Home in Tacoma: Family Life After the Marines Part 2

(Seventh in a family legacy series… almost done, I promise!)

In December 1969, I had never lived anywhere longer than three years. That all changed when the family moved to 8601 43rd Street West in University Place, the kind of community where kids generally went to school together from kindergarten on. The only problem was that hadn’t lived there from my early elementary years. I was on the outside looking in while students whispered and slipped each other notes in core class. But frankly, maybe everyone feels that self-conscious in 7th grade. They weren’t unfriendly, just segregated into class structures like 7th graders everywhere. No one had to tell you who the roosters were, or the partyers, or the nerds.

Thank heaven for Ellen Palmer, the other new kid. We discovered each other standing next to our lockers and soon found we had a lot in common, including being from ex-military families. With Ellen, I could face anything.

1970betsy

We were down to two children living at home, Dean, in 10th grade, and me. Scott was still stationed in Germany and busy raising Marc with Jody, and Bruce and Camille had moved out on their own with Sandy in South Seattle.

Decorating our home for Christmas was one of the first priorities. We unpacked Mom’s angel collection, which she displayed on a bed of “angel hair” (spun fiberglass), lit from underneath by a string of lights. We acquired a Douglas fir tree, festooned it with colored lights and metallic icicles, and hung our old favorite ornaments: glass globes that survived the various moves, Japanese court ladies’ silk balls (temari), wooden jumping jacks, and yarn angels. Out came the felt stockings we had made in while still living in Washington, D.C.  Jody, Scott and Marc arrived for the holidays on leave and Mom invited old friends from Seattle and Everett to come warm the house: Kay and Bruce Straughan, Patsy and Rick Lukens, and Jim and Sheila Campbell. And Santa brought Dad just what he wanted.

 

We all found things to like about the new house. Although it was about a mile from Puget Sound, it was situated near the top of a hill and commanded a spectacular view of the Sound and the Olympics – when it was clear, that is. The rhododendrons, already mature in 1969, grew to at least a dozen feet high and surrounded the house with color in the spring. Dogwoods, lilacs and camellias also made their appearances according to their seasonal schedule. But the showpiece was a Mt. Fuji cherry tree that exploded with double pinkish-white blossoms along its horizontal branches each spring, just outside the dining room window.

Mom always made an effort with the garden and landscaping wherever we lived, but she really put her heart into the yard in Tacoma. She planted the rockery in the back yard with roses and seasonal flowers, set off by trailing greenery. In shady areas, she planted colorful impatiens. To the front yard she added a rose garden with some of her favorite specimens, especially yellow-throated Peace roses tinged with pink and apricot.

Three outdoor areas facing the West provided plenty of opportunity to enjoy the yard and view: a wooden deck that ran the entire length of the upstairs level, which Mom embellished with hanging baskets of fuchsias, a large deck downstairs off the recreation room for entertaining, and a patio just off the kitchen which turned out to be perfect for barbecuing and making ice cream in a hand-cranked freezer.

The L-shaped living and dining room became the focal point of the house for family dinners, cocktail parties, bridge parties and PEO meetings, with the bay windows and a sliding glass door providing seasonally-changing vistas. The fireplace hearth made a natural place to display Mom’s favorite brass tray and Japanese or Chinese statuettes, while the wood box was converted into an indoor garden featuring orchids, ferns and plants with colorfully variegated leaves. Scott built a cabinet for the stereo and furnished it with a state-of-the-art turntable, receiver and speakers, which Mom quickly filled with a collection of operas, classical music and Broadway musicals (“South Pacific,” “Kiss Me Kate,” My Fair Lady,” etc.). And there was always room for humor, which used to be delivered by LP: Andy Griffith’s “What it Was, Was Football,” and an album with a sketch about an astronaut who refused to go into space without his crayons. (Every family has those one-liners that no one else understands, but results in the recall of the entire story for those in the know. One of our family’s was, “I want my crayons….” from that comedy album.)

Though the setting was elegant, our family dinner tradition usually included the singing of children’s songs from a long-lost album: “The Sturdy Elephant,” “The Hippopotamus,” “The Policeman and the Little Bum.” Also in the mix: a few nonsensical rhymes passed on by Dad’s father. One began,”I went down on hilter halter, and came upon filter falter…”

Nearly-naughty limericks were also favored, such as: “There once was a young woman named Kroll/Who had a sense of humor exceedingly droll/At a masquerade ball/Dressed in nothing at all/She backed in as a Parker House roll.”

And of course there was the recitation of Great Poetry. Dad would inhale deeply and with a booming voice begin, “Speak!” The initial startled response over, he continued with Longfellow’s first few verses: “speak thou fearful guest/Who, with thy hollow breast/Still in rude armor drest,/Comest to daunt me!/Wrapt not in Eastern balms/But with thy fleshless palms/Stretched as if asking alms,/Why dost thou haunt me?”

