Seafair Memories from a Seattle Old Timer

Unlimited hydroplanes racing down the backstretch on Lake Washington. Photo credit: U-37.com

Unlimited hydroplanes racing down the backstretch on Lake Washington.
Photo credit: U-37.com

Note: In July, we will be returning to the United States to begin a new chapter in our travel lives.  With this blog, Applecore, I will continue to write about our travel adventures.  However, our lifestyle as The 6 Monthers is nearing its conclusion.  As our time in Spain comes to an end, I have begun contemplating our next destination – the return to my home state of Washington.  Inspired by memories of my younger days, this story is the first in a series looking back on my experiences growing up in Seattle.

Much of this story will be news to newcomers to the Seattle area, those who came within the last 40 years.  It was a time before Seattle had the NFL Seahawks, the Major League Mariners, or an NBA franchise like the now defunct Supersonics (now known grudgingly as the Oklahoma City Thunder).  We had the AAA baseball Seattle Rainiers who played at Sicks Stadium, located on Rainier Avenue where a Pepsi Cola warehouse now sits.  We also had the Western Hockey League Seattle Totems who played at the Civic Ice Arena, now known as the Seattle Center Arena.  However, these were minor diversions for sports fans.  There was only one sport that owned Seattle during my youth in the 50’s and 60’s – unlimited hydroplane racing.

Hometown favorite, Miss Bardahl won the National Championship in 1967 and '68.

Hometown favorite, Miss Bardahl won the National Championship in 1967 and ’68.
Photo credit: Seattletimes.com

In 1947, a national racing circuit was established for unlimited hydroplanes.  They were powered by V-12 Allison aircraft engines surplused after WWII.  The Allison’s were gradually replaced with V-12 Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engines, the ones that powered the British Spitfire fighter planes.  Generating over 1,000 horsepower, these extremely loud aircraft engines were what led to nicknaming the hydros as ‘Thunderboats.’  Even where I lived south of the city near Burien, I could hear the Thunderboats from my home five miles from the Lake Washington racecourse.

Why was unlimited hydroplane racing so big in Seattle?  Other than no big-time sports in the city, the lakefront along Lake Washington was, and still is, public park land.  It was an ideal setting for a daylong summer outing for the whole family.  The fans, who enjoyed swimming and picnicking between racing heats, turned out by the hundreds of thousands.  There was also a floating log boom installed along the backstretch of the racecourse.  To this day motorboat enthusiasts moor side-by-side to form a mile long flotilla of partying race fans.  Annual attendance estimates in the 50’s were around 400,000 people for the hydroplane races – almost half the population of the Seattle Metropolitan Area at the time.

The U.S. Navy is popular in the Puget Sound region, and their Blue Angels are a Seafair fixture on race day.

The U.S. Navy is popular in the Puget Sound region, and their Blue Angels are a Seafair fixture on race day.
Photo credit: Seattlepi.com

One great legend from this era was that of test pilot, Alvin ‘Tex’ Johnson.  Originally from Arkansas, he acquired the nickname ‘Tex’ from his penchant for wearing a Stetson and cowboy boots on the flight line.  He came to Boeing from Bell Aircraft, where he piloted, among other prototype aircraft, the rocket-propelled X-1, which pioneered the breaking of the sound barrier.  At Boeing, Johnson, the first pilot to fly the B-52 Stratofortress, sealed his legend when he flew the prototype Boeing 707 over the Lake Washington hydroplane racecourse on race day and performed a barrel role directly overhead of thousands of awestruck onlookers.  This risky maneuver, never before attempted in a four engine passenger jet, was captured on film.  (Click here for the brief video.)  The story goes that Tex was called before then Boeing President, Bill Allen, and asked what the heck he thought he was doing, to which Tex replied, ‘I’m selling airplanes.’  And that is exactly what he did.  Orders for the 707 came pouring in after his stunt, and Johnson was never fired, suspended or fined.

Other legends arose from the early hydroplane days.  Col. Russ Schleeh, who left his career as a test pilot to drive the old Shanty I hydroplane, is still the only hydroplane driver ever to get his photo on the cover of Sports Illustrated (September, 1957).  Old time race fans will remember the 1950 Slo-Mo-Shun IV driven by Stanley Sayres that set a world water speed record of 160 mph breaking the 11 year old record by almost 20 mph.  Two years later the same boat set a new record at 178 mph.

