Press "Enter" to skip to content

Lives & Times Of Valley Folks: Bill & Gail Meyer

I met with Bill and Gail at their lovely home high in the hills east of Boonville with its stunning views of the Valley far below. Uniquely to this point in my series of interviews, we had decided to do a joint interview and so the three of us sat down with some delicious sandwiches and began to chat.

Bill was born in 1953 to parents Eugene Meyer and Helen Collins, both of whose ancestors had been in the States for several generations. Their families had settled in Pocatello, Idaho and his parents met at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. “My father was in the navy, based at Moffett Field in the South Bay, and he had flown blimps, patrolling the coast on the lookout for possible attacks by the Japanese. Then after the war he went to the Stanford Business School. I have a brother, Gene III, born in 1945 in Palo Alto at the Stanford Hospital, which is where my next brother, Douglas in 1949, and myself were also born — all three of us with the same doctor in attendance. My Dad was a traveling salesman selling farming goods for my grandfather’s company based in Idaho and when I was very young, after living in Fresno, California for about nine months, we moved back to Idaho Falls, Idaho because my grandfather needed help with the business. In 1957, my grandfather died and for the next five years my Dad ran the company. We had a large extended family in the area and we had frequent family gatherings which were always lots of fun, but in 1962, when I was nine, we moved back out to California and settled in San Carlos on the Peninsula.”

Gail was born in 1952, a year before Bill, (“I like younger men!”) to parents Jules Jordan and Isabel Riddle who were both from the East coast, and originally of English/Scottish/Irish descent, although the Jordan’s were previously ‘Jourdan’ and of French extraction. At the age of seventeen, while living in Boston, her mother had a one-time date with an army man ands the next day he went off to war, neither having any intention of staying in touch. Shortly after Isabel found out that she was pregnant and then a few months later she met and fell in love with another military man — Jules Jordan from California. She had dreams of living in California and at the age of eighteen, now eight months pregnant, they were married and made plans to move out West. Isabel’s mother died of kidney disease just before the baby was born and then Jules admitted he could not love the baby as much as if it was his own. It was a tough time for Isabel but she and Jules made a joint decision to offer the baby girl up for adoption and took her to the Salvation Army in Boston. When the adoption papers were being signed Isabel managed to take a peep at the name of the new parents, something she was legally not supposed to do. She did not forget that name and many years later tracked the child down — Gail’s half sister, Susan. “ My mother started looking for her when the girl would have been twenty-one, and found her when she was twenty-five. Then, for four more years, my parents did not tell us who she was, explaining that she was a friend of my mother’s. Anyway, that’s a whole other story... My parents were married in 1946 and settled in the Visalia area of the agricultural San Joaquin Valley where my mother’s father’s family owned orange groves and where my brother Bill was born in 1947.”

“My father trained to be a chiropractor and at some point we moved to Glendale but his profession was not seen as a ‘true’ medical science back in those days and chiropractors were viewed as ‘quacks’. There was little work and we returned to Wilburton, Massachusetts where my mother had inherited a house and where my father found work in construction. We made other attempts to settle in California, taking a couple of cars and trailers with all of our belongings back across the country two or three times. I spent 1st grade and then 5th and 6th grades on the East coast, with 2nd thru’ 4th in Lake Tahoe and then 7th in Aptos, near to Santa Cruz. Overall I had lived in nine different places by the time I entered high school in Watsonville, and then I moved again to the newly built high school in Aptos for my senior year. I found all the moving not as tough as my brother did — he was a few years older, besides, I always seemed to make friends very easily wherever we lived.”

Over those years, Gail’s father continued to struggle in his profession. “He was ahead of his time and although he was called ‘doc’ by his friends, he never really found steady work in his chosen profession and eventually settled in a job with the State Highway Construction Department. My mother was a bookkeeper, office manager and administrator in various businesses including an ice cream parlor, an insurance office, and even a casino — that was when we were in Tahoe where my Dad had his own chiropractor practice for a time.”

