Relative Visiting

Vacations in our family were never to exotic places. We always did get away from San Francisco in the summer, but we went to visit relatives. My Aunt Rose and Uncle Norvell in Sonoma County. My Uncle George and Aunt Aileen in Merced County and often to my Grandmother Nana in Marin.

Rose and Norvell had a Grade A dairy with Jersey cows in Valley Ford, just outside of Sebastopol on the way to the coast. Rose was my mother’s younger sister and at the time was in her late 30’s. They did not have children and she was my godmother. She never forgot a birthday and I always looked forward to her gift at Christmas.  A dairy ranch is a 24/7 job and they took it seriously, never leaving for vacations or family dinners at Thanksgiving or Christmas. My father would drive us up there and then go home to work after a day or two. My mother, brother and I would stay for two weeks. My brother was eight years older would stay for the summer to help Norvell bring in the hay and work with the cows. I was always afraid of Norvell, he appeared stern and challenging to me a sensitive little girl. He was always kind, but reserved and not really good with children. He preferred older kids that he could teach and discuss ideas.

My Uncle George was my mother’s youngest brother and he ran my grandmother’s ranch in Gustine, Merced County. He had Holstein cows that he milked and sold to the creamery for butter. They had three children, with their oldest son being five years younger than me. Aileen was young and fun to be around. We would go down in the summer. Going to the valley, we called it.

We would take my grandmother down and stay for several weeks so she and George could go over the books and problems that arose since her last visit. The weather was hot, and my brother would work with Uncle George and hired hands bringing in the Alfalfa crop.

My Uncle George was not the perfectionist farmer that Uncle Norvell was.He considered it a way to make a living and raise his family. He was interested in sports, baseball mainly, and he would umpire the baseball games in town.  George was very popular and genuinely interested in people. After a hot day in the sun, the cool of the evening was pleasant except for the flying insects that buzzed around.George was usually scheduled to umpire baseball games in town and  would go in right after he got cleaned up.  My mother, brother, and the cousins would drive in with Aileen. It was fun to go out at night and spend the time in the warm valley air.


The days spent at San Rafael at Nana’s house were different than the visits to the ranches. Nana lived in a town in a neighborhood right off the main street. You could walk to town to go shopping, walk to the French bakery owned by Nana’s next door neighbor, the Bordanave’s, and the neighbor on the other side, Mr. Bisola, owned the small Italian market on the same street as the bakery. When we were there Nana would give me some money and send me to the grocery and bakery to buy bread and cheese for lunch.  Nana always planted a vegetable garden in her back yard and had chickens for eggs and the occasional chicken dinner. She loved to grow Kale, Spinach, lettuce. She would make Kale soup, a tradition from the Azores.

Mr. Bisola’s market was out of the past. Creaky wooden floors that were cleaned with oil and sawdust; a counter with glass cubbies that held beans, dried peas and pasta of all shapes and sizes. Hanging over the counter from hooks on a metal rail were dried salami and other Italian varieties. He had a case for other cold-cuts that he would slice for you using the large slicer that sat on the counter. There were various kinds of cheese mixed in with baloney, mortadella, linguica and hot dogs. Mr. Bisola was a quiet man with gray, balding hair, and red cheeks. He wore a large apron over his white shirt and black pants. I would ask him for some Jack Cheese, which he wrapped in wax paper and white butcher paper held together by a piece of white string. He would pull the string from a spool above the counter and threaded through a loop.  I would then go down several shops and into Bordanave’s French Bakery for a loaf of warm sourdough french bread and then cut through the back of the bakery to come out to the gate into Nana’s backyard.We would then sit down to a lunch of jack cheese on french bread. Nana would make coffee for herself and my mother, and I would have a glass of milk.

The evening was spent playing outside with the neighborhood kids. The street was cement with black asphalt lines to seal the cracks. The street lights had porcelain plates with one globe that threw a warm light onto the players as they ran up and down.  When my brother was there they would play “kick the can” and I would watch. He wouldn’t let me play saying I was too little and should be in bed. Sometimes Mom and I would go and visit old friends or just sit around and visit with Nana. Nana had a lawn swing on her front porch and we would sit and cool off from the warm days. These were the times before television, computers and air conditioning and people would sit on their front porches in the evening after dinner, cool off, and talk to neighbors out for an evening stroll.

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When Ernestina moved back to Bolinas from Gustine she returned to the rented house in Paradise Valley, up the hill from the cemetery, in 1921-1922.  Tony, Rose, Polly and George came with her and continued their schooling in Marin County. John and Lili stayed as a couple in the valley, and in 1921, John Valentine Foster was born on February 14, 1921 in Newman at the house of Ernestina’s nephew, Manuel Brazil. Mary remained in Gustine, boarding with a family, and finished high school in the first graduating class. Tony and Rose went on to Tamalpias High School in Mill Valley and Polly and George continued their studies at the Bolinas School. John and Lili stayed as a couple in the valley, and in 1921, John Valentine Foster was born in Newman at the house of Ernestina’s nephew, Manuel Brazil.

