The old house is packed with memories

IMG_20190822_173002965_HDR[1]In the wake of our father’s death, it’s time to clean out his house in preparation for selling it. It’s the house where my brother and I grew up, not changed much since our parents bought it in 1950. Since neither of us wants to move back to San Jose, the place we have always known as home has to go. On top of losing Dad, this hurts, too.

As it became clear that Dad was not going to live in that house anymore, I brought home keepsakes, knick-knacks, books and usable items, such as oatmeal, crochet hooks, and cookie cutters. I bubble-wrapped my grandmother’s blue tea set that my mother always said would be mine someday. It’s bittersweet.

Over the 23 years I have lived in Oregon, I have made many trips back to San Jose, sleeping in my old bedroom, waking up to the chirping of squirrels on the fence. During my father’s injuries and illnesses, I spent long periods of time there, right up to when he died. Now sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night, I think I’m still there. I bang into walls searching for the bathroom before I realize I’m in South Beach now. THIS is my home.

IMG_20190824_081431250_HDR[1]Last weekend, while I was working here in Oregon, my brother and his family did the big clean-out, filling a giant dumpster and packing up things to keep or give away. There’s a memory in every item, but we can’t keep much. We have enough of our own stuff. We have to move on.

Mom and Dad bought the house the year after they were married. Located in a west-side housing tract where half the houses hadn’t been built yet, it contained the family’s history: our baby crib, Dad’s fishing poles, Mom’s needlework, the table on which we ate, and the flowered lamp in the living room that was on when my angry father would greet me in the wee hours after dates and parties, asking, “Do you know what time it is?”

IMG_20190824_081400085[1]There’s the floor heater that collected our errant marbles and jacks, the fold-down ironing board, the pink tile counter where Mom hammered walnuts into bits for cookies and brownies. There’s the circular clothesline that my grandfather built, the patio our father built, and the orange tree that was only a foot tall when I gave it to Dad one Father’s Day. Now it’s massive and full of fruit.

The house is old. It needs extensive repairs. It’s quite possible the new owners will tear it down and start over as others in that neighborhood have done, replacing the vintage three-bedroom one-bath homes with mini-mansions valued at well over a million dollars. That’s what happened to the house on the next block that my late husband Fred and I were renting when we got married. The new owners changed it so dramatically the only thing I recognize is the address.

Our parents’ story in their house is finished. My brother and I have our own homes and our own stories. The house may be filled with renters, or it may be torn down. Maybe it will be lovingly renovated and the garden brought back to its former glory. I hope a young family can use it as a blank canvas to paint the story of their lives for the next 70 years or longer. It’s a good place.

How about you? Is your childhood home long gone or do you still spend time there? What would you keep if you could walk through and take just a few things? I welcome your comments.

My father offers stories for dessert

img_20160914_1740485941Meals with my dad, Ed Fagalde, are a slow process. It takes him forever to get ready to sit down, and if I’m not careful I’m halfway through eating before he’s finished adding condiments. Slow down, mustn’t rush, I tell myself. We’re going to be sitting here for a while. While I’m itching to check my phone or read a book, now it’s time to listen. Even at breakfast, when I’m still waking up, he stirs Sweet n Low into his coffee, clears his throat, and begins to talk. He’s still talking 12 hours later over ice cream at The Country Inn restaurant and a few hours after that, standing in my doorway while I’m getting ready for bed.

I believe part of the reason I’m a writer is the fact that my father and his father before him were storytellers. While the stories go on, you don’t take notes; the teller would become self-conscious. No, you listen. You nod and react and ask the occasional question while the words flow like a waterfall that never runs out.

Some stories are of modern times, tales of a frustrating visit to the bank or a friend dropping by. With these, Dad gets times and places mixed up, forgets names, and does not understand the computer-based modern world, but the stories of the past are unmarred by his 94 years. Usually, I’ve heard them before, but there are always new details. For example, the ranch house where Dad grew up was not always on the spot where I remember it. The house was moved from another location, with a new room and a porch added. I had no idea.

He’s surprised that I remember that house. I was 9 in 1961 when  Grandpa retired as foreman of the Dorrance ranch and moved to Seacliff Beach. I’m amazed to realize I’m now almost the age that he was then.

