Lynn & Nan Cadwell: Inside, Looking Out

Nan and Lynn Cadwell came to our classroom together one spring afternoon, and so this visit was a double treat. An elegant and witty couple, the Cadwells have deep California roots and fascinating stories to share. In addition, Nan showed us the remarkable drawings and journals that her Aunt Mildred Nosser kept as a young girl growing up at Nojoqui Falls in the early 1900s. The Cadwells reside in Santa Barbara. Their daughter Hilary works in the Bay area, and their son Chris grows incredible organic produce on his farm in Lompoc.


LYNN: I was born in Santa Barbara in 1922. Nan was born in same hospital, on the same floor but much later. I lived in Carpinteria, which is where my great-grandfather came in 1867. He started out as a farmer up in a place near Napa called Lake County. In Lake County, it would freeze in the wintertime, so he decided to go someplace where things would grow better. He gathered a huge load of budding grafting material for fruit trees and headed south on a stagecoach. But he had to water these things or they would die, and they wouldn’t stop the stagecoach for him. He got off, watered his plants, and walked for a long distance until he came to a town, where he got on another stagecoach. That’s how he happened to end up in Carpinteria.

LYNN (continuing): Nan’s grandparents, the Nossers, used to live at Nojoqui Falls. Nan has some interesting journals her Aunt Mildred wrote that she started at age eleven. Mildred Nosser was born in 1899, and her journals give you an idea what it was like to live at that time, watching for the stage coach, riding horses, acting out plays, lighting candles on the Christmas tree…

We looked through the journals, with their exquisite pen sketches and charming entries. Here are a few random excerpts:

February 11, 1913

Nothing happened today, except that Dolly got scared at an auto, and I met the surveyor this morning, and we practiced my wonderful play.

February 13, 1913

Nothing happened today. It was so foggy this morning, I could hardly see ten feet in front of me! I met the surveyor’s wagon this morning with one man in it, but I didn’t speak because they haven’t got any sense. Wonder if he noticed it. Something is the matter with my candle now, it flickers so I can hardly see. Well, my thoughts tonight are far a’flight, sailing away like some little kite.

February 14, 1913

Today was St. Valentine’s Day. We had lots of fun with our Valentines. Met the surveyor again today. Oh, dear! It is so perfectly lovely outdoors! Dorothy came home today. I don’t think she will be cross if mama don’t scold. Well, I am rather sleepy, so will discontinue.

…I f anyone should read this, they’d think I was perfectly crazy about the boys! But I’ll have to tell you, reader, that I simply hate the boys – can’t seem to understand them.

The person that reads this will think me fibbing, but he gave me two tennis balls. And the way he called me Baby, so tender, not a bit like he was making fun of me!!

In addition to entries of this sort, Mildred’s journal includes stories she has written, favorite quotes and poems, and excerpts of school lessons. A clipping entitled “Women’s Rights” (from the Boston Globe in the days before the 19th Amendment) lists romantic rights such as these:

A right to love one truly

And be loved back again;

A right to share his fortunes

Through sunlight and through rain;

A right to be protected

From life’s most cruel lights

By manly love and courage –

Sure these are women’s rights!

And Mildred had a flair for art. The journal is lavishly illustrated with drawings of stylish ladies carrying parasols, a man in Renaissance attire viewing the future through a telescope, a young girl with upswept curly hair… On one page, an old man wearing a banner reading “1914” is yielding to a “1915” baby; a large question mark looms ahead.

But now we returned to the present, and our interview. We asked the Cadwells how they met:

NAN: Lynn became a friend of my brother’s and so he was at my house all the time. I was about fourteen.

LYNN: Nan lived in a part of Santa Barbara called The Riviera. She went to Santa Barbara High and was the May Queen in 1943. Our families knew each other. Not really well, but they knew each other. Nan’s father had his own company for a while. He was a road builder, an engineer, so he would build these roads, like Highway 101.

NAN: He did Highway One at Big Sur. He was an engineer when I was growing up.

LYNN: Nan’s mother and father went to Big Sur around 1920 or 1921, somewhere in there, and they started the road for the first time from Big Sur to the south and they only had enough money to build three miles of road. And one of her father’s memories about that was a huge steam shovel — usually they had only mules or oxen to pull these graders — but they got a steam shovel to speed up this work. And he remembered seeing the driver on this steam shovel yelling, and the whole steam shovel went over the cliff. Amazingly, his life was saved because he was very quick, and he managed to jump off. Usually they were killed.

But her mother and father had a tent there in the Big Sur campground that was boarded up around the sides and had a wood floor, so they lived there for about three years. Nan’s brother was living at that time, so he enjoyed the Big Sur River, and they had one chicken that laid an egg every other day.

NAN: That chicken appeared from nowhere.

We asked if the war changed the high school experience for the students.

NAN: Oh, yes. Oh, it certainly did. But I enjoyed high school very much. There was a war on, but it was still high school. There was a school band that played every lunch hour and we all went in and danced madly. We could hardly eat our sandwiches. We just wanted to dance!

