Noe Valley Voice March 2008

Florence's Family Album: Many Happy Returns

Reminiscences by Florence Holub

Editor's Note: In this essay reprised from March 1995, Florence Holub describes a perfect birthday in the neighborhood.

Birthdays are to most people a cause for great celebration, but in our family we have always paid as little attention to them as possible. We were usually preoccupied with more pressing matters, such as earning a living or getting the ironing done!

We did make an attempt to satisfy our children's desires when they were young, but since we rarely had a surplus of funds, they did not become accustomed to receiving extravagant gifts from their parents.

Now that our nestlings have flown the coop, we spare ourselves the pressure of gift selection by presenting each of them with green stuffing for their wallets--enclosed in a handmade card that expresses our continuing affection.

When it comes to each other, Leo and I simply ignore the "present bit." Instead, we go out to dinner at one of Noe Valley's excellent restaurants. If either of us feels the need for a gift, we buy it ourselves.

I did just that on January 25, 1995, my 76th birthday. My old watch stopped after being doused in the dishwasher one too many times, so I went to Thrifty Drugs on 24th Street [replaced by Rite Aid in 1996] and bought a Timex. I got one with dial numbers large enough for my farsighted eyes to read. If my nearsighted husband had purchased it, the figures would have been elegantly formed but too miniscule for me to appreciate or even see!

My birthday began with a sunny break in the winter rains and a vigorous bear hug from Leo. We were hardly awake when the telephone started ringing with good wishes, first from an old friend now living in the Netherlands, then from our son Jan, who lives in Grass Valley, California, and finally from our son Eric, who lives at the southern edge of Noe Valley.

That would have been enough to make my day, but there was more. Our delightful young neighbors from across the street, Angus and Mariann Pera, soon appeared at our front door, holding a huge bouquet of chrysanthemums, Peruvian lilies, carnations, and other dazzling flowers.

Their thoughtful act inspired me to sit down immediately with my brushes and watercolors, hoping to capture the pristine beauty of each complicated form.

I sat happily focused upon the subject before me, attempting to render a faithful depiction, and forgetting about everything else, even lunch, until the mailman arrived with a batch of birthday cards.

Some cards offered heartwarming words of affection, but most were humorous.

One, featuring a teeth-gritting sour old soul, said aptly, "Grin and bear it!" Another divulged that the only sure way to stay young was to lie! A third card instructed me to "keep your chins up!"

Later in the day, Leo offered to take me out to dinner if I'd put down my brushes. It was an offer I couldn't refuse, so off we went searching for a place that didn't close in the middle of the afternoon. We found one, Eric's Chinese Restaurant, at the corner of Church and 27th streets. And we lucked into a parking space just a few steps away.

As we entered a little after 4 p.m., the waitress was adjusting a red carpet in the doorway. (It was actually a rain mat, but no matter, it exemplified the enchanted quality of the day.)

At that hour, we didn't have to wait for a table, had our choice of seating, and received impeccable service.

First we had appetizers accompanied by Tsingtao beer. Then our tasty entrees arrived: Beef with Snow Peas and Eric's Spicy Eggplant, a heavenly dish that has chicken and shrimp along with red peppers and eggplant. Lastly, we were served tea and fortune cookies.

We drove home over streets washed clean by the rains, past old Victorians nestled between more modern structures. Plum trees were just beginning to sprout pink blossoms. I could not help but ponder our good fortune to be living in this unique, harmonious neighborhood--which even votes correctly!

I arrived at my hilltop home just like my fortune cookie predicted: "Very soon and in good company."

Since then the beautiful flowers have wilted and their colors faded. Thus, my painting has begun to look much better. That is most appropriate, for it will serve as a reminder of a completely happy birthday!

Florence Holub celebrated her 89th birthday with husband Leo in their hilltop home on 21st Street.