Aug 112016

By Francine Brevetti, Correspondent

PITTSBURG — “I don’t even want to think about it,” exclaimed LaDonna Cooper with a shiver. She had been asked what her life would be like without the lunchtime meal she receives from Meals on Wheels Senior Outreach Services.

The 62-year-old fragile Cooper has depended for several years on the Meals on Wheels delivery of her midday sustenance. She is not alone in wondering how she would survive without the service.

Meals on Wheels and Senior Outreach Services delivers to 760 seniors in East County. The organization is struggling to serve its current population. The organization could serve many more if more volunteers would step up to make deliveries.

Meals on Wheels volunteer Kevin Leal delivers a lunch to LaDonna Cooper at her home in Pittsburg, Calif., on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. (Kristopher

Meals on Wheels volunteer Kevin Leal delivers a lunch to LaDonna Cooper at her home in Pittsburg, Calif., on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group) ( Kristopher Skinner )

Elaine Clark, CEO of MOWSOS, said that since January the service has had 11 routes that need to be filled with permanent volunteer drivers. “We’ve been making do with temporary volunteers and our staff who fill in.”

Each route serves 15 to 16 people. Based on these numbers, theoretically, 165 more seniors who are in need could be fed daily with additional, committed volunteers.

The service is constantly in need of volunteer drivers since five to eight drop out monthly.

Clark maintains that ignorance is the cause of the inadequate team of volunteers. “People don’t know that there is a huge need,” she explained.

Meanwhile, the population of frail elderly grows. East County’s coverage area includes a dozen cities and hamlets with Pittsburg, Antioch and Bay Point being critical for the elderly.

“East County is the fastest-growing area (in Contra Costa County) for seniors aging in place. We don’t have a strong presence here. We want to plug more into the population,” Clark said. “We can only open a new route if we have volunteer meal delivery people to consistently deliver the meals.”

The Meals on Wheels SOS is asking local employers to allow their employees to volunteer during their lunch hours. Besides the workplaces, it is also hoping that civic groups, churches adopt one to two routes of their own.

Meanwhile, for the needy shut-ins, the drivers offer still another role — that of human contact. Cooper cherishes her friendship with her drivers and says they always ask how she’s doing.

“It’s good to know somebody cares,” she says.

Her Wednesday-through-Thursday driver, retiree Kevin Leal, enjoys his contribution also.

“This service is good for retired people. It adds value to your life. And the people I deliver to take you on so quick; they make you feel part of the family,” he said.

It’s a win-win for everybody, even the animals. Cooper’s Chihuahua mix Emerald anticipates the arrival of the Meals on Wheels drivers.

“She jumps off the bed and goes right to the door when she hears them coming up the stairs,” Cooper said.

When Leal hears Emerald barking and scratching at the screen door, he appreciates this friendly welcome. He spends about an hour day bringing meals to 13 to 14 Meals on Wheels clients.

But one meal a day, however appreciated, is not enough for anyone to thrive. Cooper acknowledges the friends and neighbors who supply her breakfast and evening fare at their own expense and the dog food for Emerald. Occasionally, her drivers will pitch in with an extra snack or treat.

Meals on Wheels and Senior Outreach Services delivers lunches prepared by Meals on Wheels in Contra Costa County, part of the national Meals on Wheels organization.

Two years ago Congress failed to pass a budget, which resulted in cuts in funding across the board, Clark remembers.

“As a result, we began evaluating each client’s needs and stopped taking new clients unless they were considered an exceptional case — absolutely no way of obtaining food. The number of clients dropped by nearly 100,” she said.

Fortunately, that same year funding was restored in response to national outrage, said Clark, who was one of the point people for the advocacy efforts to restore funding.

This calamity “could happen again, however, if Congress decides to play political football with the lives of seniors, she fears.

While Contra Costa County at large receives eight dollars in social services for each senior, the East County receives only $1 per senior, she said, citing a 2016 Federal Reserve study.

