This is the second part of an interview I conducted with Beverley Bennett a couple of weeks ago at her home in Philo. She was born in India to British parents, and lived there during the final days of the Raj and through the early years of that country’s Independence. In 1955 she moved to London at an early age and lived there through her school years and beyond, until reaching the age of twenty. At that point, in 1971, she moved to San Francisco and embraced the thriving lesbian scene that was taking place there, while working for many years as a nanny. Following her wild bachelorette years, in the mid-80s she settled into life with Monika Fuchs, now her partner of 27 years.
In 1983, after completing her associate arts degree at City College, Beverley went to SF State to get a BA in Women’s Studies and Psychology, during which time she supported herself with a job as a 411 operator with Pacific Bell telephone. She and Monika, who had been together since 1984, briefly lived together in a one-bedroom apartment on Guerrero Street before moving to 15th and Castro, to the downstairs apartment in a huge Victorian house. “This was the mid-80s and the AIDS epidemic was really starting to hit The City. We seemed to be always visiting friends in the hospital, going to a funeral, to the hospital again, a funeral, the hospital, a memorial… It went on and on. We lost many friends and walking around the Castro district you’d see so many people with sunken cheeks, gray-colored skin; 20-year olds in wheelchairs. You were not sure if you knew them or not. Often you did — they had changed so much, so quickly. It was devastating and every day, all day, it was the main topic of discussion. We couldn’t do it anymore and around 1989 we decided to get away. Monika’s ex-husband, a gay guy, owned a resort on Key West with his lover, and we moved there to get away from all the sadness.”
Beverley got a job supervising the cleaning crews and maids at a resort that had over 200 rooms, and “worked my arse off. It was long hours during the tourist season then not much to do at the other times of the year. Monika was a bartender/hostess at a five-star restaurant. A couple of years later, just three months after Monika had visited her in Germany, her mother passed away and left her with some money. We had had it with Key West by that time and three years after leaving we moved back to San Francisco, buying a new car for the road trip. Key West did not offer much to us other than steady work and lots of alcohol, and the fact that we lived in a house in Old Town. We had missed our friends and ‘family’ in SF — our home.”
In 1993, after briefly staying with a friend, they moved back into the house on 15th and Castro and it was a case of ‘did we actually ever leave?’ Beverley started a job for a non-profit – The Progress Foundation, which found temporary housing for the mentally ill. “They would need housing for 60 days before going to an independent living situation. By this time, the ‘cocktail’ to offset the AIDS virus had been found. “You would see people and say, ‘Oh my God, you’re still alive!’ People were still dying but less of them. We were able to buy a condo and moved out of the house. We also traveled a lot during that time – around California, to Europe, and Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and often to England and Germany of course. One of our things to do on our travels was to check out local real estate offices. We were on one of our trips, this time in the town of Mendocino, when we saw a Bed and Breakfast business available in Anderson Valley. We did not know where Philo was but decided to go by there on the way back to the City. It was closed but we looked around through the windows anyway. A week later Monika asked me what I thought. I had not really thought that much about it. I liked SF but I had to admit it I was growing out of it. I didn’t want to ‘play’ that much anymore. Anyway, a month later we met the owner, the recently widowed Jill Crane (now Derwinski) and made an offer that was accepted. I would run the Inn and Monika could continue her work from home as a travel agent. Our favorite thing to do was to have friends for dinner so this was something like that. Monika had always cooked and I did the grunt stuff. I loved it. Anyway, we had also just got Rupert, an Airedale/Border Collie mix, as we were leaving the City, so there was no turning back and we left and moved into the log cabin behind the Inn in the spring of 2001.”
Jill stayed for a short time to teach them the ropes. Beverley loved it and really enjoyed meeting the guests but, after a year, Monika lost her job and they decided she would run the Inn and Beverley would get a job elsewhere. “We kind of reversed roles. Monika flourished at the inn-keeping and I got a job with the County Mental Health Department. It all went well for a few years but we found the Inn to be very time-consuming and left us little time to ourselves for long periods but then nothing much to do at other times. It was not enjoyable anymore; we wanted to enjoy visiting friends and were unable to get away when we wanted. After five or six years I told Monika we had to stop. She agreed and we closed the Inn with great sorrow because we still enjoyed big parts of it. We moved into the main house and rented out the log cabin, where we’ve been very lucky with getting good tenants.”
