It was a beautiful sunny day on the beach in Cardiff-by-Sea, Ca. during the early 1970’s, when I ran into this tall, friendly guy in a weird converted school bus. Now there’s a hippie dude I haven’t seen around the area before, I mused, and he looks like some kind of character.
I moved a little closer out of curiosity and found the bus pulled up right next to the beach where this happy fellow was sharing a keg of beer with the local surfers. I horned in and grabbed a cold one from this generous man, whose name was Ernie, and got to talking to him. Turns out he had just broken off from his commitments in Ocean Beach (San Diego) and was looking for a job in the Encinitas area. And it was his birthday.
I worked at the local post office and we were understaffed so I urged him to apply for a job. I also offered to park his bus in my driveway until he got settled. He got the job, moved into a room in the house and that started our relationship, which lasted @40 years.
We became like brothers; we awoke in the mornings and jogged on the beach below our house, before fueling our bodies up for the day ahead, delivering mail. We both made friends easily and we had parties with our co-workers (who were Irish balladeers), and large ‘hootenannies’ around our outside fireplace overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
I was separated from my first wife at that time so my kids used to come visit me, and the nice guy they called UNCLE ERNIE. He would play with them and treat them like he was their real uncle, and they loved him.
One of Ernie’s many skills was cooking. He loved to put together large meals and invite everyone he knows to share them. This made him very popular with the people around him who liked to eat and have a sing-along. His favorite dish was a fish stew, into which he threw just about every kind of vegetable and fish known to man. Excellente!
It was my time to leave San Diego County in 1980 when my ex-wife moved north to grow weed in Willits, along with her new beau and my two daughters. I moved to Guerneville, Ca (Sonoma County) to get closer to them, and Ernie came to visit me. He said he wanted to connect with a woman he knew in Sebastapol Ca., a stranger who stayed with him at our house in Encinitas while vacationing. This was the only woman I saw him ‘head over heels’ over. He ended up moving to Guerneville and our friendship was reunited.
It is the ‘Russian River’ area where he landed and I introduced him to a number of people whereby he was able to find jobs cooking and managing a vacation resort. He had actually left the Encinitas Post Office because of a beef with the postmaster. Ernie was so upset over the issue(?) he wrote letters to his congressmen and other postal officials. And it wasn’t until he applied for another postal job did he find out he was blacklisted by postal management. He tried and tried applying for postal work in the river area, to no avail.
Somehow he heard that the Ukiah PO was hiring and he went there, a full hour away, and finally found a place that needed experienced help, they couldn’t refuse. Pure persistence on Ernie’s part landed him the job. In a place like Ukiah a postal job is in @ the top 85 percentile of all jobs. So Ernie took the job and started the dreaded commute. That factor wore on him quickly and he found his home in Redwood Valley, after looking for over a year.
Ernie’s presence at work and on his routes with his patrons was a large success in Ukiah. His easy-going attitude kept people around him calm and loose as they learned of his charismatic personality. Hundreds of postal patrons and fellow workers in Ukiah also knew of his fondness for animals, especially his beloved, downtrodden felines.
‘E’s streak of human and animal kindness was indefatigable, as he fed the starving kitties everywhere he went. Not only that, he paid for scores of cats to be spayed and neutered and always took care of their vet needs. He gave donations to a non-profit which rescued cats and fixed them up to be adopted. He kept their little feline families together. And buried them. (Approximately 35 cats were left at his home)
This, I believe, is his, the legacy of one big-hearted man.
I will miss him, Uncle E, for the sarcasm and satire we traded, for the memories of all the good times, and the trials and sorrows we shared together. I will miss seeing his Francis of Assisi-style gentleness while taking care of his babies. I miss going body-surfing with him in Leucadia and playing co-ed softball games at San Dieguito High.
And, finally, I want to say that Ernie often talked of his Mom and Dad and Sister in a loving and caring way. His mother in Pennsylvania was the love of his life and he would travel East by train-bicycle to visit.
There are many other ‘mini-stories’ that can be written about ‘Uncle Ernie’ but this serves as a general time capsule for his California experience.
I am proud to have been Ernie’s friend and confidant.
Ernest C. Schaffer, 67, of Ukiah passed away Oct. 1 of natural causes, at his home in Redwood Valley. He was a postal carrier in Ukiah for many years and developed numerous friends amongst his postal patrons and workers. He was known for his love and caretaking of downtrodden animals.