Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the month “December, 2020”

Life in a Covid-19 Hot Spot – Week 37 – What’s the Point? (LATC 12/9/20)

Setting up for Thanksgiving was difficult this year.  I brought out my late mother-in-law’s harvest-red paisley tablecloth and the bin full of Thanksgiving cornucopias, fake fruit, and fold-out turkeys for decorating the table.  Since we didn’t need to put any leaves in the table, I had to fold the cloth under at both ends to keep it from dragging on the floor, and we only had room for one cornucopia and one turkey.  What’s the point of polishing the silver and setting out my grandmother’s crystal  candleholders if it’s just the two of us?

But the two of us are important.  I realized how thankful I was that I wasn’t eating Thanksgiving dinner alone.  I got out the silver and the candleholders.

The day after  Thanksgiving we usually start decorating for Christmas.   I dragged the artificial tree out of the attic and found the outdoor lights in a box behind them, buried under a year’s worth of odds and ends.  We have this light-stringing business down. The lights are put away in orderly coils labeled “Garage”, “Kitchen Window”, “Front Porch Swags”, “Porch Eaves”, “Living Room Window”.  The cup hooks which hold the strings are painted white to blend with our trim, so they become invisible out of season.  My husband has taken apart my garden shuffle hoe to devise a tool which enables him to lift the strings onto the cup hooks with minimal trips up and down a ladder. This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20201211_164842web.jpg

As we arranged five over-size  lights on the lemon tree in front of our picture window, I mentioned “The only trouble with these big lights is that they block the view of our tree inside from anyone passing by. “

“We don’t do it for the neighbors, we do it for us,” he answered.

Just then our neighbor, who happens to be Jewish, walked by.  “Putting your lights up again!” she called out.  “It always lifts my spirits when I see your lights go up each year!”

“Mine too!” I called back, trying hard not to smirk at my husband.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20181220_170501web-1.jpgThe lights and the tree are for us, but they are also for others.  At least a few times a week during the holiday season I know we will be driving around different neighborhoods looking at holiday light displays. And each  display tells us something. Whether  it is the flickering candles of Dewali,  blue and white lights surrounding a menorah, old-fashioned multi-colored incandescents strung along the eaves, dazzling LED displays zigzagging up and down the tree branches, or even Darth Vader and Yoda wearing Santa hats and battling with red and green light sabers,  someone in this house is reaching out to let us know a little bit about who they are.

In this difficult time of separation, custom and tradition are comforting.  So we will put up our Christmas tree, even though  our four- year- old granddaughter can’t come to help  us decorate it.  I’m hoping someone else’s granddaughter might walk past and see our tree, and that it will make her smile. 

A Piece of My Mind: Post Election Reflections (Los Altos Town Crier 11/25/20)

When I first moved here Los Altos was a group of up-scale housing tracts thrown up in the midst of vast apricot orchards, each home a one-story ranch house boasting a gabled roof, two car garage, and a remnant apricot tree or two.  The front yards were set off with split-rail fences covered with fence roses or English ivy, and had velvety green lawns suitable for setting up croquet hoops or badminton nets.

The apricot trees have died off, the one-story ranchers are being scraped one by one in favor of two-story mock-Tudors or mock-Mission or mock-modern homes with an extra garage for an RV, and the lawns are being replaced with drought-tolerant landscaping.  Things have changed.

When I first moved here, Los Altos Hills was a scattering of older farm houses and former summer cottages, with large lots suitable for corralling a horse.  Equestrian trails bordered the two-lane roads or cut between houses on recognized rights-of-way.  Children rode school buses across the railroad tracks to schools in the flatlands.

The farm houses are being replaced one by one with mansions which fill the large lots up to the setback requirements.  The horse corrals have morphed into vanity vineyards.   The equestrian trail I rode on lea has been replaced by an eight-lane freeway, the railroad tracks are overlain by a four-lane expressway, and there are no school buses.   Things have changed.

Los Altos and Los Altos Hills were designed as white-collar bedroom communities, designed to provide shelter for families whose bread-winners were working locally (almost all my teachers lived in Los Altos within a short distance of the schools) or in nearby businesses spun off from Stanford (e.g. Varian)  or related to the military  (e.g. Lockheed).

It was assumed, if anyone thought about it, that our gardeners and gas station attendants would be living in blue-collar communities such as Mountain View or Redwood City or East Palo Alto.  In four years of my high school education there was only one black student at Los Altos High School, and she was a senior who graduates the year I entered as a freshman.  A quick run-down of last names in my graduating class shows, out of 500, only two Mexican surnames, four Japanese surnames, and zero Chinese surnames.  It was understood that El Camino Real, which divided attendance at Los Altos HS from MV HS, was also the dividing line between white-collar and blue-collar families. There was no thought  that a city zoned mostly for single family housing with off-street parking was exclusionary or practicing systemic racism.  Things have changed.

We can’t turn back the clock.  There’s no use in wallowing in nostalgia for a suburbia that no longer exists.  Things have changed.  Let’s do our best to deal with it.

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