Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Early Mornings In The Fog

Fog, chill, damp - such is the constant of mornings on an island - at least in the Pacific Northwest. Limp hair, salmon derbies, runny noses - also part of PNW mornings. Boys had it lucky with their crewcuts and slicked back ducktail toppings. We girls spent every night (after our 13th birthdays) in agony with scalps skewered with bobby pins, helmeted with metal rollers held in place with wire prongs, and if the page boy hair style was to be perfect, empty frozen orange juice cans bobby-pinned to hair ends and wrapped turban-like with a towel. Then, to save the hairdo itself from fog-induced disaster, covered with a wool kerchief. Over the forehead, the kerchief was folded and pinned with more bobby pins. None of this stuff ever seemed to work for me. The back of my neck would be sweaty-wet, itchy from the wool, and my hair lank and stringy. Even if it had been available on the Island, Aqua Net hairspray (the first marketed hair spray sometime in 1950) wouldn't have made it on my mother's shopping list - too expensive and non-essential.

I was never a good fisherman. I did want to win the radio that usually was one of the prizes for the annual Island Junior Salmon Derby. Books and radio dramas were my escape and my very own radio would have been indescribably wonderful. So I endured the cold, dark mornings, the slippery boat dock, the rolling and rocking of the little tubby boat. My sister always managed to catch a salmon. One year I thought I hooked a real live salmon only to pull up a mackerel with another mackerel chomped onto its tail. And I caught my catch just as the Derby's ending horn was sounding. We were late to the weigh-in at the Sandspit so my sister's salmon was too late to qualify. She cried. I never went to a derby again.

Island fishermen all had their favorite choice of bait. Herring or salmon eggs were popular. Monk's Moocher reel was said to be the best way to "mooch" salmon. What's that? Well - Ed Monk, Sr. was a well-known boat designer, an Islander, an avid fisherman, so of course his fishing reel design was used by lots of Island fishermen. "Mooching" is a technique and is a derivation of an original Japanese concoction of sinker, leader line and two tandem hooks for the bait. Mr. Monk designed a reel that was supposed to ease the technique and allow the rod and line to easily imitate the motions of live bait which in turn would lure salmon. Monk's son followed in his footsteps as an architect of yachts and other vessels and was one of my best-liked classmates. We didn't even know his father was famous.

Ferry signals were part of the language of the mariners all around the Sound. Mariners are quite superstitious and curmudgeons about their traditions (I know this because my children's father is a retired ferry skipper). They take fierce pride in their seamanship. Even the way the Captains sound their vessel's bells are unique - say, adding a trill or asserting the last note. One long toot and two short ones in quick succession meant the boat was leaving the dock. Five meant danger! That emergency sounded loud and clear one day when I was about ten. We ran down the Hawley hill and watched in fear as smoke and flames billowed from the smokestack of the ferry tied up at the Winslow dock. (According to the newspaper, "the little ferry San Mateo suffered severe burns when a steampipe exploded." - notice the allusion to the boat's human-ness.) Our perch just above Old Charlie Taylor's boathouse provided an unimpeded view of the dock and its injured occupant. Luckily the fire was quenched but service was interrupted for the afternoon.

Overall, emergencies were few and far between on the ferries. The ferry Kalakala had more than its share. It was a streamlined silver streak but performed like an old clunker. Its crew complained about the darkness of the car deck and the awkward way it had to be loaded. It ran aground quite a few times. Passengers kept their fingers crossed it would not be late. To superstitious mariners, the boat's misfortunes were no surprise - before it was the Kalakala, it was a burned out scow - it had no chance of meritorious service in a later life - ask any sailor. One time, Bainbridge High School cheer and song leaders gathered at Fort Ward Naval Station early, early in the morning to wait for the Kalakala's arrival when they were scheduled to put on a show. The boat was so late the Fort's Commander invited all the freezing girls into his stately home to keep warm and not catch colds or pneumonia.

One of the biggest mishaps was the time a freighter was grounded on the Wing Point side of Eagle Harbor. One side of the huge ship actually rested on the rocky, slimy beach which was at low tide. It had been being towed when its tug towline snapped and the ship drifted from control. It was winter; snow frosted the Island. Hearing about the excitement, my mother, sister, brother, and I slipped and slid from our house on the edge of the Wing Point community to the beach. Along with lots of other sightseers we tromped over the slippery rocks of the beach so close to the ship we could almost touch it. Crew members however, yelled at us to keep clear. It was night. The lights of the boat, houses, and harbor lights all around twinkled and the wind blew. It was a major event for the event-less island. It was not foggy when the vessel ran aground.

The sounds of fog horns, bells, and whistles are the blues, the melancholy ballads of the Sound. In my mind I hear those wordless songs and feel the heavy mist on my face, smell the salt air. Fog is like snow in a way; quieting the landscape, softening footsteps, blurring the sharp edges. It wrapped me, soothing even when I fought youth's tears.

The first radar equipment was installed on the Kalakala in February 1946. It was some time later that all ferries were fitted with the device. Since ancient time, astronomy, experience, intuition, and "ear navigation" served as human radar. The Sound's waterways are filled with bell buoys, fog horns, and sounding boards, Each warning location has its own peculiar rhythm. All the old salts wore their experts' reputation as badges of honor; as proof of their infallibility. Plus, one sailor was always stationed on the bow for the ultimate check point of seeing and hearing any danger.

There was a spot on the Wing Point golf course, a stand of old cedar trees topping a rise, where one could sit and watch the ferries making their way to and from Seattle. If the fog wasn't heavy, the boats looked like they were sailing through the sky above the "wing" of the Point. In the black of night the strings of ferry lights out the portholes drifted ghost-like. My favorite nightscape though, was to sit on the roof outside one of the upstairs windows of my grandparents' house when the moon was full. The Sound was halved by a golden path of moonlight. I imagined floating that highway to some place far away.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Bridge At Long Last!

The colors of the Pacific Northwest landscape have always been deep, rich, jewel colors of blues and greens - except of course when blurred grey by rain and fog. Photographs of the 40's and 50's are more often than not, black and white, as such, coloring (or not-coloring) memories as drab, colorless. For example, the photos of workers marching up the ferry dock towards the shipyard and more images of them laboring, leave out the brilliance of the sun, the sparkling waters, the majestic mountains. So it is easy to attach the more somber tone of the times forgetting the magnificence of the landscape. It is that beauty that makes long, gloomy winters tolerable. Everything is always damp - at least it seemed that way.

When I recall walking across the just-opened Agate Pass Bridge in October 1950, clutching my grandfather's hand, the sun is shining, the Pass gleams luminous dark green far below, breezes frothing the choppy surface. There are sounds of people laughing and shouting greetings. My taciturn Grampa tips his hat and nods to many, many people. I didn't know he knew so many men and women or that they too, knew him. He had been one of several voices loud in their scorn of the building of the bridge. The swiftness and depth of the treacherous passage would make the driving of pilings impossible. The bridge was going to lead to nowhere. No one would use it. They were wrong of course as proven by the successful construction and the removal of the toll shack in one year instead of the estimated four years.

However, the connection began the demise of isolation that had sheltered Islanders forever. It was the end of Bainbridge's "Way of Life." It took two or three decades but the bridge, the cross-Island Highway 305, and the "super ferries" all colluded, making the Island just another bedroom community of Seattle. The population surged, becoming more interested in visibility than invisibility. One thing remains unchanged, the lack of roadside advertising and retail stops along the Highway. For that, the ladies of the Bainbridge Island Garden Club, 1949-50, are to be thanked as they managed to push through regulation prohibiting billboards, restaurants, and the like, assuring the continuity of the idyllic scene from one end of the Island to the other.

Poor old Captain Peabody, reviled as pompous and self-serving in the local newspaper, had to step down from his perch as keeper of the keys to the Island. He lost his bid to build the bridge but won building the new ferry terminal and dock. He faded into obscurity. The State of Washington replaced him as subject of disdain in the newspaper's scornful cartoons and rantings as incompetent ferry boat operators. For Islanders, ferries are like the weather; targets of complaints - because common folk have little power to change the system.

As is the nature of human beings, Island and mainland citizens each were suspicious of one another as they met for possibly the first time when the umbilical cord of the bridge allowed. The little town of Poulsbo, home to predominately Norwegian families, and equally small Bainbridge Island soon established a lively rivalry. High school sporting events were favorite competitive events. Retailers like Winslow's Allen's and Poulsbo's Snelson's department stores vied for the same shoppers. (An interesting note I think, is that both establishments had uneven, squeaky wood plank floors, were kind of dark, and carried pretty much the same inventory - walking into one was like walking into the other.) Even social centers like Poulsbo's Son's of Norway Lodge and the Island's American Legion Club competed for attendees. The Lynwood Theatre got busier. Poulsbo did not have a movie theatre so some enterprising entrepreneur built a drive-in about half way between the two locations. That was in 1955 when watching movies while sitting in a car was very popular entertainment. So were drive-in restaurants. There was the Cat 'n' Fiddle on the Island and Greg's in Poulsbo. Teenagers were ecstatic and soon made all three, hangouts; which were so much better than the previous "hot spots", the gravel pit and/or the garbage dump. Teens are a collective pack and have to have their own gathering headquarters.

Most Islanders were happy to have choices the bridge made possible; including opting to "drive around" to Seattle instead of having to rely on ferry service. Although the drive in those years was more arduous than now due to the less than ideal highway conditions. Still, it was a choice. Getting "off the Rock" seemed easier. Real estate then was affordable for working folk and the population remained mainly blue collar for a long time. Not like now when few options are available for anyone but those with higher incomes. We could never have imagined our little backwater would one day be a chic destination.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Canning and other (not so much) pleasures

It is intriguing reading about one of the latest "crazes" - canning. The need for "home-y" connectivity and healthy eating resonates on a personal level. But, at the same time I am looking into the not-too-distant past and realizing just why we have so much more leisure time now. I grew up in a household where canning was routine. And it was not a gourmet experience. It was just one of those many chores women did as a matter of course - you know, housekeeping or homemaker - whichever you prefer. The old song about "Wash day, Monday," "Ironing, Tuesday," "Breadmaking, Wednesday," etc. was not a child's game of hopscotch or something - that was it - every day was assigned major chores. It was the only way to keep sanity to the never-ending list of work that was required to run a household.

