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The things I remember about Palo Alto while growing up:
Original post made
by Andrew L. Freedman
on Oct 19, 2006
A&W Root Beer stand on Middlefield Road where the Safeway is now
The original Herbert Hoover on Middlefield Road across from Safeway
The Variety Store where 7-11 now is
Bergmann's and their Coffee Shop
Eddie's Coffee Shop and their Milkshakes with the Mixing Container
Poppycock on Cower and old Victorian house that used to sell candles, incense, "black light" posters. Eventually, it became, of all things, an attorney's office
$4.00 tickets at Frost Ampletheatre to see Santana, Grateful Dead and Tower of Power
The Recreation Department's summertime event where all the kids would camp overnight at the Lucile Stern Center after playing all day and having a marshmallow cookout
The Recreation Department's Penny Carnival (Each elementary school about 24 back then ran a recreation department during the summer. You could play Karems or check out a red rubber ball and also put on plays) The Penny Carnival helped finance this.
Riding our Stingray bicycles down Matadero Creek
Riding our Mini Bikes in all the empty fields on Middlefield Road
My beloved house on Wellsbury Way that was build new for my parents for $28,000.
Okay, there're my memories.
Posted by Mark Baum,
a resident of another community
on Dec 26, 2007 at 4:35 pm
My folks moved into an Eichler around 1971 (I think), and I went to Parents' Nursery School (PNS), Garland, Green Gables, Jordan, and Paly. My notes here are not partcularly chronological...
PNS had a fundraising bazaar -- half craft sale, half garage sale -- where I bought an old Springbok puzzle when I started earning an allowance. I think my folks also got our much-loved felt Advent calendar (a tree with pin-on ornaments in a series of pockets) there. My father contributed wooden trains, and candle-holders in the shapes of animals, and little hardwood angels with gilt edges and wire halos. Or else he saw those there and started making them himself... I don't remember now... he did a lot of woodworking, building musical instruments and Spingerle boards and lovely toys...
PNS also had a chicken coop which inspired me to keep chickens in my backyard in East Oakland (where I still live now). I remember having a summer job where I took care of the chickens and watered the grass and the garden. And then later -- long after my watch -- the poor chickens were slaughtered by raccoons. That was tragic.
I had a big crush on a Japanese-American girl at PNS and even more so on her mother -- I almost remember her name after all this time, I think it started with an H -- who came to make us sushi rice. Then at home I became addicted to our version of it which involved cooked rice, vinegar, sugar (my passion), and frozen peas.
Every year we went to the Obon festival at the Buddhist temple on Greer Road. I wanted to dance in the Cherry Blossom Dance for the festival, so my mother found me a fan and a bright blue polyester kimono from Japantown in SF, and every week she dropped me off at the temple to practice (I was probably five at the time). I loved all the coin toss games, though I was terrible at them, and lived for the teriyaki chicken, but I wasn't ready for sashimi until I moved to San Francisco as a young adult.
The kids on my street played all sorts of games on one anothers' lawns, like Jaws and Freeze Tag and Out To See The Ghost Tonight. We also created our own small town by drawing different shops and traffic directions onto the squares of the sidewalk and then rollerskating around. Fat sticks of chalk were a big item.
The mosquitoes at dusk in the rainy season were terrible! We watched the larvae grow in standing water and compared them to sea monkeys (which were very much on our minds). And we were fascinated by the worms that covered the wet sidewalk.
We also held block parties for 4th of July and Easter. I became the organizer at some officious age. We decided to get more ecumenical and changed the Easter Egg Hunt (where we hid eggs all over the neighborhood) to the Spring Roll (where people rolled eggs in a contest).
My best friend's neighbors were nudists and we would try to spy on them through a hole in the fence, and also tried to hit them strategically with loquats from the garden.
I turned out to be gay, and I remember even as a child being fascinated by mens' bodies in the changing room at Rinconada pool. Since I was really nearsighted that whole experience was simulaneously sexy, mysterious, and stressful. I remember that you checked your clothes into these mesh plastic bags on hangers that travelled on some kind of cable. Did we have to wear bathing caps? Was there a sign that said a nude shower was required for proper hygiene? Of course we kids were all serious customers of the snack bar where Fire Stix and long rolls of SweetTarts were the hot item.
The Children's Theater was a haven for weird kids like me, though it had its own brutal pecking order. I loved the Secret Garden, especially after I read "The Secret Garden". I would check out huge stacks of books from the Children's Library. My mom made me start making lists after I ended up owing lots of $ in overdue fees. They would have a summer reading program where you had to read something like 5 or 10 books, and you got a sticker or a jewel for each book. I remember checking out 15 books at a time, and bringing them back in a week, and checking out 15 more, week after week. They stopped giving me the jewels pretty quickly. But they had a lot of good books!
