by Briana Burns, September 7, 2016
I imagine you all know who Freda Fox is. Isn’t she the oldest living person in Anderson Valley now?
Freda is not only the oldest person in the Valley, but she is also the friend I have known the longest. Here’s why.
Before I moved to Anderson Valley in 1973, my sister and brother-in-law, Charity and Moe Hirsch, had lived on the Peachland Road Property the preceding year. Their kids, Jennifer and Michael, were then 12 and 9, so in elementary school. Charity was planning on going back to school to get a Physician’s Assistant credential, so having her days free, she asked around for an opportunity to volunteer in the field of medicine. She ended up volunteering with Freda, who was at that time the school nurse for all of Mendocino County. Charity figured working with Freda would be a good learning experience, and Freda was delighted to have a companion, given all the hours she spent driving, going to all the schools in the County. In the course of that school year, they became good friends, and still are. When Charity and Moe recently visited Boonville last May they made a point of visiting Freda.
Well, back to me, I came to Boonville in September of 1973, with Guy Rowe, my father-in-law Frank Rowe, and Wendy as a two year old. Guy expected to continue working in the Bay Area, so there I was home with a two-year-old, in a new situation. The only connection I had in town was Freda, whom Charity had told me to connect with. So I’m pretty sure the first person I ever met in Boonville was Freda Fox, and we have remained good friends to this day.
I want to share with you the advice Freda gave me, probably the first time I ever met her. And she said she had been given this same advice when she first moved to Anderson Valley, back sometime in the 1960s I believe. Freda was/is a nurse, and at first she worked with or for Dr. Banks. He warned her that everyone in the valley might be related to someone else, so never say anything critical of anyone, as you may be talking about their first cousin!
Freda gave me the same advice, and told me this cautionary tale as an example.
Freda said when Bob and Lois Mathias first came to the Valley, as Bob had been hired to be Superintendent of the schools if I remember correctly, their first priority was to find housing. So they were looking at whatever was available at the time, and looked at the apartment Charmian Blattner rented out. I know I’ve seen this apartment, many years ago, but I can’t remember anything about it. I know later special ed teacher Julie Franklin lived there, and I think I must have visited her at that time.
But that is beside the point; the point is that Charmian showed the apartment to Lois and Bob, and Lois turned to Bob and said “Have we come to this!?”
Now who knows what Lois meant! Perhaps she was not happy with Bob’s new job in the boonies! Perhaps she was tired and hungry! Who knows! But you can imagine Charmian would take that remark, and tone of voice, as a personal affront! And that must, indeed, have been her reaction, if this remark was so repeated around the Valley, that it reached Freda’s ears!
And probably not many of you remember the ancient history of Bob Mathias’s tenure as Superintendent. I don’t know how long he lasted, but one year there was a nasty gossip campaign accusing him of somehow using school funds to build his new home out in Yorkville! Freda felt that the whole rumor was totally false, but it was enough to make Bob quit his job and leave the Valley for some period of time. Eventually he and Lois came back, and ran some kind of group home out in Yorkville, and were respected citizens from then on as far as I know.
But the point is that Freda just had an inkling that if Lois’s unthinking remark, that sounded like an insult to Charmian’s ears, was broadly circulated throughout the Valley enough that it came to Freda’s ears, that the resulting resentment would create motivation to create an ugly rumor. Freda felt that the Mathiases were doomed from day one, just due to that unfortunate remark in front of an influential community member such as Charmian was! So Freda gave me the same advice that Dr. Banks had given her: never say anything bad about anybody in Anderson Valley because you never know who might repeat your remark or take great offense!
And I heard Freda’s advice and have tried to follow it ever since. As I got acquainted with people in the Valley, through Head Start (which Charmian ran) and later the upholstery class given at the Fairgrounds, and I volunteered to work on the update to the land use plan for the County, and I remember the ladies’ lending library I used with my two kids, I enjoyed feeling like I fit in everywhere. I felt like I was one with the back-to-the-lander hippies, although I was ten years older than they, and I also felt like I fit right in to the older, non-hippie population. I liked feeling that I was accepted everywhere. I was forever grateful to Freda for her good advice, as I had never lived in a community before in my life. How lucky I was to have Freda to introduce me to Anderson Valley!