A biography of the Bailey Bliss & Snell families
of Ukiah, Berkeley and Marin

lovingly written for her children and grandchildren by Nancy Bailey Sugars email_ghost_w.gif (907 bytes)email her here

In Three Parts

 
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My grandfather, Will, owner of the red hair that Steve inherited, was born in 1860, the first white boy born in Ukiah; A little girl had been born six weeks earlier. His mother, Nancy, had come across the plains with her family, in a covered wagon. They had come under attack by Indians, but I don’t know what tribe or where on the trip. In the Indian attack, Nancy’s dress received a bullet hole in the skirt, the bullet missing her because of the full, long skirts worn by women in those days. She had fallen and her skirts went up in the air. Another paper says that the holes were made by arrows, but I cannot prove either story — the dress is gone.Perhaps it went with Nancy to Camarillo, where she went after her husband, Joseph Snell, died, to live with her sister who had married a Wilhite. She is buried down there in a family plot. Joseph is buried in a small cemetery in the hills outside of Willits. We found his grave because of an article in the Willits paper, that had a picture of his tombstone, a large pillar type — so we went up and found it. The cemetery is very neglected in a way, but was still being used at the time we saw it.

The group Nancy and family were with came across the Sierras and stayed for a time in Hangtown, now known as Placerville. (You can imagine where that Hangtown name came from— claim jumpers weren’t very popular and there wasn’t much law and order during the Gold Rush.) Evidently her family and my father’s family were there at or about the same time, with his family going south and Mom’s going north.

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Will Snell
When one thinks of Ukiah and that area now, it is hard to imagine what it must have looked like at that time. All homesteaders, no stores, forests, no roads to speak of — meat was hunted for — bear and deer mostly, because the oxen and cattle that had come across the plains were needed for plowing, milk, etc. — gardens planted from seeds and seedlings brought with the pioneers. These people started out in California with just what they had been able to bring with them. They must have been farmers, because there was no gold around there, although there was hydraulic mining along the Trinity River further north. I do not recall ever reading about any big finds up there. Of course, with all the forests, with the huge and ancient redwoods, lumbering became important. 
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Polly Short
My great-grandfather was, among other things, an exhorter — a sort of man (always men) who rode the countryside bringing ‘religion’ to the scattered families. Oddly enough, Nancy’s sister also married an exhorter. It must have been hard to leave families, friends, churches in the East, not knowing whether it had been for good or not, and so this exhoratory must have been welcome I sometimes wonder what that family brought with them across the prairies, mountains, rivers, through the heat and the cold and the dust A quilt, perhaps, made from materials of dresses and shirts, to connect them with the family they had left behind? I was so touched by the quilts at the show at the Oakland Museum-- family history told in a quilt.

Will’s family came from Missouri and Kentucky so far as I know-- and I say this because the letters I spoke of came from those states. I know my great-grandmother came from rebel families and when the Federal troops would come to look for Confederate sympathizers to confiscate any gold or other assets to help the Union troops, she would hide where they couldn’t find her. I think I would have liked her! Spunky.

 
My grandmother, Jenneta Bliss, came across in a train as a young woman, traveling with friends, George and Millie Chittenden. I knew them well, as Aunt Millie and Uncle George. I thought they were ancient. They were older than Jenny Bliss, and had a daughter who was older than my parents -- She was Aunt Mae; married an Englishman named Fred. The Chittendens settled on a sheep ranch near Cummings in Mendocino County, still a very small --wide place in the road-- north of Laytonville, on the old Redwood Highway, now the Avenue of the Giants. I do not know if my Nana stayed with them, nor how she met my grandfather, but meet they did and our family began!

Jenny Bliss had been adopted as a baby by the nurse who took care of her mother during Jenny’s birth. Her mother came from a wealthy family in New York who disinherited their daughter when she married a young man against their wishes. (Sounds like a novel or soap, doesn’t it?) When the mother died in childbirth, the nurse took the baby and adopted her. I think that perhaps she moved to Michigan, because my mother took a train trip back to Michigan with her mother. I don’t anything else about that family, for which I am sorry — I think writing this is making me more interested in geneology!! Maybe my next hobby!