Bill attended San Carlos High School where he was a good student. “I was there from 1967 until graduation in 1971 and that was a time which saw lots of things happening in the Bay Area and way beyond. I began to question everything that was happening, from my school to the government’s policies, and like everyone else I watched Walter Cronkite on the news every night giving the numbers of those killed in Vietnam. My parents were very conservative and I repeatedly clashed with my father in particular - they voted for Nixon in the 1968 election. Kennedy had been this breath of fresh air and had got the country behind him in the early sixties but by 1968 people were asking if the government was telling the truth and my friends and I would go to protests and demonstrations in San Francisco and Stanford at the weekends. Meanwhile, to earn a little money I was mowing lawns, working at an A & W Root Beer place, and also at a bakery.”

“After graduating, I went to UC Santa Cruz which was in a wonderful town and community and where I made some lifelong friends. However, a year later, with the Vietnam War was still raging I still had no idea what major to take. School was not really interesting me that much but I had to stay there to get my student deferment from military service. The lottery was in its second year and my number came up — it was in the 350’s so I decided to take a leave of absence from college knowing I would not be drafted with such a low number... I lived with my brother Doug, hanging out in town and on the beach and eventually I got a job earning $3.15 hr at Ingles’ Brussels sprouts processing plant — it was a cool job. I was working nights so I had all day long to hang out on the beach, surf, and ride horses. The plant was two-thirds women and one day the boss came over to me and said ‘I am going to take you to heaven’, and he led me into the women’s side of the factory where he set me to work loading boxes of Brussels sprouts that had been sorted out by the women. I spent all the time watching the ladies work and occasionally loading a few boxes. A co-worker friend of mine had spotted this one girl and was too tongue-tied to talk to her. I said I’d help him out and we went to speak to her at the break.”

Gail was a B-average student at school and enjoyed sports too. “I remember I could spell ‘chiropractor’ at seven and entered spelling bee’s. Around that time I got a job cleaning stables out and later I also exercised the horses. I loved skiing and ran track in junior high and high school, the sprints and relays. My time of 12.4 seconds was the record for the 100 yards in the Central California region for about eight years. I liked riding my bicycle and being at the beach and singing in the choir, appearing in musical plays, and really enjoyed the overall social experience of being at school and had friends in many different circles.”

Gail graduated in 1970. Her parents had separated in 1968 and she had lived with her Mom, who to help with bills had taken in a renter — a 20-year old woman called Dee Anne. “My parents had always been so supportive of us and each other. I never heard them argue. I knew my mother was eager to do something more, to express herself more. She had been a mother since she was so young. She got a job in the administrative department at UC Santa Cruz, eventually becoming the first woman bursar (financial administrator) in the whole UC system. She had been itching to do something for herself for years and after a year in the bursar job she took off for Mexico. She fell in love with the country and at the age of forty-eight she quit her job, took a crash course in Spanish, and left. She would never to return apart from the occasional visit, and she lived in rural Mexico for thirty-eight years until she died in 2009. Dee Anne and I lived in the house and I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had no direction after high school and over the next two or three years I did various odd jobs and took lots of art and dance classes. Dee Anne and I got another place and rented out my mother’s house. Then, with some money my mother had put aside for me, Dee Anne and I moved out and went to Hawaii for a time. When we returned we lived in a three-compartment French tent in the yard of a friend of my mother’s — Dee Anne and I have remained friends ever since those days — she is like a sister to me. Anyway, I needed a job and in the fall of 1972, I started at the John Ingles fruit and vegetable processing plant in Santa Cruz. It was a good job and one day at break time a couple of guys who loaded the boxes of Brussels sprouts for us came over to talk to me.”

Bill was living in a barn at the time. “Now that was so cool, but this woman at the factory topped me, she was living in a tent! We soon found out that we had horses and the beach in common so I convinced my friend she was not his type and she and I started to date!”

Gail continued, “Bill wanted to see other people but I said, ‘No - you’re making a big mistake if you do.’ He fell for that. We had so much fun together; we were so compatible from the start and we are still each other’s best friends. His brother Doug moved out of the barn and I moved in. We had a couple of horses and rode on the beaches and in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.”

