Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Charlie Hochberg
by Steve Sparks, August 4, 2010
I met with Charlie at his home on top of the Holmes Ranch and after admiring his orchids, we sat down to talk with twenty-year-old Fritz the terrier and nine year old Woody not far away either.
Charlie was born in 1943 and named Charles Joseph Hochberg II after his grandfather whose Prussian Catholic family had come to the States in the late 1800’s and settled in eastern Pennsylvania, an area of silk mills and coal mines. His grandfather had managed a hardware store and later built houses in the Hazelton area and also many cabins, often on streams with plenty of trout fishing, with Charlie’s father, Arthur. “I spent a lot of time with my grandfather. He was a big influence on me and we’d often fish together. I was not close to my Dad and we rarely got along. He was quite ambitious and at one time had temporarily quit parochial school and become a bookkeeper for a coalmine. When he did leave school for good he worked his way up into a job with the government’s Federal Reserve department as a bank examiner and eventually became the Deputy Controller of Currency for the First Federal Reserve District.”
On Charlie’s mother’s side, Dorothy Goldis, was just six when her family left the pogroms of the Ukraine and moved to settle in New Jersey in 1906. The Goldis family had been quite well off in their homeland where they had a successful garment business. “My mother was very smart and attended the Philadelphia Academy of the Arts at fourteen years of age. At 19 she ran the art and advertising department for the local phone company. My parents met in Philadelphia. Dad was a straight-up banking type, very handsome, a ringer for the aviator and national hero at the time — Charles Lindbergh, whereas my Mom was always hanging out with artists and musicians (she was engaged to one for a time) and she played classical music on the piano. They were married and lived in Bethlehem, an hour or so away from Philadelphia.”
Charlie’s older sister Isabel was born in 1940 and then eight years after he was born another sister, Dorothy, came along in 1951. Due to his father’s job, the family moved around often, although mainly in Pennsylvania. “As I said, my father and I did not get along, even when I was a toddler, and I loved it when I was sent to stay with uncles or my grandfather. My parents didn’t pay much attention to me and I was often left alone to my own devices. When we lived near to Villanova University in the Philly suburbs, I would catch the nearby train and go into the City alone where I’d get to watch the rehearsals and matinee performances of the orchestra. I was fascinated with classical music and was learning to play the flute and piccolo at the time, and later the bassoon when at junior high. I also listened to a local radio station that played world music and as I slept alone in the attic I could play it through the night.”
When he was about fifteen, Charlie’s older sister started to attend a Lutheran Church and soon the whole family was going too. “My father thought it was a good move for social status reasons and soon got into it for religious reasons too. I had been interested in religion for some time, with my Catholic father and Jewish mother, and it was during this time that I met a girl, Linda Horner, at church — my Dad was thrilled that I had a girlfriend. I continued to go into the City for concerts and was now getting tickets from the teachers of my two favorite subjects, physics and music, who were getting them donated to the school by a music publishing company. As for school studies, if I liked a teacher and the topic then I would do well and get A’s; otherwise I’d get C’s. My parents were not too concerned and never went to parent/teacher meetings. I was a good, well-behaved kid, although my Dad my have thought differently. I enjoyed working with model airplanes and playing a little basketball, and most of all I was in to machine shop where I once built a rocket launcher and came third in the State Fair after coming second the year before with a project that determined the size of molecules based on Millikan’s oil drop experiment.”
Charlie graduated from high school in 1960. ‘I had been a national merit scholar since junior high and was determined to go to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), one of the best science schools in the country. I wanted to be a physicist. However, my father ripped up my application for a scholarship and insisted that I would be working my way through school. ‘You’ll learn more that way,’ he said. What can I say? We just never did get along. I had worked in the summers when at high school at a hotel in New Jersey’s Cape May resort town as a busboy, doing kitchen prep, as a bellhop, and as the night clerk. I remember coming home after one summer with $700 that I had saved. My Dad asked for it and I gave it to him. He took it and said, “Sucker, let this be a lesson to you.”
