Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Barbara Lamb

by Steve Sparks, September 9, 2009

I met with Barbara Lamb a few days ago and we sat down to chat at one of the tables outside The Knitted Brow in downtown Boonville.

Barbara was born in 1932 in Los Angeles, middle daughter to Frank and Marguerite Toal of German Irish descent. Frank was a Vice President at Farmer's Insurance. “He left two important legacies in that he founded the Driver Training Course at LA High School. I was driving at 13 and had a Junior License at 14. And he introduced for the first time in the industry, the differential rates of insurance depending on your circumstances and risk factor. Prior to this everyone paid the same. This came back to haunt me when in later life my rates went up as it was shown that a divorced mother was more likely to be in a car accident in the year following her divorce. 'Thanks, Dad!'

“My father was loving but very strict while my mother was quite emotionally detached from us. They were very principled but were what you would call functioning alcoholics, drinking a lot every evening and on weekends, while carrying on a normal life the rest of the time. We lived in a classic California bungalow in a nice middle class neighborhood. My Mother did lots of volunteer work. I would often go with her on her runs for the Red Cross, delivering coffee and doughnuts to USO canteens where soldiers could hang out while on leave during WWII.”

Barbara attended the well-regarded LA High School where her ability to learn quickly led to much academic success. She was also very social and became involved in student politics, becoming Girls Vice-President at both Junior High and High school, the highest position available to girls. She and her older sister were very close, being just 16 months apart in age, and they spent a lot of time together. “We even took the bus to downtown Los Angeles for swimming lessons when we were Brownies. We'd go off alone to Santa Monica Beach on the electric bus, to Venice Beach, all sorts of places. Kids could do that in those days. I was a tomboy and a little reckless. You could often find me up a tree or on a roof or playing kick the can in the street.”

She graduated high school in 1950 and went to UC Santa Barbara to study psychology. “I went to a Psych club picnic and thought those students were weird so I switched to Sociology but eventually majored in both Psych and Soc with a minor in Anthropology. I had a wild time at college having been strictly controlled at home, until my parents got drunk, that is. I smoked and drank a lot and was even kicked out of my boarding house in the first year when I came in late and the landlady said I smelled like a brewery. However I was a Pi Beta Phi pledge and was moved into the sorority house even though I was not an 'active' member, just a pledge. That was unusual. I was very social and, being 6 feet tall would be the one sent to the liquor store for beer with a false ID that said I was 26! We usually hung out with fraternity boys, and had ‘joints’ where a fraternity and sorority would get a keg or so and go to a park and drink beer. However, I never really followed rules I thought were stupid and would go out with whoever I wanted to, and even dated an older intellectual guy. This actually worked out well as I calmed down a little after a wild couple of years during which my grades slipped below a C and I was 'campused' — had to be in by 10pm. He helped me get back on track.”

During these years Barbara was entered in the Miss Santa Barbara contest and reached the finals where she had to sing while accompanied by a pianist. Her original accompanist could not make the final and the stand-in was a jazz pianist. “It was awful. He wandered all over the melody and I got nervous and got off key and lost. However I did marry the guy! That was just a week after graduation in June 1954. I was sort of talked into it. I had been planning to marry a local boy whose National Guard unit was activated and he was sent to Okinawa. I had to write him a Dear John letter. My new husband, Kirk Lamb, a music major, was a very good salesman and could be very persuasive.”