I remember the  barn, the house, the patio, the fish pond, the chickens, the smell of prunes in the dehydrator. I feel as if I remember so much more because of Dad’s stories: the rabbit pens, the blackberries, the acres of prune, cherry and apricot trees, the multi-national crews who worked in the trees and the packing sheds, the horses that waited for Dad to come home from school and feed them the peelings from his mom’s apple pies.

I can’t remember all that. I was just a little girl in mary janes and ruffled socks sitting politely in the living room while the grownups talked. I remember a wood stove, an upright piano, lots of clocks, Dad’s stepmother Rachel’s dachshund Gretchen. I don’t remember my dad’s mother, Clara, at all, but her spirit was still in that house. Last week while visiting Dad, I learned that she never had a washing machine. She washed everything by hand with a scrub board until she got sick and started sending the clothes out to be laundered. Imagine how dirty those work clothes must have been.

I learned that my grandfather, Clarence, decided to retire because the ranch owners had started selling off chunks of land to housing developers and he could see the whole thing disappearing soon, like so many ranches in what was to become Silicon Valley. When my brother came to visit last weekend, we took a drive down Dry Creek Road past where the house used to be. Now there’s a million-dollar house on the site next to many other million-dollar houses, all beige and decorator-furnished. Dad still recognizes the winding road between Bascom and Meridian roads and the giant Sycamore that marks the site of the old driveway. In his mind, he can still see the orchards, the irrigation ditches, the tractors and the packing shed, but I just see these houses and a tree that sparks my imagination more than my memory.

Dad tells about the boxes piled up on the dry ground that became infested with bees. When Grandpa tried to move them, he suddenly ran to the water trough where they dipped the prunes and dove in, covered with bee stings. He swelled up all over, but healed without going to a doctor.

There were so many other stories: going to the “fights” with his dad, riding the water wagon with his grandfather in the days when men sprinkled the dirt roads to keep the dust down, riding his grandfather’s horses bareback down what became Meridian Road, dancing at the Balconades ballroom to the music of the Tony Passarelli Band.

He tells of signing up for the Army Air Corps, of training to be an airplane mechanic, of preparing to go overseas but not knowing where they’d be landing, of making an airstrip out of a road in Manila, of crashing at Leyte, of the guys he kept in touch with after the war. He tells the whole story of his career as an electrician, the different shops for which he worked, the jobs that stick in his mind, his long friendships with co-workers, his decision to retire.

He talks about his Fagalde grandparents, who owned a gas station and store at their home on Almaden Road near Branham Lane, along Almaden Creek. Grandma Lou, handy with a gun, always wanting to go shooting, Uncle Louie starting a business hauling gravel from the creek, Uncle Lloyd getting drunk and beat up, Grandpa Joe training his horses to come when he called their names.

My father talks and talks, as if he has to get it all out, has to tell me everything while he still has time. After he goes to bed, I make notes, trying to remember the details.

The stories go on and on. I feel like a bobble-head doll nodding as I listen. My eyes grow heavy with sleep and sometimes I nod off. When my brain screams stop, I push back my chair and start clearing the dishes. The talk temporarily peters out, but as soon as I sit down again, it continues. I fear the day when it stops for good. Meanwhile I do my best to soak it all in. I know what an important gift it is.

**************

Sorry I missed posting the last two weeks. No Wi-Fi at Dad’s house. But I had some adventures while I was gone and will share them in upcoming posts.

Do or did your parents share their stories with you? If they’re still around, ask questions. See what happens.

 

What taste captures your childhood?

ravioli picture free

Occasionally I use writing exercises to get me started. Today’s prompt sparked this trip through memory’s kitchen.

When I think of my childhood back in San Jose, I taste tomato sauce, specially on raviolis. Oh God, those stuffed pasta squares from La Villa’s delicatessen in Willow Glen. The smells of that place. Tomatoes, oregano, cheese. Wine bottles encased in straw baskets. Loaves of French bread. Salamis hanging from hooks on the wall.

