Views from the Valley

It’s A Small World After All

Sometimes I feel like the universe tilts just a little, causing me to spill back to my childhood and reflect on all those precious memories. That happened to me, right as we were ushering in 2021.

In December, I had purchased several copies of the same book from the Historical Society of Crescenta Valley to give as Christmas gifts to my siblings. The book was titled, “Growing Up in Sunland and Other Short Stories” by Tom Gilfoy, an author who still lives nearby. Since I, indeed, did grow up in Sunland, I thought it might be fun to reminisce about the old days. I bought an extra copy for me and sat down to read it after the holidays.

I was instantly transported to a Sunland before my time, around the 1930s-’40s, as viewed through the eyes of a young boy. Tom had great adventures and a little bit of trouble with his brother Dick and their group of friends. The rich descriptions of Sunland Park and the bustle of activity there matched the stories I heard from my parents about the former amusement parks, cafés, baseball games and dance pavilion. Lancaster Lake was also a popular destination for those who liked to boat and fish. Tom and Dick helped out at the lake and enjoyed the Bible stories as told by “Grandpa” Lancaster. At the park, the boys scavenged for soda bottles to exchange for pocket money to get into the Tujunga theater and later they worked the carnival booths and operated the rides.

Tom grew up on a family farm on Oro Vista adjacent to Sunland Grammar School, the same school I attended as Sunland Elementary in the 1960s. Part of their farm property would have been a triangle of land on the playground that I stood on as a young child. I walked on many of the streets that Tom wrote about and spent a lot of time in the wash behind my house near Riverwood Ranch, just as Tom described. I could picture it all so clearly; it brought back so many memories for me.

Tom shared many stories that I could relate to like his experiences during the flood of 1969, the Sylmar earthquake in 1971 and the Mills Fire in 1975. Those were events that had significant impacts on my life. He also spent a couple of summers in the Sierra Nevada where I vacationed regularly as a kid and where I now have a ranch house. He later wrote about raising a family in Lake View Terrace where I hung out with my friends in high school. It was all so surreal. After I finished the book, I came away with a very comfortable feeling; it felt like home.

I wanted to tell Tom how his book had touched me so I emailed him right away. He quickly responded and we became fast “pen pals.” I learned that his wife, Dody, was one of the managers for Kiwanis ponytail baseball, a league I had played in for three years, and that I had attended school at Mt. Gleason and Verdugo Hills with his daughter Susie. In fact, when I went looking for my old baseball team photo, a seventh grade photo of Susie fell out of my childhood scrapbook. She wrote on the back, “You will always be my friend, always. Susie.” You can’t imagine the intense feeling of déjà vu that hit me at that moment. I hadn’t remembered that we had been friends but it all came flooding back. Consequently, Tom shared Susie’s contact info with me and we have been corresponding ever since. As it turns out, we have a lot to talk about.

I am grateful to the Gilfoy family for sharing their journey. I will always treasure the memories I have of growing up in Sunland.


Susan Bolan