To volunteer, visit, call 925-954-8736, or email Susannah Meyer at

 Posted by at 10:23 pm
Apr 222016

francine picI am an author, ghostwriter and public speaker. I give workshops as the one below on how to write one’s life story.
More and more people are writing memoirs and more publishers are producing them. This is where I come in.

I am launching a six-week course at Unity, 2222 Bush St. near Fillmore Street. The dates are Thursdays, May 5, May 12, May 19 (not May 26), June 2, June 9, and June 16. Classes will last from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM.

The cost is $125, payable to me, Francine Brevetti. I can be contacted at 415 397 7830.

The course focuses on focusing – getting a clear idea of the manuscript you want to write, learning how to write it and keep writing it. I provide wisdom on how to get through challenges that memoirs and autobiographies or any nonfiction work can present.

This course will lead participants to the satisfaction of knowing they can do this.

Eventbrite - Forever Remembered -- preserve life memories/family history

 Posted by at 10:49 pm
Mar 302016
By Francine Brevetti, For the Contra Costa Times

Posted:   03/22/2016 01:25:41 PM PDT | Updated:   2 days ago
Plaintiff Betty Dukes stands outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, March 29, 2011, after attending a case of women employees against Wal-Mart.

Plaintiff Betty Dukes stands outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, March 29, 2011, after attending a case of women employees against Wal-Mart. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) ( Jacquelyn Martin )

PITTSBURG — The woman who faced down Walmart is carrying on her battle for workers’ rights now that she is no longer an employee of the largest retailer in the world.

“Now I can talk about how I felt,” said Betty Dukes, who worked for Walmart for 21 years, seven months and six days. She will appear at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to kick off her push for equal rights for all employees and the freedom to unionize.

“The D.C. event will be the launching, the nucleus for going forward for women’s equality and a workers’ rights movement,” said Dukes, who spent her career at the Pittsburg Walmart store.

The March 29 date will mark the fifth anniversary of the largest civil rights class action lawsuit ever brought before the Supreme Court.

Betty Dukes, of Pittsburg, is photographed on Tuesday,  April 19, 2011 in Antioch, Calif. Dukes, who currently works as a greeter for Walmart, is suing

Betty Dukes, of Pittsburg, is photographed on Tuesday, April 19, 2011 in Antioch, Calif. Dukes, who currently works as a greeter for Walmart, is suing Walmart for gender discrimination. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff) ( SUSAN TRIPP POLLARD )

Dukes was the lead plaintiff in the case, Dukes v. Walmart Stores Inc., that represented 1.6 million women. However, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case as a class action.

Plaintiffs settled individually with Walmart, as did Dukes who left the retailer’s workforce on Dec. 31, 2015.

By establishing The Betty Dukes Foundation, she hopes to create a national campaign and is planning to appear in other cities to rouse support. She was not ready to announce the other cities on her agenda.

“What you know, Walmart knows,” she said, explaining her hesitance to show her hand.”I’m trying to create a movement that could change the lives of many.”

Dukes is passionate about protecting low-income workers who, she says, have been marginalized as a viable part of society.

Her issues are both equal pay for women and the freedom to unionize.

President John F. Kennedy signed a bill assuring equal pay for women. “But,” she observed, “it still has not happened in all of the 50 states.”

Her goal is to strengthen survival of the next generation. “So many jobs are outsourced. There’s not much work left in United States.”

“The National Labor Relations Board says that every worker has a right to unionize without retaliation. But not everybody is aware of that.”

Dukes hopes her foundation and her campaigns will educate workers of these rights.

According to the American Association of University Women, at the time the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, requiring employers to give equal pay for equal work, women received 59 cents for every dollar men were paid. In 2015, that figure was 79 cents.

 Posted by at 8:32 pm
Mar 082016

By Francine Brevetti

Posted:   02/02/2016 03:37:09 PM PST |
Leer Vineyards of Byron includes 44 acres, an event center and tasting room, and a house, among other features.