"Putting up" food stuffs for use in the winter when produce was not available was ordinary work in most homes - not like it is now thanks to over-night shipping, refrigerated containers and multitudes of preservatives, etc. putting fresh veggies on every table year-around! Now we expect apples and oranges to be sized uniformly - that's not natural just as perfectly ripened and colored produce of all types is not truly natural. Our expectations would be a joke to my grandparents.

My sister, brother, cousins, and uncle (remember the boy who was hardly older than me) spent many summer days picking fruit and vegetables from trees, vines, stalks, and bushes; digging potatoes, and shucking corn, shelling peas, pulling strings from beans and stems from fruits. Then we helped wash, dry, and sterilize jars, bottles, and caps getting ready for the cooking process. (Another example of kids work that kept us from troublesome pursuits) But there were rewards, too. Stolen bites of crisp, juicy, fresh peas, plums, strawberries, raspberries, etc. etc. And licking the sugar-y residue from the jam and jellie pots and pans. There was a boy next door about the same age as me. He was shy and would kind of slink into our group once in a while because he wanted to do the things we did even when we were busy doing chores. But my uncle usually chased him off because he always wet his britches - poor guy - I'm sure being rejected did his misfortune no good.

In the Hawley house, the canned goods were stored on wood slat shelves in a dugout basement room. There was no lighting, no flooring. But I still loved pushing open the door into the cool, damp room, the fragrance of the musky dirt floor; wiping aside the cobwebs and choosing from the dusty jars a treat for the evening meal. Often there was a new litter of kittens or puppies sharing the space. That was the best - cuddling soft, sweet-smelling little critters; watching them as they changed from un-seeing fuzzy balls to playful, tumbling playmates.

Laundry was a particularly heavy job - no automatic washers and dryers - a step-up in those days was a wringer washer. The water still had to be changed if it got too dirty and the loads had to be dunked in rinse water, and then hand-fed through the wringer rolls to wrest as much water as possible from the heavy, wet globs of fabric. That made a minimum of three laborious steps before hanging the wet stuff out to dry. To minimize the number of times wash water had to be changed, we followed a routine (See? Routines/patterns made a difference.) of sorting and processing the laundry - whites first, then light-colored, dark-colors, and finally, grimy work clothes.

In the Pacific Northwest where much of each year the skies are wet and grey, wet laundry had to be draped over every available indoor surface for much of the time. On sunny days I helped my grandmother by handing her clothespins as she hung the wash on the outside lines. I remember the feel of wet, warm fabrics as they gently slapped my cheeks and the sort-of medicinal smell of Fels Naptha soap. And Boraxo. And the smell of tobacco on my grandmother's breath. And her throaty chuckle. And hard toast slathered in butter dunked in blistering, strong coffee which she and I shared so many times. Wooden clothespins were cut in one piece and shaped like a body with a head - perfect to transform into people that had to have wardrobes. That's how I began learning to sew. Spring-loaded clothespins made them obsolete. I mourned their passing.

Sometime in the late 40's Beach's Meats became Beach's Meats and Cold-Storage Lockers when equipment for freezing fresh produce became available for us common folk. My grandmother was ecstatic and one of the first to rent a locker. She still made a few jams but everything else went into little white boxes with identification of the contents written with blue ink. The locker was pretty big and Gramma was pretty small. That meant lots of the boxes ended up lost in the back of the locker where the ink ran into blue blotches. We dug out mysterious treasures every so often.

Every Island home had at least one or two fruit trees of some kind and lots of households boasted gardens. What one family did not have could be traded with a neighbor or friend so food variety was shared. My grandfather true to his Swedish farm roots, cultivated a huge garden and nurtured apple, cherry, plum, crab apple, pear, and peach trees. This was before the wide-spread use of pesticides so it meant fighting off Mama Nature's bounty hunters was a constant campaign. One of the most common was the dreaded "tent caterpillars." Grampa, like most all his peers, set up the battle front armed with long poles, their ends mummy-wrapped with rags, dipped in gasoline, and set ablaze. Off he marched, fedora set low, to torch the nasty beasties. In the paper, warnings abounded about the dangers of the fiery war. Instead, hang a light bulb in the tree dangling over a pan of water. The light would attract the crawlies which would then fall in the water and drown. There was no mention of the danger of stringing multiple electric extension cords from house to tree. Needless to say, the garden soldiers stuck to their own ways and we got used to the smell of burning gasoline and caterpillar fur every spring. Besides there was no end to the thrill of watching the writhing of the evil beasts and disappearance of their webby houses.

Grampa built a woodshed with one side outfitted as his tool shack. There were jars filled with nails, screws, nuts and bolts; axes, saws, shovels, picks, hanging from the walls. Sawhorses and tall stools stood by the long workbench. Odors of various cans of liquids; gasoline, oils, turpentine, lacquers, paints, greases, and the like; permeated the air along with sawdust and tall stacks of firewood. (Do you think it might have been a fire hazard? Never occurred to us.) I loved being in there with him; especially after he fastened chunks of wood to the pedals of the stone grinding wheel so I could reach them. That was a tricycle-looking contraption Grampa put together from various parts including a triangular, metal tractor seat with holes in it. I think those were for ventilation. I sat on the seat stretching my legs to turn the pedals which spun the stone wheel which ground and sharpened the ax head. I learned how to hold a little ax at just the right angle for sharpening. I loved pedaling as fast as I could, listening to the whine and whir of the wheel against the metal of the ax head.

The wood shed was a hub of important chores. Every fall, Grampa chopped enough wood to fill the shed. Gramma cooked on a kitchen wood stove which she kept in full use even after an electric one was installed next to the wood stove sometime in the 1950's. Hot water came from a wood-fired tank and the fireplace warmed the living room all winter. A small, round oil furnace (more specifically it was a "heater") sat in the dining room. All it was good for was keeping Grampa's poker game comfortable, a cozy sitting spot for Gramma, and a pajama warmer for us kids. First a bath in the only bathroom, upstairs, race down to jump into flannel pj's that lay getting cozy on the heater, and speed back upstairs to flannel-sheeted beds. That was the way to spend cold winter nights in a house with no central heating.

But back to the woodshed. Even firewood had its specific pattern. Stacking wood in the shed began with building a bookend-like tower; four pieces one way, next layer, four pieces in the other direction, and continue til almost as high as Grampa. One of those arrangements at each end of the woodpile kept the wood from crashing all over. Another task for us kids was to deliver wood from the shed, down the dirt drive to the house. There was method there, too. A couple of wood pieces across outstretched arms, the next pieces laid in the opposite direction - as many layers to the chin as each kid could balance. Two across and up was my best until I graduated to three - I celebrated. My uncle was bigger and could have carried a lot more but he didn't like gettng scratched up by the splintery wood. I secretly practiced so I could beat him.

I wrote a poem for Grampa:

"He Always Said Goodday"
doffed his hat my way
and out he went. In his later
years, he always, to his destinations, walked.
Earlier, the chugging of the motor,
Model T style,
was his signal leaving -
he'd be gone for a while.
I remember pulling weeds,
Following his careful instructions
He showed us all how to
stack firewood, how to carry
the most we could,
Felt the heat of summer's day
in the coziness of his
woodshed, where I loved to play all day.
Split cedar, crankcase oil, earthy
musky smells of floor of dirt,
bare plank walls -
all co-mingled - one perfume
all around me
A Shawl of warmth, security, familiarity.
He showed me how to climb upon
and balance the great stone
ax grinder - sharpener of tools -
Even though my toes barely reached
the pedals - I raced around
the world - the whining, grinding sound -
heralding my start and return.
Later, I typed his prolific letters,
to Presidents, Senators,
anyone he thought should
do their jobs better.
Me and my Grandma, together,
we hid in the bathroom
We couldn't stand - our final memory
His vital self tucked into a shroud.
His booming voice, others feared
I ran to him - jumped, bumped
and galloped - just to spend time -
My Grandpa.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Quiet All Around

The children born in the years following the (so-called) "Great Depression," up to and during World War II, I call the "Quiet Generation" - in between the scrappy, hard-working Depression babies and the upwardly mobile "Boomers." As one of those "Quiet" ones, I recognize some curious similarities with my peers. A preponderous number of us feel we "didn't belong" in our childhood environments. I wonder if that can be related to the upheaval of the war years, the migration of millions of families, the changing family nucleus with fathers gone and mothers working. Those circumstances along with the sheltering and smothering geography of an island I know provided a unique microcosm of existence for me and my peers. The small population made us more like one big family in a way. Our parental-type influences were so much more limited also because media communication still lacked the worldly sophistication and speed of today. Radio and newspapers were the primary sources of news. Not even everyone had a telephone. In fact the number of new telephones each year was an important Island statistic and related directly to income and population growth. For example, as reported in the paper, in 1940 only eleven new telephones were installed but in 1942, there were ninety six - almost nine times more. Keeping in touch with far-away family and friends was by writing and receiving letters - real, hand-written paper pages. To make a telephone call from one end of the twelve mile island to the other cost a toll of five cents. Sending a letter anywhere in 1944, for example, was three cents for domestic mail and eight cents for air mail. Except airmail to anyone in the armed services was six cents. To cast a reality check, shipyard shipfitters were working for $.95 to $1.20 an hour.

One of my favorite and most important chores was to walk the mile or so from my grandparents' house to the post office in Winslow. There, rows of brass-fronted boxes with their dials and arrows, looked grand to me. I still remember the box number, 336, and the combination; three turns to the right to 5, one turn left to 9, and back right to 4. I always stopped at the little market where I bought a couple pennies worth of sugary water filled wax tubes from Mr. Loverich. Gramma said he was taking care of the store "until Mr. Nakata came back."

Those two names are reminders of two Island groups; minorities compared to the domination of Scandinavian names in the pamphlet-sized telephone book. There were so many "iches" that where they lived was referred to as "ichville" - Croations, mostly fishermen, and their families. The small number of long-time Japanese residents had been sent off by government order to inland camps but came back to eventually become market and nursery dynasties as well as Island pets. Each of the individual Island communities were close-knit. At the same time, the entire population was close as a whole and protective of their Island identity. It didn't take much provocation to rouse clannish boundaries.