Because Jenny came from the East, she was considered somewhat as a woman who could doctor people. She and Will of course knew many Native Americans and learned much of their ‘folk’ medicine and used it to heal people. Mom told me about her dog getting bitten in the neck by a rattlesnake and my grandfather saved it by putting a poultice of rattlesnake weed around the bite.

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Janneta Bliss
 
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Zona and John Cappell
While Jenny did not have any siblings that I know of, Will had two sisters, both of whom had that wonderful red hair. Zona married John Cappell and they had six children, all of whom were in Northern California; I remember visiting Elmer Cappell one summer. The other sister, Eliza, married Abe Snyder and they had two children. I never met Eliza or their children, but Uncle Abe came to visit us when he was in his nineties. He lived in Westport, which is on the coast opposite Laytonville. He was a wonderful character and your Dad loved listening to him and laughing that great laugh of his.

My maternal grandparents were married on July 2, 1884. He was Justice of the Peace in Ukiah before they moved to Sherwood Valley and went into the timber business. They had five children, four who lived. Earle was the oldest, then Joe, followed by Mildred, known as Midge to us, and my mother, Jenneta Eloise. Reta lived for only five days, and I do not know when she was born, before or after my mother. Mom was born in the tiny town of Laytonville, north of Ukiah and just south of where the mountains begin. It is still very small, which is rather surprising as it is on 101, on flat land, in a beautiful valley. Perhaps the land is privately owned by ranchers or farmers. Oddly, I do not know where the others were born, other than it was in that same area.

The family lived in various places besides Ukiah; Kelseyville, Cloverdale, Willits. Will knew everyone in the area and kept track of most of them over the years. Admiral Stanley went to school with him— he served as ambassador to Russia as well as serving in the Navy, and after his death, a state park was named after him. I never met him, though I did read letters he wrote to my Grandad, but I did know Josie Van Damme and a state park was named after her family as well. She was such a good friend of my Nana, and when she lived in Oakland, Mom and I would visit her. She had the most beautiful marbletop tables and also a Stradivarius violin. If I had been willing to learn to play it, she would have given it to me. But I hated the idea, thinking people would laugh at me — and I didn’t know the value of it!!! And with my short arms, I probably wouldn’t have been able to play it anyway! And her family probably wouldn’t have let us have it anyway, when she died; they didn’t let Mom have the marbletop table she had been promised. 
My mother’s life as a child must have been a bit rugged and even tough, but listening to her stories about it brought in the fun and adventure of living in what to us now would seem a wilderness! There were none of the amenities that we consider absolute necessities in our lives— no bathrooms, electricity, refrigerators, at times no running water— perhaps they had ice boxes, but I am not sure where the ice would have come from. I have heard of places where people would cut big chunks of ice during the winter and keep them in deep holes in hopes they would last for the hot weather, but I don’t know where anyone would find any great amount of ice in the area where they lived — unless they took wagons to Mount Shasta! They did have ‘coolers’, a screened-in hanging box which was on the north side of the house. As I write this, I laugh at all the precautions we get about refrigerating food — Jennie used to make cream pies and put them in the cooler — during the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, all the cream pies upset, so she gave them to the Native American woman who worked for her. Soap was made with fat and lye — it had to sit until it jelled -- bread was made with flour that came in printed sacks that were then used for clothes— some of the material in the quilt from then was flour sack— meat was salted and dried if not able to be used up in the warm weather. There were root cellars where the food grown in the summer could be stored in winter.

Traveling was done by horse and wagon— no cars of course and the trains didn’t go everywhere- and I don’t know that they had bicycles— it would have been rough biking anyhow. They walked miles to go to parties or went by horse and buggy or wagon to go to parties where they would spend the night and go home the next day because of the distance.

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Nana Snell, baby Bob and Margaret
The food was like ours except that they grew and made and hunted and fished for much of their food — milked cows (and made butter from the cream). Mom learned how to catch a fish with a horsehair, as the natives did. This all, of course, changed as time went by and they moved into towns where there were stores and bakeries, etc. But nevertheless, Jenny continued to make the dresses and shirts, bake bread, bake pies, smoked meat, canned fruit and vegetables after growing them; she was a wonderful cook and taught Midge and Neta to be the same. 
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My mother and her brothers

I think my Nana was a strong woman. She probably had to be, living in a somewhat untamed area in California. She worked hard, but she also did beautiful handwork — she tatted, did all kinds of needlework, cut work. And she was fun! She looked like a grandmother, soft and plump. She and I played card games and mah jong, the latter with others, particularly my mother (this is another thing my father gave away, the beautiful ivory mah jong set!!). 

