Sitting in an over air-conditioned Jack in the Box restaurant at the corner of Branham Lane and Almaden Expressway in San Jose the other day, my father sipped his chocolate milkshake and smiled at the irony. When he was a boy, this was the site of the Five Mile House saloon. Across Almaden was Ed Mullins’ general store. His Grandpa Joe and Grandma Louise Fagalde lived across Branham just west of the Guadalupe River. They had a house, a small orchard, a vineyard, horses, a fish pond, and in later years a service station with a little store.
Joe didn’t know much about cars. When my dad would come to visit as a teenager, he’d urge him to drive, saying, “Hey, kid, let’s go for a ride.” But with the help of his sons and niece Irene, they made it work. For my father, growing up in the 1920s and ’30s, it was a magical place where his grandfather spoke several languages, piloted a horse-driven water truck to wet down the dirt roads, had horses so trained they’d obey him like dogs, and a parrot who would call “Hey Joe!” in exactly the same voice as Grandma Louise, driving him nuts.
There was no bridge over the creek, but a graveled crossing, which Joe rebuilt after it washed out every winter.
The two-story house didn’t have electricity when Dad was young. Later, it just had one light bulb hanging in each room. There were no plugs; there was nothing to plug in. They used an outhouse, cooked on a wood stove, and stored food in an ice box, yet they had wonderful family gatherings where somehow the women produced a feast without any modern conveniences.
Looking across the six busy lanes of Branham Lane now, we could see a two-story retail building which offered manicures, eyelash extensions, computer service, a dentist’s office, and some kind of car repair. The creek was all that remained of the old homestead. The Fagalde property was sold in the 1960s after both grandparents had passed on. Changes were happening all over Santa Clara Valley. The land of orchards and dirt roads on which Dad occasionally road horses between his parents’ place on Dry Creek Road and his grandparents’ home on Branham Lane disappeared. But in his mind, he could still see it.
We had been touring the sites of Dad’s youth. I laughed when I came to the intersection and saw the Jack in the Box. I had been looking for a place to get a burger. Now we could park and really study the place. Afterward, I drove through the parking lot across the street to get a closer look. Dumpsters stood where the outhouse used to be. The creek, where it was not blocked by trees, still had water in it. And the occasional shopping cart.
“You should write a book about it,” my father kept saying. Maybe I will. If not a book, something. When the physical evidence is gone, how can anyone otherwise know what came before, that it wasn’t always a nail salon and a Jack in the Box, that once people ate ice cream at Mullins’ store, stopped for a drink at the Five Mile House, and heard a parrot shout “Hey Joe!” behind the service station?
I’m 30 years younger than my father, but a lot of what I remember in San Jose is gone, too. We have to tell our stories.
Speaking of stories, the launch party for my new novel Up Beaver Creek is next Sunday, July 8 at 2:00 at the Newport, Oregon library. Come hear about the book and help me celebrate its publication. You can buy it now on Amazon.com or order it at your local bookstore.