I was born at St. Mary’s Hospital on a blustery January day in the late 1940s. My father was one of San Francisco’s finest (a cop) and my mother was a housewife (and a former dancer and showgirl). They brought me home from the hospital to our house on Ralston Street.
I attended St. Michael’s Catholic School on Broad Street. By the time I was about seven, my mother would dress me up and take me somewhere “fancy” for lunch about once a month. She wanted me to learn table manners. We wore white gloves and once went to the Cliff House. I remember being dazzled and somewhat dismayed by the array of silverware. Undeterred, my mother would continue to doll me up and take me to restaurants that didn’t offer grilled cheese sandwiches and fries. I learned to move ‘from the outside to the inside” with utensils. That much has stayed with me!
My little sister and I played “War” with neighborhood kids in a vacant lot, which involved hurtling dirt clods at each other to see if we could draw blood. Someone usually ended up hurt, (or claiming to be anyway) and the game would continue until the next afternoon when the troops had recovered.
We used to go to the Stonestown Emporium at Christmas time and ride the rides on the roof. We also went to Playland at the Beach although it always made me sick to ride on the rides and the fat lady laughing always made me shudder. Nonetheless, it was great entertainment, unless you minded your kids throwing up in the car on the way home!
On Saturday nights, my Dad usually took us to the San Remo in North Beach for dinner. I remember that they poured red wine mixed with water for the children. You could put some great vanilla ice cream in your coffee (which they also served the kids) for dessert.
On Sundays, we went to Church and then went to Stern Grove or Golden Gate Park for a picnic and usually a free concert of some sort. We usually were allowed to bring a friend along. It was a magical childhood.
As a single mother, I raised my own children in the Richmond District of San Francisco. When my son was about twelve, he volunteered and worked for a presidential campaign. By the time he was thirteen, Shakespeare was his favorite writer. My daughter skipped school for about three weeks when she was nine and did a report (from her library research during the “playing hooky” stage) saying she had been in Europe for those three weeks.
Both kids attended plays and concerts. We went to different churches and explored different cultures. My kids, by the age of ten, had both straight and gay friends as well as friends of every color. We had a hairdresser in the neighborhood who was a man but dressed as a woman. Both kids called him “Auntie Karl.” They were both savvy enough to transverse the City taking Muni (public transit) by the time they were eight years old.
City kids are different. They are more independent, and more open-minded. Times may have changed, but that hasn’t. The City is usually cold, almost always foggy, and always absolutely fascinating. That will never change.