Clyde Price Jr. – July 23rd, 2011

I was very pleased to meet Clyde Price Jr. when he made a special visit to the Valley a few weeks ago with daughter Gloria. We sat down in the new meeting room alongside the Little Red Schoolhouse Museum building near to the Elementary School north of Boonville and Junior told his story…
He was born in November 1920 and is therefore ninety years old. He was born on the Ranch at what is now Gowan’s to parents Clyde Price and Mary Brown who had married when they were seventeen and fourteen respectively. The Price family was originally from Germany where their name had been Preisch, coming over to the States from Offenbach in the 1740’s and reaching Knight’s Landing in Yolo County, California in 1867 and Anderson Valley in 1890. His great grandfather, William Price lived in a house behind what was a few years later, the large red house on the highway – Reilly Heights, built in 1895, next to what is now Roederer Winery. Junior’s grandfather was Sumner Price who married Katie Studebaker in 1890, another old Valley family and they had four children – stepson Gilbert from his earlier marriage, Hazel, Clyde, and Ellis…
On the Brown side, Junior’s great grandfather was Doctor John Brown, whose picture can be seen in the Museum and his grandfather George was born in St Helena before coming to the Valley. Mary met Clyde here and they eloped to Santa Rosa to get married in 1915. “It was not a shotgun wedding, just a couple of scared kids afraid to come home. They lived on the Studebaker property that was divided up by my Grandmother Katie, with my Mom and Dad getting the Price Ranch, which is down the barely noticeable lane just a few yards south of the Philo-Greenwood Road off Hwy 128 – now on the Gowan’s property… As a kid I was always outside and did everything from hunting and trapping to working in the orchards, picking apples, prunes, pears, and later different produce. I would have to collect all the windfall apples and put them into sacks. We’d swim in the river where the bridge by the Apple Farm is now – it was called the River Rest, but we just called it the river. I went to the Shields School, which is on the third bend in the road north past the Gowans Oak Tree stand. There were just eight or nine kids in the whole school, 1st through 8th grade – they were the Hiatt girls from Yorkville, Jack Clow, George and James Gowan, Helen, Stanley and Philip Hagemann, Johnnie Williams, Myrtle William, and Warren Ingram… My Uncle John Studebaker, my Dad’s cousin, couldn’t sell his produce so my Dad took it over and started ‘peddling’ the fruits, mainly on the Coast at first, but later in the produce markets in the Valley and towns and cities on the coast and down south – Navarro, Boonville, Healdsburg, Geyserville, Albion, Mendocino, Ft Bragg, even up to Rockport and down to San Francisco.”
Clyde and Mary had five kids – Jesse in 1913, Ruby in 1915, Mary Etta in 1919 (who died as a baby), Clyde 1920, and Harold in 1923 – Clyde Jr. is the only none left… I was friends with Warren Ingram and his brother Rea who was later the school bus driver for many years, and also Jack Clow, who went on to open Jack’s Valley Store just outside Philo… At thirteen, Junior went to the High School that was on what is now Anderson Valley Way where the District Office is, next to the current Elementary School and just yards from where we were sitting. “I went to school because I had to; I was not too good but I did graduate in 1939. I didn’t like sports, except horseshoes, although I did play a little basketball. My main interest was band and I had started saxophone lessons with a teacher in Cloverdale when I was six years old. In high school I played the tenor sax in the school band with Clare (a boys name too) ‘C.W.’ Fields, Joe ‘Junior’ Gleeson, Bill Dightman, Pete Witherell, and my brother – Harold ‘Bink’ Price. We would hang out together out of school and all knew a little of the local language – Boontling – yeah, we ‘piked up the Boont’ and hung out at the local ice cream store – St John’s, later Weiss’s – a restaurant/bar and soda fountain, and a bus stop. The Buckhorn is at that spot now.”
