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Musings

Come Saturday Morning

One’s 15th year of life is particularly fraught with change.  Childhood dreams give way to adult realities.  Adolescent collections such as baseball cards, coins, and comics sadly fall out of style – better left to tweens and those still trapped by out-of-fashion obsessions.  Jobs and college take center stage.  College prep means growing loads of homework and a heightened seriousness about school.  Grades play a more prominent, but still minor role in high school hierarchies.

If you’re of average athletic ability, competitive sports are increasingly past tense.  Pickup games with friends are fading options as those holding driver’s licenses abandon the glory of sporting fields for cruising in cars.  In Enumclaw, they called it posing – driving up and down Griffin Ave, from east to west and back again waiting for something to happen.  That September, we were sophomores all without driver’s licenses.  Without a license or car, we principally relied on parents, friends, or sometimes a special older sibling.

Girls grew progressively more attractive, though self-doubts played havoc with one’s desirability.  Acne pops up at all the wrong times and in all the wrong places. Growth spurts (or lack thereof) pit short boys against tall men, who share the same birth year.  Somerset Maugham didn’t miss the mark by much when noting the world is an entirely different place for a man of 5’7” to one of 6’2”.

In 1968, Chris Coppin had just moved back to Enumclaw following a five-year absence.  I’d first met Chris eight years earlier at Kibler Elementary.  There we’d shared a second-grade teacher, Mrs. Stobbs. But an earlier introduction came through his younger brother, Ed whose pet turtles inhabited a two-gallon glass jar with rocks, and a skiff of water.  I made repeated turtle visits to the Coppin home.  Chris and I were friends until 4th grade when their family moved to the Bay Area, where Mr. Coppin, a flight engineer for Pan Am was transferred.

Chris Coppin, left and Bill Kombol, right from our 2nd grade class photo. This collage is an optical illusion as Chris was (and still is) a half a foot taller than me.

At that young age, it isn’t long before friendships are forgotten.  In junior high, out of sight means out of mind.  In short order, Chris was a faded memory.  But like so many mysteries of youth, the Coppins moved back and Chris resurfaced.  We were soon again fast friends, meeting at their stately white house at Griffin and Franklin, built in 1922 by a local timber baron, Axel Hanson of the White River Lumber Company.  It was the biggest home in Enumclaw and had a front parlor, fashioned as a billiards room where we played pool after school.  The Coppin digs were ground zero during our high years.

With twelve kids, their household was a beehive of activity.  Mrs. Coppin was unflappable, often in the kitchen but always ready for a short chat that included a kind word and light-hearted banter.  When home, Mr. Coppin was typically puttering away with something.  His was of a quieter manner, still willing to engage in probing conversation, the better to pry us from our shells.  As for the cluster of Chris’ younger siblings, mostly girls, it was a constant case of asking, “Which one is that?”

The Coppin family in their stately home at 1610 Griffin Ave., circa 1968.  Chris is lower right.  Dan is the top row, right holding his sister, Alice.

His four older brothers were different, distinctive, and spirited.  Dan was the most inviting.  He was four or five years older than us.  And during that magical year, Dan was our ticket to ride to the movies.  I’m not talking about the Enumclaw Roxy, and later the Chalet.  Dan packed us in his car and off we’d drive to Seattle, destined most often for the UA-70 and UA-150 theaters at 6th and Lenora.

In 1969, they were brand new, state-of-the-art movie houses for the masses – their massive screens nearly outdone by amazing sound systems.  The Cinema 70 screen was equipped for 70mm films and UA-150 once showcased “Star Wars” for an entire year.  On occasion, we’d go to the Cinerama, another theater capable of projecting 70-millimeter films on its huge curved screen.

The UA-70 and UA-150 were located at 6th & Lenora in the Denny Regrade area of downtown Seattle.

Each was magnificent.  And for a bunch of teenagers from Enumclaw, they were a taste of sophistication – plus exposure us to films that wouldn’t play back home for another six months, if ever.

The outings were usually spontaneous.  We’d be hanging around the pool table Saturday afternoon listening to records, when Dan wandered in asking, “You guys want to see a movie?”  He normally had one in mind.  Phone calls were made and a couple of hours later we piled into Dan’s car for the trip to Seattle.

How I wish our conversations had been recorded – the shouts, giggles, chitchat, and nonsense.  We purchased our $1.50 tickets, double the price at the Roxy.  Someone bought popcorn.  I have no idea how many times Dan took us, but these movies jump to mind: “2001, A Space Odyssey,” “True Grit,” “Midnight Cowboy,” “The Sterile Cukoo,” and “If.”

Some of the movies Dan took us to, as best we can remember. “If” was a personal favorite (collage by Oliver Kombol).

It was truly a golden age, not just for movies but being alive to changes experienced during a time when fashion and culture were turned upside down.  Most discrete memories of the specific movie outings are gone, and only formless feelings remain.  But what I remember well were the books we read and movies we saw those years.

There . . . caught in the rye of Holden Caulfield’s world of phonies, with a growing awareness that we were living under the suspicious eye of George Orwell’s Big Brother.  All the while, transfixed within gorgeous romances like Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet,” seen weeks after reading the play in Mrs. Galvin and Ms. Thompson’s joint English class.

And equally enthralled by all-night showings at the just-opened, Big E drive-in of Sergio Leone’s trilogy of Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns: “Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More,” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”  Or sometimes down to Auburn for the Valley 6 Drive-in.

The novel, “Wuthering Heights” was difficult to absorb.  Perhaps just as well, for it was the ‘best of times and the worst of times,’ the opening line we memorized from Dicken’s “Tale of Two Cities.” Our senior year with Mr. Bill Hawk (who every girl loved and every boy envied) was pure joy as he read out loud to us the entirety of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and “Macbeth.”

Mr. Hawk, left, in Senior English lit before a class of admiring students gathered around his desks as he smiles approvingly.

And what to make of the curious worlds described in “A Separate Peace” and “Lord of the Flies,” for there was something in that youth-filled air.  Change was everywhere, within us and without us.  One summer night Dad and I walked to see, “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.”  It was one of the few times I remember going to the movies with Dad.

“The Sterile Cukoo” starred Liza Minnelli and featured the song, “Come Saturday Morning” in a 1969 tale of love between college freshmen.

To this day, I remain ever thankful to Dan Coppin, Chris’ older brother who asked us if we wanted to see a movie.  For, he was our chauffeur through a tiny part of those precious high school years.  And more than 50 years later, the lyrics from one of the movie songs still play in my head:

“Come Saturday morning, just I and my friends,
We’ll travel for miles in our Saturday smiles,
And then we’ll move on.
But we will remember, long after Saturday’s gone.”

 “Come Saturday Morning” was the soundtrack theme song from “The Sterile Cukoo” and a minor hit single for the Sandpipers.

 

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Musings Uncategorized

Epistle for Mr. McGreen

Have you ever wished you’d said “thank you” but never did?  For me, it wasn’t too late.  This essay was adapted from a letter* sent to my favorite teacher.  I just learned Mr. Wally McGreen passed away on March 19, 2022 at age 83, so share this essay as my parting tribute. 

Dear Mr. McGreen:  It’s a funny thing about life.  It takes time to realize how thankful one should be.  And, so it is with me as this letter is long overdue.  I’ve thought about writing it over the years but always found more pressing needs to consume the moment.  Today seemed perfect: St. Patrick’s Day, snowing, my children off to events, with an unengaged afternoon.

It was a very long time ago, September 1962.  I left the K–3 world of Byron Kibler elementary and began a fresh journey at a new destination, J.J. Smith.  I was one of the fortunate 4th graders to experience our first male teacher, a young man fresh out of college named Mr. McGreen. The other five classes were taught by women, as had been every teacher at Kibler.  Plus, my new best friend, Jeff Eldridge was by my side.  Surprisingly, this new teacher lived on my street in a boarding house of sorts, just a stone’s throw from our home.

Fresh out of college and a newly minted elementary teacher, Mr. McGreen, made a mark on our 4th Grade class at J.J. Smith, Spring 1963.

That fall Mr. McGreen organized the boys of our class into a football team.  Sorry girls, you were stuck playing four-square or jumping rope.  He drilled us daily through simple plays at recess.  Over and over we practiced those few calls.  Mr. McGreen entrusted me with the role of quarterback and Tim Thomasson as halfback.  Most plays were similar––I took the snap and handed the ball to Tim while linemen pulled left or right.  Mr. McGreen then scheduled a series of football games between ours and the other 4th grade classes. Though we lacked the pure talent of other teams, our tightly choreographed snaps and daily drilling resulted in clockwork plays. We crushed every opponent in that ad hoc 4th grade league.

One day, Mr. McGreen invited me to stay after school.  He pulled out a deck of cards and taught me to play cribbage.  It was a great game for improving arithmetic skills and understanding odds.  For weeks we’d play most days after school.  Soon I was good enough to play with my grandpa who also loved the game.  Decades later I taught my own children just as he’d taught me.

The annual 4th grade field trip in spring took us to the Museum of History & Industry, Ballard locks, and Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. What a delight to see a real hydroplane up close and personal.  Or seeing huge gates open and close watching boats magically rise and fall.  Mr. McGreen was our guide.  While eating sack lunches, he sat next to me.  Our last stop was the waterfront where we examined curios in a store with a real mummy of a Wild West origin.  What a thrill for a young boy from Enumclaw, but more important was the affection I felt from my teacher.

Near the last days of school, Mr. McGreen announced a class auction with currency from credits students had earned. We each brought in our trinkets and collectibles for all to admire until the big day, when we bid in a real auction for the items we’d lately grown to cherish.  The excitement and anticipation were no doubt better than the real thing.  I don’t recall what I bought, but my best friend Jeff purchased comic books based on classic tales like King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  They seemed so sophisticated compared to the Archie and Superboy comics I read.

