The Family – Chapter 16

Mendocino and Sonoma

Mendocino Gewürztraminer Johnson, Mendy to her friends, and Sonoma Cabernet Williams, Cab to her friends, were the daughters of Catalina Summers, known as Cat to her friends.

Cat was the daughter of Heinhold Geberhard Summers, a rich and distinguished businessman in Los Angeles. For years Cat loved her family and its wealth and she was one of her father’s pride and joys—along with his business entities. She was pretty, got straight A’s in school, and would surely be successful in her own right. Then one day in college, appropriately enough at Cal, she went to see a retrospective showing of The Graduate. In an opening scene Dustin Hoffman is standing somewhat absurdly in a swimming pool in a diving suit. She identified with the scene, with his doubts, and with his lack of direction. She had begun to hate her wealth, her studies, and her life, and she was ripe for a change.

Soon after, she was recruited to visit the Moonie ranch in Boonville where, if she had not escaped one wet and stormy night, she might have become one of the brainwashed Moonies infamously living out their diminished if not slavish lives for Reverend Moon. However, with the help of a friend, she slipped out the ranch one night and headed downtown to the local coffee shop, the Horn of Zeese, where she expected to catch the Greyhound bus. Before the bus arrived, she met a longhaired guy who called himself Moonbeam On The Water, Moonbeam for short. He invited her to visit his home and there she evolved overnight from a Moonie escapee to a commune acceptee.

The mantra of Moonbeam’s Pleasure Farm Commune was a simple one like most of the communes that grew up in the Napa-Sonoma-Mendocino region: people’s psyches were out of balance, too tied up with the norms and demands of a consumer driven, materialistic, capitalist society. People should slow down and learn to accept life’s more basic pleasures. In the Mendocino hills this meant a very basic place to live, fresh and organic food, freedom to be one’s self, and freedom to do what one wanted; that was all that a person needed. Free love and associated pleasures helped define that freedom and while locals would make jokes about the naked, pot-smokin’ hippies walking around the compound and its yurts, those within seemed content to be “free.”

Both Mendy and Cab had been conceived amidst those yurts that served as homes in the Mendocino hills and neither they nor their mother was ever exactly sure who their fathers were. At their births, Cat had simply selected a surname that she though would fit in with their other names. It wasn’t too practical, or perhaps even legal, but “she really didn’t give a damn.” Since the gruntin’ and sweatin,’ animal-like mating ritual was physical, not emotional, and since there were often several “partners” involved, depending upon how many wanted to join in on the fun, there were no expectations of long-term responsibility; none expected and none offered. Catalina thought she knew who Sonoma’s father might be; she had no clue in relation to Mendy.

“Normal” motherly concerns, whatever they might be, didn’t really seem to matter when Cat was livin’ in those hills, collecting her government check, and raisin’ her kids along with a motley assortment of similarly-bred youngsters from the commune. Over time though the petty jealousies that were laughed at as the by-product of normal society also sprang up in the commune. And, as the scene at the commune evolved away from that of an idealistic society to one of making money in drugs—and then using that money to buy legitimate businesses over the hill in Ukiah—the lure of the hills began to fade.

Ultimately, that which Cat had thought so perfect in the beginning turned out to be less than perfect in the end. She began to observe her surroundings and wasn’t pleased. She also began to recognize that she was not alone; both girls were growing up, both were sharp, they needed a good education, and perhaps they needed a new environment.

What finally prompted a real change in viewpoint was a project that Sonoma was involved in at the local school. An oral history of the area, together with a proposed book at the end, was the goal and while Cab interviewed people and wrote out the stories, her mother watched and reflected on an area that she had called home for many years.

In many ways it was an almost unbelievable story of a region whose small population, never more than a few thousand, contained many of the most infamous names of the day. In the late ‘60s, Charles Manson had descended on Mendocino along with several of his followers. Before being run out of the county on the back of a pick-up truck, he had distributed LSD to the local youth, and his female followers—including Susan Atkins, aka Sadie Atkins—would gain the moniker “The Witches of Mendocino.” Nomads of drugs, sex and venereal disease, they seemed to gain acceptance, or at least were tolerated, by fellow immigrants from the Haight Ashbury haunts of San Francisco who traveled north to Mendocino. Later, when the horrific events that surrounded the Manson killings in Los Angeles were revealed, many of the locals would grin and simply say, “I knew Charlie.”

Then there was Treefrog Johnson, a serial child molester who managed to seemingly disappear into the Navarro Forest with his van and victims. When he was finally arrested, after a stint at the Whale School in Albion, many who had known him could only shake their heads and say they never guessed.

Leonard Lake too joined in the Mendocino action when he moved his wife and a collection of weapons and pornography into a communal ranch near Ukiah. There he began to do the wife swapping, group orgy routine that was common to some communes. The wife, fired from her job as a teacher’s assistant at Anderson Valley High School (for teaching kids how to make explosives), eventually went on trial and Leonard decided it might be time to move on. That he did and together with Charles (Mad Dog) Ng he managed to film the tortures and rapes of over twenty people at a farm in Wilseyville in Calavaras County. Eventually the charred bones, skeletons, and rotting remains of fifteen or more people were discovered. Once again the locals in Mendocino County would nervously chuckle and say yes, they did remember Leonard and his weapons as well as the day the FBI invaded the Philo hills looking for those weapons.

