Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Leslie Hummel
by Steve Sparks, March 17, 2010
I met with Leslie a week or so ago at her home overlooking the Valley from the low hills behind the airport on Mountain View Road. After enjoying the view and the affection of Grace the dog I sat down to begin our chat.
Leslie was born in 1950 at the Alpha Bates Hospital in Berkeley, California, the same hospital where her mother had been born. Leslie’s parents, Robert William Hummel (of German descent) and Alice Lorraine Bagley (Irish) were both at least fourth generation Californians — “something we are all kind of proud of — there doesn’t seem to be that many of us.” She is the third of four children born to Robert and Alice, with her older siblings, Cathy and Keith both currently in Sacramento and younger sister Gail, now in Arizona.
“When I was born we were living in Walnut Creek but at an early age we moved to Danville, still a rural town in those days, and we lived in a converted barn on three or four acres of land. I was into the farming lifestyle but while my older siblings had horses I was very active in 4-H with my sheep — I used to compete in fairs and won a couple of blue ribbons. I remember one of my better sheep getting ill with pneumonia and then dying just days before a fair. I was very upset. They were my pets.”
During those years Leslie’s mother was a homemaker while her father was a furniture salesman which involved him traveling all over the West coast for a few years before settling into the manufacturing side. At school she was a decent student. “If I’d applied myself I would have done much better I’m sure but at it was I remained a ‘B’ student. Coincidentally, one of my classmates was Doug Johnson of Pepperwood Pottery fame here in the Valley, although we did not hang out together. I was a good girl and he was a bad boy! We didn’t realize we’d been to school together until I’d been up here for a time and we got talking at a Halloween party one year.” When Leslie was in 8th grade her father was sued over some faulty furniture. He lost in court and the family had to give up their home and move into a rented duplex in Moraga, still in the East Bay.
“It was a tough time but I don’t remember ever being deprived of anything. However, I found it very hard to adapt to my new school, Campolindo High School. I eventually settled down and by my junior year had a ‘steady’ boyfriend. You know how it is at that age. We were just glued on to each other and focused on little else, least of all schoolwork, and my grades suffered. He was a year younger than me and that made it even more scandalous. Eventually our parents made us break it off. I really wanted to be a cheerleader but failed to make it so instead I played some basketball and at the same time my grades gradually got better. Having said that I was a good kid at school. I never skipped a class, never did drugs or drank. Perhaps I was too good. If I was tempted to do something ‘bad’ I always talked myself out of it because I knew I’d hate it afterwards. My parents did their best, they were good providers, but looking back they were not very affectionate. They were quite conservative and pretty strict with all of us. Over time they have mellowed and in their later years they have become very accepting of us all. They are both eighty-six.”
Leslie graduated from high school in 1968 and attended Diablo Valley Junior College to continue general education. It was a time of great social and political upheaval but, even though she was near to the hotbed of unrest that was Berkeley, she did not get involved. “I have never been that way; never been that political. Besides, I always seem to see points of view of both sides.” She was still living at home and was shopping at Safeway one day when a very helpful Produce Manager, Don Guerin, helped her pick out a watermelon and next thing they were dating. A year later, in September 1969, they were married and moved into an apartment in Walnut Creek for $125 a month. Dan had been working at Safeway to support himself through college and became an accountant upon graduating. With Leslie working as a cashier at Longs Drugs, and Dan earning $1000 a month, after a couple of years they had saved enough to buy a condominium in San Ramon for $30,000 and soon after had their first child, Terri, born in January 1974, with Heather following three years later.
Unfortunately the marriage did not work out and Leslie and Dan were divorced in 1979, with the children only five and two years old. “We co-parented the kids and it was very hard. Then Dan remarried and the kids went to stay with them during the week while I had them at weekends. It was a more stable environment for them at their father and stepmother’s.” Leslie was by this time working as a sales rep. for McKesson, an industrial chemical company among other things. “Really exciting, eh?! I worked the Bay Area and stayed in that region when I moved away from McKesson to various other sales jobs. I did not really know who I was or what I wanted. I felt lost in so many ways. I thought ‘how can I give direction to my kids when I have no direction of my own?’ It had all happened so quickly — high school, marriage, two kids — and yet I was still floundering. I was like that for much of the 80s. I had been in a couple of steady relationships for a time but they were not very healthy for me. I moved twelve times in ten years so clearly I was adrift and in search of something.”
In 1989 Leslie was involved in a serious car accident on Hwy 680 in Benicia by the Carquinez Bridge. “I had been working many hours and had just dropped the kids off. I was very aware of how tired I was and fully intended to get off the freeway at the next exit but I still fell asleep at the wheel and flipped the car over. I remember it all very well and can visualize it perfectly. I remember the car being upside down and my head scraping against the road before I came to a stop. A few minutes later I remember thinking, ‘oh look, I’ve stopped the traffic.’ It was a big knock on the head in a literal and metaphorical sense as it turned out.”
