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October 11, 2005 > Memories of Irvington, California 1937-1954

Memories of Irvington, California 1937-1954

by Jackie Kearns

My grandmother, Annie Teresa Lyon Copeland, was born in the Lyon family home where St. Leonard's Catholic Church now stands. Copeland lane opened onto what was in the 1930's, Highway 17. The Lyon property had a 4 bedroom, 1 bath, 2-story house with a wide front porch facing Highway 17 and a screened back porch. There was a large barn with a hay mow, a carpenter shed with room for a car, a well-boring rig and an all-purpose wagon.

The town was not more than a 5 minute bicycle ride from the end of the lane. Approaching from the northwest, I rode past Hirsch's store on my right, a bank on the left, a funeral parlor, and a gas station. On the left just at the monument were Pond's Drug Store and other businesses. I remember going to San Jose and Santa Clara on the road leading south from the monument. It was white with an opaque ball which lit up at night. No other town I knew had such an important and powerful monument.

Visits to my grandparents were frequent and I became friends with Mrs. Hirsch and Mr. Pond. My grandfather, Frank Copeland, farmed tomatoes and was a tax assessor/collector for southern Alameda County. I often accompanied him when he visited farms and dairies.

In war time, Irvington was blacked out like everywhere else in the Bay Area. To look out and not see lights on Highway 17 or from the monument was strange. Pond's Drug Store had over-the-counter drugs as well as prescription medicine, newspapers, candy and room to visit. I remember the post boxes inside as green. During WW II, my uncle, Raymond Copeland, and my father, Charles Kearns, and at least 3 cousins were serving overseas and mail was very important.

When my grandmother became ill, my mother, Velma Copeland Kearns, brought my younger sister and me to Irvington, while she cared for my grandmother. Because of gas rationing, doing errands and shopping became a 9 year-old's chore on my bike. Traffic was minimal. The bus between San Jose and Oakland came round the monument twice a day, very slowly, and the driver and I waved. Parking was quite informal on the side of the road and was only a problem when there was a funeral because the big doors of the funeral parlor opened right onto the road at the monument. Bikes were leaned against the outside of whatever building where business was being done. The bank was intimidating. It had yellow flooring and counters I could not see over.

The doctor came daily to the house for my grandmother. There was no hospital but he sent a nurse to teach my mother and me how to turn my grandmother and care for her. During the year we were there, my sister had scarlet fever so we were quarantined except for me. I ran all errands on that famous bike.

People in Irvington worried about my grandmother and brought canned fruit, cheese, and cakes. She had taught many of them and their children. During the time I lived in Irvington, we ate better than at home because there were chickens, a cow, a small vineyard, fig, peach, apricot, quince, orange, lemon, almond and walnut trees, and a vegetable garden. The fig trees stand out-mission and white-huge, and planted by my great grandfather Lyon when he settled there in the 1850's.

Irvington had few trees near the monument, but there were huge eucalyptus trees along both sides of Highway 17 between Irvington and Centerville. Flowers grew easily. Jasmine and hydrangeas seemed to drown my grandparents' home. There were cactus plants and roses in the part of the garden where the orange and lemon trees were, a strange mixture.

Church on Sunday, rare trips to San Jose, visits to my grandparents' friends in Niles, Newark, and Centerville and our Irvington neighbors, were our outings.

My grandfather played the fiddle by ear, hearing a melody once and "having it." The radio was a source of entertainment and terror during the war, because of the news. The big Copeland reunions were replaced by funerals during the war.

In the Spring of 1945, we moved my grandparents to our home. Irvington became an 11 year-old's memory. The last time I visited the Irvington of my childhood was for my grandfather's funeral in 1954. The funeral home was gone but that 5-pointed intersection was still there with its monument, a spot from which one could get anywhere.

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