4th Grade, J.J. Smith (1962-63) – Mr. McGreen’s Class.                                             Row 1 (L-R): Mark Myers, Joe Sharp, Billy Kombol, Tom R., Curtis Barber.
Row 2 (L-R): JoAnne Barret, Denise Alcorn, Gail Gardner, Loralyn Walden, Linda Ralston, Naomi Langsea, Sharlene Johnson. Row 3 (L-R): Danny Stanford, ??, Jack Person, Steve Rex, Sharon Peterson, Laurie Mitchell, Don Krueger, Ken Kurfurst, Karl Uhde. Row 4 (L-R): Cindy Nordyke, Tim Thomasson, Marsha Millarich, Pam Ziltner, Janie Whitbeck, Jeff Eldridge, Diane Jones, Tom DeBolt.

The 9th year of my life was not without its challenges.  On more than one occasion I disrupted class and was banished to the hall for Mr. McGreen’s classic discipline, a primitive form of yoga––sitting with your back against the wall in the shape of a chair, but without one.  This was punishment with a purpose: to improve one’s posture, develop muscle strength, and test your ability to sit uncomfortably for long periods, all the time remembering what had brought you there. My behavior improved decidedly after a few trips to the hall.

I did well in most subjects earning A’s in social studies, spelling, and arithmetic; B’s in most others, and a C in reading.  But Mr. McGreen delivered the only ‘D’ of my school career––in penmanship!  Still, he cared.  Mr. McGreen sent home writing lessons administered by Mom where I spent hour after boring hour practicing better handwriting.  The exercise books contained pages of blank lines to be filled by copying and recopying illustrated samples.  I carefully inscribed print and cursive characters within tight parallel lines over and over––diligently trying to make my penmanship legible, or at least less awful.  Their dedication toward my self-improvement paid dividends a decade later during college finals when scripting readable answers in blue books.

The dreaded D in writing (penmanship), the only one received during my school career.

That school year ended and another began.  Again I was blessed with the only male teacher, Mr. Thornburg in 5th grade.  He too was fresh from college and lived a few blocks away in a garage apartment. It was another wonder-filled year pierced by tragedy that November.  The assassination news came over the intercom that Friday morning with students immediately sent home.

During the 1960 election, Mom supported Nixon while Dad voted for Kennedy.  Thinking the thoughts of a 10-year-old, I asked her, “Are you glad Kennedy was shot?”  She sat me down and gently explained, “Of course not.  Kennedy is our president and after an election, he became my president too.”  I still had a lot to learn.  A few months later the Beatles hit America.  I had a crush on a girl who showed me her Beatle cards and told me everything about four guys from Liverpool.  My affection for that girl never blossomed yet never faded.

She had dozens of Beatles cards, which were almost as she was.

A year and a half later I entered 7th grade at an imposing, three-story brick building on Porter Street.  The first day brought good news, Mr. McGreen now taught junior high and would be my homeroom and social studies teacher.  Life with Mr. McGreen in junior high was a transforming experience.  He entertained us with stories of growing up in West Seattle, his college years, sorority panty raids––all of it filling me with dreams of one day attending college.  Each Saint Patrick’s Day, the very Irish Mr. McGreen came to school decked out in a bright green suit.  In my 7th grade yearbook, he affectionately wrote, “To the little general – from Mr. Wallace McGreen.”  The next year he scrawled, “To little Billy Kombol.”

Mr. McGreen’s signed my 1967 Ka-Te-Kan yearbook in Junior High.

In 7th grade, Coach McGreen guided us through flag football.  It was the last year many of us turned out for that fall sport.  It was also when I first realized my youthful sports prowess would soon be eclipsed by small size.  As I look back at the photo, all my friends were there, in one place. That winter he coached our 7th grade basketball team through drills and inter-squad games played in the girls’ gym. After practice, we took long showers under hot water that lasted forever, then walked home in winter air as steam rose from our still-damp hair.  Could life get any better than this?

7th Grade Football Enumclaw Junior High (Fall 1965) – Mr. McGreen, coach.
Front Row (L-R): unknown, Dale Troy, Gary Varney, Jeff Krull, Kevin Shannon, Billy Kombol, Bill Waldock, Kris Galvin, Bill Fawcett, Tryge Pohlman.
Inset: Lester Hall. Back Row (L-R) Scott Davies, Richard Babic, Rick Barry, Jim Partin, Tim Thomasson, Jim Ewalt, Jim Clem – Captain; Wayne Podolak, Del Sonneson, Jeff Eldridge, Steve McCarty.

The cleverest assignments he ever gave, but only to select students was to create countries of our own imaginations complete with maps, history, and customs.  No extra credit was given.  We worked on our projects for weeks. I regularly compared notes with Les Hall and Wayne Podolak, who were also in on the game.  What a brilliant and inspiring activity for cultivating fantasies.  It was a remarkable way for a teacher to challenge pet pupils.

One of our biggest thrills were the State “A” Basketball Tournaments.  Mr. McGreen invited a few of us (Jim Clem, Gary Varney, Les, and Wayne) to pack into his fastback Mustang, pure status for 12-year-old boys in Enumclaw.  After driving us to the UPS Field House we experienced a menagerie of teams and colors competing for the state title.  Later we stopped at Cubby’s on Auburn Way South for burgers and fries.  Back home I swam in the glory of the evening just spent.  You can’t make this stuff up––an engaged and enthusiastic school teacher expanding his students’ horizons by offering new experiences.  It was an amazing way to grow up!

Mr. McGreen from my 1966 Ka-Te-Kan yearbook.

Time marched on.  I said goodbye to junior high and left Mr. McGreen behind.  New teachers, coaches, friends, and interests arose. High school beckoned and so did a driver’s license, after-game dances, chess team, Boy’s State, Hornet newspaper, Courier-Herald sports writer, summers selling popsicles, Saturdays working at the mine office, water-skiing, movies, malls, graduation, then off to college.  Upon graduating in 1975, I received an unexpected congratulatory card from my 4th and 7th grade mentor.  Mr. McGreen remembered me after all those years.  Being a foolish young man of long hair and little regard, I hadn’t the presence of mind to write a proper thank-you note.  Decades passed and still, I hadn’t.

Many years later, I attended his retirement party where we exchanged pleasantries.  The next time I saw him was at my Mother’s funeral.  His kindly face had aged but it touched me all the same.  I began to consider that I was but one of thousands of students he taught.  Yet he made me feel so important.  Did he know how profoundly he’d impacted my life?  A thank you message was long overdue.  A year later, I sat down and finally wrote my rambling letter much of which is replicated here.

Mr. McGreen was one of the best people in my life.  The seeds he sowed took root and my life became richer for it.  Though eons ago, his mentorship was one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever received.  

So I’ll end where I began.  Perhaps there’s a Mr. McGreen in your life who never knew the extent of your gratitude.  Maybe this could be the day your letter is written and that gratefulness acknowledged.

* Adapted from a letter written to Mr. McGreen on Saint Patrick’s Day, 2012, from his former student, Bill Kombol.

 

 

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History Uncategorized

Poetry by Pauline

A photo album Pauline assembled during high school years yielded two of her poems.  Her first was brash and bawdy  while the second reflective and self-assured.   “Boyfriends” likely dates to her junior year (1944) judging by who’s mentioned in the poem and her album photos that year.

The second, “This world that we’re livin’ in” dates to after graduation – but it’s hard to say exactly when.  I’ve included the type-written poems plus select photos to illustrate her high school friendships.

This is my poetic tribute to the best Mom I ever had, Pauline Lucile (Morris) Kombol (1927–2011).  Happy Mother’s Day from your historian son, Bill Kombol – May 8, 2022.

Judging by the number of photos in her high school album, Shirley Stergion (right) was probably Pauline’s best friend among many.  In front of Enumclaw High School located at 2222 Porter Street.

Boyfriends

We girls and our boyfriends,
We have quite a time.
But for the ones we like best,
We wouldn’t give a dime.
I chase after everyone I know I can’t get,
But what do you care, it’s no skin off your tit.

Well, JoAnn likes muscles, Erna like chins,
But some like boys with plenty of sins.
And I’ve got one, you all know who,
It’s Howie I’m speaking about to you.
Valera likes to have about six on the string,
And her heart tells her it’s just a fling.
Now Beve likes Renton, and you know why,
Just mention Tony’s name, and listen to her sigh.

But this thing called love, has broken many hearts,
Yet it has only caused others to let a big fart.
What would you do, if there weren’t any boys?
Well, we wouldn’t be so sad and there’d be many more joys.
But as times goes on and variety is the spice,
You’ll probably be at the church getting showered with rice.

I can picture it now, Erna and her hubby,
She’ll love his chin even if he isn’t chubby.
And here comes JoAnnie showing her muscle,
With her butt held in by a big wire bustle.
And look! There’s Lois, the big old fat,
She hasn’t left the church, ‘cause that’s just where she sat.
She’s an old maid and will never get married,
She couldn’t get Howie, so now she’ll be buried.
Next comes Beve, with her big toothy smile,
There’s pompadour Tony at the end of the aisle.

And there stands Valera, all wide eyed and mad,
She couldn’t get married and am I glad.
She and Miss Calahan are figuring out a way,
That they can marry two guys and be happy that day.
But it isn’t possible and she should know,
And I’m afraid if she ever tried it, to jail she’d go.

It’s ten years later and what do you think,
Here comes a bunch of wopes and of garlic they stink.
If you saw their chins and looked at their nose,
You’d know right away they’re Erna Merlino’s.
Here’s a little boar with his hair piled high,
One look at him and you’d know who he was and why.
I said to him, “Where’s your daddy, Tony?”
He said, “Oh, home eating crackers and baloney.”
But now we will pass, through Renton right now,
And there’s a dame, sittin’ milkin’ a cow.

We look at her face and guess who it is,
It’s our own JoAnn milking a cow named Liz.
I asked her what had happened to all her husband’s money,
She gave me a dirty look and said, “Don’t be funny.”

As I started home, I stopped at the lake,
I wanted to see Howie, so I pulled on the brake.
I went to the door and rang the bell,
I heard Howie yell, “I’m out here in the well.”
In the well I thought, now’s my chance,
To corner him into the wedding dance.

I finally married him after this long time,
And after 80 long years
I’m a bride at 89!!!!!

