Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the month “March, 2014”

Change is Hard (Los Altos Town Crier February 2014)


The house across the street will be torn down by its new owners,, and a new two-story house with a basement will appear in its place.It is a perfectly good house, a 1950’s 3-bedroom 2-bath ranch style with the kitchen in front and a patio in back looking at a deep back yard filled with fruit trees.  These are only the third owners.

The first owners were airline pilots:  he flew for Pan Am;  she had ferried war planes across the country during World War II.   The house was built as part of the new San Antonio development after the war .

At some point in the late 50’s the first owners added a second-story addition behind the garage with an additional bathroom,  family room and fireplace downstairs, a playroom and additional bedroom upstairs to accommodate their growing family.  The owner did a lot of the work himself;  the staircase was narrow and lacked a banister.  It would never have passed code today.

The children grew up and moved away, and the wife became the dowager overseer of the street.  From her strategically placed kitchen window she could see anyone arriving or leaving up or down the street, or coming around the corner.  She made no secret of her vigilance.  When I was a teenager and my parents were planning to go out of town,  our neighbor came over to ask my mother “If I see a strange car parked over night while you’re gone and Allyson is home, do you want me to tell you or not?”

The first owners aged and moved to be closer to one of their children.  They kept the house empty for over 30 years.  Prop 13 kept their taxes miniscule, so it was cheap storage, and convenient to stay when they visited friends on the Peninsula.   Finally the children arrived, cleared out the house, and it was sold.

The second owners were a young family with young children.  They loved the vintage ranch style of the house, the avocado and terra-cotta wallpaper in the kitchen, the rice paper on the walls of the living room, even the bead curtain in the kitchen window.  They put on a new roof and installed new windows.  They built an elaborate playhouse in the back yard for their kids.  They hosted a guacamole party for the neighborhood when the avocado tree was in fruit.

But it didn’t last.   After only a couple of years the wife found a fixer upper in north Los Altos that was even more of a challenge.  The house went up for sale again. It sold to another young couple with young children at roughly 1000 times its original cost.

It was the deep back yard.  The new owners came over to show us the plans for a new house on the lot. “We’ll have the family room and kitchen at the back, looking over the swimming pool.  The kids will be playing in the back; they won’t bother you.  In front there will be just a home office and bedrooms.  We want to use as much of the back yard as we can. We’ll plant trees in the front so the house won’t look so big.”

The change  makes me sad.  Sad to see the old house go. Sad that the new family plans to  be invisible in their back yard behind their two-stories plus basement.  Sad that there will be no eagle eye on the street, unless it’s mine.  My kitchen does face the corner.


Trust (Los Altos Town Crier, January 2014)

California Hillside Dec 2013


We trust that the sun will rise in the east, and that the day will be 24 hours long.

We trust that the earth will not shake under our feet, and that the ocean will stay in its place, rising and falling within its tidal bounds.  Sometimes this trust is betrayed – there is an earthquake, there is a tsumani.

In California, we trust that between April and November it is safe to plan a picnic or a camping trip or an outdoor wedding.  The weather will be fine.  Once in a while there is an untimely diversion of the jet stream, and we have you-tube videos of drenched brides and soggy wedding cake.

We trust that between November and March we will have rain.  Rain that replenishes the snow back in the Sierras, delighting skiers, snowboarders, owners of second homes at Tahoe and children of families who rent those homes for a weekend.  Rain that makes our hills in December look like sleeping giants under softly curving blankets of green, tempting us to send pictures eastward to rouse the envy of our snow-bound relatives.

Sometimes a resilient high pressure ridge deflects the rainclouds, and we have drought burning our hills into barren gray, and tempting our eastern relative to ask us if they should bring their own water if they come to visit.

We trust in government, to provide safe roads, safe airways, safe airports, safe city centers, safe food and drink, safe industrial practices, safe working conditions.  Sometimes this trust is betrayed, and we have government shutdowns, locked-down schools, grounded aircraft, epidemics of salmonella.

All of our decisions are based on trust.

We trust in colleages.  Sometimes our trust is betratyed – there are moles in the FBI, there are back-stabbers at the office, there are businesses that fail and paychecks that bounce.

We trust in fellow citizens to follow the rules of the road, to pay attention while driving, to get their children vaccinated, to stay home from work when they are ill.

We trust in neighbors to watch our homes, but not invade them.

We trust in family.  if I jump from the wall, Daddy will catch me.  If I hurt my knee, Mommy will make it better.  If I need a place to stay, my sister will welcome me. Sometimes our trust is betrayed.  There are abusive parents, bitter divorces, family feuds, estranged children.

We trust in friends.  A triumph can be shared.  A secret will go no further.  Sometimes our trust is betrayed. When that happens we feel anger, bitterness, resentment.  The foundations of our world are twisted.  We blame others for our pain.  We feel we can never expose ourselves to this kind of pain again.

But if we cannot trust, we cannot love.  We cannot laugh, or be child-like, or share any kind of intimacy.  A world without trust is a world without smiles, without community, where all the headlines are grim.

My New Year’s wish:  May you trust freely, and may your trust be well – earned.  And may it rain.

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