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This 'n' That
By Laura McHale Holland
In the long days of June, Noe Valley is a microcosm of life's mysterious wonders and mundane chores. Doves coo on deck rails, mosquito fish dart swiftly in silent backyard ponds, and we denizens are hauling more colors and sizes of garbage cans than we ever imagined possible. Couples of all stripes jog together, zigzagging in chilly fog past vibrant poppies and lobelia, bustling coffee shops, dog walkers, and parents pushing baby strollers.
Eureka Street resident Kirsten Patel has just mastered the art of walking her basset hound through the 24th Street melange while also pushing a double stroller. No small accomplishment for this mother of 8-month-old twin girls Macy and Avery, born just a minute apart at 12:46 and 12:47 p.m. on Aug. 27, 2002, at California Pacific Medical Center.
Kirsten found out she was carrying twins at her first prenatal appointment, which also happened to be her 31st birthday. "I remember the doctor was doing the Ultrasound, and she said, 'Oh, that's interesting,'" recalls Kirsten. "I said, 'What?' And she said, 'There's one--and there's the other.' I was shocked."
She and her husband Jeetio were surprised again when they brought their girls home. "When I was pregnant, I thought, 'How hard can it be?' Then they were born and I found it can be really hard. They were so little [at birth, Macy was 5 pounds, 11 ounces, and Avery was just 5 pounds] they had to be fed every three hours around the clock, and I wasn't prepared for the sleep deprivation," Kirsten says. "I know my husband wasn't prepared for how much work it was going to be. It's different for a twin dad. Dads of 'singletons' are involved, but twin dads have to jump right in. There are two babies crying, and two people, so Jeetio has done a lot, especially in the beginning."
One problem the Patels will never have is telling the girls apart. They are fraternal twins. Macy, the eldest, has her father's raven hair and dark complexion, while Avery is fair with a round face and button nose. The girls also have different approaches to making friends. "They are both very social. They like to meet new people and new babies, but Macy's just quicker to relax and laugh. Avery's a little more leery. It takes her a little while to get used to people. She's a little more of a momma's girl," observes Kirsten.
Kirsten stays at home with the girls while Jeetio works as a stock analyst. Someday, when her girls are in school, Kirsten envisions opening a kitchen store on 24th Street and selling cookbooks and assorted utensils to her neighbors. But for now, caring for the twins is fulfilling enough. "Watching them turn from these helpless little infants into babies that smile and play has given me a new sense of myself. I never knew I had it in me to take care of two other people. I'm kind of proud of myself for getting this far," she says.
Mary O'Rourke didn't raise twins, but she and her husband Frank raised seven children in the home on 29th Street where Frank grew up. All seven attended school down the hill at St. Paul's, just like their dad did. On the 21st of this month, the O'Rourkes will be celebrating their 51st wedding anniversary. Their children, who range in age from 50 to 39, all live in the Bay Area and will be on hand to celebrate the occasion. So will nine of their 10 grandchildren.
"We have one little angel, and that's our little Brendan, who was less than two pounds when he was born in 1982," recalls Mary. "He had several blood transfusions and got the AIDS virus, and so he died in 1990. But when the pope came to San Francisco, Brendan jumped into his arms and received a special blessing. He also received his first holy communion from Pope John Paul in Rome. So he's my little angel. He guides me when I get in trouble."
In 1979, Frank retired from the San Francisco Fire Department after 31 years of service. The next year, faced with an empty nest, Mary flew back to school and then got a job in medical transcription. She retired from the medical records department in Kaiser's South San Francisco branch in 1997.
"Looking back, you can't believe where the time goes, but we had a lot of good times, and we enjoyed the happy moments, and you don't dwell on any negatives, you just go forth," Mary reflects.
When asked what advice she had for young couples just starting out, Mary said she'd like to confer with Frank. She called back just as she and Frank were heading out the door to do volunteer work at Kaiser San Francisco. This is what they wished to convey: "[Couples should] love and respect one another, and work together. Always talk things out, and don't make hasty decisions."
A bit of timeless wisdom, that. But there's no room for timelessness in the universe of Dorian Clair, proprietor of Dorian Clair Clock Repair on Sanchez Street for over 16 years. One of the more interesting jobs Clair has done lately is the restoration of the clock on the San Francisco Ferry Building. He's made it so it can run either by electricity or by pendulum. The historic clock is the largest weight-driven pendulum-controlled clock in the U.S. Its hands are directly hooked to the movement, and the iron dials are only about six inches smaller than the ones on Big Ben in London. This jewel of a timepiece was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Clair was brought on board in the fall of 2001 to repair it.
"It's sort of the ultimate clock to get to work on in the United States. The movement was new in 1898, when the building was built. It was run by a 900-pound weight that falls 48 feet in eight days. The pendulum probably weighs 150 pounds and is 14 feet long. The clock was last actually wound in 1940. It's been electrically run ever since," notes Clair. "I was told that anything not actually being used when the restoration was complete was to be discarded. The clock movement was not actually being used, so I modified the way it's electrified so that the entire clock is being used, and therefore will not be disposed of."
But even though it's been ready to run since the end of January 2002, the clock is still not ticking. "They did have legitimate reasons not to run it [during the Ferry Building's $90 million renovation, completed in March] because there was lots of dust from concrete and sheetrock in the air, but since that's over with, I don't know why they don't run it. It's weird. Lots of people have phoned and asked, 'Haven't you finished the clock?' And I say, I finished the clock a long time ago. It's really a treasure, just nobody knows about it," Clair opines.
