The Hoarder House

Some years ago I began watching and got mildly addicted to the show “Hoarders.” Months later, I cleaned out my garage and discovered dozens of cans of paint. I rationalized that I needed at least some of them in case walls or woodwork required touching up. Some as in maybe 10 cans. I’d always intended to donate the excess to local theater groups for set designs.

Obviously that never happened.

The excess cans were delivered to the next Waste Management toxic waste disposal collection day (or whatever it’s called).

This humbling experience caused me to garner empathy towards hoarders and stop watching that show, but did not diminish my curiosity about the disorder. Deep down I think I’m frightened I could easily develop similar patterns of behavior. (You should see my “collection” of fabric scraps—sometime in the future I’m certain I’ll find a use for that one-inch square of red polka dots.)

hoarding1On one of my walks with my dog Lucy a few years ago, I discovered a house three blocks west and one block south that had all the hoarding signs—disintegrating drapes that were perpetually closed in downstairs windows, paraphernalia piled against upstairs windows, a backyard that looked like a combination of junkyard and garbage dump. My fascination with it caused Lucy and me to walk by on a regular basis.

Last year, the place was condemned by the City. Over the next few months, a great deal was removed from the backyard. After a certain point, though, progress came to a halt.

fireIn the late morning of January 20, a friend called to say “my house” was on fire. I rushed to the scene to see firefighters battle toxic smoke spewing from the asbestos-singled structure. It was riveting to watch a firefighter stand high in the air on a truck ladder and spray hundreds of gallons of water on the house. When the smoke dissipated, the spray stopped. Within moments, the smoke started up again. All that water—and still there remained a deep burning that refused to surrender.

After an hour, I pulled myself away. I went home to fill a trash bag with clothes and shoes I never wear (notice I didn’t mention fabric) and put it in the garage with the intention of donating it to the Paul Bunyan Thrift Store. It sits next to the Christmas decorations where it’s likely to be forgotten until December.

fire2 (2)The next day and the day after that and the day after that, I drove by. The house is in shambles—an astounding collection of possessions destroyed and caved into a monstrous heap. I was surprised to discover that underneath the shingles is a wooden gingerbread design. A lifelong coastal friend told me that in the fifties and sixties a number of people covered old houses in this way to make them appear more modern.

rubbleAccording to The Fort Bragg Advocate-News, the elderly owner is in a nursing home. In an interview with his daughter, she explained that she and her brother suffer from disabilities and could make little headway on clearing after it was deemed uninhabitable.

The Advocate-News gave an identity to this mysterious place—it was someone’s family home. Children had grown up there. It may have been an anchor in their lives until their father was forced to leave. It was built generations ago with old growth redwood, a decorative design crafted into the siding, originally a sweet showplace on Pine Street easily viewed from Main across from the Presbyterian Church (until the church burned down in 1978).

Everything on that property—at one time needed, desired and perhaps revered—has been reduced to charred rubble. It will eventually go the way of the Presbyterian Church. The lot will be cleared and made empty. A place that was once a family home will exist only in the memories of people who were once, like me, fascinated by it.

outside

gingerbread

finalcurtain

Advertisements

A Charlie Brown Christmas

a-charlie-brown-christmas-16A Charlie Brown Christmas” first aired 52 years ago when I was eleven. It was a special evening for my younger sister and me. We had been invited to watch at the Biklen’s house (they had a color television).

68aee84bcc9bd0c7469a97d97b2d22f6The Biklen’s were our next-door neighbors on South Mount Vernon in Spokane, Washington.  Geography caused the street to slope upwards, which perched their Swiss chalet on a hill above our house. Our properties were separated by a stone fence. Trees and shrubbery planted behind the wall shielded their house from view. A long red brick driveway curved into their property and stopped at a small garage nestled beneath the house.

L, K, M, & Tommy Earsley 1959

One spontaneous visit where we dragged along a couple of neighborhood kids.

When we were barely more than toddlers, my sister and I wandered into their property on a warm summer day and made Mrs. Biklen our friend. We stood outside her paned kitchen window, open to the fresh air, and hollered our hellos.

She said her name was Ellamae. I asked how old she was and she said, “Forty-five.” Outside of our grandmother, she was the oldest woman I’d ever met. Her voice carried the soft lilt of contentment, but her eyes held a tinge of sadness at the edges. She had graying chestnut hair and wore a flowered shirt-waist dress.

