The Legacy Project | Week Three - Home


I wrote in the last installment of The Legacy Project about ROOTS - how my parents met and how my grandparents met, and where I am from. This week I am going to delve a little deeper into talking about "place"... more specifically, HOME. 


I was born in Reading, England and lived there until I was seven. The first home we lived in was a small house in new development on a road called Lancing Close. My dad tells me that he lived there with almost no furniture until he married my mom in June 1973, at which time she moved in and I'm guessing they then bought some furniture! The house was 900 square feet and 3 bedrooms. My parents bought it for 11,000 GBP (approximately $16,000). Here are a couple of photos of the house that my dad took in a recent trip back to the UK, and also the real estate flyer for the property. 

12 Lancing Close, Reading, UK.

I have a few memories of living in this house. I lived there from the time I was born until age 5. I remember the twins who lived next door, who were the same age as me. My parents were friends with their parents. I remember staying overnight at their house when my younger brother was born and waking up scared in the middle of the night. I remember going to preschool just down the street. I have two vague memories of preschool - one is participating in a Christmas pageant where I played the Angel Gabriel, and one is of sitting on an ant hill out in the playground which was NOT FUN. 

I have vague memories of the backyard of this house. It was sort of tiered and had a cement patio right out the back door.

I found a few photos from Lancing Close - in the first one I am about two years old, and the next two are of a birthday party - this must have been right before we moved, because the friends in this photo are mostly elementary school friends. 

Please to enjoy the lovely seventies' style curtains and upholstery (my mother tells me this pattern was en vogue every time I talk about how ugly it was haha).

My dad tells me that in 1978, my parents tried to sell the house on Lancing Close to buy this house across the street. The sale fell through, but if they had succeeded, they would not have agreed to transfer to the U.S. a few years later and my life would have been very different!


In December 1980 my parents sold the house on Lancing Close for 23,950 GBP and bought a house a few blocks away on Tilehurst Road for 40,000 GBP. We only lived there a little while as we moved to the U.S. in October 1981. 

I remember the backyard of this house being quite spacious - I believe there were a few apple trees out there. I remember walking to school. I don't have a lot of other memories since we were only there a short time. I vaguely remember sitting at the dining room table drinking soup when I had the mumps. I remember my brother being a baby there - he had this big stuffed sea lion toy he used to lie on in the living room.

Here is one photo I found of my sister and I playing dolls in our bedroom. 


In 1981, my dad's job transferred him to California - Silicon Valley. We lived in a condo in San Jose for a couple of months until my parents bought a house in Sunnyvale, CA. I remember very little about the actual move. I remember my classmates in England making me a big goodbye card, which I still have in a box somewhere! I also vaguely remember having a goodbye playdate with my two best friends from school before we left. I remember not having the school uniform when I first arrived at the Catholic school in Sunnyvale where I started the second grade. I remember a boy in my class making fun of my accent.

On the plus side, I also remember that I would go to various classmates' houses after school until my dad could come and pick me up on his way home from work. Two of those classmates became best friends throughout elementary school all the way through to eighth grade. I am still in touch with one of those girls on Facebook now, 35 years later!


In January 1982, we moved into our house in Sunnyvale, where my parents still live today. The family who sold the house to my parents became good friends of ours and we used to call them our "American grandparents". I remember going to movies and out for ice cream sodas with Bud and Evelyn.

This is a photo of our house in Sunnyvale now, taken by my dad:

The house is gray now, but I always remember it as yellow - that's the color it was when I was growing up. Below is a picture I took when I was about eight years old of my family outside the Sunnyvale house (when it was yellow!). The house has three bedrooms on the main floor with a living room, family room and kitchen. Upstairs the former owners had a game room - when we moved in it became a fourth bedroom. Out back is a nice deck, a swimming pool, and at one time, a fire pit. I think my parents now have flowers planted in there.

Although I spent the first few years of my life in Reading, its really Sunnyvale that I consider my hometown. I lived there until I was eighteen and left for college, but then I returned for a few years after college, as well. Sunnyvale is your typical suburban Californian town. It's right in the middle of Silicon Valley, so lots of tech companies and shopping centers around. We grew up going to a pizza place whose original location was bulldozed to build the Apple campus. 

