Noe Valley Voice October 2008

Eureka! San Francisco 1954

An excerpt from The Skye in June, a novel by June Ahern

After their long plane journey, the MacDonald family restlessly awaited Sandy Jordon's arrival to drive them to their new home in San Francisco.

"He'll be here soon," Jimmy told his exhausted family after he hung up the phone. The journey from Scotland had taken almost 24 hours.

Slumped down on a large, battered suitcase, Annie and Mary leaned against each other and discussed what kind of candy they'd find in San Francisco.

"I'm going to get a whole bag of that Bazooka bubble gum," Mary said, nodding with finality.

Maggie sat with June on the sidewalk with a pad of paper and crayons strewn across a suitcase. June chose the crayons and instructed her older sister on which colors to use on each figure in the imaginary family they were drawing.

Jimmy snuck a sideways glance at Cathy, his wife. Her face was drawn and pale.

An hour after they arrived, a big blue car drove up to the curb in front of where the MacDonalds waited. Sandy jumped out.

"Hello!" he grinned with outstretched arms.

Elated to see him, everyone jumped up to greet their host.

Jimmy grabbed his friend's hand. "Oh, man, is it good to see you."

"It's a bloody long trip, isn't it?" Sandy asked.

The family muttered an agreement. They were more intent on getting the luggage into the car and getting on their way than in having a conversation.

"Here, give me those bags." Sandy opened a large, empty trunk at the back of his car.

Cathy hurriedly helped the girls put their small carryon bags into the car's trunk. "Goodness sakes!" she exclaimed. "Look at the size of this boot. It's big enough to house a bunch of tinkers."

"Everything's big in America," said Sandy with his infectious jolly laugh. Soon the mood of the tired travelers lightened.

"Well, it's lovely." She handed him the last of the smaller bags.

"It's a Chevrolet Bel Air," he beamed.

Mary brought over a bag. "Mr. Jordon, can I put this in?" she asked.

"Call me Uncle Sandy."

"Are you my uncle?" she asked curiously.

"I am now. We're each other's family here."

She looked intently, studying him. "Are you a Catholic?"

"Of course. I'm your daddy's friend. Why wouldn't I be a Catholic?"

"Will we have a Granda here too?" Mary asked.

"We've already got a Granda and a Granny," said Annie as she heaved a heavy bag into the trunk, not waiting for Sandy to help.

"Mammy, will Granda B come here to live with us?" Mary wanted her mother to confirm the new situation with their new relatives in America.

"We're too far away for them to come. We'll never see them again," said Maggie.

Mary frowned at her sister's remark. "Liar. That's not true, is it, Mammy?"

With her head deep in the trunk of the car, Cathy paid no heed to the girls' voices as she looked through a suitcase for some cardigans. Even with the sun shining, the weather in California was colder than she'd thought it would be.

"Aye, it's true. We'll never see them," said June, sitting on the car's bumper, swinging her legs back and forth.

Cathy heard June's words. Her face paled, tears gushed forth, and, although she cupped over her mouth, sobs broke through her lips. Jimmy rushed past the girls to help Cathy into the back of the car.

"Girls, get in the car," Jimmy ordered.

Sulking, Mary did as told. June followed her. Maggie moved aside, and with an exaggerated bow, waved Annie into the car. "You first, Queen Anne."

The men got into the front seat.

Sandy revved up the engine and then let the roar calm down to a purr. The men nodded their approval of the sound. He started the car and drove towards San Francisco.

The girls settled into the back seat with their mother. Cathy turned her head to look out the window. Soon she and the three oldest girls were lulled to sleep by the car's hum.

Too excited to doze off herself, June stood up and put her elbows on the front seat and listened to the men.

Sandy said he had just bought a new house in a part of San Francisco called the Sunset. "It's got three bedrooms and two bathrooms."

"Two bathrooms? What do you need that for?" June's father asked jokingly. "There's only the three of you."

"You'll have a house in no time. And I know a man who's selling a car. I'll fix you up with him. It's great here in America."

Sandy told Jimmy that in America football was played differently, and that the Americans called Scottish football soccer. For a Glaswegian man, soccer was a passionate subject. Arguments about the two rival teams, the Protestant Rangers and the Catholic Celtics, could easily lead to fistfights. Sandy said there were many football teams in the States and that religion wasn't associated with them. He went on to say that American football was reserved for "pansies" that needed gear. "They're afraid they'll get hurt, poor, wee lassies."

June enjoyed herself, looking at all the new scenery passing by. The humming of the car and deep laughter of the men finally lulled June to sleep, with her head resting on the front seat. When the car stopped, the girls woke up and rubbed the sleep from their eyes. Outside, they saw a parade of cars following a bus.

Jimmy opened a door and said happily, "We're here."

