Interview with Larry and Annette Smith
Interviewed by Jan Bradley
July 13, 2015 at Fir Hill Farm in St. Helena
J: To start out I need to say that it’s the 13th of July, 2015, and I am Jan Bradley and I am interviewing Laryl and Annette Smith, who are both lifelong residents of St. Helena. So, tell me a little bit about your history and your families. And either one of you can go ahead.
A: OK. Do you want…? Oh, you want me to start! How nice! Ok. Let’s see. So my grandparents came from Italy, all four of them, through Ellis Island, way back in the very early 1900’s.
In fact, one of my grandparents (my dad’s father) arrived in San Francisco as a 16-year-old young man, and they had the 1906 earthquake just three months later. But he stayed. He was fine. My other grandfather (my mother’s father) met my grandmother in San Francisco and they married and moved up to Napa Valley. They bought that 22-acre parcel that’s on the corner of Ehlers Lane and Highway 29.
J: On the corner of what lane?
A: Ehlers Lane. Some people say Ehlers (Ilers), some call it Ehlers (eh-lers). I’m never sure. I’ve heard both. So it’s a 22-acre block out there.
J: And which grandparents?
A: That would be my mother’s. Milanis. That would be Antonio and Angela Milani. So they raised five kids there. My mom was actually born out there on that ranch. And so they were both a part of the Napa Valley.
(The following paragraph was corrected)
And then my father, his family (Michelis) moved up from San Francisco in like 1918, and they built that house that’s still there on Hudson Avenue. My grandfather worked at the produce market, and later bought the home on Hudson Avenue due to my grandmother’s health. We recently found out that my dad was born in San Francisco and moved to the Hudson house as an infant. It’s the one right now that has all the olive trees in front of it, right across from Spottswoode’s. So it’s still in our family. It belongs to one of our cousins. My parents both attended St. Helena Elementary School and the high school. And just recently we found out that my dad’s actually going to be inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame, for records and things that he did in like 1937 through ’39 when I guess he graduated.
J: And what was his name?
A: Aldo Micheli. They called him “Mike”, though, so Aldo or “Mike” Micheli. What else? So that’s kind of the history…
J: And you were born?
A: I was born here in St. Helena at… my birth certificate says “Sanitarium”, because that’s what they called St. Helena Hospital. And my two brothers as well. So when my dad’s family, who built the Hudson Street house… actually that whole block, to Allyn Avenue, was their farm. So when the first sister got married___ Italians don’t let you go very far___ they carved off the last section of the farm which would border Allyn Avenue and Pine Street right now. And so that’s where they lived. And then my parents got married and they gave them the next section. And then my other aunt got married and she got the next section.
So for my first 22 years, I lived on a street, Pine Street, that had all my cousins on it. So we lived next door to each other, all of the cousins, and my grandparents lived next door to us for all those years. And that’s a memorable part of growing up, is that you were surrounded by Italian family, but family. So all the cousins, kids and neighbors: the Hurtados were neighbors, Larry’s parents, mother, grew up right across the street, there as well.
We just ran amok in St. Helena. You left the house in the morning and you just knew you had to be home in time for dinner, when it started to get dark. So we would run all over town playing hide and seek, different games. You could just go to anybody’s house and play and we were outside all the time. And you felt very, very safe. There wasn’t a street where you didn’t know somebody personally that if you got in trouble, you’d just knock on the door and they’d find your parents for you and bring you home. We walked to school; we walked to kindergarten all by ourselves. What is that, five blocks or so? But no adult supervision like you need now, because you just went and came home and played and came home and had a really good time. Growing up in this town you felt really safe and confident.
My uncle, one of my mother’s brothers, Uncle Harry Milani, was a police officer for a long time, so we also knew we could just go to the police station and find him. My parents had the Pastime Club, which was a local bar on Main Street, so we could go in just to make a phone call or whatever. He’d give us peanuts and jerky and send us on our way. All my friends, cousins, lots of family growing up in this town.
J: How about you?
