Little Boxes

Greetings all. It’s Easter weekend for some, Passover for others, but pretty much a holiday season for all. I’m planning a couple food gatherings over the weekend, and of course will have to write about it all and unleash it on all of you out there in blog-land.

My upbringing was in the suburban community of Daly City. The non-descript collection of rows upon rows of Henry Doelger’s dream houses immortalized in Malvina Reynolds’ “Little Boxes,” which of course found its way to the airwaves via Pete Seeger’s great song of the same name. It was in the summer of 1962 when we moved from the little “Grandview house” to the new house in Serramonte … dead center in Little Boxes land. The story goes that Ms. Reynolds, a San Francisco native, UC Berkeley grad, activitst / folk singer was driving down Highway 35 (which we always called Skyline Boulevard) one day, and the rows and rows of houses just looked like little boxes. On the hillside. Little boxes made of ticky tacky, and they all look just the same. And they did, and they do.

But this was our turf. We were the gang from Daly City! And growing up here was fun, safe, educational, interesting, boring, predictable, and exciting all at the same time. I’ve never been to London, but I’d bet that we got way more fog than the Brits.  Summers were horrible here. It seemed that the whole world was experiencing warm summer weather, beach and lake weather, and we had the fog. Virtually every morning, it crept up over the cliffs that rose behind Thornton Beach, and rolled over the Westlake Knolls, over Skyline Boulevard, and into the sleepy little sub-communities where we grew up. A mere ten minutes south, almost like magic when you reached San Bruno Avenue, the sun began to peak out from behind the fog. And a couple miles more, by the time the Millbrae Avenue exit was in view, it was totally sunny and 15 degrees warmer.

It was here in Daly City where so many of us grew up amid similar middle class values and social structure. Grammar schools named Garden Village, Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, Vista Mar, Olympia, Daniel Webster, and Westlake … sent students along to Ben Franklin Junior High School, and ultimately Westmoor for most, Jefferson for a few, and Mercy, Riordan, St. Ignatius, or a couple other private schools for the rest.

Our backgrounds were actually more diverse than any of us knew at the time. In our very early years there was a distinct lack of black or Oriental kids, but this changed by the time we were all in high school. The combination of “bussing” and simply changing neighborhood makeups, gave us the opportunity to mix and mingle with all races and creeds. A distinct advantage, vs. growing up in a neighborhood that’s made up of a huge percentage of any of the above.

Most of us had no idea about prejudices, other than what we read and saw on TV. We of course studied the basis for a lot of these feelings, but the riots in the south or the notion that people were “better or not as good” because of their religion or race, was a foreign concept to us. Maybe it was naiivite’, maybe we were all too busy having fun growing up, but the fact was that we grew up with a tremendous amount of tolerance, and the experience of knowing so many different people, without putting a value judgement on anyone.

This isn’t to say we were totally unaware of people’s races or religions, we just didn’t care particularly. My parents converted to Catholic when I was in about third grade, and all this meant to me was that I had to start going to church and catechism, instead of riding my bike and skateboard more. So right off the bat, I didn’t like it.

By the time we landed at Ben Franklin Junior High, we were totally sick of catechism, which cut into our after school trips to the beach. Or if the truth be told, our parents thought it was cutting into our beach time, but the fact was that my friend Marty and I spent more Wednesday afternoons at Thornton Beach than we did at catechism classes at Our Lady of Perpetual Guilt (sorry, God will get me for that, I’m sure).

Thornton Beach was our local beach hangout.  Anything resembling a nice day would find half of Westmoor High School playing in the sand, body surfing (board surfing there was a joke), and flirting with the opposite sex.  It used to be a pretty undeveloped little stretch of sand, accessible via a circuitous dirt trail that started next to the Mar Vista Riding Stables, at the intersection of Skyline Boulevard and what was then called Alemany Boulevard.  Alemany became John Daly Blvd a number of years ago … but not to long time residents who will always refer to it as Alemany.  

Thornton Beach then received a major overhaul which included a real parking lot, decent path down to the beach, restrooms, garbage cans, etc.  But erosion and cost of upkeep caused it to shut down to the public a few years ago, and it’s once again an unaccessible beach below a “dead-end” promontory overlook.  A shame, as there’s so much history there. 
Two of my friends from grammar school and Thornton Beach days were over for Saturday brunch this week.  They’re both Jewish and were in the middle of their Passover week, which coincides roughly with the Christian world’s Easter festivities.  Just as the “food” that we all got to experience at each other’s homes was among the most fascinating part of growing up with such a wide variety of people, we were blessed with some incredibly detailed Passover history at brunch.  Absolutely amazing, including the knowledge that these two had about their religion.  The percentage of people who actually attend church or temple regularly has taken a huge decline over the last couple decades, but the knowledge of what their religion stands for, and what makes them who they are, lives on.  And this is a good thing.  An incredibly good thing I’d submit, as the spiritual unity is so evident.  
One of these friends is married to a wonderful Catholic woman, and the two of them just returned from a trip to Israel, the week prior.  The visit to the hub of civilization, and the birthplace of both their religious foundations was nothing short of amazing for both of them.  Of course since this was a brunch, and our collective lives revolve around restaurants and food, we also talked about the food in Israel, which sounded incredible.  

And the brunch, you ask?  

Three kinds of bacon.  A package of good Canadian bacon, a pound of Mollie Stone’s organic, from the butcher counter, and my last pound of Benton’s.  I can already feel the withdrawal, and of course need to immediately reorder another 4 pounds.  
Pancakes, which were supposed to be waffles but the new waffle iron was awful.  John and Linda brought some Grade B pure maple syrup, which is the best (better than A Grade – do the research and see why!).  Hash browns, several kinds of fruits and berries, a quiche (thanks also to J&L), whole wheat bagels and cream cheese, orange and grapefruit juices, champagne, coffees.  
Overall, a memorable gathering of friends, some great stories, reminiscing about past times and growing up in Daly City, and of course quite a spread of vittles.  I’m blessed to have these people as friends, and cooking for them is one way to show them what they mean to me.  It’s a true labor of love, and I can’t think of a better way to spend an Easter / Passover.  

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1 comment so far

  1. Ginger on

    Hey Larry,

    I love reading your blog and your reminiscing. That is really sad about Thornton Beach. That sounded like a perfect brunch. Good food and good friends!


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