Will went through six grades in school and perhaps there weren’t any higher grades to go through, I don’t know. I do know that it didn’t matter so far as being able to get a job. He did many things, but what I remember personally is his being a timber cruiser. This required him to go through forest belonging to the Southern Pacific Railroad and estimate how many board feet a particular tree would provide. He was remarkably accurate in being able to just look at a tree and know; in fact, he became so well know that even after he retired, he was called back over and over to cruise for lumber companies. When he was younger he had been a lumberjack and was part of the harvest of the ancient, immense redwoods, which we strive so hard to protect now. He really knew the forests and nature and I have a feeling that he would not have been for clearcutting as it is done now, leaving moonscapes behind. We have a couple of pictures of him and others cutting trees— most of the trees that were that big and old are gone now, although, luckily, some have been protected by being contained in the park system.

He was very psychic and would have precognitive dreams. The one I have always been struck by was one he had of stepping over a downed log onto a rattlesnake. The next day, while cruising, he came to a log, looked on the other side, and there was a rattlesnake! He also would dream of being in a rowboat with a member of his family — both out here and back east— the boat would tip over, and either the relative would be saved or would drown. He would later hear that the particular relative had died or had been very ill but had recovered.

This gift (or curse, depending on one’s point of view about seeing the future) ran in his family. He had a Cousin Jane, who lived in Hollywood and was consulted by the stars of those days before they would sign a contract, etc. Mom, Dad and I went to visit her when I was about twelve, I think. Dad was a sceptic but she took him in another room and told him things about Mom’s health — and they were true!! I never knew what they were, but I do know she had some surgery not long after. She wouldn’t do a reading for me as I was so young, but she did look at my palm and tell my parents that they would never have to worry about me. I guess she was right!! 

I don’t know exactly when they lived in Cloverdale, but you remember the house there that we would see when traveling north— and Peg and Becky went up to one time, horrifying Jessica. I didn’t go in, either, though, and I will say it was fun to get a report from the two of them.

Jenny and Will each seemed to be particularly close to two of their children — Jenny was closer to Earle and Midge; Will, to Joe and Neta, although they were a close family. They got along well, and we have some great pictures of them growing up and as young adults— Joe had the same interests as his father, being an outdoors man; Earle was a writer. Midge never married and stayed with her parents, which was great for Jenny as Will would be gone a lot. My mother felt that her mother kept Midge from marrying, but we know that no one can make us do something if we really don’t want to!

Having known this family only as adults, of course, it is hard for me to imagine them as children. But from the stories Mom told, they were like children of all generations — into trouble, playing games, teasing, learning. Earle went to UC when it was only in Berkeley; Midge and Neta went for a time— in fact, your Nana took a year of landscape architecture. Remember her gardens? 

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Midge and Neta
 
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Joe's 1st wife Ollie & Margaret
I don’t know if Joe went to college at all. He was a man who did lots of different things: he was a lumberman, the sheriff at Yreka, a deputy several places, a carpenter who did beautiful work, a guard at San Quentin (which didn’t last long because it was such a cold-hearted job and he was anything but that!). He became a contractor and settled in San Rafael, had a boat in a marina just below his home. I don’t think he was as close to others as they were to each other, although he and Midge may have been fairly close— I do know that the ‘family scandal’ stayed important in my Nana’s and Midge’s minds and they may have found it hard to feel close to Olga. They were so fond of Joe’s children from his first marriage, particularly Bob. But I don’t think they were that fond of Ollie, either, perhaps because if she had gone with Joe, Olga wouldn’t have happened. Incidentally, Ollie moved down south to Fullerton, had a store and became very successful! We would see her when we went to visit Earle and Jess, and her children were around us quite often, particularly Margaret and Bob.

I don’t think any of you met Joe’s sons, Bob and Jack, though I know Bob came to that family re-union at Neta’s in Palo Alto. You did all know Margaret and her husband, Irwin Moon. What a remarkable man — had an honorary PhD bestowed on him for his scientific work. He was a Baptist minister, unlike any other minister I have ever known! Margaret was always a very quiet and after marrying Irwin, became a stereotypical minister’s wife. They had lots of children, then grandchildren, then great-grandchildren. He was amazing— developed time-lapse photography; developed some machine that could pick up the sound of molecules in wood, etc., and at the World’s Fair on Treasure Island, had an exhibit where he would stand on electrical coils and have one million volts of electricity come through his fingers — it would look like lightening. 

