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David Norfleet

David Norfleet has died. In his memory we are posting the interview Steve Sparks did with the co-founder of the Boonville Brewery back in June 2009. We expect an obituary from the family next week.

Last Friday morning I drove deep into the woods up on Signal Ridge to meet with David Norfleet at the home he shares with partner Paula Kesenheimer along with all his stuff. After the obligatory tour of his extensive vegetable garden we sat down to chat at the kitchen table.

David was born in “the apartheid South” in 1944, in Atlanta, Georgia, but at an early age the family (he has an older brother, Jack and a younger sister, Susan) moved to the Orlando area of Florida. Norfleet is an original American name and the story goes that during the mid-1700’s there was a fleet of ships that would deliver slaves to the eastern seaboard from West Africa. This fleet was known as the North Fleet (north Atlantic) and one year when the ships were sunk in a hurricane off the coast of Virginia there were only two crew survivors. These became known as the Norfleet boys and David is descended from them. His forefathers were pioneers in the timber and mining industries of Florida but around the time of World War II his parents moved to Georgia where his father became the foreman at an ice cream plant supplying the troops fighting in Europe. After the war they moved back to Florida. The Norfleet side of the family supported segregation but David’s mother was from Winnemucca, Nevada and, while she accepted the situation in the South, she was far more broad-minded and tolerant than her husband’s family and was able to somewhat insulate David from his father’s relatives and their racist beliefs.

When he was nine years old his parents divorced and David moved with his mother to Naples, Florida, a small fishing village. However, he would see his father in the summers and would eventually move back there to attend high school in Orlando — which was totally segregated. He hated school and wanted nothing to do with further education so at the age of 17 he committed to joining the Marine Corps upon graduation in 1961. “My brother was in the Marines and my Dad was pleased with my decision, although he died soon after from a heart attack. To me anything sounded better than more school or a job in the south. I liked to read and was sort of lazy so I figured you’d have plenty of time to read and goof off in the service. Ironically, I ended up in the longest training program the Marines offered — aviation technician school — which saw me studying for over a year. It was harsh — in full dress uniform made of wool, all day, in San Diego, no air conditioning!” David joined the Air Wing of the Marine Corps and “I soon found out that joining the service was one of the dumber things that anyone can do.”

David had not liked sports at school. “It seemed like it was too much hard work, but in my senior year friends persuaded me to go out for football and I had gotten into good physical shape for the first time in my.” This meant that when he joined the Marines he was relatively fit and did well, being promoted to Private 1st Class in boot camp. “This was the first time in my life that anyone had kissed my ass but it showed me that one of the worst things for a human to do is to be an officer in the Marine Corps and to get a puffed up view of themselves. However, the Marine Corps did expose me to desegregation for the first time in my life and I thought ‘what the fuck was the problem?’ The black guys were just like us of course and they teased me that there were lots of black Norfleets! Of course in San Diego there were also Mexicans — another new experience for me — people who didn’t speak English. It was all so very different from where I’d grown up.”

During his time in the Marines David didn’t see direct action but he was on a helicopter transport ship, the USS Teddy Roosevelt, with the 6th Fleet in the vicinity of Cuba during the Cuban Missile crisis before the Russians backed down and departed. “I think they left because a hurricane was coming not because of threats from JFK. We stayed and were in the middle of it. The waves came over on to our flight deck and that was 70 feet above the sea. About seven men were lost. Later in 1962 we were sent to Mississippi to provide a show of force in support of civil rights activist Medgar Evers who was trying to ensure that the University would enroll blacks at the school. We were there in case any of the racist locals got out of hand with orders to shoot if they did.”

David could not wait to get out of the Marines and after his four years he seized that opportunity on June 5th, 1965. “Oh, I remember that day all right. My Dad had left me a little money and the previous year I had bought a ’63 Corvette Stingray. The day I left the Marines I drove out of the base in my car doing 80 mph.” He was fortunate. In October of that year, with the war in Vietnam escalating dramatically, the tours of duty were extended and David, after all the training in electronics he had received, would certainly have been forced to stay in. This would have put him in a very vulnerable situation in his job as the technician responsible for keeping the radio running in the helicopter landing zones. “It’s not much more dangerous than that but I’m here to tell you it never happened to me.”

