Growing Up

Grew up in Roseburg, Oregon, a small town in the Willamette Valley, an hour south of Eugene. Both sets of grandparents lived in town. One also had a small weekend beach house on the Oregon Coast where we spent many days building driftwood forts and playing in tide pools.

Moved to Reno, Nevada, “Biggest Little City in the World”, at 9. Stunned to learn that sunshine and COLD could happen at the same time. No more grass; hard dirt playgrounds. Gambling for marbles during recess. Tarantula on the monkey bars. Ant lions. Cool kids from the circus doing multiple somersaults off the swings. Each autumn my father and I would crawl under our tract home to tape up loose joints in the flimsy ducts so furnace heat would reach every room. But first we’d enlist fumigators to exterminate the black widow spiders. Funny thing: dead black widows look JUST LIKE live black widows, particularly when you’re ten years old, aided by a weak flashlight, and crawling between the webs on your elbows and knees. Learned to ski at Lake Tahoe. There’s nothing like standing atop a snow-covered peak, dark blue sky, rich green trees; military jets suddenly blasting low overhead from behind the summit; sparkling blue waters of Lake Tahoe below one shoulder, beautiful desert below the other; skiers in summer tops swooshing down the slopes. Ghost towns. Donner Pass. Snowshoe Thompson. Wildhorse Annie. Walking through the desert to junior high. Scorpions. Rattlesnakes sound like a casino dealer shuffling a deck of cards.

Lived on Bainbridge Island, Washington, just west of Seattle, for remainder of junior high and high school. Surrounded everywhere by sturdy evergreens. Snow-capped Mt. Rainier always towering in the distance, though frequently hidden by rain and clouds. Clam digging on the beach two blocks from home. Though they weren’t “blocks.” Sand dollars and starfish. Lapping water. Wild blackberry bushes behind the house. Strawberry farm across the way. Windy roads. The long bus ride to school. Picking apples and learning to juggle in the rain. The ferry to Seattle to see the orthodontist. Submarines. Fire boats. Orca. Geoducks. Seaplanes. Marine biology. Ivar’s seafood. “Jesus Christ Built Seattle Under Protest”, a mnemonic to remember Seattle’s downtown street names. Glorious summer days.

Spent three summers in King Cove, Alaska, an Aleut village and home to Peter Pan Seafoods. Holed up for days at an old airbase, waiting for visibility. Grumman Goose landing in the bay. Salmon cannery. Summer sun never sets. Standing in gills and guts to my knees, shoveling. 118-hour work weeks, average. Top week: 144 hours. (Do you even know how many hours are in a week? I do!) Facing 17 hrs of physical labor on 5 hours sleep, 100 days in a row. Promoted to machinist. Union representative. Japanese and Filipino coworkers. Accosted with a salmon, the sharp edge of its frozen tail jammed against my throat. Eagles, bears, waterfalls, volcano. Knifings, drugs, alcohol, teen pregancies. July 4th holiday? An extra 30 minutes during the midnight meal!  No mail or fresh eggs or milk for weeks until the weather lets up. Powdered eggs and salmon. Silly protest: mess hall doesn’t serve same food to all. Wise cook: pig snouts for everyone! Ear protectors over ear plugs; too loud to talk; hand signals for salmon species, quality and count. Knew the codes embossed on the grocery store cans, which to avoid. Of course, why EVER eat canned salmon? End of summer, weather broke, luggage flew out, but 10 minutes later weather socked in; two more days trapped, with no gear, waiting for the weather to break, dying to go home, finally departing by fishing boat, a 30-minute flight replaced by hours on the roiling sea, happy nonetheless. Cargo plane. Anchorage! Chocolate milkshake!