Appearing in the poem:
Erna – Erna Jean Williams
Beve – likely Beverly Boland, but possibly Beve Rocca
JoAnn – JoAnn (Ewell) Clearwater
Howie – Howard Johanson
Valera – Valera Pedersen
Lois – Lois (Buck) Hamilton
Miss Calahan –De Lona Calahan, Tiger Tales Yearbook staff advisor
Tony – presumably Tony Merlino of Renton

Written circa 1944, during her junior year at Enumclaw High School

The final draft of Pauline’s “Boyfriends.” The first draft had typos and was missing the final stanza.
The boy she finally marries (in the poem) at the age of 89 – Howard ‘Howie’ Johanson (photo from Tiger Tales 1945, Enumclaw High School yearbook).
Valera Pedersen, Beve Boland, Pauline Morris, Erna William, and Shirley Stergion, May 1944 on the front lawn of EHS.  Interestingly, Shirley’s name did not appear in the poem, but then again she and Jimmy Puttman were a couple during high school and then married shortly thereafter. 
“Seniors” Spring 1945: Shirley Stergion, Yvonne Cross, Faye Timm, and Pauline Morris on a bicycle ride through the surrounding countryside.
Erna Williams at Enumclaw’s Avalon Theater, May 1944. Both Pauline and Erna worked at the Avalon, then located at the N.E. corner of Cole St. & Myrtle Ave.

This world that we’re livin’ in

This world that we’re livin’ in
Is awful nice and sweet–
You get a thorn with every rose
But ain’t the roses sweet.

I’ve shut the door on yesterday,
Its sorrows and mistakes:
I’ve looked within its gloomy walls
Past failures and mistakes.

And now I throw the key away
To seek another room,
And furnish it with hope and smiles
And every spring–time bloom.

You have to live with yourself, you know,
All your whole life through.
Wherever you stay, or wherever you go,
You will always companion you.

So–it’s just as well to make of yourself
The person you’d like to be,
And spend each day in the pleasantest way,
With the finest of company.

The typed original of Pauline’s “This world that were livin’ in.”
  • By Pauline Lucile Morris

    Pauline Morris, Valera Pedersen, Bev Boland, Shirley Stergion, at Enumclaw High School, May 1944, on the front lawn of EHS.
“Sub-debs” June 1945 – Top: Nancy Bruhn, Yvonne Cross, Faye Timm, Shirley Stergion, Pauline, Morris.  Lower: Jane Smitterlof, Dolly Grennan, Martha Hanthorn , Marice Heiberg.  Photo on the front lawn of EHS looking east across Porter Street to the stile-standing 18-unit apartment built in 1926, in which Pauline lived sometime after high school.

Post Script:   Morris – Stergion  – Puttman – Kombol

Pauline Morris and Shirley Stergion, May 1944 – their children, Lynne Puttman and Bill Kombol, 1968.

Our moms were BFF before there was such a thing.  We’ve been 5-year reunion friends since graduation.  Their names were Shirley Stergion and Ponnie Morris until they married Jim Puttman and Jack Kombol.

Her name is Lynne always misspelled Lynn and I was called Billy the name she still calls me.  They were Tigers from the Class of ’45.  We were Hornets from the Class of ’71.  Their 1944 picture was taken on the front lawn Enumclaw High School on Porter Street.  Our 1968 Ka-Teh-Kan yearbook photo was taken inside the gym of the same building – by then Enumclaw Junior High.

They have both passed to the world beyond ours: Shirley in 2019 and Pauline in 2011. We reached the 9th grade Hall of Fame with our funniest laughs.  Lynne became a stand-up comedienne helping people laugh.  Bill studied Economics which is no laughing matter.

But wherever our lives have rambled, we share the bond our mothers shared – Enumclaw.  Some say it translates as a ‘place of evil spirits’ while others claim it’s a ‘thundering noise.’

Whatsoever Enumclaw may be – where so ever Enumclaw may reside – long may her spirit dwell.

Categories
Musings

‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’

Some say it was ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played.’  I was there but have no memory of its magnitude. All I can remember is a box of Cracker Jack and a burning desire to own a bobblehead. Allow me to explain.

On July 2, 1963, San Francisco’s Juan Marichal faced down Warren Spahn’s Milwaukee Braves over 16 innings before a walk-off home run secured the 1-0 win for the Giants. Seven Hall of Famers played in the game: Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, Eddie Mathews, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Spahn, and Marichal.

“On this day in sports” – the Facebook post by Bob Sims that inspired my story.

Marichal pitched 16 scoreless innings. Earlier that evening, Marichal was scheduled to bat in the 13th inning when Manager Alvin Dark asked if he still had enough gas. The fiery right-hander shot back at his manager, “A 42-year-old man is still pitching. I can’t come out!” Spahn managed only 15-1/3, until a still hitless Willie Mays blasted the first pitch to left field ending the duel. By the game’s end, the 25-year-old Marichal threw 227 pitches, while the 42-year-old Spahn tossed 201.  Today, pitchers are considered exceptional if they even make it to 100.

Until several years ago, I’d never heard of the greatest game ever played. A Facebook friend* I’d never met posted a vintage baseball article highlighting this 1963 showdown. Reading the story got me thinking. So I drifted downstairs to the keepsake chest Dad built for me as a boy and retrieved the San Francisco Giants official program I’d kept for 59 years. The scorecard inside was for the Milwaukee Braves series. Might that have been the game we attended?

The box score sheet inside the program proving we saw a  Braves game.

During each of my tween years (1962-1965), Grandpa Morris took my brother, Barry and me to San Francisco to experience city life and catch a Giants baseball game. I was 9-years-old the first time, and 12 the last. One year, Grandma and Mom joined us; on another Dad accompanied; and for the final two years, it was just Grandpa, Barry, and I.

Each trek was much like the others. We always flew Western Airlines where well-coiffed stewardesses pinned Jr. Wings to our sports jackets. When traveling back then, you dressed in a suit and tie – even kids like us from Enumclaw.

The Western Airlines wings the stewardess pinned on my sports jacket.
All dressed up with somewhere to go: Bill, Grandpa, and Barry, 1964.

We always stayed at the Maurice Hotel, a businessman’s favorite in downtown San Francisco.  It’s where our grandfather, John H. Morris lodged a decade earlier when negotiating a deal to acquire an asset-rich company on the downhill slide. During the early 1960s, the Maurice still employed uniformed bellhops who doubled as elevator operators guiding the lifts to just the right level, or within an inch or so. They manually opened the inner and outer doors allowing guests to step in and out. The building still stands on Post Street, though is now operated as Courtyard by Marriott.

The Maurice Hotel on Post Street in downtown San Francisco.

Each morning, Grandpa gave us money to buy breakfast. We walked around the block to Manning’s on Geary Street – my first exposure to a cafeteria-style restaurant. There we had the freedom to glide through the line choosing which dishes to place on our trays. With limited funds in our pockets, we carefully selected whatever juice, toast, pudding, or cereal to eat that morning.

The Maurice Hotel was four blocks from Union Square. After breakfast, we’d stroll to an alley store where paper bags of birdseed were sold. With feed in hand, we easily surrounded ourselves with dozens of pigeons and posed for the camera. Grandpa often had his shoes shined and on one occasion, so did I.

Getting our shoes shined in Union Square.  That’s Grandma and Grandpa to my right.

From Union Square, we’d catch a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf. Grandpa sat comfortably inside while Barry and I held tight to the vertical bars leaning out as far as we dared, especially when passing other cable cars.

By afternoon, Grandpa was ready for a highball at Lefty O’Doul’s, just off Union Square. It was an early prototype of a sports bar with baseball memorabilia hung from every wall. This was long before televisions littered bars and restaurants broadcasting every sporting event known to man, beast, woman, or child. After his cocktail, Gramps might head back to the hotel for a nap, leaving Barry and me to explore the city on our own.

Our trips were always in late June or early July, so we wandered through Chinatown in hopes of finding firecrackers. The state of Washington had lately gone safe-and-sane, taking much of the fun out of the Fourth of July. It was a time when boys could carelessly roam the West Coast’s biggest metropolis. Today, self-respecting suburban parents wouldn’t dream of it. Perhaps there weren’t as many perverts or criminals back then, or maybe the police kept undesirables in check, particularly downtown. There weren’t yet hippies – just beatniks who by 1964, Grandpa took to calling “Beatles.”

Dinner was usually at a nice restaurant of Grandpa’s choosing, sometimes the Top of the Mark or the Golden Hind at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel.  By evening we were back at the Maurice to enjoy games of cribbage and pinochle.  On my first trip to S.F., Mom and Grandma taught me how to play – first three-handed, then four. Among the generations of my parents and grandparents, playing a game of pinochle was a common evening activity. Few play it anymore and that’s a shame – it’s a fun and strategic game with just the right balance of luck and skill.

On game day, we assembled at Lefty O’Doul’s for the bus trip to Candlestick Park. The Giants outfitted special buses to carry fans for the 15-minute ride to the coldest stadium on earth. The wind blew in from left field as crisp and frigid as the waters of San Francisco Bay. And if the wind wasn’t blowing, a chilly fog might settle in. We typically sat between first base and home plate, where the sun never shone.

I still remember the thrill of walking into that big-league stadium – barkers hawking game-day programs while the smell of hot dogs permeated the air.  Grandpa always bought a program, most of which I kept. The scorecard inside listed the lineup for whichever National League team the Giants played that series. That’s how I know we saw the Braves that trip – the center page featured the full Milwaukee lineup.

In 1963, the Braves visited the Giants three times, each a three-game series: one in April, then early July, and late August. The trips we took with Grandpa were always late June or early July, just before Independence Day. Both Barry and I remember a night game; and having seen Juan Marichal pitch, his left leg extending high above his head was memorable in and of itself. This was the first game of the series with the last on the 4th of July.  We were always home for the 4th of July at Lake Retreat with the extended Kombol family. So given a day for travel, we had to have been there for ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played.’

Juan Marichal’s high leg kick.

But how would I know? I certainly don’t remember it. My focus was on the prize at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box and trying to con Grandpa into buying me a bobblehead.  Plus, singing “Take Me Out to the Ballpark” during the 7th inning stretch. But, most of the time I wondered if it could possibly get any colder.

I’m sure we only saw part of the game. Knowing how impatient Grandpa was, there’s no chance we stayed past nine innings. The next day’s papers carried the news, but it was just another dramatic Giants victory. It took decades for sports historians to make their ‘greatest’ claim. Willie McCovey later recalled, “I don’t think any of us realized at the time how special it was. It was just a game we were trying to win.”