Leer Vineyards of Byron includes 44 acres, an event center and tasting room, and a house, among other features. ( Leer Vineyards )
Click photo to enlarge

Stefan Leer, left, owner of the Leer Vineyards, visits with customers in… ( DAN ROSENSTRAUCH )

BYRON — Representatives of prospective buyers have come from all over the world, China and New Zealand included, assessing the Leer Vineyards’ compound in Byron, a property that is now for sale and that East Contra Costans will likely feel the loss of.

Owners of the 44-acre property, including vineyards, residence, sports fields and entertainment center, are asking $5.2 million for a business that has produced prizewinning wines and brought popular entertainment to East County in merely two years.

Stefan and Tanisha Leer bought the property without the intention of creating the now-elaborate center. But through their efforts and investment, it was transformed into a complex offering a tasting room, softball and bocce ball courts and a venue for corporate events, weddings and concerts.

It will take awhile for it to be clear whether any of the prospective investors will step forward, their broker Lori Abreu, principal of Delta Ranches, explained. On Jan. 26, the Leers, with Abreu, held an open tour of the expansive property for brokers in the hopes that they would attract interested investors.

More than 200 people came to the event, they said, and six interested investors made themselves known.

Tanisha Leer was at pains to explain why this attractive property was up for sale after they had made it, by all appearances, a great success and a significant benefit to the community.

“We have put a lot of money into this place. We’re not trying to flip it. It would be nice to make money, but that’s not our main focus. It took nine months just to get the permits for our events and that (alone) cost thousands of dollars,” she recounted.

“We put $650,000 into the house itself.”The Leers have also recently relinquished their half share in Brentwood-based wine bar, Vine and Grain.

So what is the power couple thinking? It turns out, she explained, they have too much on their plate. They are planning to leave Northern California and will be concentrating on their core business and family.

Stefan Leer is the principal of Kinetic Insurance Solutions in this state as well as in Texas.

“That’s what pays the bills,” Tanisha Leer said.

The couple has been running the 44-acre Byron operation as well as participating in the late-night events at Vine and Grain from their principal business.

In addition, they’ve recently adopted a child who requires their attention.

“It was not an easy decision to make,” she said. “We put blood sweat and tears into this.”

They came to the breaking point after their attempts to hire staff to give them more time at home did not pan out.

Although they had hired a couple to run the vineyard and the events, the Leers found that the number of regular customers to their wine-and-song complex subsequently dropped off.

She also hired a nanny for son Keegan, but decided she “did not want to watch someone else raise my child.”

The co-proprietor revealed the thinking process that went into setting the asking price.

“We didn’t have any reference point or any other place like ours to compare.”

The nearby Brentwood vineyard and winery Hannah Nicole, which also offers picnic venues and musical entertainment, was also sold by a local family a few years ago.

Abreu was also the broker for that sale at the price of $9.5 million.

However, that complex is approximately twice the size of Leer Vineyards.

Three years ago Hannah Nicole was bought by Chinese investors operating under the name of JINTA Winery for a price that the previous management described as “compelling.”

Since the Leers have publicized their asking price, several people have commented that it is underpriced, Tanisha Leer said. “Only one person has said that it was overpriced.”

She insisted she would not let go of booking events and weddings until and even after a sale is finalized.

“Several brides have come to me to book their wedding here and I will come back if we are out of the area to be here for that event, ” the co-owner said.

They will also maintain control of the inventory of their two prizewinning labels, Heroic Red and Valiant White.

Regular customers say this sale could be a big loss to the community since the leaders brought entertainment and communal events to an area of Contra Costa that tends to be somnolent at night and on weekends.

The Leers insist that they will look for a buyer who will continue to further their vision of bringing entertainment and community events to East County.

Two Discovery Bay residents and regular customers of Leer Vineyards feel the loss of the Leer family’s stewardship sharply. Both Michelle Campos and Shelley Nelson expressed their appreciation for the Leers.

