Lisa Petrick was sleeping in an onion field in an old Volkswagen bus. She was 17 and working swing shift for Raytheon in Santa Clara, Calif., where she straightened semiconductor “legs” on an assembly line. She had struck out on her own right after her 16th birthday with nothing but a few blankets and a few changes of clothes. When winter came, a Yugoslav immigrant and auto mechanic, who Lisa remembers only as Zarko, allowed her to park the bus inside his shop where she’d be warmer, and safe.
In Zarko’s shop, she met his friend, 54-year-old Heinar Tamme, a hand engraver of such things as signet rings (for the pope, the Kennedys, Sammy Davis Jr., among others). “He actually invited me up to see his etchings,” she recalls, laughing.
Heinar, who had escaped the Nazis by skiing from Estonia across the Baltic Sea to Finland, recognized a kid who needed help. He gave her a place to live, bought her clothes, paid her to work as his apprentice and taught her his trade.
He also introduced her to his wife, Laura, who taught her bookkeeping, and to goldsmith Robin Barnes, who had been trained in Europe. Between the three of them, they launched Lisa into goldsmithing, a career she has practiced for the past 28 years at Lisa’s Jewelry.
“I wanted to call my shop ‘The Little Girl in the Back,’ because that’s how people identified me for the first 19 years I worked with Heinar on Water Street,” she says.
A few years ago, after Laura had died, Heinar had a debilitating stroke. Lisa brought him to her home to recuperate for nine months. When he had been stabilized and was yearning to go home, she paid for his return to Estonia, for his room in a care center and round-the-clock nursing care. He died there in 2009.