(At some point Manuel George became just “George.” Evidently the story goes that there were two many Manuels’ in his class and middle names had to be used to reduce the confusion for the teacher).

After graduation from high school, Tony took a job as a bus driver and Rose went on to San Francisco State College to become a teacher. Mary was enrolled at California School of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and she and Rose shared an apartment in San Francisco with another friend, Marion Hogan.

Ernestina married for the third and last time in 1926 and moved to Nord, California to live with her husband, Antone Quadros. This marriage unfortunately did not survive, as Ernestina felt that the Quadros oldest girl Marie, who had taken over the job of raising her younger siblings, resented her as a step-mother. Ernestina said that two women could not live in the same house and she returned to Bolinas before the Quadros children’s and her relationship was permanently damaged.

In 1927, the decision to live alone again, entailed another move. Ernestina with Polly and George made the decision to rent an apartment in her son John’s home in Santa Cruz. Her plans were to build a home in San Rafael and she had to live somewhere while the home was constructed. Polly graduated from Santa Cruz High School, George continued in school and later graduated from San Rafael High after the move to San Rafael.

It was in Bolinas that Mary, Rose and Polly met their future husbands. Mary met John McCormick when he was delivering oil and gas to the Bolinas ranches for Standard Oil. Rose met Norvell, who was working as a radio operator at the RCA in Bolinas along with Nelson Poe. All three couples went on to marry.  Mary and John and Rose and Norvell in 1926, and Polly and Nelson in 19–, after Polly’s graduation from San Francisco State as a teacher. Nelson was enrolled in University of California Berkeley with the idea of become a physician. Polly became a teacher, teaching in San Francisco, and Marshall.

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Nana and Mr. Quadros

Nana lived a life that in retrospect some would call difficult, but I never heard her complain or whine about what life had given her. She started out with nothing and worked hard to become self-sufficient with many setbacks along the way.

Widowed twice, the first time after two months of marriage and the second time with six children, ages eighteen to three.  She divorced her third husband, Antone Quadros, although they remained friends, because she felt she was the cause of friction with his children.

His oldest daughter, Marie, who had lost her own mother had been caring for her five siblings for years. Marie resented this new woman taking her place with her father and being the woman of the house. Nana would say, “Two women in a household is one too many.” She told Antone Quadros before they married that he needed to discuss with his children, and especially the eldest, Marie, that he was remarrying a woman with two children still at home. He said he would, but never did, so when Nana arrived with Palmeda and George, Marie was rightfully resentful. This was a situation that Nana felt could not continue, and would cause irreparable friction so they separated and later divorced. Divorce between two Catholics was frowned upon in the 1930’s. When talk came up about the ‘divorce’ in the family, the conversation would quickly change to another subject. I did not know for years the status of their relationship. I knew they were married, good friends, lived separately, but the word ‘divorce’ was never mentioned.  In fact, my mother’s step-sister, Elidia Quadros, had lived with Nana from the time she was eighteen until she married. Then Elidia and Artie her husband lived a couple of blocks away and would drop in every Sunday. Elidia always called Nana, Mama, and I always considered them my Aunt and Uncle. They came to all the family gatherings until old age and illness forced them to stay at home.

Mr Quadros, had a ranch in Nord, above Chico, and in later years had a trucking business. On his trips past San Rafael, where Nana lived, he would stop by and visit each time he was in the area. I remember him as a large man, with a bald head, and warm smile. He wore a short sleeved shirt and pants that were held up by suspenders over his large belly. Sometimes on our way home from Bolinas we would stop in San Rafael and his large truck would be parked on the street in front of Nana’s house. My parents would visit and I would sit on his lap in Nana’s kitchen and felt very secure in his arms.

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Ernestina and her brother Manuel

Manuel Borba was one of Ernestina’s older brothers. On a visit to the Azores, he told his family that if she immigrated to the United States there were opportunities for her to have a better future. Their brother Anton, and sisters Marion and Rosa had immigrated and there was close family to help her obtain a job to save some money. Their mother and father were elderly and there were older sisters living and caring for them  in their small house in Norte Pequeno, Sao Jorge.

In 1892 the two of them left the Azores, probably at the port on San Miguel. They were sailing on a ship bound for the port of San Francisco.  Manuel felt it was best to be near family and where their oldest brother Anton lived with his wife and daughter on a small farm in Sausalito. The trip was long and rough, especially coming around the horn of South America.

I believe that Ernestina stayed in Sausalito with Anton and his wife, Mary, and their daughter Mary until she found employment as a nanny for an east bay supervisor. She started night school to learn English and prepare to become a United States citizen.

At one point she married her first husband, a Mr. Rose, That marriage lasted two months when he died of pneumonia.  She had to obtain employment again and got a job for another family caring for their children.

Ernestine came as often as she could to visit her brothers in Marin County. Manuel was then working as a milker at a ranch in San Rafael (now Terra Linda), where he met John Foster. They struck up a friendship and decided to go out on their own to Bolinas, on the Marin County coast. There they both started running a ranch with for a local businessman. They rented the property and the cows and started their own business.