On race days the ‘Slo-Mo’ used to stop traffic on the Lake Washington Floating Bridge as it left its owner’s private dock near Leschi Park, a mile north of the racecourse.  It would race under the west high rise of the bridge and time its approach to the starting line going 160 mph as the starting gun sounded.  The running start was halted when the rules were changed requiring all boats to start from and return to the pits.

Unlimited hydroplane racing is inherently dangerous.  Even the modern aerodynamic boats can get airborne at high speeds.  Photo credit: Seattletimes.com

Unlimited hydroplane racing is inherently dangerous. Even the modern aerodynamic boats can get airborne at high speeds.
Photo credit: Seattletimes.com

Other early hydroplane drivers were household names in Seattle:  Mira Slovak – The Flying Czech (who escaped Communist Czechoslovakia as an airline pilot who diverted his commercial flight to Luxemburg), Dean Chenowith, Ron Musson and Bill Muncey.  Slovak was the only one of these drivers not killed in competition before safer boat designs were instituted.

My most vivid memory of the hydroplane races was standing on the shore of Lake Washington in 1969 as six Thunderboats came across the starting line.  They came roaring straight toward me side-by-side at 150 mph as I stood waist deep along the shore near the first turn.  Imagine seventy-two un-muffled combustion chambers exploding with aviation fuel as the boats spit out roostertail wakes fifty feet high.  The sound was so loud that it pulsed through my bones like a hundred sub-woofers cranked to the max at a KISS concert.  I have never experienced such total immersion in sensory overload as I did at that moment.

Beginning in 1980, unlimited hydroplanes began using Lycoming T-55 turbine engines.  Initially built to power Chinook helicopters, these engines produced over 3,000 horsepower.  The safer design of updated hydroplanes incorporate space age components, advanced aerodynamics, and enclosed cockpits.  As fast and powerful as these boats are, now easily reach speeds in excess of 200 mph, their high-pitched turbines can never replace the excitement and sensation of the classic Thunderboats.

Seattle’s annual Seafair celebration still culminates with unlimited hydroplane races on Lake Washington, and the races are still a great extravaganza.  Every year over a quarter million people line the course to watch the races.  However, with so many sports options available, hydroplane racing in Seattle will never regain the unique excitement once provided by the Thunderboats whose tradition is kept alive only when there is a demo race of the classic hydroplanes.  What remains of the Thunderboats are museum pieces which can be viewed at the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum in Kent, Washington.

 

The Legends:  U-4   Miss Burien, Chuck Hickling U-40 Miss Bardahl, Norm Evans (later drivers: Miro Slovak, Jackie Regas and Ron Musson) U-60 Miss Thriftway, Bill Muncey – winningest driver in unlimited hydro racing history (62 victories)  U-6   Oh Boy! Oberto, Buddy Byers (later, Jim McCormick) U-77 Miss Wahoo, Mira Slovak

The Legends: U-4 Miss Burien, Chuck Hickling
U-40 Miss Bardahl, Norm Evans (later drivers: Billy Schumacher, Mira Slovak, Jackie Regas and Ron Musson)
U-60 Miss Thriftway, Bill Muncey – winningest driver in unlimited hydro racing history (62 victories)
U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto, Buddy Byers (later, Jim McCormick)
U-77 Miss Wahoo, Mira Slovak
Photo credit: waterfollies.com

Note:  For more reading about the Thunderboats, click here for another story I ran across by another Seattle old-timer with his own take on the classic hydroplanes.

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Flashback Friday – A Twice-told Tale

Now that I have over a year’s worth of writing this blog under my belt and close to 100 stories posted, I wish to pull out an occasional favorite from the archives to share with readers.  This updated selection has little to do with travel.  It is a personal story about my father and a little about me.  Although I typically focus on places, please permit this rare indulgence to share something more personal.

Dad, what are you doing?

A hiking trail in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, my father’s favorite playground

I never thought I was much like my father, but I will admit I see more and more of him in me as I get older.  I was the child who favored my mother’s side both in looks and temperament.  Over the years, however, I took on this look. It was not so much a scowl as it was a deadpan expression, neither approving nor disapproving.  That’s my dad. (My mother constantly scowled, so this is not about her.)

