Memories of Russian River summers
August is a week old, and an event I always capitalize in my mind as First Day of School is coming up fast. The new school year is anywhere from a week to two weeks away for most Sonoma County students. The end of summer is in sight.
(Some would say that weather-wise there hasn't been a summer, but that's another matter.)
Times change. It used to be that summer didn't end until after Labor Day. That First Day of School did not occur until mid-September — and in some schools very late September, when the prune harvest ended.
August was the heart of our summer, particularly along the Russian River.
It's a familiar theme: Lazy, barefoot days, sunburns, summer romances, the family cabins, outdoor dances in the soft, warm nights.
All this came flooding back (you should pardon the expression) with a letter I received last week from retired Santa Rosa fire captain Tim Doherty with his personal recollections of summers in Guerneville.
Personal memories are my stock in trade. I talk to people — often before a video camera — about Sonoma County's past. You'd be surprised how often, in the midst of the accounts of business and politics and other historical truths, the summers of our youth come up.
Grown men get teary-eyed and the memories flow like the river at floodtide.
So when Doherty talks about his grandparents' cottage on Guerne Road, between the Pee Wee Golf Course and the river, it's the stuff a summertime column is made from.
DOHERTY WAS a happy kid in the 1950s when he and his family came to the river every summer. He writes: "We spent our days getting jaw breakers and wax candy filled with sugar water from Walker's store and then walked to our beach, where we swam and fished and occupied ourselves in a manner that kids today would consider absolutely foreign."
He was moved to write to me, he said, when he happened to see an interview on the Community Media Center channel with Santa Rosa's legendary radio guy, Jim Grady.
Grady, who grew up in San Francisco, talked about the weekends, school vacations and summers he spent at the river where his uncle and aunt, Bob and Jo Philipson, owned a resort (six cabins for steelhead fishermen, a bar and cafe) called the Mayor's Inn in Duncans Mills. The building now houses the Blue Heron restaurant.
Grady talked the familiar line, going back to the 1940s, when his single mom, who worked long wartime hours at the Presidio, would put him on a Greyhound bus and send him north, "up the old highway, through Petaluma."
"In the morning I'd help my uncle wash glasses, clean the tables; he'd give me 50 cents and I'd hitch a ride to Monte Rio to Big Sandy Beach. But it cost a quarter to get in, so I'd go into a backyard in Villa Grande, swim to Monte Rio and save my money," Grady said.
In his early teens he caddied at Northwood. "That's where I met Dennis Day."
Later, he said, "I was dating a girl who ran the concession stand at Rio Nido," where vacationers gathered at the nightly bonfire and big name bands played on weekends.