A little while ago, Quirky Berkeley Believer Maureen Hanion wrote me about Linda Gallaher-Brown and Steve Napoli. She wrote this: “You might want to check out and talk to my neighbors who live on south side of Virginia in the Queen Ann house between McGee and California. On their porch you will see the mannequin Ophelia and her friend Drac. They have seasonal outfits and often conversations recorded in cartoon type balloon messages on the wall. Ophelia wears a red white and blue bikini and “hands out” candy kisses on Election Day. Linda Gallaher-Brown and Steve Napoli are proud instigators.”
How could I resist? Why would I resist?
Linda moved to Berkeley and this house at 1616 Virginia in 1985. She was a programmer for library automation at Cal. She grew in Fresno and Sacramento. Her husband Steve Napoli grew up here and is a retired train operator for BART.
They made Drac first, about ten years ago.
She made him, placed him, arranged him, and went into the front garden. She came back up the steps to the porch and forgetting what she had made, she was Very startled.
One Halloween Drac kind of morphed into Frankenstein. He’s back to his vampire form these days.
Opehlia came a few years later.
Ophelia is a character in Hamlet. She is a young noblewoman of Denmark, the daughter of Polonius, sister of Laertes, and potential wife of Prince Hamlet.
She is chained to the porch at night, but at times she spends her days out near the curb, often dressed in a red, white and blue bikini. I should mentioned that she is headless and that everything up there is improvised.
On election day 2018 she offered Hershey kisses to people who had voted already, people who promised to vote, and to kids who promised that they would be voters as adults.
Ophelia and Drac both had dialogue bubbles on election day:
On the day after the election in 2018, she consoled passersby upset by Trump’s victory. She had a bound notebook on her lap and offered people the chance to write their thoughts.
She changes her clothes seasonally. She don’t mind clothes from Goodwill. Although her foot is a size six, she has to buy 10’s because her foot is not flexible.
Inside the house, what do we find?
First and Most Important – we find Mooch and Pobby. They have been known to curl up and sleep on the laps of Ophelia and Drac. Why not?
Here they are:
The name Pobby comes from a children’s book set in the opal mining community of Lightning Ridge in New South Wales.
We also find collections and Cool Quirky Things.
This is the cat shelf.
This is the front room. The top row is the Oaxacan carved figure shelf.
Linda and Steve have been making their own Christmas cards for 20-25 years.
Over the years, Linda and Steve have used the American Gothic theme several times.
In this card, Steve morphs their two faces into a single face. Good job!
So there you have it – a few of many cards, manifestations of creativity and quirkiness.
Linda’s study is at the rear of the house, a sunny south-facing room.
Steve built the shelves that are filled with treasures.
At the rear of the house on the western side of the house is a sewing room that also houses the sock monkey collection. Yes, you heard me correctly. The sock monkey collection.
Most vintage red-heel sock monkeys found today are no older than the late 1950s, and many date from the 1970s. Linda and Steve were seriously into sock monkeys. Their Christmas tree became the front and center display for the monkey. One year, even with a bigger-than-usual tree, the monkeys overwhelmed it. Steve and Linda looked at each other and knew – time to stop with the sock monkeys.
There is a sock monkey festival in Rockford, Illinois, every year. This seems to me to be a wonderful thing. In theory at least.
P.S. Mrs. Fishers Potato Chips is a regional manufacturer of potato chips founded in Rockford, Illinois, in 1932 by Ethel Fisher. Today it is a recognized brand name of potato chips in parts of the Midwestern United States.
While at the rear of the house, let’s step outside and review the back yard.
There is a beautiful, lush backyard through which meanders a mosaic tile path.
They call this black cat Muggs.
A friend moved to Michoacan and asked what she could bring back to Linda. She suggested “tile,” not knowing to what extent unique tile was available. The friend brought back an assortment of tile. Linda set them in the circular frame of a broken mirror.
John Storey and I had several false exits.
When John Storey shot the front of the house from the street, Linda called us back inside.
A neighbor who had been born in the house gave Linda and Steve a photo of the house as it appeared a hundred years ago. Good add to the post!
Our second false exit came when we mentioned the recent Quirky Berkeley elephant post.
This was Linda’s grandmother’s elephant. She’s a beauty.
The visit with Linda and Steve and cats and Drac and Ophelia was a perfect ten. We cannot all be Mark Bulwinkle or Marcia Donahue or Buldan Sekha or Mark Olivier with staggering genius and staggering amounts of quirk to share, but we can all be Linda and Steve.
I may have mentioned (irony) that I was educated in a church school, the Episcopal Academy outside of Philadelphia. Each day began with a chapel service and each chapel service had at least two hymns. I did that for nine years. To this day I remember the words of many hymns, long after I sang them.
I never felt more like an English schoolboy of the 1930s than when we sang “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” Here is a lovely rendition of the hymn. Someone wrote: “The organist’s phrasing, articulation, and registration are wonderful. The small choir is outstanding, and the whole performance is radiant with energy and faith.”
This is a later verse of the hymn but one which I remember today:
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
for the saints of God are just folk like me,
and I mean to be one too.
Are we keying in on the operative words of the hymn? They are “just folk like me.”
Linda and Steve are not people who’d lead you to say that they are quirky. But Lordy me, Ophelia and Drac (especially with cat curled in lap), the collections, the sock monkeys, the Christmas cards, the backyard and mosaic path – this, my friends, is EXACTLY what I hoped to find when I began my Quirky Berkeley quest. People who are just folk like you and me, showing us in small material ways that yes, Berkeley is a little bit different.
I showed my friend the photos. “Did you pick up that the circular mosaic she made in the backyard has got a ying thing going on?” I hadn’t and i praised his powers of observation. What does he think of the post?