A part of Gilroy’s living legacy

Ring, ring.

This is Kat. I heard you called.

Yes, Kat, can I ask you a really personal question?

Yes, of course.

It’s really, really personal.

That’s okay. Go ahead.

Ring, ring. “This is Kat. I heard you called.”

“Yes, Kat, can I ask you a really personal question?”

“Yes, of course.”

“It’s really, really personal.”

“That’s okay. Go ahead.”

“Kat … I want you to write something for me.”

“Okay, sure.”

“I want you to write … what’s that thing called … that thing that people write, you know … that thing they write when you’ve passed away … is that what you call it, ‘passed away’?”

“You mean when you die, yeah, you can call it ‘passed away.’ “

“No, you know, when you pass away … that thing …”

“Oh, you mean your obituary?”

“Yes, Kat, I want you to write my obituary.”

I had never received a phone call like this one.

“You know, we could write something about your life while you’re still alive,” I laughed. “You don’t have to die for me to write something about you.”

When Doris Kallas was born, the world had not yet seen the invention of the first talking movie or the discovery of penicillin. Women couldn’t vote, the U.S. had not yet officially adopted its National Anthem, and there was no such thing as Daylight Savings Time. Doris can tell you about the first commercial flight over the Atlantic and the first rocket into space.

She can tell you firsthand about the Great Depression because it marked her move to Gilroy as a young girl. Her widowed father left Idaho in order to keep his five children together. Without their mother, Idaho law threatened to put his children into the Boise Orphanage, so he came to Gilroy where he was free to raise his children as he wished. Times were hard, so the family went to work in the fields and the canneries. At the age of 14, Doris went to work in a downtown fruit cannery.

Doris has lived in the same house on Eigleberry Street for more than 70 years.

“My husband John’s folks built the house. You won’t meet many people who’ve lived in the same house for 70 years; I came here as a bride,” she says.

“It used to be a lovely peaceful Italian neighborhood, but now there are so many neighbors I don’t know.”

It was there that she raised her three daughters, one foster daughter, and various other young people that she has helped over the years.

Last Sunday was a challenge for Doris’ friend, Viola Taylor, who had the job of deceiving Doris long enough to transport her to a big surprise 90th birthday party. “This is going to be tough,” said Viola. “I have to lie to Doris.”

Doris’ large extended family and friends gathered for the big celebration. Her great nieces sang a beautiful duet of her favorite hymn, “In the Garden.”

Telling her daughter about our phone conversation as we ate birthday cake, she said to me, “Oh yes, to hear her talk, mom’s been dying for about 45 years now. But she just keeps on going.”

Wanting to get more information for a future column about Doris and the story of her long life here in Gilroy, I asked her, “When can I come talk to you?”

“I’m busy; come see me in July,” Doris answered. “If I live that long.”

Doris, I have a feeling you’re still going to be around, so I’ll be over to interview you in July.

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