At least Clair has a very large souvenir in his shop: one set of the clock's original iron hands. Another set is on display at the Ferry Building.
(P.S. In the last days of May, the clock was still quiet as a doormouse, but a call to the mayor's office yielded a promise that the hands would start turning "definitely in late June.")
A Salvadoran poet who is revered in her homeland but virtually unknown here is Claudia Lars. She lived from 1899 to 1974, and her work, which consists of 14 books of poetry and a memoir, is required reading for schoolchildren in El Salvador. Her granddaughter, Florence Beers Araujo, is working to bring a wider audience to the work. She translated Lars' Land of Childhood from Spanish to English, and published the book through iUniverse, a "print-on-demand" Internet publisher.
"It is a memoir, and it basically is a tribute to the land and to the people of El Salvador, which enriched her childhood and later inspired many of her literary triumphs," says Araujo.
A professor of Spanish at Northern Arizona University recently asked Araujo what method she used to translate the book. The Jersey Street resident, who is herself a native of El Salvador, responded that she didn't use any method. She just imagined that her grandmother was looking over her shoulder and tried to be true to her voice. Once the project was completed, however, she found the publishing process to be daunting.
"Because my grandmother was such a big name in Latin America, I thought it would be easy for me to publish the book here in the United States. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Also, publishing a book is like a full-time job. And so, being a mom and a wife and working at the same time, [and because] I was anxious for my father to hold the book in his hands, I went with iUniverse. Now my father is over the moon. He was very close to his mother, and so was I. It's a big accomplishment in our family. And we'll see where it goes from here."
The art on the cover of the book is also a family accomplishment: Araujo's 13-year-old daughter, Cristina, created it when she was 7 years old. Land of Childhood is available, print-on-demand, from iUniverse.com, Amazon.com, and many other online booksellers.
Here's a tiny excerpt. Claudia Lars: "Poetry is a great lady--jealous and absorbing--and to serve her as such, one must make supreme sacrifices. Nevertheless, I must confess that I owe to poetry the best of my life and the understanding--in body and soul--that eternal beauty is both justice and kindness. I believe that without the favor of her companionship, I would have never found within me the smallest incentive to strive towards excellence."
Another writer who strives for excellence, albeit in a very different genre, is Merrill Sanders. Her book Sierra Gothic, subtitled "a Gold Country mystery," was published in April by Dry Bones Press. Set in the imaginary town of Placer Bar in the Sierra Foothills, the book is both a mystery and a romance. "A central theme of the book is the heroine's changing relationship with her husband," says Sanders. "They love each other very much, but they're not really suited to each other. He is a conservative banker and she is running around getting in all sorts of trouble, defending people who have been accused of murder, making herself wildly unpopular in this small town."
Sanders, who lives with her cat Diva in a little Victorian on Church Street that is just weather-beaten enough to inspire some mystery stories of its own, says she has always been drawn to the whodunit. "I like the structure. It kind of carries the writer, in that if you have a murderer on the loose, you have an automatic problem that must be solved. So part of your plot is written for you. I also like the trickiness of mysteries. It's very gratifying to think up clever plot twists and interesting clues. It's a fun form," she observes.
Sierra Gothic is available in Noe Valley at the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, on 24th near Diamond. If all goes according to plan, a second book in the "Gold Fever" series will follow.
Vendula Kobzinek, the only child of Dagmar and Pazel Kobzinek of Sanchez Street, isn't following in anybody's footsteps. She's a five-foot-one charmer whose life began 22 years ago in communist Czechoslovakia. Her parents left everything behind when she was 4 years old so they could give their daughter a better life in the U.S.
And now she has done her parents proud. On May 24, which is her birthday as well, Vendula graduated from San Francisco State University. But she didn't just graduate. She graduated with a 4.0 GPA and was chosen as the top honors student to represent the College of Business at the university's graduation ceremonies.
"There are six colleges at S.F. State that represent different areas of study," explains Vendula, "and at commencement one honoree from each college is picked to represent the students in that college. So there are six of us. It's kind of like a valedictorian for each college."
She also received top honors from the Marketing Department within the Business College. She was drawn to marketing, she says, because "it encompasses so many different fields of study, such as the strategic side of business, sociology, psychology, even anthropology. You really get all of that in one. That was alluring, and then I also like the creative aspect of it."
Vendula, who is a member of the business honor society Beta Gamma Sigma, hopes to pursue a career in environmental protection and community building.
Next time you find yourself grousing about the quality of our public schools, think about this. Vendula attended grammar school at Fairmount, and middle school at James Lick. From there she went to Lowell. And if you think paying astronomical room and board in addition to tuition and fees is a given, think of this. "My first semester of college, I went to San Jose State, but after a four-month hiatus from Noe Valley, I just wanted to come home," Vendula recalls. "It's part of my childhood, and it keeps getting better and better. It's a wonderful place to live."
What news or invention will you send our way for the July/August issue? A new baby in the house? A wedding to die for? E-mail your milestones to thisnthat@ noevalleyvoice.com or drop a note to Noe Valley Voice, 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114. You can also leave a phone message at 821-3324. h