L: Well, my dad moved here in 1916 to work at the White Rock Mines. The White Rock Mines were owned by his uncle-in-law. So he worked there for the war era. And in that era they were bringing the ore from Pope Valley to Rutherford where they had a plant, and from there it got loaded on the railroad cars and taken to Oakland or wherever it got processed. So at the end of the war, they moved their operation to Rutherford, and that was kinda the start to Harold Smith and Son Construction. And then he opened a plant on… behind where the Paint Works is…Fulton, where he stored his trucks, and then he bought the property on Sulphur Creek, and that goes on. They used to haul everything out of Pope Valley in Pierce Arrow dump trucks, and me and my brother still have one of the original dump trucks.
So he (Larry’s father) moved here; he was born in Humboldt County. My mother is really similar situation to Annette’s. She was born in St. Helena and her parents had immigrated here, and there was lots of kids, seven of them, I think. While Annette had the block south of Pine Street, my mother’s family had the block north of Pine Street. So there’s two or three houses on Hudson, facing Spottswoode’s Winery. Really that’s it. My dad was a businessman in St. Helena, and it was a pretty strong policy that whatever other business you did, you did with businesses in St. Helena. So we knew everybody: Ve Menegon in Steves Hardware, Mel’s Clothing and everybody really well because we really only shopped in St. Helena.
A: And also your cousin, the Bulotti’s had a grocery store on Main Street, right there on the corner, where that Vintage Home is right now (ed. note: northwest corner of Main and Spring Streets). It was a grocery store for a long, long time, and it was his family’s, his aunt and uncle.
J: So your Dad’s uncle was the original “Harold Smith”?
L: No, my dad was the original Harold Smith. He’s the Harold Smith, Sr. When my dad came here, he came to work for his uncle-in-law, who was Frank Sweezy, who had the white rock mines. So that was his uncle-in-law. I’m not quite clear on how he came to work for his uncle-in-law at the white rock mines, and then how my dad ended up with all of his trucks. ‘Cause at the time my dad was 23 or 24. I don’t know how it exactly started, other than he was supervising all that equipment and then he had “Harold Smith” .
J: So what do you remember about growing up in St. Helena?
L: Well, it’s kinda the same thing, you talked about the second or third decade, but I really remember better being little. You know, taking off on the bicycle, because I was born and raised next door, so I haven’t moved too far. There was kids over the hill, there was kids everywhere, so I remember just taking… You know it was the same thing. You just got up in the morning, and there was never, “Oh what are we going to do?” You just got up and went and played games, pirates, and you went and cut thistles down with a stick, like they were the enemy, and ran around town, and sooner or later, it was dinnertime. It was pretty good. People, even friends, seemed to be more family. If, all of a sudden, you were staying with somebody because your parents had to go, it didn’t seem like you were ever staying with somebody, it was just another day. It seemed easy, and fun. Nobody was ever worried about what kid was bigger or littler. You got pushed around ‘cause you were the littler kid, that’s just the way it was, and it wasn’t a big deal.
Then, just growing up, more in the jr. high school/high school stuff, it was still sorta the same thing. It didn’t seem like consequences were as dramatic as they are now. If you did things wrong, you got punished and learned your lesson and moved on. When we’d get in trouble, you know her (Annette’s) uncle (the policeman) would come. (laughter) We got in trouble once. We had two girls in a little red wagon that we had got at Western Auto store, and my brother had a ’55 Chevy, and we’re driving up Main Street in the ’55 Chevy, the red wagon tied on with a rope. And of course we got pulled over by the police, but they just told you you were doing wrong and made you put everything away. Once again, you just seemed to deal with things at the moment. They didn’t become dramatic issues.
There was a lot more exploring and freedom. The word “politics” never came up for a long time. Even though my dad’s business was involved with a lot of politics… Are they going to build this big dam, or that dam or Martini’s winery, a big winery, or not. It seemed to be easy.
J: You both went to the elementary school that’s still there.
A: Yes. It’s still there.
J: Was RLS here?