Meanwhile, the next morning we were at the airport, dressed up for our flight on Western Airlines back home. Our suitcases, filled with firecrackers we’d bought in Chinatown.

Grandpa and me at San Francisco airport on my first trip, July 1962.

After the ‘63 season, Warren Spahn pitched two more years in the majors, ironically finishing his career with the Giants in the last half of 1965. He retired at age 44. Like many of his greatest generation, Spahn’s early career was interrupted to join the Army, seeing action at the Battle of the Bulge. He returned to baseball at age 25, with experience and maturity future generations can only imagine. In Boston, before the Braves moved to Milwaukee in 1953, Spahn and teammate John Sain were the most feared starting duo in baseball.  Sports reporters condensed their pitching prowess to, “Spahn and Sain, then pray for rain.”

In this greatest game, Juan Marichal retired famed home run king, Hank Aaron six straight times. During the 1960s, Juan had seven seasons with 20 or more victories, winning more games than any other pitcher that decade. Marichal’s career didn’t match the longevity of Spahn. He retired at age 37, having thrown for the Giants all but two of his major league seasons. Ironically, his last two games were with the L.A. Dodgers, the team who taunted him in his glory years. It was also the Dodgers against whom he committed his greatest sin: clubbing catcher John Roseboro over the head with a bat, an action never seen before or again on a major league field.  Sadly, Marichal’s final season lasted just two games comprised of six ugly innings.

I wish there were a story by which my nine-year-old self recognized the significance of the game he witnessed. There isn’t. That night we rode the bus back to Union Square, or maybe Grandpa hailed a cab.  To me it didn’t matter – I clutched the bobblehead Grandpa bought me, with little regard for the game I just saw.

As for the bobblehead, it recently came out of my keepsake chest for a picture with one of my baseball icons – a close friend of six decades, Jim Clem. Now here’s a fresh new memory to cherish.

My Giant bobblehead trades notes with Jim Clem, a giant of Washington state baseball.

* Sadly, the Facebook friend I’d never met, Bob Sims (1950-2019) passed away six months after I wrote the first version of this story. Had he not posted this news item, it’s doubtful this story would have come to light.  Thank you Bob Sims, in memoriam.

Categories
Musings Uncategorized

My Week in Ireland with a Welsh Rugby Team

This essay came from a letter written to my parents from Middle Mille, Wales.  It was completed from memories of what I left out.  Back then, I was too embarrassed to tell Mom and Dad the rest of the story. 

April 24, 1978

Dear Mom & Dad:

Well, it’s been some time since I last wrote so I thought to dash off a few lines to keep you up to date.  By the time you receive this letter, Scott (Hamilton) should be back in the States, although not necessarily in Washington.  I’ve been here at Scott’s since my last letter, save for a brief sojourn to Ireland where I met up with a Welsh rugby team and toured around with them.  They were really friendly and a lot of fun.  I got to see my first rugby match and did a heck of a lot of something that Welsh rugby clubs do best – drink beer.

In the pub after the game with the Welsh rugby team.

Actually, it was a very strange week.  I met these guys my first night in a pub after I’d ferried from Fishguard, Wales and made my way to the town of Wexford on the southeast coast of Ireland.  They were staying in a big hotel and one of the mates said, “There’s plenty of room at our hotel, so why not come stay with us and go on tour?”  That sounded fine so I did.

I kind of became their mascot and they all called me “Yank,” never bothering to learn my name.  I endeared myself to the club (guys about my age) after their first match.  We were all sitting in the opposing Irish team’s pub.  We were drinking beer, lots of Irish-made Guinness, and eating sandwiches and drinking more beer and singing songs, and having a cracking good time.

The Tonna boys wore red and white.

The Welsh love to sing and we sang almost every song they knew (no not really, there is no end to the number of songs they know).  So, one of the Tonna boys (as they called themselves being from Tonna, Wales near Neath Port Talbot) challenged me to lead the guys in song.  He was a big, fat, long-haired, red-headed oaf named Daffy, but a heck of a nice guy too.

The Tonna Rugby Football Club emblem.

With cheering and jostling they stood me atop this heavy wooden table.  I had to do something and started singing the one song I was guaranteed to remember all the lyrics.  I led them in a rousing rendition of “If I Had a Hammer,” which they all got the biggest kick out of.  After that, I became “one of the boys,” as they’re fond of saying.

Love, Bill

Note: The letter to Mom and Dad describing my time with the rugby team ended here, leaving out the untold story of the rest of my week.

We continued traveling up the east coast of Ireland stopping at small towns along the way.  They played rugby in the late morning; we drank beer in pubs each afternoon; then back to our hotel for more drinking and some nights playing poker.  I even taught them a game or two.  The pattern continued for several days: big hotel breakfasts, sandwiches and Guinness at pubs, then more frivolity until falling to bed.  By this time everybody liked me so much I was almost one of the team, primarily as ‘Yank’ their lucky charm.

The Tonna Rugby Football Club (RFC) photo after a match.

Our final destination was Dublin where they’d catch a ferry back to Wales and I’d tour the Irish capital.  So far, my sightseeing in Ireland consisted of rugby pitches and public houses.  In Dublin fair city we found ourselves in Temple Bar, a lively district where patrons poured themselves from one pub to the next.  Many have street-side windows which open fully guaranteeing easy camaraderie between those in pubs and those passing by.

We’d been good mates for several days and planted ourselves for a sendoff glass to conclude our camaraderie.  After a couple pints, I begged forgiveness and bid farewell. With travel bag in hand, I said my goodbyes to each and wandered the streets of Dublin in search of lodging for the night.  Temple Bar has a confusing hodgepodge of meandering streets and alleys where it’s easy to circle back around.  After surveying several cheap hotels and B & Bs, I found myself walking past the very pub I’d left an hour before.  Cries of “Hey Yank!” were shouted and I laughingly saluted my old friends.  They waved me in and no sooner seated than a pint appeared.  One led to another, and soon I was thoroughly soused.

Relaxing after a ruby match and an afternoon in a pub.

The hours rolled by as we laughed and drank into the night.  They’d be catching the midnight ferry to Holyhead for the long bus ride back to Tonna.  My mind was a muddle – do I leave the pub, drunk as a skunk to find lodging?  Or cast my lot with this scrum and travel back to Wales?  It was late Saturday night and frankly, I was in no position to walk a straight line let alone find shelter.  Choosing the path of least resistance, I stumbled on the bus for a short ride to the ferry.

The Irish seas were choppy that night.  The ferryboat listed in rhythmic patterns perfectly calibrated to agitate a drunk’s equilibrium.  The details of my seasickness are as shabby as I felt and shan’t be detailed here.  The ferry landed and we were back on the bus for the 200-mile journey south along twisting roads to Tonna.  The all-night trip was gruelingly slow and sleep agonizingly fitful.

Upon arrival, Richard, one of the footballers offered a room in the row house where he lived with his folks.  We hit the rack that morning and slept until 2 pm.  I awoke that afternoon with a monstrous hangover.  I drank plenty of water trying to salve my aching brain.  Richard’s mum was a sweet lady who fixed us tea and biscuits.  It was the finest cup of tea I’ve ever tasted.  Oh, that lovely cup of tea, how it soothed my throbbing skull.

In small Welsh towns, locals gravitate to their clubs for the evening’s entertainment. Richard, his dad, and I wandered along to the Tonna RFC clubhouse.  It’s somewhat akin to an Eagles lodge in the U.S.  The largest room was filled with trophies in display cases surrounding tables where young and old rugby players socialized.  Not just the boys I’d traveled with, but their fathers, uncles, and townsfolk who played the sport a generation before. Another pint of ale was probably the last thing I needed, but being a polite young man I good-naturedly accepted and thus began another evening of drinking.   Being Sunday night we left at a reasonable hour.  Early the next morning I bid adieu to Richard who was off to work.  I then enjoyed a pleasant cup of tea with his mum before heading to the town’s station.

My week with this Welsh rugby team thankfully came to an end.  It was time for me to dry out and find my bearings.  I caught a bus to Haverfordwest and made the one-mile walk to Middle Mille for several more days with Scott before his planned departure and mine.  My next stop was London town.

Scott Hamilton’s home in the tiny village of Middle Mille was once the town’s public house, now called pubs.

Postscript: Seven years later, I realized alcohol was not my friend.  The story of May 26, 1985, the day I quit drinking is still being lived. It was the second-best decision I ever made. 

 

Categories
Musings

Abraham, Martin and PCC

In the fall of 1968, Dion released a song that touched my soul.  About the same time, I started working Saturdays at a job that defined my life.  I still work there today.  This is the story of the song, that job, and a 15-year-old boy.

The Beatles’ single “Hey Jude” backed by “Revolution” dominated the airwaves. The Detroit Tigers, my favorite baseball team would soon play in the World Series. A presidential election heated up following a deadly political year culminating in riots at the Democratic convention in Chicago.

Kris Galvin and I were freshly minted sophomores. Each day after school we played a board game called Mr. President. Two players strategized their way to victory by assembling a majority of votes in the Electoral College.  In the real election, Nixon did just that, defeating Hubert Humphrey while George Wallace carried five states.

In late September, I began a new job at Palmer Coking Coal as their Saturday boy.  After a day of training, I was in charge of the Black Diamond office from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., though typically worked longer.  I didn’t yet drive so Dad dropped me off each morning, picking me up a little after noon.

 

The mine office of Palmer Coking Coal on Highway 169, about the time I started working there.

The work consisted of sacking coal, answering phones, and operating a scale—but mostly selling nut and stoker coal to old guys driving pickup trucks.  It was quite a thrill to command an office, poke about in drawers, make change, and run the store.  I earned $1.00 per hour, paid with money drawn from the cash drawer and replaced with a handwritten receipt.

Dad signed for my wages and I’d take a $5 bill out of the drawer. Three years later when I left this job, I was earning $2 per hour. (I found this old receipt 40 years later in a box in the attic at the same mine office where I first started).

