Although I have been writing articles about my time in Anderson Valley from the late 1950s to the late 1980s for more than two years, I have been reluctant to say much about those who lived in the Valley during this period, except for those who were our neighbors. My reasons were simple. First, I intended these articles to be about Anderson Valley the place; the land and landscape, the natural environment, the economy and how people lived during those decades. Second, I felt Steve Sparks captured the human element of Anderson Valley well in his “Life & Times” interviews, a series he wrote for many years and which sadly ended in 2012.
One of life’s little perks is the opportunity to change one’s mind. So I have decided to provide brief impressions of some of the people I met on my Valley journey who were not neighbors. The real reason to do so is to show that Anderson Valley’s population — then, as now — was surprisingly diverse. Also, a lot of time — 25+ years — has passed since I last lived (even part-time) in the Valley and many of these local folks have passed on. They were the fabric of the Valley and they deserve to be more than names on headstones and memories among loved ones.
Truth be told, these impressions will be limited. I arrived in the Valley as a seven-year-old and like most children paid scant attention to most adults, save my parents, their friends, teachers and relatives. Also, apparently my memory is not as good as I previously believed. Details have vanished and even big events have fallen away or been crowded aside. It is hard to say whether this is a blessing or a curse, but it makes this article both more difficult and more imperative.
So, time to begin.
Bill and Gwen Rapp. Mr. Rapp was the science teacher at Anderson Valley Unified High School for many years and Gwen was his wife. He was, in his way, an “absent minded professor,” but was so brilliant, so interesting and so intellectually curious as to be forgiven for his spacey ways. I remember him wandering around his classroom as we students tackled some experiment or another, and I think he may have whistled tunelessly as he did so. He visited my parent’s summer camp a handful of times over the years to search the backcountry for wildflowers and ferns. The Rapps and my parents were friends and we ate at their house between Boonville and Philo at least once: the night was memorable because — as we Newmans had no television — I saw “The Beverly Hillbillies” for the first time there.
Leo and Edna Sanders. Also local school teachers. I had Mr. Sanders for fifth or maybe sixth grade. Mrs. Sanders taught — again, my memory is slightly fuzzy here — third grade. Leo Sanders was one of the first-generation Boont speakers, but Boont was not taught in the local school yet, so I never heard him speak it, to my everlasting regret. Edna Sanders was a fine cook, and I still use her Boontling cookbook, Bahl Gorms in Boont. The Sanders ran sheep on their little ranch east of Philo, and my brother and I helped Leo mark and de-tail lambs in the spring for a couple of years. He also taught the local NRA gun safety course, and after passing his class, I got my first hunting license at age 10 (wisely, they later upped the minimum age for the course to 13).
Smokey and Charmian Blattner. Charmian, as many of you know, was a long-time columnist here at the Anderson Valley Advertiser. Smokey was her husband and a jack-of-all-trades who handled a variety of projects — from water systems to roadwork — around the Valley. I remember him as a big, broad guy. Charmian, the daughter of Frank and Goldie Ward, our uphill neighbors at Highland Ranch in the late 1950s, owned and ran the Style Shop, a clothing store located in the little business area near Philo just north of where Starr Automotive is today. My mother and Charmian were friends and the two of them occasionally would get together for lunch at the shop. Smokey and Charmian’s son Jerry was in my class in school.
Andy Rooks. Andy was among the first people we met in Anderson Valley, as he was working at El Rancho Navarro when my parents purchased the property in 1957. Related to the Nunns, one of Anderson Valley’s pioneer families, he lived north of Philo at Leona Nunn’s place, where Husch Vineyards is now. He worked for my parents on and off for several years; showing us the intricacies of our water and electrical systems, doing maintenance and working (plowing, seeding, mowing and bailing) our pastures. Usually pleasant, when mad he cursed more vociferously than anyone I ever met. Sadly, he died in 1965 in a tractor accident.
Art and Marguerite Gowan. Art and Marguerite farmed apples and ran sheep, and were the proprietors of Art’s Apples, north of Philo. They were friends of my parents, and their daughter and my older sister Carol also were friends, so we stopped by often. Insisting we needed a dog, they gave us a Border Collie puppy. Marguerite later objected to our naming her Tinkerbelle, saying “That’s no name for a sheepdog!”
Cecil (actually M. Cecil) Gowan. Cecil was the elder statesman of Gowan’s Oak Tree produce stand. I remember him tending the apple stand, which he did often; lean and slightly stooped, with a shock of white hair, he always wore bib overalls. We purchased produce from Gowan’s Oak Tree for the summer camp, but we purchased Sierra Beauty apples — our favorite variety — for ourselves in late autumn, usually in full lugs.
James Gowan, Cecil’s son. He essentially ran Gowan’s Oak Tree back then — I’d see him occasionally in the apple stand, but I think he spent most of his time in the office, or in the orchards and gardens. His son Henry was in my class in school. I remember him wearing button-down shirts and being an easy-going man with a ready smile.
George Gowan, James’ brother. I don’t recall George so much as his yellow Caterpillar tractor, a D-6, if I remember correctly. He did a lot of freelance cat work around the Valley and he put in our car bridge across the Navarro River each spring. At first, the bridge was five or six big fir logs with gravel scrapped over the top. Later, after we lost some sets of logs, it became the deck of a railroad flatcar.
I see this is getting long and so I will stop for now. I will return with a second installment soon.