Talking With . . . Homer & Lillian Drinkwater in 2000

Oral History Interview in 2000 with Homer Drinkwater, Gilda Lillian Canclini Drinkwater, Steve Jordan (behind) and students Joshua Novakov Lawlor, Mandela Linder, and Lola Thornton of Mendocino Middle School.

Back in 2000, students of Ryan Olson Day’s Options Class at the Mendocino Middle School created an oral history project with a grant obtained by Deena Zarlin. They interviewed and recorded twelve “Old Timers” who told these children what it was like living on the Mendocino Coast in the 20th century. Two decades later, the transcripts of these stories have been pulled from the Kelley House vault, excerpted, and published now for the first time. 

Number four in this series is the wide-ranging interview that took place at the ranch of Homer and Lillian Canclini Drinkwater near Melbourne on Friday, May 19, 2000. They are talking with students Mandela Linder and Lola Thornton, accompanied by Joshua Novakov Lawlor as their technical recorder, and Steve Jordan, a friend of the family and a facilitator for the project.

The kids learn that Homer was born in Oakland, California, on Easter Day in 1916, and later came to the Coast when he was a young man. In 1939 with his parents, he purchased the Gonzalves Ranch on the Comptche Road and moved there in 1942. But when he first visited Mendocino as a teenager in the early 1930s, he recounts how he and his brother drove down Main Street, vacant of any cars, and found a restaurant open for breakfast. “And at the time we sat up to the counter, Claire Strauss was just taking two gooseberry pies out of the oven, and the aroma permeated the whole establishment, you might say. And so we asked if we could have a piece of hot gooseberry pie for breakfast, which she graciously obliged us with. And it was so good that we ordered a second piece, and that’s all we had for breakfast that morning, was we each had about a half of a gooseberry pie.”

Lillian Canclini, on the other hand, was born in 1927 on the Coast. Her grandfather came from Italy around 1900, landing in the gold fields of Placerville, California. After a few years, he sent for his family, which included Lillian’s 12-year-old father, Gildo. They lived for a while in Willets, then moved to Little River near today’s airport. “I was born and raised out there on the “prairie ranch” and lived there until about 1942 before my family moved to Mendocino. In the meantime, I went to work at a little store called the Remedy Store, and then eventually Homer came to work there, and eventually we got married.”

Lola wants to know about the Remedy Store. Lillian says, “That was my first job. It was the gathering place of where the kids all came, where the people that wanted to socialize all came. It was an old fashion soda fountain with a wooden floor. It sold newspapers and magazines, it sold patent medicines like cough syrup and aspirin and things of this nature. It sold candy. We made sodas, we made root beer floats, we made sundaes, we made hot fudge sundaes, we made marshmallow sundaes. Milkshakes were a big popular thing, and they had a little booth in the back and people came from all up and down the coast.” [The Remedy Store was located in the building now occupied by Highlight Gallery.]

The students ask, “What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen here, and what do you miss about the old days?” Lillian replies, “Well, there’s a lot of changes. One of the biggest changes I think that I see is, and I read about it in the paper, in the Beacon, is the fact that there aren’t families living in downtown Mendocino like what there used to be. 

“You’d start there on Main Street, there was Stevey and his family that lived down on the end of the block, and you’d come on down the line, and there was us, at Homer’s Market, with our family living up over our store [now Flow Restaurant]. And next door was Dr. Whited’s dentist office [Prentice Gallery], and his home [now Silver & Stone Gallery] with his wife and daughter. Then you’d go down, and there was Claire Strauss and their restaurant [once the Music Box], but they lived right there, and you go down and there’s Chicky’s [Dick’s Place], the family lived right there. 

“Families lived from the bank [corner of Kasten and Main] on down, they weren’t businesses. There was the Granskogs, and there was the Springs, and way down on the end was the Lamplmayrs house. Behind our store was Mrs. MacCallum’s home. She and her son lived there, and then there was, oh, in where the Kelly House is, there was the Tyrrell family that lived there, the kids Helen and Forrest, and Charlie and his wife. Charlie drove the school bus. And then let’s see, I was just trying to think. There was the Matthews, and there was the Heeser family. All those places where you see shops now were the families. They’re gone. It all seems to be geared to the out-of-town people, not so much the local people.”

This very entertaining interview covers many other topics. The children learn about going to school (only in the summer) at the one-room McKay School, the start of Homer’s Market on Main Street in 1948, the Drinkwater’s mail delivery on the star postal route to Comptche from 1946 to 1970, and the enormous vegetable and fruit gardens they created at Rancho Laguna. In 1994, they were given an award for outstanding forest land stewardship on their ranch by the California Stewardship Committee, the California Department of Forestry and Fire, and the USDA Forest Service.

Homer Chute Drinkwater died on 23 October 2003 at his Comptche Road home. Gilda Lillian Canclini Drinkwater is still with us.

If you would like to hear these recorded voices or read the stories in full, just give us a call at 707/937-5791 and we’ll set you up for a visit at our research office on Albion Street in Mendocino. Our hours are Monday through Friday 1:00 to 4:00, or email us at curator@kelleyhousemuseum.org