All the "iches" and Japanese who I went to school with, I remember as being very quiet - it was probably the mood of the times. Mr. Bert Klingbeil, the elementary school principal for many years and a notable Island citizen, admonished once, no predjudice would be tolerated in the schools. Maybe owing once again to the isolation of the Island, I don't recall any connection between war enemies and my schoolmates. Our class and school officers, sports heros, high-achieving academics, and popular kids always included Japanese, Germans, Filipinos, etc. My recollections may be naive but I don't think so.

In my research of Island history, I noted a lot of anger and resentment voiced in various newspaper letters and articles when it was announced the interned Japanese would be returning to their homes. One of the most vocal men opposing the "enemies return," a few years later opened a nudist camp on his property. Islanders were horrified. In school the girls giggled and the boys not-so-secretly made mock plans to sneak in so they could see naked females. A front page photo of the local policeman, Sheriff Chuck Burrows, investigating the camp showed him fully uniformed; "thank goodness" people sighed. It wasn't too long before the camp closed and the family disappeared from the Island. As with all news, these and hundreds of one-time newsworthy circumstances disappeared in the haze of time.

Not only is "keeping to yourself" a Scandinavian trait, in those decades it was the societal norm. Privacy, modesty, and being circumspect were valued and respected. Those standards seem to have changed dramatically since then. Gossip was whispered, not shouted from every corner. Not to say there was less speculation, less judgment, or less babble and tattle. People were simply not so inclined to air (theirs' or others')dirty laundry as publicly as now. Not so bad!

Taboo subjects reigned silently supreme in my family when undoubtedly there should have been far more discussion. Being shy only exacerbated my disinclination to discuss anthing of a personal nature.

Stinkin' Lincoln

Those of us who attended Lincoln Elementary School were branded as "stinky" by the McDonald Elementary School kids who we called "farmers." The loyalty to our schools was palpable and woven into the small town culture. When both the rickety school houses were abandoned and the two sets of children forced to assimilate when all of us were transferred to the "new school" (later named Commodore Bainbridge Elementary), it took a while for the homogenization to take effect. But it did and then all of us stood shoulder to shoulder in our belief that we were the best over any other school in, at least, Seattle and without quetion better than tiny Poulsbo and Central (as in Kitsap or Silverdale).

But I still remembered returning to the Island three years earlier and my own assimilation still progressing. When the war ended my grandfather sold the house in Port Madison and paid $2,000 for a new house just up the hill from the shipyard and ferry terminal, in the little community of Hawley. The house he bought remains in its original state - at least on the outside - and has a historical marker on it as being the original home of a long ago Postmaster. My mother (I've always loved her name, Corrina) had fallen for a Navy man from far away Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We three girls (mother, sister Reenie, and me) drove cross-country with the guy so he could finalize his divorce - I guess, the full story remains a mystery - later Reenie and I learned to hate him. In Pittsburgh us females were housed in a one room apartment. My sister and I slept on canvas cots. Our blankets were now Navy blue. There was a sink in the corner. I don't recall a stove. What I do remember is the bathroom. It was down the hall. It was a scary, smelly place with deep red walls. In the heat of summer, we leaned out of the apartment's second story windows. I can still smell the pigeons and hot bricks. Every morning my sister and I woke up with sooty streaks under our noses. The blast furnaces of the city's infamous steel industry made the whole area black with soot and smut. There was a park close by. A new treat to us was crushed ice poured with sticky sweet syrups. One time we drove through a long, long tunnel with bright yellow lights, to see some relative. He must not have been too glad to see us because in my child's eye, there was a man wearing a hat running down a hill towards us, waving a rifle.

My little brother was born in Pittsburgh. He was premature and very sick. Off we drove again back to the Pacific Northwest. My sister and I had the whole back seat as playground and bedroom. A plywood platform was somehow jammed into the rear window well and that is where I slept. The trip took several days even though we didn't stop. No freeways and no rest stops in those days. My sister would not go to any gas station bathroom so we had to pee by the side of the road. I got car sick over and over. I cannot even begin to imagine the terror of my mother clutching a sick infant, helping me vomit, and coping with Reenie's fear of public toilets.

We arrived back on the Island. Now Reenie and I were coughing loudly. The newest fear was that we had contracted whooping cough. Gramma cared for us while Corrina ran as she pushed the baby buggy up the hill and about a mile to the Winslow clinic. It was nearly six months later when baby Paul returned from Children's Orthopedic Hospital in Seattle. By then he was a laughing, blond, curly headed, bouncing baby dressed in a yellow romper. Everyone was crying. All of us were now living in one of Grandpa and Gramma's bedrooms.

It was summer and I had made it through the last half of second grade. Terrified and miserably shy, I felt completely alone. Plus, I had missed two months of school because of possible rheumatic fever and a resultant tonsillectomy. The day I returned to school, my teacher, Mr. King, had personally carried me outside for recess and set me in the throne of the big maple tree. Instead of that being a prize, all the other kids ran away. Resting in that throne was a daily war game. Being placed there by a teacher ruined the game.

There were other popular playground activities. Instead of concrete, Lincoln was surrounded by various dirt zones. The "upper" playground was saved for baseball, football, and other rough games. A huge weeping willow tree dominated another area, creating leafy rooms for playing "house" and hideouts for "bad guys" and "robbers." The huge maple tree served as King/Queen wars and in the fall, for production of piles and piles of gold and bronze leaves that provided hours of play. When the school was demolished later, there was only one bid for the job and that was for about $600. A sentimental Island carpenter managed to salvage part of the maple tree for a chair which he donated to the school district.

In the spring of 1949, my girlfriend and I were walking home for lunch when we felt the ground lurching. Screaming, we looked back at the schoolhouse to see the fire escape and bricks falling. We ran to her house. Her mother calmed us down and would not let us return to school. Later we listened to all the news about the earthquake that had shaken the entire Island.

Monday, August 9, 2010

On being a baby - over and over and over!

I recently found an old essay tucked in a box of mementos. It reminded me of some Bainbridge Island (high school) history. Best forgotten in some minds I'm sure but interesting nonetheless. The words follow:

The last few days of the school year - eighth grade - Commodore William Bainbridge Elementary School where one wing was designated as the "Junior High School" - seventh and eighth grades. In fifth grade we had ridden the school bus for the last time onto the dirt driveway at Lincoln Elementary School. I think it was just before Thanksgiving that we started at the "new school." Gee - we called it the "new school" - it didn't even have an official name yet. There was some sort of contest to pick the school name. But flash forward about three years, here we were ending eighth grade and hearing all about going to high school. The driveway that led up the hill to the high school was right outside our classroom windows. The hill looked steep - forbidden. Sometimes, high school students walked down the driveway on some errand or other. They looked so much older, and, somehow, so different - even strange - maybe like stars. They drove CARS! Some of them SMOKED! Mr. Inch, the eighth grade math and P.E.teacher, taught gymnastics in after school sessions and once in a while, a couple of his former star athletes, now Juniors and Seniors, would help. I was the "runt" and silently terrified of those big guys - and, oh yes, of course, they were objects of my secret crushes.

My terror was constant. I was a year younger than my classmates because I had "skipped" first grade. I just knew everyone ridiculed me because I was such a "baby." I was skinny and small anyway but I shrunk as much smaller as I could so no one would notice me.

The tables were set to be turned - a bit. My whole class would once more be at the bottom of the totem pole. Not only would we be cowed by those "upper classmen", we would have make it from classroom to classroom in two to three minutes, store our stuff in lockers, make life changing class choice decisions, and answer to teachers who we'd been told had no patience with "baby ninth graders."

On the other hand, we might bump into the Queen of the Cheerleaders, the Senior Class President, or even the star of the football team. Those days, high school sports' heros (the big "3" being football, basketball, and baseball) were the Island's darlings. Over the summer break, the excitement took on an urgency. The girls fretted about their new wardrobes; how many and what color(s) of the Pendleton stitched-down and reversible plaid pleated skirts, coordinated color sweater sets and ankle socks, and white buck oxfords to get. Page boy hairdos were a must - you know the style set on orange-juice-can-rollers - and bangs plastered to our acne-inclined foreheads in Mamie Eisenhower fashion. Boys had to wear gabardine or corduroy slacks and button-front shirts (NO Tee-shirts). The two or three guys who cared about what they wore, chose black slacks and pink and white striped, button-down-collar shirts. The boys who were "jocks" wore their hair sliced straight across the top of their heads in a crew-cut. The "cool" guys slicked theirs back into a "ducktail." Regardless of the so-called style, boys' hair was SHORT. Girls were not allowed to wear pants of any kind to school. And jeans for both genders were not only strictly prohibited, but considered "farmer" clothing.

Me, I couldn't afford the Pendleton stuff so I baby sat all summer, bought a Penney's skirt and sweater outfit and hoped no one would notice the difference. My hair would not hold a curl in spite of sleeping on metal rollers and bobby-pinned bangs every night. The walk to the bus stop in the fog every morning left my hair looking like cold spaghetti dangling over my ears - not even the ubiquitous wool bandana tied babushka-like, tight on my head could save my pageboy. BUT - my biggest trauma was that I'd never sprouted real breasts. I couldn't even pretend to wear a bra. Today what I wore would be called a tank top or maybe even a camisole - then it was an undershirt. It wasn't so bad in junior high school because lots of other girls wore them, too. But I KNEW I was going to be the only one in PE class who had to strip down and show my UNDERSHIRT before taking a shower. I sat mesmerized in my girlfriend's bedroom, staring at the cone-shaped, circle-stitched bra laying on her bed. Would I ever be able to wear one of those?

The summer ended and high school began. There was about seventy of us new high schoolers. We managed to stumble through the first week of school, finding our lockers, and then lost them half the time, located our various classrooms, and were relieved when the first week finally ended. The "upper classmen" thankfully seemed to ignore us. Little did we realize we were being sized up for the traditional initiation rites due for us the following week. Our first Freshmen assembly was in the tiny gym that occupied half the main floor of the old brick building. There were rumors a new, modern, standard-sized gymnasim was soon to be built. But we were not concerned at the moment. At the assembly the rules we were to strictly follow for a week were gleefully announced. Babies - not just as an idle reference to our standing as newcomers - but we were to behave like babies. It was supposed to be funny for the freshmen to have garlic cloves shoved in their mouths and their faces washed with icy cold water. It was mandatory to bow and say "goo-goo" to all the upper class students. Penalties for non-compliance were assessed by the student jury. Some poor kids had to sweep the hall with a toothbrush or bark like a dog all day instead of speaking. By Friday the youngsters were bedraggled and faced the worst day - it was a sporting event like the ones Romans enjoyed in the Coliseum; Christians being ripped apart by hungry lions. First we had to sing baby songs in front of the whole school. Then the fun really began. We pushed peanuts with our noses across the football field and crawled on all fours in races and tug-o-war. And we had to be DRESSED like BABIES.

