Anita Dolcini Googins (1916-2015) grew up in West Marin speaking the Swiss-Italian dialect. Her great-grandfather Carlo Martinoia (Charles Martin) was one of many Swiss-Italian immigrants who left their small villages in the Vallemaggia, Switzerland to seek opportunity in the golden hills of California. In the 1850s, Martin found it in Chileno Valley, where he purchased land for a dairy ranch. His land holdings grew as his banking and business interests prospered.
Today Anita’s daughter Sally Gale and her husband Mike produce apples and grass-feed beef on the ranch where Charles Martin and his wife Caterina Traversi Martin raised their seven children. Other lands Martin gifted to his offspring are ranched today by his descendants, members of the Dolcini and Lafranchi families.
In a 2006 oral history, Anita speaks of growing up on the ranch operated by her parents, Arnold Dolcini and Katherine Connolly Dolcini, in West Marin’s Hicks Valley.
“Well, we were always busy. We had wood to bring in because we had no electricity. We just had wood burning for heat and for cooking, and also to warm up the bricks to put in bed at night. Then when we were old enough, we helped with the milking. I milked all of the time, before I went to high school.”
Relatives and friends aiming for California could always be found back home in the Vallemaggia. In the close-knit Swiss-Italian community, immigrants came to help out on the ranches as a first step in their new lives. Many worked as milkers until they saved enough to rent and eventually purchase their own ranches. Anita describes how her parents found helpers in Cevio, the village her great-grandfather left as a young boy.
“We had two women from Switzerland that came that were with us for awhile and we always spoke the dialect to them, and a lot of the milkers were Swiss too. Mama, of course, was Irish, and she couldn't speak the Swiss, or she spoke it with a heavy accent. It was like learning two different languages. And then when my Irish grandmother came to live with us, why, it was of course, all English to her. But I never spoke English to my father. If I did, he'd always say "[Non] Cappe-see mia inglais," which is, "I don't understand English." So then I'd have to say it over again in the dialect.”
Anita attended Lincoln District Grammar School at 300 Hicks Valley Road. Forty students made up the entire school population, three students in Anita’s class. She talks about what it was like to attend this tiny school.
“Well, it was really a close-knit group because we were all Swiss-Italian and a lot of them came to school not speaking English. Of course, in the classroom we all had to speak English but when we got outside we all spoke the Swiss dialect, so it was a real chummy little group. Wasn't little.”
Feeding three meals a day to the family and up to six ranch workers was a big job. Anita describes the food prepared by her mother and helpers for the ranch hands.
“…they always had a very hearty breakfast. Always cereal, always a meat of some kind. I remember after I grew up people eating liver for dinner and I thought, "My goodness, that's only for breakfast." Always eggs, and lots of bread, coffee, and noontime was a big meal. That was when the heaviest meal was served. It was always meat and potatoes and always red wine on the table. We had to go get it out of a big barrel in big white pitchers, and I would be sent to get it, and I loved it when I was, because I'd always fill it too full and then suck off the top.”
In her ninety-nine years, Anita lived through massive changes in society and technology, but she also enjoyed a remarkable continuity. She spent her last days surrounded by loving family in the house where her great-grandfather and great-grandmother raised their children. Her lineage, shared with many of today’s fifth and sixth generation West Marin ranchers, winds way back through Carlo Martinoia to the little town of Cevio in the Vallemaggia.