The following was intended to be written as a cookbook review in 1998. It says a great deal about Robert so I am presenting it exactly as it was written in 1998:

“When we moved into this house  on my birthday nine years ago, it was clear from the get-go that I was not the gardener who would cultivate this three-quarter acre plot of land with its twenty-six fruit trees. I was, in my OTHER LIFE a member of what someone  – Erma Bombeck, I think – once referred to as the Black Thumb Terrorist organization. We killed plants. The only plant I managed not to kill while my four sons were growing up was a poor little cactus that set on the kitchen window sill, refusing to give up.  Well, we all know what a hardy group the cacti are.

However, my housemate is a person who was surely born with topsoil under his fingernails. He is happiest out in the yard, pruning, sniping trimming, transplanting, weeding and re-arranging what was once a rather plain front yard has been transformed into clusters of foliage flanked by red bricks salvaged from the last earthquake (1994) when the neighbors’ chimneys collapsed and people hauled brick and mortar out to the curbsides to be picked up.  Enterprising people (such as ourselves) could go around and gather up the unbroken red bricks which now line our driveway.

Every time we went to Ventura or Santa Barbara, Bob managed to clip something –  a sprig of this or that (which he stored in the cooler), which under his coaxing took root and transformed itself into something like our driveway border of ice plants. Also, equally important, every time I gaze at the ice plants, I remember the Memorial weekend in Santa Barbara when we acquired the cutting that would become the ice plant family.

We planted bougainvillea, which I love, and have been persuading it to grow over the rooftop but even after nine years, I am still envious of the much greater profusion of bougainvillea which grows in many of my neighbors’ yards.

Bob collected rocks from beaches and other places we traveled to, and when he had enough rocks he began creating a waterfall and pond.

The house had a little grape arbor when we moved in; we have since extended the arbor in two directions, hoping to get it to eventually grow across the entire back of the house, to provide some shade form the hot California sun. Our grape arbor has become so prolific that I can’t possibly make enough grape juice and grape jelly so we did what any other sensible people might do; we spent $500.00 on wine making equipment and he began making some of our own wine. (I figure it cost us about $10.00 a bottle that first year). Our friend Stan made darling little labels for our wine bottles, focusing on my love of lighthouses.

Last year, I bought a little St Francis of Assisi statue, to lend protection for the squirrels and birds who inhabit this property. Bob created a little grotto for St Francis so nothing would do but I had to order a statue of St. Fiacre for him (patron saint of gardeners).

My thumb is no longer black. I’ve learned from the master and can now weed, trim, and prune with the best of them. At work I have windowsills filled with blooming African violets and earned the title of African Violet Queen. We’ve added gardening books to our collection of cookbooks, mysteries and biographies. For, I discovered, gardening books are a bit like cookbooks. All you have to do is follow directions.

Which brings me up to my most recent gardening book acquisition.  Granted, this may not be for everyone; the title is “GOLDEN GATE GARDENING, the complete guide to year-round food gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area and Coastal California”.

Written by Pam Pierce, GOLDEN GATE GARDENING was published by Sasquatch Books in Seattle in 1998. The thing is, although GOLDEN GATE GARDENING was aimed at a specific audience, I have found a wealth of information for those of us who live somewhat inland as well. The compendium of vegetables, for instance—from A for Amaranth (I personally prefer A for Artichoke) to Z for Zucchini (see S for Squash) provides us with a great deal of information, even some recipes, explaining the history of the vegetable to cultivation. (I confess, I love books that provide me with a bit of historical background).

Also included in GOLDEN GATE GARDENING are lists of useful fruits, herbs, edible and cutting flowers and detailed information about raising vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers in the cool, misty climate of the bay area. There are gardening resources and websites which include mail order and seed companies, garden supplies and books. The resources for gardeners section provides mail order supply houses throughout the United States, not just California.

Having become more interested in growing and using herbs, I found the section HERBS FOR ALL SEASONS especially useful too.