Raviolis were a treat for all of us, especially Mom, who didn’t have to cook. While we set the table, Dad would go fetch them, along with little cardboard boxes of macaroni and potato salads. We might have bread, too. White bread stacked on a plate, to butter heavily and use to soak up the leftover sauce. Nobody complained about the all-carb meal in those days. It was just hot and cold, red and white.

We sprinkled on grated Parmesan cheese from a green cardboard container. I never tasted fresh ground Parmesan until well into adulthood.

When the deli in Willow Glen felt like too far to drive, we were stuck with Pianto’s, located nearby and owned by our neighbors. The sauce was more like the stuff Mom bought in cans at the store, and the raviolis were not as fat or as firm. Years after Mr. Pianto died, the family got tired of the business and sold it to another family which moved the business to Saratoga. It closed in 2009. The original location became a pizza place. Pizza has tomato sauce, too, but my parents never ate pizza. My father still doesn’t consider it food.

Other places filled the ravioli gap: By th’ Bucket, Frankie, Johnnie and Luigi’s, and a now-defunct place called Ravioli. All good. By the time I was in my teens, you could also buy frozen raviolis and tubs of frozen sauce at the grocery store, but those were for emergencies only.

There had to be raviolis, something for those nights when Mom wasn’t up to cooking or company dropped in unexpectedly, which they did quite a lot. My parents wouldn’t touch Chinese or any other Asian food. And you couldn’t serve hamburgers for dinner. So, they bought raviolis.

It’s no wonder I became a ravioli head. It’s what I always wanted to eat on my birthdays and what I usually got. I would stuff myself until I wasn’t sure it would stay in my stomach, but it always did, and I always found room for chocolate cake with Cool Whip frosting.

Tomato sauce showed up in other dishes, of course, especially spaghetti. My grandmother had the best sauce. I can still smell it as I hovered near the stove in her kitchen, where the walls and wooden trim were all white and the ceiling was painted bright red. I wanted to immerse myself in it. I think it was oregano mixed with cumin that gave it its distinctive aroma. The only sauce that ever came close was the sauce they served at Cypress School on spaghetti day.

My mother’s sauce most likely came out of a can, but we ate a lot of it on spaghetti or the no-name noodle-hamburger-tomato sauce casserole that showed up on the table all too often. I ate it. I ate it all. Firsts, seconds and thirds.

When I grew up, I wanted to make good sauce, like Grandma’s. I developed a variation of Betty Crocker’s recipe that came close. Then I married Fred, who had his own recipe, and it was better. It included onions, mushrooms, peppers, sausage, stewed tomatoes, cheese and a good dose of wine. Leaning over the pot, I got drunk on the steam. It was heaven.

When we combined that sauce with long flat noodles, Italian sausage and three kind of cheese for lasagna, oh my God. Heaven on a plate.

Tomato sauce was not just for pasta. Mom made a wonderful casserole of zucchini, onions, American cheese and tomato sauce. She also put it on green beans, which almost masked the taste.

If we’re talking tomatoes, we can’t forget ketchup. If we had meat, there was ketchup on the table. Purists might disdain eating steak or prime rib with the red stuff, but for me, it was required. Still is. Hamburgers, pork chops, French fries, onion rings–got to have the ketchup. Mom even put ketchup in our tuna sandwiches and made salad dressing with ketchup, mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce. Don’t knock it till you try it.

Yes, the taste of tomatoes captures my childhood. I might be Portuguese, German, French and Spanish, but my stomach is Italian. As an adult living alone in Oregon, I buy a few fresh tomatoes at the store. Mostly I slice them for BLTs, aware that my doctor doesn’t want me to eat any “T.” My troubled stomach has had its fill of tomato sauce and screams no more acid. I dress my frozen raviolis in pesto or alfredo sauce. I sauté my zucchini with olive oil. But sometimes a girl just has to have a little tomato, especially when it’s quite possible the red cells in her blood are full of tomato sauce. It’s almost my birthday. If I close my eyes, I can still taste those raviolis in the big yellow Pyrex bowl on top of the yellow Formica table. It’s almost my birthday. Do I dare? I must.

What taste captures your childhood? Don’t think too hard.What comes to mind first when you think about those days when your legs were so short your feet didn’t quite touch the floor. Please share in the comments.