Biographies & Memoirs

Mozart in the Garden: Silicon Valley and Me, We Grew Up Together


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From the Ashes of Fruit Trees Grew Today’s Silicon Valley

Thousands of cookie-cutter homes for high-tech workers sprouted from the funeral pyres of a vanishing way of life as acres of lush fruit trees were bulldozed and burned to create today’s Silicon Valley.

One of the children who grew up in this new suburbia in San Jose, California, was Tom Liggett, a neglected, unwanted child of dysfunctional parents, who befriended the “witch” who lived in the Spanish cottage on the hill.

Their unlikely friendship and Tom’s adventures are told in this unforgettable memoir. It’s a tale of lost dreams, boyhood innocence, and two remarkable characters in midcentury California history.

A stunning story-within-a-story recounts the life and times of Faye Wolfe, the last first-person account of a survivor of the 1900 Galveston hurricane, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and her connection to Spanish-style architecture of the region and sordid history of Silicon Valley—long before it was ever Silicon Valley—as told to an eleven-year-old boy in this, his coming-of-age memoir.

Tom Liggett is one of the world’s foremost experts on roses. He founded the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden, the second largest public rose garden in the world.

Cowboys, Indians, and Poor White Trash

Silicon Valley. What a great name. It requires just two words to describe the world’s favorite economic hotspot. Most people believe this wealth is a new thing. Every schoolchild knows the story: Steve Jobs entered central California, wiped out the indigenous residents, and transformed the place into Silicon Valley. Kind of like what happened when Moses led the Israelites into the Promised Land, but with fewer people of Hebrew extraction. More blonds. More software engineers too.

Truth be told, the Santa Clara Valley has been ground zero for many exceptional activities. The most productive mines in California were there. The valley’s electronic industry led the world out of several economic recessions. But the Santa Clara Valley was once tops in another field too: agriculture. The soil and climate in that place are second to none. Grain, nuts, rose plants, grapevines, and fruit trees grow like nowhere else on earth. In the 1890s, more plant nurseries were situated in the greater San Jose area than anywhere in America.

Most of the Santa Clara Valley’s agricultural production was beneficial to mankind. Some was not. German chemists purchased all the apricot, peach, and prune pits they could get from Santa Clara Valley fruit processors. The processors thought the Germans were crazy to buy worthless fruit pits. German chemists thought otherwise; they turned prune and apricot seeds into Zyklon B. Cyanide gas. The Nazis used that stuff to kill millions of people who were noted as being problematic. Twisted people can always find ways to corrupt beautiful things.

After World War II, the Santa Clara Valley grew new crops: houses, roads, industrial parks, and shopping centers. They were built to accommodate a pent-up demand for the good life. America was filled with people who had lived through the Great Depression and World War II.

They wanted to party and raise kids, West Coast–style. That required brand-new, ranch-style, four-bedroom homes and high-paying jobs. Most of those new home buyers were not California natives. Many were former soldiers and sailors who had passed through the region during the war. They dutifully returned home after they were discharged from the military, but quickly learned that things were not the same.

Many people discovered that no other place could outshine California. People from all over the world poured into that fabled state. That influx led to a strange eventuality: Most of the people who have lived in California weren’t born there. They are transplants. Excepting me and a few other natives.

I had a strange entrance into the warm California sunlight. My mama was in the habit of marrying cowboys. While that created fast times for her, it caused a lot of trouble for me. Myron Thomas Liggett was the cowboy who rode through my mother’s life just long enough to create me. That’s a lot of name to say in one mouthful. I ought to know, because I am Myron Thomas Liggett Junior. My father and I chose simpler names for day-to-day usage. My father called himself MT. I am plain ol’ Tom.

MT Liggett was a perfect model for the stereotypical American cowboy. He seemed to personify the best and worst attributes of that type. MT was raised on the high southwest Kansas plains. That region is best defined by what is sometimes called the buffalo grass controversy. The proponents of that concept believe the combination of hideous weather, poor soil, and the lack of reliable quantities of water render the area unsuitable for permanent human habitation. Some people say that Kiowa County, Kansas, should have been left in its natural, undeveloped state. Area residents believe otherwise. They say the place is just fine.

Popular American lore indicates that every cowboy needs an Indian to conquer or a white woman to rescue. My mother was both. Her name was Lita Faye Snow. She was sixteen when she met MT Liggett in the summer of 1949. A Disney-produced, late-1940s American dream version of MT’s sudden arrival would require that he meet her at the corner drugstore or a dance. In that type of fiction, he would have asked her to go out for a glass of Coca-Cola and a walk around the block. The details of their initial interaction were grittier.

MT got kicked out of the family home in Kansas immediately after he graduated from high school. He joined the navy. MT, at eighteen, was just out of basic training when he was transferred to Moffett Field Naval Air Station in Sunnyvale, California. He was away from home for the first time. MT had overactive hormones. In that regard, he was surrounded by fellows of like mind. MT asked the other sailors where he might find a ready piece of ass.

An older sailor named Tommy Tomlinson approached MT and said, “I’ve got a sister-in-law named Gladys Pierce. She’s a grass widow.” Just for the record, that type of widow is created by a divorce decree, not by death. Tommy Tomlinson told MT, “Gladys will spread her legs for you. But you will have to give her some money to speed the courtship.” That detail was not a hindrance to MT. He quickly traveled across the Santa Clara Valley to Gladys’s house.

I can imagine what MT must have been thinking as he walked up to the bordello door: I’m not gonna be gettin’ me a spring chicken here. She’s had about six kids. Her pussy’s so big, I’ll probably have to tie a two-by-four to my ass to keep from falling in.

But things didn’t work out that way. The brothel door was opened by Lita Snow, the prostitute’s niece. MT immediately forgot about the prostitute. He had good reason for that lapse. Lita shocked MT’s senses. She was the object of every heterosexual man’s wildest fantasy. Lita and two of her sisters were beautiful. But they went beyond all normal definitions of beauty. They had angel faces and goddess bodies.

Lita was the prettiest girl in that bunch. She was just sixteen, but her looks were backed with experience—lots of experience. She had been with plenty of men and boys. You might expect that from a girl who was raised in a de facto brothel that contained three beautiful understudies.

I’m not saying Lita was a prostitute during that period. Who knows? She probably was, on one level or another. Truth be told, Lita’s amorous enthusiasm derived from another quarter—she liked men. She liked the way they looked, talked, smelled, and danced. More importantly, she liked to fuck. She got lots of chances to accomplish that activity. A steady stream of soldiers, sailors, and marines passed through Lita’s home. 

About the author

Tom Liggett, the last of the great rosarians, founded the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden, the second largest public rose garden in the world. He lives with his wife, dog, cats, and gardens in Silicon Valley, San Jose, California. view profile

Published on January 03, 2020

Published by Printer's Devil Press

60000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Biographies & Memoirs

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