The Leers “brought the community together. The sale is a big deal in this area,” Michelle Campos said.

Of course, there is no sale yet.

Such transactions may take anywhere from six months to a year, Tanisha Leer speculated.

 Posted by at 10:48 pm
Nov 252015


By Maggie Sharpe Correspondent – Insidebayarea News – 11/18/2015

OAKLAND — Pet owners grieving the loss of a cherished dog or cat — or any companion animal — are invited to “Forever in My Heart,” the first Chapel of the Chimes pet memorial, from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday at 4499 Piedmont Ave. Pets are welcome to the free event.

“This is a lovely way for pet owners to have closure on the loss of a beloved pet,” said Allison Rodman, community service consultant for the chapel, which was designed in the 1920s by architect Julia Morgan. “We hope to help take care of the emotional needs of people who are deeply grieving the loss of a pet.”

Rodman said that many of the chapel’s clients want their pets’ cremated remains to be buried alongside them.

Author and pet lover Francine Brevetti (with her dog Dante) will be one ofthe speakers at the Nov. 22 Chapel of the Chimes pet memorial.Photo credit:

Author and pet lover Francine Brevetti (with her dog Dante) will be one of the speakers at the Nov. 22 Chapel of the Chimes pet memorial. Photo credit: Kathie Cleese ( Jon Kawamoto )

“I regretfully have to say ‘no,’ because it’s against the law to bury human and animal remains together,” Rodman said. “This comes as very sad news to people who have deep connections with their pets. The memorial is our way of reaching out to the community we serve and giving people a place to grieve.”

Attendees are encouraged to bring a photo of their pet or other special memento to place on the community altar. The guest speaker and co-organizer of the memorial is Francine Brevetti, author of “Cat Naps and Doggie Snorts — the Joy of Sleeping with Critters.”

“I became interested in people who sleep with their pets after my dog, Lola, passed away,” said Brevetti, who now owns Dante, a poodle-Bichon mix, and a cat called Mei Mei, meaning “little sister” in Mandarin. “I used to sleep with Lola, and when she passed away I missed her a lot. So I decided to research other animal lovers who sleep with their pets.”

She said she found hundreds of reasons online why you shouldn’t sleep with your pet, but that didn’t jibe with her personal experience. The result: a book with 75 anecdotes about people who do sleep with their pets — including a rabbit, parrot, rat, boa constrictor, horse and a pig.

“I didn’t interview them personally, but I read that Paris Hilton sleeps with her potbelly pig,” Brevetti said. Another online article describes how George Clooney sometimes slept with his 300-pound pig, Max, which he owned for 18 years.

Brevetti will address the hard decisions pet owners must make when it comes time to euthanize a pet — and the hard questions after the animal’s passing, such as “Should I keep my pet’s remains?” or “Should I get another pet? It was so painful to lose this one.”

Animal chaplain and communicator Rev. Nancy Schluntz, pictured with her dogKatsina, an Australian Shepherd/Husky mix, will talk at  Forever in MyHeart,  a

Animal chaplain and communicator Rev. Nancy Schluntz, pictured with her dog Katsina, an Australian Shepherd/Husky mix, will talk at Forever in My Heart, a pet memorial at Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland on Nov. 22. Photo credit: Nikki Ragsdale ( Jon Kawamoto )

“My answer is ‘yes,’ get another pet when you are ready — there are so many animals at shelters in need of a home,” Brevetti said.

Other guest speakers at the memorial include registered nurse and social worker Jill Goodfriend, a grief recovery specialist who will talk on “Facing Pet Loss and Recovering.” Goodfriend offers grief counseling and a monthly support group for those grieving a beloved pet through Berkeley East Bay Humane Society. Animal chaplain and communicator Rev. Nancy Schluntz will also speak about the pain of losing a pet.