With two suitcases and $1000 in cash, including the $700, Charlie’s father drove him to Allegheny College in north west Pennsylvania about four hundred miles away where he began his studies in math and physics with chemistry. He worked in the dining hall, doing three two-hour shifts a day, to pay for tuition and then later at a portrait photography shop as a photo finisher amongst other things. He was the President of the Young Christians and also joined in the beginnings of the anti-war movement that was developing. Then, following after his sophomore year, he and Linda, the girlfriend he had met at church, were married and he took a sabbatical from school. “Initially I dropped out because I needed more money so that I could continue to pay for my studying. Working and studying was too much to do at the same time so I had to do one first so that I could pay for the other. We were married in 1962 and I found a job working for Boeing in their helicopter test division as an engineering assistant.” Linda who had been at a college elsewhere in Pennsylvania, now transferred to nearby Bryn Mawr for her studies.
While living on the outskirts of Philadelphia, Charlie also worked at a coffee house called ‘The Edge’, which he eventually managed. It featured a thriving music scene so he began playing his banjo there. “My favorite uncle had taken me to see The Country Gentlemen at Rutgers University when I was about sixteen and I became hooked on the banjo from then on. Then I was at my girlfriend’s relatives one day and we found this funky old banjo in the attic and I started to play it, eventually taking my first formal lesson in my freshman year in college.”
Two years went by when suddenly everything changed. “I got a call from the Dean of Students at Allegheny College telling me to get back there and resume my studies because the draft board had called him and he’d told them I was a student there. Around that same time, Boeing had begun to install grenade launchers to the helicopters in preparation for war in Vietnam so I had quit. Then the coffee house backers had pulled out and it was closing down and as we were living upstairs we had to get out. It all just fell into place and I returned to school for my junior year in the fall of 1964.”
Charlie got a job at a jewelry store to support his studies, “or may be that was to help with Linda’s studies! Anyway, I also took a job as a custodian in the art department and these two jobs covered my tuition and gave me some wages to live off. I had also changed my major to art and sociology and that was far more manageable now that I did not have the five-hours labs a few times a week. Besides, being at the coffee shop had changed my focus significantly and I was a different person in many ways. Then, just as school was starting Linda announced that she had had an affair with a mutual friend of ours and we split up. I was very upset. However, my student advisor, who was also a painter, set me up with a model of his called Cornelia. We had a wild affair and a year later got married. Soon after, with just two semesters to go in school, I was drafted for the second time.”
Charlie had applied for his Conscientious Objector (CO) status several times and after a long struggle now had his card. Many CO’s were going to jail at that time but his sister, who lived in the Bay Area, had a friend connected to the Glide Foundation, and they found him work that the draft board would accept as ‘alternative service.’ Therefore, to avoid the draft for a second time, he was sent to work in south San Jose and East Palo Alto as a community organizer and together with others put together the funding and organization to get a health center established in the city of Alviso. “It was an incredible education to be involved in such a project.” Also at this time, with his service work providing no income, he found a job in the basement of paint and wallpaper shop as a picture framer in order to have at least some money coming in.
When this service was completed he got in his VW bus and returned to school for his final two semesters, finally graduating in 1968. “We had really liked our time in California so we returned there and met up with our friends we’d made when living in San Jose, Doug and Judy Nelson, who had bought property in the Santa Cruz hills. While there we met with a neighbor of theirs and she asked if we wanted to buy a house. We were very interested but I needed a job before we went any further. That same day we went in to town and parked outside a store that had a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window for a part-time photo finisher and a picture framer. I had done both jobs before and so I applied and got them both and ended up being there for about six years — we basically got a house and a job on the same day!” By this time he and Cornelia had had two children. Timothy born in 1969 in San Jose and then Anna, whom Charlie helped deliver, who was born when they lived in the Santa Cruz area in 1974.
