A Brave New Life After the USMC, Part One

(Sixth in a family legacy series)

I ended the fourth post of this family legacy series by describing our family as “walking wounded” when we sailed to the West Coast months after the massive heart attack that forced Dad’s early retirement from the US Marine Corps in 1963.

This is where the family story is also part-memoir. From the period of Dad’s career in the Marines, I have only flashes of brief memories. My memories really begin in Seattle.

As we moved into our Seattle home at 2701 11th Avenue East, a brick Tudor house reached by ascending 42 steps, I felt unsettled. I think we all did. Even the welcome addition of a dog – a black mutt Dean named Laddie – didn’t change that.

Not only our family had changed. The world as we knew it was changing. In the summer of 1963, the Beatles had launched the “British Invasion,” the American Heart Association began its campaign to eradicate smoking, the Equal Pay Act was signed to outlaw wage discrimination based on gender, the race to put a man on the moon was in full swing with both American and Soviet teams successfully orbiting the Earth, Kennedy made his famous Ich bin ein Berliner speech to a crowd of 450,000 in West Berlin not far from the recently-erected Berlin Wall, the nation increasingly moved to a war footing for Vietnam, 23 people were arrested at a civil rights sit-in at Seattle’s City Hall, and hundreds of thousands marched on Washington in support of racial equality and jobs, stirred as Martin Luther King told the assembly, “I have a dream.”

What a time. The house was a little scary to me. The blue curtains with the kokechi doll print that kept my room cool in Honolulu made it dark in Seattle’s rainy climate. I was convinced that the sealed opaque glass window on the stairwell led to a hidden attic where – surely – something lurked. The downstairs basement was cold (and it didn’t add to my feeling of safety the next year when my mother chased us out of the house during aftershocks from the 9.2 magnitude Great Alaskan earthquake).

It was time for me to start growing up. I learned to ride my bike right there by Devil’s Dip, the nickname of the precipitously steep slope in the next block of 11th Avenue East. And Mom insisted on making sure I learned how to swim, which somehow didn’t happen while in Hawaii. I hated undressing in the damp, chlorine-smelling women’s dressing room at the UW; Mom said I was “nasty nice” for being too modest. I tended to get worked up when I was upset and could wail like a fire engine, which I soon learned would result in a dose of discipline with Dad’s belt. (Though Dad gave up using the belt soon thereafter, we all knew and dreaded the swish-snap sound as Dad whipped his belt out of his trousers.)

I felt out of place, happiest spying on passers-by in nearby Roanoke Park from my hidden eyrie in a tree. I bird-dogged my brother Dean wherever he went, including his visits to Robbie Racz, the neighbor boy across the street. Until I was chased by the boys downstairs, I’d loiter in the hallway while Robbie played Dean the new Beatles album on his record player. I had begun to hone my little sister strategy while we lived in Seattle; I couldn’t compete on size, ability or knowledge, but I had annoyance down pat. Dean ignored me at his peril; I could sing the nonsensical Japanese nursery song lyrics ad nausem: “Moshi, moshi anone, anone, anone… Moshi, moshi anone, ah so desu-ka.” When we moved to Seattle, I imagined myself an expert at surreptitious surveillance. Unbeknown to me, Dean and his friends were on to me. They first ditched me while spying on the overgrown mansion at the top of Devil’s Dip, which we imagined was inhabited by ghosts rather than the two old sisters who actually lived there (still, reminiscent of “Arsenic and Old Lace”). Another time, I tracked them all the way down to the overpass that led to the floating bridge; several years later, Police found the remains of 4 year-old Heidi Peterson near the embankment there, ending forever the period of innocence when parents could tell their children to just go outside and play until dinner.

Dean, Robbie and me (of course)

Dean, Robbie and me (of course)

It was a rough introduction to our civilian life.

Dad told me in recent years that he was disabled for two years as he recovered from his heart attack. He re-entered UW’s law school, the program he interrupted in 1941 when he joined the Marines. But he concluded what he suspected before; he simply didn’t like law.

Like many vets he counseled in later years, he had to figure out how to translate his experience in the Corps to fit the requirements of civilian posts. He eventually went to work for Weyerhaeuser, hoping to apply his experience managing officer assignments to manpower planning and human resources in the corporate environment. Though he never complained, he came to have little respect for the politics of a major corporation. The Marine Corps was a meritocracy; advancement depended on successful performance in a range of settings, from staff to operations. Dad was to learn how staff was regarded in an operationally-driven lumber company like Weyco. Pretty expendable. After years of sporting a regulation Marine Corps buzz cut, Mom had to nudge Dad to loosen up his look a bit and wear his hair longer, at least on the sides.

