Home » Senior Living News Blog » “There’s a Bit of Daredevil Inside! The 20th & 21st Century Life of Bobbie Rose” by Harriett Burt
Carlton Senior Living Blog | September 22, 2020 | By Denee Coleman

“There’s a Bit of Daredevil Inside! The 20th & 21st Century Life of Bobbie Rose” by Harriett Burt

It is an interesting coincidence that Barbara Sharp ‘Bobbie’ Rose was born in San Francisco on June 21, 1918, right in the middle of the Spanish Flu pandemic, the last deadly worldwide health assault before the Covid-19 pandemic we are now experiencing.

Bobbie’s mother was in labor for three days. It took her five months in the hospital and one month with relatives to recover, at least partially, from a serious infection. It was not totally cleared until sulfa drugs were developed in the late 1930s. Another problem in this most difficult birth was that the umbilical cord was wrapped around Bobbie’s neck. To keep the baby alive during the birth, the doctor held the cord away from her neck. Even then, Bobbie showed the focus and strength that has served her for over a century. The family also helped out by having a friend who invited Bobbie’s mother to have her baby for free at the San Francisco hospital he owned including the unexpected extra five months mother and daughter stayed there.

Bobbie is also testimony to the fact that we can live and even flourish through hard times as she survived and even flourished through not only the Spanish Flu pandemic but also the Great Depression, the Great Recession, the last year of World War I, all of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and all the wars in the Middle East. She has also witnessed and benefitted from so many medical breakthroughs and the countless inventions we now take for granted including film and television. To top it all off, the arts both in crafts and music, are the gifts which she was born with and has shared over the years. Bobbie also had caring parents who made sure she had many opportunities to grow and expand. “I guess the folks sacrificed an awful lot for me. I wish I could have appreciated it more at the time,” she says.

Bobbie’s maternal grandfather had come to California from England sometime in the second half of the 19th century when he was 17. His immigration papers said he was to go to Portland, Oregon although it should have been Portland, Maine. While in Oregon, he worked for the Post Office before joining the United States Army. But he also met and married Bobbie’s grandmother who was living in Portland at the time. Long story short, they married and he joined the Army around the time of the Spanish-American War. He was stationed at Corregidor in the Philippines then at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay for two years. The family lived in Alameda while Bobbie was growing up.

The paternal part of her family included her great-grandfather who grew up in Philadelphia in the early 1800s. In the 1840s, before the Gold Rush she says, he decided to bring his family including eight children to California using the Isthmus of Panama route. It was a difficult way of reaching California from the East Coast before the Panama Canal existed as travelers had to survive a 44-mile walk through the jungles. Many died of malaria and other tropical illnesses. Bobbie’s ancestors made it to San Francisco alive, however. It was most difficult for the family, especially for Bobbie’s then eight-year-old paternal grandmother who struggled to walk as she had rickets. In the end, however, they all lived and were soon on the ship to San Francisco. The good news is that once the family reached the City, the great-grandfather who was a doctor, had no problem finding work.  Two of his sons also became doctors. The third son, Bobbie’s grandfather, was an inventor of short-lived success when he developed a chemical to preserve plywood. The problem was, after great early sales, all the stock and the building it was housed in burned down because the “miracle” plywood chemical contained highly inflammatory material.

The inventor’s son, Bobbie’s father, was born in 1889. As a young carpenter, he was hired to work on the Panama-Pacific Exposition where he helped build the iconic Palace of Fine Arts, the only building of that famous Fair which still stands as a San Francisco landmark. When no longer needed, he was laid off when the project was finished just before the grand opening in 1915. However, the young Pacific Gas and Electric Company was expanding as statewide more and more buildings and homes using the utilities we now take for granted. Fortunately, Bobbie’s dad had been trained to work with and repair much of the type of machinery used by the new power company. He was quickly hired as a PG&E engineer and assigned to one of the PG&E service offices and powerhouses in small towns and cities to assist customers and provide local power along what is now called the I-80 Corridor from San Francisco to the California/Nevada border.

