After two days of talking, Azalea managed to get through the stories of her Grandparents. On the afternoon of day number three, and leaning over a kitchen table cluttered with books and photographs, cookie crumbs and half empty coffee cups, Azalea looked at me and said, “Now, do you want to hear about my Dad?”
“Ready when you are,” I replied.
And with that Azalea began:
“Lawrence Cuneo was my Father-the old timers called him Lorenzo.
“When he was 14 years old the family got a medical bill. One of his sisters became very ill, and the doctor gave up on her. He told her Mother to feed her anything she wanted because she wasn’t going to make it. Well, the sick girl wanted corn, so she ate seven ears of corn, and in three days she was better. The doctor couldn’t figure it out, but he still gave us a medical bill of 300 dollars. So my Dad asked if he could go to work to help pay it. My family made a living that barely got them by, and a 300 dollar doctor bill was too much.
“So, at the age of 14 Dad went to work for the Blue Lakes Water Co. It was in Hope Valley and was one of the original PG&E groups. And this was his job: They cut down tamarack trees and piled them up like teepees. Then they fired them and let them smolder to make charcoal, and the charcoal was used to sharpen their tools. Dad’s job was to watch the fires, and if they flared up he had to throw a shovel of dirt on the fire to keep it from getting out of control. It was an easy enough job, but at night the wolves came around, and poor Dad had to stand with his back against a tree with an ax in his hand just to protect himself. He would tremble he was so scared.
“Well, he stood it for three nights and finally told the boss he wanted to go home. The boss said,
“What’s the matter, kid?” And Dad said, “The wolves are gonna get me!” So, the boss thought a minute and said, “Ya know, the men are eatin’ their meals there. That’s why the wolves come!” From that point on they dug holes and buried their scraps. And every night they built a big bonfire for Dad, and so he got through it. He worked his way up the ladder at the Blue Lake Water Co, and he was even a ditch tender.
“Dad really liked to dance. After work up there! he and his buddies would walk all the way to West Point for a fling. Then they’d hike back and work all the next day! Sometimes they’d walk to Ham’s Station-they all did it, and they had such good times.
“But anyway, in 1900 the love bug bit him, and Dad began courting my Mother, Theresa Molfino. That’s when he came to Sutter Creek. First, he got a job as a bartender at the Mascot Saloon. It was located at 49 Main Street, when Lizzie Ann’s Book Shop is now. He had all kinds of wild stories to tell about that place; he said he could have been a millionaire if he’d stayed working there, but Mother wouldn’t marry him if he kept tending bar. So he bought Tucker’s Hardware and Plumbing Shop on Main Street and became a plumber.
“When Dad bought that shop in 1900, there were five watering troughs on Main Street which was all dirt and a real mess. And there were only three indoor bathrooms in the whole town, so he got into the business on the ground floor. He’d take a spare room in someone’s house, put lx12 uprights down the center of the room, making a bathroom on one side and a storage room on the other.
“ He also put in lots of waterbanks — those were coils of pipe that were put in the fire box of a wood stove and went to a boiler. That way you’d have hot water.
“Oh, Dad was just full of stories about everything. Once there was a herd of cattle coming down Main Street, and someone opened the plumbing shop door at just the wrong time. Well, some of the cattle headed in the store. Dad didn’t want his store wrecked or anyone to get hurt, so he told everyone to keep still and quiet. And he got help from little Billy Boitano. You see, there was a toilet stall in back, the kind where you can see the feet, you know. And Billy was in there standing on the toilet and looking over the top of the door, and he was yelling, “Get that critter outta here!” and he was scared to death. Dad could hardly get through telling that story without thinking about little Billy looking over that door and yelling his head off. Finally, a cowboy came in and lassoed the steer, and that was the end of that.
“Another time Dad was talking to Mr. Fournier who was building a house in town, when a herd of goats came down the street. The two of them stepped in the doorway where the Chatterbox Cafe is now, and a big billygoat saw their shadow on the Chatterbox window. Well, this billygoat reared up and charged them and went crashing through the window of the Cafe. The owner of the store sent Dad a bill, but he never paid it.
“Dad was very civic minded. He was on the local baseball team and in the Sutter Creek Band. He played the drum, and they practiced in an old building back of the Malatesta Store. On summer evenings the band would march up Main Street, tooting their horns and beating their drums and head for Walkmaster’s Brewery. Mrs. Gill, Jane Boitano’s Mother, used to sit on her porch and say, “There goes the Beer Band I The more they drink, the louder they play.” And Dad tells about one time when they marched up Main Street, and right in front of them at the end of the road was some guy playing a piccolo. Dad was so captivated by the piccolo playing, that when the band turned left to go around Spanish Street, the piccolo player just went straight ahead, and Dad with his drum followed, and the two of them sounded like nothing you ever heard.
“Baseball games were really big back then. Competition was keen, and there was always a lot of betting. One of the first big ball parks was in Skunk Hollow, back of the big Allen Barn. And if enthusiasm during a game began to lag, you’d put a keg of beer on home base, and if you made it home you got to keep the keg.
And when Dad and his friends got bored, they’d “graveyard” some unsuspecting person. Once they “graveyarded” this handsome salesman who came to town. These guys would always go for the prettiest girls, and those were usually waitresses. The girls would walk these salesmen down Spanish Street by the Catholic Church, and Dad and Mr. Bernado would jump out of the bushes, shoot their guns in the air, and yell, “Ah ha I I caught you with my girl I I’m gonna’ shoot you I” Well, the poor salesmen would take off on the run. One jumped over a fence down at the Downs’ place and landed on a sleeping cow. Another ran so fast that he hit a hitching post and nearly killed himself. Dad stopped “graveyarding” after that.
Then there was Dr. Goodman. He was a surgeon too, and Dad was his assistant. Goodman-he was a real character, as well as a natural born doctor. He always had chewing tobacco all over his shirt-what a mess. But he really worked hard, and he would sit with his patients all night long when he had to. But every once in a while it got to be too much, and the doc would take off on a drunk. He’d go to someone’s ranch and pass out for a week. Then they’d bring him back, and he’d be ready for the next three months.
The plumbing shop was next door to his office, and he’d bang on the wall if he was having a difficult surgery. My Dad would go over with his overalls on and wash his hands, but that’s about all; then he’d help with the surgery.
“One time my Dad assisted with a large Slovakian man who had a burst appendix. This man was so fat that Dr. Goodman couldn’t get his insides cleaned properly, and he was afraid gangrene would set in. Well, there were two large hooks above the doorway in his office, and they tied the man’s feet together. Then, with his head hanging down, they hoisted him in the air so his head just cleared the floor. So Dad stood there with the man’s intestines out in a pan, while Dr. Goodman cleaned them up. Then the Doctor yelled at Dad that he had swallowed his tongue, the patient that is, and he told Dad, “Hurry, pull out his tongue I” And Dad yelled, “I can’t find his tongue I” But he looked around and saw a curling iron. He heated it quick, and wrapped the man’s tongue around it. You, know, that man lived, and in three days he wanted to go home. The Doctor said, “Lorenzo, we worked so hard on that man, tell him to stay another day.” So Dad went up to him and told him, “We saved your life; you better stay in the hospital!”
“My Dad really lived the best life anyone could possibly live. He was 95 when he passed away in his sleep. Just think about it-when he was a boy he drove a team of oxen, and on their 60th wedding anniversary Dad and Mom flew by jet to Hawaii.”
Late that afternoon I left Azalea’s home and headed up the hill to my place above Volcano. When I got home, while everything about Azalea was still fresh in my mind, I began to transcribe the story you’re reading now.