helen

1,000 Year Old Women

Helen Sweyer came for lunch with 12 of her closest friends and I mean that these ladies really know one another. There are 14 of them, but one couldn’t make it. I’ll just say this about their ages. Add up all 14 and they have seen over 1,000 years of life as local girls, wives, mothers and businesswomen. All are from San Francisco and they have been getting together for lunch since the War. Now you kids today probably don’t know that term but “The War” means WWII and that isn’t a web site.

Several of these ladies went to Lee Conte Elementary School and others were with one another at Horace Mann High School in the Mission in The City (which like, The War, is the term of art for San Francisco, New Yorkers not withstanding). So one way or another they were all at school together and they get together regularly for lunch. They came from the Mission District, which then was a somewhat different neighborhood. One of the women’s fathers raised goats and Helen used to toss cans at them to keep them quiet. They told me about taking the street car to Seal Stadium to see DiMaggio and Cobb play ball. This was the Big Band era and they went to the Avalon to hear Harry James and Glen Miller blow those horns.

They all remember the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge and Coit Tower. Sutro’s Baths at the beach was a popular destination and next to it was the Playland amusement park. One of them told me about Bullpups which was the junk food of choice. They were “walking enchiladas” and with a Nehi you were all set. Helen told me about Topsy’s, a restaurant at Playland. Topsy’s sold chicken in a basket on the top floor and when you had eaten you would take a slide down to the dance floor below and meet the boys from out of town who were stationed at the Presidio. In the 40’s the city was blacked out at night for fear of an invasion from Japan. Kids they knew had to leave town because their parents were Japanese and they were herded into internment camps out in the desert. Gun emplacements were built on either side of the Golden Gate, but the war ended before the guns were installed. These concrete bunkers are still there. One told me about her husband who fought in The Battle of California. This was considered a pretty hilarious joke after the war because the patrols along the coast never sited the enemy. Once he and his crew had to leave suddenly for Russia. These kids were relieved to discover that they were bound for The Russian River 50 miles to the north and were home for dinner.

In 1939 the World’s Fair came to Treasure Island and you were commanded, with the slogan “Shine in `39”, to paint your house to look good for the world. The city fathers issued mock citations to men who didn’t grow beards, resumably to look like 49ers.