“I smoked cigarettes and played horseshoes a lot. Yes, I smoked – they would sell us cigarettes, Camels, there was not much law around here then. I also smoked when I milked the cattle and hid my cigarettes there. Sometimes my Dad would buy me Bull Durham tobacco. I remember the teachers and the bus driver challenged us to horseshoes and they didn’t win a single point. I liked beer too but a few years out of high school I stopped – I found I was missing too much if I was drinking… During high school I had pocket money from my job on the produce truck at weekends and during the vacations – enough money to keep me in cigarettes for the rest of the year… I was always outside; kids were back then. I trapped with my Dad – ‘coons, skunks, otters… Mom would take us to Sunday school and church – both Methodist churches in the Valley – in Philo and Boonville. Dad never went – he was raised 7th Day Adventist but never practiced. If it were up to my Dad I would never have finished school. Even on my last day I had to leave school early to make deliveries with him in Ft. Bragg… After graduating and getting my diploma, I went to work for him – it was never going to be anything different. By 1942 he was selling to many stores, apples mainly, and a few years later I was driving down to Los Angeles on deliveries. I also got some work in the mill for the Union Lumber Company, earning 40 cents an hour.”
In 1936, Junior married Marjorie Berryhill from Ft Bragg and they had two children – David (1941) and Gloria (1945), living in my parent’s house across the highway from the Floodgate Store. “My Dad paid me $20 a week but with lots of bonuses, and then in 1944 I was drafted into the Army. I was an infantryman in the 104th Division fighting in Europe. The 413th Battalion, C Company, #39052456. We were in the fighting just after the Battle of the Bulge and we slowly pushed the Germans back.”
After the war, Junior returned to work with his father, with brother Bink also helping out a lot. “Following the war the mills started to spring up all over the valley as the lumber industry boom took off – they needed wood to build houses in the expanding Bay Area. This meant the arrival of mill workers from Oklahoma and Arkansas – ‘Okies’ and ‘Arkies’. They took over the Valley and never fired a shot! There were mills from Navarro all the way inland to the county line – about thirty of them, not counting the small ones… Our kids attended the Navarro Elementary School. Gloria later went to the Indian Creek School, where the P.G.& E sub station is now, in Philo, before doing six months at the Boonville Elementary in the Veterans’ Hall… When not working I had my own swing band in which I played the alto saxophone. At school I had started the band with my school band-mates and we’d play at dances in The Grange Hall – the old hall that was burned down, the dance hall at the Pardini Hotel in Navarro, Comptche Hall, and also over the hill to Redwood Valley, and in Ukiah at the Shady Oaks Dance Hall. I’d I carry my sax on the handlebars of my motorcycle – I still have it. As a family we would spend time with the family of Warren Ingram – the California Highway Patrol guy in the Valley, and a friend for many years. We’d get together for dinner at one of the houses and play cards – pinochle, canasta, Monopoly, and I’d play checkers for hours with Warren – he was very competitive and called everyone ‘fathead.’ He called me ‘Popo’ – that was my nickname around here. Bob Glover was ‘Little Beast’, Junior Gleeson was ‘Big Beast’; and there was Clare ‘Sneeze’ Fields, Bill ‘Dighter’ Dightman, and Pete ‘Wit’ Witherell. Because my parents didn’t like the teacher in Anderson Valley, I went to school in Cloverdale for a year in 1932. I was called ‘Mickey’ there because I wore a Mickey Mouse belt. We rented a house in Cloverdale, about twenty-five miles from Boonville, and for years after that I was called Mickey whenever I was in town.”
In March 1955, Junior and the family returned to Cloverdale where their new home was one of many being built there. The down payment had been obtained through the G.I. Bill. Junior was a mill worker once again – a truck driver hauling lumber in his ’52 GMC truck and later a MAC Diesel truck, often as far as Wilmington, south of Los Angeles, a two-day trip. He moved on to work with Hulbert and Muffly as a forklift operator, feeding the mill and stacking limber off the green chain. “They were cousins of the Hulbert’s whose family my sister Ruby had married into. We’re half-assed relatives around here, not in-bred! I stayed there for about six months and then went back to working for my Dad driving the produce trucks from here to L.A.”