Jim Jones was another local celebrity. He taught a fifth grade class at the Anderson Valley Elementary School one year and brought students over the hill from his People’s Temple in Redwood Valley. Two of the older students that he brought ran for Homecoming Queen at the high school. The yearbook listed their goals—to save the world. Instead, they would be among the 913 who died at Jonestown in Guyana. No Boonville local seemed to know if it was from the cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid or from a gunshot to the head.

Last but not least was the “Ideal City Ranch” in Boonville, the Moonie Ranch that had brought Cat to the seemingly bucolic valley. At the ranch, the new people would be “love bombed” while playing games (like dodge ball), singing songs (like “When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob-Bob Bobbing Along”), and be given round the clock direction—and indoctrination. Society was corrupt, parents might be in league with the Devil, and the answer to those problems could be found with this new family and the “Lord of the Second Advent.” The new lord was the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Cat cringed when she reviewed her stay at the ranch.

At some point Cat began to consider her surroundings. What was it about the Boonville to Mendocino region, a distance of less than forty miles, and a population that never exceeded more than ten thousand in the entire area, that invited such a high percentage of deviants? Boonville’s idyllic valley and hills, the Navarro forest, and the headlands of Albion and Mendocino had harbored and given assistance to some of the true monsters of the era. And why were people in the area so blasé? She never did satisfactorily explain the reasons but it opened her eyes and she viewed those around her in an entirely different light. It was only the barest of presentiments but it convinced her it was time to move on.

Catalina decided to return to her roots and visit her parents in Los Angeles but her father had seemingly disowned her and refused to meet with her or the girls. Her mother though helped her out; she rented the trio an apartment and would secretly meet Cat and the grandchildren for lunch.

One of Cat’s favorite memories was of the time she had spent down at the pier with her grandfather and grandmother. Although her family had been more than well off during her childhood, both elders had immigrated to America in the early ‘30s and remembered the hard times—both in Germany and America. Theirs were old time, old world values, and they both preferred the old wooden pier down at the beach to the yacht that her father captained during his biweekly jaunts to Avalon and Catalina island. Her grandparents had begun to teach Cat values about life that were sound, values that might have prevented her later problems, but both had died unexpectedly when Cat turned eight years of age. By age nine Cat was spending more time on her own than with her parents (who were absorbed with matters of business, society and a few mind-enhancing drugs) and it was almost predictable that the break that did eventually occur might happen.

One day Cat appeared on the pier with her daughters. She thought the pier and its free fishing was about as close to nature as she would find in southern California. She also thought it might be fun for the girls. But she had forgotten much of what her grandparents had taught and was facing a fiasco of sorts when the Family finally noticed their inept techniques and decided to jump in and offer assistance.

As was usually the case, Cassidy was the first to offer up some help to the young, neophyte anglers who knew NOTHING about how to catch a fish or what to do if they did indeed manage to catch a fish. Luckily the girls were not only quick learners but also enthralled by the attention from the family. Soon the visits from the trio were regular and Martha, Cassidy and Ellen had taken it upon themselves not only to teach the girls how to fish but spent hours discussing their own reflections on life including its many mysteries.

In part this was because of the girl’s questions, in part because Cat in all her almost-too-bold manner held nothing back when it came time to discuss her life amidst the hills of the North Country. Even Jasper, George and the Professor offered up occasional pronouncements.

Tim said little, a fact that wasn’t overlooked by the others. One day though, amidst Cat’s stories about the drug culture of Mendocino County, Tim joined in with her comments. “You’re lucky you left that scene, harm has been done to so many people. It’s a sham, lotus-land culture based ultimately on personal greed and selfishness. It’s a group of people who refuse to accept society’s norms but demands attention from that same society and flaunts its challenges rather than simply living its own beliefs.” Cat had to agree with what Tim said. It wasn’t the simple Hobbit-like existence so many portrayed. Where once so many individuals and groups had relied on small crops of pot each year to provide sustenance, gangs and armed sentries now increasingly controlled the areas. The hills of Mendocino were dangerous. Cat also finally admitted to herself that the life she had lived had, in itself, been a sham to a large degree and that it might have hurt the girls. She was glad she had moved.

Slowly Cat and the girls adjusted to their new world and finally one day Cat made an announcement. “You’re not going to believe this but my father came to visit our apartment last night. We actually had a nice visit and he has asked us to move into the house. I don’t know what happened but we’ve reconciled.” Jasper winked at Martha and Ellen who knew of his visit to father Summers, but nothing was said.

Soon after, it was announced that the girls would be entering a private school and that their time at the pier would be limited. A party was held in which all the girls were teary-eyed. The biggest surprise was the gift from the gentlemen members of the group—individually wrapped fishing rods for each of the trio—beautiful rods containing their names. In small letters on each rod was inscribed “Honorary Member Of The Family” and following the presentations there were of course even more tears.

Cat and the girls promised to visit and fish every opportunity that was presented—and they kept their word. Even if they couldn’t be at the pier every week, they were there often enough to remain friends and honorary members for many years. And, they became pretty good anglers along the way.