CONNIE, AL THE WOP & THE PAINTED LADY
By Jim and Shirley White
The little Chinese lady smiled and walked thru her flower filled front yard toward us with a little brown paper bag in her hands. “I thought you might enjoy some Chinese cookies I just made” she said. And thus we met Connie, in the quaint little river town called Locke, a few miles up-stream from Walnut Grove along the Sacramento River.
Connie had a collection of toilet bowls around her front yard, all brimming with colorful flowers. These toilet bowl flower vases are what attracted us to Connie’s home. As photographers, for Shirley and I it was like a honey bee attracted to a flower. An hour of chatting with Connie, those many years ago while munching on her cookies was an experience in Locke we will long remember.
Game Warden Gene Durney is a name still remembered by the “old timers” in Locke as the “the “Scourge of the Delta” Gene was one of those wardens who could arrest one of the local Italian poachers netting Stripped Bass illegally at night and still be loved as a brother by the culprits. One late stormy night in November 1955 Gene and I (a lowly recruit warden, just starting out) walked into “Al the Wops” in Locke where we were greeted by Al the Wop himself, behind the bar, a house full of heavy drinkers who all yelled out greetings to Gene. One guy said “he was going out to pull his nets right away since Gene was where they could keep an eye on him”. The house roared with laughter and one lady at the bar sallied up to Gene and gave him a wet kiss on the mouth. As we sat down for dinner in a back booth I asked Gene who the “painted lady” who gave him the kiss was? He had a hard time hearing me with all the noise in the bar and I repeated myself “does she…….” (I was trying to say “does she work here”, thinking she was a waitress) when he interrupted and said “yaa, she’ll go “. “There is a room up-stairs; do you want me to ask her for you?” I will never forget how cornered I felt as I tried to explain myself. I think I blushed down to my boots as I said “no, what’s the Peanut Butter for?” Each table had a large jar of Peanut Butter on it. Gene explained that you had to smear your steak with Peanut Butter or Al himself would throw us out. I smeared the steak heavy with Peanut Butter hoping not to attract any more attention.
Connie, Al the Wop, and the Painted Lady are all gone now. The little Chinese town that was filled with Italian fishermen that night is still there. The buildings are still pretty much intact. Many buildings have a new paint job now. My wife Shirley and I photographed for 2 hours the other day. I do really miss Gene, Al the Wop and even the Painted Lady. Large jars of Peanut Butter can still be found on every table at Al the Wops in Locke.