My father (his name was Clyde) had a sense of humor that was quite dry.  He and his clan used to sit and tell whoppers all day and never so much as smile.  I remember a family reunion when I was a young boy listening to my grandpa and his brothers tell whopper after whopper, and I was captivated.  After one particularly outrageous fish tale, I asked in all seriousness, “Really?”  That got a smile out of them, and unbeknownst to me at the time, I made their day.

My father was kind of a loner.  That is not to say he didn’t have a lot of friends.  It was more like he did not connect deeply with others. The one exception in his life was his mother.  My grandma was the most caring, nurturing woman I knew growing up, and my father was absolutely devoted to her until the day she died.  Other than that, he was typically kind of distant.  And more than anything, I wanted to impress him.  I think I did in some ways, but he never came out and said so.

I remember one time coming up to him in the basement workshop where he was running the table saw. I was in junior high school and I approached him with my report card, my first one with straight A’s, and I said “Hey dad, what are you doing?”
“I’m building some shelves. What’s up?”
“I got my report card. You want to see it?”
He took the envelope and pulled out the slip of paper with the column of A’s, read it over briefly, and gave it back to me. Then he said, “I’m glad you got all A’s.  I just wish it wasn’t so easy for you.”
When he saw the stunned look on my face, he said, “Mike, I would rather you had to work your butt off and got all C’s than to see you get all A’s without putting out much effort.”

To say my father was stoic would be a tragic understatement, although in fairness, he was a product of his upbringing.  He never got anything without effort, some might say superhuman effort. He was born in 1919 and grew up in Selah, a rural farming town in central Washington, now a bedroom community to Yakima. He graduated high school (barely, from what I’ve been told) in 1937. There was no work except picking fruit in the summer, which he did. Later, he took a job with the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the federal work programs during the Roosevelt years. Then, in 1939, he joined the Army to get out of the middle of nowhere.

My father was always well-read. He knew war was imminent.  I think he knew before anyone in the country was even speaking about it.  He landed a desk job as a clerk at the Presidio in San Francisco because he was the only one in his unit that could type.  He could have remained there and prospered in this role, but that was not my father.  He wanted to see the world.  He told his CO he had applied for a post in Manila, which he got. Anyone who knows a little history will know that was a bad decision.  It was just over a year later that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  Japanese troops next invaded the Philippines, and my father was on the island of Corregidor when it fell.  Atrocities like the Bataan Death March followed, of which my father was a part.  He always told me, “The lucky ones died first.”  I did not understand that until years later when I read numerous accounts of the war.

My dad did not talk about the war until he was in his 70’s.  His whole life was about living and getting the most out of each day.  For him, every day not hiking and climbing in the mountain wilderness areas so near to our Seattle home was another day lost.  He signed up for swing shift or graveyard shift as much as he could during his thirty years at Boeing in order to get up and take a day hike before heading to his job.  Vacations were for weeklong mountain expeditions, and he retired at the age of 60 in order to spend all the days he could in his beloved mountains and traveling to far off lands.  As it turned out, he outlived most of the POW survivors from WWII.

He gave up skiing at age 82 when he learned he had Parkinson’s disease, which he determined was what caused him to keep falling down.  He still went for day hikes with his pet beagle for a few years until it became too risky to go alone.  Both he and his wife, my stepmother, began displaying signs of dementia, and my stepsister moved them back east somewhere when he was 85.  There was no love lost between me and my stepsister, so I lost track of him when he moved, and I have no idea when he passed or where his remains are.  It does not really matter because he would not have remembered me by that time.

I remember on a four day hike in the Cascade Mountains I found an unspent .45 caliber bullet, which I picked up.  That evening around the campfire, my dad said, “Let me see that bullet you picked up.”  I handed it to him.  He inspected it, and then tossed it into the campfire. “Dad, what are you doing?” I hollered.  We looked at each other wide-eyed for a moment.  Then we both jumped up and dove behind a log. About thirty seconds later, BOOM!  We looked up and the entire campfire was blown out.  We quickly ran to extinguish coals that were burning holes in our tent fly and the clothes we had laid out to dry.  He never offered an explanation, and I never bothered to ask.  It was the most spontaneous, goofy thing I ever experienced with my father.