Manuel and his wife, Maria, and John and Ernestina worked as partners. John and Manuel   together outside and the women Auntie and Ernestina doing all the housework, cooking for hired hands and caring for Ernestina and John’s children. Manuel and Maria had two children, both boys, and one died soon after birth, and the other when he was three years old from diphtheria   They worked there together until Manuel died in 1915  . Maria stayed on with Ernestine and John until her death.

John felt they would never make any money working by renting property and cows. They saved and purchased  sixty acres on the west side of San Joaquin Valley where they could have their own cows and land. This area was chosen because land was inexpensive, fertile, and other Portuguese had settled there. (in fact, Ernestina’s sister Rosa had purchased a ranch in Newman, with money she received from her divorce, a few miles north and was working it with her son, Ernestina’s nephew and godson, Manuel Peter Brazil.  The Foster ranch was located south of the town of Gustine, in an area called Cottonwood, which had a country store and a school. The plan was for them to move the family, but then Manuel died in 1915?, and John died in the  flu epidemic in March of 1919. John’s death left Ernestina with six children ranging in age from eighteen to three.

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A little history of why the Portuguese immigrated.

Nine hundred miles west of mainland Portugal and three hundred miles northwest of the continent of Africa, there are nine islands that form the archipelago of the Azores.  (add who settled and from where)

In the 1800’s whaling routes connected these islands with America. Whaling captains looking for crew to work on their ships, encouraged young men to hire on. The islands over populated, created a circumstance of poverty, and social inequality which encouraged immigration to New England, Canada, Hawaii and San Francisco.  Until the Azores became independent, the government of Portugal, a monarchy, and then a dictatorship under Salazar, ordered the men of the Azores to be conscripted into the army to fight their wars.  Families hid their young men from the authorities and many hired on as hands on whaling ships and then jumped ship in American ports; New England, Hawaii and San Francisco. New England offered work in textile mills, Hawaii in the sugar cane fields and then the gold fields of Northern California lured many to immigrate to seek a better life.

These migrants, family oriented men,  offered help to the next family member by providing passage, inviting them into their homes, and assistance in finding jobs until they could save enough money to send for their wives and children and go off on their own and make their own life.

My grandfather’s uncle, Frank (Faustino)Foster, signed on a whaling ship that came into San Francisco. He settled in Marin County and began working at a dairy in what is now called Terra Linda.  Immigrants from the Azores acquired  work on ranches doing what they knew: farming and milking cows. Frank, my grandfather Joao’s uncle worked on a ranch in what is now known as Terra Linda and he got Joao a job milking cows and worked with him as his first job in California. Frank was the one who encouraged my grandfather to change his name, to Americanize it. Joao Faustino then became John Foster. The Portuguese wanted to fit in and become Americans.

My grandmother’s brother Manuel Borba met John Foster while working with Frank Foster. They became friends and decided to move to Bolinas and work on a ranch milking cows for a Bolinas business man, Mr. Ingerman.  He owned property and cows on the big mesa, but was more interested in running the town store. He rented his property, a house,  out-buildings, land and the cows, to my grandfather and grand uncle.

On this property my John and Ernestina had their six children. John, Mary, (my mother) Anthony, Rose, Palmeda and Manual George. They lived there until 1919, John was 18 and George was 3, when my grandfather died from the “Spanish Flu” epidemic which caused the deaths of millions of people world wide.



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Ernestina Candace de Borba

Ernestina died the day after her eightieth birthday, after being bedridden for two and a half years in her home, as the result of a stroke that incapacitated her. Her two daughters and a night nurse cared for her until her savings were exhausted, and her house had to be sold to continue her care. Her physician recommended a small six patient nursing home, but she was there only one month when she died from another stroke. The hub that held the spokes of the family wheel together was laid to rest in the country cemetery behind the church next to her husband and near her youngest daughter.

Ernestina, as she was known to her American friends, was  known as Mama to her six children, Ernestina to her sister, Tia to her nieces and nephews and  Mrs. Foster to her neighbors and acquaintances. She was always Nana to me.

I was her only granddaughter, until her daughter Rose, and her husband Norvell  adopted Arlene, and her youngest son Manuel and his wife Aileen had Patricia.

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My Ancestors

I am starting this blog about my ancestors, those who have gone before me. The reason is so my decedents get the stories straight.  When I mention certain stories to my children they are interested, but inevitably when repeating to others they get it all mixed up. The confusion crosses maternal and paternal lines and all the antidotes that I have related become imagined happenings that actually never happened. Or, if they did are attributed to the wrong relatives. I am going to attempt to bring these ancestors alive again so my children will get to know them as I knew them; all their successes and failures that I heard about or witnessed. These will be short stories of certain aspects of their lives. I will start with my maternal grandmother who I think of often and admire for her courage, fortitude, and common sense. The disclaimer is that these stories are from my perspective and what I remember of what was told to me about happenings before my time. They are as true as my memory and may be interpreted by others differently, but as my father used to say, “That’s good e’nuf, Polly.”

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