Do you remember them coming to Bothin about the time of your wedding, Becky, and offering to take everyone out to dinner? Ended up with all the kids who had come out from New Mexico and were staying with us — sixteen of us, I think! They came up another time to pick up one of the redwood burl tables Joe had made. Mom had one, that I now have, and he made one for Midge, which Mom had after Midge died. I felt Margaret should have it, so she could have something her father had made. She was very touched by it. Irwin took some wonderful pictures of Steve and Jessica at that time. He was such a good photographer; once when we went to visit them with Bill and Barbara and family he made duplicates of the old family pictures so everyone could have copies.

Earle was a lovely, absent-minded film writer, gentle and non-aggressive. His wife, Jessie, who had been married before and had a daughter, had lived in Coalinga, a small valley town. How the two met, I have no idea--actually had never thought about it before! But it is fun to suppose that somehow she was in Reno while he was there, and she was playing blackjack and he, in his absent-minded way bumped into her and that was it! She ran their life and spent money so easily and therefore they ended up with little to show for his salary --$1500/week as I recall Mom saying— which was a lot in those years. He seemed very happy and content with it all and he was deeply loved by Margaret, his step-daughter and her husband, Jess Hibbs. I loved visiting them; it seemed very glamorous and exciting and Jess always showed us such good fun— the beach, the Farmer’s Market. They lived in a house, on Olive Street I think, which had been Gloria Swanson’s home once. Earle made bathtub gin during prohibition and there were always poker games (that I heard about but never was at) attended by film people. One was Pat O’Brien; Margaret said Pat only recognized her when he was drunk, but never when he was sober. When WWII started, Earle wrote scripts for the government. What a nice man! When he stopped working because of his health, Jess started teaching at a school for children in filmdom. She was quite elegant and cultured, at least on the surface. She was quite caught by money, social status, and --men! But exciting to visit, when I was young and impressed by Hollywood. 

Jess Hibbs, Earle and Jess’s son-in-law, was a terrific guy — we all liked him so much. He had been an All-American at USC, along with Marion John Wayne. John Wayne was Jess’ best man at his wedding. Jess, of course, was in film work, too, and at the time of the marriage was an assistant director. He graduated to full director, directed Audie Murphy in some of those films. I believe Earle wrote one of the scripts (his specialty was "oaters"). Jess also went into television and did a number of the Perry Mason series. A side story — Jess had played so much football that at times, when he was asleep, he would tackle whoever was in bed with him. One time when they were visiting us, for some reason he and my father were in the same bed and every time Dad moved, Jess would tackle him! So Dad was as quiet as he could be!

Do you remember Midge? She was quite a lady in many ways— pretty, smart, capable. She adored Joe’s Bob and my sister, Peg. I was not one of her favorites, perhaps because I was my Nana’s favorite! Not that Midge was mean to me, but she obviously preferred Peg. She and Mom were very close as they grew older, and she was around us a lot. She worked in Los Angeles or Hollywood, at The Broadway, I think it was, and would come up on the Lark, the night train, and arrive on Christmas day. We would have to run by the room with the Christmas tree in it and go meet her train, then go back to open presents. And have breakfast, which was always biscuits and chipped beef gravy — one of your Dad’s and my favorites as it is of Peg’s and maybe Bill’s and Becky’s, too!

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The Snell Gang
She was very successful in merchandising, and was a buyer in Notions — I am not sure what that is and that department probably doesn’t exist anymore under that name — I think it was buttons and lace and that type of goods. She went to Paris each year to buy for the next season and that always seemed to glamorous to me! I remember she brought back little chocolate bottles filled with liqueurs. She made a good deal of money, but she had a long time dream of owning a restaurant. So she quit her job and opened a series of restaurants. She had her first one in San Anselmo — why there, why she and Grandad and Nana were there, I can’t remember. The house was on Magnolia, and my grandad took care of Nana there— she had had a severe stroke when I was about twelve and was paralyzed on her right side.

