We live in a part of town know as Fair Oaks. The little subdivision was platted in the late fifties as GI’s with their little families began to move into our little town. They needed a place to live and local builders provided.
Built on sandy ground a couple miles from the Pacific, the area had been home to Jack Rabbits and Horny Toads for millennia. The indigenous people had buried their dead here and left evidence of their habitation in the many midden’s scattered about. Kids could find heaps of broken Pismo Clams shells scattered through the native trees, sage and wild oats.
Arroyo Grande had scant room to grow, being nearly surrounded by the rich farmland that was it’s original reason for being. Needs provided on the old Beckett ranch and soon the bulldozers were at work pushing over the trees and then naming the new streets after them, Beech, Walnut, Aspen, Poplar, Juniper and Cedar.
Our house was built by Leo Mallory in 1959. As was common in those days a builder would buy a lot then build almost the entire house himself. He dug trenches, poured concrete, framed her and did the plasterwork. Subfloors were built using the form lumber and cabinets were knocked together from the cheapest materials. It took far fewer men than it does today but the little houses were “State of the art for their day.”
In 1989 we got a call from Judy Tappan who worked for Jack Berryhill ‘s real estate office. Judy knew we might be looking for a house to buy, suggesting that we take a ride to Sage St to view a former rental that was about to go on the market.
“The front door is open and I’ll meet you there in a few minutes.” She said.
We hopped in the car, a nice Volvo which we drove at the time, a nice middle class car, buckled our two little boys in the back and off we went. I had no trouble finding it as I had friends who lived in the neighborhood. We cruised down the street until the middle of the block, seeing the right address we whipped into the driveway, got out and went right in. We thought we’d just take the tour on our own while we waited for Judy to arrive.
We hadn’t been inside for more than a few minutes when we spotted two looming shadows at the front door, it wasn’t Judy, it was the coppers.
They did there policeman thing, with one standing to the side of the entry door and the other farther away at the edge of the drive taking down the license plate number and keeping the fish eye on me. I had just come from work and was in work clothes, dusty and dirty, not the best outfit to impress the minions of the law. I was trying to explain why we “Broke” into the house when Judy arrived to save the day. She knew both of the men, luckily her office was right next to the police station and she explained what was up. The three of them laughed it off for it was one of those absurd little things that can happen in a town where almost everyone knows each other.
After the police were on their way a stout women, in her early sixties I think, came across the street, dusting her hands on her apron and came right in the house like it was her own. Turns out it was.
She was Phyllis Anderson and she was selling one of her rentals and this little house was it. She was very nice. She was, I expected, the one who called the cops though it took a year or so before she laughingly told us that.
So, a house is a house you know and there are all kinds of reasons to buy. Size, color that suits your fancy, price range, amenities and what have you are all part of the deal. The neighborhood counts for a lot, school district if you have kids, the kinds of people that live around you and perhaps a subtle sense of the place.
Is it safe? No doubt about that in our case was there? If the cops arrive before the key tuns in the lock, well that’s it. We bought, paid the full asking price and have never looked back.
Our little street is just one block long and when we moved in almost every house was occupied by the original owners, people who had raised their kids on the block. People who looked out for each other in the old fashioned way. They looked out for us too.
If my teenage son was home from school when he shouldn’t have been, Phyllis, Wanda Blakemore, Bea Collier or Eva Agueda would be at the front door or crooking a finger for me to come across the street so they could let me know. My son Will called them busybodies and Nosy Parkers. He was correct, but his view wasn’t mine.
The front windows of those houses were better than any ADT or Ring systems and better yet the there was no cost other than being a friendly neighbor.
Most of the oldtimers are gone now, after all that was thirty years ago and I miss shootin’ the breeze with Chet Collier and Jim Blakemore. Both were workingmen and we had a lot to share. Phyllis’ grew the worlds best Lemons and the Blakemore’s had Fig and Avocado trees and one old Royal Apricot that produced the best cots you ever ate. Miss Agueda was always a fine sight to see, driving that old pink T-Bird with her scarf trailing in the breeze and that great big smile plastered with bright red lipstick. My kids called her the Pink Lady which was entirely accurate.
Today it’s all changed and I suppose we’re the oldtimers. Our neighbors have come from Russia, Syria and Hawaii. There are Japanese-Americans a gay couple and three generations of a Mexican family. On a good day we can put thirteen kids on the street. They range from three to thirteen and they all play together watched over by those same front windows. Different folks for the most part but the neighborhood is the same and we’re glad of it.
You can still go out your door and walk to the middle of the street, stand there, and before long neighbors will just magically appear. The next thing you know there will be a confab going on, mostly all about nothing but that’s what neighbors do.