I went to a Catholic school down the street, and on non-school days I played with kids who lived on our street. My best friend growing up lived just a few houses down from us. During the summer I was at her house every morning around 9:30am and would wake her up, play all day, and then go home at dinner time. We often played at the playground of the public school around the corner, and at each other's houses.

With my brother, sister and some friends in the backyard of the Sunnyvale house.


In junior high I remember we sometimes had "minimum days", where we were dismissed from school at lunch time. I'd walk with my school friends up the street to McDonalds for lunch, and then sometimes we'd go bowling.

In high school, I went to another Catholic school in the next town over (St. Francis High School). I didn't spend a lot of time with kids from school - most of my friends in high school were either kids I met at the community theater in Sunnyvale, or friends from my confirmation class at church (who are still my closest friends to this day!). In high school we mostly hung out at each others' houses, or at Prima Strada Pizza, where we all worked (and later at Baskin Robbins, where we also all worked!), or at Ortega Park, which was near my friend Mary's house.


Over the years the bedroom configuration changed many times in our house. I shared with my sister for many years - we got our own rooms at some point... maybe junior high? Below are a few images of my bedroom during my high school years. Daybed, and lots and lots of pictures on the walls! I was really into theater and dance in high school, so lots of performing arts paraphernalia all over the place... and lots of pictures of my friends. Although I hadn't yet gotten into photography, documenting was always very important to me, so I have many photographs and journals from that time in my life. You can probably also make out quite a collection of Cabbage Patch Kids, and some cassette and VHS tapes!

Here are a few photos from inside the house in Sunnyvale, taken more recently:

Lila and Lucy playing in the upstairs bedroom.

My friends from high school, hanging out on my parents' deck 20 years later!

Lila and Lucy playing in the upstairs bedroom, which I used to share with my sister Becky (pictured here).

Logan eating in my parents' kitchen.

Logan in my parents' kitchen.

Lila in my parents' backyard, riding between the deck and the pool.


After graduating from high school, I moved down to San Diego for college where I lived in three different places - on-campus dorms the first year, then an on-campus apartment the second year, and then a duplex in La Jolla for my last two years. After college graduation I lived in an apartment in Oakland for about a year and then moved back to Sunnyvale for two years. I moved to an apartment in the Richmond district in San Francisco in 2000 and lived there until I moved to New York City in 2002. In NYC, I first lived in Astoria, Queens for two years, then in Inwood in Manhattan for a few months, then Washington Heights (two different apartments) until 2011. Intermixed in there are four years traveling around the U.S. and Canada on tour. In 2011 I moved to our current house on Long Island.

Whew! I will elaborate more on life and homes after high school in future posts!


We had many, many pets growing up - starting with my dad's dog Sloop and my first cat, Spooky, when we lived in Reading. We won't talk about how Spooky met her demise when she took a nap in the dryer and then my mom turned it on . . . oops.

Once we moved to California, we had a cat named Tabitha for a little while and then a cat named Misty, who was a fantastic cat and lived with us for about fifteen years until she died. Over the years there were lots of other pets - mice, hamsters, frogs, I think maybe even a rabbit... my parents were definitely good sports about us having pets! They didn't adopt another dog after Sloop until most of us had left the house, though. They have had two dogs since I moved out.


I definitely have had a few homes away from home over the years. When I was in elementary school, I would say that my friend Gina's house down the street was my home away from home. Any day that I didn't have school, I was there. From sun up to sun down. In high school my home away from home was the Sunnyvale Community Theater, where I did musicals from my sophomore year of high school through the summer after graduation from high school. It was there that my life-long love of theater began, and it was a haven for me throughout the difficult high school years. I never felt like I connected with the kids at my high school, but at the community theater, I had a home. I loved every minute of being there.

* * *

I feel like this post really just scratches the surface of what all these homes have meant to me over the years. There are so many stories within the four walls of each of these special places. I hope to share more of those stories of home in the upcoming months, but for now I hope this serves as a good introduction to all of them.

Where we love is home - home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

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Francesca Russell is a documentary-style family photographer and filmmaker located in Garden City South, NY. If you'd like to see more of her recent documentary family photography, head over to her Facebook page or follow her everyday adventures on Instagram. If you are looking for a family photographer or lifestyle videographer on Long Island or in the New York City area to document your family, small business or event, please contact her for more information.

The Legacy Project was inspired by the 52 Stories Project.