Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Gloria Abbott
by Steve Sparks, December 2, 2009
Gloria and I sat down to talk at The Senior Center a couple of weeks ago and, like many of her generation, she was very surprised that anyone would be interested in her story. She is very modest and polite and has no pretension whatsoever. Having assured her that everyone has a tale to tell and that the stories and insights, no matter how inconsequential they may seem at times, which these interviews provide about all sorts of people, are a source of oral history that is of interest to many.
She was born, Gloria Ornbaun, in Schellville, California, (Sonoma County) in 1932 to parents Grant Ornbaun and Elsie Larsen. Her paternal great grandfather, John Shipley Ornbaun, the youngest of fifteen, had come to this country from Germany and moved to the Valley around the turn of the century, discovering the Ornbaun Valley off Fish Rock Road between Yorkville and Boonville. He married Lucy Ann McGimsey, who was from one of the very early Valley families and they founded the Ornbaun Springs Hotel in 1910 “She had 15 kids and then became a mid-wife herself!” Gloria’s grandfather, Horace Ornbaun, one of the 15, married Meda Hale and they had four children, her father Grant, the oldest, being born on the Ornbaun Ranch, known as the Mailliard Ranch from when it was sold to that family in the 1930s. “It was a hunting lodge and even had its own cemetery where all the Ornbauns can be buried if the family wishes. This was provided for in the sale.” Gloria knows less about her maternal side other than that they had come over from Denmark in the early 1900s and settled in Cloverdale.
The family moved into the town of Boonville in 1936 and Gloria has seldom left since. She attended the Elementary School inside the same building, now called The Veterans’ Building, at which she know works as custodian for the Senior Center. She was there from 1st-6th grade before going to the little red schoolhouse, now the AV Museum, for her junior high years and then to high school in the building alongside what is now the Elementary School. “I like to read but didn’t really enjoy school. Some of the kids in my class were Wes Snoot, Marianne Mackerbie, and Tom Burger. We lived just out of Boonville on Hwy 253, just past where the Brewery is now. I still live there. In those days the creeks were high and the woods and fields unspoiled. We spent most of our time outside. My Dad worked for a sheep rancher up on Hwy 253, just past Soda Creek. The house on the left there. It was called the Singley Ranch and there were thousands of sheep up there, as there was all over the Valley. During World War 2, work dried up around here so we all had to pick apples, the whole family. There were orchards everywhere then of course. No logging or vines at that time. My Grandmother, my mother’s mother, was an invalid and one of us was always at home taking care of her. It was either me, my older sister or my younger brother who did that.”
In 1948, during her sophomore year at high school, Gloria, who had always been a very sensible and well-behaved child, met a young man, Andrew ‘Bud’ Abbot who had moved here, along with many others from Arkansas and Oklahoma, to work in the woods. Bud was seven years older than Gloria but they fell in love and she suddenly decided she’d had enough of school and they eloped to Reno and got married. She was 16. “I was never a reckless child and my parents were not happy, certainly. It just felt right though. We were together for over forty years until he passed so I guess it was.”
Bud had come from Hot Springs, Arkansas, and had been in the Valley for a year or so before the logging boom began in earnest, and had worked in various jobs with his brother, “At first he got a job at the sawmill on Mountain View Road, opposite where the airport is now, and then he went into the woods where he was a choke setter and then he became a cat-skinner, driving a bulldozer moving the big logs to the landings to be taken away. Over the next few years the Valley just exploded. There were lots of jobs, a lot of people moved here, and many of them made a lot of money I’m sure. Bud and I lived in a little house on the family property, across from what is now Eva Johnson’s house. She was one year behind me at school.”
Gloria and Bud had three children, a daughter Shirley, who was to marry Harold Hulbert, and live in the big white house on the property, and two sons, Gary, who lives in Boonville with wife Linda, and Andy who lives with Gloria, now that he is divorced. They all went through the Anderson Valley School System. “I have seven grandkids and quite a lot of great grandkids. I’d have to sit down and study to come up with all their names. The oldest grandson just came back from Iraq — Steven Alvarez. He now has a really good job with Lockheed. We have a family reunion quite often, every couple of years or so, and I was close to my cousins on my mother’s side when we were growing up. I really didn’t go out much or travel around. If I wasn’t raising the kids I was looking after my grandmother, who was a complete invalid for most of her life. Then my mother also needed care in her later years. Sometimes the family would go to the Coast, particularly Albion, and enjoy camping and fishing trips. That was when you could go anywhere it seemed. But overall I didn’t do much socializing and didn’t go to many places. We rarely went out of Boonville and I didn’t even know many people at the other end of town. I guess I’ve had a dull life to some. I was a housekeeper, wife, and mother. That was it. I never had a real flourishing social life,” she added with a laugh.
Despite this, Gloria and Bud did have friends they would socialize with on occasion. Their favorite place was The Last Resort bar/restaurant in Philo. “We’d go there with his friends from Arkansas, his cousin Clarence Woods and his wife Marcy, and Claude and Lucille Blake, We also would sometimes go to The Boonville Lodge or The Track Inn, and Weiss’s Res¬taurant which was a nice place here in Boonville. The Lodge was a rough place but Bud would like to go there for a beer or two with his friends. When the Arkies first arrived in town the old-time locals would razz them and people would go and be entertained by the fighting between the two groups. That was when the name ‘Bucket of Blood’ came about. Although some families had moved here it was mainly lots of young guys in town, all full of the devil, and the ‘entertainment’ they gave was often better than a movie in Ukiah!”