Mrs. Bilken & dogShe escorted us home that day, but on those rare occasions when our mother lost sight of us while we were playing in the yard, we’d wander to the Biklen kitchen window and call, “Ellamaid, Ellamaid.” (This was before we were fully indoctrinated to address adults by Mr. or Mrs.—never by first names.)

It was the late 1950’s and the two Biklen daughters were in high school. Mr. Biklen worked as the accountant/treasurer at the Spokesman-Review. Mrs. Biklen was a housewife.

My family consisted of a father who was a teacher, a stay-at-home mom, and three children. Within a few years, we’d balloon to five kids, crammed into a small three bedroom, one bath house. By comparison, the Biklens were aristocrats.

Years later—when I was eight—I was in our front yard playing with neighborhood friends when Mrs. Biklen drove her Nash Metropolitan past. I paused to wave and when she waved back, I again noticed her sad eyes. The next day, I told my sister that Mrs. Biklen was lonely and we should visit her. (I was too shy to go alone.)

L & K 1965She didn’t let us in, but invited us to return the following day after school. Thus began a series of weekly visits where we sat in her kitchen, practiced good manners, and told only those stories that shed us in a good light.

Mrs. Biklen served iced Cokes in leaded crystal glasses and store-bought cookies on china plates. She treated us with respect, listened to our stories and offered gentle advice. No one had ever paid such attention to me. Our hearts intertwined to create a bond that lasted more than forty years.

The night of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” my sister and I dressed in our good clothes—skirts and blouses, tights and Mary Janes. We donned winter coats. It had snowed the day before, but a slight rise in temperature had turned it to slush. We navigated puddles, careful not to get our shoes wet on our way to the Biklen’s.

The specialness of the program’s premiere allowed us to go to the front door (we usually entered through the back). We climbed the steps to the wide veranda and rang the bell. Mrs. Biklen opened the door wearing a dark green shirtwaist dress and black heels. Mr. Biklen stood from his smoking chair to greet us—another treat for the evening. We rarely spent time with him, always leaving our visits with Mrs. Biklen before he arrived home from work.

My sister and I sat on the antique Empire sofa upholstered in gray silk and nestled into a shallow alcove. A Christmas tree covered in colored lights and tinsel stood in a corner. The massive fireplace held a crackling fire. We crossed our feet at the ankles and straightened our spines. An assortment of cookies on a Christmas plate and paper napkins printed with poinsettias sat on the coffee table.

Mr. Biklen turned us into quite the Manhattan Coke lushes.  (Here celebrating my birthday.)

Mr. Biklen turned us into quite the Manhattan Coke lushes. (Celebrating my birthday.)

Mr. Biklen, in his highly spirited way, offered to make us Manhattans—his favorite drink. He left the room and returned with two elegantly-stemmed glasses filled with Coke and a sunken maraschino cherry. He proposed a toast to the Christmas season. I felt like a sophisticate.

The television—inside a dark wood console—was on, all warmed up so we wouldn’t miss a moment of the program. The opening chords of the soundtrack gave me the shivers. For the very first time, one of my favorite comic strips had come to life. I marveled how the voices perfectly fit the characters—Charlie Brown’s forlorn tone, Lucy’s crabby edginess, and Linus’s thick-tongued toddler sweetness.

My sister and I left that night high on Manhattan Cokes and sugar cookies—infused with the Yuletide spirit of Charlie Brown and the gang. Every year since then, come Christmastime, I’m carried back to the Biklen’s sofa where I’m surrounded by warmth and elegance, and reminded how the loving attention of adults stays with a child forever.

"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Emily Head, L.Ac. MAOM

emilyheadshot

I rushed across the parking lot behind Taka’s Grill on Main Street, through the brisk autumn chill, into Pacific Healing Acupuncture. The warm, softly lit interior wrapped me in a cocoon of serenity so intoxicating that I was nearly too relaxed to get out of my chair after my 90-minute chat with owner Emily Head.

***

As a teenager, Emily had few aspirations outside of staying and working in Fort Bragg. Her parents, Marie and Lewey, had other ideas. They’d moved here from the Bay Area in 1977 and felt it important for their daughter to experience life outside this small community.