My dad was a chemist and brought home articifial flavoring oils and we tried to make homemade Fire Stix. Not a success. We liked the lemonade that we made with artificial lemon oil, citric acid, sugar, and water -- which was crazy because we had a prolific Meyer lemon tree in the yard! We also gathered carob pods from a tree on Greer and tried to make brownies with them. Also not so good.
Our nextdoor neighbor had a waterbed which was of course the most amazing thing. She and her sister babysat us sometimes. They were big on sand candles, macrame, and stained glass. They would give us homemade brownies with chocolate milk that tasted so much better when we drank it through their treasured Crazy Straw.
One winter it snowed and we tried to scrape together enough to make a snowman, though the gender was somewhat dubious. That reminds me of a Halloween when I dressed in a mixture of stereotypically men's and women's clothing (hiking boots, a tutu, a Mounties hat, not sure what else) and went from house to house with my father. Each neighbor asked, "And what are you?" and I proudly replied, "I'm a boygirl!" Other years I moved on to characters like Daniel Stripey Tiger, a Tyannosaurus Rex, and a skeleton with glow-in-the-dark bones.
Everyone in my family took guitar lessons from Carol McComb at Gryphon who was a cultural icon for my family. And my parents got together with a bunch of friends for guitar-and-yoga potlucks while all us kids ran around the yard.
We would drive to the orchards in the south peninsula and pick up the windfall apricots for free, then take them home and dry them on our roof. We made apricot leather by drying apricot puree on pieces of plastic wrap. It was so difficult to peel off -- but it had a great crystallized sugary texture.
National Velvet was a major book and movie in our neighborhood. My sister and I got so excited when one summer we signed up for horseback riding lessons up in the Stanford hills. But the majority of the time we spent picking up trash in the hot August sun, finally we got to brush the horses, and then one day, finally, we rode them for about 10 minutes inside some circular corral, and it was amazing.
At Garland Elementary we had a fundraising carnival. I baked a yellow cake for the cakewalk -- which was sort of like musical chairs -- and then I won someone else's: bigger, with chocolate frosting -- and became a cakewalk convert right there. They also had a machine for making cotton candy which seemed to me like the one thing you needed for true happiness in life. There was also a dunking tank and Go Fish and maybe we had a parade?
One year at Garland they held mini-courses where parents came in and taught something special, like how to bake cookies, or tasty foods from Scandinavia, or cooking with a solar oven (I remember everything that involved food).
Oh! We took a field trip to Duveneck Ranch where a counselor sang the classic song "Evaporation, Condensation, Precipitation" over and over and over... which we turned into a song about masturbation and ejaculation (I forget the third word we used).
And the classes at the Junior Museum: Japanese brush-painting, and ceramics, and copper enamel! We went to some day camp at Foothill park where we made beads from unbaked clay and painted them with acrylic paint that I can still smell.
I LOVED the Art Thing Wing Ding at the Cultural Center too. I was very proud of a presentation I did for it on phonetic alphabets. Yes. That was me back then. And someone came up and started telling me why Esperanto was a utopian dream. And we made jigsaw puzzles from styrofoam cut with a hot wire...
A bunch of us went backpacking with the Lindbergs -- a husband and wife, both school teachers (I think) -- who made yearly trips into the Desolation Wilderness. I remember that a hypnotist came and gave a demonstration in Shirley Zimmerman's 8th grade English class, and that I immediately picked up the principles of hypnotism from his presentation, and started hypnotizing the kids I was babysitting, and the people in my tent in the Desolation Wilderness, and myself at the dentist's office. That was pretty exciting. I remember Mrs. Zimmerman saying to me, "I think it's so easy for you because you already know how to move though many states of awareness."
I don't know if she did this every year and it was a piece of theater, or if it only happened once... it's really hard to know: she would introduce us to new words, such as "lurid" (a clear favorite for her), or "extrovert", or "irony". When she taught us "irony", she had a hugely emotional moment when she revealed that irony was "when your husband the promising cardiac doctor suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack!" She was FURIOUSLY ANGRY. And then the moment was over and we moved on to the next word...
She and I played ragtime together for some fundraising event for Jordan middle school -- some kind of casino night for the parents. She was a brilliant pianist and loved to play ragtime like it was a racing event. She got there first. I almost tore pages out of my well-worn Dover book of Classic Rags trying to keep up with her. Actually, I just played from that book for a big party given for homeless families in San Francisco, and came across several pages with a chunk torn out of the top. I'm sure the damage dates back to Mrs. Zimmerman.