What better recommendation can you get than a neighbor that calls the police on you. If it happens to you, buy that house. We did.
Note: I don’t wish to patronize the reader but here is one of the possible explanations for the term Nosy Parker. The most often-heard suggestion is that the term is a reference to Matthew Parker, a 16th-century Archbishop of Canterbury who was known for poking his nose into the business and activities of his parishioners.
My aunt Mickey married a cowboy. Not a poser, not the drugstore type; no, a real one. He didn’t make no movies, he wasn’t pretty and my dad always said he was part Indian. Don’t know about that myself though. She lived with him up in the Watts Valley near Tollhouse in eastern California, they had a ranch right up against the rugged Sierra. They had two sons, Knothead and Jughead, you can conjure the why of the names yourself.
Now living on a ranch puts some strain on your olfactory receptors. There’s all kind of smells to get used to. There is the obvious cow flop and the horse apple, though it don’t stink much at all. There is the chicken poop which has a ripe sort of ammonia smell and the slurry stirred up by the hogs in their pens. The hundred year old house they lived in had the old house musty, dusty smell wafting through it with a sharp nip of cigarette smoke and the odor of half burnt wood from the stove. There was also the sweet odor of the pines around the house and the not too obnoxious smell of the dust drifting up from the road in. Hay smells good too though it’s pretty powdery and will make you sneeze. My uncle Ray smelled of hand rolled tabacca, sweat and horses. He could pluck the sack of Bull Durham out of his left front shirt pocket, pull out a paper, shake the tobacco out and then roll her up with one hand, wet the whole thing with his lips, spark a match with his thumbnall and do it all while forking a horse headed down the road. I can hardly remember him without one dangling from his lip, grinnin’ at one of us kids and throwin’ the tease.
All in all my aunt Mickey could take it and after thirty or so years of marriage it all smelled of home. She figured she was a pro at the sniffin’ game..
Now of course we weren’t any slouches either. We lived in the same kind of old house. We had dogs, the occasional cat, some mices under the stove and TV and adobe mud in the winter and dust a-blowin’ in the summer. You might pick up a sniff of hot oil from one of the tractors and in the growing season there was always sacks of fertilizer in the sheds and the sulphur we used to keep the pea vines safe from too much foggy dew. Warners old Stearman biplane would swoop down and lay clouds of DDT on the crops while we stood what we thought was just out of range.
Daddy grew all kinds of vegetables. There was Celery, Lettuce, Cauliflower, Brocolli, Tomatos, Bell and Yellow Peppers, Squash and Chinese Peas. Each one of the plants had an odor. When they were growing they smelled like optimism and when they were dead and plowed under the could smell of heartbreak. When you walked our field, freshly plowed the pungent odor of decaying Cauliflower or sweet smelling Lettuce was all around. When Oliver next door brought in Meir Brothers trucks hauling chicken shit from Rosemary Farms in Santa Maria and the wind was right it could make your eyes water. The smell was to say the least, ripe.
When aunt Mickey was done visiting grandma Hall down in Los Alamitos she would drive up and stop with us for a while. It was a long trip from grandma’s to Watts Valley in those old days. There wasn’t much in the way of freeways on the trip and she was grateful for the rest. She was a big girl then and wrestling that old four door Buick could be a chore especially at the end of her trip home going up the old Tollhouse Road.
So, she was staying at our house for a day or two and one night after dinner the folks were sitting around the kitchen table drinking perked coffee and smoking as they used to do and somehow the subject came up about smells. Maybe we had fields around the house where vegetable crops were rotting away or Oliver had just spread manure on his fields, I don’t remember what exactly but aunt Mickey and my dad got to going on the relative pungency of the places we lived. Mickey saying that the smell up Watts Valley was superior for it obnoxiousness than ours. Well, my dad was raised on a dairy and my mom in the oil patch so they were bonafide connoisseurs of odor too. There was some gentle push and shove between the grown ups, accompanied by laughter especially my aunt Mickeys classic deep throated cackle which once you heard it you‘d never forget. After a little while my dad said he’d show her what a real stink was. She laughed at him.
The next morning we loaded up our gray ’55 Buick, mom and dad in the front with my little brother in the middle and the other two boys in the back with aunt mickey dead center and off we went.
It had been raining off and on that month and it was a cool day so the windows was rolled up and with the adults smoking away we headed south for Betteravia.
Betteravia was once the sight of a large sugar mill, built in the days when sugar beets were king in the Santa Maria valley and though the days of growing them were gone, the mill still brought train loads in from Idaho to be processed. Beets are processed for the sugar. The byproducts of sugar beet processing include the leftover pulp and molasses. Most of the molasses produced is processed further to remove the remaining sucrose. The pulp and most of the remaining molasses are mixed together, dried, and sold as livestock feed.
