by Joe Cottonwood
Once George Bordi starts telling a story, there's no stopping. Ask him about the time the sawmill burned down. But don't ask unless you have a half hour to spare. The story involves steam engines, an oil-fired boiler, local oil wells, a chain-drive Bull Mac truck, 1000 gallons of spilled oil and a fire that was extinguished only to rise again. If he has trouble getting a detail right, his wife Mary will supply it. Mary is more of a historian than a storyteller, and she knows the local lore. While George has the rough manner of a rancher, Mary has the poise of a woman from Burlingame. Articulate, bright, you might think she was a schoolteacher. Instead, she and George were ranchers and then delivered the rural route mail around La Honda for 20 years.
George has been blind for half his life. He has an inherited condition called retinitis pigmentosa. Haying and running cattle is hard work for anybody. Being blind takes it to another level. George quit driving in 1966 but didn't sell his cattle until 1977, when he and Mary started running the mail. Mary drove and George, she says, "contented himself with telling me how to drive."
They built a house and raised 3 children on the Bordi Ranch, eating their own lamb, beef, and eggs. One of those children, Bud, has 2 daughters at the La Honda School.
If you want to visit George and Mary at the Bordi Ranch, you first must pass inspection by two noisy dogs and one opinionated goose. Here's a hint: never turn your back on the goose. You also will pass 13 sheep in the pasture, several chickens in a coop, a well-weathered barn, and a historic log cabin.
Inside that log cabin on August 21, 1925, George Bordi was born - and the name George was chosen. As Mary tells it, "He was born in the house because his mother's doctor miscalculated the due date and went on vacation. A young man named George McDonald drove another doctor to the ranch--he arrived after George's grandmother delivered the baby--and George was named George after George McDonald, who became his godfather."
The ranch land was homesteaded in 1875 by Martin O'Conner, who cut some redwoods, split them into stakes, fenced off 120 acres and thereby proved his claim. Mary can show you the original deed. Remember, I told you - or perhaps it should be taken as a warning - Mary is something of a historian. When a historian is wedded to a story-teller, and you sit down at their table with a pot of strong hot coffee while two dogs gather at your feet and a goose guards the door outside, here is what you learn (and this reporter, for one, finds it fascinating):
George had a grandfather named Luigi Sciarini. Luigi came from Italy and first settled in Minnesota, working the railroad. He hated the snow and the cold. From his native Italy he knew vineyards and he knew how to graft fruit trees, so he made his way to the Santa Clara Valley in the 1880's. Finding work there, he sent for his wife and two boys, who made the passage from Italy to New York the only way they could afford - in steerage in a sailing ship, seasick for 3 weeks - and then took the wondrous transcontinental railroad across the USA. Once reunited, they had a daughter, Angela.
Luigi was working for the Bordi family who owned a vineyard around Stevens Creek and a hotel in Mountain View. Luigi lived in Mountain View. Eventually, perhaps inevitably, Luigi's daughter, Angela, met the Bordi boy, Antone, known as "Babe."
"Babe" Antone worked as a teamster hauling logs. He fell in love with the little valley that Martin O'Conner had homesteaded. In the 1920's Antone built the log cabin with the help of Lee Erickson and two of Erickson's sons. Erickson went on to build several cabins in the Middleton Tract. Lee was an expert with the broad axe and created beams that you would swear had been finished with a plane. He even broad-axed the front door out of an old redwood burl. Ask George about it - it's another story. That front door - and the original beams - are still in use.
George grew up to farm his own land as well as some nearby acreage. Growing up wasn't something you took for granted back then. Four of Antone's brothers had died of diphtheria.
Mary Armstrong grew up in Burlingame and attended Burlingame High. Her Portuguese great-grandfather came from the Azores in 1871 to become an indentured servant in Boston. In 1880 he made his way to the Santa Clara Valley, where he arranged to marry a woman who was 16 years younger. Upon meeting him, the young woman refused to marry the older man and fled back home to San Mateo. Later, she relented.
Mary's family bought some land near San Gregorio. Mary's brother Tom started working hay with George Bordi. Mary met George. From these many threads, a marriage was woven.
The cabin has seen some wear over the last 85 years. One corner sags. The white sapwood that was so visible in the construction photo has decayed, as sapwood does. The heart redwood is as sound as ever. A stone chimney toppled in the 1989 earthquake and is now covered by a blue plastic sheet. And yet the cabin stands and still gets used from time to time. There's even a satellite antenna on the roof, pointing to the sky. At the Bordi Ranch, you can listen to the past - and download the future - all in one place.