Today in My History

2000:  Singing and Laughing in the Rain
2001: 
Thought Goulash
2002: 
Read Any Good Books Lately?
2003: 
Taffic! Pollution! Heat!
2004
Everything Hurts
2005:  Ea
u de Doggie
2006: The Good Old Days?


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Of Mice and Men

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DOWN MEMORY LANE

21 October 2007

I was going through some files on a shelf in my office today and came across a book I bought a long time ago, called "To Our Children's Children."  At the time I bought it I was planning ahead for lots of grandchildren.  As time passed and there were no grandchildren, it got moved and gathered dust.  Now, of course, "Baby Sykes" is on the horizon, so maybe it's time to dust it off again.

The book is divided into chapters with suggested topics that might be of interest to discuss with your grandchildren, letting them know what life was like for you when you were younger.

One chapter is about the house where you grew up.

We lived in a flat on Leavenworth Street, between Union and Filbert Streets in San Francisco.  I posted this photo of our place last month.  It was a five room flat.  My parents moved in shortly after they were married, with the idea that it would be a temporary place until they bought a home.  Most, if not all of our children were born before they finally got out of that flat and bought a home in Marin County.

During the late 40s and early 50s my mother scouted out great homes for them to buy, but my grandmother always talked my father out of it, saying that real estate was a "bad investment" (this is the woman who also drilled into me that running was bad for you and yelled at me if I ran anywhere, saying I should walk because it was better for my heart.)  To see some of those homes now selling for over a million dollars and to know that when they had the opportunity, they could have purchased one for $2,000 is very disconcerting!  But, like with everything else, I am a product of growing up where I did, and who knows what would have happened if we had grown up in a different neighborhood.

I remember throughout my childhood the weekends when we would all pile into the car and go "looking at houses" (just the kind of activity every young child loves to do!).   We never actually went into a house with the idea of buying it, but just drove by homes to find out how the other half lived.  But all of my 18 years in San Francisco were lived in that little "temporary" flat.

You went up a small flight of steps from the street and entered the door into a tiny entrance area.  To the right was the bedroom I shared with my sister; straight ahead was the kitchen, down the hall to the left was my parents' bedroom, the bathroom, and the living room. 

The kitchen had a tiny pantry to the left, where there was a sink and the only counter space in the kitchen.  It also had a sliding door that could close it off from the rest of the kitchen.  I remember standing at the sink washing dishes, singing at the top of my lungs until my mother begged me to stop.  I also remember the orange juice squeezer that hung on the wall for as long as I can remember, a wedding gift from my aunt.  (Funny the things we remember)

The wall telephone hung just outside the pantry and if anyone dared to call when we were eating, whether at 4 p.m. or 8 p.m., my father would go into a rage and not speak to us for the rest of the evening, if not longer.

The kitchen itself was long and narrow, with a fridge and stove on one side, the kitchen table and a mangle (or "ironer") on the other side.  When I was very young there were I'm not sure what you called them.  They weren't exactly frescos, but there were paintings on the wall, painted on the wall itself dark scenes of people sitting at long tables eating that were framed with wooden frames that attached to the wall.   I remember when my father painted over them.  I think our Italian landlord about had a heart attack when he saw his beloved paintings painted over in a cream color!  (But it sure lightened up the room.)

(My father left the framing, but painted over the dark pictures and added some other kitsch art.  Note the wainscoting on the lower wall, present throughout the flat.)

At one end of the kitchen was a door that led to the "back porch," really a laundry room.  My mother had a washer in there with the old fashioned wringer on it for removing the water, which drained into two huge laundry tubs (we later got a front-loading washing machine).  She hung the clothes out on clothes lines in the concrete yard.  My father built a swing for Karen and me on the back porch.

Our bedroom had twin beds, separated by a desk that my father built.  Each bed also had a bookcase headboard, which my father also built.  My headboard always had a radio in the center and I would turn the sound down very low and listen to soap operas at night.  On Saturday morning we'd lie in bed and listen to "Big John and Sparky" before getting up.  When we were sick, my mother would pin paper bags to the side of the bed, where we could deposit used tissues.

The bedroom walls were lined with Storybook dolls in pink painted wooden boxes with glass in front of them, which my father had built.   We weren't allowed to play with the dolls; they were for decoration only (I don't have a clue whatever happened to them). 


(found this picture on the net)

(The beds also had snakes under them, I felt, all throughout my childhood.  I felt so strongly about it that when I went back as an adult, I still felt nervous getting out of bed without stepping waaaay away from it so the snakes couldn't grab me!)

We had a tiny closet (which Peach locked me in one day!) and a built-in dresser.  I am assuming that the room was actually built as a dining room because of the built-in dresser, which had glass behind it, and the cupboard above it.  Perfect for storing linens and dishes.  Also the closet was so tiny there is no way adult clothes could fit in there.

The photo is of my boyfriend, Bill (now a Jesuit), and myself in my bedroom, taken by my sister, from her bed.  You can see the storybook dolls in their boxes, and the dresser, behind Bill's head.  The glass panel on the upper closet was painted and there is a mirror in the opening (in front of which is a statue of Mary).  My drawers were on the left, Karen's on the right and we shared the middle drawers.  My mother is standing at the kitchen door.

My parents' bedroom was on the left of the hall, the bathroom on the right.  The bathroom had a tub, but no shower, and a floor-to-ceiling medicine cabinet.  I remember hiding in there to smoke my first cigarette (and the hell I caught from my father, a smoker, when he smelled the smoke).  I also hid in there when he bawled me out for not crying about the death of my grandfather, whom I barely knew.  I went in the bathroom and pinched my face until it looked red.  Then he accepted me as OK because I looked like I'd cried.

The big room at the end of the hall was used as a living room/dining room combination.  My parents always had a couch which divided the room into two rooms.


My mother, my grandmother (the GOOD one), and my aunt Jean
Me on the left, Karen on the right in front

The window at the back of this photo looks out (in the daytime) over a garden belonging to a different apartment building, and in the distance Coit Tower....


...sort of !!

Behind where the camera is in the couch photo is a bay window with a window seat, where you could sit and watch the cars driving up Leavenworth Street's steep hill.  Our big Muntz television set also sat there.  It was a black and white TV, of course.  I remember when color first came out and the NBC peacock introduced each color broadcast.  We would sit on the couch and say "I'll bet that looks pretty in color."  I didn't have a color TV until several years after Walt and I were married.

Against the far wall was the piano my father played and on which I hated to practice. 


Karen and my godfather, Fred West

Our flat backed up against an apartment building, with only a small space between them, the "light well."  There were windows to the light well in the kitchen, the bathroom and the dining room.  Since we had no fireplace, Santa came down the light well, so we always put cookies and milk on the window sill and left the window opened.

We had a loud doorbell, but usually it had a sign pinned to it, covering up the bell, which said "Day sleeping; do not disturb."  If anybody rang the doorbell while my father was asleep, there was hell to pay.  For us.

At the top of the hill on which we lived was the bus stop and, in high school, when I was old enough to take the bus, I would run up the hill to catch the bus (now I'm not sure I could walk up the hill!).  Often I walked a block to Hyde St. and caught the cable car instead you could do that in those days.  It was actually transportation and not just a tourist attraction and it only cost 15 cents to ride.

The mailman took the bus from Rincon Annex, in the downtown area, to our street to start his route.  We were the third mailbox on the list and we could sit in the window seat and watch for his arrival.  In December, the closer it came to Christmas the more often mail was delivered.  It was not uncommon to have three mail deliveries a day in the week before Christmas.  I loved those days!

PHOTO OF THE DAY

About 1957

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