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.