Although Bobbie had been born in San Francisco, the family lived outside of Auburn at the time. When she was five, she went to a one-room, one-teacher schoolhouse for 1st through 8th grades. There were 10 or 12 students, half of whom were Native Americans and one who was Japanese. “We all played together,” she recalls. “We didn’t think about it.”

In 1927, her father was transferred to San Jose. How was the move for nine-year-old Bobbie? Ninety-three years later, she doesn’t hesitate to say, “It was horrendous!”

First, she had to repeat fourth grade as the curriculum in San Jose was much more advanced than in a one-room school. Second, the kids teased and pestered her unmercifully. She had long red hair which was constantly being pulled.

“I begged my mother to cut it but she wouldn’t.” To make things worse, Mother made Bobbie wear a hat when she went outside during recess….just one more thing to be teased about.

Her years at Herbert Hoover Junior High were no better but San Jose High, class of 1937, was somewhat easier. The next stop was San Jose State College, where she earned a degree in general business and found her future husband.

Hugh Rose was an accounting major. She met him when the professor used the alphabet to seat students at a long table. R was obviously next to S. Finding out accounting was Hugh’s major, Bobbie took advantage of his knowledge whether she needed it or not, she notes, with a twinkle in her eye. The numbers ‘added up’ so to speak in the mathematics of love.

College tuition was reasonable in those days but her mother held on to the purse strings carefully as PG&E salaries had been cut as the Depression continued. “I always bought used books unless it was something I wanted to keep,” Bobbie remembers.

Among her memories are taking dancing and music lessons but it was really the decorative arts she loved. She was taught to knit by her grandmother when she was four years old. She also embroidered and did other art crafts.

When asked about quilts, she admits that she had made one although it took her seven years to finish it. Her father was quite a good oil painter, she says. Several paintings of scenes in the northern Sierra and the Oregon coast in her apartment attest to his skill.

Bobbie graduated from San Jose State in 1941, a year after Hugh. To her shock, she had barely taken off her cap and gown when “my father very politely threw me out!” She replied in alarm, “I am going to get married! But I have to wait until he has some money!” Hugh had already purchased a cedar chest for her but that would not be enough to live on or in.

“You are now through with your studies. Get a job.” was the quiet but firm reply.  So, she was hired as an accountant with the Food Machinery Company, a long-standing Santa Clara County business that in peacetime produced cannery machinery. During the war, it also produced for a time Water Buffalo Tanks, designed for use in marshes and swamps. “They took us for a ride once but the tanks were not that successful,” she notes.

Bobbie and Hugh married in 1943 after Hugh had finished not only Army basic training but also training in military financial procedures and Officer Candidate School. He eventually reached the rank of Captain. In fact, at the end of the war, he was about to be promoted to Major which would have required him to stay in the service a little longer. He refused because, he told Bobbie, he missed her so much. Bobbie adds, “we were both so darned lonesome, we couldn’t wait to get together.” He was quickly hired by the Dole Cannery in San Jose.

“The day he came home, I was through” at Food Machinery Company, Bobbie says. “I was a housewife after that!” In addition to her basic housekeeping duties, “I made all my own clothes. I love sewing.” She also volunteered to sing in a number of choruses and in grand opera and light opera concerts in San Jose. The couple lived in Santa Clara for a short time and then bought a home in Los Gatos where they lived until 1970 when Dole closed the San Jose cannery.

Dole sold the cannery equipment to Tri County Cannery in Modesto so the Roses moved there where Hugh worked his last five years and they planned their retirement and the home they would build on the five acres near San Andreas in the Sierras they had bought in 1965. In 1975, the couple then became a home building team. Hugh did the heavy construction work, Bobbie did whatever was needed to assist Hugh, the home carpenter/cement layer/sheetrock installer, etc. The strength of their marriage was such that the two of them worked side by side for two and a half years without a fight or a divorce. Part of the reason may have been that the couple took a few months off each winter of those years and drove to Arizona for two or three months. But Bobbie says they only did that because you can’t build a house when it is snowing.

