An ex-gov­er­nor in town

Co­lusa didn’t al­ways sup­port Brown, but now it’s will­ing to give him a chance in his an­ces­tral home

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Diana Mar­cum

CO­LUSA, Calif. — The sub­ject of the new neigh­bor had the round­table at the Donut Wheel riv­eted.

“We’re all sit­ting here, wait­ing to see what’s go­ing to hap­pen,” Bob­bie Jo Seaver said about for­mer Gov. Jerry Brown’s re­tire­ment to a ranch in Co­lusa County.

Seaver, 86, and her sis­ter Janet Sta­ple, 90, are Brown’s cousins. (Their grand­mother Emma and his grand­mother Ida were sis­ters.) Like many Cal­i­for­nia fam­i­lies, a few gen­er­a­tions ago one branch stayed on the farm and an­other left for the city. Now Brown’s return to the an­ces­tral home crosses the ru­ral-ur­ban di­vide.

The two lively white-haired sis­ters are the nu­cleus of the daily cof­fee klatch. Oth­ers know to drop by the dough­nut shop for a chat.

On this day, rancher Gor­don Detlef­sen point­edly crossed his arms when the sub­ject turned to Brown.

“I don’t think

you’re go­ing to catch Jerry in any­thing you have to sad­dle,” he said, barely mov­ing his lips. “He’s not part of our world.”

It’s not just that Brown, a Demo­crat, has moved to an area pop­u­lated by Repub­li­can ranch­ers. Or even that he is a lawyer and politi­cian now re­sid­ing where most peo­ple make a liv­ing off the land. It’s that he’s a newcomer.

Jim White, born and raised in Co­lusa, told about what hap­pened when he first moved back to town af­ter col­lege in Chico and a life­time work­ing through­out the coun­try. He saw a bunch of pickup trucks on Mar­ket Street, fig­ured there must be a crowd at the Sports­man Club and joined the party.

“Way at the end of the bar I saw Jerry Moss, look­ing down in his beer. I walked over and shook his hand, and he said: ‘Dam­mit! You’ve been gone from here the 30 years I’ve been here. But you walk in and it’s like you never left and I’m still the new den­tist.’ ”

“He was the new den­tist!” Seaver said, laugh­ing. “We hadn’t for­got­ten old Dr. Hickok.”

Co­lusa is one of Cal­i­for­nia’s orig­i­nal coun­ties, a land of golden hills and sprawl­ing ranches. Vel­vet quilts of rice fields spread over wet­lands of the Sacramento River.

Usu­ally flocks of ducks are tak­ing to the sky, but this was one of the last days of hunt­ing sea­son. Each year, the lo­cals say, any ducks that sur­vive move to a wildlife re­serve on open­ing day and don’t return un­til the shoot­ing stops. There are about half a dozen duck­hunt­ing clubs in the county, and they can cost as much as half a mil­lion dol­lars to join.

In the town of Co­lusa, pop­u­la­tion 5,963 at last of­fi­cial count, most pub­lic build­ings are Gold Rushera, with a list­ing on his­tor­i­cal reg­is­ters. The new li­brar­ian (she’s had the job three years) keeps her grand­fa­ther’s Co­lusa li­brary card pinned to the wall. Stacey Zwald Costello’s goal is to stay in the job three decades, like the li­brar­ian she knew as a kid. But change does creep in. “I raised a lib­eral daugh­ter,” be­moaned Roy Lee, who ran Chung Sun, the town’s only gro­cery store, which closed in 2014 so he could re­tire. “Mil­lie came home from col­lege and read me the riot act about the Supreme Court guy,” Lee said — re­fer­ring to Jus­tice Brett Ka­vanaugh.

The Ro­tary Club’s an­nual fundraiser had been a peren­nial fail­ure, but mem­bers added a duck din­ner, drinks and video gam­bling to the event. Now they rake in around $25,000 a year.

Seaver and Sta­ple were born in Co­lusa and never left.

“Both mar­ried Co­lusa boys and here we stayed,” Seaver said. “Well, I did travel to gun shows with my husband. He loved those.”

The roots they share with Brown stretch back to Au­gust Schuck­man, their great-grand­fa­ther, a Ger­man im­mi­grant who ran a pop­u­lar stage­coach stop called the Moun­tain House. It’s the same land where Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown (“a real nice gal,” Seaver said), built their so­lar-pow­ered ranch house.

Sta­ple said Brown re­cently had them up to the ranch for “a buggy ride.” She said his dog, a Corgi named Co­lusa, sat on her lap “pant­ing just as calm as could be while I held on for dear life, what with the way he drove that SUV.”

She warned Brown to cut the grass around the house be­cause of rat­tlesnakes, and to get some Guinea hens that will kill them.

Brown told her his security staff al­ready had bar­be­cued some rat­tlers, eaten them and said they tasted like chicken.

The for­mer gov­er­nor may be get­ting along fine for now, Sta­ple said, but she doesn’t think he will stay long.

“When his grandma used to visit our grandma, she never stayed the week she promised,” Sta­ple said, “but left early be­cause she hated the coun­try.”

Her sis­ter, how­ever, thinks Brown is go­ing to love it.

“He never got to go fish­ing. He never got to do the things we done,” Seaver said. “And now he’s out there plant­ing his trees — we all got olive oil for Christ­mas. He’s like a lit­tle boy in a sand­box.”

White, a Repub­li­can (“though I’m just as likely to vote for a Demo­crat if I like them bet­ter”), said he would like to get to know Brown.

“We’re the same age. Both Je­suit-ed­u­cated. And one of his best friends is brother to one of my col­lege room­mates.”

Detlef­sen al­lowed that many of the lo­cals prob­a­bly would give Brown — who never won an elec­tion in Co­lusa County — a chance. But only one. “Most peo­ple around here are pretty damn good peo­ple, and they’ll be the first ones to ini­ti­ate some un­der­stand­ing. But don’t abuse that step, be­cause it will be the first and last they’ll ever take,” he said. “He’ll have to meet us — we’re not mov­ing for him.”

Rich Pedroncelli As­so­ci­ated Press

FOR­MER GOV. Jerry Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, take a walk with their dog Cali at their Co­lusa County ranch near Wil­liams, Calif.

Noah Berger For The Times

BOB­BIE JO SEAVER, cen­ter, and June O’Sul­li­van, two of Jerry Brown’s cousins, chat at the Donut Wheel in Co­lusa, Calif. Seaver thinks the for­mer gov­er­nor is go­ing to love the town. “He’s like a lit­tle boy in a sand­box.”

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