Now, in Betteravia they had a nice setup. They had the railroad to bring in the beets and to take out the sugar and best of all, right across Betteravia road to the northwest they had a feed lot where they fed legions of cattle to fatten them up for slaughter. So think about that a little. You have the smell of molasses and pulp mixed with cow manure and clouds of methane cow farts, mixed up with slippery, slimy mud into a bouquet, and sprinkled with s nice bouquet of ammonia of urine. A “plat de resistance” stench that has all the delicacy of Custer’s Michigan cavalry meeting Jeb Stuart’s confederate boys at Brandy Station Virginia, both at the full gallop and head-on too.
After the drive down we pulled up to the corrals and my dad sprung the trap. First they sat for a moment and he asked aunt Mickey how she liked that smell. The car was full on cigarette smoke and the sisters perfume that provided a little camouflage for the outside air. Aunt Mickey took a little sniff.
She said, “Thats not so bad George.”
He had her now, she had not a suspicion. Then, he opened the windows. I swear aunt Mariel’s eyes rolled back in her head and she gasped, then gasped again, tears rolling down her cheeks, shaking her head, she howled,
“Darn you George, that’s the worst thing I’ve ever smelled, get me the hell out of here.“
And he did. He grinned too.
Note: Cover photo, My aunt Mariel “Mickey” Long and my cousin Jimmy at the ranch in Watts Valley about 1952. Shannon Family photo.
So easy to say, but so hard to live with. The Ying and the Yang and the consequence of action and inaction. The heaviest burden is not that which you lift with your hands, its what is carried by the heart.
When Samuel Harrison Hall was born on September 30, 1869, in Bluefield, Virginia, his father, William, was 48 and his mother, Charlotte, was 40. He married Sarah Lavance “Vancey” Hooper and they had three children together. He died on March 2, 1948, in Arroyo Grande, California, at the age of 78. He is buried there.
Grandpa Sam was my mothers paternal grandfather. He was a steady, kindly man and in a family with its share of rogues was highly regarded, particularly by his grandchildren.
Sam married the daughter of a civil war widow woman whose husband had been killed at the battle of Malvern Hill in 1862 Virginia. Private Hooper of the 23rd North Carolina Infantry, left a pregnant wife whose daughter Sarah LaVance Hooper, Sam took as a wife in 1893 in Carter Tennessee. He had been a farmer and rancher for almost all of his life. He and his wife “Vancey” spent most of their lives moving around following the work.
My mom loved him especially. Off and on throughout her life Barbara lived with him or he lived with she and her parents. She said that growing up in the oilfields meant constant moving and it was nice to have someone in the family who mostly stayed put.
Grandpa Sam built the little house on Short street just down from Ben Shorts. Ben’s pioneer father Newt originally owned the farm there. He built the swinging bridge so he could go back and forth from town to his farm fields. Grandpa Sam also lived in Deer Canyon in the Verde district of Arroyo Grande where my aunt Mariel was born. The house is still there.
In 1948 my mother lived on our farm with my dad, me and my brother Jerry. Grandpa Sam was very sick with the cancer that would take his life and on the 1st of March mom stopped to visit with him. When she was ready to leave he asked her if she would bring him some apples. She promised to do that and stopped at the Commercial Company on the way out to the ranch and picked some up, but instead of turning back she went home figuring she would take them by next day. Grandpa Sam died that night. She never forgot that, she once said, “I broke my own heart.” When she told us kids about the dangers of procrastination she spoke with some authority.
When Barbara Ernestine Hall was born on September 3, 1917, in Madera, California, her father, Bruce, was 21, and her mother, Lilla, was 22. She had three sons with George Gray Shannon. She died on November 17, 1993, in Arroyo Grande, California, at the age of 76. She is buried there.
My mother was a beauty. Though we were never rich she always took the time to look as if she was. Regular perms and precisely cut clothes were some of the things she tended to. They made her feel good. She sat at our kitchen table surrounded by the farm and all that meant, muddy boots, wet clothes to be washed, mice under the couch and stove and water that turned everything yellow. Her kids were always well dressed and groomed, regular trips to the barber and because she worked in a men’s clothing store, she was always up on boys fashion. She had no particular pretensions, she was just well kept. She liked it that way. She would sit in her chair in the kitchen and carefully do her nails. A little clipping, some emery board and then the color applied smoothly. She would hold her hand up with her fingers curled inward, make a little moue and blow on them to dry the polish just a little faster.
It’s easy to forget your own mother was a girl once. I think looking good made her feel better all around. She dressed up to go to the grocery store. She remembered to us the days when women didn’t wear trousers in public, it was considered “Cheap,” a word she did not consider lightly. She remembered when Garbo began wearing them in public in open defiance of the rules, or her own grandmother wearing jodhpurs in order to ride astride for the Santa Barbara Fiesta Days parade. She had a little of that in her too. Just a little edge, but not too much.