It was the height of the drive for self-sufficiency and the ‘Back-to-the-Land’ Movement; the hippies having moved on to that scene a few years earlier. Bill was into horses and he needed to shoe them so, while the rest of his friends became carpenters and plumbers, he took a night class to be a farrier. “And I’m still doing it!” They spent a couple of years at the Brussels sprout plant — it was seasonal work and they both worked in restaurants the rest of the year, Bill as a short order cook and Gail as a waitress. They moved into a house a little further north of town where there were lots of good horse trails and good surf and then, in 1975, Bill’s brother Doug invited them to join him and his friends in Half Moon Bay and work at a horse-boarding ranch on a 320-acre property. It was three miles inland in Purisima Canyon and Bill and Gail decided to give it a try. Bill explained, “It had been abandoned for ten years and there was lots of work to be done. There were houses and barns and a workshop but they all needed work. Gail helped exercise the horses and maintain the barns and I built fences and we cleared the brush and planted oats and pasture grass. We become tied to the land however, with the horses, chickens, goats, ducks, pigs, rabbits, etc, and we managed to take just one week off in almost five years. We worked very hard but saved our money and by the time we left, the ranch had seventy-five horses and we had money for a down payment on a house.”

In October 1979, they gave notice of their plan to leave without having anywhere to go. The owners eventually sold the ranch to the singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman and she turned one of the barns into a recording studio. They looked in the Sierra Foothills but found nothing to their liking. One weekend Bill had gone camping in northern California and drove back south along Hwy 1 until he reached Hwy 128 at Navarro Point. Then, for a change, he turned inland and drove through the Valley. “I thought, ‘Wow! This is really, really beautiful’. It was gorgeous and I would have loved to have stayed and checked out properties but I returned home. Gail and I continued to look at properties in the South Bay and on the coast down there but it was too expensive so we started to look seriously around the Valley with the local realtor, Bob Mathias. On one occasion, when Gail was not with me, I was shown this property. We had a house plan we wanted and the house already here on the property was almost exactly that, plus it had a pigpen! Anyway, even though it had no power or electricity and had kerosene lamps, I put a deposit down on it and went home to tell Gail. The property fitted right in with our ‘back-to-the-land’ ideals, which I had had since high school. I was very comfortable with that. It also had a mobile home on the property with renters — Bob and Cathy Porter. We moved up in the spring of 1980 and Gail got a job briefly in the apple packing house at Gowans’ Orchards before becoming a waitress at the Philo Café, owned by Kristy Hotchkiss and Andrea McKowskey.”

Gail continues, “We did not know anybody in the Valley and Bill commuted two days a week back to Half Moon Bay. However, we soon realized that there were many people here who were our age, doing what we wanted to do, and providing a real sense of community. The café had healthy food and live music and there were many apple orchards and not many vines at that point. Then, in January 1982, the El Nino year, the rains washed our road out and that provided us with the excuse for Bill to stop commuting.”

Bill went on, “I found a job with Norman Charles at his Christmas Tree farm in Philo. I did his fencing and his odd jobs and handyman chores. He and his family were the first people up here that we really got to know and hang out with. Norman introduced me to many of the old-timers such as John Hanes, Buck Clark, Doodles, and Bob ‘Chipmunk’ Glover. We would hang out at the Floodgate, when it was a beer bar owned by Dave and Nancy Gowan, and we’d drink cold Coors with spicy hot sausages.”

Gail meanwhile was also meeting many people while working at the café. “The Clams local baseball team would come in after games, then there was Smokey Blattner, the Holcombs, and many others. Our son Russell was born in July 1984 and I left the café. When I returned to work I took a job at the Boonville Hotel when Vernon and Charlene Rollins owned it — they had some interesting ideas and I thought that would be fun. Bill worked days and I did evenings so we never had to get a babysitter. However, the Rollins turned out to be very difficult to work for and things became quite desperate as their strange ideas were not working and the business struggled. One morning we were about to open when we realized that they were not around. They had just left and were spotted pulling out of town in a truck loaded up with furniture; they had always been up to no good and now they had fled town. It was ‘night and day’ when Johnny Schmitt took over — a good community guy, and I worked three evenings a week there with Bill looking after Russell and later Scarlet too. She was born in November 1986.”