On leaving the Marines, David and a friend, David Friedland, set off on a journey in the Corvette. They went up the east coast, across to Chicago and Minnesota where they got work for a time at the Bird’s Eye Pea Packing plant in a town called Waseca. Towards the late summer of 1965 it was getting a little cold so they headed south down to Memphis, west to New Orleans, and along Route 66 to California, arriving in the fall. “I was 22 and wanted to finish out my ‘social awakening’ and Los Angeles was as good a place as any to do that. It was too late to enroll in school for that semester but further education was now in my plans. Education was virtually free in California for residents, unlike many other states. Plus I had the GI Bill to live off of. Along with another friend from high school, Jan Wilks, we got an apartment in South San Gabriel for $75 a month total and I found a job working for the phone company in downtown LA. Being in LA was interesting but the job wasn’t. I enrolled at East LA Junior College for the next semester to study Architecture, a specialty of that particular college which was situated in the barrio, with all sorts of people from Hispanic to Japanese to blue-collar whites and with the black section of Watts nearby. I started my studies in January of 1966.”

“I had wanted to learn how to build things but soon realized that at this school we were being trained how to work in an office, how to be businessmen, and I wanted to be outside actually building. I started to lose interest. Then by the winter of 1966/67 LSD had become all the rage and I became ‘psychedelicized.’ I had smoked a little pot before that but it hadn’t got me that high, it wasn’t a big deal to me. A friend of ours, Dan Hall, moved in with us and unlike the rest of us students he had a job and extra money and was always partying in Hollywood. He was into pot and gave us the Mexican weed we occasionally smoked. Then one night he turned up with these tablets that had been made in Switzerland at the ‘infamous’ Sandoz Lab. They were the real thing. It was amazing. Now that I had found what ‘high’ really was I then fell in love with marijuana. We had many ‘busy days.’ The arrival of LSD was an evolutionary manifestation and I wanted to be a part of it.”

“It was the time of terrific energy in Los Angeles. The psychedelic scene was erupting, the Vietnam War was hot and The Peace Movement was on the rise. The Watts riots had taken place nearby a year or so earlier and civil rights were on everyone’s mind. The music scene was changing in a big way. We had The Doors, The Byrds, and Canned Heat were from just down the road. It was a bigger scene than that in San Francisco and we had be-ins down there in Griffith Park too. We wanted to channel into this scene so we started a coffee shop/live music venue called ‘The Rest of It’ in Pasadena. We were open all hours and many top musicians would swing by. It was a great time for a year or two. During that time I met a woman who was in on this scene, Linda Filer, who had a couple of young kids, and we got together.”

However, by the end of 1968, the scene had changed, just like it had in SF. “The LAPD was getting increasingly violent at the peace marches; Martin Luther King had been killed; Robert Kennedy had been killed; the smog was bad; the coffeehouse was done, and I’d even had to sell my Corvette. We got arrested and thrown in jail on Christmas for ‘being in a place where marijuana was being smoked.’ The scene was dying; it wasn’t peace and happiness anymore. All this together with my disillusionment with the architecture studies meant it was time for something else. Linda had some friends from high school who were union carpenters and I had skills in that so I was able to join too.”

