Note: “Ordinary Folk History,” written snapshots of local residents, will appear periodically.
When Judy Anderson Engell was growing up on Grant Street in Fairfield in the late 1960s and early 1970s, her father, Darrell Anderson, was an unconventional teacher at Armijo High School who sported jeans while his colleagues wore ties and taught a class titled “Social Protest.” Her mother, Donna, was an ahead-of-her-time vegetarian. Judy, third of six children, just wanted to fit in.
“It’s not that I didn’t agree with my parents – it just wasn’t the norm,” Engell said. “I wanted to blend in and my family did not blend in. We were the ‘hippie family’ on the block.”
The Andersons owned the requisite Volkswagen van painted with flower power designs. Long hair, bell bottoms and peace sign necklaces were the norm at their home. Her parents held anti-Vietnam war protests and sit-ins in their backyard, and there were usually people hanging out, playing music or making pottery and jewelry.
Some Grant Street friends fondly remember their house as a portal to a different dimension, but Engell often felt out of place.
“My brother told me a few years ago that in our family I was like Marilyn on ‘The Munsters.’ I just laughed because it’s true,” Engell said.
The Anderson home was the local kid hub.
“In the summertime, all the kids in the neighborhood would spend the night at our house. We’d line up sleeping bags on the front lawn and pull out the old black-and-white TV to the sidewalk and have sleepovers right there,” Engell said. “When we got tired of cars driving by waking us up, we’d go sleep in the multilevel backyard treehouse our dad built or in our giant family camping tent.”
Engell describes her parents as intelligent and artsy.
“Our dad was – and still is – an intellectual who enjoyed a great argument or discussion about politics,” Engell said. “Bookshelves with every book written by thinkers, philosophers and the greatest authors lined two full walls of our family room. When the TV was broken (which was often), we all read books!”
Engell’s mother, a piano teacher, filled the house with music. The Anderson kids all learned to play instruments and sing. Their exposure to symphonies, operas and musicals led to a love of music. This is evidenced by the fact that several family members worked at an iconic Fairfield music store, Eucalyptus Records and Tapes.
While music enthralled her, Engell was not so enamored of her mother’s meal menu choices at the time.
“My mom was a health-food guru and a vegetarian before it was cool. We ate macro-burgers which were her veggie burgers, lentils, split peas – anything from the garden,” Engell said. “I just wanted to eat Wonder Bread like our neighbors. I used to hate eating all that healthy stuff – including home-baked bread every week!”
The Andersons’ unconventional upbringing may have seemed awkward to Engell in her childhood, but she now credits her folks with instilling in her and her siblings a passion for compassion.
“We often had people in our house who needed a place to sleep or something for dinner and even though we didn’t have much, and my dad raised six kids on a teacher’s salary, we were taught that no matter how little you have, someone else has less,” Engell said. “We learned to help others, to question everything and to love fully.”
The family tragically lost second-oldest daughter Cathy in an automobile accident in 1977, but the surviving Anderson offspring live benevolent lifestyles.
“My sister Rebecca is a pastor who specializes in hospice work, Elisabeth fights for fair treatment in the Middle East and is a music teacher, Darrell spends lots of time online getting frustrated at politics and unfair treatment of people worldwide and Mark is a contractor in the tiny, liberal town of Willits,” Engell said.
While her siblings moved to metropolitan centers like New York City and Oakland, Engell, with her high school sweetheart husband of 36 years Lory Engell, stayed close to home. She retired from a teaching career last year and helps her community.
“I’m the sole Fairfield loyalist,” Engell said.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.