Born In The Palace Hotel
by Robert Jancula, July 13, 2011
Clover never lived in Ukiah, but remarkable circumstances resulted in her life beginning and ending in Ukiah. It began in Ukiah because salesman Perry Young with his pregnant wife Claire drove here to attend a sales meeting. The drive from where the couple lived in Oakland proved too much for Claire; her baby arrived early and was delivered in their room at the Palace Hotel on State Street. Claire’s midwife’s name was Lavina so the child born on July 14th 1912, three months to the day after the Titanic went down in the North Sea, was given the name Clover Lavina Young.
Clover had a wonderful childhood on West Street in Oakland, the neighborhood being in better condition than it is today. In her youth she never returned to Ukiah but came as close as Fort Bragg where her uncle lived, and Healdsburg where she learned to swim at Camp Rose on the Russian River. A successful salesman, Perry was promoted and the family moved near Los Angeles into a luxurious new home in South Pasadena. Clover was enrolled in South Pasadena High School where she became a cheerleader and met boyfriend Jerry, a high school football star. Business was booming, as was the stock market where Perry invested all the family money. Claire and Perry were ‘well to do’ and their daughter Clover was happy and in love. The year was 1928.
Her happiness didn’t last long as soon Clover and Claire resided poor and alone in a one room flat above a liquor store. Perry had died of a ruptured aorta, broken hearted it was said because he had lost his money, his job, his home, everything. The crash of ‘29 and resulting Depression had wiped him out; but oddly with the recent end of Prohibition it was liquor that saved his widowed wife and daughter from abject poverty. It seems that regardless of tragedy, or perhaps because of it, people find money enough to buy alcohol, a reality that gave Claire and Clover work and place to live. They managed the liquor store below their room for the pathetic drunk who owned it. They survived. It was 1935.
Clover was rescued from her one-room liquor store existence by boyfriend Jerry, now working for his Uncle Fred in the oil business. Uncle Fred bought without really paying anything, so perhaps we should say ‘secured’ mineral rights from impoverished Depression-era farmers and sold the rights to speculators. Clover married Jerry and they set up housekeeping in the tent camps surrounding his client’s oil drilling operations. Initially Clover found the nomadic lifestyle exciting; but Jerry was always gone, no oil was found, and she became lonely and depressed. Uncle Fred considered Clover a threat and told Jerry to leave her. The couple divorced just before the business collapsed and Uncle Fred went to prison for fraud. Clover returned to Claire and the liquor store. She was penniless. It was 1940.
The War came and with it prosperity. Clover found work as a courier for the Navy. She was issued a motorcycle with a sidecar in order to deliver packages and classified dispatches from one base to another. No more a lowly liquor salesgirl, Clover was now a ‘top-secret’ courier for Uncle Sam, a wartime position of significance. With renewed self-respect and money to spend, she was happy again. Then Clover met Frank.
Frank was handsome, a great dancer, and enough of a ‘bad boy’ to be intriguing to women; also he would be around for a while. Soldiers were always passing through Los Angeles on their way overseas but Frank was different. Smart and shrewd, Frank knew that education was his ticket out of combat so it became the goal of his military career. It wasn’t that Frank was unpatriotic; he loved his country all right, he just didn’t want to have to die for it. So upon completing one series of classes, he enrolled in another and so on, which for Clover and Frank meant months of fun in Los Angeles.
By day, Clover motorcycled from one military instillation to another, sometimes with Frank along in the sidecar. Unauthorized riders were against regulations so when she approached a destination Clover would send Frank hiding in nearby tavern or bushes. By night, the couple would swing to the rhythm of the big bands. All the famous names played wartime Los Angeles, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and before them danced Clover and Frank. Sure enough, somewhere between the jitterbug and hiding Frank in the bushes, the couple fell in love.
Falling in love with Clover didn’t keep the Army from eventually sending Frank off to guard the Panama Canal as a radar operator. The Canal was vital to the war effort, and someone had to guard it, so Frank was happy to receive this important yet safe assignment. Soon however, Frank became bored with radar duty. Luckily he had another talent, one that served well when the station was out of beer. Apparently, American servicemen in the tropics didn’t function well without beer; so savvy Frank was called upon to exchange with local merchants nonessential military items such as food rations and surplus gear, for the essential therapeutic beverage. This job he did so well that he was relieved of radar service and put into management at the Post Exchange. For decades afterwards Clover joked that after extensive military training Frank had spent the War passing out beer, a duty that made him the most popular G.I. in Panama.
