Lives & Times of Valley Folks: Pilar Echeverria

by Steve Sparks, August 11, 2010

On a sunny Friday morning I met with Pilar on the deck behind the Ferrer Building in downtown Boonville and with a much-needed cup of delicious coffee that she had provided from her Mosswood Market store we sat down to talk.

Pilar was born in January 1980 in the rural town of La Laguneta in the Mexican State of Michoacan where the vast majority of the Valley’s Mexican community have their roots. Her parents are Jose Cruz Echeverria and Consuelo Barragan who both grew up in La Laguneta and whose families had been in the region for several generations. Her father has spent most of his adult life since the age of seventeen working for six months of the year in California, initially for many years in Manteca and since 1986 in Anderson Valley with the Hiatt logging and construction company. He had been born in the State of Jalisco but at the age of three his family had moved to Michoacan. “La Laguneta is similar in appearance to Anderson Valley with its hills and val­leys. I went to the local school there until I was twelve but then it would have meant traveling to another town to go to the next school and it would have been expensive too so I left school at that age. I was a good student and liked school, especially Mexican history, but not math.”

Pilar is the second oldest of four siblings, Victor the oldest, and two other girls — Elisabeth and Celeste, who all live in the States. She also has two half sisters, Azucena and Blanca, who live in Mexico. “As the oldest girl I had to do lots of the housework with my mother and also helped make the meals. I was always making tortillas. In the afternoons I would get to go out with my friends and we’d play lots of volleyball but I had to make sure I was home by nightfall otherwise I would be told of and spanked. The girls were watched more closely and had to help in the home. That is our culture and I under­stand that now. Being the oldest girl meant that I did a lot of housework although Elisabeth helped a lot too. Celeste was much younger than us. We had chickens and three cows and everyday I had to help my mother and grandfather with the milking by hand and then we also made cheese.”

Growing up, the family would sit down for meals together — breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and were always joined by her mother’s father, Antonio Barragan. “With my father being away working in the States so much of the time, my grandfather became like a father to me. He was a very important person to me and to our family. Once I had left school I never really thought about any more education or college. I just had a dream, like so many other people in Mexico, of gong to the United States and achieving something there. Most families in La Laguneta are applying for the whole fam­ily to come here. I did not think it was fair to just go through childhood, get married, and then start a family with someone who might be a bad husband. Everyone there had to do this but most did not want to. That was our life there. We did it because we had to.”

From the age of twelve to seventeen she stayed at home, dreaming of coming to the United States. “Mexico was not going to be my life; I was not going to be happy there. Now that I am here I try hard every day to do my best.” At seventeen her father got papers for the family to move and Pilar was the first to come, on March 17th, 1997. “On my last night there I went to say goodbye to my grandfather, I was very sorry to have to do that. He would not come out to see me, saying from behind the door that he would be there in America soon. We were both very upset. He was having some passport problems but planned to come to America in three months or so. But he died of a heart attack in that time and I never saw him again. I was very, very sad. I had always been with him since I could walk, at his side or standing just behind him. Every night I saw him; I would make him tortillas and we would talk together for a long time. I feel him with me here in America — telling me to work hard and that he will be always here for me.”

At his point Pilar was a little upset and so we took a short break. I, too, had been very close to my grandfather and we commiserated and shared a few tears together. It was a special moment.

“My aunt, Angelina Baroza and I went from La Laguneta to Guadalajara and then we flew to San Fran­cisco. We then came up to Anderson Valley where she had lived for more than 20 years. In Anderson Valley I knew many people from La Laguneta and had some friends here from there — Liz Jimenez, Ada Fernandez, and Yolanda Mendoza. They all helped me with my grief after my grandfather’s passing. This was a very different world for me and I felt a little lost and cried a lot at first. I lived with another aunt, Noelia, who is now the baker at Mosswood Market. By May that year my mother and sisters had also arrived and we all lived with Noelia and other family members before by about the late summer we had found a house for our family on the Vista Ranch between Philo and Boonville. I knew no English except ‘Hi’ but after a month I had found work through Tony Sanchez at the Day Ranch working in the fields. My friend Liz wanted me to go to the school but I was afraid and did not want to face up to the problem of my poor English. I also thought of my father and all the years of work he had done and that I should support myself and may be he would be able to work less if I had a job. All the time I was also thinking I wanted to do something other than work in the fields.”

