When I was four years old my family moved into a big yellow house on 98th Avenue in Oakland California. That’s me on the right, Mom, my big sister in the middle and my little bro on the left in Daddy’s arms.
I checked out 98th avenue on the street view in Google Maps and discovered that our house is still there, pretty much unchanged except for the color.
The Oakland Zoo was just three or four blocks further up the hill from our house. Mom would take my brother and I up the hill to the Zoo. I remember the high point of each trip was to stop and say, “Hi”, to Essie the Elephant. This was back in the day when you could still feed the animals. Mom would buy a brown paper bag of peanuts and let us feed Essie. We’d toss the peanuts over to her. Essie would swing her trunk down and gently pick up the peanuts and put them in her mouth one by one. We got such a kick out of it. I’m sure we bugged Mom constantly to let us go to the zoo to see the elephant. I don’t remember any other animals at the zoo, just Essie the Elephant.
I have lots of warm and fuzzy memories from this house, like Dr. Seuss books,the big walnut tree beside the house and the greenhouse in the back yard. I discovered comfort food in this house, Campbell’s Bean with Bacon Soup,Campbell’s Black Bean Soup, which they don’t make any more, darn! I was able to find Campbell’s Soup – Black Bean, c.1968 Art Poster Print by Andy Warhol on Amazon.com for illustration purposes. Mom used to make the yummiest grilled cheese sandwiches with Roman Meal Bread.
I remember the backyard of the house had more gardens than grass. There was a sidewalk that ran up the side of the house and across the back yard, under a trellis to a gate that opened out onto a hill covered with tall grass and fox-tails.
There was also a huge greenhouse on the south side of the yard. We really weren’t supposed to play in there, but I remember sneaking in with my cousin sometimes. This is a picture of me on my tricycle, so cool in my cowboy hat. This was eons before Big Wheels.
A few odd memories of Mom surface when I close my eyes and imagine that house. One time, early on a Sunday morning, we heard Mom scream bloody murder and the whole family came running to see what was the matter. We were all still in our PJs. Mom had surprised a mouse in the kitchen. Dad got a baseball bat and chased the mouse around the kitchen trying to hit it with the baseball bat. The memory of a manly husband doing his duty to gallantly defend his family from this scary wild animal burned an indelible image on my psyche.