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 Some of the early 1950s houses have been replaced by mini-mansions or apartments.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


Halloween in the Spooky Old Woods

As I walk Annie down Birch Street on Halloween, I try to picture kids in costume running from house to house with their bags, the air echoing with “Trick or Treat!”

It’s not gonna happen. I avoid walking through the long dark stretches of forest between houses. What parent is going to let their kids do it? There are bears out there. Besides, the occupants of four out of the five houses on my street qualify for Medicare. No kids. I suspect the kids that do live in the neighborhood go elsewhere to Trick or Treat. They may have already gone to one of the many public events that happened over the last few days. Merchants on the Bayfront are planning to hand out candy this evening. I suppose if I had children, I’d go there.

Halloween here and now is very different from Halloweens back in the 1950s and early ‘60s when I was a kid. We only wore our costumes for one day—Halloween. We wore them to school, then fidgeted around for a few hours until Mom and Dad were ready to take us out Trick or Treating. Our costumes were sometimes homemade—I went once as a sleepwalker in my pajamas, another time as a gypsy in a long skirt with big earrings. Sometimes they were cheesy store-bought costumes of some highly flammable material that itched and offered no warmth. But in San Jose, we didn’t need it. It was warm enough. I remember those masks we used to wear, hooked around our heads with a glorified rubber band. They were scratchy on our cheeks and smelled like whatever we ate. They blocked half our vision, but we didn’t care.

We walked house to house on Fenley Avenue and Ardis, the street behind us, which offered us more than enough houses. Everyone was giving out candy. The adults at the door would peer at us and say, “Is that Susie and Mikie?” and we’re scream “Trick or Treat!” We’d watch the candy dropping into our bags and holler “Thank you!” as we’d been taught. Our friends were doing the same thing, their parents, like ours, waiting on the sidewalk to escort us to the next place.

In those days when we baby boomers were children, nobody worried about crime, razor blades or needles stuck in apples, or any other dangers. We were as safe out there as in our own bedrooms. And oh, the loot. Tootsie rolls, suckers, Life Savers, little Hershey Bars, candy corn, homemade cookies and popcorn balls. Nobody had to check our bags for danger or take out things that weren’t considered healthy. It was all good and it was all ours.

The tradition continued as long as we lived in San Jose, although by the time we were the adults handing out candy, you had to offer factory-wrapped goodies from the store. Anything homemade would be thrown away as unsafe. Parents worried about sugar. Some people gave out toothbrushes or granola bars. What fun is that? Homeowners worried about vandalism. The numbers of kids dwindled as their parents took them to safer events hosted by schools and churches.

Here in Lincoln County, Oregon, kids still go out, but not everywhere. My in-laws used to live in the neighborhood behind the Fred Meyer store off NE 20th Street. Police blocked off those streets and kids came by the hundreds. I can remember years standing outside in cold, wet, windy weather handing out candy. The stream of Trick or Treaters didn’t let up for hours. Fred’s frugal mom offered mini Tootsie Rolls, and we were in trouble if we gave anybody more than one. Of course we did it anyway. The last year she was there, we ran out of candy and turned off the lights. A little later, we found that our car had been “egged.” Our windows were open, and the whites and yolk ran all over the blue velour upholstery. The dog did a pretty good cleanup job, but it soured the evening.

In town today, I didn’t see as many people in costume as I expected. At lunch at Georgie’s, the hostess, one waitress, and one busboy dressed up, but the rest were in their usual black garb. At the J.C. Market, one cashier had multi-colored hair and another appeared to be a witch. Two customers roamed the aisles as some type of zombies. One of them waved at me—I had no idea who she was. Otherwise it was business as usual. I didn’t see any kids at all, unless you count the dozens of kids in costume on Facebook. Here they’d have to a wear jackets over their costumes anyway; it’s expected to get down in the 30s tonight.

These days, out here in the woods with Annie, I don’t expect to see any Trick or Treaters. On our walk, Annie and I saw the neighbors’ chickens, a squirrel, a Pomeranian, and a tuxedo cat, but nobody in costume. I have a string of orange lights up, but no pumpkins, ghosts or other decorations. The kids will be elsewhere, and we old folks at the end of the road will eat the candy we bought just in case. We always make sure it’s the kind we like. I’ve got Tootsie rolls. The big ones. I’m thinking they’d go well with Kahlua.

How was your Halloween? How is it different from when you were a kid?