Over in Niles Canyon, where my family comes from, there’s a legend of a ghost girl who walks the canyon road every Feb. 28 looking to hitch a ride into San Francisco.
The story that shows up in the Tri-Valley Herald every few years credits Billy Rose, a close friend of our family’s who had an actual encounter with the ghost. Apparently, more than a few years ago, Billy and a friend, not knowing the legend, saw a girl in white trying to hitch a ride. According to their story, they let her in and she insisted in riding in the back seat, giving them the directions to an address in San Francisco. Along the way, the girl was very quiet and resists Billy’s and his companion’s attempts to draw her into small talk. When they reached the Dumbarton Bridge, they handed the tollkeeper 15 cents, the toll being five cents for each passenger. When the tollkeeper handed a nickel back to Billy, he turns to point to the passenger in the back only to find the back seat empty. Curious, Billy and his friend drive on to the address in San Francisco. When they knock on the door, the woman who answers tells them, “That was my daughter. She was on her way back from a dance 20 years ago when her car ran off the road in Niles Canyon.”
A few years ago, I wrote a column about another appearance of the ghost girl that I tell to my first-graders about. This one is some people who drove into Sunol claiming they had seen the ghost girl walking across the bridge trestle. The sheriff went to investigate and when he arrived, he too, was spooked by seeing the ghost girl walking back and forth across the bridge. After telling the ghost to come down, he fired two warning shots in the air. At that point, the “ghost girl” dropped on the tracks, calling out, “Don’t shoot me, I’m coming down!”
While I’ve never told a class the hitchhiking ghost girl account, I’ve always delighted in telling students that I know for a fact that this second story really happened and the people in Sunol really, really thought they saw a really real ghost, and that I know the story’s true because the ghost girl was my Uncle Clarence.
His name was William Clarence Chivers, and he was my uncle. An obituary in the Press listed his name as Bill. Aside from his adventurous youth, playing the ghost girl and driving with Joey Chitwood’s Hell-Drivers (think Evel Knievel in Buicks), he led what many would consider to be an unremarkable life.
He drove a truck for 30 years until he “retired” and went to work doing “honey-do’s” for his beloved wife, Bonnie. They raised two kids, Bill Jr. and Sherry. Bill served as a Scoutmaster and was involved with the Masons. From what I’ve been told, I lived with them for a while when I was a baby. I just knew my Uncle Clarence as one of the most caring men I’ve ever known.
Although he was often absent due to his career, he and Bonnie always made sure that their kids felt loved and, just as confidently, that they better not try to get away with anything in his absence. He was not a dad who put up with nonsense from his kids, but, even more importantly, so deeply invested his life in theirs that they never found cause to resent his authority.
When my father died, Uncle Clarence was the first to call and tell me that he’d help me sort through my dad’s stuff and wade through the thousands of arrangements and details that would have to be worked out. He and his lady friend, Carol, drove me to Lake Isabella and nursed me through one of the toughest times of my life. At 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, I towered over him, but when he called me “Baby,” he made me believe it. It may sound trite, but he was tough as nails and loving as a mother hen. He was the kind of man who could bark orders at you without ever making you question his love for you.
He’s gone, but he’ll be with me forever in ways I could never express. That’s a legend even the real ghost girl couldn’t match.
n Mike Chivers, a first-grade teacher at Bohn Elementary School, is among a select group of local residents rotating their columns in the Saturday Tracy Press.