Old Cypress School Brings Back Memories

IMG_20171122_134613513[1]Walking the streets from my childhood home on Fenley Avenue to Cypress School is different now. I’m taller, and I’m not carrying schoolbooks. I walk alone, my best friend Sherri moved to Texas, most of the other kids on the block gone, too. New people, mostly young Silicon Valley workers, live in the homes I pass. Some of the early 1950s houses have been replaced by mini-mansions or apartments. Cars line the streets and fill the driveways.

The dozens of baby boomer kids who walked to Cypress every morning are senior citizens now. So is our school. Cypress became a senior center in the early 1980s. My late husband, Fred, helped supervise its development and oversaw the staff as a supervisor in the San Jose Recreation Department. Where once the space was full of children, now it welcomes seniors for lunches, stitchery classes, concerts, and other activities.

People rent the big multi-purpose room for private events. We had my 50th birthday party and the celebration of life for my aunt and uncle there. That room has so many memories: tumbling and trampolining, eating cafeteria spaghetti on long fold-down tables, playing a wicked stepsister in a Girl Scout production of Cinderella, singing with the school choir, sitting through assemblies and movies. I can feel the dusty green linoleum under my bare legs as we sat on the floor playing jacks or doing lessons in our skirts and saddle shoes.


Much later, when it was a senior center, I sang and played guitar for the seniors. I did concerts in that room with the Valley Chorale. I played music at my birthday party, too, which was the last event my mother attended before she died of cancer.

While the multi-purpose room is still full of life, more than half the school was demolished years ago, replaced by a senior apartment complex occupied by elderly Asians. Only the front wing with the offices, kindergarten, shop and home ec classrooms remains. The other classrooms and the field where I used to run and play are long gone.

I walk to Cypress now for exercise and respite from taking care of my dad, who still lives in the house on Fenley Avenue. On this particular day, there’s a warm breeze. I hear Lee Greenwood’s “IOU” playing on someone’s stereo. I hear hammering and voices from the apartments going up across the street. An elderly Vietnamese man shuffles by as I sit on the bench outside the multipurpose room. Through the window, I see chairs lined up facing the stage. A sign proclaims “Happy Thanksgiving.”

It’s so quiet I hear the dry leaves falling from the trees. I wish I knew what kind of trees these are. Liquidamber? I know they’re not cypress. I know they weren’t here when I was a child lining up in this parking lot for red and yellow alerts in anticipation of nuclear attacks. With a yellow alert, we supposedly had time to go home. In a red alert, we were to take shelter under our desks or under a bench outside. More than half a century later, we know those moves wouldn’t have done us any good if the bomb hit, but we diligently gathered while our teachers took roll and assured us we would be all right if we followed instructions.

I attended Cypress School from first through eighth grade. A red line across the playground separated the big kids from the little ones. All those years, it was a safe place filled with children’s voices, the smells of paste and pencil lead, and sun shining through the big windows. It feels odd to be here now and realize I could walk in and sign up for senior citizen programs. No one seems to question my being here, my wrinkles and graying hair all the qualification I need.

Like my father, I feel driven to share my memories. I want to tell people: This is where we played four-square, this is where we lined up for lunch, this is where the P.E. teacher tried to teach us the foxtrot, this is where I got my first period, this is where Mr. Blackwell encouraged me to be a writer . . . I expect our longtime principal Mrs. Blyther to come out of the office. I can almost smell the spaghetti, the best I ever tasted. I expect to hear the bell ring any minute, calling me to class.

But the hammering continues. The leaves fall. The light is fading, and my father will be wondering where I am. I snap some pictures on my cell phone, and start walking home.

Text and photos copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2017


I am the Weeping Keeper of Past Lives

It had been a beautiful Sunday, yet there I sat sobbing over old photos as the first “Sex and the City” movie played in the background. Certain parts of the movie always get to me–when Charlotte tells Carrie she’s pregnant, when Miranda and Steve reunite on the Brooklyn Bridge, when Carrie and Big get back together–but it wasn’t just that. It was all the lives piled up on the card table.