“People sometimes feel more joy with the unconditional love of an animal friend and more pain and grief over their loss than they do with their human counterpart,” said Schluntz, who felt this experience personally when she lost her mother and her dog within a month of each other. “My dog was a wolf-bear shaman wrapped in dog fur and my daily companion. The depth of grief for my dog was stronger than for my mother, who had not been part of my daily life for many years. Nobody understood my grief.”

The pet memorial will also include a presentation by somatic psychotherapist and yoga teacher Sylvia Wenniger, a naming ceremony with bell ringing, breakout discussion groups, a vendor fair and tea and sweets provided by Chapel of the Chimes.

if you go What: “Forever in My Heart,” first Chapel of the Chimes pet memorial
When: 1 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 94611
Information: and go to “Community Events” or call Allison Rodman at 510-593-6978

 Posted by at 8:34 pm
Oct 222015

By Francine Brevetti For the Contra Costa Times
Posted: 10/20/2015 04:50:50 PM PDT

OAKLEY — The fish are biting again at Big Break Marina.

The once-troubled marina, now under new ownership, held its first fishing tournament in many years Sept. 26 and followed with another one this past Saturday. Yet another striped bass competition will be held on Nov. 7.

Newly opened tackle shop Dan’s Delta Outdoors sponsored the event that will present eight black bass tournaments in 2016.

Ryan Hulbert and Jesse Schryuer won first place and $500 for bringing in two fish that together measured 61 total inches.

Tackle shop proprietor Dan Mathisen was exuberant about bringing sport, traffic and commercial events back to the marina, and expects a resurgence of pleasurable activity at one of the public gateways to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Formerly, the marina was home to pleasure craft, restaurants, bait shops and residences.

“Years ago all the tournaments launched from the Big Break Marina,” said Mathisen, who opened his tackle shop June 1, not long after the marina resumed activity under new management this year.

Twenty boats entered the competition during this first tournament and spectators were estimated to number about 60. Marina general manager Sean Ferguson said Big Break Marina LLC is working to attract more tournament directors.

Since the marina’s resurgence, visits to its facilities have increased.

Ferguson said, “We’re having new monthly launches and acquiring a couple of additional rental berths a month.”

Earlier this year San Rafael-based Sequoia Mortgage Company assumed ownership of the facility and created a new corporate name, Big Break Marina LLC, to distinguish the facility from its former owner. The marina had fallen into disrepair under its previous ownership, going into bankruptcy and ultimately foreclosure. The sporting tournaments and festivals ceased, and fun-seeking folks stopped coming.

“There was a big drop in business,” Mathisen said.

Much of the fishing activity and all of the tournaments moved to Bethel Island, according to both Mathisen and Ferguson.

Sequoia Mortgage Company intends to repair, refurbish and revive what once was the center of entertainment and sport life in Oakley and on the Delta.

The mortgage company’s CEO Jason Freskos reported his company is making progress, removing tons of garbage, rotting docks and derelict buildings. “We’re slogging forward,” he said.

 Posted by at 8:07 pm
Oct 122015

Daughter’s disability inspires Concord author’s story of compassion

By Francine Brevetti For the Contra Costa Times
Posted:   09/29/2015 04:19:10 PM PDT

Concord author Stefanie Boggs-Johnson, seen here with her… ( Courtesy Stefanie Boggs-Johnson )

PITTSBURG — Concord writer Stefanie Boggs-Johnson said her “brain crumbled” when her newborn Naomi was diagnosed as having suffered a stroke in utero. The infant had also suffered brain damage and then multiple seizures in her first few days of life. She was not expected to walk, talk or take care of herself.

Few parents would be able to see beyond such a devastating prognosis, but not Boggs-Johnson and her husband, Eric Johnson. “When the doctors gave us an option to take her off the ventilator, we said no,” Boggs-Johnson recalled. Instead the family persisted in caring for her.

At 4 years old, their daughter was diagnosed with a “mild case” of cerebral palsy. Today 6-year-old Naomi wears a brace on her right leg. But she walks and talks — rather sassily, according to her mother — and can be seen tumbling and swinging from jungle gym bars at a local playground.

