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Thank You San Fernando

April 21, 2017

San Fernando, California was my home in the early 1950’s. My parents had moved there from North Hollywood, after several failed attempts at a life in the states of Utah and Iowa. They purchased a new home in 1952 on North Orange Grove Avenue when I was only four years old. This was one of many tract homes built among old orange groves for the burgeoning population that would soon become known as commuters. Thus, in the fragrant orange blossoms, began my San Fernando experience.

The town of San Fernando is named for a saint and somewhat unbelievably many people in the 1950’s and 1960’s did not know that the San Fernando Valley was named for the town and not the other way around. My father constantly explained this to his out-of-state relatives and informed them as to where our home was exactly. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, most people had never heard of San Fernando; that it was north of Los Angeles seemed to serve as explanation enough for most people. It was an anonymous place in those days and that fact proved to have its good points as well as it bad points.

I attended Dyer Street elementary school and Olive Vista Junior High School, both located in bordering Sylmar. There was always a bit of rancor in those days about which school you attended if you lived “on the border,” as we did. We technically had the choice of attending schools in either Sylmar or San Fernando. I went to the Sylmar schools and my brother went to those in San Fernando. In a gentle twist of irony, I wound up teaching school years later at San Fernando High School although I had graduated from Sylmar High.

San Fernando was a small world with borders of city blocks not miles when I was a child. My early life was lived primarily between Glenoaks Blvd. and 1st Street and between the confines of Hubbard and Maclay. The world outside these names was blurry and for practical purposes did not exist for many years in my early youth. And so as a child, I got to know this tiny piece of real estate pretty well. I can still smell the freshly cut summer grass on our street and I can still hear the mockingbirds that seemed to inhabit every tree. In the summer, I would catch butterflies with a homemade net, invading all of our neighbors’ yards without ever hearing a complaint from any of them. Saturdays were spent at the Crest Theater watching the double feature two times through for the price of 25 cents. DeMelice’s Market on Maclay Avenue was another favorite haunt, where a nickel would get you an enormous pickle and a friendly smile. As a young coin collector, I was allowed to freely go through the till unsupervised at the Atlantic Richfield service station on Maclay looking for old pennies. When I found the ones I was seeking, I would replace the face value into the till with my own pocket money. I remember pleasant things and I cannot recall the ugly days at all, although I am sure they were present somewhere in my youth.

As I stumbled awkwardly though my early years, my childhood enthusiasm for my hometown gave way to a comfortable kind of reassurance. I took a job with the San Fernando Sun as a paperboy. My four-block route included everything from 1st Street to 5th Street between Orange Grove and Maclay. After being a paperboy for what seemed like a lifetime, I moved on to high school and more serious pursuits. Still, I remembered all of my route customers fondly until I was well past my teens. My strongest recollections of my high school years are what I would collectively call stability. San Fernando never seemed to change substantially or in ways that upset the psyche. This allowed us time to grow up without the additional encumbrance of too much change thrust at us all at one time. The Hat was always there between Sepulveda Blvd. and San Fernando Road and JC Penney was always close at hand, a stone’s throw from Castell’s Records. It was a life lived largely by memory and the knowledge that everything had its place. Everything did have its place, as did we. Life as a teenager was comfortable in San Fernando. In this easy environment, I went through high school with the same kids I had known all my life and we encountered very few problems. Sure, we were “carded” every so often by the San Fernando Police for having a beer in our possession, but there seemed always to appear a firm guiding hand from the night rather than the butt end of a nightstick.

Life’s rhythms were constant, strong and reassuring as the years went by on Orange Grove Avenue. Family, friends and the common notion that we shared in being “from San Fernando” set these rhythms. However, as the seasons counted out my youth, I would stop in our front yard, gaze toward the San Gabriel Mountains, and wonder what was beyond them. As I grew up in, I gradually learned what was beyond those mountains and much more. We often traveled to the Sierra Mountains for vacations and these trips provoked a curiosity deep within me to see more, do more and be more. Gradually, I began to wish that I could leave San Fernando and its small confines. This wish turned into a strong desire by the time I finished high school. I was convinced that San Fernando was not for me and I yearned to leave for greener pastures well before those pastures had yet been found. Travels and college followed and my desire to leave San Fernando became stronger every year. I began attending college at what was then called San Fernando Valley State College in September of 1966. The campus took me away from San Fernando and I found that I had not been prepared to deal with the realities of the world outside my hometown. The Vietnam War, for instance, seemed so much more horrific and real just a few miles away in Northridge. In the end, born of frustration and stubborn beliefs I chose to live Jimmy Stewart’s wish in It’s a Wonderful Life as I attempted to “shake off the crummy dust” of my hometown and move out into life’s full current.

After a short time, I reached that point of departure, moving first to Granada Hills, then Agoura, then Oregon and finally, many, many years later, to my current home high in the Italian Alps. I had come back to my family’s roots and at last, it seemed that I had escaped the grasp of my upbringing. But here in my non-native Italy I have reflected much about that past and in these thoughts I have often found the whispered word, “San Fernando.”

Appreciation is often that last human emotion that we experience although it should perhaps be the first. It is unfortunately that way with parents, friends and life itself. I look back now to the black and white days of San Fernando some sixty-five years ago and I take in a deep, deep breath and I smile. It is a full smile, brought forth by the knowledge of a youth well spent and the pride I now belatedly feel in being from a little town named San Fernando. Gone are the old Empire phone prefixes but the goodness and richness of my youth will be with me for all of my days. I look at it now as a gracious gift. Perhaps the only best thing that I can do today is say to you from the heart, “Thank you San Fernando.”

Photo: Orange Grove Avenue in San Fernando circa 1958.

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2 Comments
  1. Vsii permalink

    Allen, Great story. Reminded me of my own upbringing in Glenbrook, CT. Nello

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Nello. Looking back is always a pleasure.

    Like

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