Updated: Aug 27, 2018
There are many interesting people who live in Almaden Valley that were born here, traveled around a bit as young adults, and have all come back to this amazing place. One of them is Kirsten Lynn Hennings-Osorio. She was born here and never left until she attended college at UC Davis, then she lived in Sacramento for 2 years before returning. She’s been back for 20 years now and had a lot to say about growing up in Almaden Valley.
“It was all really rural, the only roads in and out were Camden Avenue and the Expressway. Safeway wasn’t built and you would have to go down to where Whole Foods is now to do all your shopping.” There were a lot of schools and a lot of young families starting their lives here.
“Growing up was so much fun, there really wasn’t as much parental supervision as there is nowadays. We would go ride our bikes and go to the library. Leland had a pool that they would open to the public for the summer and the lifeguards would have little contests and races everyday. Things like the biggest cannonball contest, it was really fun. There was also a lot of new construction going on so we would go and make ramps and slides off the new construction…probably wasn’t the safest thing to do.” She laughed while telling the story.
Kirsten had so much to tell and it painted the picture of what Almaden Valley used to be like so well. “When we were really little there was a big tree with all these branches and a lot of families would go for walks during the evenings and everyone would end up by this tree. The parents would talk and socialize while all the kids climbed this giant tree. It had so many branches that just kept going up and up and it seemed like it went on forever.
“Then there used to be a carnival every year, that was the big thing that happened in town and everyone would be so excited about it. One year we were on the Ferris wheel and me and my dad got stuck at the very top, I’ve never liked heights since then. The schools had little fairs too and there was always something going on for us to do. We loved to go hiking, of course we didn’t go alone, and this was before the trails were really marked at Quicksilver. And there was the hardware store too, we would go there and just get tons of candy. We basically just rode our bikes everywhere. We used to go to Aloha skating rink, it just closed and it’s a furniture store now. That was the place to be every Friday night, we would all go and skate at the roller rink. It was a lot of fun, with a lot of great people, and great memories. A lot of people I know have come back and started families.”
As a 13-year-old girl growing up in Almaden Valley, Kirsten had a lot of friends, played soccer and ran track and loved every minute of it. She would run races like the 4/440 relay,“I really wanted to do the hurdles but I was way too short. But I loved school and just hanging out with friends. There’s really not that much to do now for kids. They had a movie theatre, it’s a church now. We would go to the movies sometimes, take the bus. A lot of families didn’t have gardeners and you’d help parents mow the lawn and there were always chores. It seems like kids these days have a lot fewer chores than we did growing up.”
When it comes to school, she remembers a teacher named Mr. Brown who had a glass eye and he would threaten to take it out when kids weren’t paying attention. He would say he was going to put it on their desk so he could keep an eye on them. Kirsten has an excellent sense of humor and the memories she’s shared not only give great insight to the past but are also hilarious.
She has pictures that show how similar Bret Harte was to what it looks like now. The school had a coke machine and they would get excited to go and get a coke because her mom wouldn’t let her drink soda. Many things are different about growing up today compared to the past generations experiences. “The freedom aspect. Parents weren’t involved with what we did after school, we would just go out and play. We weren’t as aware of current events, more innocent and sheltered by the quiet town atmosphere.” Kirsten explained.
But some things, like family traditions, never change. For her, the most cherished tradition they had in her family was going to Santa Cruz mountains to cut down a Christmas tree. Along with the walks they went on every night, ending up at the big tree and climbing up into the branches with the other kids in the summer. It’s a little sad how that tree is gone now. It’s a very fitting reference to a song to say, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” as that is exactly what it is now.
Kirsten was a member of Brownies as a child, as well as Girl Scouts, though not for very long. There was another group she was a part of called Indian Princesses which was a father-daughter type of thing where they would go hiking together or camping. She did that when she was in elementary school. Once high school came around, she had the opportunity to get her first real job at Mountain Mike’s Pizza, aside from babysitting which she had done a lot when she was younger. She also really loved horses and had a funny story to share about a time when she had her heart set on buying one as a kid.
“There was a horse ranch over off Glenview and the horses would come right up to you, they were so friendly, so my friend and I would go up there and feed them carrots and we wanted one so bad. We looked in the local classifieds for the cheapest horse we could find and decided we would save up all our money and do a bunch of little jobs here and there to buy this horse. It was about 800 dollars, so we babysat, collected bottles, and kept saving. Eventually, our parents started getting scared because we almost had enough but they told us we would have to board the horse and feed it and all this other expensive stuff so that was the end of our horse dreams. So, we would go up and feed the horses at the ranch, give them apples, it was the best we could get.” she laughed.
As an adult, her favorite things about Almaden Valley have changed a little. Going to Starbucks is high up on the list along with the fact that the Almaden Valley is home to a large diversity of great and friendly people. It’s still a part of San Jose, but it’s still got the small town feel that all of its residents seem to adore about it so much. It’s hard not to love the mountains and hiking. She also loves her book club. She tried to learn how to knit, but that didn’t go too well and as she works full time right now it’s hard to think about doing her own things. Her two kids are starting to grow up and she’s spent so much time getting ready to launch them into the world that now as that time approaches, it’s bittersweet, “I don’t know what to do with the spare time I’ll have.”
Some of her favorite things about Almaden Valley: “Flying into San Jose and seeing the radar tower on the top of Mount Umunhum. The beautiful surroundings and having the beach so close.” She had another amusing story to share that has become a sort of urban legend around here that even the younger generations have heard a little about: involving guns, marijuana, and Albinos. “You used to go to Los Gatos and there used to be these stories that there was a group of albino people who had bought a bunch of land there and they were the original marijuana growers. You would be stopped at gunpoint by them if you rode your bikes up there. My brother swears that he had been biking up that way one day and run into an albino guy and he had threatened him and told him to turn his bike around. You would think that you were going down a public road and run into these guys and they would turn you around right away. Well, they had a marijuana farm and guarded it with their rifles and were really protective, you would be turned back or shot at.” Younger generations now have referred to them as the “blood-sucking albinos” and to hear the origin of the story is just very funny.
All around, Kirsten is a cheerful person with fun stories and great beliefs and advice to give kids growing up in Almaden these days. She says “Try new things, be open to getting to know people, keep your family really close no matter how much they drive you crazy, take care of the environment, keep wanting to learn. And it is kind of nice that we can have Facebook and can reconnect with old friends. You guys have everything to look forward to. There will be hard times and good times. It was a really safe place but when you get out into the world there are some really scary things and bad things.”
Graduating from college and getting a degree in biology, spending a year in Central America on a mini peace corps program, her kids and her marriage are the things Kirsten is the proudest of. As far as biggest influences go, her husband is at the top of the list, along with her parents, her current boss and some of her closest friends. Her job in home health care and pediatrics has gifted her with opportunities to meet some incredible people, just as they are lucky to have met her. I’m so happy to have met Kirsten.