A: Yes. RLS was here, but the year I would have went to RLS, the Catholic school opened for the first time, so my parents sent me to the Catholic school, and Larry went to RLS. And then Larry went to St. Helena High, but the year I graduated again (from 8th grade) was the year Justin Siena opened, so I went to Justin Siena for high school. But I guess the cool thing about knowing the kids who lived in town since kindergarten, and before, is that I maintained all my friendships with the kids in St. Helena even though I was at the Catholic school and then to Napa for Justin Siena. To this day, when we have a class reunion, a five or ten, or however it goes, I’m always included in the class of ’71, because they look at the kindergarten, first, second grade pictures. So I feel just as much a part of St. Helena High, ‘cause all my friends were there and I went to their dances and their football games and their parties as well as the ones at Justin Siena. So I felt like I was in the best of both worlds, ‘cause I had friends in two different high schools that I still see today and go to reunions for both. So it was good, and nobody really cared where you went to school. You were still in the neighborhood, and it was so much about neighborhood more than what school you went to.
J: So tell me what you did after high school.
L: Well, after high school, I went to the Napa J.C., and went from Napa J.C. to Chico, and graduated from Chico, came back to work for Beringers. Beringer Brothers, at the time, it was the first year they had opened the new plant on the other side of the highway. So I worked there three years.
A: Yeah, that was ’76. 1976
L: Then I went to harvest at Robert Mondavi, and then I went to work for Chuck Carpy and Bill Jaeger for 30 years.
A: At Rutherford Hill.
J: So a lot of people at that time, I guess, had gone to work at the family business, and you chose not to go into the family business.
L: No, it wasn’t that I chose not to go into the family business. My dad was 62 years old when I was born, so during the time when I was in college, he was 82 years old, or 80-something years old, and ready to retire. Because, even at the time, he was still driving the bulldozer every day and doing the work and all weekends, getting the stuff ready for the crew when they came on Monday, to be set up to go. Almost every holiday, Christmas or whatever, we were… generally got up and went to work, to put some stakes out so the guys that came back to work on Monday, or whenever Christmas was over… So yeah, all holidays were spent, at least some time in the morning, working.
A: And Larry worked for him all through, since he was 16. All summers, through school and college.
L: I worked all summers, and after school, and it actually worked out good at the J.C. Yeah, you finish at the J.C. and your home at one o’clock, and you deliver a couple loads of gravel to people, or whatever. At the time, it was my older brother Harold, Jr., who was from my dad’s first marriage. My dad was married twice. So he had sorta bought into the company a little bit, or had been given the company, but there was five other guys who had been working for my dad since high school. When they graduated from high school, all of them,
A: Borges, Varrozza
L: With the exception of Juan, well, no, Eddie even. They had all started working for my dad since they were 17 to 19 years old, so he sold his half of the company to those guys. Yeah, I regret a little bit, once in a while, about not being able to take the company over. But I don’t look back at it as an issue. It was his age, and my brother and whatever, it’s fine. We did retain the property for a little bit. It had kind of a diminishing depletion of which it’s only been a couple of years since we haven’t owned the last portion.
So I started the wine stuff, but all of the wine stuff, my success for these people was mostly related to my construction abilities, and project management stuff. So I didn’t do… I never did winemaking stuff, although I might have worked in the cellar and stuff, it was building buildings, roads and everything else that I would have been doing if I had stayed working for my dad. Even when Rutherford Hill bought…or Terlato bought Chimney Rock, all of that, taking the golf course out, is sort of still related to my background, growing up.
J: How about you, after high school?
A: After high school I went to J.C., the Napa Community College for like a year and a half, and then transferred up to Chico State as well, to be with Larry. We were both at Chico. Then we got married in ’75 when we had graduated. Then I went back one more year to get my teaching credential. Then it was like, well, we’ll move to wherever the first one gets a job, although we would have loved to stay in Chico. You know all teachers want to stay in Chico, and all Ag Business people want to stay in Chico also, so not many jobs to be had in ’75, ‘76.
