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Bench becomes epicenter of raconteur's ‘gift of gab’

Ron Ratchford relaxes on bench outside Town Hall in San Anselmo. Photo by Woody Weingarten
Ron Ratchford relaxes on bench outside Town Hall in San Anselmo. Photo by Woody Weingarten


If you believe my wife, Ron Ratchford’s middle name should be “Raconteur.”

Or “Boulevardier.”

Or, if all else fails, “Bon Vivant.”

My, my, she certainly has a penchant for French appellations, doesn’t she?

Yet each works.

A raconteur skillfully tells the best stories and anecdotes, sometimes dramatic, other times witty.

Ron’s that, for sure.

For two hours one weekday, he regales me on a favorite bench in front of San Anselmo’s Town Hall (another is nearby on the edge of the new Imagination Park) — with stories purloined from his past.

A boulevardier is a sophisticated, worldly, socially active “man-about-town.”

When I spot Ron strolling through a recent art and wine festival, he pauses to chat about what he encountered.

A boulevardier? Surely.

A bon vivant is somebody with cultivated, refined and convivial tastes.

Ron’s that, too, though I can’t swear to his palate for fine wine or gourmet food. And as far as conformity goes, I know he eschews wristwatch, cell phone and landline.

All the years he worked, “usually just to pay the rent,” he felt intruded upon, controlled by such gadgets.

He was a teacher in Appalachia, a buyer for a microbiology company, a social worker, a cook, a mailroom clerk, a waiter and a designer-stitcher for an art group.

“I used to be a scheduler, overburdened by the limits of time,” he remembers.

So, after his last job, he tossed his wristwatch into the ocean.

He feels freer without the devices.

The San Anselmo renter has succumbed to the computer age, however, and is having a love affair with his machine despite it weaning him from legal pad and pen. 

On this particular day he wears chinos, a straw hat, sandals, gold-rimmed eyeglasses and a T-shirt featuring his own pattern (“Most of my designs,” he tells me puckishly, “start with stains. I think this one was chocolate”).

He’s obviously more interested in being comfy than being Beau Brummell.

And he’s adamant about nixing fixing a chipped tooth that’s been conspicuous for more than a decade.

He’s also into multi-tasking, steadily knitting (a top pastime) while fielding my questions.

The seventysomething bachelor with a white van dyke dating to the 1960s chuckles a lot. My stories amuse him. So do his.

He playfully skips from this topic to that. “I’m never sequential,” he explains.

One second he talks about toiling as a child-caddy on a golf course and gardener in a cemetery, the next he tells me of Army duty, the moment after that he jabbers about being a financial theatrical consultant.

As befitting a retired gentleman, he’s volunteered with Marin Literacy, teaching adults how to speak and write English.

And he’s tutored at the local library for years — unexpectedly, perhaps, in “Introduction to Computers.”

Admittedly, Ron doesn’t charm everyone. Several in the library’s book-reading group that he attended for years claim — to his face — he hijacked many of the monthly discussions, leaving insufficient time for others.

A voracious reader, he countered that too many believe they, and only they, have the right interpretation” of whatever book is being read.

His favorite activities also include leisure with “coffee-shop friends and old friends from the old days, by email mostly” — and writing at home.

He’s been working for years on his book, “historical fiction, character-driven rather than plot-driven social criticism about passing the status quo from one generation to the next.”

He also keeps a journal/blog consisting of “expanded ideas,” such as musicals based on Flash Gordon or Anne Frank.

Details are, for the most part, secret.

“When people find out I write,” he says, “they start giving me potential plots, plots that usually reveal something about themselves.”

Ron also walks a lot, sometimes twice daily, from downtown to the Seminary and back, and occasionally to Fairfax or San Rafael. He prefers shoe-leather to cars, which “damage the Earth.”

He’s opinionated on everything except TV shows (he doesn’t own a set).

To wit: “There are a lot of people in this area who could be in a book, people who went through the ‘6os but are now the soberest people in town.”

On the other hand, “we have a glut of people here who substitute a nanny for themselves. That’s not good.”

Ron Raconteur Bon Vivant Boulevardier Ratchford —owl- and bird-lover, San Anselmo ambassador without portfolio.

I relish running into this man for all seasons and all seasonings and what my grandmother would have called his “gift of gab.”

To turn an infamous Sally Field quote on its head, I like him, I really like him.

Chipped tooth and all.

 

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