So came Friday. I wanted to be sick - actually I was sick - with anxiety, sick with anticipation of more ridicule. There was no way my mother would let me be sick. I wore a ruffled blouse, a full, short skirt, and the requisite bib and bonnet. Through the back of my blouse, my undershirt was plainly visible. I didn't get to second period before some wiseacre boy made a smart aleck remark. I was mortified. I turned beet red encouraging a whole platoon of fourteen year old boys to harass me. I almost threw up. I don't remember the rest of the day. I know it was capped with intra-mural field games and I also know that too must have been difficult since I was too shy to display any kind of athletic ability.

Finally, it ended. I thought it was over. But - the next week, on the paper's front page, a photo memorializing a bunch of bibbed and bonneted freshman girls stared out at me - I was one of them. The editorial merrily reported the hazing and teasing. There was no admonition of bullying or any mention of any kind of fear or humiliation. Instead the activities were lauded as normal and healthy activities. Thankfully I can report that was the last year of initiation festivities (a word I use advisedly). Not because of any concern for the mental well-being of the targeted participants. Rather it was the toll on class time that spelled the demise of "Freshmen Initiation." Whatever the reason, I silently applauded the decision. Today's attention to the damage caused by bullying and verbal abuse is long, long overdue.

There were lots of signs that in retrospect glaringly highlight the unenlightened times. Every summer, itinerant berry pickers would throng to the Island and in two to four weeks, assure the harvests made it to the berry stands and the markets. Lots of kids also made pocket money picking strawberries but it was the Indians who bore the load. The pickers, often entire families, were housed (to use a term loosely) in sheds, shacks, near the fields. There was more often than not, no electricity, running water, proper toilets, or baths. Group sanitation facilities were provided as regulated but the poor people were ostracized, shunned, and feared. Indians were rumored to be hiding in every ditch waiting to attack any lone person. A special deputy made rounds where any Indians gathered to "keep the peace" and let them know they were being watched.

When two Indian children died when a shack burned down, there was a loud movement to ban strawberry farming. The claim was that stopping farming would stop shootings, fires, and fights. No move was made to regulate safe and hygenic living conditions for the farm workers. But the sale to Indians of alcohol, including alcohol-based vanilla extract, had already been banned in righteous indignation ignited by the fear of those poor people.

Being a victim in those days was the crime. Prevention more frequently was in the penalizing of those upon whom crimes were committed.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sugar and Books and Other Stuff

There wasn't an Island public library like there is now. When school was out for the summer, so was my access to lots of books and I was thoroughly addicted to reading - books, comics, the newspaper, Reader's Digest - almost anything. So the Kitsap County Bookmobile was my love. It had begun its bi-weekly trips to the Island in 1947. The route for each trip was tacked in Gramma's kitchen. One of the stops was at the top of the Hawley hill. I didn't miss a visit and waited in line no matter how long it took, for my turn to enter the book-lined van. The metal steps creaked and the inside-warmth enveloped me as I grabbed a stack of books. The checkout card inside the cover of each book more often than not was crowded with stamped dates and initials. I could hardly wait to get the books, dash to my grandmother's kitchen for a jar of Kool-Aid and a butter and sugar sandwich, to hide out behind the woodshed and read all day. The war's sugar rationing had finally ended so one of our favorite lunches was the aforementioned sugar on buttered, homemade bread. Coupled with the heavily sugared Kool-Aid I was set for an all afternoon and well into the night reading marathon, amply fueled on sugar. Obviously there was no concern about the effects of too much of the sweet stuff.

Because the Northwest is located on more northern latitudes, summer days are longer than for nearly the entire rest of the country. Even though I slept fewer hours than anyone in my family, I still woke up to sunshine and went to sleep with the sun still bright. My bedroom window faced west; my bed was pushed against the window sill. With my head and shoulders poked through the iron bedstead I could hear all the outside sounds and feel the warmth of the sun. Those days were languid; the air was soft and sweet.

Kids had so much to do, the summertime Saturday matinees at the Lynwood Theatre were suspended because attendance was so low. School buses picked us up for swimming lessons at the Naval Radio Station's pool. At Day Camp at the Sandspit, we girls pressed flowers and leaves. There were sports and crafts classes at the high school, "Vacation Bible" classes, bicycle and horse riding, and building forts in the woods. "Catching the ferry waves" while floating on an inner tube was one of my favorite ways to pass hours. The sun beat down, the salt water was cool. My grandparents' house was a five minute walk up the hill from Eagle Harbor, in Hawley, so my sister, brother, cousins, and uncle spent a lot of time on the beach. We popped the slimy heads of kelp seaweed, caught tadpoles in the beach swamp, chased crabs from beneath rocks, and built more forts within the huge beach driftwood piles as well as played and swam in the water. We didn't know it was supposed to be too cold for much swimming.

In the grey, damp days the rest of the year, the Saturday matinees drew full-house crowds. We watched serial adventures of "Sky King", "Hopalong Cassidy", "Roy Rogers", "Flash Gordon" and many more. Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, The Road Runner, Donald Duck, and all the other cartoon characters bashed each other as we laughed at the ubiquitous violence. Many of us brought our own homemade snacks because the theatre's popcorn and candy were too expensive.

Our daily lifestyle was different than now in many ways. Groups of kids meandered all over the Island from one house or activity to another. Hitchhiking was not unusual. And not just kids, adults too would stick a thumb out for a ride to the theatre or to Winslow or maybe just for a ride home from work. Drivers were editorially admonished for failing to pick up hitchhikers.

There was one taxi, owned by the same man for a long time. He was part of the Island's fabric. One time he very responsibly reported in the paper, that someone had left a set of false teeth in his cab and the owner could have them back pending identification, of course.

Yes, the times were simpler but mishaps could be more dangerous just because emergency services were not always available. Like the time some kids were playing by jumping off the roof of the woodshed into a pile of hay - they were pretending to be paper dolls. One girl landed on her arm and broke it. There was not a doctor available right away. The result was the girl's arm was poorly set because she had to wait several days. I guess her parents didn't realize her arm was broken. The girl's arm remained permanently bent and pretty much useless.

It's always a wonder how kids survive childhood - being immortal and adventurous and infallible are a state of youths' minds. In the winter, I challenged pneumonia by walking through deep puddles and ditches filled with rain water until the tops of my boots collapsed and my feet sopping. I climbed trees so far to the top, they bent over with my skinny weight. Log-hopping on the beach especially when the tide was coming in was another favorite challenge. In those days the driftwood piles were left in their natural state. They were wicked arrangements of huge logs, sharp snags of knots and knurls, and often the logs were decorated with big, rusty spikes. Those were cast-offs and broken pieces of piers and docks and usually frosted with sticky creosote.

I liked to climb out my second story bedroom, jump to the ground, and sneak to the beach where I pulled out a tiny rowboat that Mr. Uglesich always left secured to a log. Broken piers of the abandoned Hawley ferry boat dock still stuck out of the water. At night, I loved to row the itty-bitty vessel around those piers, stirring the water with the oars to see the pale neon-green phosphorus swirling around. It was quiet; the water splashed, the gongs of the buoys were like church bells; it was my own planet. I wasn't necessarily adventurous; I just liked to be alone. The dark night was comforting to me.

For a few years after WWII ended,there were C-ration and even hand-grenade boxes to be found tucked in the nooks and crannies of the beach. At least one grenade was reported as found. Grandpa took the well-crafted wooden boxes and used them to store tools. I had one for years and years. At one time it was my son's toy box. But the C-ration tins held treasures - Hershey bars (often hard and grey-tinged with age) for us kids; cigarettes for the older boys, and water-proof matches. Well, one time, my cousins, uncle, sister, and brother decided to try smoking. We chose an upstairs closet where my Gramma's new clothes were hung. Actually, the older kids tried the cigarettes and wouldn't let my brother, sister, and I, being younger, have any. Not to be left out, we rolled up some paper and lit that! Yup, started the closet on fire. Did we yell? No! We closed the door and ran outside not wanting to "get in trouble." Fortunately, Gramma was outside and saw smoke seeping through the siding. The volunteer fire crew wasted no time getting there and successfully put out the fire. Not only did we get in trouble with parents and grandparents, Fire Chief Sinnett and the family insurance guy, Fred Tyzko, admonished us in no uncertain terms. We were terrified. Both those men were notably held in high esteem by all Islanders. But the worst result was seeing Gramma cry over the loss of her new clothes - they had been the first new ones she owned in a long, long time.

As antidote to fearlessness, without all the conveniences we enjoy today that make our lives so much easier, kids were helpmates in maintaining households. After-school chores and periodic tasks; like meal preparation, trash removal, wood chopping and stacking, laundry, pumphouse repairs, gardening; an endless list, kept young people too busy to have time for lesser pursuits. It seemed nearly every boy could do car repairs and maintenance. Cars, too, were simpler - and far cheaper. So there were many time-consuming activities. Young people came in handy.

For car and truck parts, there was a junkyard. There is a story, too. It was located just up from the ferry dock and behind what used to be, a little market, at the east end of the bridge over the ravine just before Winslow proper. The ravine was a perfect spot to dump all the old vehicles. Van (the junk yard owner) had a crane perched at the edge of the ravine. One time I went there with my Grandpa. I was fascinated to see Van's female partner standing on the business end of the crane, motioning directions to Van where to drop her in the bucket. I think she (I don't recall her name) knew where every car part was in that huge junk pile. One time my little sister agreed to babysit for the couple's numerous children. At about 2 in the morning, she called our mother, crying that she was afraid and the party-goers were not yet home. Mom piled me and her into Grandpa's old Model T and we sat in Van's similarly junky trailer until some hours later when they banged and crashed through the door. Mother would not take any money and forbade them calling for babysitting services anymore. More of the story has it that Van invited the entire Island population to a beer blast to celebrate his marriage a couple years later. The two junkyard-ers had been together seven years and decided to tie the knot legally instead of succumbing to the state of Washington, seven-year-common-law-marriage rule. I wonder whatever happened to the junk in that ravine which was also home to huge plants of skunk-cabbage and ,according to Islander Roy Spearman, a resevoir that held some "beautiful rainbow trout.".