After graduating from high school in 1998, Emily agreed to go to Sonoma State but moved home after a year to figure out what path she wanted to take in life. For the next few years, she worked as a waitress and took classes at College of the Redwoods. She also got her esthetician and massage licenses. She worked briefly as a massage therapist, but found she didn’t enjoy it. “I was having wrist problems, and didn’t want to make that worse.”

A few years later, Emily realized she didn’t want to be a career waitress. She applied to her dream school—UC Santa Cruz—and got accepted in 2000.  She majored in sociology with a minor in psychology. “I thought I’d become a child counselor.”

emily bunnyAfter graduating in 2002, she entered an 11-month AmeriCorps program. “I wanted to start paying off my loans, and AmeriCorps offered money towards that. I also thought it would be a fun break from life—which it was. It gave me time to decide what I really wanted to do.” She became part of a team of ten people in Denver. “We traveled to a number of states where we did jobs like state park trail maintenance and renovating a playroom for a summer program that offered homeless children a place to learn, play and socialize.”

During her AmeriCorps experience, her mother suggested she chose a career in the healing arts, perhaps as an acupuncturist. “I’ve always been intrigued by natural healthcare and figured it was a great career for me to pursue. Growing up in a household that didn’t depend on doctors taught me what was available that didn’t include synthetic cures. I always looked to Mother Nature for healthcare and acupuncture seemed the follow that concept of staying healthy.

“I came back to Fort Bragg and took anatomy and other science classes at College of the Redwoods and Mendocino College, which helped get me into the Masters Program at Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in Portland.” She entered the school in 2006 where she attended daylong classes and practicum sessions five days a week. She loved living in Portland and studying traditional acupuncture. During the last two years, she also worked as an intern in various clinics.

She graduated in September 2009 with a Masters in Oriental Medicine and stayed for a couple of months to take three exams to earn her national acupuncture practitioner certificate before moving back to Fort Bragg. “I always knew I wanted to live and raise my future family here. My parents are here and I love the area.”

emilystudioShe once again worked as a waitress while studying for her California boards, which she passed in March 2010. Shortly afterward, she opened her business in the office complex behind Taka’s Grill. For the first few years, she supplemented her income by working three to four days a week at Lee’s Chinese. “Word of mouth has been a big factor in my growth. When I started accepting health insurance and Medi-Cal, my clientele also grew tremendously. I still work one day a week at Piaci’s. I love my profession, but like getting out and socializing. Waitressing does that for me.”

In addition to private sessions, Emily provides reduced priced drop in sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 4:00-6:00 pm. Her fees for all sessions are based on a sliding scale given a patient’s ability to pay. Most treatments are covered by insurance. “Stress is a major component of illness,” she said. “I don’t want people to stress out over the cost of trying to get well.”

Emily is glad her parents encouraged her to leave her hometown and get a different perspective on life. “I learned I don’t want to live in a big city. I’m not a commuter. I don’t even like to drive to Mendocino.” She laughed.

emilygarrettShe lives on the same property as her parents and shares a home with her partner Garrett Barker and his two children. “Garrett was born in Southern California, but lived in Fort Bragg off and on while he was growing up. He came back in his twenties and has been here ever since. He’s an amazing artist and also works for a machine shop in Comptche.”

“I grew up on the land where we still have a large garden. We raise rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and ducks. I raise a pig each year. I don’t do the killing of the larger animals, but I can butcher the meat. We also have beehives.”

Emily finds great satisfaction in helping people. “It sometimes amazes me that I can stick needles in people and it makes them better,” she said. “The body wants to heal and by using acupuncture, one can balance out the blockages caused by everyday life, including stress, injury, emotional upsets and illness.”

emilyhensShe’s sad that Fort Bragg doesn’t offer the same sense of community as when she was growing up. “I don’t see a lot kids riding bikes. I no longer know nearly everyone. I used to know the names of our homeless people. I don’t anymore. It’s especially hard for single people to live here—there aren’t many places to mingle.” However, she does admit that the Golden West Saloon—purchased a few years ago by a couple in her age group—has helped provide a social outlet for the younger crowd.

Emily laments the loss of the traditional workers who were once employed by the logging and fishing industries. “We’re more of a tourist community now.” She hopes more people who have left our community will return. “Many in my age group have already come back. It’s fun to hang out with people I went to high school with.”