Junior’s son David was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1959 and he and Marjorie split up the following year. Junior moved to another job – back to driving a lumber truck for Kelly Trucking, working for Baxter and Son Lumber Company out of Cloverdale. “Then I met someone I shouldn’t have met – Jackie. We lived together and in 1961 we got married and had a daughter, Twyla, and I went back to working with Hulbert and Muffly up in Arcata. I was there for a year and we split up and I returned to the Valley. My Dad had passed in 1961 and I stayed with Mom at the Price Ranch. I was forty three and back home… Mom died in 1966 and I met Alice Senn, born Kaiser and became her 5th husband in 1967 and she was my 3rd wife. I said ‘We’d better stay together – nobody else wants us!’ We did – for nearly forty-years until she passed in 2006.”
They moved in to Alice’s place on Gschwend Road, south of Floodgate but not long afterwards they moved to the Price Ranch and rented out Alice’s to a few young women – they turned out to be the early members of Charles Manson’s gang, who also lived there for a time. Meanwhile, Junior worked for Cordes Lumber and also Redwood Coast Lumber on Masonite property, making split rail, grape stakes, and salvaging logging and doing clean-up on his D8 Cat after major logging had been completed. “They were big Cat’s, not D9’s though… The 17-acre ranch was left to my brother Jesse and me but I bought him out for $2000. We paid off the loan on the ranch and sold it to James Gowan in two separate parcels – the orchard first in 1972 then the rest in 1973. The Gowan family still has it today. His mother was Alice Studebaker, a first cousin of my father’s. It was the Studebakers who originally donated out the ranch so James got it back, but he had to pay for it… We had bought a house in Santa Rosa in 1971 and moved there in 1973 and I took a job delivering milk to stores, restaurants, even homes. I went all over the area and out to Guerneville and Sebastopol too – it was a mistake but it took me a year to find that out… I then went to work for Performance Towing driving a tow truck for the next thirty-three years, and later Opperman & Son Truck Sales and Equipment, until 2006 when I was eighty-six. I didn’t retire – they just stopped calling me! I drove all over for them, from Salt Lake City up to Arcata and down to L.A… Yes that milk route and Jackie were the too big mistakes in my life…”
“Now I have the best job of all – doing nothing. I get up real early so that I have all day to rest. I like to watch old westerns and for many years Alice and I liked to travel. Her mother lived in Wisconsin and we went there every year, taking a different route each time, up into Canada sometimes on the way. My daughter Gloria married a military man and they moved around a lot – up to Washington State, Georgia, and in Germany. I have two granddaughters – Michelle and Renée, and four great grandchildren – Kyra, Aiden, Rylee with Renée and husband Ryan in Jackson, California, and Hunter down in Texas with Michelle and her husband Jeff. Through Alice, I have a step great, great grandchild… Since 2006 I have done nothing at all. I have a woodworking hobby – making cradles, stools, kids’ toys, checkerboards, and the watering can figures outside the museum – anything pertaining to wood, but I don’t do much of that now, unless somebody wants something special… Alice passed away in 2006 – on 04/05/06, at the age of ninety-two, and for years she had provided a child care service at our home, practically raising a couple of kids ourselves – Justin and Larkin Simpson.”
I asked Junior for a snapshot verbal image of his father. “Driving his produce truck. He had a real good way of making you do something you didn’t want to do. He made a real good boss”… And his mother? “She was just Mom – but that’s alot.”
