Thursday, July 18, 2013

Stanford Bookstore Evokes Valley Memories

Stanford's Hoover Tower, constructed in 1941.

All roads lead to Stanford University, as least they seem to here in the Santa Clara Valley. I just confirmed an event there for my book California Apricots, an event that came from Stanford to me, not the other way around. Their bookstore manager had heard in the industry that the book was "doing very well" and called the History Press to ask me to come and speak.

This is an honor. Stanford is a powerhouse in our region and is one of the reasons Silicon Valley became Silicon Valley. It is a fabulous school; a beautiful campus; and its history and growth parallel California's. It was the favored school for many young people from orchard families in our region including Yvonne Olson Jacobson, of the CJ Olson family of Sunnyvale, who authored Passing Farms, Enduring Values (California History Center, 1984) the definitive book about the orchards in our region. It was edited by another Stanford great, Los Altos Hills resident, Wallace Stegner.

My father, my friend Steve Lopes and me with Dad's RC plane, the Sparky-K, in a Stanford pasture some decades ago.

The Stanford family donated the property of their Palo Alto stock farm as a location for the school in the last decades of the 19th century, hence the school's nickame: The Farm. What it meant to locals of my era was vast open space in the foothills between Los Altos and Palo Alto--acreage that surrounded the school and much of which is still used for ranching. 

When I was really small, my father used to take us up to the Stanford property, just a few miles from our home, park the car on the side of the road and approach the fence to make sure no cattle were grazing within. Then, he gave us the all clear to hop the fence and help him with his radio-controlled plane. I can still feel the soft light of the summer evenings.

Some of the open space became home to the record-breaking Stanford Linear Accelerator--which needed room, as it is two miles long, the longest linear accelerator in the world--where my uncle, Dr. Thomas Parkinson, a nuclear engineer and professor at Virginia Tech, received a research grant to study one summer. Other acreage was developed to start Stanford Research Institute, known around here as SRI, where the eggheads who founded Silicon Valley itself began their foment. (In spite of these changes, much pasture land remains to remind us of California as it looked long ago.)

My mother had a part-time job at Stanford in the graduate school of Civil Engineering. One of my  college friends got an advanced degree there. 

I had hoped to go there too, but my thrifty parents felt it was too expensive and also, perhaps, a little too elite. I did apply to Stanford and was accepted: an honor that has been important to me all my life. But in the end, my parents told me it was the University of California or nothing, so it was UC.

Now I look to Stanford as the home of the Hoover Institution, a conservative think thank dedicated to research in domestic policy and international affairs. Many of those who took part in the Reagan Revolution work there today, along with modern conservative writers like Victor Davis Hanson--a California native who loves the state in spite of its leftward tilt.

My friend Kathy Cunningham Matthews, whom I met at WJLA-TV in Washington D.C. and is married to the wonderful-and-always-hyper Chris Matthews of MSNBC, is a Stanford grad. She is beautiful, smart, and kind, qualities I always assumed she refined at Stanford.

It is fair to say, Stanford has iconic powers for me. From flying the Sparky-K with Dad, to passing the Hoover Tower each Sunday on our way to church--Stanford has been a presence in my life and in the life of this valley.

Thank you Stanford University Bookstore for hosting an event for my new book. My book and I feel as if we have known you a long, long time.

Event Details:
Wednesday, October 23, 6 p.m.
Stanford University Bookstore
519 Lasuen Mall |Stanford, CA 94305
Tel: 650.329.1217

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