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Sam & Marguerite

It's time to get down to the biography of Sam and Marguerite Avery's life in Anderson Valley, 1946-77. In preparation I went back to my archives to find a copy of the local monthly newspaper, Anderson Valley Advocate, my wife and I and a commune of volunteer friends published for three years, 1972-4. The paper was a serendipitous aggregate of local and county news, sports, history; local leaders, political and social interviews; weather, astronomy, music review, editors could never predict from issue to issue.

The last edition of the paper dated January, 1975 led with a page one article my wife wrote, based on extensive interviews with the principles. It's title, “Open Every Day,” also featured a photo of Floodgates front façade, double entrance doors and twin gas pumps and ran a couple of thousand words. It was a thrill to go up in the attic archives yesterday, to reset the woodrat trap and dive into the cardboard box the editions were stored in. A lot of memories thumbing through those editions looking for the Avery article, and even more once I sat down to read it, including some important facts of their lives I had forgotten.

I think it in the best interests of space and precision to simply quote the article's lead paragraphs.

Floodgate, like history, is open every day. From anywhere in The Valley you “go down to Floodgate” whether you need something as prosaic as flypaper or sublime as a white redwood burl, chances are you'll leave with what you came for.

If you're a highway tripper, Floodgate will furnish licenses for fishing, gas, ice, the coldest beer in The Valley to go, with unfailing courtesy.If you're a local woodsman in a hurry, short order saw repair is a specialty. If you're Spanish speaking, you'll find your lingo hilariously attempted, and Mexican staples are on the shelf. If you're sick or hurt, you'll get first aid. If you need credit, that's most likely OK. If you're a loudmouth or a deadbeat, you'll be given no encouragement, and if you're selling something silly, you'll get the sad-eyed word that the boss, who handles that kind of thing, is vacationing in South America.And if you're sick to death of the world that's full of Safeways, 7-11 stores, and suburban cocktail lounges-and if you have the inclination, patience and a good ear, Floodgate makes history, fresh, every day.

The market-as-gathering-place for commerce and social interaction dates in western civilization back to the Greek agora and Roman forum, has served this enduring social purpose where ever rural communities have arisen, and comes down in history to the Floodgate Store, Sam and Marguerite Avery, props., since 1955-just when the rest of America was poised to dive down the tubes of progress, prosperity and glassy-eyed shopping malls. With dignity warmth and endless good humor Sam and Marguerite preside over the pumps, the groceries, the Coors taps, play host to public life. They provide meeting space for little old ladies, old-time ranchers and woodsmen, newcomers to The Valley of all kinds, and various neighborhood animals including the late bear “Tommy” and the dog “Missy,” a place where the news of the day may be the northern lights in Iceland during the Second World War, or Sally the neighborhood donkey cadging ice cream from customers last year, or a giant steelhead caught yesterday, or the story of a man blowing up his pocket watch on New Year's eve. People might enjoy listening to Bill Owens singing “Wabash Cannonball” by candlelight during a power failure, or someone might remember Loren Bloyd playing concertina at the bar with Sam on Jew's harp, or the day of the Great Comptche Fire of 1937 that made it almost to Navarro. 

The Floodgate Store itself predates Sam and Marguerite, the 1975 article reminds me, by a whole generation, it having been built and run as a general store by local folks related to the Guntlys and Gwchwends from 1935 or so until near the end of The War when it shut down, possibly due to the draft and food rationing. Sam and Marguerite bought the empty building and the couple of acres it sat on, which also included a small cottage just to the left of the gas pumps. When my wife and I arrived in Navarro in 1971, the cottage was rented to Rich and Mary Bloyd and their three sons. Sam and Marguerite, their two children grown and moved on, lived in a tiny two room apartment in the back of the store, a bedroom and kitchen/dining/living area about 20 X 20 feet square.

Marguerite was born in the 1920s in the small town of Longeville, way up the Moselle River in Lorraine, no longer locatable in modern atlases or roadmaps. Her ancestors were local governmental officials and retailers, and Marguerite herself began developing her business skills as a buyer for a relative's women's apparel store. Toward the end of The War she met Sam who was part of an Army Engineer battalion supporting Patton's Third Army. The Advocate newsphoto of Sam and Marguerite standing embraced and looking at the camera, while posing on what looks like a military portable bridge (possibly spanning the Moselle?). Sam in combat gear including a pot helmet, Marguerite dressed elegantly in a suit and topcoat. Sam and Marguerite became engaged about the time The War ended.

Samuel John Avery was born in Brady Texas, out on the prairie a hundred miles northwest of Austin. His father was a railroad employee, his mother of Moroccan descent (sic!). During the depths of the Depression he picked up work in both the private and government-sponsored economy, driving grain trucks, doing carpentry around East Texas, later joining the New Deal job corps, CCC, where he worked creating the Big Bend National Forest way out near El Paso. Along the way he became a master of the many skills and trades he engaged in, an accomplished singer/musician and drinker, though he always knew how to have money in his pocket and in the bank.

