It Happened at Seafair

As Seafair is in full swing in the Emerald City, I thought I would share again this story from the past, from a simpler time, when Seattle was a Boeing town and Seafair was the face of the summer.

Cats and Trails and Garden Tales

*This post is dedicated to my husband Bob *

It was a different time and a different town. There was a big airplane company but no technology.  The Smith Tower but no Space Needle. There were wrestling matches and roller derby and stock car racing.  But no major league sports.  It was the nineteen fifties in Seattle and the biggest show in town was Seafair.

Seafair started in 1950 and quickly became the premier Seattle event. There were neighborhood carnivals where you could ride upside down on the hammer and get dizzy on the scrambler. There were parades with drill teams and marching bands, where Seafair Pirates roamed and floats carried princesses who perfected the wave to the crowds lining the streets. Honorary parade marshalls included celebrities like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.  And there was always the high point when the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet arrived at Elliott Bay.

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The Professor

A true tale from my college days…..

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By Susanne Swanson

“Do you know how many times you’ve said ‘okay’ in the last minute?” she blurted out.

(Twenty times by my reckoning. She was not the only one counting.) He stopped. Public speaking was not his forte, though economics may have been.

“Twenty-three times!” she announced.

“Sorry,’ he said. “Didn’t know I was doing it.”

The rest of us knew and thanked her. We were on edge waiting for the ‘okay’ and winced when it came. No sentence was immune.

“I’ll work on it, okay?” he promised. “But when it’s quiet you’ll know what I’m thinking, okay?”

Okaaaay! we shouted.

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The Deal

The Deal – a true tale from long, long ago …….

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By Susanne

When I was five I lost a tooth and my mom told me to put it under my pillow so the tooth fairy would leave me money. But the next day the tooth was still there.

“Oh!” she said. “He must have been too busy to get to you. Put it under your pillow tonight and he’ll come.”

But the next day it was still there. “That darn tooth fairy forgot me again!” I told her.

“Just forget him!” she said. “From now on you bring your teeth to me and I’ll take care of it.”

And so she did.

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A memory in snow….

Our first snow arrived earlier this week but was short-lived. The ground is all clear, the air icy cold, while we wait for the next round of snow to appear. Clouds are moving in but glorious patches of blue remain like parfait.

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Is this the sky speaking before the storm arrives?  We shall see. The forecast keeps changing and I fear I shall yet be disappointed.

I love the snow.  That, in spite of the fact I once spent 10 hours snow bound on Interstate 5 between Seattle and Renton. That’s love, yes?  Of course it does make for a good story (another time perhaps) but my favorite snow memories are more wonderful.  Such as that day many years ago when  ….

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I walked across the campus in the falling snow.  It was my first day of college and I was giddy with joy.  After working almost five years after high school, I had saved up some money, quit my job, and moved to Bellingham to attend Western Washington University.   I made my way past Old Main dressed in blue jeans and  jacket, the fresh snow crunching under my boots. Oh the adventure!

The university catalog would be my tour guide and I reveled in choosing the places I would go, the people I would meet, the things I would see! The Byzantine Empire.  Dostoyevsky and The Underground Man. Astronomy, complete with roof top views of Jupiter’s moons and Saturn’s rings. I still couldn’t believe I could arrange my schedule as I liked, take whatever I wanted, and still have time to read for hours in the library or break with friends over coffee.  So this was school.  Where had I been?  The snow only completed the picture, adding to the magic. 

Snow!  Perhaps it triggers some memories in you too?

~  Susanne

It Happened at Seafair

*This post is dedicated to my husband Bob *

It was a different time and a different town. There was a big airplane company but no technology.  The Smith Tower but no Space Needle. There were wrestling matches and roller derby and stock car racing.  But no major league sports.  It was the nineteen fifties in Seattle and the biggest show in town was Seafair.

Seafair started in 1950 and quickly became the premier Seattle event. There were neighborhood carnivals where you could ride upside down on the hammer and get dizzy on the scrambler. There were parades with drill teams and marching bands, where Seafair Pirates roamed and floats carried princesses who perfected the wave to the crowds lining the streets. Honorary parade marshalls included celebrities like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.  And there was always the high point when the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet arrived at Elliott Bay.