Barbara's parents had always pushed her towards the well-trodden path of marriage and then kids immediately after. “But, one of my professors talked me into going to the brand new Psychology graduate school at UCSB, so I did.” She and Kirk decided to have a child, and in October, 1955 their first son was born.” With not much work available for Kirk in Santa Barbara, they moved to South Pasadena and a little later to Altadena where, with some money from her parents, they built a house. Over the next seven years Barbara was a housewife and had three more children, two girls (in 1957 and '59) and a boy (1961). “I had decided many years earlier to have four kids, two girls and two boys, each two years apart. It worked out that way. There were no classes or support groups in those days and I had read an article in Life magazine about Natural Childbirth. I said 'That is what I am going to do and I did, all four times. I was not anaesthetized and looked in a mirror to see this incredibly miraculous thing happening. I breast fed all my babies, not common in those days. I remember breast-feeding one of the kids and my mother said, 'How long is that little leach going to be on there?' I have never forgotten that. She had gone into severe post-partum depression after my younger sister was born. These days it would be fixed with medications, back then it was electric shock therapy. We had two wonderful women; both named Marie, who stayed with us while Mother was gone. The shock therapy damaged Mother. It made her emotionally unavailable. She was not loving at all. I remember only one time that she said she loved me. I was playing guitar and singing and she told my aunt sitting next to her, both of them drunk, 'See, that's why I love my daughter.' Not exactly unconditional love.”

In the early 60s the family moved to a five-bedroom house in Pasadena. “It was November 1963 and JFK was assassinated two days before we were supposed to move. Everyone was in shock. We were in a kind of stupor and had to put the move off for a several days 'till we recovered. That event was a rude awakening for me. I questioned a lot of things for the first time and realized that things were not as wonderful after all.”

With their children entering school Kirk and Barbara's social life was quite busy with lots of activities. “We played Bridge and had dinners and I still saw a lot of my sorority sisters. Kirk had a job in insurance and became a member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club. I became the PTA President and started the Pasadena Association for the Gifted that put on programs outside school for the more advanced children. I also worked on getting progressive people elected to the School Board. Kirk was a businessman and we had a very active social life with lots of perks. It was during this time that I became very involved with the health food movement that was just starting. We were very aware of a non-toxic lifestyle and were known as 'Health Nuts,' today's Organic Food Advocates. I made my own bread, yogurt, and granola and became involved with the American Nutrition Society. I had never been a stay-at-home Mom watching television. I attended study groups and organic food cooking classes. I eventually became a VP in the Nutrition Society and met many very influential people in that field. Meanwhile, those were exciting days running all over to various school events and then I also found time to be a model for Clairol which involved doing Hair Shows and ramp modeling in high-end department stores, wearing clothes that matched my 'champagne beige' hair color.”

Barbara finally decided to use her qualifications when she was offered the chance to work at Pasadena City College, working evenings in their Psychological Services and Testing Department. “When my kids were all in school, I worked as a School Psychologist in elementary schools, doing case studies for kids with behavioral and academic problems. I loved it. I had found my career although I was just part-time for several years until my divorce, after which I worked full-time. I found my work very rewarding.”

She also studied under Dr. Thomas Gordon who had started teaching the techniques of active listening and problem solving in a program called Parent Effectiveness Training. She was soon teaching these classes herself and even using tapes of her own interaction with her kids, notably 'the Bonnie tape' that has been used by many teachers over the years.

Kirk went into the family’s funeral home business run by his parents. “Now there's a story! Some years later his sister and her husband bought the family out and ran Lamb Funeral Home and Ambulance Service into the ground. In the 90's they were involved in a huge scandal with accusations, trials, and ultimately prison sentences for the Sconces for everything from grave robbing (gold teeth) to mass cremations, to the sale of body parts!”

Over time Barbara tired of all the social activities and feeling all too often like a trophy wife, being pretty on her husband's arm. “My parents had always encouraged me to be the classic 'woman behind the man behind the desk'. I was not that person and had been self-analytical and introspective since a child and this was coming to a head. Kirk and I were good at socializing but it was no longer enjoyable. I came to realize that something needed to be fixed in my life and I entered group therapy.”

Kirk wanted no part of this and despite telling him that she did not feel loved and, with his absence from the parental effectiveness work and sharing of feelings that Barbara wanted to do, they drifted apart. “His ethical and moral behavior was very different from mine. He wanted his perfect little wife and I wasn't into being that any more. I never was, to be honest, but I allowed him to talk me into it for many years. He didn't think he'd lose me but he did. He moved out and we were divorced in 1972 with the kids 10, 12, 14, and 16.”