Emily is pleased with the growth of Pacific Healing Acupuncture. Her ultimate goal is to establish a wellness center which would include a Naturopath, midwife, body workers and anyone devoted to alternative healthcare who is willing to help people regardless of their income.

emilychicks

Jason Malsom

jasonheadshotAs I approached the massive hull made more ominous by being back-lit by the sun, the sounds of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” echo from the dark recesses of the ship. I got the chills. A young man—Jason Malsom—moved forward, framed by the colossus behind him, and greeted me with a warm smile. Despite his height, sculpted face and a sleeve of tattoos on each arm, he looked much like the round faced five-year old I met 25 years ago when I worked with his mother Michelle.

jasonhullIn January 2017, Jason bought Van Peer Boatworks and changed the name to Noyo Boatworks. He began building a 60- by 28-foot fishing vessel that will fish for black cod and halibut in waters along the west coast and Alaska.

As we walked around the boat’s impressive hull, we were serenaded by a symphony of classic rock mixed with the crackling of blow torches welding steel. I asked Jason how he became the owner of a highly respected 44-year old business.

“I went to work for Chris [Van Peer] in late 2012. I started out as a tacker—someone who fits the pieces of a boat so the welder can follow along and fuse them together. I was a quick learner and Chris trained me to do welding. Towards the end of 2016, he was ready to retire, but had this boat to build for Nick Jardstrom, a commercial fisherman. He asked if I’d build it.”

To me, this seems a tremendous undertaking. Jason shrugged and said in his humble way, “I needed to keep my job so I bought the business.” He smiled.

Jason graduated from Fort Bragg High School in 2005. He stayed in the area and worked a number of jobs—from a laborer for Rantala Heating to building logging roads for Stan Stornetta and part-time tattooing. “Before I went to work for Chris, I’d get up at 5:00, work until 3:00, then tattoo from 4:00 until 8:00. After a few years, I got tired of the long hours. A friend of mine worked for Chris and was planning to move to Ukiah. I always wanted to learn how to weld, so I contacted Chris. He signed me on and I liked the work immediately.” Between the end of 2012 and 2016, Jason helped build three commercial fishing boats.

jasoninteriorI wondered how one builds a boat this enormous. “An architect in Seattle did the design,” Jason said. “After it was approved by the owner, it went to an engineering company in Oregon who cut the steel and sent to us. I’ll build the basic structure, do the plumbing and mount the engine. The wiring and finishing work will be done by someone else.”

Throughout the construction yard, thick pieces of steel are arranged by size. Jason takes the plans, much like a blue print to a house, starts with the keel (which runs the entire length of the bottom of the boat) and moves upwards. Each piece is welded into place.

Side pieces have to be cinched in to fit the curve of the deck. This is done by welding a metal “eye” to the inside of the piece and cranking it inward. I marveled at how hard it must be to bend such a massive amount of steel. Jason laughed. “It really doesn’t take much strength.”

For years, Van Peer Boatworks was located on the north side of Highway 20, under a huge canopy that still marks the spot. Whenever a boat was launched, crowds gathered to watch it painstakingly hauled down the steep slope of South Harbor Drive. In recent years, insurance liability issues caused Chris to move the boatyard to the base of the drive, which provides level ground for boat launches.

When I asked Jason why the canopy remains in the old yard on the highway, he said, “If we move it, we’ll violate the manufacturer’s warranty and we’d have to pay for any repairs. If the manufacturer moves it for us, it’ll cost several thousand dollars.” For now, the canopy stays put.

jasondeck2Although he loves what he’s doing, he feels some frustration over not having the time to take on side jobs. “Fishermen constantly ask if I can help with a boat repair and I hate turning them down. If someone wanted to start a mobile welding business, he could make a good living in this harbor.”

Jason has found a way to establish a career in the town of his birth by working hard and being a dedicated employee. By taking over this iconic business, he’s safeguarding the tradition of large boat building in a community that is anchored in the fishing industry. The sight of the gigantic steel structure being erected is enticing. Jason is amused that nearly every day people stop to watch and take pictures.