Seafair Pirates

Seafair Pirates

But these were only the warm up to the Grand Finale. The Races.  Hydroplane, that is.

Every year on a weekend in August, Seafair climaxed with the Gold Cup races on Lake Washington.   Where racers were sports heroes like Bill Muncey and Myro Slovak and drove boats named Slo-Mo IV,  Gale V and Miss Bardahl.

The year was 1959. A young teenager named Bobby was with his friends Delbert and Norman.

Not at Lake Washington but a good picture nonetheless

Norman, (left), Bobby (center) Delbert (right)

Every year their folks would get together to watch the races at a friend’s house near Lake Washington. This year, August 9, 1959, the race was over but there was confusion as to who the winner was, Maverick or Miss Thriftway. Deliberations were taking a long time so the boys left the house and headed to the pits where the action was.

“Come on!  Let’s go  watch ’em throw the winner into the lake!” Bobby said.

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They made their way to Sayres Pits a few blocks away, where the drivers started and ended their course around the lake.  The area was swarming with the big boats and their drivers, mechanics, and radio and TV personalities.  It was also surrounded by a chain link fence that ran about 50 yards long.  The fence was being patrolled by a policeman. They hadn’t planned on that.  But it really wasn’t that high.  And they sure wanted to be on the other side.

Bobby and Delbert looked at each other and knew what the other was thinking. It would be easy.

“One at a time,”  Delbert said.  “Wait till he’s at the other end.  I’ll go first.”

While the officer made his way to the far end of the fence, Delbert climbed up and jumped over.  No one paid attention.  So far so good. A few minutes later, the officer returned and then walked  away again. Norman was next and made it over too, disappearing into the crowds. The policeman continued his patrol while Bobby waited. When the coast was clear he climbed up but as he came down the other side, the cuff of his jeans snagged on the chain link fence.  He tried to pull free but landed hard and heard a loud pop.  He got up to run but his leg buckled beneath him.

A woman screamed.  “Look at that boy’s leg!!”

Bobby looked down and saw that his leg was bent back between his ankle and knee. A wave of nausea and fear coursed through him and a crowd gathered around. The officer came running and saw him lying there with the twisted leg.

“It’s okay son,” he said. “We’ll get a medic.”

While they were waiting, Bill Stead, winning driver of the hydroplane Maverick, came over to see him, dripping wet.

“I broke my leg when I was your age too,” he said.

Bobby may have missed the dunking.  But he personally met the driver!

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Maverick

A few days later he was lying on the sofa at his grandma’s house. Both his grandma and mother had on their best dresses and their hair was all done up nicely in curls.  They wore bright red lipstick for the occasion. The county sheriff was coming over with a TV crew to interview Bobby.

“How does it feel to be the only casualty of the races this year?”  they asked him as he lay there wondering at it all.

Later on that night, there he was, on the flickering screen of the black and white TV. Wow.  He could be famous. But he was stuck with that cast the rest of the summer. He would have to give up jumping over fences. At least for now.

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A shrimp story

Just off of Highway 101 where it runs along Hood Canal there was a small restaurant with a dwelling in back and attached store in front.   The restaurant and store was owned and operated by Floyd and Elsie Chapman and the sign in front read “ELSIE’S PLEASANT HARBOR.”  The canal itself is a narrow shimmering fjord about 50 miles long and averaging 177 feet deep.  The clear blue water is filled with abundant life and on its shores are plentiful clams and oysters.  Pleasant Harbor is a quiet natural cove on the canal and that is where Floyd moored his shrimp boat.

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On a sleepy day in 1963 Floyd was outside in his blue overhauls and captain’s hat, working the fire under a large kettle where the day’s catch of shrimp was to be cooked.  He’d been up since early that morning when he had gone to drop the traps in the canal.

He dumped the buckets full of shrimp into the boiling water and when they turned white in their orange shells he put them into prepared cardboard boxes where they’d be stored on ice and ready for sale in the store.

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The Seattle Times had taken an interest in the man and his shrimp boat and a reporter and photographer were on the scene observing.  I was also there watching.  Every summer the grand kids got to stay a week with grandma and grandpa at Pleasant Harbor.  Those sunny days were filled with dusty hikes through woods to the canal below where we played on the beach and swam in the icy cold water.  We dropped homemade lines off the state dock down the barnacle covered pilings where the perch were feeding and when they took the bait we yanked hard and pulled them up.  If we got up in time we went out with  grandpa on the boat early in the morning to set the traps or later that day to collect them filled with shrimp and the occasional hitchhiking  crab or squid.