In February 1969 Linda gave birth to their son Abraham and around this time David bought a 1941 Chevy School Bus in which the motor had gone. He rebuilt it, installed a fridge, a sink, added a few mattresses and the family was ready to move on. With their stuff piled on a platform he made on the roof, they set off from California in the summer of 1969 “at a very steady 45 mph.” They drove across country, eventually arriving in Florida where David’s classic hippy appearance of beard, long hair, jeans, t-shirt, sandals was a big shock to his conservative family. They settled in a rural town called Crystal River in the ‘armpit’ of Florida, south of the panhandle. David’s union card helped and, despite being too ‘far out’ for most construction crews, he did latch onto one carpentry crew earning $2.50/hour. They put the kids in school, rented an apartment and unloaded their stuff. “We used the bus as our car around town and I really tricked it out with things I got from various old trailers I came across. It was fine for a time but we wanted to move on. My Dad had an insurance policy on me and I cashed it in. The $200 from that got us out of Florida and back on the road.”

Living the hippy lifestyle, they traveled around the country, casually looking for a place to perhaps make a more permanent home but without any fixed plan. They went up to the Chicago area and then across to Yellowstone and on to Oregon. “We were total hippies with no real plans. We headed south down through Eureka and I got in touch with a buddy from college who was kind of a professional student. At that time he was attending the newly opened Sonoma State and living in Petaluma, California. We hooked up and stuck around for a time. We’d park the bus up at the Petaluma Methodist Church but for services this would get very busy so we’d drive off somewhere every Sunday. We had to find a place to live but with the new college and so many students there was nothing. We were about to move to Guerneville to a small upstairs apartment. We really didn’t want to. It would be tough with three young kids.”

When they arrived in the Valley that fall, David and Linda were amongst the first ‘Back-to-the-Landers’ to settle here, “and some of the poorest – we were not trust-fund hippies like many others.” He got a job as a union carpenter based in Ukiah and they settled down. They were married in Casper in 1973 and another son, Matthew, was born in 1974. They now had a baby, Abraham was five, and Linda’s two were Lisa at twelve and David at thirteen and work and family life took over. David even stopped his marijuana smoking, deciding to keep it away from the kids during their impressionable years. (He didn’t smoke for the next twenty years). David immediately loved life in the Valley and despite being hippies there was little confrontation from the locals, although the kids did hear stuff at school sometimes. “There were problems for some people but overall we were accepted. We were the third migration – the old families had arrived when the Indians lived here, then the Okie/Arkie immigrants came after the war and during the early fifties. Now it was the hippies’ turn.”

They quickly made friends in the Valley, began to raise animals – goats, chickens, ducks, Shetland ponies, even a cow or two, and David continued his carpentry profession with jobs all over the region, even teaching a class at the adult education center where two of his students were modern-day Valley contractors, Dennis Toohey and Dennis Moore. Everything went well for a number of years but over time there were various issues which arose causing problems between David and Linda. “The kids were moved to what Linda thought was a better school in Ukiah. We moved to Ukiah but kept the Philo house. She was probably right – our local school was a mad house at that time. Linda was unhappy with many things and by the mid-eighties we found ourselves in disagreement about too much and decided to split up.” The two older children were gone from home, Abraham was virtually out, and Matthew went to stay with friends in Yorkville.

In the early eighties, David had become friends with local chiropractor, Ken Allen. He had done some carpentry on Ken’s house on Ornbaun and again at a house he’d bought on Hwy 128, behind what would become the Buckhorn Saloon – the original had burnt down in the 1960’s. “Ken would get on my case about never getting ahead and suggested we go into business together. Across the street was the ‘new’ Boonville Hotel which was in all the travel magazines and together with the booming new Valley winery business he felt there was a business opportunity to be had in some way. One Friday evening I had stopped in Hopland at the bar in town. I called Ken and he joined me there. It was a happening place, there was live music, and the Red Tail Ale was very good. From the bar you could see their fairly primitive brewery facility behind a glass window and I said to Ken, ‘If they can make this (the ale) with that (the primitive equipment) then I know I can do it too.’ These guys had pushed for changes in the brewing laws so that you could now manufacture and sell beer on the same premises. The time of the Brew Pub had arrived and we wanted to get on board.”