We both got a job in St. Helena, at the same time. So Larry went to Beringer and the Catholic school called and said, there was at that time a new principal, and she called and said, “you were a student here and I hear you have a teaching credential, do you want a job?” over the phone, sight unseen, she hired me. So I came back and taught at the St. Helena Catholic School for a number of years, in and out, with our kids and such. Then I taught at St. Apollinaris in Napa for five or six years. Then I realized I had… There were only three schools in St. Helena then, the primary school had not yet been built, but I had a child in each of the three schools, and I was at a school in Napa. So juggling four school calendars was a nightmare, so I just decided to quit and see what I could do up here. Class size reduction was coming in and they needed twelve new teachers at St. Helena Elementary, where you (Jan) were, and I got hired. So I got hired and I went back, I went to U.C. Davis weekends and nights to get my reading specialist certificate. So then I became the reading specialist at St. Helena Elementary School and survived a devastating fire, and they built us the beautiful primary school, which everybody still refers to as the “new school”, even though it will be our 15th year there in August. So we started in 2000. So I’m still there, and I love it. We raised our three children here and they went all through the school system here, and were happy kids and doing well.
So that’s what we did after high school. We are having our 40th wedding anniversary in August.
A: Yeah! Thanks!
L: But really, if you look at the closeness of the families, we’ve really been together all our lives.
A: Yeah. There are pictures of us in like the playpens that they used to have, with like the Del Bondio children and the Abreu children, just all the families that would gather. Our parents both, all of our parents, were really good friends and did a lot of outings together. And my dad and his dad, and him, and my brothers all hunted together. They all belonged to a hunting club, and did Little League. It was really Larry’s dad who donated so much from Harold Smith and Son, that got Crane Park built. And my father, who realized that it was for sale, just hounded the City until they bought it. And if the City would put up… I can’t remember…, but I remember the dinnertime conversations over this because John Aquila and Angie were my parents’ really dear friends, and they would come over, and he was mayor at the time. So it was like, “John, you must buy this. You figure this out.” So Little League was up at RLS at the time and my dad was running that, but he got Larry’s dad, the company, to donate the equipment and the time, and other people… Central Valley, Mr. Quirici. I mean there were many, many local people. If Little League could come up with this amount of money, and the City could match it, we could build two Little League fields. So start buying that property. And my dad was asked to name it, but there were too many people that might be offended in the naming of it. Because the original deed was Dr. Crane, thus he said, “It’s Crane Park” because otherwise you’ve got all these people… It was a community effort to get that built, spurred on by big business people like Larry’s dad and Central Valley and the Little League contingency, to get their half going for them.
They were Little League families at that time. Any kid could…. No girls! This was not good…Make a note. (Laughter) Because Annette got to be water girl, and the bat girl, and sit on the bench and keep score, because girls didn’t play Little League at that time. If you wanted to play softball, you could join the Rockets, but at the time I was too young for that, at that point in time. I got to run the Snack Shack. They built that cute little brick thing so that Linda Burton, my neighbor and I could sell snacks out of the Snack Shack. That was our involvement in Little League. I don’t even remember when girls finally got to play Little League, but it was a long time.
J: I think it was the 70’s.
A: Yeah, when I graduated from high school, the girls got in there. Anyway… I forget the rest of the question.
J: That’s fine. Well, that talks a little about your family’s contributions to the City, which are significant.
A: Yeah, my dad was on the Rec Commission for a long time, which is why he was so involved in getting the recreation going. And then Larry was also a Recreation Commissioner. I forget what year… ’86 or so… Something like that… well, Tara was an infant, so a long time ago, late ‘80s, ‘90s.
L: A long time ago.
A: And now our daughter Tracy is a Recreation Commissioner. Oh yeah, so now she’s in charge of the Pet Parade, so “oh dear”. Watch out. (Laughter)
And actually, when we were kids, the Recreation Department just had… well there was no Boys and Girls Club, you know, or anything like that, but down at the elementary school, there was a Rec Center and you just went, as a kid. Like Larry said, you just get up in the morning and go down there, and you could always find someone to play with or hang out with there. There was shuffleboard and badminton because the Media Center wasn’t built then, and it was open with a roof over it and a basketball court. Where the Media Center sits now was open with a roof over it so you could play in the winter. So there was badminton and basketball and volleyball; all kinds of things we could play out of the sun.