It wasn’t always busy so after reading the P-I, I tuned the radio to KJR-95.  My youth’s mind remembers where and what I was doing when certain songs played.  That October, I heard Dion DiMucci sing a gentle folk tribute to the assassinated heroes, “Abraham, Martin and John.”  The final lyrics delivered a stanza for Bobby Kennedy.

“Has anybody here seen my old friend Bobby

Can you tell me where he’s gone?

I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill

With Abraham, Martin and John.” Dick Holler

Dion’s single next to Bill Kombol on his first day of high school, Sept. 3, 1968.

I was a fervent reader of newspapers and convinced Mom to buy a subscription to U.S. News & World Report.  On the last day of March 1968, Lyndon Johnson announced he wouldn’t seek re-election to the presidency.  Martin Luther King was shot dead in Memphis four days later.

On June 6th, the Kombol family checked into the Hotel Austria on Fleischmarkt Street in Vienna.  The tragic news of Robert Kennedy’s assassination splashed across the front pages of every paper on the newsstand.  The photo of 17-year-old, Juan Romero cradling the head of a fallen senator in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel has haunted me ever since.  An old Austrian woman draped in a black shawl stood in the lobby hissing, practically spitting the words out, “Johnson, Johnson!”

 Kombol family in Austria, L-R: Jeanmarie, Pauline, Bill, Barry, Dana. June 1968.

Dion’s song was poignant and melancholy.  It tugged at my heart while coaxing a tear.  Soon the three-minute radio broadcast was over.  It might be hours until it played.  I wanted to hear it time and again.

Work ended and I was home in the afternoon.  I usually fixed tomato soup and cheese-toast for lunch then listened to the Huskies on the radio.  Only the rarest of U.W. football games were broadcast on television.  Later friends and I might play a game of touch football at the Kibler school playground.  Time passes quickly in adolescence and evening came soon enough.  Dinner was promptly at 6 p.m.  Mom always made hamburgers on Saturday night.

While the song was introduced my first months of high school, “Abraham, Martin and John,” made a cameo appearance shortly after graduation.  A collage by Tom Clay joined “What the World Needs Now Is Love” to live broadcasts of the assassinations introduced by snippets from Dion’s hit.  That summer of 1971, I worked long hours selling popsicles east of Kent and often drove home listening to the six-minute spoken word hymn.

I never really left Palmer Coking Coal.  During college, I spent summers as a laborer.  I worked the afternoon shift at the Rogers No. 3 my senior year.  It closed a few months later, the last underground coal mine in Washington.  After graduating, I joined Palmer for employment stints of two and three months when no other adventure called.

On of my  stints working for Palmer involved relocating parts of the Stergion cement plant in Enumclaw to Black Diamond  With money made from those three months, I traveled to Hawaii with my high school buddy, Wayne Podolak, Jan. 1976.

In August 1978, I began full-time employment at PCC, back on the picking table.  A decade of college, loafing, banking, odd jobs, and traveling landed me back where I’d begun 10 years earlier.  Four years later, I was appointed Manager of the company.  The following summer we celebrated Palmer Coking Coal’s 50th anniversary. I was 29-years-old.

In early 1979, I was brought into the office to learn how to run the business. I sat across my uncle Charlie Falk who snapped this picture.  I continued to sit at the same desk for the next 44 years, Summer 1979.

It’s now 40 years down the road.  I’ll soon be leaving full-time employment at PCC.  It’s where I’ve spent all but two years of my working career.  Of these things I’m certain––this job and that tune will forever remain in my heart, intertwined in a romantic ballad where the only constant is change.

I look back with nostalgia yet forward in anticipation.  How these next adventures unfold will be the continuing story of my life.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Post Script: Here’s the short story of Dion’s life and the song that changed mine.  Dion DiMucci was born in 1939 to Italian-American parents in the Bronx.  Teaming with friends from Belmont Avenue, Dion and the Belmonts scored their first hit in 1958 with “I Wonder Why.”

While on the 1959 winter concert tour with Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper; the bus’s heating system gave out so Holly charted a plane to their next venue.  Dion balked at paying $36, his share for the flight because it was the rent amount his parents struggled to pay each month.  The plane crashed, killing all on board.

Dion split from the Belmonts in 1960, pursuing a solo career with hits like “Run-Around Sue” and “Donna.”  After continually humming Dion’s rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” from the Disney movie Pinocchio, Brian Wilson composed the Beach Boy’s ballad, “Surfer Girl,” in 1963   It was his very first composition.

Dion Now & Then is how I titled my Dion tribute CD compilation.

Dion was one of only two rock artists to appear on the cover of the Beatles’ 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Bob Dylan was the other.  With changing tastes from the British Invasion and a growing heroin addiction, Dion started recording blues numbers in the mid-1960s.  His records failed to sell so he lost his contract.

In April 1968, Dion experienced a powerful religious awakening.  He gave up heroin and his label agreed to re-sign him if he’d record “Abraham, Martin and John.”  The single was released that August, reaching #4 on the charts in October.  It was written by Dick Holler, composer of the Royal Guardsman’s novelty hit, “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron.”

In the 1980s, Dion became a born-again Christian, releasing five albums highlighting his evangelical convictions.  In June 2020 at age 81, Dion released his most recent album, “Blues with Friends” featuring a range of artists including Jeff Beck, John Hammond, Van Morrison, Paul Simon, and Bruce Springsteen.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Coda: On a warm summer evening in the early 1960s, Billy Kombol stood at the door of the open-air dance pavilion at Barrett’s Lake Retreat resort, mesmerized by the sight of teenagers dancing to the jukebox sounds of Dion and the Belmonts.

Categories
Musings

First Tastes of Mortality

More than fifty years ago, two grandparents died on the same day.  It was the last day of summer, and the first time anyone close to me had died.

A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.
                                    – Leonard Lipton / Peter Yarrow

Released in Jan. 1963, Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Puff the Magic Dragon” soon topped the charts.

I remember those first thoughts about dying.  It was the spring of 1963 and I was nine years old.  Grandma and Grandpa Morris lived in a large, white, country home west of Enumclaw on McHugh Street.  The radio played in the background.  The number one song was “Puff the Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul & Mary.  It’s a children’s song wrapped in fabled lyrics released during the height of the folk era.  I’d heard it before, but never fully absorbed this line: “A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys.”  My tenth birthday would be in a month or so.

Grandma (Nina Marie Morris) was in the early stages of dementia which even a boy could recognize.  She was easily confused.  One day, Billy Hawthorne (the son of Grandma’s part-time caregiver) and I played a cruel trick on her by hiding in the closet.  We watched her search for us in vain.  After frantic calls we reappeared, only to see a vacant look of despair on her bewildered face.  Mom explained she had hardening of the arteries, causing blood to flow slowly to her brain, meaning she couldn’t think as clearly as before.  She was ill and wouldn’t get better.  I felt bad about our trick.

Grandpa and Grandma – Jack and Marie Morris, a night on the town in San Francisco, 1959.

The song ended but a feeling lingered – I wouldn’t be a little boy much longer.  Just like Jackie Paper, my imaginary dragons and toy soldiers would soon be gone.  Those wistful feelings of melancholy floated in the wind like the down of a dandelion.

One evening that summer, I lay in bed.  It was a Friday or Saturday night.  Next to my bed was a cheap AM radio.  Late at night, I spun the dial picking up a distant station in Salt Lake City and listened to the final innings of a baseball game.  It ended and the nightly news was read – “At 12:01 a.m., a convicted murderer on death row will be executed by firing squad.  Growing tired I turned off the radio and saw a blindfolded prisoner led to a brick courtyard.  The moment passed but the memory remained – a boy, the radio, a distant broadcast, the bleakness of death.

Bad posture, Billy at Grandma & Grandpa Morris home, Spring 1967.

In the 14th year of my life, the grim reaper appeared.  It was 1967.  Music defined my world and I delighted in its sounds.  Newspapers called it the “summer of love.”  For me it was a summer of friends, family, fun . . . and Sgt. Pepper.  Each morning brought new sounds and adventures.  The sun shone day after rainless day, for so long it set a record – 67 days without rain.  The bluest skies you’d ever seen were in Seattle.

That September, I entered the final year of junior high as a 9th grader.  Three weeks later that cozy world was disquieted by the death of two grandparents: Grandma Morris and Papa Kombol.  On the same day, my father lost his father, and my mother lost her mother.  In a way, this double death was a tonic for both parents.  They told us kids of feeling like orphans, leaning on each other – weathering funerals and wakes, one after the other.  September 21st was the last day of summer . . . and the autumn of my youth.

Papa Tony Kombol and Grandma Nina Marie Morris died on the same day.

Both grandparents were elderly: 82 and 77, yet important fixtures in life.  Papa (Tony Kombol) babysat me when I was four and five.  Mom dropped me off at their home near Elk Coal where I’d follow Papa doing chores, fixing lunch, then put me down for a nap.  Legally blind from a 1925 coal mining accident, he stayed home while Grandma Lulu taught school in nearby Selleck.  Needing to be near Enumclaw’s medical facilities, Papa stayed at our home the last few weeks of his life.

Grandma Morris was the first person I remember reading to me.  We flipped through “Two Little Miners” so many times I could picture each page.  I boarded an airplane for the first time in late June 1962, a Boeing 707, when she and Grandpa took me to San Francisco.  We braved chilly Candlestick Park and watched my first major league baseball game.  The Giants won the pennant that season.

When in San Francisco Grandpa always stayed at the Maurice, a businessman’s Hotel near Union Square where that day we had our shoes shined, July 1962.

We dined in the Starlight Room of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, celebrating  great-aunt Ruth’s 75th birthday . . . and my 9th.  I still have the menu dated July 3, 1962.  Two weeks earlier, Tony Bennett released the song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

Great Aunt Ruth’s birthday was July 4th and mine July 5th, so Grandpa Morris took us to the restaurant at Sir Francis Drake Hotel.  It was a fancy place with the date  printed at the top of the menu.  The waiter gave it to me as a souvenir.

In later years Grandma Morris was confined to the Bethesda Manor nursing home not far from our home, falling deeper into the darkness of dementia.  Mom visited her daily, sometimes twice.  I’d go on occasion, but in time she no longer knew me.

Jack & Pauline Kombol, late 1967.

