Noe Valley Voice July-August 2001

Florence's Family Album: Sixty Years

By Florence Holub

My man Leo and I proudly announce that on July 3, 2001, we will have reached our 60th year as husband and wife. So I'd like to pay tribute to our marriage in this column. But how on earth can I describe our many active and productive years together?

With pictures! As you know, a picture is worth a thousand words, and my mate happens to be a prize-winning photographer. (When I rummaged through our box of prints, however, it became clear that the person behind the camera rarely gets in the picture. So, most of the shots on this page have been taken by others.)

But I suppose a few words are in order. Let's see, how did our paths cross?

We first met in the late 1930s, while we both were attending art school. At the age of 19, I had decided to be an "old maid," and to spend my life working on my art rather than on housework and cooking. However, meeting Leo changed my entire outlook. I thought Leo was the most talented artist around. Perhaps we could pursue our love of art together.

Our relationship began to get serious during the summer of 1939, when the Golden Gate International Exposition brought the world's cultural and artistic wealth to San Francisco. The fair at Treasure Island was magical, and we often ferried across the bay to see the sights. One of the street photographers snapped our picture as we strolled the fairgrounds (#1), so we bought the print for a dollar. This turned out to be a very good investment, since Leo did not have his own camera yet.

Before long, it became apparent that we were extremely compatible. We shared similar interests and opinions -- and above all, a sense of humor -- so we decided to marry at the Ebenezer Lutheran Church, then located at 16th and Dolores streets. Our official marriage photograph (#2), by Tatsuo Ishimoto, was taken a few days after the July 3, 1941, wedding, and Leo had already returned his tuxedo. I created my own wedding gown -- without a long train or veil, to make sure I didn't trip.

We spent our first year together living in the cottage behind a house on a street named Mars (a good omen in retrospect). We both worked as artists, until the attack on Pearl Harbor, which suddenly thrust America into World War II. The war effort needed skilled workers, and Leo had experience as a machinist and had worked in the gold mines of Grass Valley. So he went to work at the Naval shipyard, first up in Vallejo, then later at Hunters Point.

When we were expecting our first child, we moved to the top floor of my widowed father's home in the Sunnyside District. At this time, Leo purchased his first camera, to make a record of the little being that we had created. As my Voice readers know, he has been clicking ever since.

Our children have certainly been well documented. Michael was born in 1942; our next son, Jan, three years after that, and Eric came along 10 years later, in 1955. By that time, we were living in a cottage behind my father's paint store on Mission Street near 30th. I managed the store, which was ideal for me because I could take care of my father's business and my family at the same time.

With the birth of number three son Eric, I retired from the paint business, because I knew that caring for an infant was a full-time job. Like his older brothers, Eric was a healthy, lively specimen, and we all lavished attention on him, as you can see in photo #3, by Leo. Soon, though, we found the four-room cottage too small for the five of us.

About a year later, we happened to see a brown-shingled house with a "For Sale" sign, high atop a Noe Valley hill. With six rooms, the house was just what we needed, so in 1955 we bought it, for $7,600. Besides its spaciousness, the house's main attraction was a panoramic view of the downtown skyline. It also had a backyard that was as lush with greenery as the country.

Small wonder we have lived in harmony in this comfortable old house on 21st Street for over 45 years. Our sons, all fine young men, grew up and left home to find their places in the world. We missed them, naturally, but we had our interest in the arts to fill in the empty spaces.

We celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary in 1991 with a party at the Noe Valley Ministry. Leo's photographs were hung on one wall and my paintings and drawings were exhibited on the other. I am so grateful that my cousin Barbara Johnson photographed the affair (#4). It was great fun, with food and drink and several hundred people attending. A few friends have asked us when we are going to do it again -- but that was supposed to be our grand finale! Besides, Leo says it's too soon to have another party. We'll have one on our 75th.

Since Leo and I are now both in our 80s, we usually go to bed by sundown. For this reason, we often let our neighbor Wendy park in our driveway whenever she can't find curb space on the block. If we happen to be out for the evening, I tie a red ribbon around her flower urn to warn her. But lately, life has been very busy for us, with parties and art openings and other comings and goings, so I've used the red ribbon a lot. Wendy even asked what had gotten into us, since we'd been gadding about almost every other night.

What's the secret of our thriving relationship? I'll have to say first: We still share a love of art -- and laughter. But more importantly, we try to accept our differences. As John Gray said in the title of his book, men are from Mars (and women are from Venus). And creatures from different planets don't always make sense to one another.

At a party we attended recently, a little boy asked us if we'd ever had fights or wanted to get a divorce. I told him that there'd been times I was so angry I thought of strangling Leo, but I'd always resisted the urge to leave. "Strangling yes, divorce no," Leo agreed.

Also, we were like most couples of our generation. When we got married, we made a commitment to stay through thick and thin. "The first 50 years are the hardest," Leo advised our young friend.

We also must credit some of our longevity to our lovely neighborhood. We've been fortunate to live in a house on a hill above delightful Noe Valley. And we thank you, dear friends and neighbors, for helping to create this pretty picture!

The most recent photo of us (#5) was taken by Phillip Kirkeby in early 2001. M