He hopes to finish this boat in August 2018, but thinks it’s more likely to be completed in October. “I could use another welder, but can’t find one.” He laments what a number of local employers express—how difficult it is to find people willing to work. “Chris taught me everything I know about welding and boat building. I could do the same for someone else.” He’s grateful to have one experienced welder in Daniel who was hired by Chris in 2015 and another whom he’s training.

jasonyardI asked Jason how he handles the responsibility of this a multi-million dollar project. In his humble way, he said, “It requires patience.” He smiled before adding, “I take it a piece at a time.” He’s grateful that Chris remains available to him whenever he needs advice.

There isn’t another boat project waiting in the wings, but Jason’s not concerned. “There are only a handful of boat works on the West Coast and I’m one of them. I hope to be doing this for some time to come.

“The best thing about building this boat is watching it all come together. I can’t imagine what it’s going to feel like when I see it tied up in the harbor and from there going to the wild waters of Alaska.”

jasonsign

Jason’s rough sketch of what will become his permanent sign.

Update: I visited Noyo Boatworks about a month ago. Jason sent a photo of what the boat looks like now: jasonfinal

Colon-NO-oscopy

colon3

The receptionist looks like she’s ready to tell my friend—let’s call her Kate—some terrible, awful, apocalyptic news like her colonoscopy appointment has been canceled because the raging wildfires in Sonoma and Mendocino counties prevented the doctor, who lives in San Francisco, from driving to Fort Bragg.

Kate blurts out the “F” word—not because she’s upset with the bearer of the worst news she’s received in a long time, nor because the doctor wasn’t willing to risk his life to save her the horror of repeating the colon prep, but because yesterday she’d thought once or twice about contacting the hospital to verify her appointment. Her nutritionally deprived brain prevented her from following through.

She wants to collapse to her knees and scream, “Noooooooooooooo!” She wants to pound her forehead into the carpet until security arrives to escort her to the preemie ward where grandma types comfort fussy babies along with people whose colonoscopy appointments are cancelled at the last minute. A grandma will gather her into soft arms, rock her gently back and forth, pat her back and whisper, “Shhhhhh…at least you have good health insurance.”

The receptionist explains that because the local phone service is down, the hospital is unable to contact patients.

***

A few months previously, Kate showed true Big Girl Grit when she scheduled that appointment. Given she’d experienced two colonoscopies and knew the torture she’d be subjected to, this was a very brave thing indeed.

colon1If you’ve never had a colonoscopy, you may not understand why the term torture is associated with it. This applies to the day before. The patient is allowed to ingest only clear liquids, which by mid-morning sets off a primal alarm in the brain—the process of starving to death has begun. By mid-afternoon the brain partially shuts down and the patient wanders zombie-like through the rest of the day. She occasionally snaps into reality and tries to keep the whining under control by reviewing all the things she should be (but truly isn’t at that moment) grateful for: family, friends, shelter, blah-blah-blah, and good health insurance.

As the sun begins its descent into the Pacific Ocean, the day is finished off with a cocktail of Drano and Liquid Plummer disguised under the label “Suprep.” Kate refuses to detail what this does to the human body, and will only say that body must remain within sprinting distance of a toilet.

colon2 (2)After a fitful sleep, the following morning begins at four o’clock with another round of the cocktail. Kate wants to cry, but remembers there are a bunch of people in the world suffering a great deal more than her. She tries once again to concoct a gratitude list, but cannot think of a single thing.

At seven o’clock, debilitated and literally empty, she says to her husband—let’s call him Gary—and her dog—let’s call her Lucy—that the only thing keeping her going is the promise of drugs administered at the hospital. Not much of a drug user, Kate was pleasantly surprised by the gentle euphoria they provided on her two previous colonoscopy occasions. They nearly made the hours leading up to the procedure worth it.

Kate’s friend—let’s call her Marcia—picks her up at seven forty-five and listens to Kate pretend to put her misery into perspective in light of the devastating inland fires. Marcia escorts her into the hospital to get an estimated time of when to return.

***

Kate apologizes for saying the “F” word. The receptionist kindly says if she were in the same situation that is exactly the word she would choose.

As Marcia drives her to Homestyle Café for the best breakfast ever—two eggs, smashed fried potatoes and biscuits—Kate suspects the cancelation of her procedure is some kind of karmic due or payback for her sins. She’s not religious, but was raised by a former Catholic (once a Catholic, always a Catholic). Whenever something goes awry, she can never fully shake feelings of God’s retribution for her bad behavior.

