Calaveras Enterprise

These tales are steeped in Calaveras memories

Margo Mohn, left, Judy Hewett, Marle Hewett, Pat Grant and Denella Kimura work on the Voices of Wisdom project at the Manzanita Arts Emporium in Angels Camp.Courtesy photo

Margo Mohn, left, Judy Hewett, Marle Hewett, Pat Grant and Denella Kimura work on the Voices of Wisdom project at the Manzanita Arts Emporium in Angels Camp.Courtesy photo

“We spent most days in the local creek that flowed through grandma’s land and under the bridge near what is now Middleton’s. There were frogs to chase and turtles to catch. We would patiently wait until the turtles stuck out their legs and neck, so we could see their stripes. We watched water skippers and dragonflies flit among the cattails. There was mud to squish between our toes and rocks to throw. We learned how to catch little fish with our hands.”

When Pat Grant read aloud from the story she titled “Play” at a Voices of Wisdom class at the Manzanita Arts Emporium in Angels Camp, everyone in the room knew what that memory looked like. Even for those who may not have had the same childhood experience, her words painted vivid images of summer days on a grandmother’s property on Cherokee Creek, where 5- and 6-year-old cousins did chores, made games from their work and spent their time outside. Her story echoed the landscape of her childhood, a place of Wild West parades, ranging cattle and skunks encountered down by the creek. Her voice, generous in its expression, brought into focus how children learn to navigate and participate in the world. From her own lived experience, Pat wrote a story universal in its significance.

She says she came to the Voices of Wisdom classes when she learned about them during a visit to the Manzanita Arts Emporium on South Main Street. She had recently lost her husband, for whom she had been caretaker, a challenge that had consumed her days and nights for such a long time. Pat needed to do something after his death that would force her to get out and interact with others. When she came to the next class, Pat was greeted by a lively group of mature adults from all different kinds of backgrounds. The participants, however, shared a strong core belief in the power of memories about places and time, and they committed themselves to preserving their histories in their own voices. This enthusiastic group had shaped itself into a community of response and encouragement that respectfully welcomed Pat into its circle.

Pat has roots deep in the land and way of life in Calaveras County, a place she has always called home, even when she lived for a time in the Bay Area in the 1960s. During her years there, she missed the space and friendliness of those who live in this beautiful region, saying that when she lived in an apartment in Richmond, she could hear her next-door neighbor brushing his teeth, but he never looked at her when she passed him in the hallway. She returned to Calaveras County to raise her family, and she has never regretted that decision.

Her family history stretches back to the 1840s, making Pat a fourth-generation Calaveras resident. Her forebears settled in Carson Hill and Angels Camp and over in the Tuolumne area. Today they are so numerous and scattered widely across the region that she can hardly keep track of them all. She recalls that one year they rented Frogtown for a family reunion, “and that was just for the locals,” she grinned.

Living in Angels Camp suits Pat just fine. She lives “right in the middle of California.” She can hop in her car and drive two hours to the beautiful ocean waters of the Pacific for a getaway and “be home in time for a shower” that evening, or in the other direction to mountain ranges and forests. As an adult, she says her home is amazing because “it is big enough to get anything we need, but small enough that it has a real sense of community.”

When she was a child, though, Pat had a slightly different perspective. She says that everyone knew one another.

“If they didn’t know your name, they knew who your family was,” she said. “If I was naughty, my grandmother knew all about it before I walked from Bret Harte to her house at the top of the hill near where Middleton’s is now. We had party lines, and everyone knew everything.” Reflecting on that now, Pat says it is part of the trust and love that a small-town community weaves around its residents.

When asked if she plans to continue to participate in the Voices of Wisdom project when it begins its second year, Pat answers with a resounding, “Yes!”

The Voices of Wisdom undertaking has accomplished its ambitious goal in engaging senior residents from around the county to build a writing community that publishes a collection of childhood memories and lived experiences. “The Voices of Wisdom: A Calaveras Anthology,” a valuable addition to the region’s history of places and people, is also a gift from the seniors who devoted their time and energy to create the written account of remembrances.

The Voices of Wisdom project was made possible with a grant from the Calaveras Community Foundation. The book is now available at Manzanita Arts Emporium and others area shops.

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