L: They had craft classes.
A: Yeah, and all the rooms were set up with crafts. You know you did the popsicle stick things and you made those pot holders with the “loopies”.
L: Some cool stuff. We made little bow and arrows.
A: And the lanyards. It was very cool. And you could just go down and it was free to the kids. The pool at the high school hadn’t been built yet. I think I was in high school when they actually put that pool in because I remember swimming there.
L: My freshman year was the last year in the old building. So when I was a sophomore… My freshman year they finished all the new buildings.
A: New buildings at the high school.
L: So my freshman class is the last class in the old building.
A: And they built the pool at that time.
L: And the gym and new classrooms.
A: And the new gym and the classrooms that are out further. Yeah, that was much later. So we didn’t go to the pool then (as little children), but when that pool was built, it had a double-decker diving board. So you could go way up to the tippy-top. That was so much fun, jumping, diving, all that stuff. I don’t know when they took that out. They took it out because of insurance problems, and just left the bottom diving board, which just goes off the edge of the pool.
J: I think I remember when Jamie was little (1981), they still had the high diving board.
A: Yeah, that was very cool. There was just so much recreation in town, in that respect. You could just go down and do anything and hang out, read books, whatever. But it was very good.
J: So you’ve talked about the people and the places in St. Helena. So do you want to talk about the changes, positive and negative, in St. Helena?
A: Sure… The Traffic! I think it’s horrible, especially right now. Well, when we went off to college, in like ’72, ’73, somewhere in there, there wasn’t a stoplight in town, and when you said you were from St. Helena, people had absolutely no idea. And then you’d say Napa Valley, and well they didn’t know where that was either. I mean, we were like nobody. People were clueless about where we came from. It was while we were at Chico, and we came home, that all of a sudden, we had a stoplight! It was the one at Main. Well they’re all at Main. Main and Adams was the first one. It wasn’t at Madrona or Pope yet. So that was the first one.
And then once Napa Valley got on the map, as far as wine, things really started to change. Tourism. I mean, it’s nice I suppose that…well, I don’t know, even about that. It’s always nice to have new people and new blood, so that is positive. A lot of interesting people moved into town. But you used to be able to go downtown, Main Street, and you just had a charge account that your parents paid at the end, somehow. So you could go to Bulotti’s Grocery Store, or Keller’s Grocery Store, and there was Foodland Market as well. I worked there, and at Keller’s when I was in high school and college. But you could go in and out of any store, Croma Hardware, there was Croma, as well as Steves, the Magnaghi family had Croma Hardware. There were just so many “local-serving” as we say now, but they met your needs. All the stores downtown met your needs. You just walked down there… Vasconi’s was there, NuWay Drug, which is now Smith’s Pharmacy. Now you go downtown, there isn’t one… Well, Steve’s Hardware and Sunshine Market. You could get stuff that you actually need, but not any more. The stores that you need something for are gone. I worked at Sprouse-Reitz when I was a kid, and then it became Ben Franklin. That was really a travesty when it closed because, as a teacher, you needed supplies, and there was no online shopping at the time, but you had to go to Napa or Santa Rosa to buy things. The kids did too, for school projects. You couldn’t just go down and buy posterboard or stuff that they needed to build the project. So I think that when all the stores that sold stuff you absolutely needed, necessities, left, it just sorta left us high and dry. And I can’t afford most of the shops that are downtown. And they don’t have anything I want either. Occasionally I go into Goodman’s. There’s Goodman’s and Daisy if you need something special to wear, but there’s no reason to go downtown, to Main Street any more.
J: Except the Model Bakery!