They had four children to put through college, and there was never any question as to Mom and Dad’s priority when it came to education. Scott headed back to college at the University of Washington, Bruce enrolled at Lincoln High School, and Dean and I walked through Roanoke Park across the freeway to ancient Seward Elementary School, built between 1893 and 1917.

Screen Shot 2013-06-24 at 8.18.41 PM

It was there, sitting in my first grade classroom on November 22, 1963, that my Principal came on the speaker to announce that the President of the United States had been killed.

As disappointing as it was to be shoved out of his Marine career, Dad seemed to embrace being back in the Pacific Northwest. Ski clothing and equipment was acquired for all of us – bulky boots and skis that reached to the wrist when your arm was fully extended. I remember walking up and down the concrete aisles in the REI warehouse, which looked the part of a 60s sportsman’s co-op, with fascinating curiosities like freeze-dried food and mountaineer’s gear.

Dean remembers getting in to the family’s little yellow rubber raft and fishing among the lily pads of Portage Bay for bass. He taught Dean how to use a bait casting rod to toss bass plugs and pork frogs right up against the old pilings at the south end of the bay. About that time, Dad also resumed hunting, heading east of the mountains to Uncle Bill and Aunt Louise’s house in Wenatchee. “The first time out or two I was just a retriever,” Dean wrote to Dad, “but the next year I got to shoot a little bit.”

Skiing at Mt. Pilchuck

Skiing at Mt. Pilchuck

Dad did his best to help all of us find our footing. He led Dean’s Scout troop, assisting the boys with pursuit of merit badges and introducing them to fishing. One casting lesson ended with a hook firmly embedded in Dean’s scalp. I desperately wanted to be a Boy Scout. Not a Girl Scout, not a Camp Fire Girl, but a Boy Scout. I settled for participation in Camp Fire Girls and tried to content myself with our crafts-oriented curriculum, embossing copper, tooling leather, weaving hotpads and blanket-stitching red felt “wallets” to hold a selection of sewing needles. Not only was I prohibited from joining the Boy Scouts, but I had to endure being around obnoxious 4th grade boys when they came to our house for weenie roasts (one tossed up his masticated food on my shoe in an act I took to be hostile). When my first grade teacher reported that I was a fast reader but had poor retention, Dad led the charge to get me to read and summarize passages of the Frank L. Baum Oz books.

Mom, too, reconnected with old friends from the University of Washington. I remember accompanying her to visit Dr. Wagner, her former signing coach. At 46, she was soon back to practicing arias she hadn’t sung in over 20 years. She acquired season tickets to Seattle Opera and reveled in its repertoire, favoring classics by Verdi, Mozart and Puccini, while Dad leaned toward Wagner. When Aida came around, I accompanied her to what was my first opera, dressed in my Sunday finest, awed by the magic of the sets and the music, and thrilled by the pomp of the attendees as they walked up the grand staircase.

At St. Mark’s Cathedral, the giant though still unfinished Episcopal Cathedral atop Capitol Hill, Mom sang in the choir while Dean and I attended Sunday School.

On the homefront, Mom adjusted the family’s diet to accommodate Dad’s low-salt, low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, although when I look back at my favorite dinners from that period, I can’t imagine how these were healthy choices: chicken tetrazzini (made with 9 tbs. of butter), Chinese hamburger hash (seasoned with soy sauce), and shrimp creole (featuring a tomato sauce base). To compensate, perhaps, there were also plenty of roasted chickens, Cornish game hens and cubed steak – all purchased from the Sand Point Naval Air Station PX, which made a huge difference in stretching our family budget. To keep our bones strong, we were encouraged to drink milk at every seating. Facing the challenge of keeping a family of six in milk, Mom economized by training us to drink reconstituted powdered skim milk.

Dinner was always a sit-down affair, usually all together under the glittering prisms of the dusty crystal chandelier. (Yet another strange thing about the house: the previous owners had tiled over the dining room window with 12×12 black veined mirror tiles, perhaps for privacy from the neighbors. Mom, who intensely disliked dark rooms, quickly removed them.) With times as volatile as they were, there was plenty to discuss at the table. I remember one conversation that revolved around the mystery of that day’s missing newspaper – and the discovery later of a front page picture in which Scott was front and center in a protest against US involvement in Vietnam war. Children weren’t expected to be seen and not heard, as had been the case in Dad’s childhood home. If we didn’t understand a word and asked for its definition, we were promptly told to fetch the dictionary.