Yes, it’s a success story. But before it was that, the author and mother felt compelled to provide a book to explain Naomi’s condition to her son, then 8.

Boggs-Johnson found the available books on childhood disability did not adequately cover the topic that she was most passionate about. She was concerned that her daughter would face bullying and ridicule as she grew and went to school. The available literature had a long way to go toward instilling compassion in young readers, she reckoned.

So she did something about it, and proceeded to write a book that would educate children to see the disabled as intelligent human beings with feelings.

The result was the illustrated 28-page “I See You, Little Naomi,” published By Tate Publishing

In simple but accurate terms the story describes Naomi’s stroke and what it meant for her brain. Boggs-Johnson writes about the care Naomi gets every day and how she is improving. But most of all the intent of the story is to teach kindness to children who may otherwise ridicule or become frightened by the sight of the disabled. The book explains:

“When you are at school, a park, party or out (shopping) with your family, you may see a person who looks, talks, or walks ‘funny’ to you. It may be something you don’t understand because you don’t see it all the time.”

The book shows young readers that everyone has feelings that can be easily hurt. “Everyone wants to have friends and be liked,” the book points out.

Children who are confronted by an unusual person with different capacities should ask a grown-up to explain the situation to them, the book suggests. The disabled are not “weird.” Children must know there are medical issues behind what they see, the author stresses.

“What you don’t understand, you make fun of. I want to pave the path for my daughter, so that she can live in this world. I wanted Naomi to have friends. I want her to be able to work independently,” Boggs-Johnson said.

“I See You, Little Naomi” is written for the 3-7 age group. But the author hopes that parents also will take courage in reading it.

“My message to families of such children: you’re not alone. Stop grieving and dream new dreams,” she urged.

Boggs-Johnson will give a book reading at the Railroad Book Depot in Pittsburg at 1 p.m. on Oct. 17. “I See You, Little Naomi” is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or at the publisher’s website,

Naomi’s challenges have been an awakening for her mother. Boggs-Johnson admits she had to overcome her own preconceptions about disabilities to face those of her daughter.

“When I entered the special-needs world it really humbled me. I came to see that these are human beings with feelings and intelligence. I want to bridge the gap between the mainstream world and the special-needs world.”

She has since committed herself to that effort. She works as a special needs job coach at Contra Costa ARC, which serves people with developmental needs, and she offers cosmetology services for special-needs people at the Orinda Hair Studio where clients can make appointments outside regular hours if they prefer privacy.

Boggs- Johnson also will go to clients’ homes to attend to their beauty needs. She can be reached at 925-787-5817 and

 Posted by at 10:00 pm
Sep 092015
Legend Crafter’s founder talks about ghostwriting a memoir

- See more at Sevenponds

Today in the first part of a two-part interview, SevenPonds speaks with Francine Brevetti of Legend Crafter from her home in San Francisco, California. Francine is a biographer, ghostwriter, book coach, journalist and author of two books: Fabulous Fior: Over 100 Years In an Italian Kitchen, The Fior D’Italia of San Francisco, America’s Oldest Italian Restaurant and Cat Naps And Doggie Snorts: The Joy of Sleeping With Critters. After a long and fruitful career in journalism, she left her job as a reporter and branded herself as Legend Crafter, turning her attention to helping people shape their life stories into books. She ghostwrites memoirs and biographies for some clients and acts as a book coach for others who want to write their own books.

Francine Brevetti

Credit: Francine Brevetti

Ellary: What is Legend Crafter, and how did it get started?

Francine: I was a reporter for about 30 years covering business, and about seven years ago, I left the Oakland Tribune. I already had two clients who wanted me to help them write their memoirs just as I was leaving the Tribune. Legend Crafter is my brand name. So I kept on looking for people who wanted me to write their story – it could be a nonfiction story, could be their memoir, could be about their business. And I’ve had several clients over the years. And I wrote a book about 10 years ago that was published and sponsored by the oldest Italian restaurant in the United States, in San Francisco. They wanted me to write their history, so I did that for several years. Last year, I published my own book about people who sleep with their animals, and I’m working on another book about how to write a book about your business.