To know my dad was to know and love the outdoors, which I did from a very young age, something I tried to pass on to my own children.  I was 15 years old when I completed the Mountaineers Basic Climbing Course with my father.  I climbed Mt. Rainier for the first time that summer of 1965, a milestone for any outdoorsman in the Pacific Northwest.  And that was the legacy my father passed on to me.

More than anything, he taught me to survive. Granted, on Maslov’s hierarchy, survival is pretty basic.  There is much more to life than surviving.  On a higher level I believe I acquired some of my father’s sense of humor.  And often to my surprise, I find myself quoting my father – some of his philosophy, as well as some of his brain farts. Here are a few that come to mind:
“Show me a man who plays good pool, and I’ll show you a man with a wasted youth.”
“Humility is something you have until you find out.”
“A good loser is someone who loses consistently.”
And whenever I asked where we were or where we were going, my dad always said, “We’re taking a shortcut.”

Looking back, I can recall sort of smiling when my daughters asked me, “Dad, what are you doing?”

Travel Blogs
Travel blogs

First Impressions from Scotland

Lochleven Castle - Kinross Scotland

Inside the walls of Lochleven Castle – Kinross Scotland

Although the ten hour flight to the UK was grueling, the one hour shuttle to Edinburgh was a breeze. We caught a bus from the terminal and transferred to a northbound express bus straight through for 20 miles to Kinross. We walked into a nearby supermarket to ask about getting a taxi, and the sweet Scottish miss at the service counter had a taxi on its way within minutes.

A nice house in Kinross

A nice house in Kinross

The patron standing in line behind me picked up on our conversation and asked where I was from. I told him we just arrived this same day from Los Angeles, to which he replied, “And you decided to come here?” like I was crazy or something. He added, “It rains a lot here, even in the summer.” I said, “I’m from Seattle, so rain doesn’t bother me. We call it ‘liquid sunshine.’ Anyway, we came to Scotland because it is on our Bucket List,” I replied happily. He said, “Your Bucket List is it, just like the in the movie with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson? Well, you will love it then. It is beautiful here!” And just like that we were friends.

The garden across from our hotel in Kinross

The garden across from our hotel in Kinross

As we were waiting outside the store for our taxi, he came over as he exited the store. I had just told Florence of the encounter as he smiled and walked up to us, so I made introductions. He even offered us a ride to our hotel, which we declined because we had all of our luggage and he had a small car.

We were relieved to complete the day’s journey at the Windlestrae Hotel in Kinross. After sleeping over ten hours and eating breakfast, we began walking the town. Everything except a coffee shop and corner grocery store were closed on Sunday. The town air is so fresh! No beeping horns, no barking dogs. Just spotlessly clean streets and sidewalks and quaint architecture.

View of Loch Leven and hills from outside the walls of Castle Lochleven

View of Loch Leven and hills from outside the walls of Lochleven Castle

We visited our first historical site, the  Lochleven Castle. Mary Queen of Scots was garrisoned here in 1567. She made a daring escape a few months after being imprisoned, daring because Loch Leven is the largest fresh water lake in Scotland, and the castle is on an island in the lake. She was re-captured soon after.  If you know any of the history of Queen Mary, you know she was ultimately convicted of treason and beheaded to remove the threat of the claim she had to the throne of England.

We are going to Perthshire on Monday. While there is much to see and do there, our first order of business is to find an apartment. If it turns out to be exciting I will share the adventure.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles, or The Daily Quest for Coffee

The Olympic Mountains across Puget Sound

The Olympic Mountains across Puget Sound from Rick and Kim’s deck

The last four weeks have been chock full of excitement. My most recent post, From Summer to Winter, covered the first half of my journey which included touring the Canadian Rockies via motorcoach. These past two weeks have been all about connecting with family and friends.

Being Papa Mike

Papa Mike and the boys in our Mexico T-shirts

Papa Mike and the boys in our Mexico T-shirts

Perhaps the greatest joy in raising children is the reward of becoming a grandpa. After settling in at the home of daughter #1, I visited my five year old grandson’s kindergarten class to tell a story at story time. I was introduced to the class as Papa Mike, a title bestowed on me by my grandson. All my years of experience as a storyteller paid off. The children loved the story of The Little Red Train that I shared. They even invited me back a couple days later to share another story, which I did.

