A Farewell to Fullerton

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“All this happened, more or less.”

I moved to Fullerton the first time in the summer of 1993. My parents had recently divorced and we uprooted ourselves from the only spot I can remember — Anaheim across the street from Magnolia High School — to a newish development behind the LDS church on State College and Rolling Hills. I don’t know my mother’s actual reason for moving to Fullerton, but I have to assume it was to be closer to the preschool she had opened in the late 80s right next to St. Andrews Episcopal Church. 

My family has always been a big supporter of Catholic schools. My mom and her siblings had all attended St. Justin Martyr elementary in Anaheim, and went on to Servite and Connelly for high school. My siblings and I were no different. I had already been going to St. Justin before we moved, and my mom had wanted me to continue down that educational road. Unfortunately, as we moved at the beginning of summer, we missed the enrollment deadline for St. Juliana, which was our local parish church and school. Instead, I went to Acacia Elementary for a year — the only year I spent in public school.

Upon finishing the fourth grade, I took the entrance exam for St. Juliana. I didn’t want to initially. I had made friends at Acacia and I felt like I’d be abandoning them if I left. However, my mom was adamant that I receive a Catholic education. When I told her I didn’t want to go to St. Juliana, she gave me a choice. I could either stay at Acacia and attend regular sessions at the Chapel on Wheels, or I could transfer across the street. In the end, the prospect of spending my free time in that trailer was just too much. I figured I could still see my friends after school because, as anyone who is familiar with these two schools knows, they are literally across the street from each other — a street, mind you, that is about 20 feet wide. So no large effort on my part.

This is where my life began.

During the course of the testing to be admitted to fifth grade at St. Juliana, the school determined that their fifth grade program wouldn’t be right for me. I remember my mom receiving that call. 

“Mrs. Cocca? Yes, hi. This is St. Juliana’s front office. We’ve determined that your son Sean wouldn’t really benefit all that much from our fifth grade program…”

There was a long pause.

“…so we’d like to try him in our sixth grade program.”

My mom just about had a heart attack. She thought for sure I had bombed the entrance exam and that they were suggesting I needed to repeat the fourth grade. Instead, they wanted me to skip the fifth grade entirely and get started on the sixth. I’ve always said that the reason I skipped fifth grade was because I knew how to do long division, as I distinctly remember that being on the entrance test, but I’m sure there was more to it than that. 

This was my ticket to sixth grade.

I didn’t realize it then, but my time at St. Juliana really was a turning point in my young life. These were the halcyon days of my youth. I made friends there, many of whom I still regard as close friends these 25+ years later. 

I roamed the streets of Fullerton on foot and on bike. I added to my baseball card collection at 59 Innings. I’d walk to the AMC on Saturdays to play video games at their arcade and then catch an early afternoon movie. Every year, I’d get drunk on cotton candy and soda with my family at the St. Juliana Fall Festival, and then a few months later I’d hang out with all my friends at the Fish Fry, even though I didn’t like fish at the time (they had cheese pizza too!). We’d sit at the top of Acacia Hill to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. We risked our lives ice blocking down the steep, grassy hills at Craig Park. There would be late night runs to Del Taco after hours of playing video games. And I always loved visiting my friends at work when they got jobs at Baskin Robbins. The free ice cream didn’t hurt either. 

I loved it in Fullerton. It was my home, far more than Anaheim ever was. I had friends. I had memories, but not all of them were pleasant. I remember one Halloween when a friend and I were chased down by two different groups of older kids who threatened us and stole our candy. There was another time where some other friends and I decided it would be fun to throw glass bottles in as high as we could in the parking lot of Acacia Elementary so they’d smash into a million little pieces on the ground. Unluckily for us, a Fullerton police officer was nearby and heard the commotion. We spent the next hour sweeping everything up in the parking lot (under the close supervision of the officer) until every bit of glass was removed. 

I was a known quantity in the community, and I couldn’t see myself living anywhere else. Ever. But, the best laid plans, etc. etc. My mother remarried in summer between my sophomore and junior year at Servite, and we moved from my beloved Fullerton to Westminster. I was forced to move away from everything I had ever truly known and loved. I was driving at this point, so all was not entirely lost. I spent every afternoon after school (when I wasn’t at basketball practice) at a friend’s house in Fullerton, doing my homework and trying to recapture the magic of living there. Alas, I had to go home every night. Home to Westminster. 

Welcome to Westminster!

It was never the same. The friends I had who still lived in Fullerton were still very much my friends and we were still very close, but somehow it just felt different. I was now 30 minutes away on a good day, as opposed to 5 minutes at the worst of times. I had to plan and organize our get-togethers instead of just dropping by to see if they were home. I felt isolated and alone. No one wanted to visit me in Westminster. Why would they, when they were all in Fullerton? It made much more sense for me to come to them.

I was desperate to move back, but fate and circumstance never really allowed for that. Until recently, that is. 

I moved to Fullerton the second time in the Winter of 2019. My wife and I had been living with my grandfather in Anaheim to help care for him. After he passed, we had made arrangements to move to Yorba Linda. Those plans fell through at the last possible second, and we had less than 48 hours to find a new place to live.

We settled on a decent-looking apartment in Fullerton, about a mile and a half from downtown. I have to admit I was overjoyed to be moving back home. We were close enough to everything in and around downtown to walk. My wife and I made good use of that with our semi-weekly trips to Rutabegorz. We made a habit out of trying new restaurants and exploring as much as we could. She would laugh at me when I would explain that I wanted to go on a memory drive and revisit the places where I would hang out when I was younger. She obliged me anyway. 

I spent a good deal of my college years in this area.

It was beginning to feel like old times. At least, it was at first. Then I started to notice things I never did when I was younger. The ubiquity of the bar scene and, as a consequence, the constant sirens we’d hear on Friday and Saturday nights or the vomit we’d regularly have to step over on and around Commonwealth and Harbor. The ever present issue of homelessness, brought into stark relief when my wife was attacked by a crazed homeless woman while walking our dog. An attack, by the way, made in clear view of a number of Fullerton firefighters who did little to nothing to assist my wife or detain her assailant. 

We also began to sour on our neighborhood. I say it was a neighborhood, but, in reality, it was simply a collection of individuals who had little to no regard for anyone else, and showcased that attitude in every possible way. The constant illegal fireworks being lit off on every holiday, whether they call for fireworks or not. Just a few weeks ago, I swear someone was setting off Easter fireworks. The free-roaming children who would throw their trash in the street and in our driveway. The parents who didn’t seem to care what their children did, as long as they did it outside. The double-parking. Oh, how the double parking annoyed me. Couple that with Fullerton PD refusing to send anyone out to address it, even when vehicles were blocking my car and driveway, and you can see why I was so frustrated with it.

How else would you celebrate Easter?

So my wife and I made a choice — we decided to leave Fullerton. Again, at least for me. And this time, it was my choice. In reality, there really wasn’t much of a choice. We will soon be bringing our own child into this world, and we decided Fullerton just isn’t the place to do so. It’s a shame, really. Fullerton has such promise. It has such a storied history. It has my history. But that history may only live in the past. It certainly does for me and my family. 

Maybe it’s just my rose-colored glasses, but I’ll always remember my Fullerton as one of happiness, exploration, family, and friends. It’s just sad that my Fullerton can’t be our Fullerton.


About Sean Cocca

Born and raised in Orange County, Sean graduated from CSULB with a degree in Journalism -- something he has tried (and failed) to exorcise from his life. He resides in North OC. He's grown far more politically independent over the years and staunchly refuses to join a political party. Follow him on twitter @NPPinCA.