I once overheard a conversation with her friend Hazel Talley where they reminisced about Leona Walton’s first time at a Women’s Club meeting. They weren’t being catty but were remembering the wonderful outfit she wore, her two-toned shoes and the fabulous little hat with a veil perched on the side of her head. It was like that.
In the early nineties she was diagnosed with liver cancer and had to undergo chemo. Chemotherapy attempts to kill the disease by poisoning it with chemicals. The chemicals used then were not particularly targeted but tended to destroy more than just the cancer. It was a brutal experience. Devastating.
She was tough as girls who grew up in the depression were but she knew from the beginning it was going to kill her. She was very quiet about that part though and she endured.
Finally she simply became too weak to function and ended up at the Sierra Vista hospital in San Luis Obispo. The doctor who was treating her looked me straight in the eye and said, “She will die here.” That was a very hard thing. He delivered bad news and did not do it well. He was wrong.
Her only surviving sister came down and stayed for a few days waiting for the end. We sat vigil at her bedside for three days and nights. While holding her hand one day I felt the tiniest imaginable pressure. A butterfly would be heavier but it was there. Slowly she resurfaced and came back to life.
We took her home and those wonderful Hospice people came daily to care for her needs.
Four days, thats what she got. A steady stream of friends and family came in to stand vigil at the bedside. Hazel, Nancy Depue, June Waller, Nami, Nancy Loomis, Florence Rust, Janie and Georgie, Billie Swigert and Beth Woods, people who knew her. I’ve often wondered at the kindness of people for those in extremis. They know that you don’t need some kind of friendly payback for your concern. It’s one of the absolutely pure things.
There was sadness all around. Perhaps the most devastated was my aunt who was now the sole surviving member of the Hall family. I will let aunt Patsy tell the story. It’s hers to tell….
“I was the baby, with 4 sets of parents. 2 sisters , brother and their spouses all raised me. I’m the last of our little family. My parents are all gone. I remember when Barbara was in the hospital with cancer. It was time for me to leave, I lived in Northern California then. Barbara held my hand and asked me if I could polish her nails? She always had beautiful long nails. I explained that I had a long drive home and couldn’t do her nails this time. I think of that moment often. Why did I not take a few minutes and do her nails? How shallow I was! I could have stayed and painted her nails, it would have only added a few minutes yet I was in my own world being practical..I loved her so much and I will never forgive myself for being a non thinking little sister. She was so gracious to me, saying OK. I’m sorry “Buddy”. I hope I can make it up to you when I get to see you again. Love you, Patsy.“
John William Shannon was born on November 3, 1882, in Reno, Nevada, his father, John, was 32 and his mother, Catherine, was 44. He had two sons with Annie Gray between 1910 and 1912. He died on November 28, 1976, in Arroyo Grande, California, at the age of 94, and was buried there.
My father was daddy’s boy. He was very much like his father. When there was work to be done he did it. Whatever each of them did in their lives they treated it as if it were serious business. They were both the kind of men who did what had to be done. Dad loved his family and went out each day went to war with insects, birds and diseases that ruined plants. Blackheart in the celery, Rust on the Romaine leaves and Black Spot on the Chinese peas and too much, or not enough rain and the high winds that blew the poled plants down. Workers who drank or were late to work was part of his burden though he was too kind for his own good. and left much unsaid. Dad understood people who labor have terrible problems of their own. He wouldn’t borrow from anyone but he was a lender to a fault. He hassled with shippers who were slow to pay but who dictated the pace of harvest with an iron hand. He live by the sun, when it came up, when it went down. The rain gauge, the barometer, the Farm Bureau weather report, the Los Angeles and San Francisco crop reports were all harbingers of disaster or beacons of hope. Sometimes both. The three percenters who promised much if you consigned your produce to their wholesale house but often didn’t deliver. A farmer is always waiting for the next disaster. He is always absolutely optimistic too. How else would he survive.
Dad was practical. It’s how he grew up. He often said that being a dirt farmer was terrible hard work but it was easier than growing up on a dairy. Crops have days off, milk cows don’t. He never, and I mean never complained. He did what he had to do.
His father Jack Shannon lived to be 94 years old. The last year of his life was a succession of bumps and bruises. The ills that come with age were slowly wearing him out. He was nearly used up. In November of 1976 he was taken to the hospital with Renal failure for which my dad knew there was no return. He sat with his father on that final day, talking about things, not much really. What is there to be said after a long life together. My grandfather wasn’t coming back; he knew it and my dad knew it too.