Ms. Pierce is the cofounder of the San Francisco league of Urban Gardeners (SLUG) and has gardened in San Francisco for nearly 25 years. She is a teacher in the Department of Ornamental Horticulture at city College of San Francisco and is also the author of ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY GARDENING: Controlling Vegetable Pests.”

A book about gardening was a departure from my regular reviews but this was a book that captured my attention. The 1998 edition is available starting at $3.49 pre owned.  A third edition was published in 2010; the book sells for $18.77 new and $13.99 pr-owned on

We lived in the Arleta house for nineteen years before being forced to move. The move was a blessing in disguise; I bought a house (me! At the age of 68!) and in 2011, Bob was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. We felt blessed and fortunate that all of the medical facilities were a short distance away in Lancaster. My gardening significant other passed away in September 2011.

To this day, despite my growing love and appreciation for the plot of ground I can call my own, I know I will miss 9187 Arleta Avenue the rest of my life.  Bob built a gazebo under some olive trees in the front yard in Arleta. He took it apart, board by board and rebuilt it in 2010. It nestles under a fruitless mulberry tree today, in Quartz Hill. He took up all the bricks from the 1994 earthquake that lined our driveway and they make up a patio and the floor of the rebuilt gazebo. It brings tears to my eyes whenever I am out there, talking to him, wondering if he can hear me.

Like Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Lisa (Ingrid Bergman) in Casablanca….who always would have Paris, Bob and I always had Arleta. We spent 19 years there, transforming the entire house and yard. I think Bob refused to face reality; while I steadily, furiously, packed box after box of books, he sat aside refusing to lift a finger, until the very end when my son forced him to take what he wanted to keep. I think he kept hoping it wouldn’t happen. We had so many wonderful memories of the Arleta house, as did many of our friends who joined us for many parties and celebrations.

This is my tribute to you Robert.  We will always have Arleta.

–Sandra Lee Smith



  1. What a touching tribute to Bob. As the anniversary of his death grows near, I am sure that you are feeling his loss even more acutely. And, just reading your report, I am also sad for you that you had had to leave the Arleta house. Not only does your description sound lovely, but it is obvious that the two of you had made it into such a nurturing home.

  2. A wonderful tribute, beautifully written. I hurt for both of us when we left out first home together as David had built a wonderful garden, but this house is lovely and the garden very special – yours will be too, with those memories that you have brought with you.

    • Thanks, Sue. It is so heart-warming to me to hear from other women who have gone down this path too. I was crying by the time I finished last night and had to go to bed. But I have more good days than bad and I see traces of Bob all around me – in the back yard where he re-created our gazebo and made it larger, and in my garage library that I absolutely love. THANK YOU for writing!

  3. I was also touched by your post and related to it so well because I moved from the city to my second husband’s home in the country. We had two acres filled to the brim with things he planted and we also stayed there 19 years until he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I had to get us closer to family and medical facilities. He’s been gone for 8 years now. Lovely post.

  4. Thanks Judy & Lillian. I pasted this on my facebook page too and received some heart-warming comments from relatives and friends–including Bob’s exwife who became a friend of mine. Lillian, it continues to amaze me the parellels in our lives. Oh, my, Bob would have loved having two ACRES to fill. it had to be hard for you to leave that home. I can’t help still missing the Arleta house even if it wasnt MINE legally–it was OURS in every other sense of the word.(the owner had promised never to sell as long as I wanted to live there–but she raised the rent to an amount I couldnt possibly pay so we were forced to move. And then I qualified to buy a house! and my son & his family are around the corner; I couldnt have gotten t hrough last year without their assistance. It is what it is–you do what you have to do. Like you I needed to be closer to family and medical facilities. I wouldnt have a clue where he would have gotten treatment in the valley–ir or around Arleta. Here everything is in Lancaster, about 6 miles away. I am thankful for all of those blessings—but I sure do miss my gardener partner.

  5. What a beautiful tribute to Bob. When you still lived in the Arleta house, I often marveled at the huge variety of fruits you had – and how you would use them in various recipes. I am sure it was so hard to give up such a wonderful place. A nice tribute, too, as you are approaching the anniversary of Bob’s death. This month is also the anniversary of my Bob’s death (10 years) and my son Steve’s death (5 years).