By that time Bill was working for himself. “I had learned pasture fence-building at the horse ranch and noticed that all of these new vineyards would need fencing, plus a new influx of people were moving here and they needed deer fencing which I had learned to do at Norman’s farm. As a result our phone never stopped ringing with requests for fence-building work. Well, I say our phone — we did not get one until 1990 - it was actually the phone in Bob and Tim Mathias’ realty office and they would keep messages for me until I stopped by. We had finally got PG&E power to the house in 1988 after our road association did lots of prep for them, although Gail and I had been happy with solar.”

Until 1997 their job situation worked really well and did not change as the kids progressed through school. Then Gail developed carpel tunnel in her wrist from all the bar/waitress work and so she left the hotel and got a job at the Elementary School as a part-time PE teacher. Four years later, in 2001, she returned to the Hotel to help Elaine Busse with the Inn keeping and perform various administrative tasks. “It seemed like I’d waitressed all of my life and although I liked the variety of that job it had become physically too much. This new position was more mental and less physical and, apart from a four month lay-off when Johnny restructured the business, I have been there ever since.”

Bill meanwhile was kept busy with two jobs. “Since the early nineties, I had had a small flatbed truck and so when Steve Williams, the vineyard manager at various wineries, asked me to haul some grapes at harvest time, I took that job on, working at lots of the smaller wineries, while still continuing with various fencing jobs. As for the farrier work I was semi-retired by that time and remain so today, although I have five or six clients I have kept. It is hard work, in fact it’s said that shoeing horses is the second hardest job in farming, after sheep shearing.”

For many years both Gail and Bill were involved with many school activities as Russell and Scarlet went through the A.V. school system. When in 3rd grade, Russell, along with his friend Gabe Shapiro, started a radio show on the local public radio station, KZYX&Z, called ‘Rubber Biscuit’, which later became ‘Teen Scene Live.’ “Other than work and parenting, we also seemed to go to parties all the time”, said Bill. “And to the Philo Café, The Burlap Boys were always playing— that was Bill McEwan, A.J., Alan Kendall, and Jack Tyselling. Our social scene involved attending lots of community events and then through my contact with Tom Smith, whom I had helped in the early days of the school soccer program, we started to go to the Magic Company events, featuring Henry and Rainbow Hill, Jonesy, Doug Read, Terry Scott, and Tom of course. An offshoot of that group had been The Variety Show and in it’s third year I signed up to help behind the scenes at that annual event. One day I was just sitting around with Captain Rainbow and I came up with an idea for the opening act — if only I’d kept my mouth shut!” Over the ensuing years Bill has continued to be one of the main organizers of this event. “I helped Tom backstage and Rainbow with the organizing, although Rainbow does most of it and I do about 20%.” Gail quickly corrected him — “more like 40%.”

What do Gail and Bill like most about Anderson Valley? Gail replied “The community, the people. They care about each other and everyone helps out when somebody is in need. Plus everywhere we go around here we seem to know so many people. And, it’s a beautiful place — we don’t see places any nicer... “ Anything you don’t like? “Seeing the apple orchards disappear was very sad and took some adjustment.”

What about the wineries and their impact? — Bill: “Lots of our friends have vines — we have two acres of Sauvignon Blanc ourselves. We are conscious about the water usage and some sort of less invasive frost protection method should replace the noisy fans.”

The A.V.A. newspaper? Bill: “I love it. Gail buys it on Sundays at the Hotel, along with the SF Chronicle.”