Over that time Charlie became a more serious photographer and, along with Doug Nelson, opened their own gallery with jewelry and photography, adding a few more people over time to become a co-op. He also became very involved with the Home Birth Movement. However, by the mid-seventies he and Cornelia decided to split up and she left, with the two kids joining her about six months later. She wanted to return some time after that but Charlie was not prepared to accept that situation and so when she said she wanted half of what the house was worth he had to sell it. Over the next few years he got to see the kids just a couple of times a year and that was very hard to deal with.
In the early 70s Charlie had taken a motorbike ride through Anderson Valley and was entranced by it. The Nelson’s bought property here and throughout the seventies he would visit them regularly up here and nearly bought property next to theirs but the deal fell through. Following the sale of his house in Santa Cruz, he had met a woman called Suzy and they moved to Humboldt County near to where his sister Dorothy lived, close to Dinsmore on Hwy 136. “At college I had worked as a carpenter part-time and had some work in construction in Santa Cruz too, so I got my contractors license and found carpentry jobs. I also drove the ambulance and was on the local health-center board but there were few people around and not much work overall. Suzy and I were together for about two years during which time we built a house together. Then she took a ride back east to see her folks with a friend of mine. On their return she wanted to break up with me as they had got together but it turned out he didn’t want to do this — he was married. She was upset and left anyway and I was not at all happy with life at that point.”
“Sometime in the early 80s, through my work with the ambulance, I became friendly with a cute young nurse by the name of Maureen — a tough cookie of Irish descent. Then one day she brought a casserole to my house and we started dating shortly after! She worked in Fortuna about 40 miles away, and by having me visit her there she was maybe testing my commitment, but she did eventually moved in with me and in 1982 we had our daughter Deirdre.”
“In the late 80s an old friend of mine called from the Bay Area and offered me work down there in construction. I was there for a few months and it made me realize that where we lived was not right for us. I missed playing music. I had met and played with several Anderson Valley musicians on my visits. There was not enough work up in Humboldt. I had never had a problem finding work in my whole life and I often had two jobs. We found a place to rent in the Valley and moved here in 1989, by which time I knew quite a few folks — the Nelson’s, Willie Sutton, George Gowan Sr., Harold Hulbert Sr., etc. I loved hanging out with the old folks and hearing their stories. My first job was to build the pottery studio for Chris Bing that I did with Steve Derwinsky. I had taken our kids to the Methodist Church and met Pat Hulbert there. She told me some work was needed on the church and so Dennis Toohey and I worked on upgrading it. I also worked for John Burroughs and it was while working on a job with Joe Petelle that he asked if I’d like to play some music with him and some friends. That was the beginning of many years of wonderful times.”
Charlie met up with Diane Hering, Lynn Archambault, Brian Woods, and Joe and they called themselves ‘The Apologists.’ They jammed and did the occasional gig and then Dave Dart joined and announced one day that he ‘had nothing to apologize for’ and they became ‘Off The Cuff.’ Later, after Lynn left, they were to be known as ‘Wild Oats’ and are still paying regularly today. They practice every Wednesday and recently on Mondays Charlie has been joined by Brian on mandolin and Dean Titus on guitar, sometimes with Alan Kendall on fiddle, and another little jam session is enjoyed.
Charlie found steady work in construction and also volunteered as a math tutor for high school kids. One of these was the daughter of Charlie Hiatt who came to him one day and asked if he’d like to buy some land in Holmes Ranch. “He showed me 20 acres and I took it for $50K. We lived in a trailer for a time before Joe and I put in the foundation and then I got five friends round one morning and we framed the whole thing in a day except for the roof, which Joe and I finished. Since then I have designed and built several homes and have had many of the Valley’s carpenters work with me, including Mark Triplett, Steve Woods, Bryan Huggins, and Bill Rafael, and some of the jobs have included the kitchen at the Apple Farm, author Alice Walker’s house, the Fehr’s wonderful home way up on Peachland Road, and the beautiful home of the Gage’s in Rancho Navarro that appeared in ‘ Fine Home Building’ magazine. I guess I have done about one home a year for the past dozen years or so.”