Today, Beverley continues to work for the mental Health Department while Monika has worked at a few different wineries in the Valley such as Husch, Brutacao, Claudia Springs, and now Bink Winery in the Madrones complex just south of Philo. “I have been at my job for ten years now and really enjoy the actual job a lot. I love working with the mentally ill and their families and seeing progress being made; I am very passionate about it. However, I do not like the department ‘politics’ and the effects that and the county government has had on our daily work. It seems as if we have less and less to offer. It’s getting very bad. My mother passed in 2006 and that was very, very hard on me and particularly my Dad. He wanted to stay in their house in London but just could not cope alone. He came to visit us here for two months but then went back. He was there for a year and not doing well. Eventually the family there said he had to move. He was living in one room and surviving on Chinese takeout food. He came to stay here with us in Philo and has been here for three-and-a-half years now. Socially, I like to hang out with friends here in the Valley and have dinner parties; I enjoy the Quiz at Lauren’s most weeks, go to Mosswood Market for my coffee and The Buckhorn for my beer, and we like to go for walks with Rupert and Karla, our German short-haired pointer/lab mix.”
I asked Beverley for a brief verbal image of her father. “A devoted and good husband. A polite Englishman.” And her mother? “A fabulous human being who, once people met her, they never forgot. She sparkled and glowed and was a great Mum.”
Her responses to various Valley talking points?
The wineries and their impact? “Well they are certainly good for jobs and they do make some great wines, but I think we have enough of them now.”
The AVA? “I love it and read it every week. It is good to know what is going on and what the community is talking about. I like the Sheriff’s log, the local news, Valley People, and what is happening at Turkey Vulture’s Three-Dot Lounge.”
KZYX radio? “I don’t listen a lot although it is often on at home as Monika listens. I do like Fred Wooley’s show on Sundays.”
The school system? “I know that some of my friends who are parents say it is horrible and others say it is marvelous. It’s probably somewhere in-between.”
The marijuana issue? “The whole issue is a huge pink elephant in the county, a serious problem. I see the effects in my work every day as it really impacts young people. We need to address this problem because, whatever you may hear, we are not doing so at the moment. Those for and against the legalization of marijuana all seem to be avoiding the big picture.”
The AV Elder Home? “Nobody knows anything about what is going on there — that’s what I know!”.
The Health Center? “It’s marvelous that they got the grant money. However, there are some issues I have with the administration side there. Some people never get their bills and others are not even billed in the first place.”
Law and order in the Valley? “Well we definitely need two deputy sheriffs. We are isolated here and protection is needed. It seems that it’s just ‘politics’ that are the reason for this whole subject being up for so much debate.”
Changes in the Valley? “In my ten years I like what has happened. The small changes have been good for the community overall. Many of the people who have moved here are like Monika and me. They love it here and respect it. Also, these people are not running away from somewhere else as much as perhaps some of those who came 40 years or so ago were; they are coming here more because they choose to and not so much because they really want to leave where they were.”
I posed a few questions to my guest, some from a questionnaire featured on TV’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself.
What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “My family of Monika and our dogs and cats.”
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Negative people.”
What sound or noise do you love? “The birds in the trees through the sound of silence.”
What sound or noise do you hate? “The revving up of motorcycles. I used to have a bike and there is no need to do that.”
What is your favorite food or meal? “Chicken curry and biryani rice.”
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? “Gandhi..There were two sides to him — his famous side and the one that led him to sleep with many of his young female followers. I’d like to talk about them both with him.”
If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? “My passport, some family photos, and my mother’s jewelry.”
What scares you? “What we are doing to the planet. And possible Republican Presidential nominee, Rick Perry!”
Favorite film/song/book or one that has influenced you? “A book would be ‘A Fine Balance’ by Rohinton Mistry about the changes in Indian society from independence in 1947 to the Emergency of the late 70s. A film would be ‘The Usual Suspects’ or ‘Fight Club’; and a song: ‘Brown Sugar’ by The Rolling Stones.”
Do you subscribe to any publications or newspapers? ‘Mother Jones,’ ‘Dog Fancy,’ and ‘The Sun’ — a magazine of short stories every month. Monika and I fight over who gets to read it first.”
Favorite hobby? “Drinking beer and watching movies.”
Profession other than your own you’d like to have attempted if you were given the chance? “A dancer on Broadway.”
Profession you’d not like to do? “Anything to do with bodily fluids.”
How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? “When I was 11, Rossini Rossi came to my house and we watched television and listened to records. She was the one that got away!”
Is there something you would do differently if you could do it over again? “No. Sure I was devastated when my mother passed away but I am who I am because of what has happened to me and I accept that.”
A memorable moment; a time you will never forget. “My school years at SF State were very memorable. Oh, and the trip to India with my Monika and my parents in the late 90s. That was very special.”
Something that you are really proud of and why? “Having come from the beginning of my life to where I am now is something I am proud of, my journey so far.”
What is your favorite thing about yourself? “My ability to make friends and draw people in. Hopefully I have some of my mother’s qualities in that way.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Well it would be good if She said, ‘Well done! I know you had lots of fun; let’s have some more’.”
If you would like to read the ‘stories’ of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com. Next week the guest interviewee from the Valley will be Linda Boudoures.