Somehow, having survived the deaths of my husband, his parents and his younger brother, I have become the keeper of the archives, boxes and boxes of photographs, slides, and memorabilia. The more I sell or give away, the more there seems to be. Like me, Fred’s dad never went anywhere without a camera. I carefully compiled the first 20 years or so of our marriage into albums, but I have my own boxes of prints and slides, including the black and white pictures I processed in my darkroom-happy years. There are pictures from life with my first husband. It was a life with so many promises never fulfilled. There are my grandparents, my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, so many of them gone. I miss them all, and I weep. There’s the house we used to live in on Safari Drive. I weep.

There are the Lick photos, none of them properly stored, yet many surviving almost a century. It’s not the family I grew up with. I never met Fred’s grandparents. I never saw his mom and dad as young people or Fred and his brothers as little boys, yet here they are in countless photos. As Fred’s Alzheimer’s progressed and he forgot his history, I remembered it for him. Now that he’s gone, I look at that cute little boy with glasses and weep. I look his parents and weep. I look at pictures of Fred’s children, my stepchildren, as babies with their mom, and I weep. Some days I can’t believe I ever was part of this family, and yet it’s part of me. As I sort, I keep a few things for myself and I throw out the things that I don’t think will interest anyone anymore, but I keep sending boxes of pictures to Fred’s kids and his brother. It’s all paper, somebody’s click of the camera. Does anybody care? In the boxes from the storage locker, I also found love letters from Fred’s dad to his mom, the telegraph he received when he got his job at Boeing, and the one sent to Fred’s grandparents when he was born.These are precious, but who should have them? Surely not me.

There are other pictures that hurt because they emphasize the big chunk of Fred’s life when he was married to someone else. Wedding. Christmas. Babies. Crew-cut clean-shaven pix of Fred graduating from college, posing with his wife and his parents. He looks so different without his beard, yet I know that mouth, those eyes. I was 13 years old that year. I didn’t know Fred the way he looked then, and if I did, we could not have been lovers, but I still ache for him, for his smile, for his touch, his warmth.

Many of the pictures were taken on the countless cruises Fred’s parents took. Alaska, Panama, the Bahamas, Hawaii. While I don’t want to take a cruise, I miss traveling with my husband, and I wonder if I’ll ever get to those places on my unwritten bucket list. Do I want to go alone?

I find a framed 8 x 10 photo of a big black dog. I never met that dog, which belonged to my late brother-in-law, but I love dogs and plan to put this one on my wall because it makes me smile. There are 78 rpm records by artists I never heard of, and I have all the camera gear, valuable in its time, now nearly worthless because it isn’t digital. I don’t know what to do with these.

What will happen to all those pictures we’ve been taking in recent years, storing on our hard drives and tiny memory cards? Will they last long enough for descendants three or four generations down to spend an afternoon studying them, thinking about the people and places they depict and weeping while the E channel airs “Sex and the City” yet again? I worry that all of our memories will disappear, just like the stories I stored on floppy disks. Do we just put them on Facebook and then forget them?

I ended my cryfest with a glass of Portuguese red wine a friend brought to Nye Beach Writers Saturday night. That’s my heritage, and I could fill a room with those photos, too. I’ll probably cry. Cheers.

What about you? Do you have boxes of ancient photos? What do you do with them when the older generation is gone? Please share your stories.