I need to go back to the time my Nana had this stroke— it had a long time effect on my family. She and I had been playing cards — casino, I think — we did so many things together — traveled on the train, read, played cards,; she made many of my clothes. The next morning Mom awakened me and called me to where Nana was in bed. She couldn’t talk and I didn’t understand what was wrong. They took her to the hospital and I didn’t realize it at the time, but she must have been expected to die, because the whole family— her family as well as mine— were in her room. She was tough, though, and pulled through. She had a remarkable medical history, having had eleven major surgeries — I don’t know what — though I imagine most surgeries were major in those times, and she had come close to death often. Mom told me about a time when she had been given up on and she insisted on the nurse bringing her some peppermint tea. The nurse protested, saying, "Jennie, you won’t be able to keep it down", but Jennie insisted. She didn’t keep it down but it brought her back to life!

After she was able to leave the hospital, she came to live with us on Spruce Street, and there was a nurse who came in every day to take care of her, as she was unable to do anything for herself. This is when your Dad would take her for rides on Sundays. He would pick her up and carry her to the car, and off we’d go — my Mom would always go— not for long rides, but at least it was a change for her. Eventually, and for what reason I didn’t know — my Nana went to a nursing home in Oakland. I remember going to see her. I also remember that one time Mom went, there were ants all over the bed and other things that made it impossible to leave her there. Perhaps that is when Midge and Grandad moved to San Anselmo to take care of her. (If people only realized how hard it is to remember things, we would start taking notes every day— this is all pretty mixed up in my mind.) Nana was in a hospital bed by the big picture window so she could look out. I guess she wished she hadn’t lived after the stroke, because she tried to throw herself out the window— and of course wasn’t able to.

The restaurant in San Anselmo was quite successful — it was on San Anselmo Avenue, right by the bridge over the creek that led to the commuter train station. She was a wonderful cook and my grandfather went down every morning to make sour dough pancakes and biscuits — which he had made during his timber cruising days. The commuters loved them

Then came a place in Mill Valley, up above where the Starbucks coffee place is now. A bit more elegant than the first place — which was her dream — a dining room with wonderful continental food. This place always is special to me because this is where your father first asked me for a date!! We were celebrating birthdays — Peg’s, Mom’s, Dick’s and mine — and after dinner, we had gone downstairs to dance in the street — honestly!! And he asked me to go to a movie the next night — was I ever thrilled!! More on that later — this is about Mom’s family.

The next place she opened was on Grand Avenue in Oakland, by Lake Merritt — an old house that had been made into a restaurant as well as a residence. It was close by the big apartment house on the lake where they had lived some time before, after they had left the ‘ranch’ in Sacramento. This was also the place where I (and Peg) had to help out by waiting on tables. How I hated that, really hated it!! I did get big tips because I was so little, and the men would help me with the trays and leave big tips. But I hated it!!! My grandfather at this time had a heart attack and was never well after that. He came to live with my Mom because he was happier there and also didn’t worry so about Nana. Mom had to put him in the hospital because he started wandering at night and could have fallen down the stairs. It was a hard time for Mom. And Nana needed to be put into a nursing home — in Berkeley, but it was a really nice one, and she could see out the window and wave to the students from Cal as they went by. And we would go see her as often as we could. My sister took Dan, her oldest son, to see her when he was very small, and for some reason he called her B-Nana. She loved seeing him.

I wrote that Nana’s stroke had a long term affect on my family — the idea of having a stroke haunted Mom, and she worried about someone having to take care of her — and told me that if she did have a stroke, I should not feel bad about putting her in a nursing home. And then she did have a stroke and I had to put her in a nursing home, and she refused to believe that she had had a stroke — kept wanting me to take her for a walk in the hall. It was hard on me!! Then when my sister had a heart attack and got pneumonia, and was really out of it, a breathing tube down her throat— everyone was trying to figure out why she was so sort of frantic — and when I came to see her, I knew, and I told her that no, she had not had a stroke and she was not paralyzed. And she relaxed. I used to be worried about having a stroke — and maybe I will, someday — hopefully not, for all your sakes — but being with Mom in a really nice place — it was fine and she was happy. They loved taking care of her because she was so happy!

That was sort of an aside that I just took, but now I shall return to Midge’s restaurants! 