Let’s see—what could it be this time? Her bossiness when working with a group? Her whininess when things don’t go her way? Her petty judgement of others? That the previous day she was dull to the pain of those who lost so much in the fires? Well now she’s simpatico with that pain. There you go karma or God. Point taken; you win.

Kate leaves breakfast expressing gratitude for solid food, family, friends, her dog, and good health insurance. The words ring hollow with the dread of having to go through the entire colon prep experience again—hopefully before the end of the year so she doesn’t have to pay a new deductible.

Marcia drops her off with a note of positivity: “Schedule it in December. You can give yourself a clean colon for Christmas!”

Megan Caron

meganheadshotIf you’re walking east along the 200 block of Redwood Avenue, you’ll notice a difference in the Larry Spring Museum. The storefront, once a bizarre display of things like rocks that resemble food—ham, peas, and yes, even cauliflower—has become more polished, evolving to reflect the unique man who created it.

meganstorePart of this renaissance is due to the opening of the vintage shop Lost Coast Found, housed in the same location and owned by Megan Caron—a homegrown girl who returned after living in Petaluma for 16 years. “When Larry died [in 2009], he left the building to Heather Brown, a well-known Canadian artist,” said Megan. “In exchange for reasonable rent, I help out with the museum.

“I’ve always loved rocks and all things wood and was in awe of this secret little museum full of rocks, wood, creativity and character. I was excited not only about finding a storefront, but also the prospect of helping the world meet Larry Spring. He was a proponent of solar energy back when the technology barely existed. My husband’s career has been in the solar industry.”

megan6When Megan speaks of something she’s passionate about—her store, the museum, kids spending too much time on screens, or the lack of housing on the coast—her hazel eyes blaze. She’s articulate and quick to laugh, flashing a sly look whenever she makes fun of something or herself. As I listen, I understand why Fort Bragg once had a hard time holding onto her intense energy.

On her father’s side, Megan hails from the Caron family. “My grandmother grew up in Finland and immigrated to Canada. Winnipeg was too cold for her. Like many Finns at the time, she ended up in Fort Bragg. In the late fifties, she started the first licensed beauty salon on the coast—Kirsty’s Kut and Kurl. She hoped I’d take over the business. I worked as a receptionist for a while, but I’m not good at making people look beautiful.” She laughed.

By 1993, Megan felt stifled by Fort Bragg and was eager to leave. “Imagine feeling stifled by beautiful redwood forests and the ocean.” She laughs. “I moved to Eureka and enrolled in classes at College of the Redwoods, but didn’t always attend. While working as a route driver for Figureidos, I spent most days driving around and admiring the old architecture.”

She returned briefly to Fort Bragg in 1994. “I worked as a front desk person at Vista Manor. I’d been cleaning rooms there during the summers since I was 14 years old. I had some friends who were moving to Chico and needed a roommate, so I moved and enrolled in Butte Community College. I took classes in interior design because it meant I could tour other people’s homes. I’ve always been interested in how people create their space. I spent a good portion of my childhood rearranging my room. My walls were giant collages of pictures and posters.”

In Chico, she worked as a caregiver. “One of my favorite clients was an elderly Texas Belle. Her bedroom was like a Hollywood set. Everything was red and gold—red velvet walls, gold furniture, gold bedspread, everything. She wanted to get rid of some ‘evidence’ before she died—massive amounts of lingerie she’d acquired over the years. She gave me garbage bags full to take to a thrift store.”

Megan was a kid, intimidated by the contents of the bags and the thought of delivering them. “I drove around for weeks with elderly contraband in the trunk of my car, hoping no one would find it.”

When she finally mustered the courage to enter a store with the donations, she spotted a jacket. “I thought it looked cool and bought it. That started my interest in vintage and collecting. From then on, I stopped going to new clothing stores. I don’t want to support industries that make inferior products overseas. Except for technology and a few other things, I rarely buy anything new.”

By 1997, Megan decided college wasn’t for her, moved back to the coast and the hospitality industry. Through friends, she met Ben Tuke who would eventually become her husband. “He grew up in Mendocino. Like me, he couldn’t wait to ‘get out of Dodge.’”

In 2000, tired of small town living and looking for adventure, 24-year old Megan and Ben tossed everything they owned into the back of Ben’s pickup and headed south. “As we approached Petaluma, Ben asked if I’d ever been there. I only knew it had an outlet mall. My requirement for where we lived was that the downtown have a bakery, record store, and bookstore. Petaluma had it all, including great architecture. We signed a lease on an apartment that day.”

Ben went to work for Sun Power Geothermal, a startup solar company. “We knew solar was the wave of the future. He started as an installer and worked his way up to quality manager.”

Megan got a job in the magazine department of Copperfield’s Books. “Growing up, my grandmother Julia Tidwell and my parents supplied me with books. My dad is a book collector and indulged me at bookstores. When I saw the help wanted ad for Copperfield’s, I ran down there with my non-impressive resume and got the job.” She later found out she was hired because they were impressed by her answer to the question of who are her favorite authors—Richard Brautigan and Tom Robbins.

meganfamilyOver the next 16 years, Megan and Ben settled into life in Petaluma. They bought a house and had two sons—Addison (9) and Arias (5). “As the boys grew older, I became uneasy about raising them in a suburban environment where there’s a disconnect with nature. I drove 15 minutes just to go to the park. I regularly took them to Fort Bragg where they could play in the forest and we could be at the beach within five minutes. They seemed happiest in the wild.

“In Petaluma, everything is neat and tidy. The downtown slowly became gentrified, pushing out the interesting eccentric folk and funky taquerias. It was harder for me to engage with people. How many nail salons and upscale restaurants can you have in one place? I yearned for the funky places where there are things that need to get done. In Fort Bragg, we have blemishes and unconventional people. I wanted to raise our boys here amongst the salt.”

Megan’s years of working in a bookstore gave her a good understanding of the many facets of retail—ordering merchandise, arranging floor space and in-store displays. “All six window displays had to be changed regularly. I was always thinking of themes and digging through basements, dumpsters and estate sales for props.” Copperfield’s customers often asked to buy items in the windows.

“For two years, Ben and I talked about moving back to Fort Bragg. I thought the town needed a vintage shop that sold useful as well as decorative items. After years of my picking and hunting, our garage was full and retail space became a must.”

megan5During that time, Megan looked for a storefront in Fort Bragg. In November 2016, she was walking by the Larry Spring Museum and saw a slip of paper with Heather Brown’s phone number written on it. “I called and within twenty minutes, I had the keys.”

Ben went to work for Nextracker, a solar tracking manufacturer, which enables him to work remotely. They sold their house in the spring of this year and bought a house in Fort Bragg. In June, Megan opened her store.

“I’ve met countless young people, some with young families and existing businesses who want to live here and invest in our community, but they can’t find a place to live. We need people to move here. There’s so much to be done and I feel we’re running out of people to do it. Without a push for housing projects, we will never have a sustainable economy.”

I’m grateful to Megan for returning with her family. She will use the energy that once drove her away to improve our community while preserving its charm.

***

Here’s a little preview of the Larry Spring Museum. Give it a visit. You’ll be glad you did.

larryspring

larryspring2

larryspring3



 

Mark Cimolino

mark1 (2)I’ve known Mark since he was a child, but don’t know him well. He had a good reputation, and I was always warmed by his delightful smile. Five years ago, when I heard he was hired to teach PE at Fort Bragg High School, I thought, “Oh, how nice—local boy goes away to gain education and experience and returns to share with his hometown.” Until I sat down to talk with him, I had no idea the deep level of dedication he brings to the youth of our community.

Mark grew up playing football and baseball, but he loves all sports. This makes him ideally suited to the many hats he wears at Fort Bragg High—PE teacher, athletic director and assistant football coach. “I’m so lucky to work in an environment where I can be myself, teach what I’m passionate about, and have fun.” The sparkle in his eyes grew brighter as he spoke. “I can’t believe I get paid for doing this.”

When this fourth generation Fort Bragg native graduated from high school in 2004, his present life was not on his radar. A star high school running back, Mark was recruited to play for Santa Rosa Junior College. A few years later, a shoulder injury permanently sidelined him. “Byron Craighead, the school’s head athletic trainer, taught me how to work as a student trainer with the baseball teams. I really liked it and started taking classes in kinesiology. I also took a couple of education classes, which sparked my interest in teaching.”

mark5Mark went on to San Diego State and got a degree in kinesiology with an emphasis in physical education. He wanted to stay in San Diego and earn his teaching credential, but it was expensive and he needed a job. Lars Larson, his friend and former counselor at Fort Bragg High, told him about a local long-term substitute position. Mark could live with his parents, save some money, and figure out his next step.

