Our family moved to Fontana, California in 1958. We came behind to join my grandfather John Brayer Sr. (1876-1969) already hunkered there. He moved into the valley region freeing himself from the past snow and cheese life of Marshfield Wisconsin. And this was where my father Ralph William Brayer (1921-1999) was subsistence-farm raised before his own WWII exodus into the Italian theater and purple-heartdom. In the 1950’s Fontana had a substantial population of Slovenians at the time, egg ranches, citrus orchard, and the Kaiser Steelmill was in full swing glory, later making our skies literally cough up iron. Slovenean polka music always swung hard at either the Slovene Hall, the KSKJ Hall, or at Mlakar’s Elbow Room on the main drag. It was also the nativity birthplace of the mythical real Hell’ s Angels motorcycle group, filling the taverns that embellished the mother road with smoke and threat, then later coming into prominence in print form by Hunter S. Thompson. My grandfather, upon migration from Yugoslavia, found himself in Calumet Michigan working as a copper miner, and there it was that himself, his wife, and two of their daughters were present in the tragic event which would lead to the Woody Guthrie ballad, The 1913 Massacre. It was amazingly a song which was already in my brother and I’s suburban hobo repertoire. When we finally learned or our grandparents involvement we were already barking it out on stage regularly at a coffee house plopped down in the barrio of Mt. Vernon St., San Bernardino, called The Penny University.
We bought the Spanish revivalist house and egg ranch that my grandfather was staying and he then moved into the back house, which we called “the little house’. We weren’t’ yet creative genius’ at titling thing apparently. I still remember those Spanish tiles as being a dried blood colored roof full of frowns. I have fond memories of my grandfather’s fresh kill chicken and rice soup, and the smell of the Slivovitz brandy fermenting in the basement. Back when a kid’s world was just climbing every bougainvillea trellis, twisting a pomegranate off, fig, fragrant pepper, and grapefruit trees all while listening to Vin Skully, like a conscience in my pocket, on my transistor radio.
My mother’s name was Eleanore Rosaline Brayer (1924-1975). On her West Virginian side were two strong families, the Hardmans, and the Nutters. The Hardmans arrived in America just before the country was founded. Joseph Michael Hardman II (1740-1800) settled in Maryland and owned a farm next to future first president, then a general, George Washington. In Parkersburg West Virginia there is still a chapel and a park in the center of the quaint town named for the family. My grandfather Bertrid Leslie Hardman (1892-1948) worked for the B&O Railroad as a brakeman and an engineer. It is said that Bertirid died from a brain tumor as a result of falling from a pecan tree on his property. The Nutter clan on the other hand were more known it seems as hill folk and historic Indian fighters. They built Nutter Fort in 1775 which still stands today, and then there were also known family twinings with the Hatfields of McCoys fame.
So this is where we will end the start. This hopefully gets my songwriting to Fontana, California and establishes Slovenian roots.