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 Some of the early 1950s houses have been replaced by mini-mansions or apartments.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


Brown-bagging it to school 1950s style

Picture this: a wrinkled brown paper bag with “Susan” written on one side and grease stains onIMG_20150914_161607735[1] the other side. For most of my elementary and junior high school years, 1957-1966, this was my lunch, and the contents were far different from what kids are eating at school now.

I got to thinking about this as I wondered how to cook the pork loin in my freezer. Should I ask a friend for advice or just consult Betty Crocker? If my mom were alive, I could call her, but she probably wouldn’t know. Growing up, we only ate fat-laden pork roasts, ham and bacon. Pork loin?

That led me to thinking about the slices of greasy pork in the sandwiches Mom packed in my lunch bag. Also in my brother’s lunch bag and our father’s steel lunch box. Sometimes it was leather roast beef that I had to rip with my teeth as the white bread around it dissolved under my fingers. And the meat loaf sandwiches, oh my gosh. And baloney we could bite into shapes, our teeth leaving scalloped designs, except where our baby teeth had fallen out. Slathered in Best Foods “real” mayonnaise. Not of this low-fat business I’m eating these days.

Fridays were more challenging because we were not allowed to eat meat, and I didn’t like peanut better. Sometimes my sandwich held two slices of yellow cheese slathered with butter. More often, it was oily tuna mixed with ketchup, the grease leaking through the bag.

The sandwich wrapped in waxed paper wasn’t all. Mom tucked in potato chips—regular or barbecue were the only choices then, a few dried apricots, and dessert—homemade cookies or brownies, Ding-Dongs, Ho-Hos, Hostess Cupcakes, or Hershey Bars. Somewhere in there was also a paper napkin and a nickel to buy a carton of milk.

We never had backpacks in those days of the late 1950s and early 1960s. We carried everything in our arms, our lunch bags crackling against our clothes with every step of our saddle shoes.

Mike and I sat with our classmates at long fold-down metal tables in the Cypress School multipurpose room. We didn’t trade; we knew our lunches were the best. We looked forward all morning to eating what was in the bag. We could smell the food from the coat closet or our desks. We devoured our lunches elbow to elbow with our friends and their bag lunches, then wadded up napkins, wrappers and bags and tossed them basketball-style into the big steel trash cans. No recycling back then.

Like most schools, Cypress sold hot lunches. The kids who bought their lunches sat on the other side of the room. We tried it one year. The spaghetti tasted great, but more often, we were served cubes of mystery meat in transparent gravy over a stingy blob of mashed potatoes. No comparison to Mom’s food. Plus we didn’t want to spend half our lunch period waiting in line for old ladies in hair nets to slap that glop onto green plastic plates.

As you might guess, my brother and I were not skinny. Our mother, also not skinny, didn’t stress out about sugar, fat, gluten, lactose, or high fructose corn syrup. But we were healthy. We ate well, and we got lots of exercise, walking to school, playing games at recess and in P.E., always on the move after school on skates, bikes or running in our cheap tennis shoes. Unlike today’s kids glued to phones, tablets and computers, the only screens we paid attention to were the screen doors slamming behind us as we ran out to play.

School lunches have changed a lot. Now moms are posting pictures online of healthy box lunches full of fruits, grains and veggies, sometimes cut into hearts, stars or other designs. The sandwiches do not include big fat slabs of meat oozing grease. And where are the Ding-Dongs and potato chips? Alas, I don’t eat them anymore either.

I’m sure today’s lunches are healthier, but those pork or beef sandwiches, made with leftovers from our meat-and-potato dinners, sure tasted good. In fact, thinking about them is making me hungry.

As for the pork loin in my freezer, I’ll ask Betty Crocker. Unlike everything else, she hasn’t changed a bit.

How about your school lunches? What did you eat? Did you bring lunch from home or buy it? Or did you go without? Not every kid is as lucky as we were. Please share in the comments.