    • Marge, and I thought I was having a hard time getting through September! My son Michael also passed away in September – 2010. I do remember when your son Steve passed away – hard to believe thats ben 5 years. I will remember your Bob and your Steve in my prayers.

  6. A wonderful tribute to Bob.When Neil Armstrong passed away I remembered when you and Bob and Jim and I went to his museum in Wapakaneta Ohio. I was glad to find the pictures we took that day to send to you.

  7. I was very deeply, emotionally moved by this loving and lovingly expressed tribute to your beautiful Bob. He is still alive via your memories of him, your photographs of him and the two of you and the life you shared together, and he lives on through your love for him, and his love for you. I have not travelled down the same road as you have, but came close to it a couple of years ago when my husband had to have emergency surgery, and nearly died en route to the hospital. Before that, though, I lost my beloved father – the first male love of my life. These wounds don’t heal completely, I don’t believe. But I do believe that, with lots of time, and lots of patience, love, care (especially self-care) and our loving memories of those we have lost, help to ease the pain and the profound heartache that we carry. Your Bob is there with you, Sandy – in your heart, in your memories, in your love for one another. Death, I have come to realise and truly see, can never rob us of this.

    Thank you for sharing this. I wish you happiness ahead, and yes, you and he will always have your Arleta.

  8. very beautiful tribute, Sandy. I am sure Bob is always with you.

  9. Hi Sandra,
    I live in the house now. I love it like you do. I’ve lived here for 7 years and have had heart-breaking tragedies and golden memories. I feel like it’s mine as well, even though, and understandably, Linda doesn’t want to sell it… maybe in a way it belongs to all of us…
    You are more than welcome to come visit, if you’d like… I plan on spending another 12 or so years here…or as long as time and Linda will allow me.
    In any case, the mail still comes for you…
    I’ll set it aside from now on…
    With love,

    • Hello Christianna,
      Ive got goosebumps up and down my arms…Since we moved away in 2008, I’ve had no contact with Linda & we (we being my youngest son & I) had no idea what had happened to the house. I would love to visit you – I don’t get down to the valley very often, primarily because its such a long drive – and I only parked across the street from you just once, trying to figure out what Linda had done with the property. funny thing, my son’s mother in law and I were talking about the house this afternoon–everyone knew how much I loved the house (warts and all) – I don’t know if I could ever feel the same way about the house I bought in Quartz Hill in 2008. Nana, Kelly’s mother in law (I am grammy, she’s nana) thought Linda would have sold the property by now to the highest buyer. I wondered if we would have gotten any more mail – I received very little forwarded mail. so yes, please save it for me unless its just junk mail. I sometimes thought I should have written to Linda and told her she did me a favor since I ended up buying this house—I just couldn’t bring myself to doing it. for one thing, Bob was utterly crushed by our move…he didn’t pack Anything – Kelly and I did it all – and far as I know, Bob didn’t clean out the garage either. (he died of cancer in 2011).
      Well, the weather is turning warm, finally, so I will try to make a trip down to the valley, Do you work? any particular time NOT to visit? let me know. and how on earth did you find me?

      Thanks for writing. I can’t wait to tell my son (we had a BD party at their house this afternoon celebrating four birthdays in one fell swoop–my son and daughter in law live around the corner from me, 7 houses away.

    • another PS, Christianna…you mentioned being at the house for 7 years and we moved out thanksgiving weekend in 2008–so was the house empty for a while? and I don’t want to scare you but have you had any sense of a house ghost? I knew they were friendly spirits that loved the house too; I always thought they had lived there a long time ago–I will tell you more about that if you are interested. It wasn’t just me. I have your address 🙂 so can write about these events.

    • hoping to hear from you, Christianna – a girlfriend of mine (who also lived in the Arleta House at one time) has volunteered to make the trip down with me, if the offer is still open. let me know.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s