My grandfather had been born in the nineteenth century. That was in Reno, Nevada, still a dusty little town barely six years after the transcontinental railroad was finished. There was no electricity or telephone, travel was still mostly by horse and no one imagined an automobile, a flying machine or things like radios and television. Here he was now in the bicentennial year, 1976. He had seen a man walk on the moon. He saw the development of vaccines that saved millions of lives, advances in medicine that staggered the imagination but nothing that could save him for one more day. He knew he was at the end. He knew he would die in that hospital bed.
As dad was to leave that night he kissed his father, took his hand and my grandfather said to his favorite little boy, “Please don’t leave me alone, I don’t want to die here, please take me home. Please son, don’t go.”
But leave he must, there was work to do and early.
His father died late that night and my dad carried that burden for the rest of his own life. He never said a word. Did it hurt? How could it not. Did he have to leave, could he have stayed? Only my father knew and he never spoke of it.
All of them were raised in and lived hard times. They persevered. They could do the difficult thing without complaint. They carried the burden of the thing not done and they did it quietly.
Dedicated to my aunt Pat without whom I would probably never have written. Thank you.
My grandmother Annie had a piano. Like many of her generation who learned to play, it was an essential part of education for most young women. She started young, at the age of four.
We still have her piano. It was built in 1889 by the Knabe Piano Company of Baltimore, Maryland. There is nothing particularly special about the piano itself, thousands of its type were built. It’s a fairly typical upright in the late Victorian style. It has an open fretboard backed with fine purple velvet and a keyboard cover steam-bent into a gentle curve. The corners are embellished with delicate fluted columns and the keyboard with its authentic ivory keys is held up by curved supports reminiscent of a base clef. A drop pendant at the top of the clef completes the decoration. The entire piano is made of Brazilian Mahogany finished in multiple coats of brushed marine varnish. Polished to a soft gleam, you can see your face in. It is beautiful.
Considered one of the finest of its kind the Kanabe has been owned by the likes of Francis Scott Key and
My grandmother Annie had a piano. Like many of her generation who learned to play because it was an essential part of education for young women. She started young, at the age of four.
No one now living told us this, we found out because we still have her piano. It was built in 1889 by the Knabe Piano Company of Baltimore, Maryland. There is nothing particularly special about the piano itself, thousands of its type were built. It’s a fairly typical upright in the late Victorian style. It has an open fretboard backed with fine purple velvet and a keyboard cover steam-bent into a gentle curve. The corners are embellished with delicate fluted columns and the keyboard with its authentic ivory keys is held up by curved supports reminiscent of a base clef. A drop pendant at the top of the clef completes the decoration. The entire piano is made of Brazilian Mahogany finished in multiple coats of brushed marine varnish. Polished to a soft gleam, you can see your face in. It is beautiful.
The Knabe was considered one of the finest pianos of the age. Composer Francis Scott Key owned one as did Camille Camille Saint-Saëns and Ragtime composer Joseph Lamb. The Knabe was the official piano of the Metropolitan Opera. Tchaikovsky played his “Coronation March,” on a Knabe at the grand opening of Carnegie Hall in 1891. Nothing was too good for little Annie.
My grandmother was what is know in Hawaii as a hānai child. In the Hawaiian culture, childless families can informally adopt children to raise, as their own. Long before in-vitro fertilization and other high-tech methods of making babies, people had their own way to balance the vagaries of nature. Those who were blessed with infants gave them to be raised by those who were not. Hānai is, loosely speaking, the Hawaiian word for adoption, but its meaning is less rigid than its western equivalent. For one thing, hānai children know their biological families and usually keep close ties to them. In fact, in most cases, babies are placed in homes with blood relatives.
This was the case with my grandmother. Those involved in hānai never saw it as “giving away,” but rather as “sharing.” The family didn’t get smaller, it expanded. There was the common bond that strengthened the relationship between her birth mother and her aunt and uncle. The families kept in touch much more than they would have otherwise.
Annie went to live with her aunt and uncle, Patrick and Sarah Mckean Moore in 1889. She was just four.
Patrick and Sarah Moore were from Ireland. They had both emigrated fromIreland through Liverpool. They met in Sandusky Ohio and married, he was 45 and she was just 17. As is common with immigrants to American the extended Moore family stuck together. Patrick, his father and sisters slid west in the 1870’s and ended up farming in the lower Santa Maria valley around Oso Flaco lake. Oso Flaco, and Guadalupe town were heavily populated with Irish at the time. There were Donovans. McBanes, Maguires, Cooks, Newloves and the Grays, my grandmothers family. They were all farmers.