Next I turned to asking Junior for his brief responses to various Valley issues… The wineries and their impact? – “Well, as you will know by now, everything used to be apples and sheep. There will always be changes. It then went to the sawmills and now it’s the wineries. Who knows what will be next? In the thirties, Asti Winery planted grapes and harvested for two years – there was ‘not enough sugar’ they said, this was ‘not grape country’. I guess they were wrong. There has always been grapes on Greenwood ridge, where the Italian families settled – Vinegar Hill as it was called – no sugar!”… The A.V.A. newspaper? – I don’t get it”… The changes in the Valley? – “Well, as I said, change happens and not everybody likes it. Ever since the Valley was discovered. That was by Anderson by the way, not Henry Beeson as some will tell you. I heard that from Beeson’s daughter herself, Etta Beeson. She would have said it was her father, unless it wasn’t the truth. She said the Beeson brothers, Henry and Isaac, were not with William Anderson that first time the Valley was seen by white folks. I believe her…”
To end the interview, as I have been 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 more recently. Hopefully you will find Junior’s answers interesting…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – Nothing excites me. I get up and look forward to breakfast and another day…”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “The noise of traffic.”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “Country and western music.”
4. What is your favorite food or meal? – “A t-bone steak with potatoes and gravy – the Anderson Valley special.”
5. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “My Dad.”
6. Is there anything that scares you? – “I don’t think so.”
7. Where would you like to visit if you could go anywhere in the world? – “Germany – to visit where I was during the war. The Ruhr River – where we lost half of our company when they were swept down the river we were crossing after a dam further up river was blown up. I lost a lot of good friends in the war.
8. What is your favorite hobby? – “I don’t have one now. Used to be woodworking. Now I like to watch old western movies – John Wayne, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers… I remember the first movie I saw was ‘Wings’ in 1927. I went to see it with Albert Farrer at the Oddfellows Hall in the Live Oak building in Boonville.”
9. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “When I was a teenager I wanted to be the school bus driver. In my senior year, our driver was Johnny Giovanetti but he worked with my Dad a lot and so sometimes, if he was busy doing that, he’d let me drive the school bus down from Vinegar Hill to Hwy 128… Later I wanted to be a Greyhound Bus Driver…
10. What profession would you not like to do? – “A sewage worker.”
11. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? “I remember my first kiss, I was at a Halloween party at Alice Gowan’s house and Helen Hagemann grabbed me and took me outside and kissed me. My first sort-of date was when I rode my bicycle up the Haehl Hill and out to Nina Delbar’s when I was a sophomore in high school… I remember George Gowan telling me about one of his first dates when he was driving the car and he put a hand around his date’s shoulder. She said ‘Should you be doing that with your hand?’ and George replied ‘Well if I take it off the wheel we’ll crash the car’…”
12. Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? – “Probably not, although I have made mistakes, as I said earlier. I have not seen Twyla since she was five years old. She must be nearly fifty now. That’s life.”
13. Tell me about a memorable moment; a time you will never forget. – “There are too many of them.”
14. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “I am proud to be here. Proud of my kids and grandkids.”
15. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “That I have always been able to do any kind of job, or fix anything. A jack of all trades and master of none.”
16. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well, ‘Come on in’ would sure beat ‘Get the hell out of here’ I’d say!” as he laughed out loud… Thus ended one of the most pleasurable interviews that I have conducted over the past few years…

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Published in: on August 11, 2011 at 6:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Antoinette von Grone – July 22nd, 2011

I met Antoinette at her beautiful home on Anderson Valley Way on the outskirts of Boonville. After a brief tour of the house and her studios – some of it originally dating back to the 1880’s (although much renovation has been done), we sat down in the spacious kitchen and with a cup of Irish Breakfast tea at my side, I began the interview…
Antoinette was born in Lower Saxony, Germany, the second child of Volkmar von Grone and Erna von Stein, whose families can both be traced back through central European aristocracy for many centuries, her father’s being German/French/Polish as far back as the 1200’s and her mother’s French/Polish to the 700’s…
“My paternal great grandmother was a Countess with large land holdings and lots of money. However, it turned out she was actually the daughter of the local cobbler and her stepmother was going to expose this unless a bribe was paid. My great grandfather refused to pay and soon the news was all over Germany, causing quite a scandal in society. My great grandmother, the ‘False Countess’ never left the home again even though she was much beloved in the nearby area and became the second mother to my father… My grandfather suffered terrible shrapnel wounds in the First World War and had lost an arm at the Battle of Verdun. He had met his future wife in a field hospital where she was a nurse. Then during the Third Reich, he could not prove that he was not Jewish – they lived in a largely Jewish area of Krakow, now in Poland, but once my brother came along, with his blonde hair and blue eyes, they were fine and the ‘curse’ was lifted – I guess they didn’t get to see me. My father worked in the government’s Department of Forestry and Agriculture during the war.”
