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'Old fossils,' young dinosaurs still gather after 30 years

Friendship and sense of community celebrated by Triceratops neighborhood group

Eamon Briggs never bonded strongly to Palo Alto, and he didn't bond to Los Altos Hills. A sense of place wasn't something he felt he had in either city.

There wasn't a town center or other common area where kids would gather, he said. But a Palo Alto neighborhood group named for a dinosaur, which developed rather organically, eventually gave him a sense of community he cherished.

This year, that group, which brought Green Acres II fathers and sons — and eventually whole families — together, turns 30. Its members still meet up, and they are looking forward to their annual Christmas party.

An outgrowth of the YMCA's Y-Westerners, a father-and-son group that did activities together, the Triceratops built upon a once-a-month function, and, once the Y-Westerners group ended, it naturally continued as a weekly gathering involving seven families, said James Colton, a father who has been with the group since its beginning in 1983.

The name — Triceratops — was suggested by one of the dinosaur-loving 7-year-old boys, Colton said.

"It's pretty funny: We make restaurant reservations under the name," he said, noting the maitre d' sometimes stammers over the somewhat unbelievable name. Is that — Mr. Triceratops?

The dads even composed a song about the Triceratops — about how they come out of the primordial ooze, he said. There were weekly bike rides and hikes, longer camping trips and beach adventures, horseback rides and fishing and Stanford University football games. After three or four years, the group expanded to include the rest of their families. There was a Mother's Day brunch at Foothills Park, a Christmas party with white elephant gifts, and camping trips to Yosemite National Park.

The Triceratops have scattered, and their kids have grown. Three families remain in Palo Alto; others have departed for San Jose, Carmel, Washington and Germany.

But everyone comes to the Christmas party, which these days includes the now-grown children's own families, Colton said.

The dads still have a coffee klatch every two or three weeks, and the moms meet quarterly.

Briggs, who lives in Santa Cruz, still stays in touch with group members, and he and member Erik Merilo are good friends.

"Erik and I have always done a lot together. ... We've even taken some great trips together both in the States and overseas," he said.

The Triceratops provided a safe and supportive environment growing up, Briggs said.

"It seems to me we created a small-town family atmosphere within this group while living in the suburban sprawl of the Bay Area, which I think is pretty cool," he said.

"I was a shy kid. Making friends didn't come easily for me. I think as a father/son group, and very quickly a group of multiple families who socialized together, this made it easier for me to feel comfortable.

"I also think it was good for a kid to see the bonds between the parents as well. This group was a great outlet for the parents with camping trips, dinner parties, birthdays. Seeing your parents loosen up a bit, joke argue, cut loose a little with other adults was really a good thing, too."

Kathy Merilo, mother of Erik, recalled the group's travels throughout California and the bonds formed.

"If friendships create a sense of community, then the Triceratops gave me community. While we were camping, raising children and celebrating, we were developing friendships and a shared history. ... We got to know each other," she said.

"The Triceratops are very scattered now, with some of the older fossils, as the parents refer to themselves, moving out of Palo Alto. We still get together ... albeit not as often as we used to get together, but the bond is still present."

When the Triceratops gather this Christmas, they will toast their friendship and look once again for a triceratops cookie jar that they often joke will be under the tree but has yet to appear.

Colton said the group's longevity is in part a matter of luck, but it is also a compatible group. There is another fundamental reason the friendship has lasted, Colton said.

"All of us moved here from somewhere else, without family. Without realizing it, this became a substitute family," he said.

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