The Start

February 19, 2024

Golden Gate Bridge under construction

I was born in San Francisco in 1944 during World War Two. My father, part of the Greatest Generation, was a Captain in the United States Marine Corps, and was overseas fighting the War in the Pacific the day I was born.

While my mother was pregnant with me and after I was born, we lived with my father’s parents in San Francisco on Greenwich Street. My grandfather, a graduate of Stanford Medical School, was a surgeon with a busy practice and taught at Stanford Medical School. My mother, who never went to college, helped out in her father-in-law’s office. My grandmother, a Stanford graduate as a Physical Education major, took care of me during the day.

Palm tree-lined California streetI could both walk and talk by the time my Dad came home from the war in the Pacific in 1946.

Eager to get on with his life and to take advantage of the G.I Bill, my father enrolled at the University of California, Davis — initially an agriculture school. My father, who wanted to be a farmer, signed up for a 2-year certificate course to learn the skills necessary to be an effective farmer. He took courses like animal husbandry, welding, and entomology to understand insect pests.

We lived in married student housing called Aggie Villa. Most of my parents friends and our neighbors were returning veterans like my Dad. I can still remember Tom and Ellie Dodie. He was a math major and wanted to be a teacher. Ellie was a stunningly beautiful young woman who was originally from the Big Island of Hawaii, the city of Hilo.

Hot Summers And An Active Childhood

Summers in Davis, California were hot – consistently over 100 degrees. On summer weekends a whole bunch of married students and their kids would spend the day at a big creek shaded by majestic oak trees. One Saturday lots of kids and adults were splashing around in the cool water of the creek. At 4, I did not know how to swim. I ventured a little further out into the creek than maybe I should have. I stepped in a pothole and went under. The water was way over my head.  With my feet, I searched for the creek bottom. My efforts proved futile and my need for air went from urgent to desperate. Just as I devolved into terror and panic, a big strong hand grabbed me and pulled me to the surface.

As I coughed and gasped, I did not recognize the stranger who had saved me. Once my breathing calmed down and I stopped shaking, he carried me up the creek’s beach to my parents.

My father graduated from his 2-year farming certificate course and went to work for a big strawberry ranch in the San Joaquin Valley near Le Grand, California, which is near Merced. My father’s work as a foreman was exhausting. We lived in a small one-bedroom shack. At the first strawberry harvest, I ate so many strawberries, I broke out in a skin rash.

While at the strawberry ranch, my mother’s mother died of cancer. We left the strawberry ranch and moved into my maternal grandmother’s house on Pine Street in Napa, California.  Initially, my father worked for Stornetta’s, a large dairy. Then, he drove a truck of Napa Feed and Grain.

Train and 1940s-era Plymouth

Frustrated, my father began taking a bus every Sunday night to San Francisco. He lived with his parents in their house on Greenwich Street and went to Golden Gate night school 5 nights a week. He had attended Stanford for 2 years but flunked out. He needed to finish his degree. When my father came home on the weekends, all I remember him doing was sleeping and studying.

Vintage teal 1954 ChevroletAfter a few years of this, he graduated with a degree in accounting. His first accounting job was with Continental Insurance Company in San Francisco.

With my grandparents help, we got a house in a new housing tract in San Mateo, California. This was 1951. Our new tract home was a small 3-bedroom ranch house with a one car garage. Surrounded by nothing but streets and dirt, it cost $16,500.

At first, my father rode a bicycle the mile and half downhill to the train station. He took the train into the city. At night, he rode his bicycle home. All we had was my maternal grandmother’s 1939 Plymouth.

TV Enters the Picture, and Bad Habits Get Started

After a few years, he got a much better job with Varian associates, an upcoming electronics firm in Palo Alto — an area now part of Silicon Valley. Again, with my grandparents’ help, we got a new car: a 1954 four door Chevrolet. We also got our first television set.

Rice Krispies and elementary school

We watched TV programs like Gunsmoke during dinner. After dinner, my parents planted themselves in overstuffed chairs in the living room. Both my parents smoked heavily. They smoked and drank coffee until Johnny Carson went off at 1 am. The TV was so loud, I could not sleep so I watched TV with them.

Next morning, we dragged ourselves out of bed. My breakfast was either whole milk and powdered sugar donuts or breakfast cereal like Rice Krispies (from Battle Creek, Michigan) and whole milk and lots of sugar. The best part was the milk and sugar at the bottom of the bowl.

My Father drove our new 1954 Chevy to his job in Palo Alto. My Mom drove our 1939 Plymouth to her secretarial job in San Mateo. And I rode my bike the mile to Meadow Heights Elementary school.

Thank you for listening.

As always, I wish you and your family the very best of health.