Eagerly, the girls scrambled from the car to stand in front of a three-story building. Their mother jumped awake at the sound of the girls' chattering and stumbled out of the car. Surprised by a car whizzing past, she flattened herself against Sandy's Chevrolet, watching the stream of traffic rushing past.

"It's an awfully busy street," said Cathy. Not that it bothered her, since the MacDonalds had lived on the Dumbarton Road thoroughfare, in Glasgow. But she had envisioned that they'd live on a wide street with palatial houses and gardens like in the movie Meet Me in St. Louis. Lining both sides of this busy street were tall apartment buildings with stores underneath. Nothing like the buildings the films had shown.

"It's a main street. Called Market," said Sandy as a streetcar rattled past.

Jimmy said, "See up there? That's our home." The couple leaned their heads back and looked up the tall building to the top windows.

"It's clean and affordable," Sandy said as he unlocked the front door of the building.

With arms full of suitcases, the men disappeared into the building. The rest of the group followed them.

Inside, June saw a steep wooden staircase. Annie beat her sisters up the stairs and shouted back, "There's thirty steps!"

The girls ran around the flat in excitement. Their feet banged loudly on the bare wood floors as they hastily explored the rooms. The kitchen was smaller than the one in Scotland, and didn't have an alcove bed for their parents. They ran back down the hall to their bedroom to begin unpacking. June drifted out of the room. In the living room, she found Cathy standing still in the light of the sun shining through the tall bay windows. Slowly she crept into the room to stand with her mother. Leaning against her, June put her arms around her mother's legs.

"So this is San Francisco," Cathy whispered in awe at the view. She had heard that San Francisco was one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Never had she dreamed that one day she would make it her home. Above the rooftops of the tall buildings were two rolling hills alongside each other. Just peeking over the top of them came a low fog moving towards her at a snail's pace.

"They're called Twin Peaks," said Sandy, interrupting Cathy's visual meditation.

He came up behind Cathy and June and pointed to the two hills. "My house is beyond them, over by the ocean. It's about three or so miles from here," he explained. "It's wonderful to be able to walk down to the beach. You know we Scots need to be by the sea. But funny thing is, I still think of Scotland as home. You know what I mean?"

June glanced at Sandy and saw a faraway look in his eyes. Then she thought she heard her mother say, "Will I still think of Scotland as home in years to come?" But when she looked up, her mother's lips were closed in a small sad smile. The three stayed looking out the windows in silence. Jimmy came in to join them, watching the fog continue its slow roll down the peaks, spreading across rooftops like a plush carpet. Soon it would cover the entire Eureka Valley, the area of San Francisco the MacDonalds now called home.

About the Author

Born in Scotland in 1950, June Ahern was 6 years old when her family traveled to San Francisco to start a new life. Just like the protagonists in her novel The Skye in June--published in April by Amazon's BookSurge Publishing--Ahern and her parents and siblings stayed in a tall building on Market Street and then moved to a house on Liberty Street in Eureka Valley. "I went to Catholic school at Most Holy Redeemer. I went to James Lick from 1964 to '65. Then I went to Mission High," says Ahern. (She also lived on 26th Street in Noe Valley for five years in the 1970s.)

The schools, the houses, and other features of 1950s San Francisco gave Ahern the setting for Skye in June. However, the story is fictional. "The plot is a mystery, as well as a coming-of-age story," she points out.

Ahern, 58--who now resides in Bernal Heights, with her husband Jerry Briesach and son Daniel Ahern--considers Skye her first real book, but she has also self-published a how-to guide: Professional Psychic Reading/Alternative Counseling (1990).

When not writing, Ahern works as a life coach and private counselor--a career she's had for the past 11 years. You might have seen her at a "teacup reading" at Lovejoy's Tea Room on Church Street. "When they have special gatherings there, I read the leaves in teacups." These days, she is busy doing book parties and working on a sequel to Skye.

She says her various audiences, which have included family members in Noe Valley (her mother still lives on Church Street), have responded enthusiastically.

"People tell me how much they love learning the Scottish words and about the culture. They also like reading about the city's history. They say, 'It's so cool to see what Eureka Valley was like back then.'"

Copies are available at Phoenix Books and Lovejoy's Attic, or from Ahern at Ahern will give a reading, hosted by sister Teresa Donnelly, at Danu Salon, 1304A Castro Street, on Sunday, Nov. 16, from 1 to 3 p.m.

The Noe Valley Voice invites you to submit fiction, literary nonfiction, or poetry for publication on the Last Page. Please mail manuscripts, which should be no more than 1,500 words, to the Noe Valley Voice, 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114. Or e-mail Please include your name, address, and phone number, and an SASE if you want your manuscript returned. We look forward to hearing from you.