‘Samuel and the Magic Tree’ Inspired by Richmond District Writer’s Grandchildren

By Jonathan Farrell

With news of people leaving the City, one Richmond District native is determined to return and pick up where she left off.

Some reports claim that since the COVID-19 outbreak, the City has had an exodus of as much as 7%. Denise Webster, who was raised in the Richmond District, sees that as unfortunate for San Francisco and the neighborhood.

“As I return to the Richmond and Sunset to visit relatives and friends, I see the need to appreciate the balance between the past and present,” she said.

After living in Colorado to spend time with her grandchildren, Webster wrote a book entitled “Samuel and The Magic Tree.” The book tells the story of the adventures of a grandmother and her two little grandchildren during their daily walks.

Author Denise Webster. with her grandchildren, the inspiration for her new book “Samuel and the Magic Tree.” Courtesy photo.

Delighted that she was able to be with her grandchildren Samuel and Gigi during the initial onset of COVID-19, Webster wrote the book as a Christmas gift. 

While she loved spending time with her Colorado family, she realized her heart was in San Francisco. 

“Arvada, Colorado, where my daughter lives, is about a 25-minute drive northwest of Denver,” Webster said. “With mountains, hills, hiking trails and the Majestic View Nature Center, Arvada is lovely.” 

She said the Natural Center helped to inspire the book. 

“But I’m a city girl,” Webster said. “San Francisco just beckons me.”

Coming from a Portuguese background, Webster and her parents immigrated to San Francisco from Hong Kong when she was 4 years old.

“I consider myself a native San Franciscan, because we settled in the Richmond District,” Webster said. “We were very much a part of the community.” 

She attended Star of the Sea Elementary School from kindergarten through eighth grade and then Star of the Sea Academy for all four years of high school.

“It was very different back then,” she said. “Star of the Sea Academy was an all-girls Catholic High School. It was a good place to be and grow up. But the expectations were different, especially for women.” 

“Women in those days were expected to be housewives and raise a family,” Webster said. “I was the only one in my graduating class that was going off to college at UC Berkeley. As much as I loved my parents and grandparents and the life we had in the neighborhood, I just sensed there was more out there, and San Francisco didn’t disappoint me,” Webster said.

While she loved going to Golden Gate Park with her grandparents, or to the movies at neighborhood cinemas like the 4-Star on Clement Street, she was very grateful for busy Geary Boulevard. 

“The bus on Geary opened up the entire City to me because it took me directly downtown. And from there I could go anywhere,” Webster said. 

Webster considers the book an opportunity to build something. 

“There is a need to embrace legacy by the younger, newer communities,” she said. “As well, the older community, entrenched in their personal past, needs to acknowledge the changes instead of simply reminiscing. I think there must be a dual awareness in order to create a rich and committed city.”

Michael Pulizzano, Webster’s longtime friend from high school, thinks highly of her.

“We were in plays together. Denise was talented,” Pulizzano said. “Back then, all of the Catholic high schools in the City would work together to put on plays and musicals. Denise and I go back a bit further as I went to Star of the Sea Elementary School. We drifted apart when she got married after Cal Berkeley and moved to the East Bay to raise a family. Her moving to Colorado was a cultural shock; it’s a landlocked spot compared to SF. I’m so happy she’s back!”

Cheryl Boyes is a work colleague and Webster’s friend of 30 years.

“Denise is phenomenal; she’s a person to emulate,” Boyes said. “Denise is always involved with community. Relationships mean a lot to her,”

Webster shares on her website how significant her time with her grandchildren was. 

“The backdrop of nature provided a bounty of opportunities to not only learn about our surroundings but to create a special bond,” she wrote. “We sang, made up stories and shared feelings. Of course, time with grandchildren is precious, but I was surprisingly overwhelmed by the love that our time together created.”

When her grandchildren went off to preschool, Webster moved back to California. 

“I kept a copy of the gift book and every time I would read it, I found great love and recollection in such a happy, sweet and treasured time,” she said. “My heart would burst with love, and yes, sometimes there were tears. Happy, nostalgic, grateful tears.

“My friends noticed and encouraged me to publish this story. Not only for my grandchildren, but in honor of that special bond that all grandparents and grandchildren have; it is uniquely relationship-defining. “The Magic Tree” is indeed a metaphor for generations. It is a symbol of legacy.”

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