Apart from his music, while he and Maureen are not that social, they do enjoy attending some of the Valley’s many events such as the potlucks, the crab feed, and sometimes the County Fair, and he has remained close social friends with clients whose homes he has built. “Anderson Valley has got a wonderful sense of community that is somewhat rare. People here will always step in to help others. And the idea of sitting down to a meal as a community, as with the crab feed, pot lucks, and other events, is a very special thing.” Charlie was on the founding board of the local radio station and was able to turn the old buildings they acquired into a working station and office space. After asking many times, and with further pressure from Geraldine Rose, Charlie finally got a ‘Yes’ from Maureen and they were married in 1989 with Eric Labowitz performing a ‘quickie’ ceremony in his living room over dinner, with daughter Deirdre as ring bearer, and Doug and Judy Nelson as witnesses.
I asked Charlie for his responses to some of the issues that Valley folks frequently talk about.
The Wineries and their impact? “It was very different without them here when I first visited in the early 70s and it has been strange to see the other crops and sheep disappear; very sad in some ways. However, they do provide lots of work. I am not a fan of absentee winery owners. That is bad news, and house buying for many people living here is no longer an option with land prices driven up so high. Furthermore I see lots of people driving big cars far too fast in the valley, many of them tipsy. I guess I’d rather see it otherwise but the wineries are the result of the economic reality of our times.”
The AVA? “I have always loved the AVA. Having a local paper is a great thing.”
KZYX&Z radio? “I think it is brilliant and we are just so lucky to have it. Anyone can get involved. That’s great. However like the AVA there is a certain amount that you just have to ignore.”
The School System? “I was on the school board for five years and I have to say that our school is better than others around here to where some kids are being sent. I am so impressed with what they do here.”
Changes in the Valley? “I kind of like the changes. I think people are trying to do more than just catch the tourists and I still know most of the people in these new places.”
Drugs in the Valley? “Well speed is the worst of drugs. There’s nothing good about it. It’s horrendous. As for pot being a ‘gateway drug’ that is because it is illegal. It is not a ‘gateway drug’; it’s so innocuous and medical people agree with that. It should be legal.”
To end the interview, I posed a few quick questions to my guest.
What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Music and sex in equal amounts.”
What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “Greed.”
Sound or noise you love? “My cat, Holly, purring.”
Sound or noise you hate? “A mosquito in the ear; jets flying over the Valley.”
Favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? “Sturgeon with black truffle sauce cooked by Margaret Fox who used to own the Café Beaujolais in Mendocino. I had it once and it was my most memorable meal ever.”
If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? “Well, I had the most wonderful hug from the Dalai Lama many years ago at UC Santa Cruz so a conversation and words are not always the most important thing in a meeting. Therefore, I would say my newest grandson, who I have yet to see, is the person I really want to meet — soon I hope.”
If you were to be left completely alone indefinitely on an isolated island in the ocean, but with unlimited provisions, what three possessions would you like to have with you? — “My banjo, some drawing materials, and a camera with film.”
A smell you really like? “Baking bread.”
Favorite word or phrase? “That would be ‘you bet.’ It just pops out often.”
What is your favorite hobby? “Most of what I do is hobby/work to an extent. I guess my orchids would be my favorite pure hobby.”
Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt? Your fantasy job, perhaps? “I have no answer to that. ‘Anything that I would feel good about doing’ is the best I can come up with.”
Profession would you not like to do? “An executioner; or may be somebody who makes decisions on house foreclosures.”
Happiest day or event in your life? “It’s very difficult to rank the happiest. The most glorious would be the birth of my children, one of which I delivered myself.”
The saddest? “Probably when my first wife left.”
Favorite thing about yourself, physically, mentally, spiritually? “That I have tried since a child to live a life that I wouldn’t feel bad about. I have made mistakes and have regrets but I have always strived to do the right thing. That I try to be generous and give of myself.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Well if he said ‘Oh, you again’ with a smile on his face that would be good.” ¥¥
(To read the ‘stories’ of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at www.avalleylife.wordpress.com. Next week the guest interviewee from the Valley will be Pilar Echeverria, new owner of Mosswood Market in downtown Boonville.)