It's been 75 years since my mother first crossed the Golden Gate.
And that's a heck of a lot of water under the bridge.
This weekend, Fredrika May -- aka Fredi, aka G-ma to her broods' broods -- crossed it once again, three of her G-kids in tow, this time to celebrate its birthday, its beauty, and the memories spawned by that yawning span.
"It's more beautiful than ever,'' said Fredi, as she slowly made her way to the southern end of the bridge on Saturday morning.
Nearly 94 and still living in the Oakland home she's lived in for the past half-century, she was a trooper, leaning on her cane but plowing her way along the uphill path, pausing to have her photo taken with three bicycle cops, one of whom emailed the photo to himself as a souvenir.
G-ma, for this one glorious weekend, was a rock star.
"Engineering-wise, it's a marvel,'' said Fredi, pausing to catch her breath. "People back then said it couldn't be done, and there was a lot of arguing over it, I recall. But they did it.''
And her father, Fred Doelker, wanted her and her brother and sister to see the thing when it was launched that day in late May 1937. He was that kind of dad, said Fredi, who back then was a senior in high school. The kind who'd take the kids to see Amelia Earhart take off from the old Oakland airport. The kind who'd later drive them across the Bay Bridge the day it opened.
"We had watched them build it and I remember seeing the
Fredi recalls spending the night before the bridge opening at her grandmother's house on Castro Street. Then she and her family headed out toward the Golden Gate to join the other 200,000 revelers who would eventually make that first pedestrian crossing on May 27 three-quarters of a century ago.
"We'd sailed the Gate a few times before the bridge was there, so this was a real thrill to see it from up in the air,'' said Fredi, as her grandkids, Caitlin, Zoe and Cody, took turns holding a hand-drawn poster while tourists snapped photos of them with their G-ma.
It read: "My Grandma Walked this Bridge 75 Years Ago!!''
Standing near the south end of the span, after only having the energy to walk about 20 feet -- "That counts. I walked the bridge'' -- Fredi obviously felt the thrill all over again. She had made a weekend of the celebration, staying at the Stanford Court Hotel, which was holding its own celebration for the Birthday Bridge. And now here she stood, looking at the orange icon as memories of that morning long ago started to return.
"I remember that we parked and then we walked and walked and walked,'' she said. "It was crowded, but not like it was for the 50th celebration. That time, we got as far as the toll plaza when we heard Dianne Feinstein yelling into a megaphone, "Everyone go home. Go home."
Feinstein, then mayor of San Francisco, was one of many local officials who feared the bridge could collapse from the weight of hundreds of thousands of celebrants.
Fredi said she and her family walked to the Marin side and back, and "it was amazing to look down and see the water where we'd once sailed.''
After a few minutes of photos, she was ready to go. She'd "walked'' it once again. The bridge had restored the memories of all those years and crossings and people now long gone who'd loved this bridge right alongside her. Now it was time to safely tuck them all away again.
"It's a knockout,'' she said, gazing up at the exquisitely cabled masterpiece. "More beautiful than ever.''
Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689 or follow him at Twitter.com/patmaymerc