1966thanksgivingseattle

We all developed friends, and friendships with other families. Soon I was invited to join other neighbor kids as they watched “Saturday Afternoon at the Movies” on TV (with fare like “Creature from the Black Lagoon”). In Washington DC, Mom and Dad had become acquainted with the Lukens family. Fred, his wife, Patsy, and their large and lively branch of the family moved West a few years before we arrived in Seattle. It was natural for the families to reconnect. Though we occasionally visited Mom’s cousin Harriet’s family in Los Banos, and our Uncle Ed and Aunt Letty Ann’s and their sons in Yakima, we didn’t have family nearby. Having the Lukens family was like having loaner cousins.

For every one of us four, there was an “opposite number” of similar age, with a few spares. Paddy was Scott’s peer, Molly was friends with Bruce (out of which Mom expected a romance to blossom), Dean could choose from Peggy or Rick, and I generally played with Ricky (my age) or Tommy. (Kimberly was a later addition, just as I had been to my family.) At their rambling house on Capitol Hill, the younger set played tag, hide-and-seek, and, if I had my way, “Kingie,” a made-up game that inevitably involved a royal Queen or King being waited upon by his or her subjects.

Being back in the Pacific Northwest gave us the opportunity to return to a special place in Mom’s memory, Payette Lake, in McCall, Idaho. Each summer, we piled into the car and drove the 500 miles (sans air conditioning) to the Ponderosa Pine-forested summer retreat owned by Mom’s uncle on Wagon Wheel Bay. When we started to feel we’d worn out our welcome – Uncle Lynn could be pretty intimidating – we started staying at Lena Lukens’ cabin across the bay.

After three years, Dad announced that we would be moving to nearby Everett where he would become Personnel Director of Weyco’s large lumber operation. Though the chaotic family gatherings with the Lukens wouldn’t end, they became less frequent when we were 30 miles away. Although we were used to moving about every three years, I had come to like my school – especially my beloved third grade teacher, Mrs. Dingley. Seward was an inner city school and my friends and acquaintances reflected the diversity of Capitol Hill: African-American Cecilia Lee, second generation Japanese American Julie Aoki, and my Scandinavian-American best friend, Lisa Frolund, who had the added attraction of owning a Barbie Dream House and actually living in a house that kind of looked like it on Boyer Avenue overlooking Portage Bay.

Oh how I loved Lisa Frolund's Barbie Dream House

Oh how I loved Lisa Frolund’s Barbie Dream House

We moved to 2507 Helena Lane in Eastmont in 1967, a suburban community south of Everett and north of Seattle. We acquired a new dog, a moose of a Springer Spaniel named “Boot” with whom Dad planned to hunt upland game in Eastern Washington. (Sadly, Laddie disappeared with a bunch of other neighborhood dogs, victim of a dognapping ring.)

A lot of kids our age lived on the new block, including Shari Schoonover. Shari – who I called “Shoutz” – was as uncool as I was; we were perfect for each other. By this time, my mother had let me stop wearing my hair pulled straight back from my face secured by a giant bow that looked like a propeller, but I still looked fully the part of dork next to sophisticated young gamines with popular names like Keely or Kelly or Kerry (so much cooler to have a “K” name). My crooked overbite didn’t help, although that was soon to be attacked by a Seattle based orthodontist, Dr. Leslie Erickson, who was always delighted to listen to my constant attempts at poetry. At least, he convinced me he was. I turned out to be a six year customer of poor Dr. Erickson’s and I rarely showed up for my monthly appointment without something for him to appreciate.

The family adventures in hunting quickly resumed. Dean remembers pheasant hunting in the Ephrata area with the old “White Trail Grange” association. Quentin and Mike Schoonover (Shari’s father and brother) joined Dad and Dean for an pheasant shoot that turned out to be more like visiting a chicken ranch than hunting in rural farm country. On opening day, at least 15-20 pheasants were just milling around the willows in the middle of an alfalfa field. They stopped the car, lined up, and at noon pushed them across the road and up to an elevated ditch bank, where they started flushing in flocks. Dean emptied his old 16 gauge Browning A-5, reloaded and shot again, without raising a feather. None of the party hit birds; the birds unexpectedly all flushed almost straight up.

Eastmont was surrounded by a lot of undeveloped property, and people on nearby farms often had horses, which fed an obsession. By the time we moved to Everett, I had moved on from reading the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Pippi Longstocking series. I inhaled every Marguerite Henry book and imagined myself atop Phantom (Misty of Chincoteague) or Sham (King of the Wind). I really wanted a horse. And a cat. I got the cat (the diabolical Tuffy), and a few riding lessons at a nearby stable. With matters left to me, I talked my classmate’s parents into letting me clean stables on their “Funny Farm” (its real name) in exchange for free rides on their mean-tempered Shetland ponies. They got the better end of that deal.