Her first step in that direction was when she took a job with Stephanie and Chris Tebbutt as a nanny for then-eleven-month old Theo. She was to stay with the Tebbutt family for eleven years during which time they had another child, Saba. For a short time she also worked in the packing sheds at Gowans’ apple orchards and did some part-time baking at Glad’s Café in Boonville (before it became Mosswood Market). There she did four mornings from 4am before going to the nanny job in the afternoons, resulting in her working twelve-hour days. She also gave the adult school a go for a time to improve her English but quit after three months. She began to socialize a little more at various weddings and quincean­eras and was always kept busy keeping the house clean and was now in a steady relationship with Javier Men­doza, a boy she had known for many years who was one year older than her. Their families had known each other for a long time and she had been seeing him back in Mexico before he had come to the States about a year before she did — another reason for her wanting to come here, she suggested with a smile.

“Javier and I got married in 2001 at the Catholic Church in Philo and Stephanie found us a beautiful house next to their house. Javier was working at the Navarro Winery and then later for Stephanie and Chris at their home as a handyman and in their vineyard. I was happy being there but did not feel complete and still felt I had to do something else. Our daughter Miranda was born in 2004 and she was almost the same age as Saba so that was great and I was with all three kids everyday. Then when she was five months old, Miranda started to suffer with a severe case of the skin disease eczema and also from food allergies. She would not stop scratching herself, causing her to bleed so I had to be with her for 24 hours a day for the next five years. It was a very bad experience for Javier and me. She did finally grow out of it although I was ‘just’ a mother for all that time and was unable to really work apart from at the Tebbutts. I dreamt every day that all would be better one day.”

In 2008, Pilar got a job at Mosswood Market working for Sharon Hurley two days a week while still doing the nanny job part-time, although she gradually did more at the Mosswood and less as a nanny, over the next year or so once Miranda started going to kindergarten. Around this time she completed her GED exam at the adult school. “I did that in six months and was so proud of myself. I wondered why I had waited so long to do this. I thought that if I could do this then maybe I could do so many things. it completely changed my perspective. I am very proud of my graduation picture and I then went to Mendocino College for one year to continue to study English.”

In October 2009 they moved to Signal Ridge in the hills above Philo where they had been able to buy some property back in 2005. “It is 20 acres with just a little space where we can build. It was very hard to leave our lovely home in Boonville and move to a mobile home on the property. We have been clearing some trees and the brush and hope to have a real house there one day. For now we have a generator and have to turn that on every day for a shower.”

In November 2009, Pilar approached Sharon about maybe buying the Mosswood market and they had a meeting. However, nothing came of it other than Pilar saying she would be interested in buying if Sharon ever wanted to get out. “I love the job and the people working there and dealing with the customers. I was working very hard at it and then in May of this year Sharon asked if I was still interested in buying and we went from there. I got a loan from my cousin and finished negotiations with Sharon. We then called a staff meeting and Sharon told them that there was good news for both them and us and she introduced me as their new boss. I took over on June 1st.”

“I feel like I have everything now, nothing is missing and I feel complete. We are making no real changes to the business just adding a few things to the menu, such as the pineapple Danish that was basically Javier’s idea and I added some coconut and it’s really good. My brother-in-law, who is an accountant in Sonoma, does the books as I am still terrible with numbers. My aunt Noelia is the baker; Erica my sister-in-law is the cook; my sister Celeste is the counter person; Estella, another family member, is the cleaner; and we have Madeline Gasaway and Jamal Essayah also at the counter at differ­ent times. I have many friends here; I love living here in this beautiful countryside, and I love my work. It is a dream come true.”

