of San Francisco – the district served by Supervisor Dan White, who had won election to the Board in that working class neighborhood based to some degree on his promise to close that establishment down. (It was a largely white, middle-class section that was hostile to the growing homosexual community of San Francisco and White openly saw himself as the board’s ‘defender of the home, the family, and religious life’, positioning himself against homosexuals, pot smokers and cynics. While White was strongly opposed to the facility, Supervisor Harvey Milk, a very influential advocate of gay rights, supported it, and this difference caused a conflict between the two that eventually led to White’s assassination of Milk and Mayor George Moscone in November 1978 and his subsequent imprisonment by the time Judith was recruited.)
“We ran a wonderful program there and once we got rid of the punitive staff we made great progress. However, forces were against us. That Christmas the California Licensing threatened to close us down because the eight foot high fences that were promised had not been built. I was in meetings every day or so with Mayor Dianne Feinstein, Head of Social Services, Eddie Sarsfield, and Head of Health Services, Mervin Silverman. It was a tumultuous time and the decision was made to close the Campus and we moved out. Then Feinstein reversed that decision and the kids came back, but a year later it was closed for good. During that time I was harassed, followed home, my tires were slashed, and some of the previous staff threatened me.”
In 1980, Judith returned to the A.T.C. and stayed there until the end of 1990. During that time she bought a house in the Outer Richmond District on Anza Street and had a steady relationship for several years. “He and I split up in 1984, it was a tough time and I went to Paris for a break. I had been traveling annually since the late seventies, mostly to Europe. On that occasion I had a fling with a married guy from Mexico! Other than that I continued to work long hours, five days at the A.T.C. plus weekends and evenings in my private practice. It totaled anywhere from sixty to eighty hours a week. I did occasionally get to the ballet or symphony but basically I never really got to relax.”
In February 1986, a mutual friend of theirs – Gunilla in Paris, introduced Judith to Martin Fritze. “I was very skeptical about it all but nine months later we were married – December 3rd. I was forty-two; Martin was fifty-eight, being born in Berlin, Germany in 1928. We each sold our houses and bought one together in the Glen Park district. Martin owned a store that imported goods from all over the world called the ‘Seven Seas’ that he was to close by the late eighties… In 1989/90 the Pacific Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital merged and lots of problems arose. I decided to leave at the end of 1990 and took a ninth month severance during which period I had a fabulous time, although I still kept up my practice and did some consulting… Martin had opened another store, importing carousel animals called ‘Carousel Kingdom’, but in 1991 he had open heart surgery and had to close that down too… In the October, following my break from a day job, I started work as head of a big mental health department at the Lincoln Child Center in Oakland where I was to set up several day treatment programs during the five years I was there.”
By 1993, Judith and Martin had been looking to buy a loft in downtown San Francisco but Martin decided he would really like a some land and a garden. “For many years we had been coming to Orr Hot Springs in the hills northwest of Ukiah and also generally hanging out in that area of Mendocino County. It was one of our favorite places to visit. We had driven along Hwy 128 on a few occasions and had stayed at the Anderson Creek Inn just outside Boonville, had been wine tasting, and had dinner at The Boonville Hotel. In 1994 I left Lincoln and worked part-time at Family Mosaic in a program providing intensive care management and wraparound services to seriously emotionally disturbed children and youth, and their families, but by1995 Martin had decided he really wanted to move away from the city and, while I was not so sure, I wanted to be with Martin so I agreed and we started to look seriously in Sonoma and Mendocino counties…
“We had inquired about some properties and in the summer of 1995 Mike Shapiro at North Coast Realty showed us this house on 1½ acres here on Estate Drive. We loved it – the house was a beautiful three-bed and two-bath home and there was plenty of room for a good-sized garden. With Martin’s health not good it was important that we were near to the Health Center, which it is, and so we made an offer contingent on us selling our house in the City. Well, unfortunately at that time nothing was happening in the City’s housing market and our offer died. However, things were different by February 1996, just eight months later, and we put our house on the market again and it sold in two days. We called Mike Shapiro, and he told us that the house was still available and we made the deal, moving up in April. I kept an apartment in the city and worked at Family Mosaic three days a week and in the evenings at my practice. Martin stayed up here full-time and started his garden, and continued his other hobby – photography.”
Martin was not enjoying being up here alone so often, so Judith looked for work in this area, applying for many jobs in the mental health field. She was becoming very discouraged when suddenly, in 2000, three jobs came along in one week and she accepted the job offer as Executive Director at the A.V. Health Center. “The commuting had been getting very tiring so it came at the right time. I soon became friends with our neighbor, Lucille Estes and Mary Ryder, who has since left the area. I was invited to join a book club that meets once a month on Saturday afternoons and includes such people as Lyn Sawyer, Gwen Smith, Cherry Jones, Ann Rogers, and Susan Addison before she left town. Martin and I socialized with the Addison’s and Jones’ and also Sue and Wally Hopkins, who did some work on our house.”
