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Leaving home, going home

Baldomero Galvan as he prepared to leave his longtime home on Perine Place.

HE WOKE UP the last Saturday morning in September for a final time in the neighborhood. Then Baldomero Galvan packed his Chevy pickup truck and, after 50 years in the tight-knit little community within a community on the one block of Perine Place, headed back to Texas.

He was just an ordinary person, like so many others who live in the Fillmore. And like many others, he found himself being pulled back toward his family as the years accumulated.

“It’s sad,” he said, wiping his moist red eyes as he ran the vacuum over the carpet in his modest wood-shingled home one last time. “I’ve made a good life here. San Francisco has treated me very well.”

He was Baldo to his friends and neighbors on Perine Place, the plant-lined alleyway just north of California Street between Steiner and Pierce.

He had shipped out of Texas in 1949 to join the Air Force, then was discharged to San Francisco in 1953.

“I came here to see if I could find work,” he recalled. “They accepted me, so I stayed.” Later he ventured back briefly to Texas to go to college on the GI bill. “Then it got too hot for me,” he said, so he came back to San Francisco and went to work for PG&E for 27 years. In 1961 he bought the tiny 30-by-30-foot shingled house at 50 Perine for $7,000.

“It was pretty run down,” he remembered of the house and the street. “It’s built up since I’ve lived here. Every place has been sold two or three times, always for the better. Now it’s pretty nice — and still improving.”

He had a hand in the improvements, helping many nearby neighbors as a handyman over the decades.

“I’ve kept the street neat and clean,” he said. “And I’ve worked in a lot of these houses.”

His pantry once held the keys to many neighborhood homes he helped maintain.

All his life he could fix things. He became a skilled carpenter and outfitted a woodworking shop downstairs. “It built up where I could live on that,” he said, so he took early retirement from PG&E when he turned 55. Inside the door of his kitchen pantry were 39 nails, which for years held the keys of neighborhood homes he helped maintain. If you asked at Fillmore Hardware whether there was a good carpenter in the neighborhood, longtime manager Phil Dean was likely to give you Baldo’s name and telephone number.

“I miss the hardware store,” Baldo said. And he called the roll of other favorite local spots — especially Lee’s Coffee Shop around the corner on California Street, where he had breakfast for years, long before it became the home of Delfina Pizzeria.

“All those places have changed,” he said matter of factly.

A few months ago, on his way home from a Giants game, Baldo fell and broke his shoulder. It’s better now, but it made him realize he might not forever be as self-reliant as he’d always been.

“At 82, you gotta be near your family,” he said. So he set about finishing up his affairs in San Francisco and prepared to sell his house, which he had upgraded considerably, and for which he had built much of the furniture.

His $7,000 investment in 1961 had been wise. Almost as soon as he listed his house he got an offer from a young couple expecting their first child. He’s taking his $720,000 back to Texas, where he’s buying a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home with a 2-car garage on a corner lot in Austin for $125,000. His niece lives next door, and two sisters and their families live nearby.

His truck was packed. He said goodbye and prepared to drive away, thinking he might make it to Bakersfield by dark.

“Been nice knowing you,” he said.