When I began taping the oral histories of my 90-year-old mother, Amelia Ginochio Peel in 1982, I thought I'd hear the stories I'd heard all my life. But she was telling me the story of a town, a dying town, that she, as one of its last residents, loved. Her stories started with "Papa always said:". When I asked her how old she was, she answered: "Oh I wasn't born yet, but Papa always said:" I would have to find proof of her Papa said stories. Since I worked in the archives of the Contra Costa County History Center, I began to search for the truth. Her memory was incredible. I found tax records, court cases, newspaper articles, maps, and receipts. Amelia's collection of photos and letters, all kept in a dresser drawer and in her closet, helped to clarify the life I thought I knew.
Amelia, born in 1892, lived in a canyon deep in the hills of Contra Costa County. Her trips to San Francisco to her sister's home and later her life on 45th Street in Oakland increased her independence and gave the woman who completed only six grades of grammar school a cosmopolitan "air". This was her world: She traveled by horse, tram, ferry boat and street car.
I had interviewed Amelia and John Buffo every year at "Black Diamond Days", an East Bay Regional Park event in Somersville (another coal town) and the more I asked, the deeper her memories. She recalled her youth, her joys and her sorrows. She went back to the place she loved.
Betty Maffei is Director Emeritus of the Contra Costa County Historical Society, having served the society for 30 years as the Executive Director of the History Center in Pleasant Hill and Martinez, including the coordination and implementation of the move to our Main Street Martinez location in 2000.
The Society has published Betty's work and is proud to release this book to the public.