The Northside Oral History Project

Jimmy Guidotti

On January 4, 2000, our neighbor and friend Jimmy Guidotti died at age 85. We will miss seeing him ride his bicycle through the neighborhood and hearing him tell us tales of the old days when the valley was full of orchards and open space. The following is an interview done with Jimmy in 1996 by Frederick Engell as a project for school. We hope that everyone will enjoy reading Jim's own words about his life.

- John Engell

John GuidottiWhen and where were you born? 21 May 1914. San Jose, McKee Road. I was born at home on the ranch where my dad worked, called McKee Ranch.

What is your earliest memory? I guess it's the memory of the ranches, how everything looked so nice and there were plenty of places to play, like the Creek (Coyote Creek) down there; in later years we went swimming in the creek where the park [Watson Park] is now.

What were the advantages and disadvantages of living then? Advantage? Not so many people; I could go anyplace. You could go across this valley without no stop signs; it was free. Disadvantage? Well, I guess getting chased by farmers when you took their fruit. But that used to be like a game to us.

What were your chores? I had to milk the cow before I went to school. When I came home I had to give it grass and milk it again at night. I had to chop wood and if I didn't keep the box full, I got a boot in the bottom. So next time you kept it full. I had to gather the eggs; we had chickens.

What was school like? School was kinda rough cause I didn't like it too much at first; in later years I kinda got into it. I liked to be out in the open. Nobody likes school. Then you get older and you figure you got to have some . . . but I only went through eighth grade anyway 'cause my dad went and got sick.

What kind of expectations did your parents have for you? A lot of work. Get out and go to work. You didn't want to go to school, then go to work--that's what they said.

What was your first job? Let me think now. Oh, I worked on a hay press, I guess, driving the power. Run the horses around 20 bales, then take them off, the big five wire bales, not the little presses they got now. It was hard work and it was mostly all grown men I worked with and I was say about sixteen. I was trying to remember now how much they paid us. Maybe a dollar and a half a day, somethin' like that.

How old were you when you got married and where did you get married? About 25. Reno, Nevada. I just wanted to have a quick one. It was all legal, though. It was no shotgun marriage.

How many children did you have? Two. I was gonna get smart and say none, my wife had them.

What was your neighborhood like? This general area, from Julian Street to Berryessa, it was very nice, all nice people. It was all mostly orchards and vegetable gardens and stuff like that. Here you could get anything you wanted--fruits, vegetables, poultry. Most of the streets weren't paved. This one here [19th Street] was paved I guess about 25 years ago. Mostly Italians and lots of Portuguese too lived here, and the Mexican people were over the other side of the Bayshore--that sort of area. They called it Goosetown. It was like a swamp over there. They had it rough; you had to pack in there.

Did any major wars affect your family's life? World War II. I had to go in the army and I guess it affected them in some way. I was helpin' my family before I went in and it made it tough on them; I was in for about two years; I fought in the Pacific and just took over in Japan to keep the peace there.

What was the worst national tragedy you have lived through? I try to forget them. Well, I guess the atomic bomb and stuff like that. I was there [in Japan] right after they dropped them. I remember, too, my mother talk about the San Francisco earthquake, but that was before I was born. The Depression was bad, too. My dad lost his two ranches and his place on 21st Street, and his gravel company went under, so we all had to go pick prunes during the Depression and worked different odd jobs. Just to exist.

My dad had got too much property too fast, so he lost it. We lived some on 19th here and then later over on 17th. I was renting over there and I said this is not a life so I came by here over on 19th again and I seen this little house here was for sale. So I made a deal with the guy 'cause he wanted $800 for the house and land and he wanted cash, but I gave him $200 down and paid it off later. That's where I stopped and never went on again. 1939 I bought it, I think.

Who was your best friend? A guy by the name of Riggs Panetone. He lived right over here on 19th Street and we was raised together. We played together and worked together. Then he went in the army first before I did and went to Germany, I guess. He passed away--he killed himself about five years ago. He came over and was talkin' to me and I didn't think he was depressed or nothin' and he went home and killed himself.

What would you like to be remembered for? I don't know. Let somebody else think about that. I worked hard, and if they needed help I tried to help them. And I never threw anything away. I saved everything. Stuff in my yard isn't very good, but it can be used.

How would you compare your life today to your life as a child? I guess it's pretty good to me, all the way through since I was a child. We had some rough times, but you pretty much forget them and remember the good, 'cause life is gonna be like that--the good and the bad. Most of my teaching was from home, though. But I guess you gotta give some credit to the teachers, 'cause they helped me to learn to obey in the school. Now I have to obey me, myself, and I--and the laws and everything, like everybody else. But I gotta shut this off. I could go on here for all kinds of--but shut up.

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