KZYX & Z radio? Gail” “We support it wholeheartedly. We are big fans and are familiar with many of the voices. We don’t know what we’d do without Terry Gross and her wonderful interviews. We do not like commercial radio although we do like to listen to The Coast radio station too — which is commercial but not overtly so and very community-minded.” The school system? Gail: “Well it’s been really good to us. Our kids did very well. Russell graduated and went on to get a degree in marketing and advertising at Emerson College in Boston — for now he’s a bartender in New York City; while Scarlet went on to study nursing at Hawaii Pacific University on Oahu and she has recently been hired to work at a hospital in Lodi, California. You cannot leave it up to the school to teach your kids everything. Our teachers were always very supportive and we never ever considered having them go to another school. I thought the Elementary School especially did a great job.”

Marijuana? Bill: “I love it! No seriously, I am shocked that it’s still not legal. Back in the sixties, we thought it would be legal within about ten years. It is obviously not the bogeyman that some people make it out to be but having these huge grows of thousands of plants sucking up water really does bug me.”

Law and order in the Valley? Bill: “It’s very disappointing that we can’t fund our deputies. We have been very lucky to have had Deputy Keith Squires here. He knows everybody and we need to have that kind of guy here in the Valley.”

To end the interview, as I do each week, I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to both Gail and Bill.

What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? Gail — “All of nature — it’s my church.” Bill: “A cup of coffee!”

What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? Gail: “People who say they are bored.” Bill: “Narrow-minded people; people not open to change.” Gail added, “And he hates voles too.”

Sound or noise you love? Gail: Birds singing.” Bill: “Water running in streams; the sounds of the ocean.”

Sound or noise you hate? Bill: “The sound of helicopters.” Gail: “I agree.”

Favorite food or meal? Gail: “A good bbq chicken, potatoes, corn on the cob, salad.” Bill: “Spaghetti; classical ‘American,’ homemade.”

If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? Gail: “My maternal Grandmother. My mother always said I reminded her of her own mother and there are so many great stories about her.” Bill: “I’m not religious but I’d like to speak to Jesus and ask him what has been going on.”

If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? Gail: “A box with my art and craft stuff inside; dental floss; a solar radio — I am very practical.” Bill: “Some books; some sun block; and a guitar to learn to play.”

Favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? Gail: “The book would be ‘Shogun’ by James Clavell; the film would be ‘Harold and Maude’; and the music would be something by Stevie Wonder — great songs and lyrics.” Bill: “The book would be something by T.C. Boyle; the film would be ‘Little Big Man starring Dustin Hoffman. I loved its anti-war sentiment; and the song would be virtually any Motown song.”

Favorite hobby? Gail” “Crafts.” Bill: “Gardening.”

Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt if you were given the chance? Gail: “A jazz dancer.” Bill: “Somebody behind the scenes in show business. Perhaps Gail’s dance instructor!”

Profession you’d not like to do? Gail: “In a slaughterhouse.” Bill: “Anything in the medical field — I am too squeamish.”

How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? Bill: “Our first date was to a rodeo at the Watsonville Fairgrounds.”

Happiest day or event in your life? Gail” “Giving birth to our kids and thinking ‘we made that’!” Bill: “Yes, I agree. And I have often thought about how the world’s leaders would not be doing some of the things they do if they were to see birth more often.”

Saddest day or period of your life? Gail: “The death of my mother was very tough on me. She was a great example of how to live. At various times in my life, I have often said ‘what would Mom do now? Also my half-sister’s tragic death at 39 when she was hit by a car when riding her bicycle.” Bill: “Yes, Gail’s mother Isabel’s passing was hard. We saw her most summers either here or in Mexico. As for my parents, I kind of knew they were going, they were ready to go.”

Favorite thing about yourself? Gail: “That I am very even tempered and non-judgmental.” Bill: “That I love to play and am fun-loving. I take care of business but love to have fun as often as I can.”

16. Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Gail: “Welcome, Gail. I hope you have as much fun here as you did on Earth.” Bill: “It would be great if he said ‘Get in here, Bill, the Giants are about to win another World Series.’ It will take divine intervention for that to happen again.” ¥¥

To read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at Next week the guest interviewee from the Valley will be Sandy Creque.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *