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Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Maria Goodwin

Maria was born in 1941, a third-generation San Franciscan on her father’s side, the only child of Daniel Goodwin and Mary Fragulia. “I used to joke that I was conceived by osmosis; I’m sure my mother was frigid. My mother always told the story that she heard the news of Pear Harbor while hanging my diapers out on the line – her neighbor ran out to tell her.” The Goodwins were of Scotch/Irish/English/Welsh descent – “the whole catastrophe” – and they were not a close family. Her paternal grandfather, a longshoreman who had been involved in the famous strike of 1934, died when Maria was nine and she grew up surrounded with relatives from her mother’s side.

Her maternal grandparents, Enrico and Angela Fragulia, were from northern Italy before coming to the States and settling in San Francisco’s South of Market District near to the Bay just before the 1906 earthquake. Her grandfather was very hard working and enterprising and he bought three horses and a wagon and started a garbage collection business. He saved money and bought a building in the Mission District at 20th Street and Florida St. with a couple of extra houses attached and the family lived in one and rented the others out. Her mother was the second oldest of ten although only the seven girls survived. “My grandfather was quiet but he would explain ‘who can talk with eight women in the house?’ I grew up in this working class neighborhood with blacks from the projects who came up from the south to work in the shipyards, plus the European immigrants. I loved it and thought the whole world was like that. I spoke Italian and saw my grandparents every day as we moved into a house just one block away. All of my mother’s sisters were nearby too. I did not identify with American culture at that time. Everything was Italian – the food, the music, the behavior.”

“When not at school, the only children I was allowed to play with were my many cousins – they became the brothers and sisters I didn’t have. I love them all dearly to this day and try to see them every time I am down that way. As a child I read and wrote a lot and won awards for that, even at the age of seven. I attended St. Peter’s Academy for twelve years, a small poor Catholic school four blocks from my home and there I had friends who were first generation Americans, daughters of Central Americans, Mexicans, etc. as well as the children of other immigrants. We all got a fine liberal arts education and I was reading Tolstoy’s works and Chekhov’s short stories in the eighth grade. Most of the nuns who taught us were from Ireland, Germany, and Scotland. I loved school.”

“My mother was somewhat neurotic and given to screaming fits and flinging furniture and whiskey bottles, especially after my working father came home drunk (or was carried) on Friday night. He was a kind, loving man who wouldn’t harm anyone. It was my mother who used to beat him up and the neighbors would call the cops and then my parents would deny everything of course. It was so awful. My father was the greatest influence on me; he had a fine library from his Depression era work at Butterfield and Butterfield, the famous auction house. He loved music too, and played many instruments. Every night after dinner he would play for several hours. So music and books were always present. I had a piano at nine and would practice for a couple of hours most evenings.”

Maria grew up a solitary child as her mother didn’t allow her to go to anyone’s house, or to have anyone visit. She read, played music, painted oils and watercolors and lived for school. She joined every after-school activity so she could stay at school as long as possible. “I hated weekends and summer. I had lots of friends and girls would come to me with their problems. I was mischievous, sassy even, well as much as you could be at the strict school like ours. I played some volleyball and basketball but was always second string, preferring my studies in English, Latin, and Biology to sports. I was never allowed to get a part-time job, not even baby-sitting.”

San Francisco in the mid to late fifties was a place where the beat generation was blossoming. “I didn’t really get to know much about this at the time but I did go with a good friend to North Beach sometimes and listen to some poetry and jazz. I loved it but I could not ‘escape’ to do it very often... I remember writing a poem when I was around seven, sitting at the kitchen table, and I felt in the grip of something although I didn’t recognize what it was at the time. It was a complete love for words and writing, something that has never left me. I submitted the poem to a children’s magazine Wee Wisdom and it was published, so I can say I was first published at age seven!”

“San Francisco was like a village then with distinct neighborhoods, small businesses, civic pride, and consideration for others. Looking back I can say I’m glad, despite all the drama, that my parents were hard working, totally unpretentious, and honest. Because my mother didn’t drive she seldom took my anywhere. Occasionally on the bus downtown, once during summer she’d take me to lunch and a movie. So I think I satisfied my desire for friends and fun in other ways, longing to see my cousins and spending much of my early life reading and writing.”

Maria’s parents never went on a vacation, but when she was nine, somehow it was arranged that the family go to Ray’s Resort in Philo (now Wellspring). That was another life-changing event. “It was there I hung around Lenore Ray (later Falleri) a wonderful woman; and her husband Avon who was nice to be around also. I learned a lot about cooking; I learned how to bake bread, milk a cow, slaughter a chicken. Most of the food we ate was grown there. It was the best place for a kid to play and I wished I could have lived there forever. It was also the first time in my life I had any freedom from my hovering mother and I escaped her any chance I got. I wanted to work at the resort in summer when the Rays hired teen-aged girls to wait tables, but my mother wouldn’t allow it. Who could know that many years later I’d end up, for the time being at least, in Comptche?”

Maria was an excellent student and won many awards, stocks, cash prizes, etc. for her writing and piano playing, and graduated first in her class (of 44) in 1959. She had a scholarship for college but “stupidly went to work full-time in SF’s financial district at Owens Illinois Glass Manufacturing (at that time the largest glass container manufacturing company in the world). I was a secretary/assistant to nine men, some of whom were scientists so it was educational and interesting; I also did black and white film developing, enlarging and printing. Photography was one of my father’s hobbies and we had our own darkroom at home. I started night school at University of San Francisco when I was sixteen, but due to life’s interruptions didn’t get my undergraduate degree until 29 years later!”

Maria had no interest in getting married, being a mother, all the things most young women of that time were concerned with. “My mother saw me as some sort of Shirley Temple type but I was a tomboy. It was just on the eve of women’s lib and, unfortunately for me, I had no older mentor to encourage me to go to college instead of marrying my high school boyfriend. I had a scholarship to Lone Mountain College for Women, but I wanted to go to Europe so I saved my money, married the boy, James O’Connor, in 1962 when I was nineteen years old, and went to Europe.”

Maria was knowledgeable and aware about many things but says she was” tremendously ignorant and naïve about so much else. I married this stubborn dogmatic Irishman and I had my first son soon after that, Daniel O’Connor, born in July 1963. My husband was student teaching then, you don’t get paid for that and we needed $500.00, a princely sum then. He refused to borrow half from each set of our parents (and they would have gladly loaned it) and I stupidly went back to work leaving my newborn in my mother’s care. I missed out on so much with him. I still feel cheated.”

She then worked at the Mark Hopkins Hotel for the executive director of public relations and also worked with the banquet and catering department. “I’d go back into the huge kitchens of the hotel and hang around the Viennese bakers, all men. They had massive forearms from kneading two mounds of dough, one with each hand. I asked a lot of questions and learned more about baking and food preparation that came in handy when I worked a second job with caterers.”

The 1964 Republican Convention was held at the Cow Palace in SF and Maria managed all their events held at The Mark. It was a fun place to work and she learned a lot. She was also recruited to be a high priced call girl, but declined. “My first marriage was short lived. He was not a bad person but we were both too young and clueless. I had no intention of ever marrying anyone again for any reason. Then I compounded my troubles by involving myself with an older man, the house printer at the Hotel, who turned out to be pathological liar, gambler, womanizer, and later a counterfeiter. Of course I was not aware of any of this at that time. I was so naive. I blame my mother. My father was too sweet to ever say anything to the contrary about my upbringing. Sure I was smart and had common sense, but I had no idea about the nature of men and women. I actually thought that if I was a good person then nobody would lie to me. How embarrassing.”

Maria and the counterfeiter, Sam Gonzales, moved in together but in 1964 it was against the law to cohabitate with someone to whom you were not married. Her first husband sued her, and a social worker was sent to inspect her and the child to see if she was an unfit mother. The ex really didn’t want custody, but wanted to hassle her and he succeeded – she was always broke paying off lawyers over the next few years. “Compounding things further, I got bad legal advice from a lawyer who advised, ‘Oh, just get married and he (the ex) wouldn’t have grounds for the suit’, so in my ignorance, that’s what I did – another mammoth error the repercussions of which I still suffer from to this day. He’s still alive, the f***er; he won’t die.”

During this time she had become pregnant and the future counterfeiter advised her to have an abortion. “Although I believe in choice, I felt deeply connected to this unborn person, and chose to have the baby, accepting full responsibility, and Anthony was born in 1965.”

Her husband, meanwhile, had left the Mark Hopkins and set up his own print shop. He got in with a bad guy and they started printing counterfeit money. “I was the bookkeeper for the business although I had no idea about what was going on. We never had any money but I kept thinking he’d change his ways and that it would get better. I literally had no money and sold my blood - $7.50 a pint; it bought a couple of bags of basic groceries for my kids. My mother would drop off clothes and food for the kids and she never threw my stupidity in my face.”

Then, in 1966, during a heat wave in July, two guys in hats and overcoats knock on the door wanting to serve papers on her husband, Treasury men. “And then, in a twist of fate perhaps only seen in bad movies, it turns out one of the agents had served in the Navy, as had my husband, and they knew each other and it was like old home week with them jabbering about WWII and past times. The counterfeiter denied everything. By October we were in federal court with a public defender, the T-man testified on his behalf and he got off with five years probation. It made the inside page of a Saturday morning San Francisco Chronicle.”

For Maria, the next few years are a blur of lawsuits, debt collectors, and the counterfeiter’s previously unmentioned wives popping out of the woodwork. It turned out the counterfeiter owed back child support in the thousands, and had reneged on a large federal loan. Collection agencies sent people to seize their assets. “I screamed at them when they were going to take my Smith Corona typewriter upon which I typed for an insurance company making $2.36 an hour. They left with nothing, as we had nothing of value to seize... I kept what was left of my sanity by connecting with good people – I was among the first founders, with others, of Noe Valley Nursery School, which still exists today. I had a lot good friends and made sure I had some fun in my life for myself and my children, and I had now had a third, son Christopher born in 1970.”

In January of 1971 Maria’s mother was talking on the phone to one of her sisters and dropped dead of a brain aneurism. “My father gave me money to buy a house in Noe Valley – we got it cheap because it needed a lot of work, but it was big enough for my three sons, husband, and my father. My father was really the dad to my kids, playing with them, making toys for them, and teaching them to read. The counterfeiter failed as a husband and father. My father spent a lot of money and we fixed up the house plus he paid down the mortgage. I was able to return to night school so that I could finish my long-abandoned attempts at getting my undergrad degree. I didn’t finish until much later when I was employed at USF where I completed my B.S. and then got my masters.”

Christopher was six when she was finally able to extricate herself from the counterfeiter and had to work two half-time jobs to support herself and sons. Even after she kicked him out, things worsened to the point where, through a third party she made contact with a Samoan guy who said he would get rid of her husband for $3,000. “Cheap at twice the price, I thought, but my eldest son talked me out of this. Another long story that’s going into my memoirs.”

Maria worked two jobs as many single parents do and it really shortchanged her youngest son. She knew for two years beforehand that she was going to leave the counterfeiter, so she got a job as a teacher’s aide and banked every check she made. “I knew it would be a contentious divorce and would take me a while to kick him out and I was right – soon to be the recipient of rubber checks for child support. By some miracle though, all my sons turned out to be decent human beings. They are all happily married and very good to their wives. I guess they saw me go through so much and they couldn’t do much about it – it has made them very giving and strong, but also very caring for their respective spouses.”

In 1979 Maria found an interesting job as assistant to the head of public affairs at the University of San Francisco, a private Jesuit university. “It was there that I was able to witness firsthand the hypocrisy of religion, the perversion of truth, rampant incompetence and waste. It was there also that I met the love of my life (who is still in that position). My boss got fired shortly after I started there and the managing editor and I ran the office for six months better than it ever ran under the pitiful administering of pompous fatheads. However, I couldn’t bust the good ol’ boy network and got pissed off enough to quit right in the middle of negotiating to buy rental property; my broker almost had a stroke. So I quit USF and my love and I went off to backpack in Yellowstone. After a few months I was hired at The Foundation for San Francisco’s Architectural Heritage (an architectural preservation non-profit) in the historic Haas-Lilienthal House built is 1886 on Franklin Street in SF. It was another interesting job, which I loved, and in which I got to use my brain.”

“When we sold the set of flats we had bought in Noe Valley, my partner suggested buying a house in this area (Mendocino Country). We had often camped up here and I had known it since the days of Ray’s Resort. So it ended up that in July of 1986 we returned (at least part-time) to the place I have always loved and bought 40 forest acres in Comptche.”

