by Albert Simonson
Julia Flinn did not need to go to school for “multicultural studies.” Like many pioneer children, her life had diversity enough. Her book, “This Was Yesterday” conveys with charm her affection for diverse kinds of people, whether they spoke English, Spanish, or Kumeyaay.
She wrote of her childhood at La Viñita (little vine) at what we now call Flinn Springs, just up the creek from the old San Antonio and San Diego stage stop named “Ames,” after her grandfather. That spot is now under Interstate 8 near the Los Coches exit by Lakeside. Her parents had also a ranch at Corte Madera south of Valle de Pinos (Pine Valley). It was in that wild and beautiful place that her father killed the last grizzly of the mountains. The journey between the two ranches took several days on rough roads.
Little Julia always looked forward to the welcoming sight of the tree-shaded Overmier ranch house (behind the present Alpine Post Office). It was the only house for miles around. There she could play with Lucy Overmier’s box of seashells in front of the fireplace, until bedtime, while the grownups talked of horses. Julia had been as far as El Cajon, but only through seashells could she imagine the distant ocean.
One morning in 1881 at the Overmier’s, Julia was astonished to hear that she was five years old. Many years later, after a full and rich life, she remembered the moment. “It was the first time I realized that a definite number of years could be assigned to me. I walked slowly out the front door, absorbed with this fascinating discovery and there I came face-to-face with Quilchai, the Indian who was cleaning up the brush around the house. Here was someone to share my discovery. I announced, ‘I’m five years old!’ Using the Indian words, I counted the years off on my fingers. Suddenly another thought occurred to me and I asked,’How many years have you?’ Quilchai looked puzzled. Then squatting down to my level, he pointed to Las Viejas mountain standing high against the sky and said,’When I was little, that mountain was this big.’ He held his hands slightly apart in illustration. ‘Now you see how big? You know how old!”‘
“Quilchai and I were friends of long-standing. His wife, Josepha, and my mother had played together as children at Los Coches. Josepha and Quilchai, usually accompanied by their children, regularly made the two-day trip from Los Conejos reservation to Corta Madera to visit us. Several years after the memorable day when I discovered I ‘had five years,’ Quilchai and Josepha came for their usual visit, but this time as they came into the yard, we saw that it was Josepha who was leading their old horse. Poor Quilchai was almost blind and horribly scarred from burns he had gotten in an accident. Mother made a salve of suet and soft pine pitch, with other ingredients I am unable to recall, and I smoothed it on the burned areas. Many weeks later, Quilchai managed to make the trip again to show us the good the salve had done.
“After the accident, he was unable to work and maintain his family. Whether it was customary or not, I don’t know, but the Conejos chief married Josepha to a second husband, an able-bodied younger man. From then on, whenever Josepha and her young husband went to work, they always had Quilchai with them and treated him with the greatest kindness and affection. Josepha was a middle-aged woman when she died, but she and my mother had remained friends over the years, and Mother attended her death ceremony.”
It did not matter to Julia that Josepha’s dual marriage and native death ceremony differed from her own British and Spanish traditions. She recognized goodness in any form.
You can pick up a copy of her book at the Flinn Springs Country Store, where old Highway 80 (the former Flinn Road) passes under the freeway.