Friday, September 28, 2007


Giovanni (John) Primo Comelli at the Brovias in Newtown-Davenport, c.1937. (La Nostra Costa Photo Archive.)

Photo: 'Bronco' Comelli and Virginia Brovia, First Street, New Town in Davenport , c. 1937. (La Nostra Costa Photo Archives)

IVANO FRANCO COMELLI SAYS: Patty Morelli grew up in Davenport. In fact she and her family lived in New Town, in the very same house were my parents lived when I was first born. Maybe our urge to write about Davenport and "La Costa" can be traced back to that house on First Street. Thanks for the memories, Patty.

A Moment In Time In Davenport
By Patty Morelli

I have so many wonderful experiences to share about my childhood in Davenport. Both my Mom, Evelyn Collins, and my Dad, Mac Morelli, grew up in Davenport. Their parents (Gilda Bertacca and Tony Collins; Tootsie Morelli and Violet Dingwall) lived much of their lives in Davenport, as well. So, as a result, I grew up with quite a legacy of ‘stories’. And, of course, I have a bunch of my own.

I lived in Davenport until I was 13 years old, and then we moved to Santa Cruz. I remember very well the day we left. It was the day after Easter vacation started in 1953. We had stuffed the last of our boxed up belongings between my 2 sisters, Margo and Carole, in the back seat of our old Chevy. My brother Macie and I climbed halfheartedly into the front seat. My Mom was driving and I could see she was eager for this move. She’d been a Davenport girl since she was 3 years old and now she was starting a new life ‘in the big city’. As we pulled away from our house on First Street in Newtown, she chatted happily, creating wonderful scenarios of times to come. I remember feeling quiet and depressed.

I loved my little town and now that the car was moving, I suddenly felt the consequences of not living there. It dawned on me that I would no longer see Pacific School and my teachers, Mrs. Emery and Mrs. Thompson. Even more, I would miss becoming the long awaited upperclassman of the school and graduating from 8th grade with my classmates.

As we continued down the road past the Cement Plant, more thoughts came rushing. I realized I would never again climb up into the tree house my brother and I built in the dusty eucalyptus trees near the railroad tracks. We loved sitting in the safety of “our fort” while the huge, black train engine would slowly puff beneath us as it pulled filled boxcars from the Cement Plant.

I probably would never again see Lenny Domenicelli’s horses, Pal and Babe, who were corralled near our home. My brother, Macie, my sister, Margo, and I would pet them, feed them rich green weeds that we pulled from the fields, and then finally chase them and each other all over the hillside.

I would miss seeing Georgie Mungai, my very first crush. My Dad bartended at the Ocean View Hotel and we would often stop by with our Mom to visit. Once in awhile, Georgie would drop in and my heart would skip a beat…… my brother , Macie, would tease me and call out “Georgie….Patty loves you!” And I would hit him.

I thought about Catechism class at St. Vincent de Paul’s Church and wondered where I would go for Catechism in Santa Cruz. I thought of many other things.

While my head raced with anxious worries, there whorled in the background the sound of sirens. By this time we had moved onto Highway 1 and were approaching Gregory’s Gas Station. Suddenly, in the distance, I saw smoke on the left hand side of the Highway. My Mom slowed down, and just as we approached the Davenport Cash Store it became evident that it was on fire. I remember having this great feeling of panic and I begged my Mom to stop, to pull over. But we couldn’t stop, she explained, because we had to meet the landlord at our new house, and we were running late. “Don’t worry, honey” she said. “They’ll rebuild it. Davenport can’t be without a grocery store.”

Somehow that didn’t appease me. I knew it didn’t matter, even if they did build a new store. I knew it would never be the same…..not the old Cash Store with its oiled floors, its glass display cases, its hanging sticks of salami and white balls of cheese, and its gasoline pumps outside with the small windows that whirled gas as it was being pumped into waiting cars. As we continued on we kids turned around in our seats and watched through the car‘s rear window as smoke and flames billowed out of the roof of the building. My heart sank. We continued down the Highway towards Santa Cruz in silence and soon we no longer could see the smoke, the hills had gotten in the way. We turned in our seats then and focused on the road ahead. Still no one spoke.

It was a time of transition for us as a family and a long period of ‘breaking away’ for me. I was becoming a teen-ager, yet I wanted so badly to hang onto my childhood. Who wouldn’t want to? I felt so protected in Davenport. I knew everyone and everyone knew me. I had the whole countryside as my playground, and the bright blue sky and the sparkling gray-blue ocean for my times of wonder. Never mind the cement dust that caked our sidewalks and coated our cars. Never mind the wind that fluffed my curly hair into a halo of fuzz around my face. Never mind that we didn’t have a movie house or television reception and that there were no Boys Scout or Brownie Troops. My best friends and favorite playmates were my brother and sisters and we pretty much covered it all. We caught frogs in the small ponds near the railroad tracks; we played pirates and fought bravely with our swords made of wild carrot stalks; we ate sprouts and artichokes fresh picked while we played in the fields….much to our Mother’s disapproval; we were delighted with 10 cents worth of penny candy as a reward for ‘just being good’.

I survived the move, but it took a long time, or what felt to be a long time. I slowly learned ’to be a lady’ and gave up my Tom Boy ways. I adapted to my classroom with as many kids in it as were in the whole of Pacific School in Davenport. I found new friends while my brother went on to play Little League and my sisters joined the Brownies. But, for me, I will never forget my childhood in Davenport. I will never forget who I was when we lived there. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t want to.