Marcia De Voe remembers her beloved Peninsula as a magical place.
Thursday, August 31, 2000
Geriatric-fearing middle-agers obsessed with anti-oxidants and alpha-hydroxy creams should take a lesson from Marcia De Voe. The pint-sized Carmel resident and retired schoolteacher doesn''t have time to feel old; she''s too busy. At 83 years old, her mind remains sharp as a tack and her energy level is prodigious (she runs circles around this 30-something reporter).
Since her retirement in 1975, De Voe has devoted herself to the communities she''s been a part of all her life--as a State Parks docent in Monterey''s historic adobes, a Monterey Historic Preservation commissioner, and as a volunteer for a myriad of museums, historical organizations and heritage societies from Seaside to Big Sur. When she''s not volunteering, she''s lecturing on local history or traveling the world, photographing other cultures and coming home to show her work in local exhibits.
"I tell everybody, don''t retire," she quips, "because you work just as hard and you don''t get paid."
Her greatest devotion is to children. In 36 years of teaching grammar school in Monterey and Carmel, De Voe says at least 2,000 students have crossed through her classroom door. It''s probably more--she just stopped counting at 2,000. Many of her former students come to visit her, their own offspring in tow.
Perhaps it''s De Voe''s own glorious childhood memories that draw her to children, and them to her. Growing up in Monterey, De Voe remembers a place that most of us can only read about.
"The thing about growing up in Monterey that I remember the most was the freedom we had," she recalls. "We could go anywhere, we could walk everyplace, and never feel that anything was going to hurt us."
Growing up on Carmelito and Watson streets in Monterey, day to day life was focused downtown. In many ways, Monterey in the 1920s and ''30s was a typical, Mayberry-esque small town. Alvarado Street served as the hub of activity where everything one needed to get along could be purchased--food, clothing, medicine, tools and household goods.
"The downtown area was a different world than it is now," De Voe says. "It was a place that you would walk down and know everybody, the people who owned the stores and the people on the street."
In high school, De Voe and her friend Charlotte frequented the Poppy diner on Alvarado Street, where the Britannia Arms pub now stands. "They would immediately say, ''We''ll fix you what you want,'' because they knew that every time we went in, we had a hot fudge sundae," De Voe reminisces.
Monterey was atypical for a pre-W.W.II American burg in that it was home to a rich array of cultures and peoples, a reality evidenced by De Voe''s second-grade class picture taken in 1924. As many Asian and Latino faces as white ones grace the old photograph.
"In my feeling about this Monterey Peninsula--beginning with the Mexican, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, French, English, Scottish--we were a melting pot."
To stroll down the few blocks that made up Alvarado Street was to immerse oneself in world cultures. "There were several dry goods and clothing and shoe stores that were owned by Jewish people," De Voe remembers. "We had a lot of Italians and Spanish people in the butcher shops and the grocery stores. We had mainly Anglos in the drugstores." And down on Fisherman''s Wharf, De Voe recalls the Italian and Chinese fishermen hauling in their catches while Japanese fisherman pounded abalone into tender, edible steaks.
One might also say that the Peninsula enjoyed not only the richness of ethnic diversity, but social diversity as well. Carmel by-the-Sea had its bohemian artist types, Pacific Grove-by-God its bible-beating Christian zealots. And Monterey-by-the-Smell had Cannery Row.
"Cannery Row was a place where those of us who were what you might call ''middle-class working people'' never went," De Voe says. "It was a place where the children were told not to go, because it was dirty, it was smelly, it was noisy, there were loud, vulgar conversations, and the ''bad girls'' houses were down there."
Weekends and summers were spent in the water off Lovers Point (where she swam well into her 50s), fishing for mackerel off Fisherman''s Wharf, or playing tennis and golf.
Friday nights were spent in the Del Monte Hotel''s spacious ballroom, where teenagers danced the fox-trot and waltz to big bands. "The girls had to wear long dresses and the boys had to wear suits," De Voe says. "My mother was always very happy to have me go with my first boyfriend because we loved to dance and we were always chaperoned."
For De Voe, the Monterey Peninsula was a magical place to grow up, and to live and work. That''s why, despite her extensive worldwide travels, she''s always called the Peninsula home.
"There''s no place better than here," she says. "I went to see, but I always came home."