Thursday, July 8, 2010

An Ode to Memorial Day

Memorial Day was a more important day than July 4 in my family. It truly was a day of memorium for our fallen Armed Forces members. My Grandmother was active in the American Legion Auxillary - the "sister" group to the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). On the Island, the "American Legion Hall" was a popular social center in the 40's and 50's. Memories of WWII and a few short years later, the Korean War, were still fresh. Veterans were honored members as well as a big proportion of the country's citizenry.

So - every year, my sister and I helped Gramma twist wire hangers into crosses and then wound Memorial Day Poppies all around them. It was our job to stand at the ferry terminal and sell the poppies. Some people bought singles of the red crepe paper flowers but many bought a whole cross. All the money went to the Legion and the VFW for helping indigent and injured vets. It seemed everyone wore one of the flowers and the cemeteries were dotted with the crosses. On the Day itself, we went early to the Port Madison cemetery to put out our remaining crosses and make certain all the grave sites were clean because later, there was a ceremony honoring those who had died in service to our Country. It was a solemn and heart-felt occasion. Until I moved away from Washington, my sister and I spent each Memorial Day cleaning my grandparents' grave sites right there in Port Madison. I still feel a pang of irresponsibility along with my memories of those long-ago "Poppy Days" as we called Memorial Day. I've seen grizzled, grey-haired Vets with a handful of sad little poppies in recent years - I always buy them all; and my tears fall.

I have many, many memories of my grandparents. They raised me and my sister and brother in more ways than did our parents. Gramma Hulda was tiny; her voice was gravelly probably from smoking the Camel cigarettes she carried in her apron pocket all the time. Grandpa was a reformed smoker and railed against anyone smoking near him, 'specially Gramma. So, she hid in the pantry to smoke and hid her cigarettes in the bread box. She opened the tiny window and blew her smoke rings outside. On Sundays, Grandpa's buddies came over to play poker. They sat around the dining room table for hours. Gramma brought them whiskey which she kept watered down to stretch it farther. But, the guys who came to the back door on Sundays, cash in hand, she charged full price for a pint of the diluted stuff. (Sundays are "dry" in Washington so Gramma made her pocket money from those unsuspecting visitors.)

I recall a story about Grandpa being a "star" curling player in Minnesota and that he always had a cigarette dangling from his lips. When his team won a championship, Grandpa was awarded a bonus prize - a long cigarette encased in a glass box. I don't know what ever happened to that memento but Grandpa probably threw it away when he piously gave up smoking - because his doctor told him either to quit or die!

Island lore includes a few colorful if not so savory locations before it became a popular destination for "upscale" residents and businesses. On the waterfront where there now is a marina dotted with yachts and sailboats; jazzy restaurants and the like, there used to be a tavern and a Chinese restaurant, Van Louie's - both enterprises were off-limits to upstanding citizens and kids.  Van Louie's suffered a bad reputation because of its neighbor - the Old Winslow Dock Tavern, Mac's, commonly called "the Bloody Bucket." Drunken loud brawls were common and not only on Saturday nights - any night would do. The Fire Chief and the Sheriff ordered the owner to keep his place "clean, decent, and orderly." Plus he was admonished in editorials in the weekly paper. The guy didn't seem to worry much. Maybe because he was almost the "only game in town" and law enforcement, isolated as the Island was, was lax.

One time, though, he nearly did himself and his establishment, in. A three-alarm fire at the rickety old place in early 1949, was barely kept from blowing up all of Winslow by skirting a nearby out-building where large quantities of oil and gasoline were stored. In spite of more warnings, the fire scene was duplicated only three months later. It still remained open! There was speculation that someone's palm must have been pretty slippery.

It wasn't uncommon for hazardous stuff to be stored. Islanders knew they had to be pretty much self-reliant. In the winter, power outages were frequent. Roads were often treacherous from bad weather, downed electric lines, fallen trees, mud, snow, ice, etc. It would take one winter for any new resident to know that heat, cooking, and lighting equipment had to be kept on hand and pipes had to be wrapped to prevent freezing. Food, batteries, and flashlights were in every pantry. Not being prepared was foolhardy. The only predictability of the weather was that it could be counted on to be unpredictable. One time, a lightning storm created a sensational Port Madison home fire as a bolt struck an outside radio aerial. The strike followed the aerial's line into the house, scorched across the wood floor, set fire to the living room drapes, and finally grounded itself in the circuit box.

A large cedar tree fell and grazed our house in Wing Point during a fierce storm. It was pure luck that it hadn't come down six inches closer because it would have smashed that little house to smithereens. As it was, Les Inch, the infamous 7th and 8th grades math teacher and a good family friend, raced to help us examine the damage. He and I were both late to school. I say he was infamous because of his role as disciplinarian to the junior high school boys. He had a paddle with holes in it and a well-worn sneaker that he kept close at hand. Instead of an uprising against him, it was a rite of passage for boys to be whacked by Mr. Inch for some misdeed. Now, of course, he would be thrown in the hoosegow. Personally, I believe his strict guidance helped steer some of those kids in the direction of sanity.

But the poor guy had to suffer weekly embarrassment by being a dance partner to another of the teachers. Most of the teachers performed dual duties. In the case of Mr. Inch and Mrs. Jessie Schroeder, they were our physical education leaders in addition to their regular assignments. Mrs. Schroeder introduced square dancing to the delight of the girls and groans of the boys. Every Friday the boys' and girls' P.E. classes were combined for lessons in the refinement of square dancing. It was suspected that Mrs. S. had a secret crush on the bachelor, Mr. I. Who knows but it was obvious he would rather be wielding a paddle than squiring the lady in dance demonstrations. I don't know how many years and dozens of kids they performed for but they were pretty much legendary. Mr. Inch did finally marry. He became mortal then.

It seemed the same teachers continued their posts for many years and because it was such a small community, they became almost family members and certainly as influential to most of us kids as our parents. Even now at reunions, they come and are warmly greeted just like kin. And they remember us as individuals - amazing. Until his passing, Coach Paski was certainly the most popular to the boys and his wife, Mrs. Lois Paski, an icon to the girls. Mr. Ed King of junior high school and for a couple of years, second grade at Lincoln; Mr. Neal N. Nunamaker, principal and "Triple Threat" (NNN!), Mr. Alan Hellner, the likeable journalism teacher and prankster; Mrs. Daisy Sams Wilson, French teacher and butt of too many pranks - by us students not Mr. Hellner. Miss Corrine Berg introduced us country hicks to classical music. Mr. Samek taught and led Band for countless years. Mr. Bert Klingbeil was principal of the elementary schools for so long he was an institution. And so many others who all were part and parcel of our lives.

I listen to my grandson now and in his years of kindergarten through high school, he only recalls two of his teachers. I'm convinced not only have the times changed but the geography and size of the Island gave us a unique relationship with all the members of the school system. We were lucky.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Birth Day I Never Thought Could Happen

My son just turned 50 - I don't know how he got to be so much older than me and besides, he is still my red-haired toddler playing on Alki beach. His birthday does, however, make me think about my education - that is, my elementary and parental schooling which is almost a contradiction in terms. The three R's (reading, (w)riting, and (a)'rithmetic) were taught well. Sex education? Not so much!

It was either seventh or eighth grade (the Island's only junior high school was actually just one wing of Commodore Bainbridge Elementary School) when Mrs. Jessie Schroeder, one of our well-known guiding teacher lights, showed us girls in our "health" class, a Disney-made, school movie about the "facts of life." Not the mechanics of "how" or not to "how", but rather, cartoons about menstruation and of the fetus' way out of the womb. It was more than I learned at home and I was too shy and intimidated by my peers to ask questions. In sixth grade I had experienced the first personal trace of "becoming a woman" - which is the only explanation given to me by both my mother and grandmother about the mysteries of menstruation. They left a Kotex pad and belt for me in the bathroom. I don't even remember if either one showed me how to put the contraption on. One of them said the belt worked just like the garters on the "panty girdle" which I wore to hold up nylon stockings. That, I had been carefully taught how to do by the time I was in fifth grade. Because it was mandatory at the time, for females to wear long stockings, hat, and gloves for church, any special occasion and/or holiday, and of course, to go shopping in the big metropolis of Seattle.

Back to sex - which naturally (or rather, should have) includes contraception. Another subject which was never discussed either at home or school. I sort of heard about "how not to get pregnant" circumstantially and through whispers among small girl groups - in, maybe, high school. I was an exceptionally insecure adolescent perhaps due to being at least a year younger than my classmates because I had "skipped" first grade. Also, the one thing I had been carefully taught was not to think I was "better than anyone else." "Who do you think you are?" I heard over and over, only adding to my total lack of confidence.

Well - this is becoming very personal - forgive me - my intention is to describe the educational differences and limitations of the 1940's - 50's compared to now. My experience by definition is only my own and by geography limited to a small, isolated, conservative location. The term "teenager" as a different species of human and one with special attributes only came into universality, some 10 to 15 years after World War II. Now it is has a "special interest" identity and pretty much its own voice. Those of us born in what I call the "Quiet Generation(s)" were taught "children are to be seen, not heard." So it is no surprise to look back and see teenage rebellious acts as pretty innocuous.

For example, a group of us (insensitive) girls stole flowers for school occasions like the annual events, the "Honor Society Dinner" and, best of all, the "Mother/Daughter Tea" where we modelled garments made in sewing class. A group of giggling girls carried out those dastardly raids. If Mrs. Paski, our gracious and popular home economics teacher, had known with what her stage had been decorated, I'm certain there would have been embarrassing repercussions.

Mischievous boys stashed a pre-war Volkswagen Beetle at the top of the grandstand. The car's owner, a popular girl, didn't hesitate in her identification of the culprits. Punishment was assignment to wash the school buses which of course ended in a water fight. Everything those guys did turned into some kind of party. The same rogue group also coaxed a new biology teacher from Chicago to go on a night trip to dig clams. The tide came in and they let the poor guy (who couldn't swim) get water-imprisoned on a rock. They coaxed him to jump in the water and wade to shore. He ended up with a miserable cold and biology class was suspended for a couple of days. Don't know if that was all pre-planned or just a surprise bonus.