Over the coming weeks, I began to imagine life without parents.  It was the year Mom stopped tucking me in and saying nighttime prayers together.  Alone in bed, save for a pink teddy bear won at the Puyallup Fair, I thought of the future.  One day Mom and Dad will surely die, just like Grandma and Papa.  A profound sense of sorrow consumed me.  Visualizing their deaths, I cried myself to sleep each night.  I tried to figure a way out – what if they never died?  Maybe I’d die first and be spared the heartache?  Whatever scenario I concocted, the end was always the same – falling asleep to tears.  The end of their lives and my childhood hung in the balance.  But I knew not how or when.

Unbeknownst to me, the thoughts of that 14-year-old boy were long ago known by Stoic philosophers.  The anticipation of hardship softens its eventual blow.  A Stoic prepares for the future by focusing on the worst possible outcome, a Latin principle called premeditation of adversity.  Seneca advised his followers to rehearse ruinous scenarios “in your mind – exile, torture, war, shipwreck,” thereby robbing the future of its awful bite.

By morning, I was awakened by Mom and skipped downstairs to find a hearty breakfast on the kitchen table.  Jean and I walked to the Junior High, a three-story, brick building four blocks away.  There I roamed halls, diagrammed sentences, and played with friends after school.

The male tear ducts shrink as boys become men.  It becomes more difficult for men to cry.  Evolutionary psychologists can no doubt tell you why.  My tears were gone in time.  Ninth grade led to new friendships and adventures.  I turned out for basketball and made the team.  I raised tropical fish in an aquarium.  At semester’s end, I earned my first perfect report card, all A’s.  As a special treat, Dad took me to the Four Seasons in downtown Enumclaw for Chinese food.  I felt pride in the glow of my father’s love.

Twelve years later, I wrote a poem to read at his funeral.  The lines recalled the mournful feelings of that earlier time in life:

The last day we expected was the morning that we feared feared                          the nights we cried so long ago have come to rest right here.                            And so we’ll cry these tears of pain from sorrow we must store                          the tears we have are tears we’ve cried a thousand times before.

Father and son, Jack Kombol and Bill, Lyon, France, Feb 1978, a year before he died.

In February 1968, Barry and I picked copper strands from piles of rocks and sticks at the Mine #11 wash plant in Black Diamond.  The wire came from blasting caps used when dynamite dislodged coal at the Rogers #3 mine.  Seven years later I’d work in that mine, learning just how those wires were used.  Over several weekends we collected nearly a pickup load of coiled yellow wire, then burned off the plastic coating.  Dad sold the copper for 40 cents a pound at the recycling yard.  It was souvenir money for us four kids to use during our family’s forthcoming trip to Europe later that spring.

We missed the last few weeks of school.  In Ireland, England, Wales, and the continent we saw historic sights, tasted new foods, and explored a world far removed from our own.  We also visited the embodiment of death – Dachau, the Jewish concentration camp near Munich.  The visitor’s center displayed black and white photos of emaciated bodies, showing all manner of depravity.

Mom kept a journal of our trip so I know the day we visited Dachau – May 31, 1968.

The guide told of Jewish children with tattooed numbers on bony arms – herded from rail cars, not knowing their fate. We walked through the barracks, gas chambers, and crematoriums where thousands died at the hands of their Nazi henchmen. We saw death on an unimaginable scale.  I’ve never forgotten that visit or the sign on the entrance gate: Arbeit macht frei. “Work sets you free.” Mom read its translation from Arthur Frommer’s Europe on $5 a Day,

The sign on the gate as you enter Dachau – Work sets you free.

Three weeks after coming home, I turned 15.  Four days later a boy I’d grown up with died.  John Sherwood attended our Presbyterian church.  His parents, Earl and Isabelle Sherwood were our youth group leaders and taught us Sunday school.  John was a troubled lad who’d just flunked 10th grade.  On a warm summer evening in early July, John went to a party and guzzled 190-proof Everclear from a bottle.  Mr. Sherwood found his son slumped over the front seat of their car just after midnight.  The Enumclaw police never figured out who provided the bottle, though some teens in town surely knew.

He was the first contemporary I’d known who died.  John was 16.  The coroner’s jury attributed his death to “consuming excessive amounts of liquor furnished by a person or persons unknown.”  The Courier-Herald ran articles linking his death to narcotic and alcohol abuse among local youth in 1968.  Glue sniffing was a particular concern that year.

The following spring our Cascadian yearbook printed his photo in remembrance, followed by a short poem:

John Sherwood’s page in our high school yearbook.

He is not dead, this friend not dead,                                                           But in the path we mortals tread                                                              Got some few, trifling steps ahead                                                             And nearer to the end;                                                                             So that you too, once past the bend,                                                         Shall meet again, as face to face, this friend                                                 You fancy dead.     – Robert Louis Stevenson   

Sporting a Nehru jacket on my first day of high school as a sophomore, Sept. 1968

                                                                                                          When you’re young, five years is practically forever.  “Puff the Magic Dragon” was a distant memory.  Heading to high school in September new adventures emerged.  I started a job as the Saturday boy at Palmer’s mine office in Black Diamond.  I joined the chess team and found a new sport calling.  By summer, I’d have a driver’s license plus two more jobs to fill my days.  Papa and Grandma were fading memories.

As boyhood drew to a close, a young man began to emerge.  My horizons broadened.  Ahead of me lay many deaths . . . relatives, classmates, and loved ones.  Those first tastes of mortality would always be with me, but  childhood fears were fading.  A new set of adolescent anxieties gripped me soon enough.  I was growing up and the world was growing bigger.

Categories
Musings

Strawberry Fields Remembered

We’d gone to a movie that Monday night – Scott Mitchell and I were at the Chalet Theater in Enumclaw.  The Chalet has long been the ‘We-try-harder’ champion of small-town theaters.  I hadn’t remembered what we saw until searching an archived copy of the Courier-Herald.  “My Brilliant Career” was an early-century period piece detailing the life of a spirited Australian woman.  Australian New Wave films were all the rage and the Chalet advertised Monday and Tuesday as Foreign Film Festival nights.  Watching foreign films in Enumclaw on Monday night was the height of sophistication for those of us stuck in the sticks.  I was living in Black Diamond and Enumclaw was the hometown I loved, and still do.

“My Brilliant Career, the Australian film we saw that fateful Monday,was playing at the Chalet Theater (advertisement from the Dec. 5, 1980 Courier-Herald).

We arrived cheerfully back at Lake Sawyer about 9:30, stepping inside the Mitchell home.  Scott’s sister, Nina excitedly broke the news – John Lennon was shot and pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby hospital.  Howard Cosell was first to announce the tragedy, on ABC’s Monday Night Football around 8:15 pm.  It was December 8, 1980.

The smile fell slowly from my face.  I was shocked, but the intensity of my anguish went unreciprocated.  Lennon was one of my heroes growing up.  Each new song implanted a fresh childhood image, all tucked tightly as memories of things past.  By college, I owned every one of their albums, most bought second-hand from record stores which populated the U-District’s Ave.  I couldn’t yet stomach the news.  How?  Where?  But most pressing, why?

The morning newspapers provided snippets of the sordid story.  A crackpot, with the now-familiar first-middle-last name, assassinated Lennon outside his Dakota apartment on Central Park West.  Why do assassins always have three-part names?  John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, Mark David Chapman.

The next day at work took my mind off the morning headlines. Yet, thoughts drifted in – there would never be a Beatles reunion.  That hope died the previous evening.  The following night, I watched TV news broadcasts and listened to my records.  Over the weekend, I purchased the just released, “Double Fantasy” and savored his homey tunes.  “Beautiful Boys Watching the Wheels and Starting Over.”  But John wasn’t starting over.  His dream was over, and so was ours.  The dream weaver left, never to return.  He told us in a song, “And so dear friends, you have to carry on.  The Dream is Over.”

One year for my birthday, Mom bought this framed portrait of John, by the acclaimed photographer, Richard Avedon.   It still hangs in our home.

I carried on.  Time marched along.  Just after Christmas, while in San Francisco I purchased the first book released following his death.  In January, I enrolled in a night class, “History of the Fifties and Sixties” at Green River Community College.  It was taught by Nigel Adams.  He was a passionate teacher, but he too died far before his time, ten years after Lennon.   For his class, I wrote a review of the first new Lennon book.  That’s what I always seem to do – write reviews of things I’ve seen or read.

It felt fitting to share it on the anniversary of the day that dream died.

Strawberry Fields Forever: John Lennon Remembered:                by: Vic Garbarini and Brian Cullman with Barbara Graustark, Introduction by Dave Marsh.  Deliah Books $2.95

Most events, at least most public events, are folded into time – the world stops for a moment, and then, a moment later, the world continues.  This event refused to fold.

With the death of John Lennon on December 8, 1980, two facts became perfectly clear.  First, the world was deeply shocked by the loss of Lennon.  Second, the public obsession’s with his life and death.  If newspaper headlines, record sales, radio play, and book publications are any indication of importance, Lennon’s assassination was an event of stunning magnitude for our collective consciousness.  And though the public tried hard not to believe, it actually happened.  It was almost as though we needed four or five days of newspaper front pages dominated by Lennon headlines, just to accept the fact, that yes, maybe it really happened. Yes, John Lennon, cultural hero was dead.

The review I wrote for History 150U, taught by Nigel Adams at GRCC, Winter Quarter, 1981.  A received an ‘A’, together with Prof. Adam’s handwritten note which read, “Excellent review of several facets of the condition of pop culture, heroes, etc. by mass media.”

When the fact had finally settled in, writers and publishers took up the challenge – let’s see who can publish the first biography and how quickly get it out.  In time for Christmas perhaps?  I don’t know if this book’s publishers made their Christmas deadline, but my paperback copy was purchased on December 29th, a mere three weeks after Lennon’s tragic death.  If there was ever a marvel of the modern world this was it.  A book is written, edited, printed, published, bound, marketed, distributed, and in the reader’s hand in three short weeks.

In addition, two other exploitative paperbacks, which don’t even merit review, were in book stores a week after the initial effort.  Timothy Green Beckley’s “Lennon Up Close and Personal” and “Lennon – What Happened?” by Sunshine Publications are trashy magazines of mere hype in paperback bindings.  If nothing else, they are perfect examples of the mentality, mildly chastised by Yoko in her published message that said she didn’t mind people making a little money off of John’s death.  She understood human nature.

