Eulogy for Rose
(Editor’s Note: Ina Draper DeFoe, Columbia poetess, wrote this tribute to the late Rose Gaffney of Bodega Bay, a unique citizen of the Redwood Empire. It is edited for today’s Medley.)
Our family knew Rose Gaffney back before there was anything to threaten her ownership of Bodega Head. One weekend my youngest son, John DeFoe, had her pose and he copied her likeness in charcoal and later produced a couple of oil portraits, one of which he gave to her. I have the other one, on excellent likeness.
As everyone knows Rose was not beautiful. A more inappropriate name for such a woman could not be imagined. But, often, hearing people speak of her homeliness, I have wished they might have seen the expression on her face when she spoke of her husband: “My Bill.” She missed him so much when he died and I am quite sure she believed him to be a prince of a fellow.
Recently, one of her friends sent a letter to the Democrat and spoke of her being uneducated. By this, I presume, she meant that Rose had no university degrees to hang on her wall.
All of my life I’ve wondered about that word: educated. Of what does education consist? I have wondered who among the educated would win against Rose in a knowledge contest.
She had no diplomas, that is true, but she had something quite as good. She was knowledgeable to a high degree. She had curiosity. She believed in the laws of justice. She was forthright, honest and stood firmly for what she believed. She read constantly all of her life. Nature, to her, was deeply wonderful and always informative.
The letter spoke of her various collections and how they might, in time, be lost because there would be no storage area for them. At one time Rose was in touch with the Smithsonian Institution and someone from that foundation came to see her collection of arrowheads. For a long time she considered giving it to the foundation. It would have been welcomed. But, at that . time, she had very little money. She coped but it was, in the way of food and clothes, a hand to mouth existence. Finally though she decided she must keep her beloved arrowheads, hoping that someday, sometime, local people would come to know their value and would want them retained as a token in her memory.
Her Indian basket collection alone is of great value now when such basket art is a lost art. Few such intricate and beautiful things are made by hand now.
She has a collection of every shell produced on the entire line of the Pacific Coast. Once my husband asked her: “How do you manage to find such very, very small shells?” She replied: “By crawling on my belly.” And I’m sure that is what she did.
Rose wasn’t small and dainty. She was tall and broad and rugged. She wore her thin hair pulled back from a round, full face and she had eyes that were sharp and intelligent and saw everything. The finest line on a person’s face meant something to her and she was an excellent judge of character. She seemed to sense, to nose out, the qualities of a person’s character. She knew, almost instantly, if a person were honest, true, or if he happened to be a real stinker.
I’ll never forget her chuckle. It was low and constant and she could talk until you thought she’d surely become exhausted. All she needed was a listener. But anyone patient enough to listen did learn.
When Alfred Hitchcock decided to make the film .”The Birds” he sent his scouts to locate the ideal spot. Bodega Head and Rose’s ranch were chosen. The men came to deal with Rose, to tell her that the great Hitchcock would make a movie if she were willing to allow it made on the ranch. She said: “And who is this man Hitchcock? And if this is all so important to him’ why isn’t he here asking me himself?”
When an agreement was finally reached and she met Mr. Hitchcock, I doubt her heart accelerated a single beat. When he sent her a ticket for the preview-showing, and the cost of the trip to Hollywood, she was not impressed. She did not go. He had told her that it would be a great honor. She had replied: “Honor to whom?”
She didn’t understand why the Pacific Gas & Electric Company wanted Bodega Head. When she found out that the company planned to build an atomic plant over the San Andreas earthquake fault which runs along the California coastline, she was so shocked, so fiercely angry, that she vowed this would never happen, not if she could stop it. She went to work to learn what she could do to stop it. It was a long and fierce battle and she won.
She studied law. She approached anyone and everyone who might help her, give her knowledge, teach her what she was up against. She combined her abilities and knowledge with some of the legal lights of San Francisco, some of the sympathetic and indignant in Santa Rosa.
A woman of lesser strength would have failed.
Excitement was Rose’s food. Winning was her dessert.
Later, when she learned that she could not retain her land, she stood for a fair market price and, finally, this was paid. She told me that her parents came from Finland to America; that her mother was big with child and greatly feared that her baby would not be born in America. “I came just after we landed,” she said, and chuckled. “They didn’t catch me being dumb enough not to know what it meant to be born an American citizen.”
She was, indeed, a fine, brave and interesting person. There ought to be more like her in our world.
— INA DRAPER DE FOE