Martin suffered strokes on and off from 2002 until 2006 when he passed away at seventy-eight. “At times in that period he could still bake, cook, and even drive and was quite mobile but in the end he had lost the use of language and his ability to listen to music. It was a really ugly existence for him. He was a wonderful man.”
Since 2000, Judith and her staff have been trying very hard to keep the Health Center going. Here are some of the things that have been done – a partnership with the AV Housing Association to get a grant from the Rural Communities Assistance Corporation for a pilot to start an agricultural worker organization (now known as Sueno Latino); received a congressional appropriation to start Healthy Smiles Dental Center in a rented space in downtown Boonville and also started with a state grant evening and weekend clinic; sponsored a Health Fair and conducted a needs assessment survey; started Telemedicine connection with UC Davis for Behavioral Health Services; received several Tides Foundation Grants to develop IT Information Technology at AVHC including a Local Area Network; all staff and the front desk got computers; received Tobacco Settlement Grants to develop architectural drawings for an expanded health center; received another Tobacco Settlement Grant for the Ambulance to develop drawings for a facility adjacent to AVHC; began the Capital Campaign to help expand the health center and from 2007-2008 built the expanded health center and ambulance facility—includes dental on sit; installed new practice management software and an integrated electronic health record; opened the behavioral health unit.
“On top of that I have successfully written and received 25 grants over the past eleven years. However, we have been unsuccessful in our applications for several federal grants and we are currently on very tenuous ground, particularly since the State pulled revenues in 2009, one third of our income, and that has left us in a very precarious position. We are bringing in money but it is not enough and it does not look will we be getting any federal money at all anytime in the near future. It is too bad. We have a wide range of medical and dental healthcare here for the people of the Valley but the future is of great concern to me… I plan to retire on August 1st this year and hope the results of all the work that I and many others have put in at the Health Center will continue to benefit the Valley for many years to come.”
I asked Judith for her brief responses to some issues often discussed by people who live here in the Valley… The wineries and their impact? – “Many of them have been really generous to us at the Health Center. It would be great if some of them would get into health insurance for their workers and their families”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – “They have also been generous although we have had our difficulties over time. I no longer subscribe but I read it quite often”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I love it. I don’t know how anyone can ‘survive’ without it, although I must say I did listen to it more when my fiends had shows on the air”…The A.V. School System? – “We have wonderful schools here. We worked very closely with the A.V. Education Foundation to set up internships at the Health Center, paying them $500 for eighty hours of work but that has now come to an end. We provide free dental screens for the students, sports physicals at a reduced rate, and a nurse visits the school once a week”… The changes in the Valley? – “The gentrification of downtown Boonville is probably a good thing, although the increase in the number of wineries and ponds at the expense of other agriculture and livestock is not so good. The influx of really interesting and socially aware people to the Valley really contributes a lot too.”
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? – My dog, Hachi – it means ‘eight’ in Japanese and had that name when I got him.”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Worrying about the survival of the Health Center. We’ve worked so hard to keep it going to this point…”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – Music – classical particularly, also chimes, bag-pipes, the flute…”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Someone in pain.”
5. What is your favorite food or meal? – “Something cooked by Martin.”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Eleanor Roosevelt – a powerful woman, ahead of her time. She was very creative and you don’t see people like her in modern politics.”
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? – “Hachi; as much of the art in this house that I could get out in time; and some photographs – both of Martin and some of the photographs he took himself.”
8. Do you have a favorite film or book or one that has influenced you? – “The film would be ‘Star Wars’ – not that is is my favorite but I do have very fond memories of taking some kids from the home to see it and we had a wonderful time; the book would probably be a collection of Emily Dickinson poems.”
9. What is your favorite hobby? – ‘I probably don’t have one, although I do like to read. In the past I did lots of silk-screening and had a small greeting card business. I might get back into that when I retire.”
10. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “An actress – I think I might have been a good one if I ever could have got there.”
11. What profession would you not like to do? – “A maid.”
12. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “The programs that I started for many kids and their families… And my work at the Health Center here in the Valley.”
13. What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “Meeting and marrying Martin – and my years with him.”
14. What was the saddest or hardest day or period of your life? – “August to November 2006 – Martin died; I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery; and my Mother died.”
15. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “That I care deeply about anything that takes my interest – people, things, tasks…”
16. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “The gang is all here, we have been waiting for you.”

Published in: on April 5, 2011 at 4:04 pm  Leave a Comment