Antoinette’s mother’s family was from East Prussia. Her grandfather had been shot in the face in World War I and was disfigured as a result. Before the Second World War, they moved to a big family estate, about fifty miles from the Lower Saxony home of the von Grone’s, who had lived on their estate for five hundred years. “My mother was dating my father’s brother who was very enamored with her. He and my Dad had always talked about their girlfriends but he was not going to ‘share’ this one with my Dad. However, he was killed in the war in 1944 and my mother was a friend of their sister, who introduced her to my father. They immediately fell in love and were married in 1946. Germany was bankrupt by that time and the family had lost a lot of money and the estate was deeply in debt. Their home in Berlin was in the eastern sector so that was also lost.”
Antoinette was born on the estate in Lower Saxony and grew up there until the age of twelve, attending the local public school. “We lived in a very rural area and I was a tomboy who was always outside, although I had been drawing since I was five. I loved animals, mainly dogs and cats, but horses and wildlife too. From an early age I was convinced I had a gift with animals. Although, as a family, we socialized with other aristocratic families, lots of my friends were the local kids from the school, of whom many were Polish refugees who became a big part of my life in those years. I thank my parents for not having an attitude about me playing with those kids as we generally were expected to mix with the other privileged children. Besides, they treated me like a princess!”
At the age of twelve, Antoinette was sent to a well-known boarding school in Holzminden, about 20 miles away. “I was not forced to go, I could have traveled every day, but my brother was there already, he was five years older than me, and I wanted to board. The school was for the very rich but the academic standards were not as high as the public school I had attended. I had to select four main subjects and chose Math, Biology, Literature, and History, with Art as a secondary subject. Fortunately I had an excellent art teacher, although he was hated by many of the kids. He would say ‘Few of you have real talent but I will teach you all the basic skills.’ He gave me the best grounding imaginable for my art… Unfortunately he left and for my final year I had a poor teacher who just wanted to be liked and taught art in a different, modern way. However, he generally left me alone to work on my own technique that I had learned from the first teacher.”
Antoinette was a mediocre student who was never really motivated. “I was not a bad student, I was just lazy with most subjects. My parents knew I was good at art and did not discourage me from that, but they were not keen on me becoming an artist. They wanted me to study so that I could get a good job for a time to support myself before I got married and had kids. Biology was my favorite subject other than art but my grades were not good enough to take me further. I graduated and did not know what to do. My family had a friend who restored churches who was also an artist and we suggested art restoration to him but he said I had way too much imagination to simply restore other’s paintings. He suggested design school and when my father heard the words ‘industrial design’ he though ‘money’ and was all for it.”
After going for an interview and deciding Industrial Design would not work, Antoinette and her mother met with the head of textile design at the school and that seemed like a much better fit. So in 1970, at the age of eighteen, Antoinette went to the Hanover College for Applied Arts. “Before my final year there I took time out to study Spanish in Hamburg for about nine months in 1973/74, where I really learned to be on my own feet – I had a really good time… My course had about one year left but I found myself in a very dicey relationship and needed to get away. I moved to Vienna and applied to continue my studies there but they said I would have to start over again as they were a ‘university’ and I had been to only a ‘college’ before. However, if I did a tapestry-weaving course they would accept me. My Dad said I should do that for six months and then return and finish my course in Hanover. I did that, the tapestry evolved slowly, and I enjoyed my time in Vienna so much that I stayed an extra semester. However, I made sure my courses were covered in Hanover, thanks to my professors who gave me pass grades in basic classes. I then returned for a final semester and graduated with a degree in Textile Design.”