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One handsome dude!
During the war Midge started working for a caterer in Oakland, both because of rationing which made it almost impossible to obtain foodstuffs enough to run a fine restaurant, and also because this caterer was doing a lot for the USO center in Oakland. In fact, Midge went to the Center quite often to help feed the many military people moving through the Bay Area. It wasn’t just a matter of feeding them — it was also a matter of letting them know that even though they were far from home, and on their way to fight the war, people cared about them. There were so many of them — this, of course, was a staging area for the Pacific front. Troop ships were leaving every day; troop trains of many cars arrived every night — which made for dramatic sights during the blackouts — we lived up in the Berkeley hills and the sirens would go off and we would see the lights go out, one section at a time, and then we would see the headlight of the engines moving along the tracks — and a short time later, the lights would suddenly flash back on! (One of those silly things of the war — it was as if we kept the lights off, any spies around wouldn’t be able to tell a troop train was arriving!!) I went to the Center several times with Midge — it was quite a moving experience — they were so young!!

Midge was still working at the caterers when Dick came home from overseas — and she brought a feast for us all — Peg and me, sister Peg and Dan and Steve, and Midge plus Dick — to celebrate his return. But that’s another story!

There is a well-known restaurant in Mill Valley— small, intimate, elegant — El Paseo — so named because it is on a passageway between two streets. Midge started it after the war. It became quite famous for her specialties, steak and kidney pie, beef wellington, popovers and, your Dad’s favorite, fresh coconut cream pie! (I have the recipe!)!! It must have been difficult then to know how much food to buy — no freezers, so chefs had to guess amounts. And have specials to use up what needed to be used up before having to throw it out. She loved it and didn’t mind all the work. Isn’t it funny— I can’t remember where she lived then, probably in a Mill Valley apartment, but I simply cannot picture it. She was ill at one point so that she couldn’t work and Mom and my brother, Henry, ran El Paseo for her — which was fine because your Nana was as good a cook as Midge.

Midge died too early — sixty years old. She had always had a problem with her weight because, probably genes but also loving food so much. She would go on a diet but then make wonderful pies and cakes and put ice cream on them! She loved feeding Dick because he so loved to eat!

My brother, Henry, took her to visit the Zeiferts in Fresno (more about them in another part of the story) and after dinner she had said she was tired and wanted to go to bed. When Peggy Zeifert went in to check a bit later, she realized that Midge had had a massive stroke. She never even woke up.

She could have had an easier life if she had stayed in merchandising, but she knew what she needed to do for her own being, and did it. When she died, Mom sold the restaurant and so that phase of life ended. And with a bit of bad taste in it all — the waitress Midge had hired and treated like a daughter, stole her recipe book, which held no only the recipes used at El Paseo, but also those that had been in the family for years — and used the popover one to sell frozen ones to markets!! Mom had no proof and besides didn’t want to make a fuss about the place Midge had so loved. 

As I have written — and you already know — Mom lived in a number of places in Northern California, but probably Ukiah was the main home for the family. They lived there during the 1906 earthquake, which was called the San Francisco quake, but the epicenter was north of the City, near Santa Rosa, I think. It shook Ukiah enough to cause a good deal of damage and left wonderful stories about the earth opening up and swallowing cows and then closing again — perhaps true, perhaps not. I don’t know when her family moved to Berkeley, but probably when it was time for Earle to go to Cal. My parents met there, where he was in college; he had dated Midge, but when he met Neta— that was it! He didn’t get to finish college, which he had started at age sixteen, because his father died and he had to go to work to help his mother. Sad perhaps as he so loved learning, but it didn’t stop him from teaching himself. He had a genius IQ, 187, and was one of the most learned persons I have ever known. Mom was very intelligent as well, with no doubt a way above average IQ, but the Bailey family always considered themselves smarter than anyone (brother Bill still does!) — and never felt the in-laws were worthy! 

Neta and Hal were married on Friday, February 13, 1915 — so the superstition about Friday the thirteenth has never held much power for me. They were married in a house on the corner of Rose and Spruce Streets, which is still standing, a wonderful brown shingled house, the last time I went by there, when we took Jess over and showed her all the houses we had lived in while growing up. It was a lucky day for me and my siblings — wonderful parents who gave us good and healthy childhoods — not perfect, but full of love and fun.

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Neta and Hal get engaged on Mt. Tam
 
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