The well-trafficked kitchen had room for a table where four could sit, and a built in desk under which first Boot, and then Katie and Beall, and finally Meg curled up with the hubbub of the family nearby. The upstairs also included a full-sized office, which doubled as a bedroom when Sandy or other family visited.

Downstairs, the full basement easily accommodated our friends and activities. Dad and Mom appreciated the large storeroom with an old furnace reminiscent of the many-armed beast in the movie, “A Christmas Story.” It didn’t belch smoke, nor did Dad have to do battle with it, but it turned on and off loudly throughout the chilly nights. Across from the store room was Dad’s workroom, a man cave with built in drawers for every type of tool, nut and nail, as well as space for Dad’s gun safe. His shotgun shell reloading equipment served as an alarm clock of sorts on weekends; first the waterfall sound of the shot being dropped followed by the ka-chunk sound of the lever being depressed to crimp the reloaded shell. Over and over and over again.

Dean and I had bedrooms on the corner of the house at ground level. To me there were few more mesmerizing sounds than that of rainfall on the sidewalk outside my window. The large “rec room” included a pool table, an acquisition intended to help Dean build social connections after he broke his shoulder playing football not long after our arrival. The downstairs fireplace was often stoked and putting out heat, great for napping in the Lazy Boy recliner during the college football and basketball games that were often on TV.

Mom led the usual routine in establishing our social connections. She became active in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and PEO, and soon collected a group of couples with military ties, especially Bob and Jean Hankins and Peggy and Joe Woods, with whom they celebrated the Marine Corps’ birthday every November 10.

Dad continued his habit of walking, devising three- to four-mile routes that he rapidly covered in an hour. He shot skeet in tournaments and later helped to plant and raise pheasant on Ft. Lewis. Returning to his roots in Eastern Washington, he hunted for duck and upland game in their seasons, beginning with dove and moving on to pheasant, quail, hungarian partridge and chukar. Mom could make them all taste good.

1970sNormNelson

These hunting and shooting adventures were favorites for everyone. As adolescents, both Sandy and Marc were invited to learn to shoot skeet at Ft. Lewis. In addition to hunting at The Family Hunt Club in Othello, hunting chukar in the Bridgeport area up above the Columbia river was a favorite of both Bruce and Dean. Although I didn’t shoot, I loved it when I accompanied Dad. Bruce remembers staying at the Y Motel (running joke: Why? Y not…). In the pre-dawn hours, we’d arise and dress in heavy woolen Filson pants, sweaters, jackets and hats and gloves, prepared for below-freezing temperatures. Dad drove the “beast,” the four wheel drive green truck, to the field, and we’d begin walking uphill along a stream channel. The ice-encrusted shorn wheat fields would crunch under our boots as we entered the farmland, the cold air striking our faces. Then the sun broke over the horizon and the scene was bathed in white winter light – a tapestry of cream and tan colors sparkling as ice crystals caught the sun. Katie and Beall, the two springers who succeeded Boot, bounded away, but always responded to Dad’s whistle. Later, Meg, a Brittany, loyally retrieved birds.

Bruce remembers one trip a few years later when Katie started getting “birdy.” “As we crested the rise,” Bruce wrote Dad, “it opened up into a sunlit shallow bowl. You were slightly downhill and to the left with the dog, and I slowly walked into the depression. About ten yards in, the birds began to flush. I hit one, then another, and the birds kept flushing and flushing, in the hundreds. I heard several shots from you, and saw more birds fall from the sky. We spent the rest of the day picking up scattered birds from that same initial flock. Since then, neither of us has ever seen a group of chukars that large in one spot.”

Not long after we moved to Tacoma, Grandmother Campbell moved from her apartment in Yakima to a convalescent home nearby, after breaking her hip. After our dinner each night, Dad religiously packed up a plate for her and took it to her at Abilene House, returning around 9 p.m.

1970grandmother

It was around this point that I discovered God, boys and mascara, not necessarily in that order. After attending the Camp of the Holy Spirit on Mt. St. Helens, I came home with the fervor of the born-again and mooning over my first boyfriend, who nicknamed me “Butterfly.”

When I turned 53, I realized that I was exactly the age my mother was when I turned 13 and overnight began to assert my independence. Menopausal women and adolescent daughters make for a volatile brew.

There was yelling, there was foot stomping, and there was door slamming. And a lot of statements like, “You don’t understand me!” The photo below was taken later, but it tells the story:

1973grumpybetsy

In 1971, the family anxiously awaited letters while Scott served in Vietnam. Though he said he was not in danger and far from the front lines, Vietnam was Vietnam. The evening news continued to display the mounting death toll. Fortunately, Scott returned unscathed a year later, and upon his return was awarded a Bronze Star medal for meritorious service. He was recognized for the accuracy of his projections on a monthly and fiscal year basis as to how much fuel the Army would use, and setting up the regulations for an allocation system in Vietnam.

