I was at a grandson’s high school graduation the other night where the guest speaker was encouraging the gowned mass to step off the familiar parent supported stage and go exploring life and what lay ahead. And then followed up by saying “take chances, go off on your own, because you are very likely used to an omnipresent steadying hand for the part of your life that is behind you”.
That made me think and when I had time I sat to reconcile just when I “‘stepped off”‘ to be beyond the reach of parental oversight. I have been able to narrow it down to about the age of six.
I can remember bits of things from the time I was four. My parents rented a house at 2915 2nd Ave North and the family made a first visit, Mother with my younger brother in her arms. Dad with my year older sister and I by the mittened hands had just started up the steep hill from the bottom when I pulled away from Dad’s right hand and started up the first flight of steps on the right. I got maybe two steps and slipped on a bit of snow, fell and cut my chin. I remember the part of trying to gain the stairs and falling and seeing blood on the snow. I bear that scar yet, 74 years later.
Over the years, mother and dad told me of some hair raising things they experienced with me that I can’t recall, such as leaving home at about 20 months carrying a roll of toilet paper and a hammer. Dad reported that he had no problem following my path as I had left a wake of friendly laughing faces across two streets and more than 2 blocks from home. He often recounted for others it seems with pride that he had a son with adventure in his blood and obviously planned ahead. And Mother’s story of panic fearing if she could reach me quickly enough as I was standing up on the window sill, wearing only a diaper, with hands on the open window sash of our 5th floor apartment in the Marlboro House on Seattle’s First Hill. Avoiding that sort of jolt to my mother’s psyche at that young age helped I believe to mollify her concerns in later years.
We had a fire in the chimney that first winter while we three kids were in the bath tub together and the fire truck came with flashing light and roaring engine (remember the hill) and the fire, limited to the chimney, was tapped quickly. The firemen presented cast-iron fire engine toys to sister and I, as we stood wrapped in towels and blankets, only adding to the festive excitement.
I remember sister was 5 as First Grade started , I watched jealously from the window as she walked away up the hill to school on the hand of an older neighbor girl. And then all too soon it was my turn.
My walk with mother and little brother to my first day in school happened in September of 1937. I remember Miss Gibbony, George Finch, Larry Bleitz, Keith Martin and Jerry Bond as names that come to mind easily. Those I remember walked the homeward bound streets with me until our move to another house in 1939.
As my fifth year was drawing to a closing in June and summer arrived I had been going off to the homes of those whose names I remember. This led me to go blocks out of my direct route walking home. I learned the pathways across the vacant lots and thru alleys. I discovered stairways that climbed dead ends that were too steep for a street and having made the climb it was obvious to me I had discovered another, better way to get home. I learned about Mountain Beavers from seeing their seemingly immense burrows in the undisturbed bits of the Queen Anne hill of old. On the occasions when mother asked where I had been, I answered ” Larry and I walked home a different way” When I reported my adventures mother would say “Be careful and don’t ruin your shoes” Larry’s mother made him wear Plus-Fours and was always saying “Larry pull up your stockings”.
I did always make it home to 2915 each evening to celebrate mom’s cooking and a bed upstairs to sleep in. Our house was a bungalow style with a large front porch. Around the open front and sides it had wide railings that I liked to lay on and look at the sky and clouds and I must have rolled a bit as suddenly I was falling to the ground 6 feet below. I was dizzy! I couldn’t breathe! My ears were ringing! I was disoriented, feeling sick and tried to get up! I was crying! No one was in witness and no one came! So after I was able to regain my lost breath and with tears streaming down my face, still feeling sick and dizzy I stumbled around to the steps, climbed the 9 treads to the porch and walked inside looking for sympathy, found my mother with little brother, she looked me over told me to “Go wash your face! You’ll get over it!” Some time later before we moved I did the same thing again but I didn’t tell mother. And I didn’t cry!
There was a huge swamp in the Sand Pit next to the school that we were told in class had caused the death of an older boy. Balls from the dusty gravel and dirt play-field would routinely bounce over the 3 foot fence and someone would have to go and get it. I retrieved at least one from the water and was tattled on back in class. Tough guys would take your class ball and kick it into the water just to be mean. The smaller kids cried! The swamp was a scary place. Filled with willows, cottonwoods and cattails. The debris floating on the water covered catfish that would suddenly heave and splash the water when you least expected. There were big rats! And even bigger strange birds.
We had a great view from our house at 2915. One of the morning events was watching the Everett Interurban train make its run alone the far side of the Ship Canal and occasionally we would witness the Galloping Goose on the same tracks. We could see Fremont and the top of the bridge when it went up . Foremost on the eastern horizon was the Aurora Bridge, a grand span, high above everything else. It was opened the year of my birth in 1932 and became a marker of sorts for me. I remember dad talking about how people had jumped off the bridge and gone into the water, a fact which stayed with me and I finally checked it out later!
So when the bridge and I marked our sixth June it was a warm summer and I went about shirtless and shoeless in overalls. Some times school chums were home but most often there were few playmates around, sister preferred her own kind and brother was too young so I was often abroad on my own. One day I went to the Aurora Bridge and underneath found a huge dry sand slope that had not yet grown any underbrush in the abutments of the roadway. I was rolling and sliding by myself and I had sand in my hair so thick it felt really strange, sand was down my pants and into every nook and cranny so I took off my pants and played the nudist on the sand bank. As I climbed back to the top of the bank each time cars would go by on the underpass road but no one ever noticed me, a small tousled blond dirt-colored boy playing below the Aurora Bridge.
A last thought on the beginning of this story. I never attended my own high school graduation as I was a mid-year finisher. My Diploma remained in the office at Queen Anne High School until it’s closure. I never listened to the advice of the speaker at an equivalent graduation. I’m still trying to find out if I was ahead of the game or way behind!