|K. Ripp, Wikimedia|
The city’s roar and diesel fumes swirled through my grandmother’s open front window on winds from the ocean. We watched TV, black and white Crusader Rabbit cartoons, played on ratty oriental carpets, broke the faux Chippendale furniture, ignored the framed prints from Sears, and relied on the house’s skylights to illuminate the gloom. When someone asks “where are you from,” images of growing up in the 1950s in Noe Valley rush in before I answer, then I tell them the truth in those two words, words that once named my universe.
In that Irish enclave where my family had lived for several generations, my Great Aunt Eva lay dying of old age and widow’s despair in the back bedroom. My father, his bony body spent, curled up drunk on the bedstead in the basement. Next door, Mr. Anderson, the neighborhood bachelor, pruned shrubs in his front garden. He had a hot house in the back, propagated cuttings from the nursery in Golden Gate Park where he worked, shared the strongest ones with my grandmother. He called the four of us kids "the weeds."
Our side of the hothouse—a fence divided our yards and the structure, but the long narrow hothouse was there first—served as a playroom. We invited the neighbor kids back there and ran through the flower beds and Grandma's thoughtful plantings: calla lilies, coral bells, primroses in spring. We climbed on the playhouse roof, careful not to get pricked by the climbing rose that provided pink bouquets for our little yellow tea table. Mr. Anderson, his watery blue eye trained on us through the crack in the boards, knocked on the wood when we said bad words or socked each other.
My first crush, Michael Esterbrook, came over from across the street in his coonskin cap. We played saloon, Davey Crockett and Daniel Boone. I’d be Miss Kitty and try to trick him into a kiss, but my brothers were always there, lifting butterfly cocoons from the Shasta daisies or prying quartz rocks from the birdbath to use as ammo, distracting us. I put nasturtiums and white iris in my hair, sucked nectar from the flower tubes. Michael never kissed me. I kissed my pretty dolls as I lay them in their toy bed.
Sometimes my grandmother called from a back window and we’d trudge with her, all four of us kids, down to the grocery store at 24th and Castro. She’d buy lamb chops at the butcher shop, chat with the neighbors. We’d ogle the pig's head in the shop window, peek around the paper 3-D glasses to study it's milky eyes, get free slices of baloney from the butcher, wait for the 11 Hoffman bus to carry us back up the hill with our sacks of canned food. Back to where I’m from.
|View from Twin Peaks today|
|Noe Valley garden, similar to the one where I grew up.|
Our "playhouse" was hidden in the far back corner.
Courtesy: Noe Valley Voice
|1903 image of the area of Noe Valley where I grew up.|
|Westerly view up 30th Street from Noe, in 1926, when it was just dirt paths. |
Photo: Greg Gaar Collection, San Francisco, CA
|Italianate row on Vicksburg St.,|
at the "bottom of the hill."
By Alan Ferguson, courtesy Wikimedia
Images and stories about Noe Valley can be found at: http://foundsf.org/index.php?title=Category:Noe_Valley