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.

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