Coming of age in San Francisco |

Coming of age in San Francisco

by Ron Walker

When Tony Bennett sang, “I Left my Heart in San Francisco,” he knew what he was talking about.

At age 9, our family took a vacation to San Francisco. When we boarded the car ferry in Oakland late one night, I clearly remember how magical were the twinkling lights of San Francisco, so far across the bay. The very next day we walked through the fairgrounds of the 1939 World’s Fair on Treasure Island. Each pavilion proudly depicted the beauty of their country. Sadly, Hitler would soon put an end to peace, and the world would be thrown into war.

As a teenager, my family liked Vanessi’s Italian restaurant. The meal would begin with an antipasto composed of cracked crab, salami, several cheeses, and bowls of olives. This was followed by a small dish of pasta, and finally the entree. Every meal was an occasion, a feast.

Three days after graduating from college, and being commissioned an ensign in the Navy, I married my high school sweetheart. We had a two-day honeymoon in San Francisco. I recall walking across the wharf to a ship that would take me to Japan. Six months later, the marriage ended. She had found her true love, and it wasn’t me.

Once out of the Navy, dancing became my life. I got a job in a big Hollywood revue. On Saturday nights, after the second show, for the princely sum of $13.50 a ticket, I flew to San Francisco and was a true adventurer.

Later in life, I met a beautiful young woman , Orllyene, with two delightful children. “Ka-powee,” we got married. Our family size increased to three children, followed by six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. This brings us back to The City by the Bay.

Frequently, Orllyene and I have the opportunity to bed down in a Smith Valley friend’s luxury apartment on Nob Hill. On this trip, our friend is with us. We’ve just returned from having lunch at Pluto’s in the Marina District. At Pluto’s, they put together a custom made salad from an enormous selection of ingredients. The ladies raved about their salads and my cheddar-broccoli soup was unthinkably good.

One of the joys of going to San Francisco is your choice of restaurants. In the financial district, we had dinner at “Sam’s Bar, Grill and Restaurant” (circa 1867). We sat down to a linen-covered table with small bowls of butter, and a big hunk of French bread. The waiter wore a vintage tuxedo, and busied himself in true “Italiano” style. Orllyene’s veal piccata was exactly what she had hoped for. Our good friend raved about her broiled sole and my fettuccine with marinara sauce and fresh basil was perfect.

It’s been just 9 months since Orllyene had her spinal procedure, and climbing Nob Hill isn’t easy for her. We decide to take the bus. As the bus pulls up, two old codgers scramble in ahead of us. Orllyene follows them on board, using her walking stick. I follow. At that moment, the bus driver says loud enough for everyone to hear, “I’m so sorry, dear, that those two men didn’t let you get on first.” Orllyene pauses for a moment, smiles warmly at the driver, and says, “Thank you, for taking such good care of me.” The bus driver looks me straight in the eye and says, “Sir, you have a real keeper.” The rapport between the bus driver and Orllyene touches me. Orllyene brings out the best in people. It certainly has in me for the last 51 years. Thank you, sweetheart.

Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley. He can be reached at