Through a mutual friend, Barbara met and started dating Bill Meredith and began what she refers to as her 'fake hippy' period. She was a follower of many of the beliefs contained in the late 60's/early70's counterculture but she had a big house, income from other rentals, a job with the school district as a psychologist, and sang in the William Hall Choral Group that toured Europe during her summer vacation. During the 80s she also became very interested in photography — landscape, people, experimental — and won awards for her work at Pasadena City College. “Those were very busy times as a single mother, dealing with the many difficulties of having teenage kids, while trying to be a good partner, a reliable employee, and trying to enjoy my hobbies.”

She worked in various school districts and her reputation grew. She lived with Bill for five and a half years and a further four or more “kind of” after he moved to Hawaii. “Our relationship was a series of 'heavens and hells', both of us being Scorpios. Later, I dated a 'primal scream' psychiatrist from Canada and went to Toronto several times. Through the years, I've had had many less serious relationships. Having found it so hard to get out of marriage in the first place it has been easier to not get in again.”

While she was still married to Kirk, they started going camping, and on one of their trips they discovered Anderson Valley. “We rented a trailer and went off on a three-week trip up to Northern California, stopping at various State Parks on the way. We spent one night in Clearlake, which was terrible and then found ourselves in Cloverdale and heading west on Hwy 128. We arrived in Anderson valley and it seemed like heaven. Apples, pears, Gowan's Tree Stand, and wonderful scenery. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. As a southern California girl I had never seen such greenery and water. I loved it and we came back another time a couple of years later and I thought then that I'd like to live here. I came back alone in 1975, driving my '74 BMW with a sunroof, and drove around looking for property but there was none to be had. I stayed at the former Hopland Motel and was advised to go to The Oaks Café in Yorkville and just talk to some locals there. I did and Eric Miller figured I was 'cool' so he called a realtor who had said just the previous day to me that there was nothing available and suddenly there was! I bought 160 acres on the Hulbert Ranch in the Yorkville hills opposite the Post Office.”

For many years Barbara visited the Valley on weekends and during school holidays in the summer. Her oldest son, then called Randy, moved to the property and built a shack, living a real back-to-the-land lifestyle. Then Reggie Thatcher and Abbey Markson came to live on my land and watch over it while I wasn't there. In 1980, the beginning of a home was built by Wayne Aiello, Captain Rainbow, Aussie Jack, and a lot of other local folks. “It was a series of small steps before I finally moved full-time here in 1996. It had been a rough few years down south with my teen-agers, drugs and alcohol taking their toll on family life. I had many painful years, particularly with my youngest son who became addicted to cocaine and vodka. Our home in Pasadena had been a sort of open house to my kids' friends before I finally sold it in 1996 following an intervention for my youngest that worked very well thanks to the thirty or so relatives and friends who took part and AA. I realized that I was a co-dependent and went through the program. It's in the genes, German and Irish, and these days there are still issues, now with my eldest who is an alcoholic in France. Nevertheless, I have eight wonderful grandkids and try to stay close to them all, even though it means periodically going to France to see four of them.”

Since moving to the Valley full-time, Barbara has been involved in many community events but has perhaps done most with her work at the local public radio station, KZYX&Z. Originally she helped with the fund-raising but eventually went on the air as a programmer on 'Two Girls On The World' (with Clarissa Schaeffer) and later with her show 'After Midnight' and these days 'A Joyful Noise' from 10pm to midnight on the 1st and 3rd Sundays, in which she plays gospel music. She is also involved with the AV Community Chorus, is often in the Variety Show, and has appeared in the last two plays performed by the AV Theatre Guild. “I have always been a ham and loved doing skits at school and college. I love to sing too, harmonies mostly, with my alto singing voice.”

In 2008 Barbara “caught a little case” of breast cancer. “It is odd that with my emphasis on healthy diets for so many years that this should happen. I have had three surgeries so far but hopefully that will be it. There was lots of pesticide spraying to get rid of the Mediterranean fruit fly that was damaging agriculture in the Los Angeles area in the eighties and I know we were affected. Thousands of people were. I started the Coalition against Malathion, which was the stuff they sprayed. Eventually the practice stopped but it was done in suburban areas for a whole year. Who knows?”