A Picture-Perfect Day

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When I whine about the weather here on the Oregon coast, when I whine about being lonely or feeling hopeless or never having any fun, remind me about yesterday.
It was an honest-to-goodness day off when I did not feel obligated to work on my to-do list of writing, music and household chores. I slept late, luxuriating in the warmth of the electric blanket and the baseboard heater, waking to sunlight and blue sky. We have actually had a lot of that lately, but it has been coupled with bone-aching cold. Not yesterday. I wouldn’t call it hot, but it was warm enough to sit in the sun and wonder where I hid my sunglasses. It was a day when I read in the sun, played guitar in the sun, and walked the dog in the sun before that same sun set in a sky washed with blue and orange that made the water shine like liquid gold.
In the morning, as the sun blasted through the windows, I grabbed one of the big boxes piled up in the garage and started sorting through it. This was my darkroom box, and most of the contents dated back to the mid-1980s when I was processing film and developing photos at work and at home in the bathroom. I found photo paper and chemicals purchased in 1978. Are they still good? Probably not. I threw them away. Who uses film anymore anyway? I found my timer, my dodging tools (anybody know what those are?), colored filters, red light bulbs, and the black bag in which I moved film from the canister to the developing tank. White light would spoil the pictures. Not a problem in these digital days. It was fun to find these old friends and remember those happy hours I spent in the darkroom at various newspaper jobs and at home with the radio blasting, watching pictures magically appear in the tray of developing fluid. I can still smell the ammonia stench of the fixer bath that kept the images from disappearing.
But even more fun was finding the many photos and proof sheets from that era that were also tucked in the box. There’s Fred looking young and handsome, me looking slim and young with tiny Michael at my side. There are Fred’s grandchildren Stephanie and Brandon as babies, their mother Gretchen looking so very young. There’s my mom looking pretty with black hair. Uncle Bob. Cousin Tracy. Oh my gosh, even my first husband Jim and his family. Beloved co-workers from a newspaper in San Jose. A Veteran’s Day parade downtown. Vasona Park. The Santa Cruz Boardwalk. A tree that caught my eye 30 years ago. A flower. A dog. Our first trip to the Oregon coast, back when we had no idea we’d be living here a few years later. Newspaper photos that mean absolutely nothing to me now.
I filled a big trash bag with things not worth keeping, but I saved the family pictures, even the ones where I was clearly still learning my craft. Why bother with anything that has sat in a box untouched for most of 30 years? So that on a lazy day in 2013 I can find old treasures and relive happy times of long ago with people who are no longer around. So that I can know they were real and still mine to keep.
It was a good day. Just the day before, on Saturday, clouds and fog kept us in twilight all day, and I longed to see the sun. God answered my prayers. Next time I whine, remind me of Sunday, Jan. 20. I have no photographs of that day, except for the pictures in my mind, but like the ones in that box, I hope they never fade.

Time to clean the garage

st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } My garage was looking pretty good until I cleaned out the storage locker. That 10 x 6 cubicle that Fred and I rented “for a few months” in 2001 was jammed with stuff that was getting mildewed and mouse-eaten. It wasn’t worth paying $45 a month to store things I never used. Where did I put everything? In the garage, in my single-car cobweb-covered already-full garage.

We’re talking camera and computer gear, an old TV, a semi-broken chair, a nightstand from my in-laws’ house, sewing paraphernalia and fabric up the wazoo, ancient stereo components, the old dog crate, boxes of old newspapers that I wrote articles for in the ‘70s, and books, books, books. Mucho stuff. Plus I save boxes just in case I might need to mail books or move, and I’ve got Fred’s wheelchair, clothing I’ve been cleaning out of the closets to give to Goodwill or somebody, and umpteen plastic bags and bottles that need recycling. It’s a good thing I have a relatively small car.
When I unloaded the storage locker, it was snowing. This is . . . September? Right. It’s been on my to-do list, honest. Well, one day last week, after I got a particularly nasty comment about something I had written, I tore into that garage. I worked up a sweat going through all the junk and putting it into piles: Goodwill, church bazaar, recycle, the dump, and oh maybe I’ll keep it. I’m happy to report the latter pile was small. Some things I might have kept but for the rust or mildew that made me not even want to touch them. Out, out, out.
The trouble is that everything contains a memory. It’s not just stuff; it’s my life. I remember when I used to develop film in the kitchen and print pictures in the bathroom with black cloth blocking out the light. I remember when I read all those books. I remember when I made the dress cut from that cloth. I admit I’m a saver, although not quite a hoarder. The older I get the more I like hanging onto my memories. But I can’t keep all this stuff.
So far, I have hit the recycle center and Goodwill and loaded the bazaar stuff into the car. I will go to the dump soon. And I’m going through those boxes of newspapers and tossing most of them. I remember each bylined story and what it was like to be a young reporter running around Gilroy or Milpitas or Pacifica in my VW bug doing interviews. I loved those days. But . . .
There’s one box I’m not tossing. It contains jacks, marbles, balls, a wooden flute, a harmonica, a couple of dolls, hopscotch charms, and other toys. I still want to play with my toys. Why not? They’re mine.  
As the garage empties, I feel freer and lighter. But this is one of those jobs that don’t stay done. On my way home from Goodwill, I stopped at a garage sale, where I picked up a suitcase and a George Foreman grill for $3. What a deal. Now, where am I going to put them?
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