“Strawberry Fields Forever: John Lennon Remembered” is perhaps as good of a book as one could expect given the time frame surrounding its publication.  Parts might very well have been written before his death, with loose ends and a unifying theme added later.  More likely though, the authors simply copped relevant facts from the libraries of Beatles books already in existence.

The book’s best chapters are those reviewing Lennon’s musical canon with special emphasis on his solo output.  From well before the announced break-up of the Beatles until his voluntary retirement from popular culture in 1975, Lennon created the lifestyle that made him a cultural hero.  Whether posing nude with Yoko for an album cover or bed-ins for peace in posh hotels, Lennon acutely recognized the power of the media.  He was one of that tiny number of the truly famous who’ve effectively mastered how to manipulate the public’s thirst for the extraordinary.  Yet, he never lost sight of the message he tried to communicate.

Lennon emerged as poet-philosopher to armies of fans dedicated to peace and love.  Marshall McLuhan notwithstanding, Lennon justly transcended the famous dictum, “The medium is the message,” and perhaps even served up his fair share of peace, love, and understanding. If there were occasional lapses (being tossed from an L.A. nightclub for crude, drunken behavior), the incidents were quickly forgiven, if not forgotten with the release of his next visionary song.  Lennon thrust himself headlong into life, and for this, he was idolized.  Upon withdrawing to raise a family (he wrote, sang, and partied through the first try), he was missed but admired for being his own man.

Over the years, I’ve read and collected a small library of books about the Beatles.  Here are the hardbacks.  Most of my paperbacks editions are stored in the basement.

“Strawberry Fields Forever” captures Lennon’s qualities as well as any of the post-Beatles, Beatles books.  Included is an explanation of almost every important mid and late Beatles song chiefly attributed to John.  “All You Need Is Love” is labeled one of Lennon’s “best Utopian fantasies, a national mantra.”  The author’s finest prose is saved for Lennon’s inimitable solo work.  “Instant Karma” both satirized and summarized Lennon’s search for higher awareness with its hit-bound hook, anticipating an entire generation standing on the threshold of Tom Wolfe’s Me Decade.  “Plastic One Band” is described as a “raw and self-indicting confession, harrowing in its stark minimalism.”

Alas, the final third of the book is little more than filler.  A 37-page interview with Barbara Graustark of Newsweek lacks the warmth and incisiveness of Lennon’s superior January 1981 Playboy interview.  The concluding chronological biography is no different than a dozen other Beatles / Lennon chronicles.

After finishing the book, I was most struck by its speed of publication.  It broke no new real ground but serves as a simple compendium of the many post-Beatles history books of the past decade.  If for nothing else, the effort will be remembered as the first well-written book that long-time Beatles-freaks or newly converted Lennon-lover could enjoy, in a melancholy sort of way.

But, perhaps it’s little more than sweet-tasting medicine to help his fans swallow one seemingly irrefutable fact: Lennon is as large in death, as he was in life.

Me and my sister, Danica Kombol, in a picture taken by Mom along the Oregon Coast.  It was the day before we stopped in S.F. where I purchased the book, “Strawberry Fields Forever.”  We were driving to L.A. with Mom to see the Huskies play Michigan in the Rose Bowl.  The Huskies lost 23-6.
Categories
History

Working at a Coal Mine

My senior year of college was as different as night and day.  It wasn’t my original plan. By day, I inhabited the rarified air of life at a university where young men and women, often preening boys and girls, proffered great thoughts fueled by a steady diet of pot and booze.  At night, I worked in a coal mine with gray-haired men at jobs they’d performed their entire lives.

I was bemused by the attitudes and mindsets of the two cultures.  For me, it was the best and worst of times – the most wonderful and dreadful of any span of my then young life.  I was fully exhilarated and completely exhausted – a caterpillar in search of a butterfly to escape from a cocoon of his own making.  For years I’ve struggled to reconcile the feelings and emotions within those discordant worlds I simultaneously ingested.

I’d grown increasingly bored with college phonies fretting over which grad school to attend.  I was steadily drawn to the stoic lives of coal miners.  My fellow undergrads bemoaned petty stresses of their own making.  Each day the miners completed the tasks set before them.  The grad school gang imagined chic careers with grand salaries.  The coal miners were content with life and their position in it.

In early September 1974, I prepared to return for my last year of college.  Over three summers past, I worked for Palmer Coking Coal, a family-owned company.  My jobs were common laboring at the Black Diamond yard and Rogers #3 mine.  That mine was a succession of Rogers #1 and #2, started in 1958 and 1959 respectively.  Located in Ravensdale, Rogers #3 was slated to close in less than a year.  It would be the last underground coal mine in the State of Washington.

End of the shift
That’s me at shift’s end I was covered with coal dust on one of my rare day shifts. The Rogers #3 hoist room and mine tipple are up the hill behind me.  Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1975

My uncle, Jack Morris was President of Palmer.  He was navigating the company’s exit from the coal business, as gracefully as possible.  It was a tough time for the firm.  Jack was drinking heavily, and Palmer’s fortunes were not promising.  There were sharp disagreements between three uncles, Jack, Evan Morris, and Charlie Falk, who collectively led the firm.  I was thankfully unaware of building tensions and unresolved rivalries. I just turned 21.  Little did I know that leadership of this company would one day fall to me.

Evan Morris, Sr. on the platform beside the portal into the Rogers #3 mine.  The sloped tunnel descender 800 feet underground.  December 1974.

Federal coal inspectors were bearing down on small mines like Palmer’s.  Our operation didn’t fit the template for a subsurface coal mine.  The Rogers coal seam stood nearly vertical, while most coal mines operate on horizontal planes, the way sedimentary formations containing coal seams are naturally deposited.  The plate tectonic which uplifted the Cascade Mountains altered the local Ravensdale geology to a rare condition – a vein of coal tilted to more than 80º.  Underground mine regulations hadn’t been written for that kind of operation.

Coal seams in this area of Ravensdale stood nearly vertical as seen in this geologic cross section. – Golder Associates.

Most men who worked at Rogers #3 were lifelong coal miners.  All were in their late 50s and early 60s, except for a cousin, Bob Morris; my brother, Barry Kombol, and me.  Two dozen miners had retired over the previous eight years, but enough experienced men remained allowing Palmer to finish its underground mine while honoring contracts supplying coal to State prisons.  Palmer’s management was mindful of the decades those miners had worked in the industry and sensitive to union pensions that hung in the balance.  A few more years would strengthen each miner’s retirement payout.

One day in early September, Jack pulled me aside and asked if I’d work the afternoon shift while attending college.  It was my senior year where an easy slide towards graduation was a natural expectation.  Jack explained I’d earn the wage rate under the United Mine Workers contract to which Palmer was bound.  A Grade 2, Tipple Attendant made $45.93 per day.  That UMW day rate was the equivalent of $32 per hour in today’s currency.  To a money-hungry lad like me, that sounded awfully enticing.  I talked it over with my folks and a decision was made.

Surface facilities at Rogers #3. The tipple to the left and load out bunkers to the right.  Photo by Don Mason, early 1970s.

The afternoon shift was from 3 – 11 pm, so it made sense to live at home.  My first three years of college were spent at Pi Kappa Phi, where I enjoyed the camaraderie of fraternity brothers plus the assorted characters who boarded in spare rooms.  Ours was a frat house with a classical facade, good cooks, and two hot meals a day.  Staying at home would make me a “townie,” so I’d only pay fraternity dues plus the meal rate for lunch, a significant saving over full room and board.  I drove my parent’s 1968 Renault, an unusual car in those days – basically a Volkswagen Bug for cheapskates.  The no-frills Renault got good mileage, had a stick shift on the floor, with an A.M. radio.  What else could I possibly need?

My schedule was grueling.  Monday through Friday, I was up at 6 am, fixing breakfast while Mom packed my evening dinner in a metal lunch bucket.  I loved yogurt and back then little was sold in stores, so Mom cultured her own which I ate from a squat thermos.  She, Pauline (Morris) Kombol was herself, a coal miner’s daughter.

I left Enumclaw every morning at 7 am.  Traffic was light with far less congestion than today’s clogged freeways.  Interstate 5 was a breeze with only occasionally slowdowns.  I arrived at the University of Washington campus about 8 am, parked at the fraternity, then walked to my 8:30 class.  My first break came at 9:30, so for an hour I studied at the Husky Union Building, and then sped off to my 10:30 and 11:30 classes.  By 12:30 pm, I rambled back to the fraternity for lunch, studied for an hour, and left Seattle at 1:45 arriving at the Ravensdale mine by 2:45 pm.

Joe Ozbolt, left and James ‘Bo’ Williams, right inside the Rogers #3 washhouse. Photo by Charlie Falk, February 1975.

In the washhouse, I joined other miners where we changed from street clothes to working gear.  There were only six miners per shift, but I was exclusively night shift so worked with alternating crews each week.  We walked up a slight hill to the hoist room and met the day crew coming from the mine.  Our counterparts were greeted and a light banter exchanged.  The afternoon shift started at 3 pm, lasting eight hours including a dinner break.  My job involved standing at a waist-high metal platform, where coal was separated from rock.  It was called the picking table and I was its operator.  The picking table was located in the belly of a triangular wooden structure called the tipple.

A loaded coal car is being dumped from the top of tipple into the chute below. The picking table was behind the silver-colored sheet metal above the dumptruck where waste material was collected before being hauled to the rock dump.  Photo by Bill Kombol, April 1975.

The job was simple – push coal to the right and rock to the left.  There was one primary goal: don’t let rocks smash your fingers, lest you wind up with a throbbing fingernail rapidly turning purple.  Still, it happened, and no matter how long you sucked that pulsing finger, the pain lingered.  Sometimes it hurt so much, you had to heat a sewing needle red hot then drill down through the nail to release the pounding pressure caused when blood rushed to repair the wound.

The picking table was six feet wide and about two feet deep.  The left third featured a hinged trap-door balanced by a pulley and weight.  When 100 pounds or more of rock accumulated on that side, a trap door released the waste material that fell into a dump truck below.  The large chunks of coal which landed on the table were pushed right into a crusher and broken into small pieces.