Leslie wanted to move on in her life and she had become friendly with a woman she had met at a psychic fair, Marcella Black “We hit it off right away. We were both unhappy with our lives. She was a New Age person and I was dabbling in that a little too. We had talked about opening some sort of business together along those lines and had been looking around for some sort of opportunity. Anyway, she and her boyfriend were on a road trip a short time after my accident and she phoned me from this little town she was in, a place called Boonville, and told me there was a commercial space available in the downtown area. A week later I drove up to Anderson Valley and checked out the space. It was in the Farrer Building, and the middle space was available, where the Farmhouse Mercantile is now. As I peered into the window of the vacant space a drunk guy came up behind me and said, ‘What you doin’?’ It turned out he was Squint, the town drunk (Dennis Boardman was his name). He had a heart of gold and was a very nice guy. Marcella and I decided to go for it. It turned out the owner of the building, John Parducci, was someone I had worked with at McKesson who had been quite crotchety but we had always got along. It was as if this was meant to be and we signed a lease in February 1990, paying $435 a month, and then opened the store on tax day — April 15th. It was called ‘All that Good Stuff’ and was a general gift store.”
Marcella kept her job in Napa while Leslie, who still lived in Fairfield in the East Bay, would come to the Valley at weekends and work the store and at first would even sleep there. “Eventually I rented a house on Airport Drive from Cindy and Kirk Wilder. The business was doing o.k., even though the inventory was very small at that time, and Marcella helped when she could but I was there 90% of the time. It was difficult to work it out and her boyfriend did not want to move here. Maybe Boonville wasn’t a good fit for her either. I bought her out within a year and at that point finally felt, ‘this is it — where all that other stuff has led me.’ The store just kind of evolved. I put feelers out in the community to see what might be wanted in the town and the store almost had a mind of its own. Initially it was just gifts, then the gift cards started, the jewelry, the kids stuff, and more recently fax and copier machines. The town seemed to need the store as much as I needed the town.”
In 1995, Leslie bought The Cream Puff ice cream store nearby from Betty Sanders and called it “All that Sweet Stuff.” “Ken Allen from the AV Brewery had bought the building from Parducci and suggested I move my store next door, where it is now, with his Brewery Gift Shop going into my space. Over the next few years the ice cream shop changed owners a few times. I sold it to Glad and Saffron Severn and it became ‘Otto’s’; then in 2005 I bought it back with my boyfriend Tim before selling it again, this time to George and Kate Castagnola (‘Buddy’s Ice Cream’), who in turn sold it to Ed and Rebecca (‘Uncle Ed’s’), and these days it is owned by Erica Kesenheimer who has called it ‘Zub Zub.’ But now it is for sale again.”
“As for my place, we have been very consistent. I have always listened to the community and what they might want. I have also followed my heart and allowed the business to evolve. I think the store has always been needed here but this past year has been the hardest by far with the economy in general way down and a real decline in the downtown business of Boonville. It’s tough. I want to innovate with my inventory but I cannot invest too much in doing so. Trying to find the balance is very hard to do. However, the store has been a lifestyle choice more than anything else. It is my income for sure, but it also my social life, my creativity. I just have to keep it all balanced because, as I like to say about the current problems, ‘this too shall pass’.”
“Despite the tough year, I have to realize where I live. We are very fortunate to be in this place. I do not work that many hours at this point. I have a wonderful staff of Lydia Mosk, Scarlett Newman, and Bea Ann Garrigues. I turned 60 recently and this spring sees me in business for 20 years. I do wonder what is in the future for the store and me? The economy will decide I imagine.”
In late 1990, having been in the Valley for about six months, Leslie met Ken Montgomery and they embarked on a whirlwind romance; Ken would woo her in the store regularly. “We had a beautiful wedding in Montgomery Woods. We’d met in The Smiling Deer restaurant/bar in Boonville (now Lauren’s Restaurant) and we were both lonely — it was good while it lasted.” They separated after four years and Leslie moved into a house at the edge of Hendy Woods by the river, so close that it flooded. From there she moved to a house she rented from Greenwood Winery owner Allan Green on Signal Ridge before finding her current home as part of a lease-to-buy deal in 1997. She came into a little money for her 50th in 2000 and bought the house at that time.
In 2001 Leslie met Tim Glidewell and, as she says with a loud laugh, she has been “blissfully happy” ever since, but you know she means it. Her daughter Terri, who is a teacher at a continuation school in Sacramento for troubled 4th, 5th, and 6th graders, has given Leslie a grand-daughter, Siana, who is now six-and-a-half, whilst her newest love is the Tibetan Terrier, Grace, now one-and-a-half, and there are the three cats too. Daughter Heather lives in Vermont where she is a science teacher at a junior high school.