At war’s end Frank was discharged. Clover loved being a California girl so Frank had to drag her back with him to the rural steel town in Western Pennsylvania where his old job waited. They married and settled down to raise a family on Primrose Lane, a lazy street surrounded by lush forested hillsides and teeming with fresh-faced baby boom kids. “Life’s a holiday on Primrose Lane” goes the old song by Jerry Wallace, and so it went for Clover and Frank, with son Richard being born in 1946 and son Robert in 1952. Though Clover remained homesick, the kids, school, church, PTA, bingo, card club, Tupperware parties, and all her chatty girlfriends kept her from pining away for long lost California.
Overall, Clover found life pleasant in Pennsylvania. The couple regularly danced at the Elks, the Lions, the VFW, and other local clubs. Clover also became an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan, yelling at the players on TV just as her husband and the boys did. Frank retired in 1978 and the couple joined other elderly snowbirds on the annual east coast winter migration to Florida. To Clover wintering in Florida was a poor substitute for a life in California, but at least she was able to avoid the snow. The kids of course had grown up and moved away. The smart one — Richard — a high school honor student, captain of the debate and chess clubs, altar boy, choir boy, and more, graduated with a Masters from Penn State, married Jane, moved to central Pennsylvania, and had a brilliant son of his own. The funny one — Bobby — adventurous and not much interested in academics, shocked his parents by dropping out of college and hitchhiking cross-country to become a hippy in San Francisco. Then having failed as a hippy, he took to being Hindu, and flew off to India. Finally, after a 12-year worldwide spiritual odyssey Bobby settled in San Francisco, started a business, and married Lydia while also inheriting a lovely talented stepdaughter. Clover was now a swing dancing, football watching grandma.
Contrary to the lyrics of the song life on Primrose Lane was not always a holiday. Over the years Frank had some trouble with alcohol, Clover with anxiety, and Bobby lived too far away and didn’t call enough. Tragically, in 1983 Richard was diagnosed with cancer and passed away. Usually nature arranges that parents die before their children, the reverse being too painful for a mother to bear. But bear it she did, and Clover and Frank went on to become old, quite old, and generally satisfied. Frank died in 2005 of a sudden heart attack while watching the Steelers clinch the playoff game that would propel them to become the next Super Bowl Champs. It was the perfect ‘kick off’ for a dedicated football fan. He was 90 years old. Clover and Frank had been together for 61 years.
At Frank’s death Bobby came for Clover. Amazingly, he and Lydia had just moved from San Francisco to become Innkeepers in the Anderson Valley, just nineteen miles from Clover’s birthplace in Ukiah. Clover returned to California unsteady on her feet, mostly blind, and partially deaf, but still quite perky for her age of 93. Holding fast to Bobby’s arm she scurried along to Anderson Valley restaurants, and eyeball close to the TV screen she watched her beloved Steelers win Super Bowl titles in 2006 and 2009. Being nearby she naturally wanted to see the Palace Hotel to visit a guestroom, to stroll about the lounge, to sit at the bar, and to relive memories related to her by her parents. All that was not to be, as the once grand hotel had closed in the 1980s and was now boarded up and deteriorating.
Clover’s time came on December 27th, 2009. Her body was spent, but still vibrant within her was the carefree child of Oakland, the thrilled cheerleader of South Pasadena, the struggling liquor salesgirl, the tragic oil field divorcee, the ‘top-secret’ motorcycle courier, the joyful swing dancer, the enthusiastic football fan, the hopeful wife, mother, grandmother, and all that she had been in her 97½ years. Ironically, though she never lived in Ukiah, and had spent most of her days far from California, she passed away at Ukiah Valley Medical Center, just a few blocks from where she was born. Her life with all its triumph and tragedy had come full circle.
Clover asked not to be laid to rest beside Frank in Pennsylvania. She said that she had spent enough time with Frank, had loved him and given him the best of her years. Instead, she wanted her ashes scattered on Northern California’s wild coastal wind. After all, at heart she had always been a California girl; not only that, she was a California girl with the distinction of being born in the celebrated Palace Hotel of Ukiah. In the entire world, what other girl can say that? ¥¥
Robert Jancula is the owner of the Anderson Valley Inn in Philo.