Speaking of amazing pianists, then there is Kathy Fujikawa whom I first encountered at Green Gables when she was teaching "Chorale" with Ms. Vogel (who was a rather butch lesbian fond of the song "Spurs That Jingle Jangle Jingle", in retrospect she reminds me a little of Meg Christian). We sang so many awful songs -- I don't know how Mrs Fujikawa survived it... Then she moved on to Jordan, and I studied with her there too, and finally she established her great legacy at Paly with the chorus, Madrigals, Spectrum, music theory classes, Honor Choirs, musicals, and so much more. What an amazing woman... there is so much I could say about her that I won't even try -- I'll just say that she had a profound influence on my life.
I can't stop! Now I'm thinking of Miss Macnamara the Latin teacher who with her sidekick Mrs. Evans had one goal in life: to teach middle-school students how to outline. She took us to some all-state Latin Festival somewhere in Southern California where I had to give a presentation on a passage from Ovid that I didn't really understand. Then there was an "orgy" (titter titter) where half the attendees where slaves and the others lay about in togas being fed grapes and asking the slaves to pass notes.
And there was Mrs. Mitchell (?)... I'm forgetting her name... she was in charge of collecting the attendance sheets at Jordan. She adopted particularly troubled students and had them help collect the sheets from all the classes. I had some kind of breakdown in 8th grade where the shop teacher and I went head-to-head. Hooray! I got to skip shop class and instead spent one period with her reading old plays and other school textbooks that she also kept organized. She was such a lovely, kind, and thoughful person. That time with her was so accepting and quiet and low-pressure... I will always be grateful for the care she gave to me.
I remember the intense social anxiety at Jordan and Paly. So painful! Especially since I was a gay nerd... though I found a group of wonderful friends. I remember as part of my coming-out process I joined the No on 64 campaign (against LaRouche's proposal to quarantine HIV+ people), and did a report on it for social studies in 10th grade. And three of us got the administration to let us make AIDS-education presentations where we talked about sex and condoms. On Tuesday nights, I started riding my bike to the Firehouse at Stanford, where they had the Gay & Lesbian Alliance, pretend to be a Stanford student, and go to their public events. I was so scared that I could hardly talk to anyone there, but I kept going.
I took ballet and tap classes as the only boy in a dance studio run by a friend of the family named Ronna Kelly. Ronna was great. I'm sure she knew I was gay long before I did. She introduced me to all sorts of classical music, got me interested in studying the piano, and lent me hilarious recordings by Anna Russell. She had polio as a child and had recovered her mobility by studying dance. Unfortunately her studio had a cement floor, so we all probably damaged our knees and hips for life. Probably it's just as well that I never learned to dance on toe, though it was my dream to do this and join the Ballets Trockadero whom I'd heard about but not actually seen.
When I hit adolescence Ronna made it clear that it was time for me to study dance somewhere else. I went down the street to Zohar and lasted maybe six months before I quit. Probably I was too scared to be in a dance studio where there were other guys and we were all changing our clothes. There was one guy, probably in his early 20's, who started walking part of the way home with me and getting to know me until he found out that I was 15. I was a very early bloomer, but totally scared of my changing desires and very short on social skills.
I remember studying piano with Ardis Wodehouse, who also taught at Stanford and specialized in transcribing piano rolls of Gershwin and other early century greats. Then I studied with a wonderful character who played rehearsal piano for the Children's Theater... was her name Jane Smith? Her daughter was a cabaret singer named Julie Valentine, whom I liked because she sang songs by people like Kate Bush. And finally I worked with a Trotskyite and ex-carpenter concert pianist named Sara Doniach who lived in a beautiful old Victorian house downtown. At some point she let me house-sit for her -- I think it was when she went off to work for the revolution in Nicaragua -- and I invited all these friends from out of state to come and stay with me, and we took over her house with the exception of the part occupied by her Stanford-film-student tenant. I don't know what I was thinking, but Sara didn't give me a hard time for it at all. My main job was to water and deadhead her beloved flower garden, which I did frantically in one afternoon just before she returned.
I remember that I left Palo Alto pretty angry though it's hard to say exactly why now. My time at Paly was really hard, and I made up for that in my mind by thinking of myself as a specially gifted person: I was one of the best & brightest at special high school in a special town... When I started encountering a larger world where maybe I wasn't so special after all, maybe I wanted to blame Palo Alto for its part in encouraging this attitude.
It's taken me a while to appreciate the place again, though my folks still live there in the same Eichler (with very few structural improvements). I love it when I turn the corner from Greer onto Elsinore and feel like I'm suddenly underwater with the branches of the elm trees moving like seaweed in the ocean. It's got to be one of the loveliest streets in town. My folks' street is nice too and has many of the original Eichlers, still inhabited by some of the people I grew up with. I'd say that most of them are unpretentious folks, and I hope that there still are lots more like them in the rest of the town.