Two events occurred in 1954 that vastly improved the quality of my life. In the spring of that year, I had my tonsils removed, drastically reducing my propensity for getting colds. And in the fall of that year my parents moved us all from the foggy climes of San Francisco to the sunnier suburb of Mountain View, about 35 miles south on the Peninsula. Now this is where my sister Katie would chime in that her birth that October might have also improved the quality of my life, but I wouldn’t see that as a benefit for several more years. After all, I was only seven years old at the time and had more important priorities than acquiring another sibling.
What caused my folks to move to this specific location is unclear, but for me it was absolutely liberating. Mountain View’s broad suburban streets and tree-lined avenues seemed like well-manicured farm country, even though there were few farms left even then. But the valley’s agricultural legacy was kept alive by the single fruit tree that came with every lot. Our little house on Lloyd Way had a plum tree. Our neighbors had a walnut. And there were still a few small, remnant apricot orchards dotting the municipal landscape. At the end of the street was a free-flowing creek.(See http://redmesacafe.blogspot.com/2011/11/remembering-creek.html) For me it was like being on the edge of the wilderness.
I was never sure how Mountain View got its name. If you climbed up on the roof of the house (which I did frequently), you could see Black Mountain, a lofty 2,800 feet in altitude and part of the verdant coastal range. On a clear day you could also pick out Mt. Hamilton (4,200’) to the south and maybe Mt. Diablo to the northeast. But there were certainly better mountain views from other Santa Clara Valley locations. We jokingly referred to the place as Empty View. Still, it was a great place to be in my formative years.
Most of the adult neighbors were in their late 20s/early 30s like my folks. Consequently there were lots of kids all up and down the street, and most of the parents were friends with each other. We could still play ball in the street, zoom down the sidewalk on our Flexy sleds, bicycle all over creation, and mass march through the neighborhood on Halloween night. Most importantly, my parents stayed put as did the parents of my other close male friends, thereby giving us the opportunity to be best buds over a long span of time.
The closeness of friends, the safe and nurturing neighborhood, the benign climate, and the predictable patterns of daily life on the peninsula all helped to shape the person I was to become. The relatively close proximity of the Pacific Coast and the rugged landscapes near Pinnacles had a huge influence on my growing love of nature. And even the 50s television culture. Steve Allen, Jonathan Winters, Bill Cosby, and Stan Freberg to name a few, shaped our humor. And the civility of those suburban streets shaped my character.
So I am grateful that my parents moved when they did, caught the sunny wind in their sails, and set us all on a course that was steady, secure, and fun. We managed to squeeze into that critical space between the lingering, small town Santa Clara Valley atmosphere and the harder-edged consumerism and manic energy of the Silicon Valley that was just a few years away.