Oral History by Will Frusetta
Date: December 6, 2010
Peter Clay Frusetta was born in 1932 to Ruth Hodges and George Joseph Frusetta. He was born in Tres Pinos, California in the exact house that he also grew up in. Incidentally, he also raised his family on F Street, the same street where he has lived his entire life, and his eldest son Robert Frusetta was also born and raised on F Street, where he too raised a family.
Peter’s name was derived from a distant cousin who died very young. The late Peter was eleven years old and had gone hunting with his siblings. They had been looking for game and when an older brother took aim at a bird and pulled the trigger. Peter stood up just at that time, his head blocked the barrel, and he was shot in the head at point blank range. Peter died in the arms of the brother that day, and Peter Clay Frusetta was named after the little boy.
Peter said that he felt that he was a sort of only child because his age was so much less compared to his other siblings, who were all much older. Nevertheless, he was raised quite well, particularly by his mother Ruth who was an early leader in San Benito County. Peter said that his mother was like his sister Leslie, and was a beauty of sorts. She had long hair from the time she was a girl and could sit on her hair ever since. Peter said she was like a jack-of-all-trades because she could plumb and do work with electric wiring. He felt she was a woman ahead of her time because she wasn’t a standard wall flower and that she was very practical. Ruth cared for the family at home, and she also was the principal at the Tres Pinos Elementary School from 1940 to 1960. In her situation, Peter was always somewhere close to his mom whether he was at home or at school. His father George was not always there for Peter because he was often gone working on the family’s cattle ranch. The school Peter had gone to is not the current Tres Pinos Elementary but rather the “old school” on the other “F” Street. This older school has more recently been converted to a residential home. The school reminded Peter how the church in Tres Pinos also moved from its original position to where it stands today. The church was moved on rollers. Peter himself was a Christian and used to attend Catechism at that church but otherwise was not particularly active in church when he was young. Interestingly, he did not obtain his Christian belief through his parents, but rather through his sister Shirley Frusetta. Peter says that his parents weren’t religious which is strange considering his mother Ruth came from an English and Irish background, and his father George came from a Swiss-Italian background.
As Peter grew older he transferred from Tres Pinos Elementary School to San Benito High School in 1946. Every morning, there was a bus that went through Tres Pinos to the high school that he could take, and he could return after school. He said going to a school where he wasn’t well known was difficult. The older and bigger boys would bully the freshman, and they bothered him a little bit but not too badly. He recalls liking the teachers because they taught well. The classes were relatively small so the students could get individual attention, and they were friendly to him because they knew that his mom was a teacher. Peter is also proud of the fact that he learned to type at the high school because he can type particularly well. He was also active in sports. He tried football, baseball, and learned how to play basketball. Apparently he was quite good because he won the Outstanding Athlete Award in 1950. There were also many school activities that he attended. He remembers parties, dances, and sock-hops. Sock-hops, Peter explains, were dances where students would go into the gym with only socks on. This was employed so the floor in the gym wouldn’t get damaged. But, there were only about one or two sock-hops a year. He said the dances were more or less the same as they are now but without the crazy rap music. Often, the dances would have a live orchestra.
He also recalls his first date in high school. He was only a sophomore and he carried a girl’s books home. He smiled and said that this counts as a date back then. During the summer he would help his dad at the ranch and would ride horses. Because horses were necessary, he learned how to ride horses fairly well when he was very young. Peter said that his dad loved horses and that his dad would say that he came from “the day of the horse” because horses were the only mode of transportation when he was young and living in the county.
He got good grades in high school. This, combined with his familiarity with some Stanford alumni and his background of accomplishments in athletics, got him into Stanford by 1950. He had planned to become an Engineer but the math was too difficult. This resulted in him changing majors to Spanish. The tuition cost about two hundred dollars a quarter but he had been working at a restaurant and even took up residence at the university firehouse where he volunteered his services as a firefighter in exchange for housing. After about three years he became manager of the restaurant. By June of 1954 he graduated and within a few months he went into the army. He was sent to Fort Ord for about five months, where he went to cook and bake because cooking was a passion of his and the army provided the education for free. He was then sent to Germany for the remainder of his service. The Korean War was occurring at this time but he was sent to occupied and divided Germany. Peter said he was very relieved that he wasn’t sent to Korea because he didn’t want to be part of it, but if he was ordered to he would have gone. Peter also visited Europe while he was in the army. The Frusetta name can be found in Prugusco, a southern town in Switzerland, and some Swiss relatives went to France, so Frusettas can be found there as well. The French relatives still contact the American Frusetta family to this day. When Peter visited the Swiss relatives he met with the elder ones and asked why only some of the family left to the United States. Their response was because they were afraid of the Native Americans. He visited other countries like Spain, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, and Austria. He wanted to see the country and had been learning German. So with what Spanish he knew, his English, and some German there was never too much of a language barrier. His ambition for culture and family drove Peter to visit all the family in Europe and to see the many different cultures and traditions that can be found there.
