Take a Hike . . . with Mike Monroe: Generosity extended by someone we barely know may mark holiday memories
Published in the Dec. 21, 2016 – January 3, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Mike Monroe
Something about the holidays pushes me out the door to enjoy the crisp, clear air and our gentle, resting landscapes. After all, I can only handle so much eggnog and fruit cake. Still, I would like to extend my wishes to all for a joyful and peaceful time of year, when love fills our hearts and the beauty of the season quiets and renews us.
Gratitude for family and friends, and sometimes generosity extended to us by people we may have known only for a fleeting moment, may mark our holiday memories. It was right after Thanksgiving that I attended a funeral service for Doug Downer, a longtime Morgan Hill resident and genuine good guy. I met him, and his wife, Diane, and son, Tim, at a Grange Hall pancake breakfast a few years ago. Doug reminisced about some old local history including a few stories of my favorite character, Charles Kellogg, whom he had met while in elementary school.
My interest was piqued. Doug and Diane were very gracious to allow me a follow-up visit to their home to share more stories.
Doug recalled the days when his parents owned 21 Mile House. Diane remembered dinners at the home Dr. and Mrs. Harold Thomas (the father of the modern strawberry) near Anderson Dam. Diane was a young girl but she did tell me that her father and Dr. Thomas were thinking about establishing a chicken processing business in Morgan Hill.
A few days after Doug’s funeral service, I received a call from Margaret Johnston who, like the Downers, attends San Martin Presbyterian Church. I have been fortunate to have made Margaret’s acquaintance before through events sponsored by the Morgan Hill Historical Society. Of course, I was flattered when she complimented my articles in this esteemed journal. We talked about Doug and she reminded me that while attending school in San Martin during the 1930s, Charles Kellogg came for a school presentation about his bird singing. He pulled up to the school in a bus-like vehicle which he had handcrafted and called the Bird Wing. Mr. Kellogg also taught Margaret how to whistle some bird calls.
I had to learn more, so I jumped at the opportunity when Margaret agreed to meet with me. She is a remarkable individual, very sharp and vigorous after 90-plus years. Margaret did not want any presents for her 90th birthday celebration in October, but her children had a wonderful idea.
They decided to arrange with Santa Clara County Parks for the installation of park bench along the Mummy Mountain Trail. Margaret provided me with photos of her hike to the bench and one of her reclining across the seat gazing out over the valley floor with a few puffy white clouds in the distance. Her children really nailed it with a life tribute that we will all be able to enjoy for many years.
The Mummy Mountain hike New Year’s Day is not just for exercise or gazing down on the vistas of the South Valley below. It’s now about Margaret, honoring her and thinking of her escapades as a young girl roaming the hills with friends up from her parents’ home on Church Avenue in San Martin.
Margaret did confide in me that back in the day the locals did not refer to the contours of the hills as Mummy Mountain.
Instead, they called it Sleeping Woman. And the origin of that name came from the native Ohlone Indians who lived along Coyote Creek for hundreds of years.
Margaret recalled the Knepper family who owned property along the creek where there was a boulder with mortar holes used for grinding acorns. The Kneppers told the story that there were Ohlone descendants living in rugged hills and ravines, sourcing water and deer meat from the Coyote watershed until 1915 or thereabouts.
To say the least, I am now a Margaret Johnston fan, especially when she offered me some tea and her homemade “No Bake Energy Bites” (she even gave me the recipe card). You see, Margaret is somewhat of a health nut, which may account for her high energy level at age 90. My hope is that early in 2017, Margaret will be able to visit with me again at Villa Mira Monte where she can tell more stories at a community get-together.
For starters, Margaret and her husband, Ralph, married in 1950 during the broadcast of a radio program called “Bride and Groom.” And perhaps Margaret can relate how she came to be known as the “Flower Lady” in downtown Morgan Hill.
Happy holidays, everyone. Keep on sauntering!
Gilroy resident Mike Monroe is a Morgan Hill business owner and naturalist. He is a docent for Santa Clara County Parks.