By 1991 Maria was “out of love with San Francisco, fed up with how the city had changed. My friends were shocked when I said I was leaving. They thought I’d die there, but no....time to move on – I left and never looked back; I lived here for seventeen months alone and then my partner joined me. One of my hopes was to have a certified organic garden and we did that - a tremendous amount of work, but lots of fun. I sold produce to restaurants in Mendo and at farmers’ markets.”

“I eventually quit the job I loved at Heritage and moved up here full time as I was hired to be assistant to the superintendent at AVUSD. There were twenty-seven applications and I think I was hired because though I had a strong resume and lots of good experience, I think not being from Boonville was a factor. It was good that I had had experience working for nuts previously, because I was there (at the District Office) for about two weeks and realized what I was in for. That superintendent was bought out and thereafter I had the pleasure of working with J.R. Collins as superintendent and other administrators – a much more productive and sane effort. I still have many friends among the teachers and staff. Having worked in education in SF, I had long known how teachers are undervalued and underpaid. Our country has some skewed thinking about such matters.”

Maria liked living in Comptche and working in Boonville. “I avoided the big drawback of small town gossip and lack of privacy – not that I have such an interesting life. In Comptche I can be somewhat anonymous, with friends on the coast and in Boonville - the best of both worlds. I worked at the school district with Vicky Czapkay and Dee Pickus – two women with great integrity, and am very proud that we never broke any confidences over the years. I would not have lasted without them.”

After 13 years, Maria retired in 2004 at the age of sixty-two to concentrate on her writing and editing work. Prior to that she was involved with the group, Solstice Productions, which would put on movies every month at different places in the Valley. “It was myself, Tim Bates, Eric Labowitz, Charlotte Triplett, Dina Anzelotti, and lots of volunteers. I also typed up and/or worked on the ‘Secrets of Salsa’ cookery book, the local phone book, and the ‘Voices of the Valley’ oral history book with Mitch Mendosa, and currently attend a writing group in Ft. Bragg every Thursday. I continue to be in the Valley quite often, visiting friends, doing the Quiz at Lauren’s, and generally keep in touch with the Valley news. I’m looking forward to my next adventure, whatever that turns out to be. I’ve been able to travel to Europe several times as well as the usual, Mexico, Hawaii, Thanks to staying with friends I’ve been able to return to England, Ireland, The Netherlands, Spain, Mallorca, north Africa, and intend to do so again.”

I posed a few obvious and some not-so-obvious questions to Maria.

What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Laughing with friends, and people being true to themselves.”

What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Self-absorbed people with their proprietary attitudes and intellectual arrogance; despite technologic advances, I think mankind is only about three steps out of the cave. So many people seem to be ignoring the spiritual aspect of what it means to be a human being.”

Sound or noise you love? “All kinds of music; the wind in the trees; the ravens on my deck; real laughter.”

Sound or noise you hate? “Intrusions on silence.”

Favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? “Risotto Milanese or Osso Buco.”

If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? “Thomas Merton – the American Catholic writer, poet, social activist and student of comparative religion. He wrote more than 70 books, mostly on spirituality, social justice and a quiet pacifism; or may be Julius Caesar, or Krishnamurti.”

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 cats, photographs, my Oxford English Dictionary set.”

Favorite book or one that has influenced you? “Krishnamurti’s ‘Think on Things’ or Alan Watts’ ‘The Book: On the taboo against knowing who you are’.”

A smell you really like? “Onions frying in butter and olive oil. It reminds me of my grandmother’s kitchen.”

Favorite hobby? “Refinishing furniture.”

Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? “Movie director.”

Profession you’d not like to do? “Office work.”

Happiest day or event in your life? “There have been many. Births of my granddaughters Isabel and Olivia, traveling with Charlie in Yellowstone, graduating from university, and the day I knew I was truly loved for who I really am.”

Saddest day or period of your life? “There have been many. The day my father died stands out. I don’t think I had ever felt more alone.”

Favorite thing about yourself, physically, mentally, spiritually? “That I am true to my word; that I value integrity.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “You have been a good person. Raising three boys that are decent human beings is no small contribution to society and you should take great credit for that.” ¥¥

To read the ‘stories’ of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at Next week the guest interviewee from the Valley will be Diane Heron.)

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