Looking back, Eastmont was probably chosen for its modest home prices and decent schools. Things were tight financially and soon grew tighter. It was the only time I knew my parents to argue – really argue – and once I heard Mom fling the word I feared most into the conversation: divorce. Women’s liberation, besides opening career possibilities for women, brought with it a rise in divorce. I had heard of kids whose parents divorced. And then there was that friend of Mom and Dad’s who wore caftans and announced that she had freed herself and graffitied obscenities on her bathroom walls. Would my Mom be liberated? Would she start using the F-word? Could my parents split?

Scott had finished college and was drafted into the Army in January 1967. Fortunately, his first tour was in Germany. I was pretty shocked when he called with the news that he would soon marry Jody, daughter of an Army general, in Karlsruhe, Germany. Their honeymoon getaway car? An Army tanker.

Mom did what she always did, setting up familiar activities in a new town and establishing new social connections. She joined St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church and soon our home was filled with the smell of ironing as she brought home a weekly load of altar linens. She sang in the choir, and I (ever clingy) insisted on sitting next to her, singing along. Shari and I completed confirmation classes, donned our virginal white dresses and pinned circular lace doilies to our head for the big moment. I still remember Bishop Ivol Curtis greeting me with a handshake so firm that his Bishop’s ring nearly crushed my finger joints.

Mom arranged bridge foursomes and small cocktail parties featuring pu-pu’s she learned to make in Hawaii: teriyaki mock drumsticks, rumakis, sliced pork tenderloin with hot chinese mustard and sesame seeds. When fondue became popular, a bubbly pot of melted cheese was added to the buffet table.

1969

For the first time, Dean and I weren’t attending the same school; I was at Jefferson Elementary while he moved on to junior high. He continued to move up the ranks of Boy Scouts, while Dad stepped up to Scout Master.

With me more at a more independent age, Mom began to have a little more time for herself. She resumed golfing after a hiatus stretching back to college, always walking the course in her Bermuda shorts and sleeveless blouse, and poured, sanded and glazed ceramics with me at a small studio. After the house was quiet each night, evenings would find her quietly smoking in the kitchen until around midnight, when she went to bed.

Then Bruce, a sophomore at Western Washington State College, came home with a bombshell. He was going to be a father.

Mom did what she always did: she rolled with it. I’m sure they discussed the options, but very soon I learned I was about to be a sister-in-law, and an aunt, before I turned 10. And, as it turned out, a Godmother.

1968 - (from right to left) - Hank, Eileen, Camille (Bruce's

I moved out of my comfortable upstairs room within ear shot of the living room and my parents’ room to a windowless bedroom in the basement down the hall from my brother Dean. Smelly boy territory, as far as I was concerned. But it was worth it, as Cassandra Eileen Campbell, Bruce and Camille moved in with us after Sandy’s birth on February 26, 1968.

And a year later, on March 23, I became an aunt again, with the birth of Marc Christopher Campbell to Scott and Jody.

1969 - Marc, about 6 mos

I had hit that gangly stage that follows childhood and precedes young woman hood.

Betsy - 5th & 6th grades

That summer, we headed to Eastern Washington to visit Mom’s childhood friend, Barb Kidder Ringrose, and her family in Colville, WA. On July 20, it was blisteringly hot. I felt a little awkward in my cotton two piece bathing suit; whatever fit my top at that age didn’t fit my bottom. But the curving water slide that landed in the Ringrose’ pool, with periodic diving exhibitions by their older kids, helped to pass the time while we waited, and waited, and waited. About 1 p.m. we learned that Apollo 11 had landed on the moon. Almost five hours later, Neil Armstrong was heard through the static to say: “one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

That fall, I made the move to 7th grade, joining the 8th and 9th graders on a campus that seemed huge after my small elementary school. But before I adjusted, we learned that Dad was being promoted and transferred to a position at Weyerhaueser’s corporate headquarters in Tacoma, WA.

Tacoma was best known in the Seattle-Everett area for its aroma, due to the pulp mill in Commencement Bay and Tacoma Smelter around the corner. The house hunt extended from Dash Point to the north, to as far south as Lakewood. Finally, the family settled on 8601 43rd Street West in suburban University Place, spending the most it had ever spent on a house, $42,500.

In December 1969, just in time for Christmas, the family moved.

Next: Home in Tacoma

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2 Comments

Filed under Family history, Uncategorized

2 responses to “A Brave New Life After the USMC, Part One

  1. Seward

    Seward School Reunion this Saturday April 21, 2018 from 1-4. Your friend Julie Aoki will be there 🙂

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