Friday, August 20, 2010

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.

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