After they had taken several pictures of grandpa the reporter covering the story asked me if I liked shrimp.

“No,” I replied definitely.

“Would you eat one for a dime?”  he asked.

A dime!

“Yes!”  I nodded eagerly.

So he set me up just so and after he took the picture I downed that shrimp he had put in my outstretched hand.  A deal was a deal.

I ran to buy candy with my dime.

Later that summer when the article appeared in the paper, there I was in my striped shirt and  pearl necklace, holding that shrimp as if ready to drop it into my mouth. (I think my eyes are saying, ‘oh no…. here it comes…’)

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And the caption read,  “Granddaughter, Susan, age 8, gobbles down a shrimp with obvious delight.”

Um. Okay.  A real shrimp story, that one.

Tales from Longfellow Creek

When I was growing up we lived in a house near the woods and in front of the house flowed a creek that provided me and my friends with hours and hours of entertainment. Whenever we had nothing else to do, one of us would say to the other, ‘want to go play in the creek?’ and off we went.  That meant wandering up the path along the wooded banks daring one other to jump across at various points on the way.  And during hot summer months we would sometimes swim in the larger pools though we were warned against it.

We walked through the culverts with our hands pressed against the walls, our feet straddling the water that flowed beneath. Sometimes we sat inside those concrete pipes propped up cross ways, discussing important matters of youth such as how to reconcile with whoever was currently on the outs.  (It seemed we were always mad at someone and wanted to make up while saving face.)

During that era the creek was not in the best condition though we didn’t know it or care. It was never ‘Longfellow Creek’ to us,  just ‘the creek’, always there and always good for hanging around. There were no fish but I remember the occasional crawdad and frogs nearby.  And I remember the excitement the year heavy rain caused the creek to overflow its banks and we rowed down our street in a blue plastic boat. The best!

I wanted to go back and visit the old house near the woods and the creek that flowed in  front.  After a bit of research I learned there had been extensive cleanup and restoration of the area and a new Legacy Trail added.  Longfellow, it turns out, is one of four free flowing creeks in Seattle, this one flowing year round into the Duwamish River.  It is now home to trout, coho salmon and salamander. Evidence of beaver activity can also be found.  At the headwaters of the Longfellow is the Roxhill Bog, a peat bog 10,000 years old, which is currently undergoing restoration so it can continue to naturally filter the water.

The Legacy Trail begins at Roxhill Park and wanders the next four miles through mostly residential areas, sometimes through woods and sometimes following the creek.  That’s where I begin my visit.

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The trail is inviting but the creek is not visible here this time of year so I move on to where I know it will be….  the dead end street where I grew up. I drive the road that seems so familiar but somehow unfamiliar at the same time.

I pull over and an old man with long hair and beard, big dog by his side, looks down at me from his driveway with suspicion.  I get out of my car with my camera.

“I grew up here,”  I call out to him.  “I came to take a picture of the creek. Okay with the dog?”

He smiled.  Yes.  But I didn’t stay long.

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The road is surprisingly unchanged and still feels off the grid.  At the end of the road I find the old house and the creek nearby.  The house has been well maintained but is a different color and seems much smaller than I remember. The creek seems wild and overgrown, narrower, and not very accessible..

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I continue on to the next access point of the Legacy Trail and find this outdoor work of art…..but no easy view of the creek…

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At my next and final stop off a quiet narrow road, I find this section of the trail and creek in the woods..

DSC00153Lovely.

I don’t mean to sound disappointed, but I guess I am.

I much prefer the creek that flowed in my memory.  When we dared one another to jump across at impossibly wide spots.  Where we walked through concrete pipes and paused to tell secrets.  Where we played in the woods and the salmon berries were sweet and flaming orange and red and thimble berries became caps placed on your fingers eaten off one by one.  

I like knowing the creek is there and still flowing, perhaps more pristine than before with native plants and flowers and beaver if you know where to look, and salmon running though not in great numbers.  I like to know I can still visit whenever I like.  But if I am honest, I guess I like visiting the one in my memory even more.