Warm Memories of Growing Up in Martinez:
Thousands of Them on the Internet Right Now
By Harriett Burt
Growing up in El Cerrito as I did, Martinez was where you went if you had jury duty, were getting a divorce or were being hauled off to Juvenile Hall. Consequently, my family and I never came out here when I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s.
However, as it turned out there was a fourth reason for me to come here– a job right out of college. John Spade, the principal of Martinez Junior High School in 1962, hired me out of the Fresno State secondary teacher credential program to replace the icon of Martinez Junior High teachers, Mary Gillespie. So here I came 49 years ago this month expecting to stay a year or two for the experience then go get a job in San Jose where many of my college pals were teaching. Somehow that never happened and before I knew it I had chosen to become a “for the rest of my life” Martinez resident with all the passion of the convert for my new hometown including a term on the City Council and a retirement volunteer career of researching and writing about Martinez history!
But I have never gotten over being more than a little envious of all those lucky enough in my view to have been born and raised here. And while during my teaching career at the junior high, many youngsters complained about there being nothing to do here and vowed to leave as soon as they could, there has been a recent spate of Facebook groups encouraging folks to share their memories and their love for the place. Hundreds of members, many of whom ‘left as soon as they could’, have shared thousands of happy and/or funny memories through ‘open groups’ formed on Facebook. And for those who want to see the yearbooks, read the newspaper stories of Martinez, particularly school activities and sports, there is David and Karen Rich’s Alhambra Alumni website – an archival site devoted to the town and its schools.
Up to now, local history has been centered around paper in filing cabinets, in bound volumes of old newspapers or microfiche copies of old newspapers, books both old and new, transcriptions of oral reminiscences, government and family documents, and artifacts such as are often on exhibit at the Martinez Museum. But the technology revolution is impacting the collection and maintenance of local history records as much as it is every other aspect of our lives. One example of many: Facebook has three groups (that I know of) devoted to memories of growing up in the zip code. And the Alhambra Alumni website is seeking to set up a clearing house of information about upcoming class reunions plus keeping a record of the passing of favorite teachers such as the recently deceased Alhambra English teacher, Dorris Vitek and scanned copies of Alhambra yearbooks among many other archival items.
The three Facebook ‘open group’ sites include Alhambra Alumni pre-1960 to 1980 started in early 2009 by Tom Liberty (class of 1973), You Know You Grew Up in Martinez if…. Begun in August of this year by Sonia Joiner Adams (class of 1987) and the newest site, Remembering Martinez also begun in early August by Ray Gentry (1964) with the encouragement and assistance of Cynthia Cola (1965) and Angie Ferreira (Pia Keep) (class of 1972).
Something of a anti social media Luddite, I had ignored Facebook until Tom Liberty got me signed up for his group and former students began contacting me to talk about our fun times at the junior high in the 60s and 70s. I loved that opportunity to renew those connections while I easily gave Mafia Wars and Farm Whatever a miss. Then Remembering Martinez came along and before I knew it, I was invited on board and once again, all these great postings came in with reminders of Winks and Foster Freeze (I loved their burgers and fries too) and when the DMV and Triple A were located here. What stood out in that group as well as with the “You Know You Grew Up in Martinez when” group is how much adults love looking back on their youth when they get far enough away from it. It is often hard to value what we have when we are in the middle of living it but the passing years while not erasing all the bad, can for many of us turn the focus onto so much we appreciate now that we could not then.
For those of us who have developed later in life an appreciation for and a desire to know more about our local history, these Facebook sites scatter information and pictures in front of us like coins being tossed at our feet. We want to race out and grab as much as we can as quickly as we can. How all that information (some of it fact and some of it more embroidered than is useful if not actually incorrect) will be processed into the historical record going forward remains to be determined on every level from local to international.
As Kate Maher (Alhambra 1982) a member of You Grew Up in Martinez if…, commented “what I know is this – we all love reading it and posting on it. It is fully entertaining and brings a lot of people together who have so much in common (growing up in Martinez). I have noticed it is spreading from people who grew up before the 1960s all the way to the present. It is fun to see the different perspectives from generation to generation.”
In the meantime, local history enthusiasts and nostalgia seekers alike are in hog heaven because of former classmates such as Dave Rich, Tom Liberty, Ray Gentry, Cynthia Cola, Angie Ferreira and Sonia Joiner Adams. Posting is faster than a telephone call and computer memory storage is bigger and better than a filing cabinet in a musty old building…unless it crashes.