Ellary: Who were those initial two clients who wanted you to write their memoirs?

Francine: Well, you know, as a ghostwriter, I generally don’t talk about my clients. I can talk about one of them. She’s deceased and her father founded the Oakland Zoo. She wanted to share the story of her childhood at the zoo.

Ellary: What got you interested in helping people write their life stories?

Francine: I was a business writer and a business reporter, and my forte seemed to be in writing profiles of people rather than in talking about their stock prices. That’s just something I seem to do well. I interview people intensely and gently, but thoroughly, and help them open up about things that they had forgotten, or hadn’t wanted to talk about for a long time. I’m just good at that.

Ellary:  It sounds like really fulfilling work

Francine: It is.

Ellary: And it sounds like you probably develop pretty close relationships to your clients.

Francine: Yes, I do get close to them, and I feel honored when they ask me to help them, because I know they’re sharing a very private part of themselves with me.

Ellary: What do you think it is that makes people want to turn their life into a memoir?

Francine: Well, people have lots of reasons for wanting to do that. Like the lady who grew up in the zoo, she wanted to share her experiences with her grandchildren. Other people want to take an accounting of their lives, they want to understand how they got where they are, or they want to have an outlet for sharing their point of view. Maybe you grew up in a family where everybody else’s opinion counted more than yours did. Some people feel that way. Some people just want to enjoy the experiences they had. Some people look at it as a sort of spiritual exercise, an examination of consciousness type of thing. A lot of them want to say something that they think will help someone.

Ellary: What are some of those triggers and blocks that arise when someone is undertaking the memoir writing journey with you and how do you help them with those? 

Francine Brevetti

Credit: Francine Brevetti

Francine: I try to be very alert about what is not being said. I try to lead them down the path. I try to help them articulate something they’re either unwilling or unable to articulate. Of course, all of this is done without any judgement on my part. They have to feel totally safe with me and have a trusting relationship.

Ellary: Do you build a relationship with your client before you start the memoir writing process?

Francine: Not necessarily, no. A year ago, a man called me up from another part of the country, found my name online, and he told me some difficult things about himself and we started working. In fact, he came to San Francisco to spend three days with me. And so that was that. Another woman I just started working with recently got my name through somebody else who knew me ever so briefly about a year ago. So business comes in all different ways.

Ellary: What do you think is the most powerful benefit of writing a memoir?

Francine: I think that people really need to feel heard and they need to feel their story is being treasured with some amount of honor and respect.

Ellary: It’s so important to feel heard.

Francine: I’ve had people tell me things they hadn’t told the rest of their family.

Ellary: And then those people are often going to share the book with their family members?

Francine: Not necessarily. Some of them do, but not all of them. Some of them just have to tell it to somebody, and since they’re paying for it, I don’t necessarily have to write everything they say, just everything they want to be read. I mean, if they want to expunge something, they can, but at some point they just have to say something and they tell me.


Come back next week for part two of our interview.

 Posted by at 11:57 pm
Aug 132015

By Francine Brevetti
For the Contra Costa Times

ANTIOCH — Do the dead walk? No, but their headstones can travel.

While the remains of Rebecca Abraham (1860-1878) lay at peace in Rose Hill Cemetery, near Antioch, her headstone went on a walkabout for decades.

Recently a Napa resident returned Rebecca’s headstone from where he found it years ago, discarded and defiled behind the Contra Costa County’s Sheriff’s workshop. The marker has had a strange trajectory.

Newly married 18-year-old Rebecca was sitting by a kerosene lamp, which toppled over in the fall of 1878. As she tried to douse the fire, the fuel spilled on the floor, the flames enveloped her and she died two days later. The account in the Contra Costa Gazette reported her demise and described the widespread grieving among her neighbors and her funeral cortège.