Once Sam and Marguerite migrated to Anderson Valley, his first assignment was to build a house on the “Ranch” he had told Marguerite he owned somewhere in California. Somehow he had bought a hundred acres of timberland out Greenwood Ridge, now known as Loren Bloyd's Rocky Bluff Ranch halfway to Elk. Before they moved onto the property, Sam had to convert the redwood forest into a “ranch” by providing a home. This he achieved one summer using only an orchard saw and a ball peen hammer to build the famous “honeymoon cabin” down the north slope of the property a couple of hundred yards below Greenwood Road. The remnants of the cabin's foundation are still there today disappearing under redwood limbs and duff.

Symptomatic of Sam and Marguerite's entrepreneurial skill was a business they created down at the Navarro North Fork years before they opened The Store. In the late forties, they leased a piece of the Masonite Lumber property at today's Boy Scout camp, a cookhouse and some cottages in order to manage perhaps the last summer logging camp in The Valley. The logging camp was a remnant of the clear-cut commercial forestry practice of earlier times when a large tract of land would be totally logged, virtually every tree, over a year or two, with crews living permanently in seasonal camps, including the classic cookhouse run by a hired chef. So that's what Sam and Marguerite did for a couple of seasons. Sam worked in the woods and Marguerite prepared two meals a day, morning and evening for the thirty or so souls who lived in the camp.

In 1955, the couple mobilized their savings to buy, mortgage free, Floodgate from the local families who had shut it previously and opened the store in the format described earlier in our saga. Along Highway 128 south of Boonville there used to be evidence of their marketing skills promoting the new business to the “bright-light” tourists coming back then to The Valley for both winter and summer recreation. On the right on a little bluff above the highway back around Milepost 32 and attached to a fence post was a wooden sign, about 4 X 5 feet that read in faded letters “Floodgate Store, Gas, Groceries, Beer, sixteen miles.” At 60 miles per hour it was hard to see. But each time I drove by I would do the arithmetic, and sure enough, from that stretch above Rancheria Creek and before Burger Rock to Floodgate was just about sixteen miles. I also promised myself I would go out there one evening and salvage the sign for my important local artifacts warehouse, which never happened. About 25 years ago the slowly rotting sign disappeared.

Sam and Marguerite and Floodgate Store and Bar were a part of our lives in the Valley for, I think, five or six years (it seems like only yesterday) before they decided they had done their duty to themselves and the community. To our profound anguish they sold the business and the property and retired to, of all places, Cloverdale. Marguerite I never saw again, though I promised myself repeatedly that I would. Sam I did off and on for a couple of years. He found post-retirement work as an employee of the sawshop business a Cloverdale local started about then. Sam in fact was this man's craft teacher. And I would from time to time stop at the shop to gossip with Sam, catch up on Marguerite's affairs, and promise to go visit her next time I passed through. Sam insisted they were both very happy with their lives in Cloverdale.

Elegy/eulogy: so that's the story of Sam and Marguerite and the community center Floodgate Store and Bar. I wish I could remember more stories about its rich and complex folkways in those years almost half a century ago. I can report, though, that the passing of The Store was not as tragic as it might have been due to the respectful care of its spirit by their successor, Butch Paula. He and his parents, Bobby and Bill, old Petaluma dairy family, bought Floodgate from Sam and Marguerite and ran it in the same format their predecessors had created, bar, convenience, gas, saw shop. The ecosystem of course could never have been the same as it had been, but, given the legacy created and left by Sam and Marguerite, not just a business, but a place for community connection too, the Paula family for perhaps a decade or so did an honorable job of succeeding the public place Sam and Marguerite had created.

And there must also be some kind of magical aura about that location between The Highway and the north fork of Floodgate Creek, because the business site continues today in the spirit Sam and Marguerite created, commerce and community. Jerry and Kathy Cox, the Monseigneur and the Nun, ran it after Butch. Then it migrated to being a restaurant, attracting four, that I remember, bistro chefs, Alicia the Mexican and her elegant cantina, pozole every Sunday morning after church, Johnny Schmitz of the Boonville Hotel, a French/English couple now running Elk Cove Inn, and today, I hope, Daniel Townsend and his “Bewildered Pig” (what would Sam and Marguerite think of that name?).

Next Week: The Floodgate Saga, a few recollection remnants.

One Comment

  1. Kirk Lang March 20, 2021

    With Braised Flageolets & Smoked Ham Hocks (which I’m assuming is pork’n’beans) on the menu at The Bewildered Pig, I don’t think the likes of the 70’s vanguard will be bellying up at the bar!

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