Danville Express

Living - December 21, 2007

Presenting the Past: Rose remembers WWI

by Beverly Lane

A remarkable woman's memoirs of growing up in the San Ramon Valley was published in 2003. The book is titled "Footprints in the Soil. A Portuguese-Californian Remembers" and was written by Rose Peters Emery when she was 97.

Rose Peters Emery tells the story of her family, who lived in Bollinger Canyon and on San Ramon Valley Boulevard (today's Danville Ranch). Her father, Joe Pires Azevedo (Joe Peters) emigrated from the Azores Islands in 1872 at age 18; her mother was Rose Lawrence from Tassajara Valley. Mrs. Emery's book tells about life on the Peters Ranch, at San Ramon Grammar School (1911-19) and San Ramon Valley Union High School (1919-23).

Here is a short excerpt about World War I and the flu epidemic of 1918:

"In 1917, when I was in the seventh grade, the United States entered World War I. Shortly thereafter, Mary and Mira More, unmarried sisters who, though middle-aged, were always known as 'the More girls,' came to our house. As their contribution to the war effort, they were going around the area teaching grade schoolers to knit. We girls would knit wool strips of alternating pink and blue squares which were later sewed together to make 'Blankets for Belgian Babies.'

"The boys used thick wooden needles to knit strips of cotton material for use as mop rags. We kids also saved tinfoil, and we gathered black walnuts because we were told they would be used in making gas masks. Everyone was asked to save white flour for 'Our Boys,' so Mama baked rye and corn breads for the family.

"As a food conservation measure, several government inspectors taught local farmers to poison the ground squirrels that ate so much wheat. My father learned to make balls of sacking, saturate them with carbon bisulfide, poke them into the squirrel burrows, then stop up the entrances with dirt. Many were killed in this way, though some survived, and it did lead to a small increase in the yield per acre.

"Everyone was very patriotic. Danville held parades and flag-waving kids piled into trucks, singing 'Over There,' and there was a fashion among young women for wearing khaki dresses. My half-brothers were too old to go as soldiers, my brothers too young. But two of my cousins went, sons of Mama's sisters, Mary Freitas and Louise Bettencourt. They later came home safely. In all, the war didn't have a lot of impact on the lives of us kids on the ranch and we had no idea at all what the political issues were or why we were fighting."

"A great many people lost their lives during the great flu epidemic of 1918. We were instructed in school to wear gauze masks in the hope of warding off the disease. That did our family no good; all nine of us came down with it. Either we were remarkably strong or we didn't have the most severe form, because it seemed to us only a little worse than the usual flu, with its fever, cough, and aches and pains. We had no idea that millions of people worldwide were dying of it. Fortunately, dear, kind Mrs. Penn, a nurse from Danville, took charge of cooking, feeding and sponge baths. She pulled us all through.

"I remember my father paying her at least once with a huge, shining gold piece which he fished from a small leather sack he carried in his pocket. My mother gave her a handsome square scarf which Papa's sister had sent from the Azores. Nothing would have been too good for her."

Many old timers remember Peters Hill, which is near today's intersection of Greenbrook Drive and San Ramon Valley Boulevard. A plaque in honor of the Peters family has been placed by the homeowners in front of the Danville Ranch House.

Source: Rose Emery's "Footprints in the Soil," (pages 134-5, 145-6). It is available at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley for $14.

Beverly Lane, a longtime Danville resident, is curator of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley and co-author of "San Ramon Valley: Alamo, Danville, and San Ramon."


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