Pat Moore had listed himself as both a farmer and a capitalist on census forms. As it turned out he was very good at both. By 1889 when Annie went to live with them he had built the most imposing house in San Luis Obispo County. Located on a low hill just east of town it looked down on Bridge Street and what would one day become a California State Highway. In 1889 it was still a dirt road over which wagons, buggies and the stagecoach traveled. By every standard of the time Pat Moore was a rich man. He had invested in early oil discoveries in the Orcutt Hills and the Santa Maria Valley and was president of the Pinal Oil Company. He owned thousands of acres of farm and ranch land in the area but the one thing that escaped him was that he and Sarah were childless.
In the late 80’s, my grandmothers parents were still living in the little red house on what is now Division Road in Oso Flaco. My great-grandmother Jenny, being the niece of Sarah Moore was somehow convinced that her first born should be sent to Arroyo Grande to be raised by the Moore’s. The Grays in 1889 had two more children, Annies younger sister Sadie and a little brother just born in October named David. There were to be four more births in the following years but it seems a monumental gift by todays standards.
Pat Moore being a capitalist and Annie father Sam Gray being of the same bent struck a deal. The Moores would raise little Annie, provide for all her needs and pay for her education which in time would result in her graduation from the University of California at Berkeley. Property was also part of the deal. Annie was to be given acreage upon her graduation or at Pat Moores death, whichever came first. Surprisingly perhaps, this was simply a handshake deal.
She was the apple of Pat and Sarahs eye. She was given everything her heart could desire. The big house, which had been christened “Grandview” for its panoramic view of our fertile little valley was always filled with local children, for just down the road were the homes of the pioneer Harloe and Phoenix families, whose sons and daughters quickly became Annies chums. The Whitely, Lierley and Dixons lived just a little farther on. Even Annies future husband lived just a short walk away. The Donovan girls lived up by Mount Picacho. Two other children were soon taken in. The Tyler girls were orphaned when both of their parents died in quick succession and they soon became permanent residents at “Grandview.” Hattie and Mamie were as close to Annie as sisters.
Pat Moore was a generous man. When Annie came to live at the big house he arranged for her to take piano lessons. Music was considered an essential part of a girls education, and Annie needed a piano of her own.
In those long ago days a letter and a bank draft would have been dispatched to Baltimore in order to begin construction of the piano. Once complete it was boxed, loaded in a freight car of the Baltimore and Ohio RR. Leaving Baltimore the train proceeded west through Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky to Saint Louis Missouri. The boxcar was then switched to the Missouri Pacific RR which went nowhere near the Pacific Ocean, the old roads in particular were not known for their lack of imagination when it came to names and possible destinations. The locomotive would have chuffed up to Kansas City and on to Council Bluffs, Iowa. Detached from its train the car was shuffled around the immense rail yard which was the original beginning of the fabled Union Pacific, which at that time didn’t go to the Pacific either. Eventually she rolled out of Council Bluffs west, crossing the great plains and the Rocky Mountains through South Pass. Running down the west slope of the Rockies to Ogden Utah the west coast bound box car was switched to a Southern Pacific freight which hauled it first to Roseville California and then down the partially completed Coast Line to Templeton. Off loaded to a horse drawn wagon it made its tortuous way down the winding Cuesta grade to San Luis Obispo’s Higuera Street and the depot of the little Pacific Coast narrow gauge railroad. Switched to the smaller cars, the box containing the piano was pulled south to Arroyo Grande by he little steam engine of the PC. Off-loaded to the dock at the AG depot next to the creek, someone from the dispatchers office would have sent a boy up to the big house to say it had arrived. Pat Moore then sent a wagon down where it was loaded and then the team pulled it across the RR bridge, over Arroyo Grande creek, the old bridge did triple duty as a pedestrian, wagon and train bridge in those days.
Hauled up to the house, a few hefty men muscled the box up the steps and into the parlor where it was finally unboxed. There it sat in all its glory, terribly out of tune of course, a piano is not likely to survive a cross country trip in a boxcar through all kinds of weather, across deserts, towering mountain ranges and a bumpy wagon trip and be ready to play. A tuner was sent for.
In days before radio and the phonographs pianos were once ubiquitous in American homes. Playing was considered a part of a young persons basic education. Music was played in churches and lodge meetings. Any music in the home was generated by the residents. There was no competition from other devices. This can scarcely be imagined today. The phonograph was only invented in 1878 and not commercialy produced until 1899 under the name Gramaphone. The first radios didn’t come along until November, 1920. By then my grandmother was 35.
