Disengaging 2 | Skinny Jeans

Disengaging 2 | Skinny Jeans

by | 'Jun 1, 2017' | Disengaging | 0 comments

The Cannon Family—Joyce Cannon Portman

Thank goodness for the drive between our two vineyards—Clear Lake, by the water, and Potter Valley, way up in the corner of Mendocino County. Enough time to think, and no cell coverage for the last 20 miles, so no one can reach me. Today, the sun is bright but the air is very cool. It’s winter in Mendocino County, and our vines are dormant, so things have slowed down a bit. Thank goodness, because I need a break.

My dad, Pete, Sr.—that’s what everybody called him—always hated this time of year because he loathed being stuck inside, dealing with accountants and taxes, instead of out on the ridge-side with his lead hands, getting ready for the growing season. In this business, there is never enough time to get everything done. “Sleep in the grave,” he’d say. I hope you’re sleeping well, Dad.

I should have left earlier—now I’m stuck in the traffic jam around the middle school. All these kids leaning on whatever post or wall or fence or car, tapping away on their phones. My mother, Florence, who never went anywhere without her hair done and lipstick on, would have told them to stand up and pay attention. For all her compassion and community spirit, she had strict standards. Her dad had been in the navy before he went into the farm equipment business, and his military discipline remained a habit he passed on to his daughter. Even after decades out here in Lake County, she never lost her sense of comportment, or the Midwestern propriety that her college years at Northwestern imprinted on her.

How she and my rough, brazen father hit it off, I’ll never know. And how she put up with life at Cannon Springs, I’ll never know either. She was out of place in Lake County—our mom certainly didn’t look like any other mom at school, with her Midwestern style. She was absolutely determined to make sure Peter and I were part of a wider world. I’m sure I disappointed her, preferring the vineyards to school, or friends, or trips to San Francisco. She insisted we do after-school activities, so I played basketball—though I’m sure she would have preferred the Drama Club. She was deeply involved in various causes, especially scholarship funds for local students. I probably would have skipped college, but she insisted. Looking back, I’m grateful.

These lollygagging kids would never survive an hour with Pete Sr. He would tell us that someday, if we worked hard, all would be ours. “Work to own” was his mantra. When he thought Peter and I were slacking off, he would say we didn’t work hard enough to deserve Cannon Springs. If I ever cried, I got sent home. He made me tough. I didn’t cry.

I cannot believe this traffic! And these junior high kids! The girls wear so much black eyeliner they look like raccoons, and the boys—the boys in their skinny jeans. One year, their pants are falling off, and the next, they’re too tight to move. My daughter, Grace, and my niece, Mia—who’s taking a gap year and working with us at Cannon Springs while she figures out what she wants to study in college—tell me I have no sense for fashion. Maybe that’s true, but when I was in junior high I went straight home, changed into jeans, and went out to work with my dad. We worked until twilight, then we repaired equipment and cleaned up the barns, and then, finally, we could go in for dinner. After that, my mom made me study. Mom took care of all the fashion in our family. I didn’t have time.

My kids always say that I was saved from becoming a workaholic recluse when I broke my wrist the summer after graduating from Cal, and met my husband, Tom Portman, who had just started as a resident in the Mendocino County hospital. I was smitten the moment he lifted my wrist so carefully. Dad always hated my boyfriends— he called one of them “that swamp rat of yours”— but he liked Tom, probably because Tom spoke Spanish and was practically the only doctor in the area who would take time to treat the migrant workers who came through Cannon Springs. Tom believes in doing the right thing, always.

Finally! I’m almost past the school, and then I’ll have open roads to Potter Valley. That boy getting on the last bus reminds me of my little brother, Peter, at that age—small, intense, a bit of a loner, hanging back. Whereas Pete Sr. was tough, outspoken and brash, and Florence was polished and disciplined, Peter was quiet, observant, and a planner. He loved the vineyard as much as I did, but I think for completely different reasons. He was always studying the grapes—tasting them, comparing the different varieties, hanging on every word of the winemakers who came to buy grapes from us. And now he has the fancy winery, and I have a bunch of vines and not enough customers. Come on, traffic. I have work to do. Hear that, Dad? “Work to own.” Yeah right. I ran Cannon Springs, built it up, kept it going when all you and Peter could think about was the winery. So why the heck isn’t it mine? How can it be right that Peter—and Jacob! Who knows nothing and did nothing!—have 50% of Cannon Springs?

Argh! Focus on today and what you can control, Joyce.

Hear behind-the-scenes commentary on “Skinny Jeans” in Episode 4 of The Family Business Podcast.