Manuel Brown was born in Rio Vista on April 23rd, 1913. He has never lived anywhere else. When he was 22 he married Isabel, a Hayward girl, and she came to Rio Vista. Manuel thinks that they both look like movie stars in their fifth anniversary photo taken in 1940. Manuel and Isabel would work nine months out of the year at seasonal cannery work and for the rest of the year they would hunt ducks, fish and relax. Isabel was the best part of his life and he loved caring for her.
One of Manuel Brown’s favorite activities as a boy was duck hunting. He made duck decoys of redwood, and so did his brother-in-law. Manuel still has a small hand carved duck he likes. Sometimes he and his friends, such as “Pete” Stanley Bennett, would walk the eight miles from Rio to Hastings Island to hunt ducks. They would hunt from blinds or skiffs and leave the redwood decoys in the duck boat and no one ever stole them. Later on Mrs. Brown hunted ducks with him too and she was a perfect duck hunter, a good shot.
Another of his favorite teenage activities was to play baseball. He played centerfield and could have made it professionally, he was that good. Manuel’s name was often in the newspaper for his excellent fielding. The team was managed by Terry Silva, who had a barber shop. Each player had an individual corporate sponsor to provide his uniform. Manuel’s was CPC, California Packers.
His father died when the children were young. The family had to live in a scow, a type of fishing boat. Manuel was born and lived on 6th Street. One of Manuel’s brothers worked in the cannery for $6 a week. The total family income was $8 a week. A haircut cost .10 cents. A movie ticket cost .10 cents. There were two movie theaters in Rio Vista; however, he could not afford such things. He and his brothers had to row a boat across the river to get firewood. It was stored stacked under the house. There was a doctor in town in the 1930’s but the Browns could not afford him. Manuel reckons the doctors nowadays know much more than back then. They really help now. “Medical care, that is one area where we are getting ahead of the old days.”
His brother George and sister Mary went to school up to the sixth grade, but Manuel could not be spared from work. Regarding work, Manuel says: “We had to shift for ourselves. There was no government aid. A family had to eat, so the children had to just go do it.” As a seven year old boy Manuel herded sheep for Mr. Emigh. That was before the thirties but he wants it noted that the job shaped him as a worker. He kept a steady job in the Del Monte cannery all his life. He never received any charity, but worked for all his money. One time he returned a full wallet to a man from Lodi who wanted to give him a reward. The man had two small children with him and Manuel said “You need that reward money. Keep it for the children.”
During World War II Manuel stayed in Rio Vista, while three brothers went overseas. Ernie was in the Navy, and was a Pearl Harbor survivor. George was stationed in England and Albert was in Germany with General Patton. Now there was someone who was a great hero, one of the best America has had!
The family used to gather around the radio to hear President Roosevelt. “Yes! He was the best man there was for us. He was for the ordinary people.”
Manuel values honesty and hard work. He says, “We didn’t have anything, but we had everything.”