Pilar loves the weather here and the people and the sense of freedom she gets from walking around the Val­ley and she thanks God every day for that. “I am not a practicing Catholic but God is in my heart and I do not need to go to church. I want to give something back to the Valley and I donate cookies etc to school events and other fundraisers. My parents are now both living here, on Lambert Lane, and we have a family reunion at their house every year. It’s a wonderful party and I drink plenty of tequila that day and have a very happy time — not that I need tequila to be happy of course!”

I asked Pilar for her thoughts on some Valley issues that are frequently discussed in these parts.

The wineries and their impact? “They are definitely good for businesses such as ours but cutting trees and taking water is not a good thing.”

The AVA? “I don’t have much time to read it but I do sometimes and will do more as my English gets bet­ter. I really had never spoke much English in my life until two years ago when I started at Mosswood.”

KZYX local radio? “Listening to English on the radio is good for me but I only do it when I am driving to work.”

Changes in the Valley? “I like the changes. More peo­ple visiting is good for us but I do not like cities and don’t want it to get too big here. I am very social and I do like meeting people from other places.”

Drugs in the Valley? “Marijuana is not a big problem in that it is not harmful. Other drugs are bad and it is very sad what they can do to people. I try to do a little by keeping some of the kids here a little busy by working for me. In Mexico the drug problem is very big and even in my little hometown we just had the first killing related to drugs. It was my uncle, an innocent man who had no connections to drugs, but he was killed with a machete. Back there the drug cartel, La Familia, are very powerful but many people see them as like Robin Hood, taking from the rich to give to the poor. In La Laguneta every­one is nice but the bad people are having more influence. People are afraid, so even though they may see ‘things’ they do not want to say anything to the government or police because those people may be involved too.”

I posed a few questions to my guest from TV’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself.

What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “My work. But I don’t know for how long I will feel that way! For now, it is important that each day I do my best.”

What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? “When there is a big mess in my house. Miranda is too young to clean up and maybe Javier is too old! I can give Javier a look and he will know and the next day it all has been cleaned.”

Sound or noise you love? “The birds singing in the morning.”

Sound or noise you hate? “Big trucks coming through town with trees on them.”

Favorite food or meal? Your ‘last meal’ shall we say? “I just love Mexican food, but sometimes the simpler is better. I will say frijoles de la olla con crema — just home-cooked beans in a broth with sour cream. I am not a good cook. What I do best at the café is dealing with the staff and customers.”

If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation, who would that person be? “My grandpa. Just one afternoon with him once again would be so special.”

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? “I don’t value possessions that much. How about my make-up?! No seriously, my family pho­tographs; my Grandfather’s handkerchief which I have kept; and my spectacles.”

A smell you really like? “Natural smells and flowers, not perfume.”

Favorite word or phrase? “Work for your dream.”

A book that you have particularly enjoyed or that has influenced you? “The books of Isabel Allende. I used to read a lot and have read most of them all I think.”

Favorite hobby? “Exercise, but I have little time for it now. It used to be volleyball.”

Profession other than your own you’d like to attempt if you were given the chance to do anything? Your fan­tasy job, perhaps? “An author. I have a story to write about Javier’s father who led a very interesting life.”

Profession you’d not like to do? “A nurse or a doc­tor.”

Happiest day or event in your life? “When I had my daughter.”

Saddest? “When my grandfather died.”

Favorite thing about yourself, physically, mentally, spiritually? “That I am generous and like to give to oth­ers what I have. I send money to sisters and aunts in Mexico. It always seems to come back in different ways. That I do my best and no longer feel afraid about the future.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “If he said, ‘Welcome, I’m so happy to see you because you did your best on Earth,’ that would be very 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 Susan Spencer, local artist and former horse-riding teacher.)

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