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Not even for a cable car ride

This story has been told before.

In February of 2014, to be exact, when The Legal Genealogist was in California for a different speaking engagement.1

But it’s a story that deserves to be told again, and it surely came to my mind yesterday as my host from the California Genealogical Society drove me around San Francisco and I was transported back to the days when my family lived, for few brief months, on the other side of this bridge that you see here.

Because there’s something about California…

My father was a chemical engineer for Shell Oil Company during much of my childhood and, shortly after I started second grade, he accepted a short term assignment that took us to California. We lived for those few months in the town of San Rafael, in Marin County, on the far side of this bridge.

I was six years old that year when my father accepted that temporary assignment, but I remember so much about it. My best and worst memories of California…

I remember that we rented a house high on a hill and I remember walking down about a kazillion steps on hillside sidewalks to get to the Short Elementary School… and I remember choosing to walk up the roads on the way back because it was easier than climbing all those steps.

I remember that it was winter much of the time when we were there, which means the rainy season. I remember keeping a change of clothes at school because, often as not, we’d arrive drenched to the skin.

I remember being taken out into the backyard to watch that newfangled miracle of miracles — a satellite passing overhead in the night sky.

I remember visits from my Uncle Bill, who was in the Navy. I remember he always brought us presents. I remember the huge dolls he brought us with articulating elbows and knees and wrists and ankles.

And I remember that my mother, for a short time during this temporary assignment, turned into a complete and utter raving lunatic.

There was something about California that made her decide, for heaven only knows what reason, that it was time my sister Diana and I learned to eat… liver.

Now as far as I’m concerned there is absolutely no redeeming social value to liver.

I am informed by my oldest brother that having one inside my body is good for me, and I’m willing to believe him: he’s got a medical degree and I don’t.

But on my plate? No. Nope nope nope won’t do it can’t make me.

And that, as I recall, is basically what both Diana and I told our mother when she decided we had to eat the liver.

First she tried bribery. If we would eat the liver, we could go for a ride on the San Francisco cable cars.

Hey, I’m six years old. I’ve lived six whole years without cable cars. I figure I’m good for at least another six without cable cars. I’m not taking bets on living til morning if I eat the liver.

Next she tried disguise. Yeah, sure. Considering the… um… how to put this delicately… stench that cooking liver makes, disguising it is not really going to work very well with a pair of grammar schoolers.

And then she put her foot down.

We would get nothing to eat, she decreed, until we ate the liver.

We held out for three days.

She gave in.

And that is beyond a doubt the worst memory I have of life in California. (Well, maybe the biting, pinching, hair-pulling brat of a cop’s kid who lived down the road would come in as a tie, but…)

What’s that? The best memory? Oh, yeah. That.

Well, some 20 or so years after we left California, I returned for a visit. I went to San Francisco. I rode the cable cars.

Now I know San Francisco. I know its diversity and its tolerance of the eccentric.

But I am also reasonably confident that there are still people who were there that day whose own memory is occasionally stirred. And I’m sure that they smile when they remember the nearly-six-foot-tall woman riding up and down the streets on the cable cars, grinning from ear to ear and screaming into the wind:

“And I didn’t eat any liver either.”

Nope nope nope won’t do it can’t make me.


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Something about California,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 1 Feb 2014 ( : accessed 23 Sep 2017).
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