Pranks were gender generic and kept us busy in spite of the lack of organized and commercial activities. Still, it was not an environment that inspired criminality. The isolation our moat gave us kept our lives relatively innocent. Too bad in other ways, though, as the incidence of "shotgun" marriages was pretty common.

Two Island icons arrived in 1947. Each one played a major role in preventing teen crime and providing school activities. First of all, Coach Tom Paski began as a high school teacher. He taught history and, his first love, coached the boys' basketball, football, and baseball teams. Because there were less than three hundred students in the four year high school, mostly the same boys played all three sports. It's no surprise they became pretty attached to Coach Paski.

March 8, 1948, Coach's second year as an Islander, he led the basketball team to State Victory in the Class B league, in spite of the odds. What a celebration! No true Islander would ever let that date die! The chubby little ferry, Kehloken, entered Winslow Harbor carrying the triumphant team and the kids who had traveled all the way to Tacoma on school buses. The Captain blew the whistles and tooted the horn, all the vehicles on board joined the cacophony including a couple of Model T's OOOOOGA OOOOOOGA horns. The passengers were screaming, stomping, and yelling, the band was playing. The wooden dock vibrated with the waiting crowd's jumping and hollering. The Island partied that night and for days afterward. Just mentioning the names of the winning team members; Uglesich, Olson, Woodman, Nadeau, Sigle, Nakata, and the rest of the boys, would set off animated discussions. The boys could go anywhere, do anything, they were HEROS. Buttons popped off proud chests for a long time. And Coach Paski was the biggest hero of all.

The other immigrant was Chuck Burrows, the Island's first full-time sheriff. He too soon was firmly woven into the Island tapestry. Somehow having a personal officer, gave Islanders a sense of ease they had not known they lacked. He would turn up whenever there was the least disturbance and at every public event. He investigated everything from automobile accidents to missing chickens. His pistol shot opened every Easter egg hunt. Little kids looked up to him and as is the wont of teenagers, was the target of many of their jokes. Still, they respected him and would not cross his boundaries without some token of acknowledgement.

And not-to-be-forgotten monster Captain Peabody, was in the news early in '48, too. In February he threatened to halt his ferries. All he had to do was give fifteen days notice. He wanted to raise rates which of course was more than a little controversial. Island boat owners rallied their emergency watery transportation plan and owners of the for-hire-pleasure boat, the "Virginia V," promised to provide transportation for the basketball team and fans to the upcoming basketball tournament in Tacoma. The strike was thwarted but Peabody raised rates 30% (which later were reduced by command of the State). The ferry saga wouldn't end for several years and King Peabody remained in power. His house was across the street and up the hill from my grandparents' house. Whenever I trudged up the hill, I would scurry past the big, white house afraid he would see me. My fear undoubtedly stemmed from all the adults' conversations I overheard and of course from the newspaper cartoons and articles berating the guy. I don't recall what I thought would happen if the Captain had ever stepped into my sight. I just kept on hurrying up the hill.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

History and how it is reported

I have received a number of responses to my writing about Bainbridge Island and the impact of WWII. Several have suggested that what I write must be a sort of healing process for the hurts of my childhood. I suppose that could be true although that has not felt to be my impetus. It started with the death of a very close person in my life. He also happened to be one of my grade school through high school classmates. My becoming re-acquainted with him inspired my interest in the history of the Island. When I graduated from Bainbridge High School, I could not wait to move away from "the Rock" and never gave it much thought after I left. But my connection remained through family and friends and of course, as the location of my youth.

My keen interest in fashion and life-long sewing experience lead me to doll making and costuming. Several of my original patterns and articles were published in doll magazines. As the fifty year anniversary of the end of World War II approached, I came across the story of "Theatre De La Mode." That venue was the showing of Paris couture in 1945. All the new fashions; clothing, hats, gloves, shoes, jewelry; were displayed on doll-size wire mannequins. The small size was chosen because of war-caused shortages of all materials. Paris' economic recovery was on the shoulders of the French designers as the fashion industry was crucial to the economic recovery of all of France. I was intrigued. I did extensive research and eventually published an article not only about "Theatre De La Mode," but about the way clothing has evolved along with our life styles. So - this is how my interest in the vast, profound changes wrought by WWII began. Technology changed our lives and civil rights made us aware as we never were, en masse, previously. And when my friend died, during my grieving and healing, I plunged into research about the overall impact of WWII. The primary change in my family, was that we moved from St. Paul, Minnesota to Bainbridge Island, Washington. We were among the hordes of war-time transients who moved in search of work. My mother was one of the "Rosie the Riveters." To me, the Island represents a microcosm of the changes that pervaded the lives of every American.

And that is why I chose to write about the Island's history - in a personal kind of way. I hope that others as they read this, will be inspired to add their own stories. The compilation of the many voices will help round out history and paint a picture of life as it was for us - we who were born and raised between the Depression Generation and the Baby Boomers.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Making Do - In Many Ways

War-heated patriotism meant many high school boys raced to join the Armed Services and left some girls without dates for the proms and other dances. One of my young aunts daringly invited an unusual date for one of the dances. My Aunt Marilyn was shy even though she was pretty, popular, and a favorite student. Her shyness was exacerbated by her unwillingness to smile. Grandpa had only allowed her blackened front tooth to be gold-covered because that was the cheapest kind of dental work to repair an injured tooth. It was an excruciating embarrassment for her. On the other hand, I was fascinated and wanted to touch her tooth. To me, it was dazzling.

With great enthusiasm, she and my mother concocted a "man" out of a broom with a paper bag head. The best kind of dance partner - no tripping, no sweaty hands, no bad breath, no unwanted clutching.

In the kitchen, my mother (Corrina) hauled the wooden-legged ironing board out of the pantry. She set it next to the wood stove. For a quick ironing job, the iron could be heated on the stove's top instead of filling it with glowing coals from the firebox. There was always a fire smoldering. This time however, it was a long project so the iron had to be filled; a scary job - some burning of hands was always involved - it was just a matter of fact. At the time, nothing better was available. Besides, the Island was an isolated, rural place with little of any city-like amenities. A soda pop bottle fitted with a sprinkler head of pierced metal and cork was used to sprinkle whatever was being ironed. The moistening process was necessary to steam wrinkles out. Steam irons, like so many other time-saving appliances, were futuristic items.

That evening, Corrina ironed a paper bag with a crayoned face. She laid waxed paper over the face and ironed it to set the drawing. With the bag's bottom cut off and some of the broom's straw sticking out for hair like a crew-cut, an additional stick tied across the broom for shoulders, the guy was ready for dressing. One of Grandpa's ties and jacket completed Marilyn's date. She danced around the kitchen with her partner as she and Corrina giggled and laughed. Then my mother ironed Marilyn's skirt - while it was on her. Marilyn was hyper-fastidious and ironed her clothes the night before, the day of the event, right before she put them on, and then Corrina would iron what she could, again, as Marilyn stood there dressed and ready to go out the door! When permanent press clothing was introduced many years later, I'm sure Marilyn whooped in excitement.

This was a time of unprecedented medical advances like vaccinations for most communicable childhood diseases. Smallpox, TB, scarlet fever, whooping cough, and diptheria were still pretty common. It was after the war ended, early 1946, there was warning of a possible epidemic on the Island of smallpox. Vaccinations were ordered for all school children and urged for any adults who had not been vaccinated. I remember standing outside the Winslow clinic with my mother and sister along with a bunch of other kids and their mothers. It was dark as only being close to Puget Sound can be in the dense, cold, wet, grey fog. My clothes clung to me like leeches. My socks were soggy and made my shoes squish. I was afraid. The line of kids smelled like a pile of wet, warm kittens. The fear grew as the length of waiting time wore on. I don't remember the actual needle poking me; I just remember being glad it was over. Gramma had hot cereal waiting for us. That old cook stove with its never-out fire, kept constant coffee hot and cereal or soup always available.

Mothers worried about lots of communicable diseases and weird stuff like ringworm, scabies, lice, and impetigo. I worried about my sister's long, curly hair. All she had to endure was someone, Mommy, Gramma, or Aunt Evelyn, making her sit still while they brushed her hair around their fingers making her beautiful ringlets which stayed that way, all day. My stick-straight hair resisted even the painful tugging each morning for the French braids I had to wear. One time, after my continual asking, Aunt Evelyn attempted to burn my hair into ringlets. It was worse torture than the braiding process. She used a medieval device called a curling iron which she heated for each ringlet, in the glaring coals of the kitchen stove. But first, each clump of hair had to be wrapped in a strip of rag. Then she clamped the iron to the rag-tied strands while admonishing, "Sit still - or you'll be burnt up." It was terrifying. I ran to the bathroom afterward to gaze at my Shirley Temple curls. And that's as long as they lasted - ten minutes at most. I STILL had to sit still for my hair to be braided!

Monday, April 19, 2010

While so-called vices were tolerated for our "boys" in the Armed Services, at home such freedoms were not so free. The State of Washington's "blue laws"; leftover regulations from the bawdy, brawling pioneer days; dictated the sale of alcoholic beverages only from state-run liquor stores plus no sales on Sundays nor after store hours. War shortages and zealous citizens succeeded in making Saturdays "dry", too. Island church ministers went on a temperance campaign as the shipyard workers rode the ferries after work, drinking and dancing in spite of it being against the law. And gambling too was targeted. Someone tattled on a bunch of guys playing poker on their ferry ride home. The sheriff was dispatched to catch them in the act. They were given arrest slips and had to appear in court. The County Prosecutor lectured the criminals - "(you) are setting a bad example for our youth - better to use (your) money to buy war bonds than to gamble it away." Thankfully it was reported there were "no known professionals (gamblers/hustlers)" found among those unfortunate card sharks.

Until the war, it was against the rules for married women to teach in the public schools. Because a lot of the male teachers marched off to war, that rule was relaxed and eventually was abandoned altogether. I don't know what harm being taught by a Mrs. was feared. Or what their married mothers had that married female teachers didn't. Or vice versa. Marriages typically being the blame for there being children in the first place. A bit hypocritical, I'd say.

