Sunday, December 10, 2017
"Conversations With The Past"
Ruby English was Annie Bidwell's maid, and later also secretary, from 1914 until Bidwell's death in 1918. In an interview recorded in 1964 English remembers: "I was beside her when she died. I was right at the side of her bed when she breathed her last breath. She didn't say anything except, 'My head feels like it's full of piles of grass.' She would say that over and over. What kind of pain that was, I don't know."
English added: "Of course, before Mrs. Bidwell was cold, people were trying to get me to work for them. I never had to have a reference. Everybody said, 'If Ruby could please Mrs. Bidwell, she could please anybody.'"
Oral history from English and sixteen other interviewees is captured in "Conversations With The Past" ($16.95 in paperback from the Association For Northern California Historical Research, anchr.org), superbly edited by David Brown, Nancy Leek, Josie Reifschneider-Smith, and Ron Womack. Past president Dorothy Hill, now deceased, began the interview project in the mid-1970s.
Subtitled "Vibrant Voices From Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Modoc, Plumas, Shasta And Tehama Counties," the book is available at The Bookstore and Bidwell Mansion in Chico; Discount Books and the Butte County Historical Society in Oroville; My Girlfriend's Closet in Paradise; and Gridley Museum. Footnotes and historical photographs provide helpful context, and there's a list of a dozen contributing local museums at the end, all to spark a reader's further exploration.
The voices include Adolph "Ad" Kessler with a firsthand account of his discovery of Ishi. Llewellyn Gay remembers pioneer life in Orland and Newville, in Glenn County, and a letter to President McKinley that was answered by the bunkhouse muleskinners instead.
The book ends with retired Lassen Volcanic National Park Chief Ranger Lester Bodine, interviewed by Ruby Swartzlow in 1979. He talks about all the preparations necessary for the visit of President John F. Kennedy, who stayed the night at the park and then dedicated Whiskeytown Dam and lake. (Kennedy is shown on the cover feeding a deer.)
It was September 1963, and a chilling editor's comment concludes the book, noting that this "was Kennedy's last official act before heading to Dallas two months later."