Drumroll, please (and add a lil’ cowbell) . . . this offering is my 100th Back in the Day column.
I wrote a Monday column in 2011 called “Back to the Future of Fairfield’s Past.” It was about me going back Marty McFly-style to 1976, when my family moved here. Instead of a DeLorean, I used my parents’ 1975 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon, equipped with a flux capacitor.
The inspiration for that column was a Facebook group called I Grew Up In Fairfield Too, created by Rick Williams. It also inspired me to begin writing a column about local history, but not from a historian’s perspective. I’m not a historian. I’m just some guy.
What I’ve experienced in the Fairfield Facebook group is collective memories finally given a place to be shared. The participatory nature of Facebook, where you can read and comment on posts, encourages interaction. While I might be hesitant to join in a conversation I overhear at a coffee shop with strangers, with Facebook, generational, educational, racial, socio-economic and other differences are easier to overcome.
Plus there are hundreds of pictures posted there of things from the past, like Wonder World, the Fairfield Bowl, Sid’s Drive-In, Dick’s Seafood Grotto, Eucalyptus Records, the M & M Skateway, Thiessesn’s Pet Store, Nut Tree and more.
You don’t need a DeLorean or souped-up station wagon to go back in time, just an Internet connection.
With this column, I have tried to include not just my remembrances, but those of other local residents. I haven’t counted them, but it has to be in the hundreds. I am keenly aware that for people of a certain age, having your name in the paper is still kind of a thrill and I am pleased to be able to do that.
My real concern when starting this column was having enough topics to sustain it. It started out biweekly, but changed to weekly last April. I found that by adding features such as local history resources (the local history section at the library, the Solano County Archives), profiles of local people called Ordinary Folk History (Judy Anderson Engell, Abe Bautista), and suggestions from readers (the 1928 mass murder by Leung Ying suggested by Mary Bowen), that finding topics has not been a problem.
Presently, I have about 14 columns in various stages of readiness.
Since I don’t really have any training in this, I have learned as I go. I gather information from microfilm or other sources and really try my best to get it right. One thing I learned when doing a column on the now-demolished Armijo auditorium is not to rely on people’s memories – even my own.
Even though it was only one sentence in the column, I needed the date the auditorium was torn down. I asked people in the Fairfield group and in other places and everyone was certain they knew. I got 1968, 1972, 1977, 1979 and 1981. No one got it right – Oct 12, 1985.
Even after learning that lesson, I erred. More than one person “remembered” seeing “Bonanza” actor Dan Blocker on the train at the Suisun City whistlestop visit that John F. Kennedy made in 1960 and I mentioned that in a column last November. A reader sent me an email and said that was wrong. I investigated and while Blocker did come through Suisun City on a whistle-stop, it wasn’t with Kennedy. It was in 1964 with Pierre Salinger. Oops.
I am first and foremost a humorian, not a historian. I want this column to be entertaining, hopefully informative, but at the very least interesting.
I recently did a column on Sabine Goerke-Shrode, who wrote the “Images of America: Fairfield” book that I love. I asked her to sign my copy and here is what she wrote: “To Tony, Thank you for carrying the torch! All the Best, Sabine.”
I was deeply touched by that. Still, I prefer to think that we are all carrying the torch of local history together.
Knowing the history of Captain Waterman and Chief Solano is great, but the largely untold stories about the lives of “ordinary” people who lived, worked and played locally are often fascinating/tragic/funny/compelling.
Thank you all so much for reading!
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.