Kids growing up in the latter part of the nineteenth century sang, accompanied by the piano. I imagine my grandmother in the parlor playing for friends and relatives the tunes of the day. After all she was a teenager and long before portable record players kids gathered around and sang the latest “hot” tunes just like they do today. “When you were sweet sixteen,” which she was in 1901 or “In the good old summertime” and “My Wild Irish Rose,” a song appropriate to a family from Ireland. Al Jolson sang it and sheet music was sold for piano so you could sing and play,
“Rosie, you are my Posie, You are, my hearts bouquet Come out, here in the moonlight There’s something sweet love. I’m gonna sing about my baby, Your honey, your boy I’m waiting Those rubies, those lips to greet Don’t be so captivating, My blushin rosie, My posie sweet.“
It ain’t the Supremes or Miranda Lambert but the sentiments the same.
That old music was almost all produced in New York City where songwriters and composers out of Tin Pan Alley is legendary. George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Scott Joplin, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Fats Waller, Dorothy Fields, Harold Arlen, and Hoagy Carmichael are just a small example of the talent that came through that small city block in its prime. Synonymous with the golden age of American song writing, when New York was the world’s epicenter of composing, lyric writing, and sheet music publishing Tin Pan Alley was an actual place, a small section of West 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. Just a sample of the tunes my grandmother used to play, Irving Berlin “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” Jack Norworth and Albert von Tilzer “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (1908), Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes “Shine on, Harvest Moon” (1908), Shelton Brooks “Some of These Days” (1910), Milton Ager and Jack Yellen “Ain’t She Sweet?” (1927) and Leo Friedman and Beth Slater Whitson “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” (1910) or Shelton Brooks “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” (1917). Annie’s piano and my family, when I was just a kid was the center of sing alongs when all those old songs were sung. I can hear the melodies and the words in my head right now, still. My mom and dad and my grandfather Jack Shannon with his head thrown back and his big baritone voice belting out “In the Good Old Summertime,” first written in 1902. It never occurred to me that they were the songs that brought back their youth, my grandfather 20 years old my grandmother 17.
Sadly, Sarah Moore died in 1900, just forty years old. She had taken the train to SanFrancisco to be treated for stomach cancer. It was untreatable in 1900. Pat came home with her body and she was buried in the old Odd Fellows cemetery in Arroyo Grande.
….Sad news, Mrs Patrick Moore in San Francisco of stomach cancer. She was a good woman and will be missed.” San Luis Tribune, August 18, 1900.
My grandmother had just begun attending high school. Arroyo Grande HS was just re-opening after years of wrangling over the taxes to support it. It had been closed for four years. My grandfather never attended high school because there wasn’t one though most boys at the turn of the century didn’t anyway as it was considered by most as a waste of time for working class boys as they were able to work and earn a living at fourteen or fifteen. In any case the high school was not accredited for transfer to Cal but Santa Maria High School was. She took the first train down to Santa Maria on Monday and the last train up on Friday, staying in her parents house on west Guadalupe Road during the week.
On Sundays she played piano in church. She was a member of the old Cumberland Presbyterian church on Bridge Street. She was still going to the same little church when she was in her nineties.
Pat Moore was only a widower for two and one half years. In 1903 at the age of 70 he married local schoolteacher Mary “Mollie” O’Conner.
The San Luis Obispo Tribune, reprinted the following from the Salinas Index of July 15, 1903 ….needs no particular explanation to residents of SLO County except that perhaps some would like to know why the genial supervisor did not face the music at home instead of going away to Salinas to get married. “Today at 10 o’clock Judge J H Brown performed a marriage ceremony which united the hearts and lives of Patrick R Moore of Arroyo Grande and Mary O’Conner of Washington. The ceremony was performed in the parlors of the Abbott house and the host John Lavery and Mrs Lavery were witnesses to the ceremony.
The groom is a prominent resident and supervisor of SLO county’s “Bloody Fifth” district and the bride is a schoolteacher. Although Supervisor Moore is well advanced in years, and Miss O’Conner a near spinster at 28, the happy couple boarded yesterday’s southbound train with a happy smile and sprightly step of a couple who might have been just old enough to procure a license.
I would tell you about this but really, no one in the family knows the whys or wherefores of the attraction or designs of Mollie Moore. I never heard a whiff of nasty gossip from anyone in the family and she was always spoken of with affection by my fathers family. Perhaps uncle Pat was just used to having a wife around the house.
They were married just 23 months when the stomach cancer which had been growing for years surfaced on his face in the form of malignant lesions. He took the train to see a specialist in Los Angeles who removed them. Further tests indicated he was riddled with it and there was nothing to be done. He returned home and spent the next couple of months putting his affairs in order and in the last two weeks of his life he was removed to the Halcyon Health Sanitarium* so he could have the best of care. He died on July 28th, 1905. It was easy, Morphine.