After the house was finished, they traveled whenever they could. “We went to Alaska four times and across the United States and Canada several times.” When asked if they traveled to any foreign countries, her reply was a quick “No. If you couldn’t drive, you didn’t go.” Over the years they owned a variety of recreational vehicles to drive from San Andreas to Alaska, across North America and of course, each winter to Arizona. Bobbie learned to tow every type of ‘rolling home’ from camper, trailer, mobile home to a fifth wheeler.

For 33 years their travel time during Northern California’s winter was spent in Yuma, a popular ‘second home’ for many seniors from all over the country and Canada. While some retirees bought or rented homes in Yuma itself, Hugh and Bobbie made friends with folks who gathered each year in a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) camp about 18 miles north of the city. The couple bought a Volkswagen ‘bug’ with a Porsche engine which they stored there in the winter for use from December to February, March or April.

It was no vacation for ‘fraidy cats’, however. Bobbie fondly remembers some of the group’s favorite activities. Some days 20 or so vehicles of various models including a number of Volkswagens would go out into the desert hills to explore the narrow canyons and roads. Hidden Canyon, as its name implies, was hard to find and harder to get to unless a group of strong men “bumped you over” (i.e. lifted the rear end of your car and moved it a foot or two over to the right wall of the very narrow mountain road under an overhang of solid desert rock.) The driver could then turn the car to the right and move on down the road). Another ‘road’ took you up and down some “steep, steep hills.” At one point on that road, there was a 90-degree turn that the driver and passenger could not see because the car windows only showed sky. The “Captain” in charge of the drive could see them from below and would radio “Rosebud” and “Thorney” (The couple’s CB handles and Arizona names) giving stern directions to “TURN NOW”.

“Weren’t you scared?” was this writer’s horrified response.

“No, I loved it!” was Bobbie’s daredevil reply as if it were no bigger a deal than confidently stepping off a curb with your eyes looking straight ahead at the same time.

Another of the many activities the group organized were ‘moonlight rides’ into the desert on nights when the moon was full. They would go out just before dark and ride around the desert, some without turning on their lights, until midnight.  Bobbie says she and Hugh always turned their lights on.

2010-11 was Bobbie and Hugh’s last winter in Arizona. He was 94 and she was 91.  His health had begun to fail with symptoms of dementia and macular degeneration. In fact, she had been driving them to Arizona for the previous several years because of his worsening eyesight.

Hugh passed away on February 28, 2013 after nearly 70 years of marriage. Around the same time, Bobbie was in the same hospital with pneumonia. As she recovered, she got to sit with him a time or two before he died. She has fond memories and great stories of their life together.

Her own complete recovery took six months during which time, her niece, who lives in Pleasant Hill and is as close as a daughter would be to Bobbie, brought her to Carlton Senior Living Pleasant Hill-Martinez where she has lived for seven years.

Bobbie kept their home near San Andreas which she visited from time to time after moving to Carlton only to lose it and everything in it, including most of her decades of craft artwork, the only quilt she ever made, and all the pictures of her family and of her and Hugh’s life together in a 2015 wildfire in the Sierras.

Asked how she dealt with that, she said with soft-spoken resignation, “It was hard but if you’ve lost everything, you just have to deal with it.”

Now 102, Bobbie continues to be positive and busy with her many hobbies and enjoys playing Rummikub and Mahjong with friends. As for living in 2020, she says “It’s no worse than any other time as long as I‘ve got my health and can do a few things.”

That’s Bobbie Rose for you—sensible, focused, strong, honest, and pleasant to be around whatever her age is or has been.

Written by Harriett Burt, Carlton Senior Living Pleasant Hill-Martinez Resident

Read additional pieces by Harriett Burt