As for a job, there were not many in that field. “I had not really thought that much about it. It was work in a battique shop, wallpaper design, or mass production stuff – all horrific to me. Then my mother’s friend said she might be able to help as she knew a teacher at a fashion school in Paris – yeah, of course I was interested and enrolled. It turned out to be the school from hell. There were just six students and the teacher was a really nasty character. I was doing haute couture – working on making the cuts in fabric that was draped on a mannequin. My ‘White Nights of Paris’ were not that at all – I worked through the night in my nine-by-nine room with very cold running water, sharing a toilet with some bad characters in the building. I was there for ten months but got my qualification and applied for many jobs in prêt a porter fashion – ready to wear clothes. I did get a job when one of the companies picked me up for a month’s trial. Others said my work would be too expensive to produce.”
In August of each year Paris virtually empties of its citizens as they head off for the countryside. “The city closes down. During that time in 1979, I finally realized that I wanted to be recognized for my work but needed an introduction to the right place. A friend of mine knew the owner of Hermés, the French high fashion house, and I got an interview with the head of the design department. However, when he saw my portfolio of textile designs he said that he felt I did not have the flair or style they required. But there was a three-month temporary position for a window decorator at the company’s store in Paris. I jumped at the chance and loved it. It was a wonderful experience and they extended my stay to eight months at which point I was told that by law they could not keep me any longer, but I could leave for a couple of months and then come back.”
Antoinette left Hermés and a few days later saw an ad in a magazine looking for people to work at Club Med teaching various skills. “I had no idea what Club Med was all about. I went to the interview, dressed in a kilt and hair in braids, for a job teaching arts and crafts. They said they loved my work and would get in touch with me. A few days later a gypsy woman on the side of the road persuaded me to have my palm read and she told me I would be traveling. ‘Yeah, right’ I thought. Club Med contacted me that night and I was soon teaching battique and weaving in Morocco!”
Antoinette had dated an Englishman and her English was good. She took a test and passed, giving her more options on where to work for Club Med. As a result she worked the tourist season of 1980-81 in Cancun, Mexico, with its mostly American visitors. “I loved Club Med and would have liked to have stayed. We lived in beautiful places and there were many interesting people to meet. You could indulge in your fantasies and have lots of fun with the guests. However, I could hear my parents in my head saying ‘Do something serious’ so I left and returned to Germany. To my surprise, my mother said, ‘We kind of didn’t think you would come back.’ They had accepted that I had grown up and wanted to know what I was going to next – it would be my decision. I started to do silk painting as a self-employed artist and they supported me in that and said I could stay as long as I wanted. Well, I stayed for six months and had a blast designing silk dresses, tops, scarves, all with painting on them… Eventually I met up with a woman who had her own store in Hamburg and I explained my vision to her – haute couture printed silks. We clicked and I moved to Hamburg into a fabulous flat with large studio, selling some things out of her store and also my own outlet at the flat… Overtime I made many contacts, got my own seamstress, and did many little shows. I knew I could call my Dad if I needed financial help but I never had to do that. I did not go back to Hermés, although I did do a final three-month run with Club Med.”
In April/May 1983, Antoinette came to the States for four weeks, visiting friends from her Club Med days in New York, Minnesota, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. “I set aside ten days at the end of my visit to see a particular guy who lived in Mill Valley in Marin County. We clicked and when I returned to Hamburg we continued a long distance relationship until I moved over here at the end of 1983 and started a business in Mill Valley, returning twice a year to Germany to sell there also.”
Antoinette eventually got her ‘green card’ through a program whereby permission to stay and work was granted if you could prove you were not taking a job away from an American. She and the boyfriend were together for nine-and-a-half years before she moved out and found herself a loft apartment. A few years later, in 1995, through an artist friend, she met Thom Elkjer and started to date. They were married in December 1996 and bought a house in Santa Rosa in 1997. “Thom is a freelance writer and I was happy to stay there for the rest of my life.”
