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.