He left a will disposing of his property which named as executors, John Donovan, Al Phillips and my great-grandfather, John E. Shannon. After the burial, the will was read and, of course there were immediate problems. The Piano was in play. Pat had written a note and placed it on the back of the piano, saying “The piano goes to Annie.” His signature was on it but he did not date it and the judge ruled against her taking it. My great-grandparents had brought a wagon from the Guadalupe district to pick it up but Mollie “O” refused to let them have it and they went home empty handed. There was a great deal of wrangling over the will. Mollie reported to the local Herald Recorder that her husband had died without a will though she must have know there was one. Dying without a will is said by the law to be dying intestate Under this statute the surviving spouse and minor children generally are entitled to the bulk of the estate. Pat Moore and his first wife Sarah had no children of their own, just my grandmother Annie who they raised and never adopted as her parents wouldn’t go that far with their daughter.
Mollie “O” apparently wanted it all and sued everyone who had debts forgiven or received property and bequests. Uncle Pat’s estate appraised at about $150,000.00 and would be worth roughly five million today. The schoolteacher wasn’t about to give it all up without a fight.
My grandmothers ranch, The Williams ranch, the Donovans and several other who had received bequests were hauled into court. Pat Moores nieces, nephews and their parents, the McBanes, McGuires, Shipman’s and Rodriguez family all had to go to court to defend themselves. Several young women, friends of my grandmother were being educated at Pat Moore’s expense, including Margaret Phoenix (Harloe) and Mamie Tyler would have had to leave school without the money for tuition. As it was neither ever did finish college but both had long careers as teachers. Maggie” Margaret Eliza Phoenix Harloe taught in the local elementary school and at the end of her career had a new grade school dedicated in her name. Mamie Tyler taught in the upper Olympic peninsula of Washington near Port Angeles. Her school was as rural as ever could be.
The will was defended by the executors and in every case won out. The wishes of a generous man won out and the estate was divided. In the end Mollie O’Conner Moore received Farview, what was left of the home ranch which had run from what is now Cherry Lane to Berros Canyon, Much of the oil stock in the Pinal and Brookshire companies. She didn’t do too badly. She was not a universally popular woman in the small closed community of Arroyo Grande and soon determined to move away. She did. The properties were sold, the big house, Grandview, went on the block and even Annies piano had a price tag placed on it.
Mollie “O” soon “dusted her broom” never to return.
The Piano? The beautiful old upright was sold alright, Annie’s mother bought it, had it loaded on a truck and moved down to the Grey home on Guadalupe road west of Santa Maria.
The story doesn’t end there though. Jenny Grey, Annies mother kept the piano. She never returned it to daughter as long as she lived. It sat in her parlor for 36 years until she died in 1947.
The piano gifted to her by her uncle in 1889 and which she left when she went to university in 1904 finally came back to her after 45 years when she was 62 years old.
When I was a kid, in those days before television, she would play at family gatherings or just for her own pleasure. Sometimes my grandfather sang with her adding his baritone voice to the lilting notes as she “tickled the ivories.” Their were times when my mom and dad joined them, belting out the tunes written more than a half-century before. The old sheet music on the music stand, faded and cracked around the edges guiding grandma as she played.
She was very good too. For many years se played at church. After the Social Security act of 1935 she got a card and actually got paid for playing at the Rebekahs and Odd Fellows. Upstairs in the old building where women were rarely allowed she played for the lodge members those rollicking tunes favored men who were born in the nineteenth century.
I still have the sheet music. “After the Ball is Over,” and “The Band Played On.” If you went to my little brothers wedding, they first danced to that song, one he had learned before he could reach a keyboard himself.
“Cayce would dance with the strawberry blonde and the band played on, He would whirl cross the floor with the girl he adored….” He still does adore her too.
There was “Barney Google with the big, big Googly eyes,” and “West side, East Side, All Around the Town….The Sidewalks of New York.” My grandfather Jack lived in New York as a young man and the song was a special favorite of his.
I don’t think many remember them now. They are more than a century old. They are from the days before Victorolas and radios, long before television, I-Pods and Cell phones. Some remember them though, like me and maybe you.
So, when you go to visit my brother Jerry and walk downstairs, it’s right there under the stairwell. It still gets played, my brothers hands sliding across the polished ivory keys just like his mother and grandmother did. If you ask, he will play some of those old tunes for you, and if you listen with your eyes closed you might see those generations of Shannons harmonizing in song, my grandfather, his back straight and his head tilted back, thumbs in his green and yellow suspenders as he sings, my dad with his arm around my mother and Annie, sitting on the little upholstered stool, adding her soft Soprano. A picture, perhaps a Norman Rockwell painting or so it seems to me. Music is the Soul of mankind isn’t it? It’s the glue that holds us together.
*The Halcyon Sanitarium was located in the old Coffee-Rice house in what is now the town of Oceano. It still stands as a private residence.