The position was with the Lighthouse School—an alternative education high school. “It was an amazing experience,” Mark said. “Claire Hundley, the teacher on leave, is remarkable. We were in touch every day through email. The classroom was a revolving door of students going in and out of juvie. Claire taught me important lessons—these kids need support, love and a safe environment where they feel a sense of belonging. She helped me find that special something in each kid. I loved the job.”

Mark was not immediately comfortable with the return to his hometown. “I’d been away six years, living in cities and said I’d never come back, but I eventually embraced it. The stillness, calmness, the air feels different here—all of this allows me to breathe. My years away made me appreciate this as a special spot. Community support for our kids is incredible. Students and teachers don’t have to deal with big city problems.” He smiles when he adds, “I can also walk to work.”

mark4In 2011, Mark applied for and got the PE position. During the school year, Mark’s workday begins at six-thirty and often doesn’t end until eight at night. “I was the assistant baseball coach for four years. After that, I began assisting with football. Three years ago, I became the Athletic Director.”

There are 24 sports teams at Fort Bragg High. Over half the student body plays a sport. Mark assists with scheduling games and gym practice times. He helps monitor players’ grades, acts as a liaison between the school and parents, and handles complaints.

Mark also participates in the Assets Program, which offers after school weight training sessions once a week. Six years ago, he started a lunchtime intermural sports program that rotates between dodge ball, tennis, badminton, basketball and indoor soccer.

During the summer, he supervises the high school football players who run football camps for second through eighth graders and their coaches. “The high school kids are in charge and it’s great to watch them interact with the younger kids.”

Mark admits that teaching PE is a challenge. “Most kids view it negatively. It’s my job to find ways to allow them to enjoy it. I believe it’s important to be physically active—it brings about body awareness and builds confidence. I tell kids that the key is to a find form of activity that suits them. I try to make PE fun. I adhere to the basic curriculum, but sometimes I shake it up and we do things like have water balloon fights. Other times we go outside and walk around. I especially like walking the zero period [early morning] class so we can watch the sunrise.”

Mark is grateful to those who mentored him when he was new to the job, especially Becky Walker. “She was the high school principal when I started and is now the district superintendent. She was also one of my sixth grade teachers. Her obvious love of her job inspires me. I appreciate being in a district where the administration has created a safe environment for kids to develop together.”

One student in particular made a lasting impact on Mark. “He graduated in 2015 and was diagnosed with cancer,” Mark said. “It just wasn’t right– he was the most polite, caring, respectful kid. I stayed in touch with him and did what I could to boost his spirits.”

His cancer grew and he became wheelchair bound. Mark sent him a badminton racquet. “I told him to keep fighting and when he beat this we would play badminton just like we used to. Throughout his sickness, he was always positive and cheerful.”

Two years later, out of the hospital and back in Fort Bragg, Mark visited this young man. “As I listened to how he had died twice and his mother saved him, how he almost lost his hand to an infection, about chemotherapy, and physical therapy, I was blown away by the fact he had a smile on his face and was interested in how I was doing.”

During this visit, he handed Mark a bag. “Inside were a San Francisco Giants hat and baseball, both signed by Buster Posey, one of my favorite players. He met a lot of professional athletes during his time in the hospital and remembered I liked the Giants. His selfless act of kindness melted my heart. Here was a kid fighting for his life, and he thought of others. He taught me that we can all make a difference by our positive interactions with one another. Even the smallest gesture can mean so much to a person.”

mark1This past summer, Mark married long-time girlfriend Jessica Alguinaldo. “We dated in high school. When I went away to college, she was starting her junior year, and it was hard to stay together. We broke up in 2005, but started dating again in 2010 when she graduated from Oregon State and moved back to Fort Bragg.” Jessica works as an audiologist for Audiology Associates. She runs their three offices—Mendocino, Santa Rosa and Mill Valley.

The one downside to their return is the lack of entertainment available for young people. “We have to be more proactive in seeking out things to do than when we lived in cities. Jessica and I have created a life that works for us. We hike, kayak, camp and hang out with friends. I don’t see us being as happy anywhere else.”

Our community is fortunate that Mark has brought his energy and passion home where he will have a positive impact on generations to come.

mark3