The influx of new inhabitants meant the schools had to find more space as well as more teachers. The old Lincoln Elementary School in Winslow was re-opened and stayed in use for a decade. That raised an old rivalry between the kids of McDonald Elementary on the other side of the Island and Lincoln. McDonald kids called Lincoln, "stinkin." Lincoln students said McDonald was "stupid." When they were all united in fifth and sixth grades in the brand-new Commodore Bainbridge Elementary School, it took each set some time to assimilate as one. Such a "gathering of the wagons into a circle" is common to the human race. We are always suspicious of the outsider coming in. That attitude had a profound effect on my mother and subsequently her children. She was "obstreperous" in the words of the shipyard's newspaper, "The Minesweeper," when she was featured in one of its personal page interviews. She took deep offense to an editorial in the Bainbridge Review and forever held a grudge against its owner/editor. In March 1944, there was a special edition about the Island's history, its whys and wherefors. The editor was never one to mince words and his paper was a strong personal forum for which he was both celebrated and reviled. Here is a summary of his message in that issue.

"On Living On An Island"
"Dear Newcomer:
The following is a word from your only Island newspaper. . . . .

You are here because there is a war on. . . . . .

Some of you can't wait for the day when you can quit this 'God-forsaken, rain-drenched hole.' . . . . . .

Think of us - the Islanders you found when you arrived - for a minute. We had a quiet, peaceful, semi-rural scattering of communities here before the war dumped all of you in our unprepared lap. Our stores, our busses, our ferries, our schools are crowded - uncomfortably so - because of you.

Some of you aren't the kind of people we like at all. . . . . .

Bainbridge Island is "our" home. We'll be living here after many of the newcomers are gone. We can be excused, perhaps, for expecting a 60 per cent advance on the newcomers' part, but we think newcomers will find the other 40 per cent is waiting for them if they'll make the effort.

If they do, life will be a lot happier for old and newcomers alike."

That missive unleashed a following of letters to the editor also berating the newcomers and the editor's championship of the interned Japanese. Some of the published comments were from notable Islanders who might be embarrassed by their comments from the past. Time has a way of glossing over some things and elevating others. History has a responsibility to illuminate as much information as possible allowing future generations a chance to come to their own conclusions.

And too, it must be remembered, it was a period of skewed resentments, hatreds, and misconceptions along with the fear and excitement of the overwhelming war and its needs. Personally, I wonder if any of the other "newcomers" were as affected as I was. My mother's lingering anger helped fuel my deep feeling I was an unacceptable person. It is interesting to relive the maze of youth, discovering along the way, what helped to shape us.

When the war ended the Island's population dwindled to nearly its same level as before the war. Some of the Japanese never returned. Some of the old-timers left. Some of the newcomers left and some stayed. There is no historical record of who went and who stayed but the Island's "way of life" soon was as if the war had almost never happened. My mother, sister, and I went to Pittsburgh with our to-be step-father. There, our brother was born, I started school as a first-grader only to be "skipped" to second grade. That meant for the next eleven years I was the youngest kid in my class. Perhaps not significant to anyone else, it was the bane of my existence for all those years. I always felt hopelessly less than adequate compared to my classmates. That I was skinny and underdeveloped certainly did not help either.

From Pittsburgh, we tried living in Seattle and then Fresno only to wind up back on "the island." My mother had hated her stint as a "Rosie the Riveter" (She was an electrician and the term only came to describe the whole lot of working women during WWII, fifty years later.) But she hated worse, being a housewife. So she went back to work (also of course because of needed income). First as a saleswoman in one of Seattle's best department stores, Frederick and Nelson. Then she became one of the Island's business women when she and another woman partnered in a store selling fabrics and sewing notions. The name of it was "The Fabric Shop." Original!

Sewing one's own clothes then was not a phenomenon. Having a seamstress available to engage to sew clothes for you was common. Cheap ready-to-wear was through catalog sales or big stores such as Sears and Penney's. The Shop was not only good for the Island's economy but served as a resource for my mother's sewing clients. My sister and I worked as clerks on Saturday mornings. Plus we could sew in the back room when times were slow. We had to log in the fabric we used. As a result, I never did get a paycheck. The most fun was draping fabric around the window mannequin, Miss Trilby. She was made of woven cane and her boobs were huge! She was one of Winslow Way's fashion icons.

And my mother's infamous volatility caused some sensations among the other business proprietors. One morning a salesman bounced into the Shop. I was the only person there. The guy scared me half to death as he set a gumball machine on the counter and told me he'd be back to collect money. Well - I called my mother who jumped into Grandpa's Model T and roared down Winslow Way, screeched into the parking spot in front, leaped out of the still rumbling little flivver, screaming, "Where is that son-of-a-bitch?" Andy from the hardware store next door lost no time running to see what the ruckus was about. The hapless salesman just happened to be at his side. Mother grabbed his coat collar and shoved him into the Shop, yelling invectives all the while. The guy grabbed the gumball thing and was crab-running back out the door. That was not enough for Mom - she stayed at his heel, spitting and cursing. Wouldn't you know he managed to drop the gumball device; it smashed into the street sending brightly-colored gumballs and shattered glass flying in every direction. Her yelling did not stop until that man was in his car racing towards the ferry dock. Without another word to me or to Andy, she hopped into the Model T and roared back down the street.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Homefront Battles War and Its Offal

Right as the war began, Islanders wasted no time as they arranged their local defense plans. One group was organized and trained as enemy plane spotters. (Note that in early 1943, three aircraft spotting and warning towers were completed but the one at Battle Point was threatened to be closed a couple of months later because there were not enough spotters - the early enthusiasm had apparently worn off a bit.) Island boaters figured they could haul off every man, woman, and child if the need arose as they formed a brigade of evacuation vessels. They didn't trust mean old Captain Peabody.

The Island was divided into air raid districts. Each district had a Warden and platoon of eager civilian soldiers. Church ladies aid groups baked cookies, rolled bandages, and knit socks to send off to "the boys overseas." And the cigarette companies did their part as they offered coupons for "free smokes" to be sent to those boys. Ouch!

Mrs. Roosevelt was on the bandwagon as champion for black workers and soldiers and for caring for the children of the newly employed "Rosie the Riveters. It was also through her efforts that the U.S. built housing for war workers. Not all Americans shared her concern for others' well-being. The proposed housing project to be built near the shipyard aroused Islanders' anger. The plan was attacked as a probable slum, the cause of plummeting real estate values. There was insistence that anything built would have to be torn or burned down as soon as the war was over. It was rumored that untreated sewage would be dumped into the bay. But it was built and my mother, my sister, and I were one of the lucky few to be assigned one of the little units. The kitchenettes had two burner stoves, an icebox, room for a two-chair table; if two people were sitting, there was no room for one standing up. There was an on-site nursery and pre-school; free child care for the shipyard's working mothers. Progressive!


My sister was born on a stormy night in February 1943. My mother had once again shocked her silent family because no one knew she was pregnant. She gained little weight and wore clothing that masked her pregnancy. Aunt Evelyn served as midwife helping deliver the tiny, premature baby. It was not many months later we three moved to our apartment.

The complex was commonly known as "The Project." What I remember is skipping down a path bordered by a tall fence, to the nursery. It was in a big room with small windows all around the top of the walls. At nap time, each of us snuggled up in our very own Army-issue blanket. Then at recess, we used our blankets to stretch a roof in the fenced corners of the playground. Playing house and climbng the monkey bars were my favorite activities. I remember sitting in the sand beneath my olive drab roof and hanging by my knees from the cold, steel bars. Every week the iceman brought a giant ice cube clutched in the bite of tongs and clunked it into the icebox. The icebox was made of wood; inside it was metal enameled white, the racks were square and always wet. Such are the memories of a child - closer to earth, children being the short species.

Rationing of food stuffs, gasoline, cars, rubber, fabrics, etc. is one of history's facts. Living without all that stuff was the impetus for lots of home-grown solutions. I love the story about rubber for girdles allowed to still be made because some senator's wife insisted girdles were inviolable products - fashion dictated the wearing of girdles! Also, girdles held up stockings. Stockings themselves were a torture because silk from Japan was (naturally) unavailable. Rayon was new. It and cotton were used to make hosiery and underwear. The stockings sagged and stretched, were ugly, and were universally hated by women. Going without stockings was simply not acceptable. Some women used pancake make-up to camouflage their legs; going so far as to draw seamlines down the back with an eyebrow pencil. Back seaming was the way stockings were made then. Nylon seamless "panty hose" were fifteen to twenty years in the future.

Two related family stories come to mind. Pictures of my sister as a toddler show her clutching her panties. To hold them up - war-issue drawers with synthetic rubber elastic tended to drift down to one's ankles.

My mother was attractive and vivacious so she had lots of admirers among the many Navy sailors that wandered around the Shipyard and were stationed at the Island's bases. One guy presented my mother with a pilfered parachute. That precious gift was many, many yards of silk-like fabric made of the newly-developed nylon. Blouses, slips, bras, panties - you name it, my mother was able to sew that parachute into lots of things. I don't know what happened to the Sailor.

So-called "Victory Gardens" were common. Not as common but as highly touted by the government as a way for the homefront to further help the "war effort," was to raise chickens and pigs. Grandpa had both.

Easter 1944, I was dressed in a white dress, coat, and hat - all of course made by my mother - probably out of the parachute. All of us kids were waiting outside for the grown-ups. My rascally uncle (did I mention he was only two years older than me?) led us to see the new piggies. There is good reason why pig pens are called "pig pens." We climbed over the sty. Mucky muck, muddy mud - ruined Easter finery; filthy and smelly. Uncle was never forgiven. The story was never related with laughter.

Techno geek - NOT!

Well I must have hit the delete button and sent one of my posts off into cyber-neverland. The "bear saga" seems to have disappeared so here it is again.

The Island's weekly newspaper, the "Bainbridge Island Review", was pretty folksy and prided itself on keeping abreast of every event - from birthing kittens to local politics. High school sports, being of serious importance in such a tiny locale, had a page of their own. The Japanese families after they were sent off to camp, were often reported about. Some of the headlines read, "Island Japanese Cheerful (in Manzanar)", "Island Japanese Voted 'Best Sportsmen' in Manzanar", "Los Angeles Japanese regard Island Japanese as "stuck up" and too Americanized", "High school sends text books to Manzanar students so they can graduate from high school", "Two year old boy has chicken pox in Manzanar." (This boy in his teen years was my school mate and was class president several times.)