It was also during this visit that I finally got to meet and hold the newest member of the family, my nine month old grandson. He warmed to me quickly, and I spent many happy hours on the floor playing with him and retrieving the toys he liked to throw.

(Great coffee is always available with the push of a button at my daughter’s home. That’s my girl!)

When Bloggers Meet

Mike and Dawn in Bellingham

Mike and Dawn in Bellingham

It was my good fortune to meet a fellow blogger in-person. I am a fan of Dawn’s blog, Tales from the Motherland, in which she gets to the heart of things with a writing style and a passion that inspires me. The blogosphere is a wonderful place to connect with fellow writers online. However, we seldom get the opportunity to meet face-to-face, so this particular sunny day in Bellingham was a special time. Dawn and I shared happy conversation over coffee, and two hours together passed in what seemed like mere moments.

(The coffee at Avellino’s in Bellingham is awesome!)

Hometown Friends

Rick and Kim's doggies are their constant companions.

Rick and Kim’s doggies are their constant companions.

My weekend in Seattle allowed me to connect with several people I had not seen in years. Rick and Kim were my gracious hosts. Rick and I always had fun times whether at work or away from the job. This connection was just like old times, and like me, Rick is a proud grandpa.

I spent my first evening in Seattle having dinner with my high school friend, Rosemary. We have maintained our friendship for 45 years. We talked about anything and everything as though we had visited only a few days before. There is much comfort and understanding in knowing someone your entire adult life.

I reconnected with old friends Pat and Bob.

I reconnected with my fine friends, Pat and Bob.

A Facebook connection put me in touch with a couple I had not seen for over 30 years. Bob and Pat were mountaineering students when I was a mountaineering course instructor. Their teenage children were camp counselors in children’s programs I organized. Our brief breakfast reunion brought back great memories of our younger years, and again hours passed like minutes as my departure via Amtrak to Portland loomed.

(Seattleites always have fresh coffee readily available. Well, duh – it’s Seattle!)

A Storyteller’s Game

Daughter #2 - social worker, poet, RPG gamer and all-around great kid.

Daughter #2 – social worker, poet, RPG gamer and all-around great kid.

During my Portland visit, daughter #2 included me in her game night in the RPG (Role Playing Game) Club with her ‘nerdy friends.’ These folks do appear a bit different with their anything-goes dress and hairstyles. They are also incredibly bright people with a love for creativity and improvisation.

My daughter and I joined three others in a game called Serpent’s Tooth. (If you missed the literary reference to Shakespeare’s King Lear, don’t feel bad – so did I.) I played a cynical friend of the galactic empire’s president-for-life. My daughter was a sentient robot. One young man played a career bureaucrat, and the other young man played a female admiral of Starfleet and heroine of the empire. After two hours of role playing, we wrested all power from the president, and since he was president-for-life by law, the robot shot and killed him to end the game because it was the only logical thing to do. Then we all went to the local brew pub for beers and laughter.

My dear friends from high school, Lily and Rosemary.

My dear friends from high school, Lily and Rosemary.

My daughter describes Portland as the city ‘where 20-somethings go to retire.’ There is so much to do in Portland that I can see why many young people do not necessarily want to work full time. Just visiting all the brew pubs around town could take months.

(Daughter #2 does not drink coffee. Every day I had to walk five blocks for a morning cup of convenience store coffee – ugh!)

On my final night in Portland, I enjoyed a delightful dinner with Lily, another long-time friend from high school. It has an exciting month on the road, and it was also a long time to be away from my wife who awaits my return to Mexico. Even though we Skyped and texted daily, I can say with a sigh of relief, “There’s no place like home.”

Sicily, I Haven’t Forgotten You

The gold leaf mosaics in the Monreale Cathedral are spectacular.

The gold leaf mosaics in the Monreale Cathedral are spectacular.

I have focused so much on our travels and life abroad in Latin America that I have completely overlooked our recent trip to Sicily. This story is all about family. My father-in-law’s family emigrated from Sicily. We are talking about a BIG, Italian-size family. There are still over a hundred of their relatives living in and around Santa Maria in the north mountain country of Sicily.