1971 was also about the time that Bruce and Camille divorced. Sandy lived with her mother on Bainbridge but continued to spend most holidays and summers in Tacoma. Bruce moved home while he worked on his undergraduate degree at University of Washington.

In 1972, both Dean and I were in high school, and immersed in activities. Dean played football and volunteered during summers at a camp for mentally disabled youth operated by the Boy Scouts. He continued to be involved in Scouting, and completed the rank of Eagle. I had become very involved in the Episcopal Church’s House of Young Churchmen as well as choir and theater. And dating.

With Dean getting ready to graduate in 1972, Dad was concerned about the difference between the family’s income and “out-go.” Kicking off a series of family conferences, he noted that the family was expected to spend about $2,500 more than its income. Something needed to be done.

Dad approached the family about the need for a plan. He facilitated the meetings using a Management By Objectives technique, with a formal agenda and notes recorded on a flip chart pad. Beginning with a discussion of “where are we now,” a number of significant facts were put on the table including this one: “Dad’s physical condition – family plans depend on his ability to continue to earn. He is a valuable person to all of us, and earning power aside, we need him as Father, husband, counselor and guide.” Mom stated that the house needed more effective supervision and she needed to “spend more time on deck”; that said, she also said that she needed more help to maintain a home that she could be proud of and “one which provides the climate in which we can all be our best and do our best.”

My contribution? As stated in the minutes that were distributed by Mom after the meeting, “I am too tired and busy to help as much as I’d like to because of too many concerts lately and the demands of my homework.” I also complained that, “I don’t like this process because it seems too impersonal… a family should not be organized like a business.”

Wow, I really jumped right in there. Meanwhile, Dean (quiet to this point) offered to find a part-time job and Bruce committed to find a job to reduce the impact of his schooling. (Dean did indeed find a job at a service station and Bruce found a position in a lab. I assume I continued to be involved in school and applying copious amounts of makeup.)

Dean applied for and was awarded an NROTC scholarship, which meant that he would be headed to Marquette and its cold winters. After a year, however, he dropped his commission, feeling that since he did not intend to pursue a career in the Navy, it would be unethical to continue to finance his education on their dime; he transferred to University of Washington.

Bruce rebounded into a brief marriage, and began the process of rebuilding his life by joining the Navy.

1973bruce

The family financial situation must have eased a bit in 1973. Dad bought Mom a diamond “engagement” ring to celebrate their 32nd anniversary, and Mom and I were able to visit Scott, Jody and Marc in Germany. Turned out that Scott does a passable Schuhplatteln, the Bavarian folk dance. A few months after this picture was taken, Scott and the family returned to Washington state after the Army decided it had too many non-commissioned Captains.

1973germany

Despite being in her 32nd year as a parent, Mom proved herself game when asked if she would host a foreign exchange student. Lisa Larsson of Stockholm joined the family for my senior year. And when I was selected as my high school’s Daffodil Festival Princess, Mom and the ladies of St. Andrew’s stepped up to build Curtis High School’s first Daffodil parade float.

Lisa Larsson and Betsy Campbell Stone

That spring I was accepted into Occidental College and prepared for the wind-down of my high school career. The rug felt pulled out from under all of us when Dad’s job was eliminated, putting our finances – and college – in jeopardy. Fortunately, Mom’s connections with PEO led to an offer of a Trustee Scholarship from University of Puget Sound. If I kept my grades above a 3.5 GPA, my tuition would be covered. Though initially disappointing, it turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened.

Dad did secure another position within Weyerhaeuser, but the stress took its toll. In the spring of 1976, he visited Dr. Starr’s cardiology clinic in Portland at my uncle Ed’s urging, and was immediately admitted for open heart surgery. His first of three. And around the same time, his mother had a stroke and passed away.

Life went on. I got my first job (working at the Tux Shop in the Tacoma Mall), and my first car, a used Rabbit. Dean graduated from UW and went on for his master’s degree.

Tons of important, REALLY important, milestones happened after this. Bruce married Kathy Manzari and they brought Vincent into the world in 1981. Betsy married Todd in 1982 and gave birth to Madeline (“Maddie”) in 1987 and Thomas (at present, “Thom”) in 1992. Dean married Gwendolyn Snyder and they began their family with Alison in 1995 and added adopted Eileen, then one, in November 1999. Scott married Pat Ford in 1991. And Bruce married Bronwen in 2001, and adopted Isaac George in 2010.

But this is a legacy series about Henry and Eileen, and my brothers’ stories and mine are still being written. We’ll leave those for the next generation to describe.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Home in Tacoma: Family Life After the Marines Part 2

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