I was raised in Ventura where I grew fruits and vegetables in our backyard under the tutelage of my father, Kenney Lawrence. Later, I was my grandfather’s eyes and his hands when he could no longer work his land up above Cemetary Park.
My grandfather, Manny Paquette, was a challenging taskmaster and so difficult to please that my mother, Suzanne Lawrence, didn’t want me to take the job. He knew exactly how he wanted everything done, he was a perfectionist, he grew up in the famous Shepherd’s Gardens in Ventura, and he had been working that earth for 50 years.
After my first week, my grandfather told me I worked hard, and more importantly, I worked smart. He liked how I listened, how I followed his directions, and that I asked good questions. He appreciated how I gingerly handled the seeds he had germinated, how I climbed deep into his fruit trees as he used to. The thoughtful way I pruned them pleased him also.
I paid attention to him and to the land, listening to it and loving it the way he did. I did what I was asked but also could tell him about the red tailed hawk, the quail, where the roadrunner roosted. I could describe for him the texture of the soil, the air, the chamise on the warm afternoons. As I worked his land, I understood it and him.
When he hand built his house on the hill, the first item of business was digging a hole into the hillside. This was the 1950’s and his neighbors were sure it was a bomb shelter. Instead, it was a wine cellar. He carved by hand a massive door out of redwood and entered it into the Ventura County Fair: he won a first place prize.
When he passed away in 1997, I inherited his cookbooks, his wine making books, his wines, and his cellar. But I’d already inherited his sense of smell, his love of fine food and decent coffee, his interest in wine.
And so much more.