“Growing Up In Livermore”
Like Barbara, my memories of growing up in Livermore are complex and intertwined. One of my earliest memories is holding my dad’s hand as we stood together, watching our new house being built on College Ave. This must have been about 1952 or 1953, when I was around 2 or 3. I don’t know why that memory has stayed with me – maybe it was the comforting presence of my father while we together watched something that was exciting and interesting.
I also have faint memories of nursery school, where I met (I think – this is how I remember it, anyway) two children who would stay my friends for years: Sally Hill and Paul Leith. My adventures with both of them are integral parts of my childhood. All day bike rides, an attempted 50-mile hike the year Kennedy (I think it was) challenged the nation to exercise. I remember my parents and Paul’s parents driving by frequently as we trudged on, stopping occasionally to add more bandaids to our increasing number of blisters.
The year I was four was a big year for me. I learned how to ride a bike, whistle and tie my shoes. It was also the year my brother Geoff was born and I remember going with my sister Debby and my uncle Peter to see Geoff for the first time – through a window at Kaiser hospital in Walnut Creek. My mother brought him over to the window and held him up so we could admire him. The best part of him being born was that for some reason my parents gave me a pocket watch – one of my most prized possessions for years. I wonder what happened to that watch.
From kindergarten through sixth grade I attended Fifth Street School. It was about 10 blocks from my house and I either walked to school or rode my bike. When I started kindergarten I remember wanting to ride my bike to school but my parents wouldn’t let me – I think they must have thought it wasn’t safe for some reason. (Maybe because I still four when school started, since my birthday is later in September.) But I wanted to ride it, so every day for the first week or so I went out our front gate, closed it and then pulled my bike out of the thick groundcover in the front of our house and bicycled to school. I reversed the process when I came home. My sister finally tattled on me but instead of getting me in trouble, my mom shrugged her shoulders and said that since I was obviously fine, I could keep doing it.
My other memories of Fifth Street School are spending recesses reading, hating dodge ball, and loving our principal and my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Van De Grient (spelling?). I remember the pepper trees and all the sticky stuff they would drop to the ground and I remember watching films in a separate building. I hated geography and history but loved English, science and arithmetic, so one day the principal called me into the office and offered me extra math if I would pay more attention to geography. It was a bribe I accepted – which makes me wonder just what I was like as a child…
I had to wear dresses to school – I don’t know if this was my mother’s edict or the school’s – so as soon as I got home I couldn’t wait to change into my jeans and go out to explore the creek or what we called “the pit” – a large excavated area behind our house that had trees, shrubs and lots of jackrabbits. My German shepherd, Gretchen, could outrun a jackrabbit and she would run past the rabbit then circle around it, making the circle smaller and smaller until the poor rabbit was motionless with fear. She’d then pick it up and drop it at my feet, covered with her drool but otherwise, besides being terrified, it would always be fine. Gretchen loved that game – the rabbit and I, not so much.
For seventh and eighth grade I went to Joe Michell School, which was a new junior high across the street from my friend Jennifer Bullard’s house. This was much farther from my house, but I still walked to school – I think by that time maybe it wasn’t considered socially acceptable to ride a bike to school. I have random disconnected memories of that school. For instance, I remember the seventh grade teacher used to write a quote on chalkboard every day or once a week – I don’t remember which. And in that way that memory does, I’ve never forgotten one of those quotes – it’s as if he wrote it yesterday. “Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge, it is the thinking that makes what we read ours.” (John Locke). Maybe I remember it because I agree with it – it makes sense to me.
There are three other memories that stand out for me at that school. One is I’m pretty sure that’s where we all lined up to get our polio vaccine in a sugar cube – a brand new vaccine.
The next is being called into the office and told to rush home, because my brother Geoff, who must have been about 7, had tried to swat a fly on our sliding glass door and had instead put his hand through the glass, slicing through his fingers and arm pretty badly. I was needed at home to babysit my youngest brother, Jonathan, while my mother rushed Geoff to the doctor. The story my mother later told was that the pediatrician, one of the two Dr. Schwartz’s in Livermore, couldn’t handle the sight of so much blood, wrapped Geoff’s arm in a towel and sent my mother on to the emergency room. I accepted that story for years but now I wonder if there is more to it.
The third memory is one we all share – the shooting of our president. The way I remember it was that someone – probably the principal – come onto the school’s p.a. system and announced that our president was dead. I have a clear image of Kasha Krug snapping a pencil in half when the announcement was made. When I got home that day, my mother was crying in front of the television – it seems like that went on for days or even weeks.
From Joe Michell I went on to Granada High School, which was brand new. In fact I think my class was the second class to start there. Some of the classes I took include biology with Mr. Bortz (who was possibly drafted for the Vietnam War?) and chemistry with a teacher I really liked and who was, I think, married to my music teacher from Fifth Street School – whom I also really liked. I had Art Duey for English and stayed in touch with him, off and on, for several years.
At home I was immersed in two worlds. The first was Lawrence Livermore, where my father started work in 1952. My father had been part of the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during the war and then ended up in Livermore. There weren’t a lot of conversations at our house about nuclear weapons and my father’s work, although my sister did bring home a group of high school activists from her private school in Colorado. The way I remember it is that they camped in our backyard at night and picketed the Lab during the day. But the Lab world also included cocktail parties with scientists and their wives and the constant presence of physics and math as sort of a backdrop for our lives.
The second world was the theatre. My mother and several friends started Cask and Mask, a local theatre group, and for years they put on plays at the May School, which I think has long since burned down. I feel like I grew up backstage or in the wings – I must have gone to years of rehearsals and performances. I was in one of the performances when I was about eight – “Mrs. McThing” I think. During those years my mother performed and directed and my favorite performance of hers was in Beckett’s “Happy Days” – how I wish I had a video recording of that. Years later my mother directed plays at the Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) in Dublin, California. I was then working in the jails and prisons as a librarian and a group of women at FCI wanted to do theatre so I asked my mom and she agreed.
I have one more memory to add and then I’m going to end Part I. That memory is the annual rodeo parade. I loved that parade and every year I got a new pair of cowboy boots from the western store on First Street and then proudly attended the parade in my new boots, my jeans, my cowboy hat and my favorite cowboy shirt with those pearly snaps. Like many children, I loved horses and even owned a pony for a while, although we couldn’t keep him at home and it was a car ride to go see and ride him. As I recall, he lived at the Archibalds, outside of Livermore, but I’m not sure that’s true.
That’s it for now. I look forward to reading other Livermore memories.