Holding History

February 13, 2014  |  Personal

My grandfather loved to take pictures, and as I recall he wasn’t very good at it. At every family event he would have us line up, smiles clenched on our faces, as he fumbled with his camera and the stupid flashbulbs that never, ever went off the first time. I came to hate flashbulbs. It wasn’t until many years later, after he and my grandmother were gone, that I saw some of those pictures. I realize now that there wasn’t a lot of extra money to have film developed. But I also realize that Grandpa just liked the activity of photography.

Of course I loved finding old pictures of my parents, my sisters and me, and our house in Burlingame. Those are treasures. There were also a bunch of photos that had no meaning for us: unlabeled scenic views taken on trips to unnamed places. It wasn’t hard to let those go. But there is a third category from his collection that I find more and more fascinating and I want to share them here. They tell me of a time and a place and my grandfather.

A little background is necessary. It’s a long story, but here are the pertinent facts: my parents and Bill and Mary Briggs drove to California from Detroit in 1948 with two airstream trailers, an ambulance, and a dream. They settled in Treasure Island Trailer Park in South San Francisco before it even officially opened and started their business. To get a break on rent they also managed the trailer park. My dad designed, and he and Bill built, a tiny building that served as an office and a grocery store for the residents of the park. In 1950, my dad’s father and stepmother, Lester and Alma Brown, moved from Detroit to manage the store. Bay Area Ambulance Service, along with the Brown and Briggs families, relocated to Burlingame in 1951, four years before I was born. But Lester and Alma stayed in the trailer park, happily running Brown’s Grocery for another thirteen years, until Grandpa was 84.

He may not have documented every delivery, but he got a lot of them. I just love these pictures. They aren’t well-composed and many are not identified in any way, but I think the history they represent goes beyond my family. I remember so many of these brands. I remember seeing trucks like these. And now I know they were driven by guys like Chet Flansbury, Steve Flores, Fred Rivetria, and Jens Larson, who took a few minutes out of their busy days to pose for my grandfather. Don’t you think that’s cool? They were just regular folks going about their business, but they had a relationship with this older gentleman and his tiny little store. I wish I knew all their names.

Treasure Island Trailer Park is still there. The funny little building still stands. The office is open, but the door to the store is padlocked and the sign is gone. I’m sure there is nobody there now who remembers Lester Brown, much less the young Brown and Briggs families who lived there for a brief time 65 years ago. But I can hold that history in my hands, thanks to these photographs.

I love that these little moments were not overlooked. It makes me want to return to my Albany project with renewed purpose. To tell the small stories.

Click on a thumbnail to enlarge it and click through the slideshow.


  1. Once again, a lovely bunch of memories cradled within the frames of these photos. The trucks and brand names bring back memories for me as well. Thank you, Dorothy.

  2. I really like this collection of delivery men, it reminds me of the ones I saw in NL as a kid and reminds me of stories of the delivery men in Toronto – one who rode his horse-drawn cart up to his daughter’s school in order to have a stern talk with a teacher who’d threatened his daughter.

    Very different times.

    What I like most from your pictures are the happy faces and sense of pride in their work.

    • I really like that too, Ken — how friendly they all look. My grandfather’s store was tiny, but these guys seem happy to have stopped by. Maybe those kind of relationships still exist, but with the huge trucks and tight schedules, I kind of doubt it.

  3. Such a cool story — thank you for sharing it and the wonderful photographs, Dorothy!

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