After his service in the Army, Peter joined his father and worked on the ranch which George had expanded to be a prosperous business. He said that he was not very close to his father because George was always away doing his own thing with the cattle. He was closer to his mother. He also met his first wife, Anita Claire Filice, at this time on a blind date. They ended up getting married and starting a family right next to where Peter grew up. They raised four children: Robert, Jack, Jennifer, and Nancy. As Peter got older he was no longer able to give his help at the ranch but his eldest son Robert Frusetta took over the majority of the ranching business which helped Peter out significantly. But, Peter had led a very active life and he was bored now that he was unable to work at the ranch. In 1992 he decided to run for Assemblyman in California’s state legislature. He had to run twice because the first time he lost, and he barely winning on the second try in 1994. He ended up winning and was excited because it was very new to him. The government gave him a tutor to educate him on proper procedure and what his duties are. Peter said he enjoyed speaking with people and trying to bring government back to the people. This in turn helped him learn about the many different opinions about government. He is particularly proud about helping pass bills that help police arrest gang members, and enforce stricter laws against gang members. Another bill was passed that helped prevent the spread of the poisonous Yellow Star Thistle. He was very happy but the last few months were as he called it, “complete misery”. He got very sick and had to have surgery to remove his gall bladder and part of his pancreas because of a lesion. He did indeed complete three terms and ended up retiring under term limits. He was still not happy because his life was very dull but his health had started to fail so he had to endure.
He recalls being a very healthy person though, he did many sports, he didn’t smoke and he drank very moderately. Incidentally, the Frusetta family line has a history of light drinking. Peter apparently had grown up knowing alcoholics because a few drunks worked for his father. His nephew got into alcohol and drugs, so these observations may have led Peter to hold malice towards alcohol. His father had also seen many alcoholics and he himself would rarely consider drinking even a small glass of red wine and usually only when he was offered it by family. It reminded him about how distant he felt from his father. Peter felt that his father began to regret not being home as much and focusing on the cattle on his last years. Peter brings this up because he too feels as if he should have been with his family more rather than working and doing other activities.
Peter said that his dad was interested in local history and he sparked that interest in Peter as well. So, Peter started recording the older people about local history from about 1970 to 1990, and used these recordings for a basis for the two books that he wrote. One, entitled, Beyond the Pinnacles talks about life and establishment of people at the family’s ranches. The other was called Quicksilver Country, which talks about New Idria when it rose into its hay day. New Idria produced ore called cinnabar. The cinnabar was heated to a very high heat to the point where the quicksilver would vaporize and then condense off to make pure quicksilver. In World War I, explosives utilized mercury which is why New Idria was so important. It was so important that a militia was sent to guard the mines. After the war, New Idria essentially became a ghost town because there was little demand for mercury.
Peter has been through a few key changes in this century and holds many opinions and experiences about different events. He agreed the homosexuality is becoming more visible, but he remembers the homophobic feelings or general acceptance of homosexuality didn’t exist when he was in high school. But, in general, he feels that no person should force their views on others. This brought him towards his disagreement towards affirmative action. He thinks that all people regardless of sexual preference or race should be treated equally. This made him recall hippies, immorality, and other, “crazy stuff on the television” during the 70’s and felt that the youthful defiance towards law and order is, “just rotten”. He was recently introduced with the internet and feels that the distribution of news and information is fantastic, but the bias and false information, as selected by the editor, being distributed is horrible. He thinks that all people should be selective about what information they receive from the news and notes that he himself no longer has a television and canceled his newspaper service.
When the Twin Towers were destroyed in New York and aired on television, Peter watched it from his house and was not fully aware of its importance, but as the days went by, the graveness of the situation sunk in. He slowly realized that it was a very serious and horrible thing. But, he thinks that all the current precautions against terrorism like the ones done in airports are necessary things. It’s the price that one must pay for freedom according to him. He recalls back in World War II when Tres Pinos would have, “Black Outs” where windows were covered so no lights could guide Japanese bombers to where the army stored explosives. He understood that this was necessary and that it was in place for the community’s protection. There was a general fear at the time that Tres Pinos would be bombed because of the ammunitions warehouse that was nearby, which formerly held hay.
As a final note, Peter Frusetta said that he has high hopes for his children and particularly his grandchildren. Society today has gone astray, for example Christmas has become a bizarre commercial holiday. He hopes his family can overcome this. He said that he could call his own family his heroes and that he is very proud of them. He now lives close to his sister, children, and grandchildren and is happy that he can see them as well as to be with them almost every day.