Over the next couple of years David and Ken researched the possibility thoroughly. They picked the brains of the very few current Brew Pub owners (there were about five in the State) and both attended brewing classes given by beer guru, Byron Birch in Santa Rosa, but there was no real infrastructure for such a business. “We had to invent so much in terms of rigging up equipment. We had to make it all on the cheap – we didn’t have the money to do otherwise. Initially we set up in the kitchen at the house behind what became the brewery. We’d practice our newly learnt brewing skills every weekend and then take our product to a meeting of the ‘Sonoma County Beereaucrats’. I don’t think we ever made a batch that wasn’t liked.”

Ken put together a business package and work began on the building that now stands in downtown Boonville. “Ken loved to ‘shop around’ and he did lots of research. I sketched what we’d need and show it to a stainless steel manufacturer I’d come across who could produce it inexpensively. I did the interior carpentry and built the actual bar. The whole process was a terrific learning curve and eventually, in 1987 we opened our brewpub – The Buckhorn Saloon. We had four beers on draft and I came up with the idea to use the Boontling terms for the Valley towns for each beer – High Rollers (Yorkville) Wheat; Boont (Boonville) Amber Ale, Poleeko (Philo) Gold Pale Ale, and Deep Enders (Navarro) Porter. It was all very basic in those days. The bottling and labeling particularly – it was a big operation to do just ten cases. Nevertheless, we were moving along and came up with several innovative things to the beer industry such as 22oz bottled beers and the use of the five gallon soda cans for draft beer.”

“Ken concentrated on the business side of the brewing industry and along with our equal partner, his wife Kim, he ran the pub/restaurant part. I had all the other responsibilities – brewing, maintenance, engineering, even deliveries with my girlfriend Vallen. I was the labor, Ken was the management…I had gone into the whole process as a way of distracting myself from the divorce and to hopefully make a little money. However, although my passion for the venture had helped me to move on from my divorce, the money just wasn’t there. We were barely covering the note on the loan and I could make more as a carpenter. On top of that, Ken’s ‘style’ sometimes leaves quite a lot to be desired.  I sold my shares and left in 1989 to go back to carpentry, although Ken and I remained friends and I have kept brewing at home ever since.”

A few years later, in the mid-90’s, Ken Allen bought thirty-two acres at the junction of Hwy.128 and Hwy.253 and wanted to move his very successful A.V. Brewery to this new space. He asked David to become an independent contractor on this huge project and also offered some shares in the company. David accepted. “I had split up from Vallen and was living in Cloverdale but wanted to get back to the Valley. I took Ken up on his offer and received 2.7% – just enough to be obnoxious!…I designed the brew house and built it with Jeff Fox and a crew – we poured one of the biggest chunks of concrete in the Valley there…Since that project I have been kept busy with various jobs and can turn my hand to virtually any fixit situation people may ask me to do.”

“On a personal level, in 1997 I was back in the Valley, moving on from my relationships and working on the new brewery construction. At that time Erica Kesenheimer was working at the Brew Pub and one day she commented, ‘My Mom is a very cool lady, you know.’ This stuck with me. I had been hanging out with the Magic Company crowd and a few weeks later I was at Lady Rainbow’s birthday party at the Rancho Navarro clubhouse – a classic Valley Pot Luck. I was at the buffet at one point towards the end of the evening and Paula Kesenheimer was clearing up. She had the fruit salad in her hand and I said I’d like a bite – she bit me! Soon after that, much to Erica’s chagrin, I was moving in as she was moving out. We have been together ever since.”