I asked Leslie what she liked most about Anderson Valley. “The people and the sense of community we have here. They make living here very special. The beautiful landscape is special too of course, especially at this time of year with all the different shades of green. I can’t think of anything I don’t like, apart from the fact that I am over three hours from my granddaughter. I am pretty simple in what I want and the older I get the simpler I want it. I have made many friends here, mostly through the store. Kay Jablonski was one of the first people I met, as was Betsy Taylor, a teacher at the school. I remember one day saying to Kay, as a logging truck went by, ‘oh, I can feel the trees pain.’ She commented that it was sad but she added that a lot of people here have made their living off that industry and I have always remembered that — there are two sides to so many issues around here... I am a very close friend with Jill Derwinski who was Jill Crane when I first met her. Her husband Drew had passed away and we developed a very special friendship; and then there is Tania Green who has become my adopted daughter!”
In more recent times, as well as being an avid quilter and cross-stitcher, Leslie has thrown herself in amateur dramatics and is a regular cast member of the AV Theatre Guild who put on a play every May/June. She says her favorite place in the Valley is Hendy Woods although now that it has a no-dogs policy that is an issue and she does not go as often as she’d like to. She also loves the river walk behind Wellspring.
As usual, I asked about some of the issues in the Valley.
The wineries? “I don’t have a strong position one way or the other. They have obviously changed the landscape and have brought work and business to the Valley. Believe it or not, I have never been wine tasting. I don’t drink. Even at my birthday recently, I didn’t have any wine.”
The local newspaper and radio station? “I rarely read the paper and don’t listen to the radio much. If I do it’s normally to KGO. If I get upset with the news I try to create peace in my heart and share it with the community and beyond.”
The school? “ I do help the AV Education Foundation with their program that seeks to get high school kids work experience. It’s a very good idea and I have kids work at the store for a few weeks in the summer.”
Tourism? “There are a lot of things worse than this, I’m sure. We need it and after all it’s only fair that we share the beauty of the Valley with others. People feel the magic when they come here, I’m sure; they know they are in a special place. I couldn’t survive in business here without both the tourists and the locals combined.”
Changes in the Valley? “I think we need some more rooms for visitors to stay overnight in the Valley. We have a beautiful Valley but, as it is, most people just drive through to the coast. We need more local businesses downtown in Boonville. Locals would respond to this, as would the tourists. We really need to get some life back in the Valley.”
I asked Leslie whom she would vote for Mayor of the Valley if such a position existed and had some power to wield. “Well I think I would want a woman, a Lady Mayoress. How about Jill Derwinski? She’s my best friend so I’d hope to get what I want!”
I posed a few questions from TV’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself many months ago. I have also recently added a few more new questions.
What is your favorite word or phrase? “Well I’m a firm believer that change is inevitable so I like to say. ‘This too shall pass’. Change can be good but also bad, so this has been a mantra that fits for me over the past few years as I try to keep things balanced.”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? “Hate”
What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “My granddaughter. Also, I love sitting on the deck with a cup of tea looking out over the Valley. The simplicity of my life.”
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “That the media keeps informing us of everything that could go wrong. The fear-mongers out there annoy me. I also don’t like it when my life gets too complicated.”
Sound or noise you love? “Wind blowing through the trees; the running water in a stream.”
Sound or noise you hate? “The sound a fax machine makes.”
Favorite food or meal? “Pork roast with apple sauce and roast potatoes or a really good burger and fries. Yes I’m a carnivore.”
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one, who would that be? “Buddha or Jesus. I am not a religious fanatic at all but I’d be interested to know what they think of what has gone on since they were around. ”
If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, what three possessions would you like to have with you? “A supply of strawberry shortcake; family photographs; my knitting basket.”
Favorite hobby? “Knitting; making collages with magazine pictures and words.”
Profession other than your own you’d to attempt? “If I’d had a good voice I would have loved to be a singer, like Barbara Streisand.”
Profession would you not like to do? “A winery tasting room employee. It’s not for me. I wouldn’t want to be a waitress either, although I am sort of one in the store.”
Happiest day or event in your life? “When my granddaughter was born.”
Saddest? “When my maternal grandmother died in 1990. She was 93 and I wish I had developed my relationship with her more and learned more about what made her tick. She was a very special and generous lady.”
Favorite thing about yourself? “My ability to always look on the brighter side of things. Tim says that I try to ‘stay in the solution rather than the problem.’ I think I have a healthy attitude to life and I try to live with gratitude.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Job well done!” ¥¥
(To read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com. Next week the guest interviewee will be Robert ‘Butch’ Paula.)