I asked Barbara for her opinions about a few Valley issues.

The wineries? “Like many others I have no problem with the locally owned wineries but the big outsider-owned vineyards have to stop at some point. Their 'rape, scrape, and grape' of the Valley has been terrible and sickening to watch happen.”

The AVA newspaper? “I have always bought it since arriving here,” although on some occasions she has been aghast at what has been written and that sometimes incorrectly reported things appear. “However, there are lots of plus points and it is far less toxic than it was. I have no problem with the cutting comments and wry remarks. Bruce is a very good writer and I am glad he is back. It is far more interesting than when he went away for a time.”

KZYX&Z? “I love it! I was so stoked when it started and am overjoyed to be a part of it. I think it is very important for the community and we need to support it. It helps the community in many ways, whether giving reports on fires to finding someone's lost dog. Sure it could be better, but so many things could. If you don't like it, don't bitch about it, do something helpful.”

I posed a few questions to Barbara from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture Expert, Bernard Pivot, featured on television's “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton.”

Favorite word or phrase? “I can do that.”

Least favorite word or phrase? “You're an idiot.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? “Love is something that excites me creatively and emotionally. As for spiritually, then the beauty of nature, the trees particularly, music and art.”

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? “Being in public and seeing parents berating their children. It is very damaging to the kids. There is a right way to speak to kids. It is neither being too soft or harsh on them. It is somewhere in the middle. Like many things in our world today the gray areas are disappearing as it is becoming just black or white. That is not good.”

Sound or noise you love? “Music and the sounds of nature, birds, creeks, cats purring and even 'talking' in some cases!”

Sound or noise you hate? “Boom boxes. It's so rude of people to think their choice of music can be blasted at you.”

Favorite curse word? “Oh, shit!”

Favorite hobby? “Knitting, gardening, singing, acting. Certainly not housecleaning!”

Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt? “An actress. After many years of therapy and workshops I realized that I could delve deep inside myself and learn to make peace with my 'dark side.' At a certain point, I knew I could either be a therapist with adults or an actor. I decided to do individual therapy rather than turn to acting. You need to learn to accept and be at peace with all your disowned selves to do either profession. So now I'm into acting. I love it.”

Profession you’d not like to do? “Any job on an assembly line. I'm a people person.”

Happiest day or event in your life? “The births of my children.”

Saddest? “The death of my parents, my father in 1960 and my mother in 1974. The problems of my youngest son for so many years.”

Favorite thing about yourself, physically/mentally/spiritually? “That I can put my lipstick on without looking, which I just did. That I have been blessed with a good brain and a fairly strong healthy body. I have had many 'heavens' with a few 'hells' and I believe that has made me 'fully human'.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “My mother had many little phrases of advice and one was that I should try to see to it that when I die I have made a little difference on this planet, somehow. So it would be nice to hear, 'Hi, glad to see you Barbara. You made a difference.' ”

To read the stories of other Valley Folk visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com. Next week’s guest interviewee will be Mary O’Brien, Junior High School Teacher.

2 Responses to Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Barbara Lamb

  1. John Davies Reply

    March 3, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Hello,
    I discovered your interview article with Barbara Lamb accidentally while researching something else about Pasadena (my home town). Very interesting. Her youngest son, Ricky, was my best friend for a number of years growing up, infact our family vacationed in San Filipe with the Lambs prior to their separation. I have many memories of the Lambs home in pasadena, all the kids and the bus in the back yard! so, for what its worth, I thought Id contact you and feel free to forward my information to Barbara (we knew her as Bobbi!) Lamb.
    John Mills Davies ASID CGBP
    3076 Thorn Street
    San Diego, CA 92104
    archndesign@cox.net

  2. Turkey Vulture Reply

    March 3, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    My wife and Barbara are in a play together for the A.V. Theatre Guild. They rehearse on Monday evenings at this point so I/we shall pass on your information at that time… Thanks for your comments… Best wishes, Steve Sparks…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *