I’ve never stolen anything in my life, except for that Christmas tree.
Three of my six kids lived with me in the old tank house behind the Yum Yum Bakery in small town Ft. Bragg.
Got the lights turned back on, and our food stamps arrived at the Mendocino post office so we could have Christmas dinner. Debby and her husband, John, were coming up for it. But with only a week to go, we had no tree! And no money to buy one.
“We gotta get a tree, we gotta get a tree, we gotta get a tree,” all the kids in unison!
The night was foggy. My kid Timmy knew where there was a Christmas tree farm out Pudding Creek. We left Jenny and Chris safe at home and piled into our old 1952 Chevy 4- door.
I drove out the county road, stopped across from the tree farm and left the motor running, lights out. Timmy took the saw and flashlight and slipped across the road into the trees. The minutes dragged on with me keeping a lookout, worrying, it was scary. I drove slowly down to the end of the road, turned around and drove back just when Timmy reappeared, dragging a scrawny six-foot tree, almost too big to fit in the car. I helped him stuff it in the back seat hanging out the window. Just as we jumped in and I turned on the lights, we saw the lights of another car approaching fast from behind! Thought I saw three guys in it. The roar of the ocean had covered up the roar of that car. I stepped on it, tweeted out and headed toward town fast. They chased us, it was about two miles to Fort Bragg. Got into town, drove past a drive-in, turned right, turned left; the other car was still following us! I squealed around corners, snipped around here, snipped round there, pulled into a back alley, turned off the lights and the motor. We huddled in silence. The other car sped past.
We waited, guilty, until we were sure our escape was complete. I loved that intense job of driving.
We got home, turned out the lights, and waited in the dark all night.
When Christmas Eve came, we had turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, sitting on the floor in front of our stolen tree.
So what ever happened to that 1952 Chevy?
We were going to look at a trailer for rent way down in a canyon out of Ukiah on a dirt road, a farm road. Tim, Jenny and Chris were with me. We never got there, never got to see the trailer. The engine blew up, stopped, smoke pouring out, it was bad. It was hot. We had to walk out of there, summer, felt like a mile straight up the hill. Somehow we got to town, to the library. I went to the Indian section and picked up Black Elk Speaks and The Book Of The Hopi. No money, no job, no car. So I sat there just holding the books in my hand. Something told me to get the kids, told them “Follow me.” I walked down the street to the right, turned left in 3 blocks, and I was in front of the Mendocino County Indian Health Board, which I didn’t know anything about. Never heard of. Went in and met the director, who was named Hugh Hinchcliff. I told him my story. I told him I was an Indian and I needed a job. He said, “I don’t have anything right now, but give me your phone number,” by some miracle I had a phone. He called me a week later, told me they needed a health aide to go onto the rancherina at Point Arena because the last health aide, the Indians shot him, rolled him in the mud and sent him out of there. Two days later I was on my way to that rancheria with my clipboard in social working clothes.