I asked David for his responses to a few of the hot-button issues that Valley folk seem to frequently discuss…The wineries? – “I think they were inevitable and have been kind of good for the Valley. Much of the Valley had been over-grazed – the place had been pounded for years following the Okie/Arkie migration and there was loads of crap and junk everywhere. The wineries came in and ‘fixed’ the land – apples were out and grapes came in as the current crop. I am in favor of the local winery owners – these little guys are fine but the Duckhorns and Roederers of the Valley aren’t such a good idea. Most of the bitching about the wineries is just envy at one level, and many critics forget – the wines produced here are great and are always in plentiful supply at Valley parties and get-togethers.”…The local public radio, KZYX & Z? – “I do support it, and have many friends who a part of it in some way, but there is far too much N.P.R. (National Public Radio) programming for my liking. I actually prefer to listen to KMUD out of Laytonville at 90.3.”…The A.V.A. newspaper? – “I have always like the paper. I am a fan of Bruce’s writing and what he brings to our attention – it is often just what we need to know. He exposes the truth which others may not want to hear and his attacks on certain entities are frequently valid – the radio station is one of those…I have known Bruce since he arrived here and I remember one day, when I was working on building the bar at The Buckhorn, he came by and commented, ‘That’s the best use for wood – building a bar.”…The School System? – “ I have little to do with the school these days but I will say that it has been a great unifying force in the Valley. The Valley is a better place thanks to the school.”…

David has been the Valley’s Grange Master for five years now although he never really wanted to be. “Captain Rainbow resigned and decided to go off chasing women in Asia. Nobody wanted the job – Paula and I have said it’s one that you can only get out of by having a stroke or by dying! We’d go to the meetings and enjoyed the mixed crowd you’d get there. When Rainbow left the meeting was staggering around about whom to have. Then Paula nominated me and I was in. I guess I like the title and I do run a tight meeting.”

‘I love the rural lifestyle I have in the Valley along with the variety of characters who seem to be able to get along here. I believe we are in a sort of theme park where there is a concentration of health and harmony, of arts and crafts. I like to call it Intoxication Island. Here we have the best wine available anywhere, the best beer, and the best marijuana. Our potlucks lead the way too and I believe we are responsible for the tastes and standards the rest of the country go by. We don’t live in reality but in a map of reality about two inches behind our eyes and the more accurate your map the more effective you will be…I recently completed a course in hypnotherapy, which will be very useful for keeping track of the theme park. I can offer therapy to anyone who wants help with anything stressful they are dealing with.”

To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to David many of which are from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert”, Bernard Pivot, and featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton”…
What is your favorite word or phrase? – “Hi, Dave, good to see you.”

What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “I have a hard time with people who say, ‘I didn’t think that would happen’. May be they should learn to think. I hear it quite often and wonder what it says about people’s thinking.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Being able to lend a hand; being able to fix something for someone.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “Someone complaining or being negative, especially about others.”

What sound or noise do you love? – “Frogs singing.”

What sound or noise do you hate? – “The sound of someone destroying a machine – gears grinding, the over-revving of an engine.”

What is your favorite curse word? – “I really don’t curse that much – I don’t like to. But I suppose I do say ‘what the fuck’ quite often,”

Is there a film/song/book that has greatly influenced you in some way? – “The writings of Epicticus, a Stoic philosopher, and the poetry of Walt Whitman. I am a student of Epicticus and a disciple of Whitman.”

What is your favorite hobby? – “Gardening – I’m not very good but I really like it. It’s very rewarding…I also like to dance – which I am good at.”

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – “My talents lie in fixing things so it would have to be some job that would involve that. Or perhaps a cabinet or furniture maker.”

What profession would you not like to do? – “Working inside an office.”

What was the happiest day or event in your life? – “ The days my boys were born. I like being a Dad. When I spoke to my son Abraham on his 40th birthday earlier this year, I told him that ‘forty years ago today the sergeant taught the band to play’. He then informed me that he and his wife were expecting their first child in November.”

What was the saddest? – “My divorce – it was very tough.”

What is your favorite thing about yourself – physically/mentally/spiritually? – “ I think I have a very good attitude towards life and others. I gave a ride to a local fellow some time ago and he thought he knew me but wasn’t sure. I knew him. Then he said, ‘I know who you are – you’re that guy who can get along with difficult people.’ I like that.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “Well, I’ve always tried to be a good friend. My Mother said, ‘If you want to have friends you’d better be friendly.’ So I’d like God to say, “You’ve made a lot of friends, David – welcome home.”

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