LYNN: They had what they called “bobby soxers” – everyone wore bobby sox and then they would dance jitterbug.

NAN: We had a lot of fun, and I think all of us, all my friends, realized even then how lucky we were.

When did you live at Big Sur?

We were in Big Sur in 1962 and I taught school there for three years. The school was a tar paper shack that was a little wider than this room and about forty feet long. I had fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades, and the first thing the children had to do when the bus dropped them off at school in the fall and winter was get the fire going. They got the fire going, and then we could start school. Because of the age spread of the children, I would work with one group at a time, and then the oldest children would help the younger, and so the students were really the teachers. We had just enough boys and girls to have two teams for baseball or soccer. Everyone had to finish their lessons before they went out, so they were very motivated. Once again, the tutors would be the older children, and they were great helpers.

Was this during the time Henry Miller lived at Big Sur?

LYNN: Yes. Henry Miller was a very popular writer who wrote sort of racy things. But he went to France during the thirties and then came back here when the war had started, and he moved to Big Sur and was cut off from all the money that he would have had from the books. He couldn’t get it because the war was going on. So Henry Miller was very poor during the forties, but when the war was over, he found out he was a very rich man. His books had been selling. But he told his publisher that he couldn’t go over to France because he didn’t have any money. Suddenly a telegram arrived, and his agent had invested all his money, and there was a stock failure, and he lost it all just when he found out he had it. But Henry Miller made a lot of money after the war, and we got to know him because we lived on the same hill, which was called Parrington Ridge. We even had him as a babysitter. He was a very kind man, so he babysat for our kids.

So Chris and Hilary had Henry Miller as a babysitter?

NAN: Well, we were in a play, and the show must go on. We desperately needed someone.

You performed in a play?

NAN: Yes, everybody that lived up there was involved in a play. If you weren’t actually performing in the play, you made costumes. It was a wonderful way of getting to know people up there. Otherwise, we were all so isolated. We had a couple of musicians up there who would go back to New York and go to all the shows and pick out songs. So we did musicals.

Were you in them also, Lynn?

LYNN: Yes, unfortunately. They had what they called the Big Sur Potluck Revue. It was made up of a dinner where everyone brought something, and then a play afterwards. Everyone loved it. They would come from San Francisco and Los Angeles. And the money raised from this event supported the school and the grange hall where everyone met and had the plays.

NAN: We lived up there year-round for three years in the early1960s. It was wonderful. After that, we went to Berlin.

LYNN: I taught in public schools in Santa Barbara for a couple of years. We had the little school in Gaviota – Vista del Mar. I was there around 1965. They had a fighter plane in the schoolyard for the kids to climb on and play on. The movie companies used to come by and they would see that jet and they wanted to buy that because there weren’t many left. I always had to say no. It was from the Korean War, the best jet we had.

When I got to that school, there was a lack of good books, but we had a lot of terrific parents there. One of them was Dee Mease. Mrs. Mease loved books, and she would give books to all of her many children. She was a lovely person. We had no library in the school at all, so we got these mothers together and blocked off part of the hallway, and that was the library. They were good people. We all got into the fun of choosing the books.

We only had about sixty boys and girls from kindergarten through the eighth grade, although we didn’t have a kindergarten when we first started. Most of our kids went on to Santa Ynez High, but some would go to Dunn or Midland. The greatest thing about the boys and girls that went to Vista was that they loved to go to school.

The old school is near the oil refinery. The building is still there, though neglected. The new school is Vista de las Cruces.

Have things changed a lot in this area over the years?

NAN: Oh, we’ve seen huge changes.

LYNN: But the amazing thing is, you know how your mind is now? How you’re thinking and what you are aware of around you? Your mind never changes. You learn more. You’re affected by more. But your mind is the same. You can remember old times. For me, that’s almost eighty years ago, but I DO remember. And inside, looking out, you’re the same person you always were.

Nan’s father, who lived to be just four months short of a hundred years old, and was a very bright person, his mind stayed just like it was. He didn’t realize he was really old until he fell down one day…

NAN: No. He got in an accident and was pinned under a car, and this young boy said, “Are you all right, Pops?” He thought, “Pops?” Then he got home and looked in the mirror and said, “Yeah, I am really old.”


2 Responses to Lynn & Nan Cadwell: Inside, Looking Out

  1. Vickie says:

    Your new site is beautiful, Cyn — I’ve never read this interview with Lynn and Nan– Henry Miller, babysitter. Just wonderful!

  2. Hilary Cissy Dabney says:

    How beautiful, truly lovely

    Nan it was great seeing each-
    other at Constance M Fearings
    x-mas party( sorry to miss you

    Am looking for a violin and
    bow in order to pursue my
    study and practice with my
    new ” love” instument.

    Will call you two right after
    i finish this missive.


    Hilary “Cissy” Dabney

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