Her grave and headstone remained at Rose Hill Cemetery as late as 1955, a photograph so proves, said Eddie Willis, naturalist with Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, the site of Rose Hill Cemetery.

“But by 1965 we have a photograph that shows the stone was missing,” Willis said.

There are folks who care about preserving the past and mementos of real-life people who inhabited this area even 200 years ago. Other folks do not.

The park is attempting to restore the cemetery. To encourage the return of these artifacts, Willis asserts the cemetery does not ask any questions about the provenance of gravestones gone missing.

Of the 80 original gravestones, 40 have vanished.

“This is the fourth stone we’ve recovered since the mid-1970s; in other words, one per decade,” Willis reckoned.

How do gravestones disappear?

“The cemetery is inside the (Black Diamond Mines) preserve and is available for hiking, about half a mile from the parking lot. … ” he explains.

In other words, it is fair game for scalawags and the high-spirited who migth carouse through the cemetery at night, and, just for the fun of it, steal gravestones.

“Teenagers,” Willis muttered.

The emergence of this mournful relic puts in relief the history of Rebecca Abraham’s community in the 19th century.

Gold wasn’t the only lure to California’s hills in the 19th century. Rose Hill Cemetery is what remains of five coal mining communities of the 19th century. Then called Nortonville (Rebecca’s home), Somersville, Stewartville, West Hartley and Judsonville, they constituted California’s largest coal mining operation, where nearly four million tons of coal (“black diamonds”) were extracted from the soil during these horse and buggy days.

Mining folks knew hardship, hard work and long hours. Rose Hill served as the resting place for children who perished from epidemics, women in childbirth and laborers from mining disasters. At its peak it is estimated to have held the bodies of 250 residents. Because of the expense of erecting a marker, many individuals and families combined their resources to share the same headstone.

Sometime between 1955 and 1965 Rebecca’s headstone was wrested from its plot and found years later by criminalist John Thornton at the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s office in Martinez.

During his laboratory work for the Sheriff’s office from 1963 to 1972, Thornton said, “I saw several headstones leaning against the mechanics shop. They were covered in crankcase oil and other debris. They had not been tended with dignity.”

He explained that several had been collected when the Sheriff’s office made an arrest for some offense and found them on the perpetrator’s property.

Out of respect for the deceased, Thornton appealed to Sheriff Harry Ramsey to return the headstones to the deceased. The sheriff, however, did not want to spend County resources on this endeavor. Ramsey told Thornton he was free to track down their origins on his own time.

But California did not collect death registries until the 20th century, Thornton said, and who knows how many counties and their cemeteries he would have to call.

So he took two headstones, that of Rebecca and one of a Manuel Medeiros, to his property in rural Napa and constructed a small, 10-by-10-foot, private cemetery for them. And there they stayed. Recently his wife, Kim Wildman, pointed out that he might be able to track down the deceased online — a facility unavailable when he first collected the headstones.

He got a hit on Rebecca Abraham and saw she should be in the East Bay Regional Parks, which had acquired the Rose Hill property. He came up dry with Medeiros and assumed it was because of the common use of that name. The dates on his headstone are 1896-1941; that is all that is known about him.

Thornton immediately called the staffers at the East Bay Regional Park District who already knew about the two departed individuals and their missing markers.

Willis of the Diamond Mines Regional Preserve collected the headstones and returned them to Rose Hill Cemetery where they were restored and will soon be placed back in their original spots.

Welcome home, Rebecca and Manuel.

The East Bay Regional Park District began acquiring land for Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, south of Pittsburg and Antioch, in the early 1970s.

Today, most of the former mining district is within the Preserve’s nearly 6,096 acres.


To return a tombstone or marker to the East Bay Regional Parks District — no questions asked — call 510-544-2750. 

 Posted by at 9:54 pm
Aug 112015

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 Posted by at 10:04 pm