While the proposed building of a housing project was loudly denegrated in the newspaper forum, another long-running event held its own as front page news. In February 1943, the first of "Marauding Bear" articles appeared. The stories grew, a posse was formed - although its members were not available til the end of deer-hunting season, a big game hunter was hired, traps were set, mothers' fears rose to a fever pitch. One week the bear was pronounced dead even though no carcass was found; only to be resurrected the next week when some poor dog had to have stitches after supposedly being bear-clawed. The headline read, "How Dead Is the Bear?" Major Hopkins, described as a "noted nimrod extolled by the State", accompanied the State Game Warden as they stalked the wily beast. They too were thwarted in their efforts. Then, to add to the ridicule of the mighty hunters, a headline suggested the services of an 86 year old farmer be sought because he had treed a bear and shot it dead - the guy was simply protecting his farm animals. The droll reports went on for months.

"No New Killings - Experts Wonder If Bear Hibernating."
"Killer Bear Has Been Here Four Years Declares Hunter, Major Hopkins."
"Posse Fails to Kill Bear - Traps Coming."
"Islanders Worry Traps Will Trap Dogs."
"Honey Bait May Lure Bear-Trap Setting Report Said."
"Very Dead, Sleeping, or Gone Home; Bear Is Quiet as Major Makes Trap."
Illustrations of various animal footprints were published to assure every Islander would be able to decipher a bear track from other tracks. The drawings included a bear's track walking, running, and compared track sizes. The paper diligently carried on with the bear stories.

"Bear Cub Sighted At Crystal Springs by Mrs. Williamson."
"Mrs. Williamson excitedly reported she saw the cub 'between the Prentiss and Berg places.' She and Mr. Williamson thought they saw tracks and attempted to follow them."

"Wardens, Hounds Fail To Stay Island's Wary Bears; Hunter Baits Two Traps." (Note how the bear numbers increased.)
"Bear Sighted As Big Game Hunter Quits Chase."
"Bear's Growl Frightens Five Youths." As the boys were building a fort or some other boy thing, they swore they heard the bear and ran away as fast as they could.
"Dog Clawed - How Dead Is Bear?"
"86 Year Old Kingston Man Shows How To Kill A Bear Dead!"

After a few weeks of bear silence;
"Island Bear Walks Again," when a boy sighted the beast in a field as he cycled by. He sped to the nearest house to report the danger.

April 1944, the last headline, "Killer Bear Dead, Hopins." marked the end of the saga that had begun more than a year earlier. The actual bear carcass was never reported as found. But some Seattle wise acres must have been loud in their laughter and scorn at the bimbo Islanders. An Island poet, Mrs. Lottie Jane Logg, set up defense poetically.

"If you've spent the week a listenin'
To the noise of trains a whistlin'
And to cars and buses rumblin'
To the many folks a grumblin'
'Bout a million things or more
Til just listenin' is a bore,
Then you'll long for peace and quiet
And a bit of nature's diet
So take a Black Ball ferry at the foot of Madison Street
And go to Bainbridge Island where the silence is complete.
If you've learned to ride the buses in the latest sardine style,
Had your feet all trampled til you cannot walk a mile
Then I know you must be wishin'
For a place to go a fishin'
Where there's room to stretch and eat
And a place to put your feet
And if you need a place for nappin'
Where you can hear the tide a lappin'
In the shadow of the Mountain capped with snow,
Then, my friend, to Bainbridge Island you must go.
If you've spent the week a breathin'
Air that's full of cough and sneezin'
And you've spent the week a breathin'
Many things you can't be tellin'
Then you'll need to spend a day
Where the birds all love to play
Where the air is sweet and clean
And the mountains can be seen
So take a trip and spend a while
On our lovely Bainbridge Isle."

So there too, you mainlanders you!

A few more wild animal headline came along in future months - like - "Cougar Tracks Found On Beach." followed the next week with, "Peripatetic Cougars On Prowl Again." Look out for the beasty beasts! Nothing could escape news-worthiness.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wild kids and animals?

There was a lot of important animal news in the weekly paper. Raccoon raids, puppies and kittens born, turtle burials, even the killing of a chicken hawk by a broom-wielding angry woman. Working mothers seemed to have caused the most widespread consternation, though. Both employed moms and inattentive schools were blamed in the press for juvenile delinquency. The Superintendent of Schools lectured in the state's schools, big and small, that the cure for problematic kids would be to get those darn working moms back home. The Superintendent's name began with a Mrs.!

To put things in perspective, however, it must be noted that the Island's delinquents seemed to be boys who badly aimed their BB guns (which all boys and even some girls, had - a rite of passage). Although there was one loudly reported incident of some kids doing damage to a vacant house. Not that such behavior should be chalked up to "just being kids." It's just that in comparison with the level of difficulties now, BB guns seem pretty tame.

It's a good thing the Island was pretty much crime-free. There was not an Island-based county sheriff until 1947. Because the county seat was(is) in Port Orchard and peace officers were headquartered in Bremerton, it was quite a long trip from or to the Island. Two ferry routes and a long highway stretch meant travelling either way would take a good three hours or more.

When I read and talk to people about those years, it seems that social events often ended in brawls. The Saturday dances at Stanley Park on the Island's north end, the Wing Point Country Club bashes, and the waterfront tavern referred to as "the bloody bucket" were all infamous for their apparently popular fisticuff events. Even Winslow council meetings could end in arguments. One time a well-known councilman and an attendee got into it after a meeting. I don't think the councilman resigned his post. He was just spirited.

Have we become more civilized? A state to ponder.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Roads - Some Travelled and Some Not

The "main road" was of course the routes of the ferry boats. The Island itself had lots of roads, many more like driveways winding through stands of evergreens. The ditches outlining them served as both erosion protection and as playgrounds. I could not find in my research, the reason for the depth of the ditches. I suppose it simply must have been to provide runoff for the constant rain and resulting groundwater. A paradox since living on the Island is dependent on the availability of water. "Water communities" such as the one where I spent my high school years, Madrona Community Water, depended on capturing rain water in a tower. Residents of the community worked constantly to keep the tower free of fallen leaves. This was some years after the war ended and one of the residents was a Japanese man and his family. The tower stood next to his property. By default, he was the one everyone turned to for information and scheduling of maintenance. Looking back, it must have been odd for the local people to depend on someone who had so recently been a so-called "enemy." In my family, I remember him as one we both respected and stood in awe of. His wife was from Japan, did not speak English. There were whispers of her strange ways such as her gathering of sea weed and drying it on the clothes line. Few could imagine eating it. Now sushi, some wrapped with seaweed, is common in many local supermarkets.

In Port Madison, the house my grandfather bought served as family headquarters throughout the war years. There were no new cars available on the Island during those years. The rationing of cars allowed only three new cars for the Island. Dr. Shepard got one according to a news article. The one car in my family was the 1936 Ford Model T my grandfather drove from Minnesota. Those were sturdy vehicles with their flat-head and four cylinder engines any sixteen year old boy could fix. Grandpa used his for chores and occasional entertainment. He rode the Navy bus to the shipyard to work each day. Bus fare was ten cents. That left the flivver and its ration of fuel for other things.

It was early in the morning and still dark. I heard wood being shoved into the kitchen stove. My grandfather was up, making coffee. Usually I even beat him out of bed. My mother complained I never slept. There was just too much to do and see. Sleep still is an annoying necessity.

"Grandpa - what are you doing?"

"Taking Betsy to Winslow," was his reply; only as many words as he considered necessary.

"Can I go too?"

He didn't answer. Just took a huge bite of bread and some foul-smelling, brown cheese; slurped his coffee through it; nodded his head. I put on corduroy trousers over my pajamas, socks, boots, and jacket; I was ready in a flash. Grandpa did not wait for slow pokes. He plunked his fedora on as he opened the back door. His stride was long and I skipped rapidly to keep up. In the barn, he lit a swinging light bulb. Mr. Murdoch was already there, looping a rope around the cow's neck. The two men nodded at one another. The barn's fragrance and warmth was thick. Grandpa opened the big doors, backed the Ford in, left the motor running as he stepped out, opened the back doors, removed the back seat and threw in some hay. He and Mr. Murdoch, one at each of the car's back doors, pushed and pulled brown-eyed Betsy in.

"You sit there and hold the rope," he gestured to me as I climbed eagerly in, sat by Betsy's head and importantly held the rope. It wasn't raining or snowing for once so the road was relatively easy to traverse though the trip was slow. (It was 1944 and long before the highway that now slices in a nearly straight line from the south to the north across the Island.) The road wound along the beach's edge and through tunnels of tall trees.

A model-T carrying a cow and three passengers was not unusual than. Whatever vehicle was available was used for whatever had to be done. When we arrived at Beach's Butcher Locker, it was still dark. The building stood near the drive leading to the Winslow ferry dock. "Old Man Beach" (the man was still young but I never heard him called anything except "Old Man Beach" - and respectfully at that - he was an Island icon.) came out and directed the delivery of Betsy. He was a tall, skinny silhouette backlit by dim lighting. That's the last I saw of the cow, alive that is. I rode home in the back which still richly smelled of cow and hay. I think I grew an inch that day; I felt very grown up.

Not only guys were drafted. So were trucks because at the beginning of the war, military vehicles were in drastically short supply. Even Big Bertha, the one and only truck of the Bainbridge Island Auto Freight company, had been conscripted into military service. That huge, bull-nosed vehicle returned from the war, un-scathed, to serve the needs of Islanders for many years after the war.

Model-T's were versatile motor cars. The low-gear-ratio transmission and the simple engine made the cars like tractors. Months of winter's freezing and thawing, freezing and thawing, and then spring's warmth and more rain turned the Island's many dirt roads, into quaqmires of mod. The model-T plowed right through, no problem. When it snowed on the Island, there were plenty of hills for sledding. My grandpa's little car chugged up the steep hill (where Frog Rock sits at the bottom) pulling sleds, over and over. Lots of activities seem dark in my memory. Maybe because the Northwest's winter days are particularly short.