A: Oh, the Model Bakery! Yes, thank you. Yes, we need the Model Bakery. Giugni’s! I worked with Bill Giugni for a long time. Umm. Well, I said traffic…
Another negative, I’m sorry I have only negatives, the housing market: It’s not affordable at all. I mean, our kids can’t afford to buy a house here, as most kids can’t. And it affects the schools. I know our population is down (at SHPS) because people moving in just don’t have little children any more. Just the price of everything has gone up so much that I feel bad for young people, young families starting out, ‘cause this is a really hard place to get your foot in the door and raise your family. Of course it was a wonderful place to raise kids. We loved raising our kids here.
Can you think of any positives? Well, a positive is this beautiful vineyard that we’re looking out at that the Bartoluccis own. It won’t be houses, so some of the things that have happened, the Ag Preserve, making sure the vineyards don’t get torn up. However, when we were kids, this was a multi-crop area. In fact, Mr. Creasey, who actually built that house just down the street that the Agees are in, that big beautiful house… He had seven kids, fun to play with… He was in charge of many of the prune orchards. We had a prune dehydrator here, and a lot of prunes, as well as grapes and walnuts. Lots of different things, so when it was prune picking season, he would drive his flatbed around town. If you were on the corner at 6 am, and there was room on the flatbed, as a kid, you jumped on, and he took you to one of the orchards that needed prune picking. Twenty-five cents a bucket! Your mom packed you a sandwich and a drink, and you picked prunes for however long that season lasted. You did at least a month. All the neighborhood kids, my friends at least, we’d be out there. We’d pick prunes, and we weren’t even in high school yet. I don’t know if we were 12ish, or something like that maybe? Maybe through 15? But it was a way to make money, ‘cause there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for kids, besides babysitting. So we picked prunes. And those prune orchards are now all grapes, as are the walnuts. Walnuts came out as well.
L: I have nothing positive. (laughter)
A: Well when you are born here, the changes are dramatic.
L: I don’t have anything positive about it, but a lot of it, it’s kinda like my dad selling the company, that per se, doesn’t bother me as much as people coming in. Population is growing. Every place needs to have more houses. Every place needs to have more people. That’s just the progression of life. The fact that there’s more traffic in town is because there’s more people. Things change. We used to hunt where Sylvaner subdivision is, or hunt in the cemeteries. That’s history. So it doesn’t bother me that history has changed, that there’s more people, that you have to change your life.
The biggest thing that has bothered me is that attitude, the difference in attitude in the people that are here now, or their demeanor, or whatever the right word is. When we grew up, Louis Martini, or Beringer, or all of these people… Louis Stralla, whoever there was, they were people just like us. They had a business, they were raising their families, they were doing everything special. Now, you’re introduced to somebody that’s new, a new person, and they really have no interest in knowing you until they find out your degree of importance. There are all sorts of people now who claim to be our friends or know us because we have the donkeys on Fir Hill Drive. But if it wasn’t for that, we’re not on the list of being important enough to know just because of who we are, or that we’re people. That’s the biggest downside, not that they’re here. And that they now tell you, “I bought a house and did what I want, and now you can’t do what you want.” So the rest of that, just the amount of people, and finances… Just the cost of the housing: it’s a good thing/bad thing because you say, “Oh yeah, well now you have this house worth one million dollars”, but the actuality is “Do you want your children to grow up in St. Helena?” but they can’t live in your house because no one sibling can buy the other ones out. We have this house and they all want to live here, but the actuality is that none of our children will live in this house, because the other ones can’t afford to buy them out.
So if you look at the heritage in the wine business when you go to Europe, you see that you plant a cork oak tree, it’s 27 years before you get the first harvest, and it’s every nine years after that. So some guy going out planting cork oaks is planting those for his future generations. You can’t do that here. And that’s sad.
A: Well, I told you when we met for coffee about when we were at Bodega Bay. Do you want that story? I mean, we were at Bodega Bay and were just chatting with this man who showed up, and once he found out we were from St. Helena, he said, well, he was from St. Helena. Then when he, with further discussion, found out that we were natives, born here, his next comment was, “Okay, we need to get together so we can stop more people from coming here.” And he had just gotten here! He bought his property, built his “McMansion”, and ok, put a gate up on our Hwy 29 because I’m here. Nobody else! And so really, what Larry said, I do agree with. We’re not bitter or angry. It’s just different. That’s all. There isn’t anywhere else we would want to move. I mean we love it here. We love the people we know.