Every biblical scene is done in mosaic detail.

Every biblical scene is done in minute mosaic detail.

My wife has visited Sicily on five previous occasions. This time, however, was the first time she visited with a husband. I wasn’t sure what to expect or what the local customs were for greeting a new member of the family. I can now tell you there is a lot of hugging and kissing involved. I finally got the hang of the alternating-cheek air kiss. The hugs vary depending on the family relationship – longer hugs with grandparents than with second or third cousins. The children give big hugs as soon as their parents announce, “He is your cousin.” Then they want to play.

The Concordia Temple in Agrigento built around 500 BC is a testament to the architects of Ancient Greece.

The Concordia Temple in Agrigento built around 500 BC is a testament to the architects of Ancient Greece.

Leading up to the family reunion is a twelve day private motorcoach tour of Sicily with family from the States. There is so much history here and so many sights to see. Every civilization that ever amounted to anything left its footprint in Sicily, and with good reason. Sicily served as the breadbasket to every empire that spread through the Old World. Geographically, Sicily is situated at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Sea. To this day there are more preserved Greek ruins in Sicily than there are in Greece. And the Romans picked up where the Greeks left off. There is also Spanish blood and Anglo blood in the Sicilian pedigree, which is evident when you notice the many Sicilians with light hair color and blue or hazel eyes.

The Aeolian Island of Vulcano seen from the road on Lipari.

The Aeolian Island of Vulcano seen from the road on Lipari.

We arrived by cruise ship in the Port of Catania after stops in Naples, Florence, and Pisa, Italy, Villefranche, France, Valencia, Spain, the Spanish Isle of Ibiza, and Tunis, Tunisia. My in-laws meet us in Catania. They had to rush home to the States for a family funeral the last time they were in Sicily. This may be their last opportunity to see family. Plus, Dad speaks beautiful Sicilian, and that is a huge benefit for the giant reunion that awaits.

My wife’s favorite spot in Sicily is Taormina, perched precariously on top of a small mountain. The Greek Amphitheater overlooking the sea is beyond compare. My favorite spot was the Aeolian Island of Lipari. The crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean and the views from the cliff road make this island paradise idyllic.

Cousin Nino knows where to get the best gelato.

Cousin Nino knows where to get the best gelato.

You cannot mention Sicily without mentioning the spectacular cathedrals. The 21,000 square feet of mosaics in the Cathedral of Monreale overlooking the capital city of Palermo are among the finest in Italy, if not the world. And in Tindiri, there is the Cathedral of the Black Madonna with its amazing folklore to go along with the architecture. There are other churches of note. However, the final stop on the ABC Tour (Another Blessed Cathedral) is the one in Santa Maria with the family name carved in stone along with the date, 1598.

I have not even touched on the food. I started out thinking the national dish of Sicily is eggplant because I could not get away from it. I eventually found alternatives. The world can take lessons from Italy on how to make dessert. The gelato is the best to be found anywhere and the cannolis are to die for!

A genuine Italian cannoli - whipped ricotta cheese and honey filling and rolled in crushed pistachios.

A genuine Italian cannoli is filled with whipped ricotta cheese and honey and then rolled in crushed pistachios.



living in Panama

Dad, what are you doing?

A typical view of the Cascades on a gorgeous sunny day.

I want to start by saying I am nothing like my father.

“Hey! Who are you people?”
“We’re your collective subconscious of the people that knew both you and your father, and unless you are going to state that this is a work of fiction, you are going to have to start again.”

Hmm. Okay, let me start again by saying I never thought I was much like my father, but I will admit I see more and more of him in me as I get older. I was the child who favored my mother’s side both in looks and temperament. Over the years, however, I took on this look. It wasn’t so much a scowl as it was a deadpan expression, neither approving nor disapproving. That’s my dad. (My mother constantly scowled, so this isn’t about her.)

My dad’s sense of humor was dry, droll in fact. He and his clan could sit and tell whoppers all day and never so much as smile. I remember a family reunion when I was a young boy listening to my grandpa and his brothers tell whopper after whopper, and I was captivated. After one particularly outrageous fish tale, I asked in all seriousness, “Really?” That got a smile out of them, and unbeknownst to me at the time, I made their day.