“It was around that time that another big change occurred. I was doing a show where some of my scarves were on sale for $1200 – $1500 and one customer just laughed at that price. They would take me a week to do, so over forty hours or more it was not a huge hourly rate. However, I realized that many people would think like that and I decided perhaps a change was needed. Meanwhile I had received a big commission for some silk paintings at the Elephant Bar Hotel in Tokyo and through that met the designer Eugene Anthony. He said ‘I can see that you have a great hand but I cannot use the silks – paint on walls for me.’ I had dabbled in oil and acrylic painting for my own development but this was a new challenge and I did a painting for him on a bathroom wall – a stylized French piece, featuring animals dressed in costumes. It was a success.” For a couple of years the silk work continued alongside Antoinette’s new art but in 1997/98 she finally let go of silks. “I still miss it – the colors and effects are not available in any other medium”…
In 1999, Thom was asked to do an article on the town of Mendocino for Wine Spectator magazine. “We had driven along Hwy 128 many times on our way for getaway weekends on the coast. It was certainly pretty valley but we were always on our way somewhere else. On this occasion we stopped for a night’s stay at the Apple Farm. The next morning, I looked out of bedroom window and saw the light on the trees, the working barn, and a little fog. I thought – ‘I am home!’ Thom then told me he had always wanted to have property in Anderson Valley. I had no idea what the Valley was.”
They were both doing very well at that time as freelance artists in the Bay Area, so did not wish to move here full-time, but a weekend getaway place would work. They decided on looking for a small piece of land with a fixer-upper home, within walking distance of Boonville, level land for a garden, and an orchard. “We looked around with a local realtor but after two years we gave up – it seemed we only saw large pieces of land or things that were beyond our price range. We had actually passed this property early in our search, had even leaned over the fence and had said – ‘something like this would be perfect’… By 2001, Thom was very frustrated and rewarded himself with a BMW. We had given up our search but came to visit the Apple Farm with friends. We showed them around the Valley and as we passed this property there was a hand-painted sign saying ‘For Sale’.”
They bought the property from Elizabeth and Jon Miller and then the real work began. “It was cute but needed lots of work, both inside and out. We came up at weekends with my painting materials and a computer, and worked in the daytimes on the garden and redesigning most of the interior. We did that for three-and-a-half years. Despite the effects on 9/11 on many, I did well for a time in the Bay Area before the economic problems finally hit me too. By 2005, we were also emotionally done with the traveling. We had to decide which house we would rent out but for a time decided we couldn’t do either. However, after Ferd and Tracy Thieriot offered me the perfect studio space up here in Yorkville, we rented out the Santa Rosa home (eventually selling it) and moved up, beginning a two-year plan to build a studio here – thanks to Bob Tierney… In the early days we already knew Don and Rene Bissatini, on Peachland Road, from Santa Rosa, and soon got to know neighbors Patty and Mike Langley, Bob Tierney and Sandhya Abee, Susan and Michael Addison, Cynthia McMath, and Kathleen Porter.”
Antoinette sold her paintings out of her home and also the Erickson Fine Art Gallery in Healdsburg. “I had always been reluctant to deal with galleries and have had mixed results. My commissions went well for a time but that business is now almost zero. I sell out of the Mercantile Store in Boonville and I have work up in the Boonville Hotel, the Mosswood Market Café, winery tasting rooms, at open studio days, and have many referrals. And of course there are my faithful customers.”
Antoinette has now been a very keen member of the A.V. Ambulance service for five-and-a-half years and the Fire department for six months – E.M.T. only. “Thom thought it would be a good idea to get involved in the community but I was not as keen. However after Bruce Longstreet said I should go for it, I took to the Ambulance service right away under the training of David Severn. I remember thinking after my first transport over the hill to Ukiah – ‘it took you fifty years to get here.’ I had no idea it was so much fun to help someone – I had never worked in the service industry and had never volunteered for anything. This was new to me and I worked hard at it and love it. As for the E.M.T., I did not think that was for me but I developed a real drive and wanted to be good at it – that had never happened to me that way. I soaked it up and it felt great that I could still learn and I immersed myself in it. I love going on calls – the adrenaline rush, the camaraderie, and the feeling of doing something for the greater good. And I should add – we always need more people.”