L: Before, when you talked about when you grew up, around the table with your parents and somebody was going to do something, well, you said, “Do you need help? I have a tractor, I can do this or whatever.” Now when somebody says they want to do something it’s just like whoosh (sound effect). Start writing letters to the editor.
A: How can we stop them? (laughs)
L: And the viciousness of it. The personal attacks. We still know where old St. Helena is.
A: And there’s still a lot of people who stayed, people our age who stayed, who didn’t go away. There’s one other little story… Sunshine, where Sunshine Market is now used to be Purity. And I think that morphed into Safeway, but I’m not positive about that but I think that’s who became Safeway, because they moved over to where Safeway is now. So when they first built it they put in this little conveyor belt where you bought your groceries and they put them in boxes most of the time. Then they put them on the little conveyor belt that went outside through a little flappy door, like a “doggie door”. Then you picked your groceries up outside and put them in your car so you didn’t have to carry them very far. So when it first went in and we went down there, I can’t remember how old I was then, but old enough to remember and be shopping with my aunt, I think I was with my aunt, and the store clerks just picked us up and put us in a box and sent us through the door to the outside where we could be collected. (laughter) That’s the kind of thing… or you went into Keller’s Market and Ernie immediately gave you salami or a hot dog or whatever, whatever you wanted as a kid, which was very cool.
J: So, can you think of anything else that you might like to leave for posterity?
L: No. I mean it’s like anything. You’d like to turn back the hands of time…
A: Where would you turn them though? It would be really hard to turn them back. I mean you need change. Change is good. It’s an opportunity. We’re going through it now at the Catholic Church, as you did with the Episcopal Church, that whole building project. I don’t know how many years that took, and of course the controversy and the different opinions. It’s really hard to change, especially something permanent, like a building. We’re doing it at the Catholic Church now in that they’re going to take out the Thrift Shop and move it. So it won’t be the same, but there is a nice building that’s going to go up there that will serve the needs of not only the parish, but the community in that it will be a nice events center/hall, or whatever. Once again, it’s dividing the parish as far as, “we want to keep the old; we don’t want the new.” So you just have to work through those things, and I think it’s the same thing with any project that comes through town. Nobody likes change, for the most part, but you kinda need it to move forward. So even though we have great memories of growing up here, and the stories our parents used to tell about growing up here, kinda scary. I know my father and his friends once stole the train
J: How can you steal a train?
A: Because they just left it there.
L: They parked it across from Vern’s.
A: Vern’s Copper Chimney was a cafe.
L: They went for lunch.
A: They went for lunch, looked across the street, in front of where Farmstead is now, and said, “oh, the engineer must have gone for lunch”, and he and his friends took the train. It wasn’t going to go off the tracks, so… (laughter) They drove it to Calistoga where they were severely reprimanded by the law enforcement people. They had brought the engineer to drive it back, however. But that was the kind of stuff you did, and you really didn’t get in trouble. It was just a little prank. Oh, there’s a train, it’s still running, and they took it to Calistoga. But if we had done something like that, our parents would have grounded us forever.
The other thing is, on Halloween, I know Larry’s parents didn’t like this much, but their children were involved too, so it was ok. When we were growing up, there was no bridge over Sulphur Creek. So when you got to the end of Valley View, it just dipped down, and if you had a car that you didn’t care about, you could go across the very bumpy creek bed and come up then by Grayson. It was sort of a gravely road made by people crossing. But a good portion of the year you couldn’t go across because it was wet with a lot of water. So for Halloween, you’d get your little groups together, and you’d go with your tomatoes and eggs and such…
L: Go to Lamberts’ chicken farm.
