Noe Valley Voice October 2001

Florence's Family Album

By Florence Holub

As the deadline for my October column drew near, I began to panic. I feared I was developing writer's block, because for more than three weeks, not a single idea for a column bubbled up in my brain.

Small wonder, for my gray matter had been churning out bits and pieces, fragments of my life, for almost 20 years. Had it now run out of energy, or was my brain just taking an unauthorized vacation? Only time will answer that question!

Until I reached my 60s -- I'm 82 now -- I had no thought of becoming a writer. In fact, I'd devoted almost all of my energies to becoming an artist. My association with the Noe Valley Voice began in 1983, when I met co-publisher Jack Tipple at the Voice booth at the Noe Valley Street Fair. I asked Jack if he would be interested in my illustrations. He encouraged me to send them in, which I did.

Over the next several years, I submitted one or two sketches a month, mainly of Victorian houses in the neighborhood. And I was pleased that Jack and co-publisher Sally Smith decided to print many of them. But occasionally they chose not to use a drawing, because there was not enough space or it was not related to anything in the issue.

I was slightly disappointed, so I decided to submit a few words to accompany my illustrations-- as insurance. First, I drew and wrote about the squawking parakeets that came to feed on the fruit trees in our yard on 21st Street. Next, I described the nocturnal visitations of raccoons. A pair of doves that built a nest on a branch near our back window and reared their young in plain view inspired another short essay. It was then that I realized that I enjoyed the whole undertaking immensely!

In the fall of 1988, as children readied themselves for school, I recalled my own first day at school at Edison Primary School, then located at Church and 22nd streets (see below).

The editors at the Voice were especially interested in this early Noe Valley experience, and asked if I had any more of them. Of course I did, so I happily began churning them out. In the beginning of 1989, they gave me my own column head, titled "Florence's Family Album," which has appeared monthly for the past 12 years.

This writing and reminiscing has been a most stimulating and pleasurable pursuit, but it is now becoming rather difficult. One reason is that our social life has sped up considerably, while at the same time our physical condition has slowed down substantially, which makes me wonder how I can keep up.

Most importantly, I want these remaining years with my man Leo to be as tranquil, pleasant, and relaxing as possible. So, if our busy social calendar or my balky brain should prevent my regular column from going to press, I hope and trust that the editors will allow an occasional recycling of some of my vintage columns, at least until I reach my 20th year with the Noe Valley Voice. Thank you, dear reader, for your understanding.

Editor's Note: If you have a favorite column by Florence Holub, we'd love to hear from you. Write the Noe Valley Voice at 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114, or e-mail Meanwhile, here is one of Florence's first essays, reprinted from the October 1988 Voice.

Starting School, 1926

In a recent issue of the Voice, a photograph of the old Edison Elementary School at 22nd and Church streets brought back a fragment of my almost-forgotten childhood: my first day at school. My family had just moved into the lower flat of a building that still stands next to the piles of broken brick and concrete created to make way for the new Edison School. I remember the groaning sound of the 11-line streetcar as it turned the corner at 22nd Street, and the rapid clanging sound as it picked up speed in front of our house and headed for 24th.

We had recently moved from the flat, quiet, sparsely populated farmland of northern Idaho to San Francisco -- an exciting place, so richly peopled, so magical in comparison to our rural farm. Soon after we arrived, my father took us for a thrilling fast ride in our Model T Ford, up and over the Dolores Street hills. With each high, we three children in the back seat would fly up to the roof of the car and down again, squealing with the same joy we would later experience at the Chutes at Playland-at-the-Beach.

There were so many things for unworldly 6-year-olds to remember: "Look up and down the street before you cross," "Don't take candy from strangers" (even then), and especially "Come straight home." But the walk to and from school was full of distractions! Strange and beautiful flowers bloomed everywhere -- lush red geraniums that could only be grown in pots in wintry Idaho, a certain shrub with leaves that smelled like lemon when you crushed them, and a large bush of white, heavily scented, bugle-like flowers that can still be seen around Noe Valley.

I remember the long walk up the steep 22nd Street sidewalk steps that led to the sunny, expansive schoolyard, and the lower-level, first-grade room filled with unfamiliar, wide-eyed, and frightened 6-year-olds like myself. Although I have forgotten her name, I shall never forget my teacher's warm and friendly manner, and her encouragement to all of us. She taught the class to stand up, put our hands over our hearts, and solemnly repeat after her: "I pledge Elly Janz...." I thought my teacher knew just about everything. She even knew my friend Elly Janz back on a farm in Idaho.

Many years later, my son, who is now grown, attended the new Edison School on Chattanooga Street, where we as parents were able to observe and be grateful for those gentle and caring souls who decided to become primary school teachers. M