My Time in The Valley

As told to my daughter, Arica

At 7 years old I got my social security number, a redwood lug box and a white piece of chalk. The neighbor across the river hired me to help pick prunes. After prune season we picked walnuts off his land. At the end of each day, each redwood lug box that bared my initials, “BC”, added up my total earnings of .20 cents a box.

Today his land is covered with vineyard. No more prunes or walnuts. Those few summers I worked for my neighbor began a foundation of farming land. A redwood lug box, a piece of chalk and an old man who helped me grow.

I cannot remember if I had a pay increase or not but every now and then I was invited to drive along with a delivery to town. We went to the Old Prune Dehydrator south of town where we delivered prunes and walnuts to dry.

For me town was an adventure, an escape and an occasional stop somewhere new. At age 9, my neighbor promoted me to be the driver of his old flat bed truck. It had a hood that was round in front, it was a stick/clutch and I was in charge of picking up the lug boxes in the field.

Back when I was a kid, kids worked. You were taught young to save and recycle. It was how we survived. We fixed things when they broke. We managed with things we had or did not have. We did not go to the store. We were lucky enough if we made it to town maybe once a month. You survived and lived off the garden and the pasture. We raised our own meats or we hunted for meat. We ate and canned goods from the garden and off our fruit trees. It was the way of life and still to this day I have a garden full of vegetables, fruit tress, cattle and sheep that we raise for meat.

The Napa River is my back yard. In my younger days the river was my playground. It was where I learned to swim, boat, fish and hunt. I built fortes, I built traps and I built dams. I use to catch fish with my hands or with my spears. I lived in the river and I lived outside till it got dark. Everything I caught or captured my momma would cook it for me. She never said no to what I brought home to her.

One day I was building another fort; I do not know my age; I was 9 or 10. I found an old coin with a square hole in the middle. I learned it was an old Chinese coin from a couple hundred years ago. Back when the Napa River had split into two channels. The Chinese came into the valley and built a rock wall to stop the flow of water in the second channel. There is still a portion of the Chinese wall that still remains in the river today. I still have my Old Chinese coin, and the memory of finding a piece of history in my back yard.

I have lived in St. Helena since I was knee high. I have lived on the same property for 53 years. I bought the land from my parents when I was 18 and still in high school. To this day the land remains farmed based.

-Bob Covey