Last week in the Mendocino County Clerk-Recorder’s office a great grandfather was not permitted to pick up a birth certificate for his great grandchild because the rules only allow a parent or grandparent to do so. This small incident speaks to the overregulation of ordinary things as well as the increased longevity of our citizenry, not to mention the socio-economic fact that children are not only being raised by grandparents, but sometimes great grandparents.
It didn’t seem possible that it would ever happen, but Bill Westfall has died, at the tender age of one hundred four and a half. Bill was raised at and later retired to his family’s farm along the Albion Road. When you live to be a hundred plus, retirement becomes a fairly drawn out career of its own. Bill kept busy repairing other people’s machinery (from cars to chainsaws to washing machines) well into his second century. He was into his mid nineties when I drove past him sitting by the side of the road looking spent one evening. I pulled over and asked him if he needed a ride home. “No,” he said. “Going to have some logging done, so I thought I’d better walk down to the southwest corner and check things out.”
“Down to the southwest corner” meant he’d made nearly a mile long hike, down and back up the steepest terrain imaginable. Bill caught his breath and strolled another quarter mile up the county road to his house.
It sounds odd to say about a man who has lived more than a century, but our family referred to him as “Young Bill” because his father was also Bill Westfall. Now there is only little Bill Westfall, well into his seventies, a man of many skills, who often can be found volunteering at the Hospice Thrift Shop located in the “Boatyard” shopping center in Fort Bragg.
There are many colorful stories about the centenarian Bill Westfall, including one from the 1930s about driving an unfamiliar team of horses up the coast road from Albion to the Kent Ranch north of Littleriver; however, I like to remember him steadfastly refusing to grant a right- of-way through his land to Louisiana-Pacific (the corporate predecessor-in-interest to what are now the timberlands of Mendocino Redwood Company). Bill had given the right-of-way permission to the lumber company in the past, but when they refused to acknowledge a section corner that Bill had meticulously re-surveyed all bets (and rights-of-way) were off. Bill stuck by his guns despite manipulative pressure from L-P foresters and “consultants.” More than two decades later most of those connivers are still employed in much the same positions by Mendocino Redwood Company.
In the world of government bureaucracy running amok: the Department of Labor is considering new child labor regulations for ranches and farms. The new rules would not apply to children performing duties on their parents’ ranches or farms, but would prevent fifteen-year-olds from vaccinating, branding or roping cattle from horseback on a grandparent’s or aunt or uncle’s property let alone non-relatives’ property. The new regulations seem to ignore the reality of life on a farm or ranch. Heaven forfend a “child” under sixteen ever be bucked off their horse while herding cattle then have to walk all the way home on their own. My surviving sister drove herds of our Uncle Charlie’s cattle for miles, sometimes single handed, before she entered school. My one non-surviving sibling died prematurely at the hands of a fellow human being, a far more dangerous critter than a horse, oxen, or bull.