Adolescence · Life as I Know It

Old Town San Diego

It’s basically a sure thing as a Californian in school that you will learn the fundamentals of how the state was founded, the Gold Rush, and the histories behind whatever city you live in.

For me, it was San Diego and it was the fourth grade. Fourth grade was an interesting year. And when it came time to learn the State’s history, I was skeptical I would like it. I am glad my teacher made it fun for us kids. We learned all about gold mining, going on a class-wide trip to Lake Poway to mine for “gold.” We had to dress the part, in flannel shirts (which were the rage in 1993/1994), jeans and boots. Our gold were rocks painted gold, but it was still fun panning for gold in the creeks.

My personal favorite section of California’s history was the history behind San Diego. We learned about Junipero Serra, who traveled up the coast of the state, building missions to spread the word of God to the heathen Native Americans (or at least that’s what I was told as a kid). We went on a field trip to the Mission San Diego de Alcalà, and the most vivid memory I have is visiting one of the chapels. The chapels stank to high heaven. I don’t think it’s the incense or whatever else that might make a Catholic Church smell like that, because La Casa de Estudillo smells like that. I remember feeling bad for the people who attended Mass, because without mats on the floors, their knees must have hurt something awful.

We also visited the Junipero Serra Museum, which used to be the old Presidio.

But for me, the field trip that had the most profound effect on me was going to Old Town San Diego. It was a cold, rainy morning that day. Our teacher was convinced we weren’t going to be able to go. I refused to remove my jacket, hoping as I hadn’t hoped before that the buses would arrive. I didn’t want to do Math, I did not want to do Math. The buses arrived, we climbed aboard, and went.

We met our docent, dressed in mid-19th century clothing with a shawl draped around her shoulders, holding an umbrella. The first place I remember going with her was La Casa de Estudillo. Peering into each room was very eye-opening, especially hearing about holes cut in the mattresses so they could use the chamber pots without having to get out of bed. Try being nine and imagining that in your head. She also told us of ghosts hanging out in the informal kitchen, especially the reflection of a Vaquero appearing in the mirror when it fogs up. Every kid clamored to that room, looking at the mirror, hoping the mirror fogged up. I swore the mirror fogged up.

We went to the Seeley Stables, where old stagecoaches are housed as well as an Indian (their words, not mine) artifact museum with odd household items and cowboy stuff from the 1800s upstairs in the hay loft. We also visited the hotel, which is reportedly haunted, as well as other sites.

Another place in Old Town San Diego that had a profound effect on me was the Mason Street Schoolhouse. A river of rain had opened right in front of the entrance to the school, and we all leaped across it to get inside. We sat down at the old desks, my best friend and I seated in the third desk from the front in the middle row. The actual schoolhouse is attached to the building, but only staff can go inside it. Learning about schools in the 1800s and when female teachers married, they had to quit their jobs was a lot of fun and quite educational. We went back to school after that, but it was life-changing field trip.

Here’s a link to photos I took when I went to San Diego for vacation in 2010.

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