My father was kind of a loner. I don’t mean he didn’t have a lot of friends. It was more like he didn’t connect deeply with others. The one exception in his life was his mother. My grandma was the most caring, nurturing woman I knew growing up, and my father was absolutely devoted to her until the day she died. Other than that, he was typically kind of distant. And more than anything, I wanted to impress him. I think I did in some ways, but he never said so.

I remember one time coming up to him in the basement workshop where he was running the table saw. I was in junior high school and I approached him with my report card, my first one with straight A’s, and I said “Hey dad, what are you doing?”
“I’m building some shelves. What’s up?”
“I got my report card. You want to see it?”
He took the envelope and pulled out the slip of paper with the column of A’s, read it over briefly, and gave it back to me. Then he said, “I’m glad you got all A’s. I just wish it wasn’t so easy for you.”
When he saw the stunned look on my face, he said, “Mike, I would rather you had to work your butt off and got all C’s than to see you get all A’s without putting out much effort.”

To say my father was stoic would be a tragic understatement. But in all fairness, he was a product of his upbringing. He never got anything without effort, some might say superhuman effort. He was born in 1919 and grew up in Selah, a rural farming town in central Washington. He graduated high school (barely, from what I’ve been told) in 1937. There was no work except picking fruit in the summer, which he did. Later, he took a job with the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the federal work programs during the Roosevelt years. Then, in 1939, he joined the Army to get out of the middle of nowhere.

My father was always well-read. He knew war was imminent. I think he knew before anyone in the country was even speaking about it. He landed a good job as a clerk at the Presidio in San Francisco because he was the only one in his unit that could type. He could have remained there and prospered in his new role, but he wanted to travel. He told his CO he signed up for a post in Manila, which he took. Anyone who knows a little history will know that was a bad decision. It was just over a year later that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Japanese troops next invaded the Philippines, and my father was on the island of Corregidor when it fell. Atrocities like the Bataan Death March followed, of which my father was a part. He always told me, “The lucky ones died first.” I didn’t understand that until years later when I read numerous accounts from the war.

My dad didn’t talk about the war until he was in his 70’s. His whole life was about living and getting the most out of each day. For him, every day not hiking and climbing in the mountain wilderness areas so near to our Seattle home was another day lost. He signed up for swing shift or graveyard shift as much as he could during his thirty years at Boeing in order to get up and take a day hike before heading to his job. Vacations were for weeklong mountain expeditions, and he retired at the age of 60 in order to spend all the days he could in his beloved mountains. As it turned out, he outlived most of the POW survivors from WWII. He gave up skiing at age 82 when he learned he had Parkinson’s disease, which he determined was what caused him to keep falling down. He still went for day hikes with his pet beagle for a few years until it became too risky to go alone. Both he and his wife, my stepmother, began displaying signs of dementia, and my stepsister moved them back east somewhere when he was 85. There was no love lost between me and my stepsister, so I lost track of him when he moved, and I have no idea when he passed or where his remains are. It doesn’t really matter, because he would not have remembered me by that time.

I remember on a four day hike in the Cascade Mountains I found an unspent .45 caliber bullet, which I picked up. That evening around the campfire, my dad said, “Let me see that bullet you picked up.” I handed it to him. He inspected it, and then tossed it into the campfire. “Dad, what are you doing?” I hollered. We looked at each other wide-eyed for a moment. Then we both jumped up and took shelter behind a log. About thirty seconds later, BOOM! We looked up and the entire campfire was blown out. We quickly ran to extinguish coals that were burning holes in our tent fly and the clothes we had laid out to dry. He never offered an explanation, and I never bothered to ask. It was the most spontaneous, goofy thing I ever experienced with my father.