Bud became ill with cancer and in 1989, during his second set of chemotherapy treatments, he caught an infection and died at the age of 64. “It was a shock; it did happen very quickly. Then an opportunity came up at the Senior Center as a janitor in the Veterans’ Building so I applied for it and got the job. My life had been so dull before then that when I first went I hardly knew anyone there. Soon afterwards the Center was given a salad bar and I began to work that for all the various events we have here. The salad bar has been my thing for years. Then I always do the dishes and clean up, of course. It has become my social life too and I have a wonderful time here, both working and being among all the other wonderful people.”
Throughout the marriage, Gloria and Bud would travel back to Arkansas regularly to see his family and friends there but it was not until Bud passed away, 20 years ago, that she really began to travel all over the country with daughter Shirley and daughter-in-law, Sharon. “We go on trips to all kinds of places and always stay busy on our visits. My favorite is Branson, Missouri, where we’ve been about four times now. It’s a country music festival and they have Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede too. There are livestock shows, covered wagon parades, and a buggy show. There are lots of finger foods and we have a great time. If you like to see young people singing and dancing, good comics too, then you should go to Branson. We normally go everywhere by train, which adds to the trip. Then last year they got me on a plane for the first time in my life when we went to Kansas City. We’ve also been to Washington State, New York, Washington D.C., and then New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. My grandson lives there. We are deciding between the Carolinas or the upper mid-west — Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota — for next year. The plan is to go to every State. We raise money from our concession stands at various Valley events such as The Wildflower Show, The Holiday Bazaar, etc., where we sell sandwiches, desserts, soup and lasagna in the winter, and of course, cookies and coffee. They are a big seller. We save as much as we can and that pays for our trips.”
I wondered if Gloria had ever traveled outside the country. “Ooh, no, I would never do that. No, and I definitely wouldn’t fly outside the country. Unless I had to get dental work, then I’d go to Mexico maybe. A lot of people in Boonville do that. There is a place there that is just doctors and dentists and it costs very little compared to what you pay here. Even after the plane fare you are still way ahead. I did cross the border once from San Diego. It was very scary and the bus driver made it worse, saying that we should make sure all our papers were in order. Two people were taken off the bus and were not with us when we came back over the border. I won’t go again. I’m not going to worry about that.”
I asked Gloria for some of her responses to various issues that constantly seem to come up in and around the Valley.
The wineries? “I don’t like wine. How’s that? I guess they are good for the Valley in some ways but taking all the water is not good. I saw all the sawmills come and go and a lot of people made money and now it’s all gone. The wineries may have a longer life than them though.”
The local radio station? “I don’t really listen to the radio very often. I watch television mostly. I like my soap operas in the daytime and programs like ‘Survivor’ and ‘Amazing Race’ at night. My son Andy lives with me, as does my grandson Jason. We all have our own rooms and there is a television in each so most times it is ok.”
The AVA? “I read it nearly every week. It is right where I can’t miss it when I go to the store. I like it and I know I’m not the only one. Jim Dunn reads my copy every time I have one!”
Tourism in the Valley? “Again I guess it helps the Valley if they stop and spend some money. It gets a little out of hand in the summer sometimes though, but I guess we have roads and they should be used.”
I posed a few questions 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? “Oh, shoot.”
Least favorite word or phrase? “I don’t really talk to too many people so I don’t have a word that is used enough to annoy me.”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? “Coming here to the Senior Center. I like it as much as ever. I also like to walk the dog, Mattie, in the mornings.”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? “When my grandson changes my television station without asking.”
Sound or noise you love? “I like to hear kids playing and the noises my great grandkids make.”
Sound or noise you hate? “Nails scratching on a something.”
What is your favorite curse word? “Oh, shoot. I guess my favorite word is my favorite bad word too.”
A film/song/book that has greatly influenced you? “I like to read the books by Sylvia Brown. They make me think. She is a psychic and I went to hear her talk in San Francisco. I like many country music songs but can’t remember which ones they are unless I hear them.”
Favorite hobby? “Doing puzzles.”
Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt? “A hairdresser. If I had not got married that’s probably what I would have done.”
Profession you’d not like to do? “A housekeeper for someone else. I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking care of someone’s house. It’s different at the Senior Center. It’s not someone’s home. I take my time. I sweep one day, mop the next. I am here five days a week and sometimes I’d rather be here than anywhere else. It was a lifesaver after Bud died.
Everybody who is here is so nice; I haven’t met anyone here who isn’t.”
Happiest day or event in your life? “The day I got married as a young girl and the days I gave birth to my kids.”
The saddest? “The day Bud died. It was sudden. I needed to do something and the job here came up in exactly the same place where I went to grade school. So I was here when I was five years old and here I am again, at 77!”
What is your favorite thing about yourself physically/mentally/spiritually? “Ooh, I can’t say. Errm er. That I would help anyone who needed help. There are very few people I have not liked, maybe one or two in all my life and I can’t even remember who they may be.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“Come on in, Gloria. Bud’s here.”
To read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com. Next week the guest interviewee will be Bob Mathias.