Colon-NO-oscopy

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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Serendipity to Soothe the Savage Beast

The day of our family reunion weekend begins two hours earlier than normal. By six o’clock, I’ve packed the car and herded my husband Gary and surrogate child Lucy-dog inside. We’re going to Tahoe for a family reunion. Gary has limited eyesight and mobility. He functions well around the house, but his issues become challenging whenever we take a trip. My mind whirls with logistics—buying supplies, packing the car, plotting stops that need to be made along the way, and helping him navigate unfamiliar territory. My efforts to make sure all goes well leave me exhausted and sometimes a bit cranky.

My goal is to cross the Central Valley before temperatures rise to the fires of hell and melt our delicate coastal bodies. Two hours later, Lucy starts whining. I stop at a gas station in Lake County. After several minutes of sniffing, she fails to go potty. As the temperature continues to rise, I give her water, silently scolding her for wasting our time.

An hour later, we stop in Williams where Lucy has a successful potty. She and Gary are enjoying the journey. I marvel (not in a good way) that it’s only nine o’clock and already 75 degrees. I get breakfast sandwiches and a call from our son Harrison. “Would you mind finding a CVS and picking up sunscreen and a hat for Kasi [our daughter-in-law]?”

Actually, I would mind. Very much. I’m fixated on getting my passengers to our destination with as few stops as possible. Running a spontaneous errand while they sit in a hot car is not on the schedule.

I sigh.

“I’ll text you the address of a CVS along the way.”

When it finally occurs to me to question why he can’t do this himself, I recall last year’s family reunion where the nearest shopping was 20 minutes away. I can possibly save him a 40-minute round trip.

This Mother Teresa moment is fleeting. Resentment reaches in and captures my mood.

As I push past the speed limit along Highway 20, my phone pings with a text. Moments later, Harrison calls. “I sent you the address of a CVS at the turn off you’ll take in Truckee. Could you also stop at the Save Mart there and pick up a red onion?”

“Sure,” I snap. The outside thermostat has climbed to 80 degrees.

“And some ketchup?”

I groan.

“Don’t be such a curmudgeon.”

“I’m worried about leaving Dad and Lucy in the car. It’s hot and going to be hotter by the time we get there.”

“We worked all day yesterday,” he says (having perfected the counter argument as a child), “went grocery shopping and didn’t get here until midnight.”

In the game of Who’s the Most Martyred, it’s a tie.

Three hours later, I pull off the freeway in Truckee, a town that, unlike me, is fond of roundabouts. May I make a recommendation to those who design GPS systems? Instead of programming the voice to say “Take the second exit at the roundabout,” have it say, “HERE! HERE! EXIT HERE, DAMMIT!!!”

After twirling through two traffic circles and failing to exit at the appropriate times, the GPS gives up and guides me through back streets into a small shopping center. It is now 90 degrees. I park in front of CVS and take Lucy for a potty around back among a patch of spindly fir trees near the loading bay. It irritates me that the only trees in the parking lot are where they’re not needed. I reposition the car under their skimpy shade.

Inside the store, sunscreen and cap in hand, I stand at the checkout counter while tourists in front of me engage in conversation with the cashier about how outsiders have driven up real estate prices, forcing most service workers to live in Reno. While I sympathize with cashier’s plight—my own tourist community suffers from the same socioeconomic discrepancies—I want to shout, “Hurry the hell up! A disabled man and dog are roasting to death in my car!”

I notice two additional texts sent by Harrison.

“Please pick up some mustard.”

“And some pickles.”

I want to hurt him.

I exit CVS and debate whether to dash into Save Mart which is only about 100-feet away. I worry a semi-truck might arrive to make a delivery and won’t be able to maneuver around my car. I picture a big rig trucker yelling at me.

I find Gary and Lucy quite content. I move the car to the blazing hot sun in front of Save Mart. My deodorant has failed. Sweat pastes my shirt to my back. I verbally review the shopping list.

“What kind of mustard?” Gary asks.

“I don’t know,” I moan.

“Get Guldens.” He smiles, happy to be helpful. “And Claussen pickles.”

Gary’s mom was an expert canner and made the best pickles around. As a result, he’s quite fussy about them. I, on the other hand, hate the things. I want to yell “What the hell difference does it make?”

I leave Gary and Lucy in the Easy Bake Honda. Entering the store, I recall the game show “Supermarket Sweep.” Filled with sweaty adrenalin, I’m certain I can record a personal best. I imagine emerging to find my car surrounded by an angry mob that has called the police to report elder and animal abuse.

I quickly locate all the items on the list except the pickles. I go to the dairy aisle (where they’re located in my local Safeway). No Claussen’s.

Time is ticking, the temperature rising. The angry mob is growing. I hate everyone and everything. I’ll go back to the condiment aisle and grab the first damned pickle jar I see.

Moving swiftly toward the back of the store, I nearly collide with a teenage employee. Mustering my last ounce of humanity, I politely ask if they carry Claussen pickles. He directs me to the meat department at the opposite end of the store. I turn and encounter the back of a generous head of black curly hair. I take two steps forward to see her profile.

“Elizabeth?” I say.

She looks at me without recognition. If my outside resembles my inside, I look like a thorny hag.

Elizabeth is the daughter of Sue, one of my most beloved clients who, three months shy of her eightieth birthday, died as a result of a tiny hole in her lung. When told she could survive by staying on oxygen and having caregivers, she chose to call her family to her hospital bedside. After an evening of visiting around wine and cheese, she said goodbye. By the next afternoon, she was dead. When we settled her estate, Elizabeth and I spent hours sharing stories of her mother.

I remember Sue’s smile—how it lit her face and made her eyes squint with delight. I felt comforted in her presence. Her life hadn’t been easy, but she graciously accepted whatever came her way.  I remember how much I appreciated her, and how glad I was to spend time with her equally gracious daughter.

“Kate,” I say.

I’m engulfed in a hug. We talk about how bizarre it is that we should encounter one another almost exactly two years after her mother’s death in a place Elizabeth resides but I have never been. I tell her how I think of Sue each time I walk or run the Glass Beach trail where her memorial bench overlooks the ocean.

My mood shifts. Sue would have accepted the flow of this trip, would not have tried to control every minute. Somehow she managed to lead me to this place despite my childish protests. It wasn’t easy, but did what it was intended to do—cause me to calm the hell down.

I leave Elizabeth with another hug and smile as I saunter to the meat department to find the pickles. It’s a joy to fulfill Gary’s gastronomic desire. I breeze through the express checkout line and out the door to the car where Gary and Lucy are panting, but not too uncomfortable. I start the engine, blast the air conditioning, and continue to our destination as I relate my encounter with Elizabeth. My burdens have been lifted. The desire to incite violence has evaporated. I can finally allow myself to feel the blessing of being able to spend three days with our wonderful family.

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Amberly Reynolds Caccamo

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Reynolds’ Men’s Wear on Franklin Street has been a fixture in this town since Amberly’s grandparents opened it in 1966. Before that, it had been a menswear store for nearly forty years, outfitting the workmen of our community. Her parents James and Ilah bought the store in 1971.

When her father decided to retire in 2007, Amberly, then 28, convinced him to sell her half interest, and let her run it. “It’s the only exclusively men’s store on the coast. In fact, men’s only clothing stores are rare throughout the world.” He tried to dissuade her. “He knew how hard it is to run a business. He wanted me to get a government job with a regular paycheck and pension,” she said with a laugh. “But the store had been in our family for 41 years. I’d worked with him since 2003. It was my love and I wanted to keep it going.”

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The timing of her takeover wasn’t ideal. In 2008, the economic crash began and accelerated in 2009. The Franklin Street renovation project happened in the summer of 2009, virtually closing down the street. “I was able to hang on because my dad owned the building and charged cheap rent.”

I suspect it was more than just cheap rent that allowed Amberly to hang on and thrive. Her quiet, soft-spoken demeanor belies an inner strength that is awe-inspiring.

***

Amberly graduated from Fort Bragg High School in 1997 and went to Sacramento Community College. She thought she might become a teacher. “I also worked at a Christian elementary school as an office lady. It was there I learned that I didn’t want to become a teacher.” She laughed. “It’s a really hard job.”

In 2001, she moved to Mount Tremper, New York. “My sister Karen lived there with her baby daughter. I took care of the baby during the day while she worked. I also worked the overnight shift at a 24-hour K-Mart. That was the coolest job I ever had. Not many people shop in the middle of the night, so I got a chance to visit with my co-workers and make lasting friendships.”

amberly&vinceA year later, she returned to her previous job in Sacramento. “In January 2003, I moved back to Fort Bragg. For a boy,” she added with a laugh. This boy was Vince Caccamo who she’d known from kindergarten, but lost touch with after high school. He’d graduated from UC Berkeley and returned to work in his dad’s construction business. “I was home for a visit in 2002 and ran into him at the Caspar Inn. I remember I was wearing jeans sprinkled with pink glitter.” She smiled at the memory.

amberlyreynoldsinteriorAfter she moved to Fort Bragg, she worked with her dad and found she really liked it. “My favorite time of year is prom when guys get fitted for tuxedos. There are so few chances for them to get dressed up, which makes this time of year so special.” While dating Vince, she took classes at the local College of the Redwoods campus. In 2005, she enrolled in Humboldt State. “I went to school during the week and came home on weekends to work. I finished my BA in Cultural Anthropology in three semesters.”

Amberly and Vince were married in June 2007. They had their first son Matteo in 2009. Two years later, George was born.

Her dad passed away in June 2009. “The building needed a foundation and the store needed freshening up. It hadn’t changed in years.” In November, she leased a building a few doors down, moved the store, and added women’s clothing. “I took out a three-year lease. The plan was to renovate the old building and move back. Instead, I started having babies and that plan was delayed four more years.”

amberlywrensIn February 2015, she decided to take Reynolds’ Men’s Wear back to its roots and spin off the women’s section into its own store across the street—Wren’s (a play on Women’s Reynolds). Then came the shock of her life—a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The new store opened in April. A week later, she discovered she was pregnant.

“I’d always wanted a girl and thought this could be our chance. But I had cancer and didn’t know what that meant for the pregnancy.” Chemotherapy treatments began during her second trimester. When asked how she coped with the rigors of cancer treatment combined with being pregnant, having two small children and running two businesses, she said, “I just got up each day and did the best I could.” It helped that both of her sisters work for her—Karen at Reynolds’ and Michelle at Wren’s.

Admitting she had cancer is not easy for Amberly who describes herself as an introvert and private person. “But it’s part of who I am, part of my story.” Baby Raphael was born on Thanksgiving Day 2016. “Even though we’re not very religious, we gave him a name that means ‘God’s Healer.’”

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Raphael

Eighteen months later, Amberly has recovered from cancer and learned how to live again. “I have a new outlook on work—why I do what I do. I do it for my family—they mean everything to me.”

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Matteo

Amberly notes many changes in Fort Bragg, mostly surrounding the economic shift from logging and fishing to tourism. “We carried the Ben Davis line of work clothes forever, but I recently closed my account with them. My customers no longer need those types of clothes. There are new people moving here with different ideas mixing with the good ol’ boys. As a fifth generation native, I understand and respect the good ol’ boys—those who never left the area. But I think it’s important to go away, gather new information and ideas, and bring them back home.”

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George

As with all change, she notes the good and the bad. “I like seeing downtown stores filling up. I’m part of the Downtown Watch group of business owners who meet once a month to talk about our businesses and promotion. Tourism is great, but hospitality and retail jobs don’t pay much. A lot of our future hinges on what happens to the G-P property. I’d like to see some type of industry that capitalizes on the ocean—like a research facility, aquarium, and marine life rescue center.”

The future is something she thinks about each day. “I plan on running these stores forever and making enough money to support my employees. I’m also working on a blog, the theme of which will be a play on the words Mom and Entrepreneur—Mom-preneur. It will focus on lifestyle or clothing.”

There’s no doubt that whatever challenges Amberly faces, she will conquer them and thrive.

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Gus Saldana

gus2At the age of 27, Gus is like a man from another era. He is extraordinarily polite, respectful, quietly self-confident, and a hard worker. In high school, he entertained the idea of going to college and majoring in marine biology. By his senior year, he realized this wasn’t his passion, and he didn’t want to waste money on an education he might never use. At the age of 18, he went to work for a building contractor. After two months, he was recruited by Williams Electric in Mendocino where he remained for nine years. “I learned to wire anything from a small shed to a smart home that can be controlled with a cell phone.” Through this experience, he discovered his true passion—electricity.

Late last year, his boss Rick Williams encouraged Gus to get his electrical contractor’s license. Rick was scaling back his business and wanted to refer his overflow to someone he could trust. Gus got his license and opened Saldana Power in January 2017.

gus3Gus’s work ethic is inherited from his parents. When he was a year old, they moved to Fort Bragg from Mexico to work in the fish processing industry. “This was in 1990 when fishing was booming,” he said. “My parents made minimum wage, but sometimes worked 40 to 50 hours of overtime a week. For a number of years, we lived in an apartment with another family while my parents saved enough money to buy a house.”

His father also spent weekends painting houses. “When I was in seventh grade, he hired me to help. I earned $400 that summer, and spent half of it on a drum set. My mom was furious with me.”

As I mother, I don’t blame her—a kid banging on drums is not a pleasant sound.

“It wasn’t that,” he laughed. “I played in the garage so it wouldn’t bother her. She was mad because she felt it was a waste of money.” He added with a grin, “I still have that drum set.”

Gus loves the freedom of owning a business. “Each day is different. I engage with clients, find out what they want, and give it to them. Some need a simple electrical repair, others need their entire house wired. I strive to do the best job I can. My reputation is all I have. From 2008, I’ve seen guys move here from cities and start businesses. One painting contractor managed to stay a couple of years before his poor reputation caught up with him and he had to leave. Word of shoddy work gets around in a small town and eventually nobody will hire you.”

Gus doesn’t regret not going to college. He’s managed to make a good living and buy a house. In addition, he’s been exposed to a wide variety of people that he would never otherwise have met.

“I’ve wired multi-million dollar homes. Some of them are peoples’ second or third homes. Over the last couple of years, one couple has invited my wife and me to dinner in San Francisco. Whenever they’re in Fort Bragg, they take us out to dinner. I’m grateful to be able to know these kinds of people.”

gusGus’s wife Sierra works for Harvest Market. They’ve been married five years. “I met her in 2011 when our local Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall needed a major renovation. Three hundred volunteers from throughout the state showed up and over the course of two weekends, we gutted the place and rebuilt it.” Sierra, who lived in Chico at the time, was one of those volunteers.

Gus was immediately attracted to her, but courting her presented a logistical problem—Chico is nearly four hours from Fort Bragg. “Shortly after we finished the Kingdom Hall, a couple of friends asked if I wanted to visit the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico. I called Sierra and asked her to lunch.” They started meeting once a month in Chico. “A couple months later, I told my dad I was going to marry this girl.” Almost exactly a year after meeting her—on September 15, 2012—they were married.

In 2015, they bought a house. Two years after that, he started his business. “I had to quickly learn of the financial aspects about owning a business.” He’s also trying to figure out how to hire employees. He’s considering his 20-year-old brother. “Before I do that, I have to learn how to treat him as an employee, not a sibling.”

Gus laments, “I’m looking for good employees and can’t find them. We’re living in an age where nobody wants to work.” While it may seem that Gus has a pretty sweet deal—owning a successful electrical contracting business at such a young age—he’s paid his dues over the past nine years. “I’ve crawled through mud under many houses. I used to be afraid of spiders, but I’ve had so many on my face that they don’t bother me anymore. I’ve run into skunks and raccoons, even found dead animals.” He was often the one called upon to go out in the middle of the night to fix a problem.

Helping customers design lighting for their homes is Gus’s favorite part of his job. “Lighting can affect someone’s mood. Sometimes an architect will design a house, but the lighting plans are vague. I love when that happens because I can sit down with a client and ask about their habits, what styles they like. When I shop for fixtures, I try to find the best deals.”

Gus notes both negative and positive changes in Fort Bragg over the years. “It used to be safer—more people lock their doors now. It’s also louder—there are more tourists. I don’t drive on Main Street during the summer. I try to shop local as much as possible, but there are fewer shops now.” On the positive side, “There are people moving here who want to build or remodel a home. I have clients who work for large companies that allow them to work remotely. They can live anywhere in the world and choose to live here.”

Gus is grateful to have found a career he enjoys. Given his work ethic and passion for what he does, there is no doubt his business will continue to grow and prosper. He is a true asset to our local community.

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Sarena Breed

sarena8When Sarena unlocked the doors to the Frame Mill Artworks on the morning of March 22, 2017, she excited and nervous. The previous owner Robyn Koski had helped make the transition as smooth as possible, but there was so much Sarena didn’t know, like the flow of the business or the nuances of her employees. Her nerves were further rattled when a supply truck pulled up to make a big delivery.

Up to now, Sarena had shied away from taking risks. For 10 years she worked nights at the Stanford Inn while her husband Sean Barrett worked days at Family Tree Service. This schedule made one of them available to care for their daughter Holiday. A few years ago, Sarena began to yearn for more. “I needed to create a different idea for how to do life, to find a career that feeds my soul. A friend asked what kind of role model I wanted to be for my daughter. I realized I want her to see me as a business owner.”

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Patricia Breed

Sarena channeled the courage of her foremothers to fulfill this vision. Her great-grandmother divorced her husband when such a thing was unthinkable and supported her family by running boardinghouses. Her paternal grandmother emigrated from the Philippines, worked at the post office, lived frugally, and put her money into San Francisco rental properties. Her maternal grandmother was a professional photographer and actress who also invested in real estate. Sarena’s mother Patricia Breed managed to become an artist and poet while raising six children over a span of 42 years.

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In 1985, Sarena’s family moved to Fort Bragg where she entered her senior year of high school. “It was uncommon for new families to come to the area, and I felt like an outsider. Before me, the newest kid in my class arrived in sixth grade. All the other kids had long established friendships. I couldn’t wait to finish high school and get out of here.” She left for college in 1986, and never dreamed she’d move back.

Sarena majored in studio art with a specialty in metal casting. After graduation, she stayed in Chico and spent 10 years working for a custom picture framing business and making her own art.

In 2002, she met future husband Sean at a party in Chico and reconnected with him a few weeks later. “He had no idea I was from Fort Bragg and out of the blue started talking about hosarena3w much he loved the area. I liked him, but wasn’t interested in a serious relationship. I was considering an MFA program at Mills College. Instead, I moved back to Fort Bragg in 2003 to live with my parents. I needed time to think about what I wanted to do with my life. Within six months, Sean also moved here and was hired by Western ACI as an arborist.”

One thing led to another—they got married and had daughter Holiday in 2006. “We lived in a cabin on my parents’ property. Holiday was able to run back and forth between the two houses. It was a very special time for her.” They eventually moved into their own home, but her parents remain a tremendous help with caring for their daughter.

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sarena4The Frame Mill had been on the market for a few years. Sarena’s background in framing allowed her to imagine buying it. She spoke to friends who own businesses and they assured her becoming a business owner was one of the best things they’d ever done. She looks back on this now and chuckles. “It’s like talking to parents when you’re considering having a child. They tell you how wonderful it is, but leave out the part about sleepless nights.”

In September 2016, she contacted the realtor. Six months later, she was the owner. “I’ve realized it’s not as easy as it looks from the outside. There’s the bookkeeping, ordering, making employee schedules, banking—I’d underestimated how much time all of this takes. I’m working seven days a week and thinking about it all the time, but slowly finding my rhythm.”

SarenaSarena is pleased to discover her business is part of a little neighborhood hub. “People bring in family photos and art projects. It’s fun to help design a way to display them. I’ve been warmly welcomed by the downtown business community.” She plans to evolve the Frame Mill Artworks into a maker’s space. “So few places make what they sell. I want to eventually create affordable art that people can buy to furnish their walls.” In the meantime, she’s learning how to merchandise the store with items that appeal to locals and tourists. “It’s hard because people have a variety of tastes, some very different from mine.”

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sarena10Returning to the town where she once felt like an outsider has been a positive experience for Sarena. “It used to be ‘What family are you from?’ Now many people live here who don’t have roots going back generations. New people are moving in and young ones are moving back, some bringing families with them. The more our town can do to be a place people are attracted to—like the opening of the coastline via the coastal trails—the more it will encourage young people to move here.”

Sarena is grateful to be able to use her creative energy to make a living. “In so many ways, this feels like a gift. Robyn spent decades building a great business that I could buy to fulfill the next logical step in my life.

”I’ve been evaluating what kind of business owner I want to be. The word that continues to come up is kindness. There’s a whole ripple effect to the smallest act of kindness. I strive to be the person who starts that ripple.”

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