A: You would buy crates of eggs at Lambert’s chicken farm down on Zinfandel, where the Sutter Home facility, the ranch is now. And you just spent the entire night in a very safe place, all the mounds of gravel, kind of playing attack. But everybody was doing it! So it was fun, and we weren’t on Main Street, or egging cars, or doing anything destructive. I’m sure the gravel plant was a mess the next morning, but it was gravel. So people got tomatoes and eggshells in their gravel the next day.
But you know you just went out and there was no light or anything, and you just had a great Halloween in the gravel plant and the creek bed was pretty dry at that time. And it was ok with everybody, that you did it, because you weren’t hurting anybody or being destructive, really. You were perfectly safe out there. I think your mother didn’t like it happening. She said many a time.
L: Yeah, well, whatever.
A: Her kids were out there!
L: The difference is the kid falls down a pile and twists their ankle or whatever. The kid was doing what he shouldn’t have. It’s the kid’s fault. Where now, it’s…
A: A liability.
L: You get sued. What irritates me is that people say, “I want St. Helena to be the way it used to be.” Meaning 10 years ago or whatever. None of them really understand what St. Helena used to be. In most cases they’re only talking about physical aspects. St. Helena can never be what it used to be. Even if you go and repaint all the buildings and remodel them, do everything to antique them and make it look like it was in 1960, it still won’t be what it used to be because it’s got a different demeanor.
L: So that’s the only thing that’s really irritating to me: is wanting it to be like it used to be. And those people are why it can never be how it used to be. We used to do all this stuff. We used to go and, well, stole a cow from in front of Corbella’s Meat Market.
A: He had a cow out there.
L: We put it on the top of the high school, you know. We used to do this stuff all the time, and you’d get in trouble and put it back. And you’d have to go tell the guy you were sorry and…
A: Work a day.
L: Life went on. We did lots of bad things.
A: Pranks. They were more like pranks.
L: One of your questions in there were people who stand out. I remember people, but it’s not like they changed my life. People who were charismatic. I remember Louis Stralla, Julius Caiocca.
A: Judge Palmer.
L: Judge Palmer. I worked for Judge Palmer for a long time. The old man, Louis Martini. You know, how these people always… whatever…. You were a little kid or a teenager… there didn’t seem to be a, you know, “You’re just a kid, I need to talk business with your parents.” They could talk business while you were still there, throwing dirt clods in their driveway.
A: True. And just a lot of generosity when we were growing up, too, because before that pool was built at the high school, the Carpys let us use their private pool at their home for Red Cross swimming lessons. So people just did that. They opened up their home and let people use it for whatever they needed. I think there was just a spirit of community and generosity. Not that there isn’t now; people give money now. But before, they gave of their time and their home. It didn’t really involve the giving of money. What?
L: Nothing. I was just thinking of the old stuff. It’s like when I first bought my Honda 90, it was like in 1967. The Flying A service station was where Ivo has his things there now (Nature Select Foods on Main St.). So I go in there with my…of course I don’t know what gas was or whatever…and I fill my Honda up and it’s like 7 cents or 9 cents or something. So he just took a little pencil and wrote it on the wall, you know like you…
A: Measure your kid.
L: Measure your kid in height. So every three or four months it would get up to be like a dollar, and I’d pay him the dollar. There’s lots of…. Like when the zoo used to be out on Rutherford Crossroads. There’s lots of things that used to be here.
J: A zoo?
L: Yeah, it was pretty cool, where Usibelli’s… If you go down Silverado Trail and take a right to go back to Rutherford, the big white house, two story house that’s on the corner there, so they had all the animals there. They had deer and zebras and all kinds of stuff. Lots of things missing that I remember.
A: Yeah, but it’s life. It’s different. I don’t think it’s any different than any other community.
L: And Michels’ Gas Station.
A: And it is kinda cool that now we have like four generations for sure, and kind of a fifth generation of family. I mean they lived here for a year with us, and they’re always here, and they consider themselves part of St. Helena even though they’re moving all the time. But to have family that goes back that far, and that we know so much about it as well.
Did we answer all the questions?
J: Yes, thank you so much! This was wonderful. There’s lots of good stuff.
A: You’re welcome.