Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop and Other Oddities

The first time I recall going with my grandmother to Seattle on a shopping trip I saw some amazing sights. They are still fresh images for me. Going anywhere with Gramma was more fun than going any place with my mother. Gramma was fun; Mom was not. On the ferry, I was allowed to go on the outside deck - way up front where the wind blew. Gramma just sat on the bench and watched me as she clutched her hat to her head. No hairdo-upsetting wind would be tolerated by my mother. In her defense however, I know her wildly curly hair was hard to tame under the best of circumstances. The seagulls floated on the air currents screeching their songs; the splashing of the saltwater as the bow of the boat plunged its way threw icy cold mist on my face. Above, in the wheel house, the Captain stood, his dark uniform with the gold shoulder epaulets made him look like a silent god watching over the glistening scene.

As soon as the ferry tooted its arrival at Coleman Dock, we bunched up with the other foot passengers and waited to get off. I've told this particular scene many times and no one seems to believe me. But it is true. As we walked off, I could see down to the beach - it was COVERED with a mass of squirming, brown rats. I am not kidding. The water that lapped at the edge of that living carpet, was littered with garbage. Gramma hurried me along. This was long before an overhead walkway was added to the dock which let passengers dash across Alaskan Way without having to dodge trains. My mother often laughed as she related when she went to work in Seattle (after the War ended)it was fun to run across the train tracks and often, through freight cars that were standing. You know, the kind with matching doors on both sides so it was not only possible but done with regularity, commuters would step up the little ladders, run across the car's floor, and descend on the other side of the tracks. Of course there were warnings against such activities by newspapers on both sides of the Sound. They were as effective as the admonition to drown tent caterpillars.

If you are familiar with trekking the steep hills of Seattle, you know the sidewalks have concrete treads built into the sidewalks. Those treads gave footholds to people walking up or down and in wet and/or icy weather, made such walkways passable. Our destination was the Pike Place Market so we only had to make our way up to First Avenue and then walk north to the Market. It was not the trendy, tourist destination location then as it is now. No fish mongers waiting to dazzle us by tossing huge fish over our heads. It was a seedy place and not one where a woman and a small girl would wend their way down dark, winding staircases in search of a good cup of coffee or a rare book. Instead, we marched up some stairs along with a lot of people to a huge room overlooking Elliot Bay. It was a second hand store - not "vintage fashion." Gramma was looking for bargain clothes. I remember it smelled old, mouldy - but with Gramma, it was fun rummaging through piles of thrown out garments. She was a practical woman, not a fashion setter or follower. My mother sewed all her clothes and my sister's and mine. She WAS fashionable and the only way we could afford style was for her to do the creating. And she did. In fact, that is the way she made money all the time we were growing up. Our dining room was her sewing room.

Anyway - here is Nina's story about going shopping in Seattle.

"After the war, we took the ferry to Seattle and visited the Army/Navy stores (they were stuffed with war's detritus). We got all sorts of things from them. I remember gray blankets on my bed with the USN logo. Also cutlery and nifty little shovels that folded back on themselves so they could be carried in a pack. We found some strange raincoats made of something new called plastic. We bought camping gear - tents, canteens, sleeping bags. Above the row of Creosote company houses there were woods and an enormous granite rock (we kids just called this place "the big rock") which we climbed up and slid down. Here we used the shovels to dig a "fox hole" (notice the Army parlance). Or rather my cousins and my brother dug the hole. It looked like a grave. Then they covered it up with fir boughs. They told me I could not come in. I was the enemy because as my cousin said, "you can't pee standing up like a boy." I did manage to get into that hole once and couldn't figure what the big deal was. We were replaying WWII with play guns, grenades.

The so-called plastic raincoats we wore to a Bainbridge Island baseball game behind the high school. It rained and the darned things sort of melted and flaked into a gooey mess. They had not quite gotten the formula right."

Across the bay, the gaggle of kids I ran with also dug a fort. The boys did and for the same reason as Nina, my sister, Old Man Taylor's granddaughter, Susan, and I were not allowed in. This fort was in the dirt backyard of one of the boys. They covered it with planks. We could see in and also couldn't understand the big secret - all they did was sit there. We stole their shoes - no shoes allowed in their precious underground fort. But we were scared they would beat us up so we tossed the shoes in a pile and ran away.

Back to the Seattle shopping trip.

On the way back to the ferry dock, we stopped at a drugstore with a soda fountain. There were a couple of tiny, round tables and wire chairs. Gramma bought us each a scoop of vanilla ice cream served in a little silver dish. The outside of the dish was frosty and cold. Never had ice cream tasted so good. Then we stopped into Ye Olde Curiosity Shop on the waterfront. Supposedly there was a mermaid in a bottle - pickled mermaid - yuck. I don't remember if there was a mermaid but there were lots of shrunken heads, arrow heads, and beads. I wanted to stay a long time but no - we had to catch a ferry. Grampa and my mother would not have tolerated any unannounced schedule changes. No cell phones nor even message machines then. Actually, having a telephone at all was still a novelty. There were strict rules regarding its use. No long calls. No interrupting anyone on the party line except for extreme emergencies, NO long distance calls (and calling almost anywhere else on the Island was long distance and cost a nickel toll). My grandparents' house in Hawley was so close we walked home.

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