To know my dad was to know and love the outdoors, which I did from a very young age, something I tried to pass on to my own children. I was 15 years old when I completed the Mountaineers Basic Climbing Course with my father. I climbed Mt. Rainier for the first time that summer of 1965, a milestone for any outdoorsman in the Pacific Northwest.
And that was the legacy my father passed on to me. More than anything, he taught me to survive. Granted, on Maslov’s hierarchy, survival is pretty basic, and there is much more to life than surviving. On a somewhat higher plane I will admit I have acquired some of my father’s sense of humor. And often to my surprise, I find myself quoting my father – some of his philosophy, as well as some of his brain farts. Here are a few that come to mind:
“Show me a man who plays good pool, and I’ll show you a man with a wasted youth.”
“Humility is something you have until you find out.”
“A good loser is someone who loses consistently.”
And whenever I asked where we were or where we were going, my dad always said, “We’re taking a shortcut.”

Looking back, I can recall sort of smiling when my daughters asked me, “Dad, what are you doing?”

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So you think you know rain

Seattle has a reputation, well perhaps several. It may be known as the epicenter of coffee snobbery. It is also known among sports fans as heartbreak central, boasting only one national championship in pro sports history, the 1979 NBA championship by the Supersonics, a team which no longer exists, having been hijacked to Oklahoma City. There was that 1991 NCAA football championship shared between the University of Washington Huskies and the University of Miami. There have been some other good teams, like the Seahawks that made it to the Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Stealers (sic) in 2006, only to have the officials take the game away.  And there was the Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr., Randy Johnson Mariners team that beat the Yankees in the American League Divisional Series in 1995, only to lose to the Cleveland Indians for a shot at the World Series. (This was not the only playoff appearance by the Mariners, but this was the season that led to the building of Safeco Field and the blowing up of the Kingdome.)

But what is Seattle best known for?  If you guessed The Space Needle or the Pike Place Market or the headquarters for Microsoft, you are close, but no cigar. (Note – Microsoft is in Redmond, not Seattle.)  You know the answer:  Seattle is best known for rain.  However, with only 37 inches of rain per year Seattle doesn’t even make the list of the top 50 rainiest cities in the U. S.  Of course, if you consider the average of 226 cloudy days per year, many with drizzle or mist, one can be forgiven for thinking it’s the rainiest city in the country.  It has been said the Eskimos have more than 100 words for snow and Seattleites have a like number of words for rain. This is a language myth as far as the Eskimos are concerned, although I have personally come up with 20 words describing rain.

Because I grew up in Seattle, I thought I knew rain.  Ha! I recently moved to Panama, and I want to set the record straight where rain is concerned.  When it comes to rain, Seattle is strictly minor league.  This year in Boquete, Panama, where I live, we are up to 65 inches of precipitation so far having not yet entered the rainiest months of September – October.  Every day between 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. the dark clouds roll south over the mountaintops surrounding us, and the echoes of thunder can be heard.  Sometimes we get serious lightning, which is quite a show.  Just this week we got hit with a lightning storm lasting over an hour that descended directly upon us from the surrounding ridges. Every utility pole in sight got struck at least once. The lightning was like sitting in the middle of a launch site at a Fourth of July fireworks display, and the thunder was louder than a boom bass car stereo at a West Hollywood stoplight.  Add three inches of rain in four hours and you begin to get a feel for what real rain is like. And the amazing thing is the volcanic soil is so porous that the next morning there were no puddles.

Of course, the benefits of rain cannot be overstated, hinting at why Seattle typically rates high on lists of Most Livable Cities.  The west slope of the Cascades is home to some of the greenest, most fertile land in the world, which is also true here in Panama. What I love most are the amazing shades of green that surround us. Everything grows here!  It’s a rainforest that, at our elevation near 4,000 feet, is like perpetual Spring.  Daily temperatures are typically 70 – 80 degrees most days, and the nights cool off to about 60 degrees.  The hummingbirds love our garden flowers, and butterflies float by regularly. I even have a banana palm in my garden.

There is more to say about Panama, and I will share some of my stories as a visitor in this fascinating foreign land.

Note – It has been said you can always tell a tourist in Seattle – they carry an umbrella.  Natives wear Gore-Tex™ parkas. (I have three.)

For the record Mobile, Alabama, tops the list of rainiest cities in the lower 48 states with 66 inches per year average. Ketchikan, Alaska, averages 137 inches per year, and Hilo, Hawaii, gets 126 inches per year. (NOAA statistics)

I haven’t been to Mobile.  However, like Ketchikan and Hilo, I’m sure it is beautiful.
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