The house that I was born and raised in is one of hundreds of similar post-war homes lining the low hills of San Francisco’s Sunset District. Out there near the corner of 45th and Vicente, we were only three blocks from the Pacific Ocean and even closer to the Fleischacker Zoo. Actual sunsets though were a bit of an anomaly as the fog was pervasive along the avenues. My family moved down to the sunnier Peninsula in 1954 where I was much happier in the heat and the suburban life.
Over the years, however, I would occasionally find myself in San Francisco and would drive by the old stucco house. When we lived there it was painted white with a green trim. Later it was painted a sort of coffee color. Now it is painted smoky gray like the dominant coastal weather pattern. I know this because I happened to stop by for a look about a month ago. I parked the car right in front of the house and just sat there for several minutes contemplating my journey from a bouncing baby on the edge of the west coast to an aging boomer on the western edge of Colorado.
As I sat there, a young Asian man came out of the house and down the red brick steps. He was getting into his car when I decided to make my presence known. So I introduced myself and told him about my personal history with his house. He was friendly and a bit astonished and, after a few minutes, asked me if I’d like to see the inside of the house…and meet his 109-year old grandmother! Naturally, I said yes.
The next several minutes were surreal. First the walk up those red brick steps. Then into the house itself where the primal memory kicked in. In a rush of emotions, I was introduced to the aforementioned grandmother (who spoke no English), and to the mother who owned the house and had lived there for 30 years since emigrating from Taiwan. Then a quick tour of the house which, unbelievably, was almost exactly as I remembered it….though smaller now, of course. The plain, square living room in front with plate glass window overlooking the avenue. The sunny kitchen with high ceiling to the right. Small hallway with skylit bathroom to the left, and two medium sized bedrooms in the back. The one on the left was the one I shared with my sister.
An unexpected rush of emotion overcame me and I found myself choking up. It had been 58 years since I’d last been inside this house. This is where I had learned to walk and talk. Learned to read. Watched television for the first time on the family Philco. And here was this gracious Taiwanese family allowing a complete stranger to enter their abode and spend a few minutes catching up on a distant past. I thanked them profusely and then headed back down those brick steps which had felt my toddler feet, my parents’ young steps, and the footfalls of so many others.
When I headed back down the road again, driving along the Great Highway, I knew I had been given an extraordinary opportunity to connect the dots of time, and to recapture for just a few moments another piece of my past.