Noe Valley Voice November 1998

Some Unfinished Business

By Florence Holub

Upon reading last month's Voice hot off the presses, my man Leo spotted an error in the second paragraph of my column. He stated with authority that we had moved into our house on 21st Street in 1956, not in 1942 as I'd reported.

That is true. The Fisher family, who had built our house after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, was still living there in 1942.

I wracked my brain trying to come up with a reason for my mental lapse. After some thought, I pieced together a sequence of events that may have led to the error:

Prior to publication, one of the Voice editors called me to ask how long we had lived in our house. Having a poor memory for numbers, I called out to my always reliable husband for the answer. He promptly supplied the correct number, 42, which I relayed back into the phone. This was taken to mean the year 1942, rather than the number of years, 42, that we have lived here.

I should have caught the error on proofing day, but as I glanced over the copy, everything looked fine to me.

After the Voice came out, I felt foolish remembering how, in 1942, we lived not here on 21st Street, but in a valley west of Glen Park that the inhabitants had dubbed (for good reason) "Pneumonia Gulch."

Our first son, Michael, was born there. But at 3 years of age, he came down with a dangerous case of lung inflammation, so as soon as he recovered, we moved to the warmer climes of Walnut Creek and Grass Valley for several years. Michael survived the illness and led a normal, happy childhood. But his life ended at age 25.

Michael would have been 56 years old on Nov. 25 of this year. In his memory we have planted a tree on the beautifully landscaped easement on Sanchez Street near the corner of 21st Street. An Australian evergreen with the Aborigine name of Lilli-pilli, the tree bears small white blossoms that grow into lush pinkish-lavender berries. It is 5 feet tall at present, but will grow even larger. (Look for the second tree from the left, in the top row of plants.)

Speaking of plants, a few readers have asked me for the name of the aggressive ivy I mentioned last month-- the one that was threatening to topple the fence in our back yard. I did not know its name at the time (even though my editors asked me for that too!), but I have since met a knowledgeable young horticulturist who provided the information: The persistent creeper is called Algerian Ivy. It has thick, leathery leaves and grows like wildfire. To get rid of it (or any other invasive vegetation), the horticulturist recommended a product called Roundup, which Leo and I may have to resort to if our summer pruning failed to halt the invasion.

People also often ask me about the friendly slug whose travels I documented in my October 1995 and September 1996 columns. (My articles always seem to get sluggish in the fall!)

Leo and I first noticed our mysterious caller in the summer of '95, via the intricate silvery patterns he (or she) was leaving on our brown synthetic rug. Then one night I spotted something moving at my feet: a 3-inch-long slug.

The little fellow had extravagantly embellished the spot where our family dog Freddie had expired. So, not wanting to rule out the possibility of reincarnation, we named him Freddie too.

One night Leo came down in the dark for a drink of water. As he neared the edge of the rug, he felt something soft under his bare foot. He knew what it was, so he turned on the light to inspect the damage, and was relieved to find Freddie alive and moving.

Freddie had a set route from the back door, across the rug, to below the counter where Leo sprinkled Nestle's Quik into his morning coffee. Undoubtedly some of the chocolate powder, enough to satisfy the sweet tooth of a slug, had drifted down to the rug.

Freddie's nocturnal visits and silvery designs continued for about a year. We eagerly anticipated them, and actually became fond of reading his hieroglyphics. Then suddenly the paths of silver stopped, and after a year had passed without a trace of our little friend, we assumed he'd met his demise.

Then sometime last spring, the silvery strands began to appear on the brown rug again each night. They looked similar to Freddie's, but we wanted to make sure. So one night I tiptoed down the stairs, switched on the light, and there he was in midjourney from the back door to his "Quik claim." When the bright light flashed on, he reversed his direction and headed back to the door whence he came.

Leo saw him a few nights later and agreed that he looked like the original slug in size and color. We gave him the benefit of the doubt, and accepted him as the real thing -- our family slug.

During this period we noticed that the rug area facing the back door was showing wear, so we turned it over. A wise decision for us, but a potential disaster for our pet. The move caused Freddie to conduct a frantic search for familiar landmarks. Judging from the silvery explosions all over the rug, he was fast spinning out of control.

For several nights Freddie beat a path to the living room as never before. One morning his tracks went up and down the sides of four 2-foot-square cushions leaning against the wall.

Then finally the poor creature seemed to get his sense of direction back. Still, we had to tread carefully whenever we entered a darkened room, for fear of flattening him forever.

When I padded into the hall downstairs early one morning this past September, it was so dark I had to hug the walls until I reached the light switch. When I turned on the light, there he was, very close to being trampled. To prevent this, I scooped him up on a piece of paper and deposited him outside the door. When he refused to let go, I shoved him off.

Maybe he was shocked at my rude treatment. Or perhaps he was just miffed about not getting his quota of Quik. In any case, two weeks went by and no sign of Freddie.

Now Leo and I have started to think we've seen the last of him. We have also discovered how nice and carefree it feels to walk around on our rug without having to tiptoe or look down constantly.

We've even decided to fill in the space under the back door, to prevent any more small uninvited visitors from entering our family circle.

I hope that answers your questions.

And now I would like to ask one myself: If Freddie does come back, would anyone out there like a nice housebroken slug for a pet?