Fightclosure...The Resistance of Kathryn Galves
It was a day that took 40 years. I didn’t know Kathy Galves. I’d never seen her purple house in Noe Valley off of Church Street. I never knew a house could breathe, didn’t know that a floor could speak, that windows could pulsate and expand like thirsty leaves pressed between seasons. Kathy Galves an African descended elder thumbs through her life—her possessions. 40 years, that’s how long Kathy Galves lived in her house, that purple one in the middle of the block. Kathy Galves remembers the neighborhood when elders conversed, whose names were as familiar as birdsongs—names worthy of remembrance beyond mere street signs and park benches. It took 40 years to get to Kathy Galves’ house. She’s not hard to spot, wearing bright colors, her face full and deep with stories shaped by rivers. She’s probably the only one of her kind in the neighborhood—an African descended elder homeowner. With the foreclosure crisis that has plagued communities of color—particularly the city’s black community—Kathy Galves must seem like an aberration, a misnomer to the young, mostly white newcomers to the neighborhood who peer through google bus windows with google eyes and I-Pads, I-Pods and a thousand other things that begin with the letter “I”. Kathy Galves, African American elder, 40 year Noe Valley resident and San Francisco native gets ready to leave her home for good on a day in April.
Flyers were posted throughout Kathy Galves' neighborhood announcing the foreclosure sale to be held at her house. Kathy’s face was on the flyer, in black and white along with information about the sale. I arrived with POOR Magazine co-editor Lisa Gray-Garcia AKA Tiny and our son Tiburcio. In front of Ms. Galves' house was a table with various items for sale—lamps, a tape recorder, handbags, record albums. Boxes were stacked next to a metal trash dumpster. The boxes were filled with years of documents with Kathy’s name printed in numerous places. I thumbed through the record albums. I recognized many of them—jazz artists that my father had loved. I slipped one disk out of its jacket. The record was black and shiny, without a blemish.
We made our way into the house past boxes stacked high and rooms filled with books, pictures, clothes, tables topped with trinkets, mementos and kitchen items. We got to the front room where Ms. Galves was sorting through racks of clothes. As she was sorting through 40 years of things, people filtered inside the house—some obvious hipsters, the face of gentrification—going through the kitchen, peering at furniture and kitchenware and other household items. I walked through the various rooms. In back were books about black life in the bay area. I saw a title on a shelf called, “Black Rage”. I felt strange walking through the hall where life had been, where life still was and was being torn and extricated, scoured by hipsters that hadn’t been on earth as long as Ms. Galves had been in her home.
Kathy greeted us with a wide smile as she appeared from behind her rack of clothes. “I’ve lived in San Francisco all my life” said Kathy. My family was from Memphis and I also have Cherokee blood. The floors creaked under the weight of her African-Cherokee feet, firmly planted like the indigenous Ohlone roots of the city. She spoke of her late husband, whose hands painted and plastered the walls and created mantels that adorn this sacred house. Ms. Galves loved to cook. She spoke of the barbeque that she and her husband often shared in the kitchen. She was a woman who lived quietly and humbly, didn’t try to cut corners, living honestly and honorably, a woman with a gentle soul and kind spirit—attributes that are not quantified in the predatory and unaccountable world of real estate speculation.
She told of how the bank had sold her mortgage to a bank that had foreclosed on her house after it had offered to work with her to resume payments. She was told she could change her mode of payment only to be entangled in bank bureaucracy, being told one thing then another until the bottom fell out. Now she has only 2 days to clear her belongings from the property. She purchased her home for 30 thousand. The bank would like to sell it at a minimum of one million dollars. Wells Fargo had intended to sell the property on March 21st, a day after members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors stood on the steps of city hall calling for a resolution to halt all foreclosures in the city. The following day Ms. Galves received a one-week postponement of her eviction.
Ms. Galves is an elder with significant health problems that have been exacerbated by this tragic situation. Her blood pressure had spiked to very dangerous levels which has led to problems with her kidneys, heart and lungs. Despite this, she refuses to be dispirited. “They’ve unleashed a hydra” she says, serving notice to the banks that wreaked this damage upon hers and so many others. “I’m going to fight, I’m going to go to hearings and tell people my story. I’m not going to let them get away with this”.
Despite losing her home, Ms. Galves still smiles. Her last day in her home was like the first day when we walked through the door. Each step, each window, every inch of floor and wood contains her name. It will not be erased. She could wear a mask of anger, no one would blame her. But she smiles and holds herself with a dignity and strength that is much more powerful than any foundation that a house may sit on. It is the strength of spirit which is stronger. With it she will prevail.