William H. Dent

William H. DentToday is my Grandfather’s birthday. He was born in 1887 in a small town of gold seekers in the Sierra Nevada foothills called Fiddletown, CA [nee Oleta].

My Grandmother was born in Jackson, CA and somehow they met and got married. They wanted to move to the big city so they came to San Francisco, CA sometime in the 20’s if I remember correction. They’re the whole reason I’m here today and if it weren’t for them, this blog probably wouldn’t exist.

Now I don’t remember much about the old coot other than what my parents told me. The only memory I have of him was when I was about 3 and walked into the bathroom when he was shaving. I just stared at him stropping that straight razor of his and examining it carefully before he brought it up to his throat. I watched him move that razor so carefully like it was a religious ritual, not realizing that you could easily cut your throat with a straight razor. After all, I was only three and my Mom wouldn’t let me play with sharp things. [thank you Mommy Dearest]

Growing up and working in the Sierras my Grandfather was a real mountain man. He was generally a handy man without a real career so he always went where the money was. In the Sierras he had a winter job where he would have to ski to all the Ranger stations in the heavy snow that they’d get on skis he had to carve himself and dig out the Ranger stations before the Rangers would come man them. He had to carry everything on him so he didn’t carry food, but he carried a gun and a knife and he’d hunt for his food because he’d be gone up there for weeks. Considering how harsh a life like that was it’s no wonder he wanted out to move to the big city. He was around 39 when he got married which was pretty old for back then.

After my Mom died my wife found a letter from my Great Aunt to my Grandmother not to marry that Indian. Huh? No one ever told me about that part of the story. It turns out my Mom told the story to my Wife so I guess that was just a women’s gossip thing. Apparently somewhere back a generation or two or three or however many one of his relatives had married a woman from a local Paiute tribe of Native Americans living in the area. I guess that explains my Mother’s interest in her collecting Indian Baskets and going to all the Native American get togethers when we’d go up to Jackson in the Summer.

When my Grandparents moved to San Francisco in the 20’s they lived in North Beach for about a year and then decided to move because it was too crowded for them and they wanted to start a family. They moved to the suburbs of North Beach at the time…The Marina, which was heavily Italian at the time and since there were lots of Italians in the Sierras my Grandfather seemed to get along with them in the Marina just fine.

He did lots of handyman work at first, but it looked like he landed a few regular carpentry jobs and even got work through the local carpenter’s union to help him make a little more money. I wasn’t alive during any of that time as he was 75 when I was born. He died four years later, but he left his mark on the house I’m living in now. He built a full bathroom downstairs to replace the half bath that came with the house and according to my Mom she said that when they bought the house he looked at the cabinets and thought they were garbage and ripped them out and replaced them after they moved in. Those cabinets are still there today more than 60 years after they were built and they’re holding up just fine.

I kind of wished he had lived a little longer so I could have gotten to know him better, but doing something my Mom liked to always do that I never understood, He’s be 129 today. OK, sure Mom. If people lived that long. Grandpa, I never got to know you enough to say I miss you, but I just wish you could have stayed around a little longer so I could. Cheers to you!