“I love the Valley for its amazing sense of community – so much is done on a voluntary basis here. I have never seen it in other places – may be I wasn’t looking. I sometimes go back to the Bay Area and have no regrets about leaving, although if we’d stayed I feel I would have been happy there. I now feel like my home is here…”
I asked Antoinette for a snapshot verbal image of her father. “A tank – a big force in life”… And her mother? “Cerebral but a do’er; a real lady, but one who could swear”… I then asked her for her brief thoughts on various Valley issues… The Wineries? – “They continue to grow in number and encroach evermore – I do not like it. Also I am saddened by the fact that many of them are owned by larger businesses, not local families. I am concerned about a one-crop Valley, diversity would be good – just as Sarah Bennett-Cahn is doing with her goats and sheep on her property at the south end of Boonville, and the people who are planting olive trees”… Changes in the Valley? – There are many part-timers, which is ridiculous of me to say as I was one for a time, but we are being depleted by them”… The A.V.A. newspaper – “I just do not read it. I get the International Herald Tribune, The Week, and the National Geographic”… KZYX & Z local public radio? – “I don’t listen.”
To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Antoinette and asked her to just reply as spontaneously as possible…
1. What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “Just stepping outside the door and observing nature… My cat – I have always had dogs and cats – now I am pretty much a cat person… The pager going off for the Fire and/or Ambulance… Oh, and Thom too!”
2. What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? – “When winter goes on too long…People driving at just 45mph who do not pull over on Hwy 128 to let others pass. The problem is they do 45 in the center of Boonville too!”
3. What sound or noise do you love? – “The sounds of nature – birds singing.”
4. What sound or noise do you hate? – “Accelerating motorcycles – I hate that… Airplanes.”
5. What is your favorite food or meal? – “Steak with sauce béarnaise and some fancy vegetables… Oh, and with orange flavored chocolate for dessert – I could eat that all day long!”
6. If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? – “Joy Adamson, who worked with lions in Africa – the film ‘Born Free’ was based on her stories. I have a deep affinity for Africa and its animals – this is reflected in much of my work.”
7. If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? – “My cat; art materials; some sort of historical book about Africa or a medical book – so I’d learn something.”
8. What scares you? – “Over population… The political climate…”
9. Do you have a favorite film or book or one that has influenced you? – “Well not a film but the award-winning television series ‘E.R.’ set in a hospital – it opened up a part of me that I didn’t know was there; a book would be Arthur B. Guthrie’s ‘The Big Sky’ – an epic adventure novel of America’s vast frontier.”
10. What is your favorite hobby? – “Gardening.”
11. What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? – “When I was a little kid I wanted to be a lion tamer or a zoo-keeper… Then later, a biologist or medical person of some sort in the African bush – if I was about twenty, not now!”
12. What profession would you not like to do? – “Anything in a factory, or that was mindless. I need to have regular change.”
13. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? – “It was when I was at boarding school at 13 – it was disco night.”
14. Tell me about a memorable moment; a time you will never forget. – “My time in Vienna; or when I was with Club Med and enjoyed the crazy freedom of youth; or even boarding school which was lots of fun.”
15. What is something that you are really proud of and why? – “I am very proud of how the vision of our home here was realized… And of my work with the E.M.T. because I didn’t think I had it in me.”
16. What is your favorite thing about yourself? – “Well I got lucky with my hair!… That’s hard to say – I don’t know what to tell you…
17. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “I’d like him to say ‘We have a special animal section where you can live and work with and study the animals’ – that would be great.”

Published in: on August 4, 2011 at 4:49 pm  Leave a Comment