Barry Kombol, ready at the picking table – notice how clean he is at the start of a shift.  Photo by Bill Kombol, April 1975.  
A Moulden & Sons dumptruck filling up with coal to be hauled to Palmer’s Mine #11 yard in Black Diamond for further processing.  Photo by Bill Kombol, April 1975.

Above me was a chute regularly filled with coal and rock brought from the mine and dumped from the tipple above.  A slanted door of thick steel, opened and closed by an electric motor, regulated how much coal came through that chute.  After falling down, the coal mix vibrated over a sloped screen with square openings.  The smaller-sized pieces (less than 4” in diameter) dropped onto a conveyor belt and were carried to the loadout bunker.

The slanted door on the chute had to be set to just the right level.  Opened too much and excessive coal crashed down, blinding the screen, and left the picking table a cluttered mess.  If the avalanche was too large you couldn’t separate the rock from coal fast enough and both ended up discarded.  But when not opened enough, the screening process slowed, and the next coal car to dump was stalled, disrupting the entire operation.  Getting it right was fairly easy when coal was uniform, and rocks were small.  But sometimes large chunks of sharp-angled sandstone and sedimentary rock jammed between the chute door and vibrating screen.  The rocks wedged together at such awkward angles that none could break through the hatchway.  The bind got so nasty that rocks were stuck even with a fully opened door.

When that happened, I rushed to the hoist room and told the operator to stop pulling cars from the mine.  The hoist-man operated a large spool, six feet across upon which was wound 1,000 feet of 1” thick steel cable.  It resembled a gigantic fishing reel.  The cable spun through a bull-wheel atop the tipple providing leverage needed for pulling five-ton coal cars up from the bottom of the mine.  After the car was dumped, the hoist operator braked against gravity, allowing the car to free-wheel down rails tracks along the 48º slope, through a mine opening called the portal.

A closeup of Bill McLoughry operating the hoist. The drum and steel cable are in the background.  Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1974.

With coal cars stopped, I ran back to the picking table and turned off the vibrating screen.  I climbed up and with a long metal pry bar tried dislodging rocks to coax them through the door.  If that didn’t work, I’d pound repeatedly with a sledgehammer to break the burly rocks into smaller pieces that could fit through.  Sometimes the clog was so bad, the hoist man joined me as we tried to get things moving.  Some nights the work was so grueling my body was drained in sweat.

Hoist operators: Roy Darby, top left; Frank Manowski, top right; and Bob Morris, below.

Other nights the coal was so perfectly sized that 95% of the mix cruised through the screen.  The few melon-sized chunks which dropped to the picking table were easy to handle and my job was a breeze.  After screening five tons, I had plenty of idle time awaiting the next coal car’s arrival at the top of the tipple.

A bucket seat salvaged from an old sports car had been set up in the picking table chamber.  Trips arrived every six to eight minutes, and I usually screened a carload in two to three minutes giving me several minutes between loads.  In between, I read my textbooks perhaps a page or two, until the next car arrived.  Its approach was signaled by the pitch of the whirring cable and sway of the tipple.  When coal and rock crashed into the hopper above, that meant another five tons to screen.

The rail tracks lead to the portal opening, seen mid-photo as a darkened area. This photo of the portal opening into the mine was taken from atop the tipple looking down.  Photo by Bill Kombol, April 1975.

From time to time, I emptied the dump truck parked below.  After 10 to 12 tons of rock dropped through the trap door to the waiting dump box, I scurried down, jumped in the truck, drove to the rock dump, and emptied the load.  The truck was dumped five or six times a night depending on the percentage of rock to coal.  I needed to be fast, as coal cars kept emerging from the mine.

On nights when coal wasn’t hoisted, I rode a coal car 800 feet underground to work with the miners.  There I performed laboring tasks – sometimes drilling coal and loading dynamite.  Other nights I helped set timber props that held up the roof of the mine.  Or cleaned coal spilled on rail tracks.

Bill Kombol handing John Costanich a stick of dynamite ready for loading into a drill hole.  Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1974.
With a long plastic pole Bill Kombol helps John Costanich (on platform above) push the dynamite to the top of the drill hole.  Dummy bags were put in last to plug the hole and ensure a successful blast.  Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1974.

The most mindless job was filling dummy bags with loose clay used for stemming plugs.  After loading a drill hole with a dozen sticks of dynamite, the sausage-sized, clay-filled, paper bags were punched into the end of the hole.  This focused the energy of the explosive force to blast intact coal into thousands of smaller pieces.   Otherwise, the explosion would blow out the bottom of the drill hole, like a firecracker dud.  Dummy bags were in constant use during mining, so I spent hours bagging up a week’s supply or more.

Bill Kombol filling dummy bags and placing the finished sausage-sized bags into an empty dynamite box.  A “dummy bag” was a paper sack filled with clay or shale and used to stem drill holes. The dummy bag was about the same size as a dynamite stick.  After the drill hole was filled with dynamite, several dummy bags were tamped tightly as stemming, so that the dynamite blast would break and loosen the coal rather than simply blow out the end of the hole. “Stemming” means to tamp, plug, or make tight, to ensure a successful shot.  Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1974.

One shift, bored and alone in the crosscut, I turned off my miner’s lamp to see if my eyes could fully adjust to the dark.  It was an experiment.  After 10 minutes, I slowly drew my hand towards my eyes guessing ambient light would illuminate the outline of the appendage, but there was nothing – complete and total darkness.  There was no sound beyond my breathing.  The lack of sight and sound that far below the earth’s surface conjured feelings I’ve never forgotten.

People often asked what it was like working underground.  The best part was a constant temperature somewhere around 50º. There was little air movement except for a slight breeze from fans that ventilated the mine.  We didn’t have to worry about rain, as it was dry except for a stream of underground water that accumulated in a ditch next to the hanging wall.  It flowed to a sump and was pumped outside.  The mine tunnels were supported by a three-piece timber set, consisting of two uprights supporting a cross beam log all tied together by an overhead roof of rugged boards, called lagging.  It was a comfortable working environment, save for the fact everything you touched was black.

At 7 pm, work stopped for our dinner break.  I moseyed down to the hoist room where a pot-bellied coal stove kept the tin shack warm.  On rare occasions, the miners came up from below to warm themselves and join us.  But most nights it was just me and the hoist man, either Roy Darby, Bill McLoughry, my cousin, Bob Morris, or sometimes Frank ManowskiPee Wee, the dirty black mine dog hung out in the hoist room.

George Savicke, right eats his lunch while Tony Basselli toasts his sandwich on the pot-bellied coal stove in the hoist room. That night the two miners came out from below for their dinner break.  November 1974.

Dinner break was a time to relax, chat, and eat the meal Mom prepared 12 hours earlier.  Sometimes she packed homemade soup in a thermos, but more often a meat and cheese sandwich, which I toasted atop the hot stove.  I was talkative and conversations with the old coal miners took curious turns.  Almost to a man, they told me to get an education and stay out of the mines.

Following our half-hour pause, it was back to work until 11 pm when our shift ended.  Then I dragged my tired body, covered with sweat and coal dust, down to the wash house where we showered on concrete floors, under three side-by-side spigots.  It was like traveling back to a shoddy version of a junior high locker room.  The hot showers felt good, as did donning clean clothes you’d changed from eight hours earlier.

Pee Wee, the hoist room mine dog carrying a miner’s lunch box ,then seeking attention and perhaps a snack from the miners. Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1974.

Each night, your work clothes were hung from hooks on a wire basket, with gloves and hard hat placed inside.  A chain and pulley hauled the gear to the eve of the wash house where heat naturally accumulated.  If your clothes were wet, they’d be warm and toasty by the following day.  Each Friday, I brought my dirty garments home for Mom to wash.

I was in my car by 11:20 pm for the 20-minute drive back to Enumclaw.  I brushed my teeth and plopped into the same bed I’d slept in since sixth grade.  Falling to sleep each night was the easiest part of my day.  Six hours later, it started all over again – up for breakfast, in my car, and driving to the U.W.

On weekends, I’d sleep till 11 or noon.  I had no life outside of school and work.  All my friends were away so largely I kept to myself.  Some Saturday nights, I walked to the Chalet Theater to see a movie.  But mostly I studied, typed papers, and prepared to face Monday.

After two college quarters and more than seven months of this routine, I was burned out.  Fortunately, the underground coal mine was preparing to shut down.  My night-shift job on the picking table phased out shortly after the start of the spring quarter.  I completed my senior year living in Enumclaw but no longer working at the mine.

When the Rogers #3 mine finally closed, a retirement party was held featuring a cake with all Palmer personnel, who were part of the last underground coal mine in Washington State written in the frosting. 1975.

In addition to my regular Econ classes, I took a one-credit P.E. in tennis and a two-credit course on nutrition.  But my favorite class spring quarter was a three-credit course entitled the Living Theater.  We studied drama, went to plays, and wrote reviews of those we saw.  It was my favorite college class and fittingly my last.

During those days of school and nights of work, my dreams were filled with fears – of papers not completed and exams I didn’t understand.  Remarkably, I scored all A’s, and only one B that year.  Slowly my life recovered as I took pride in a fat bank account.  It’s easy saving money when living at home with no time to spend it.

For more than a year prior, I’d suffered an emotionally embarrassing case of facial acne.  I felt ugly.  But nothing Dr. Homer Harris, a noted dermatologist prescribed seemed to work.  I stopped getting haircuts and grew my hair out.  To hide my pimpled face, I quit shaving.  Perhaps it was the release from stress or maybe shaving irritated my skin.  But the acne lessened and within a few months disappeared.  I began to feel human again.

I graduated that June, with a B.A. in Economics.  I was tired of college.  My attachment to fraternity brothers dwindled and I abandoned the academic scene.  I had no interest in attending commencement.  My sister graduated from high school that same year, so the folks wanted to throw a party for the both of us.  I declined their offer and also pointedly skipped graduation ceremonies.  My diploma arrived in the mail four months later.

Four years of study and 195 college credits produced this Bachelor of Arts in Economics, mailed to me several months later, as I had no interest in attending graduation ceremonies.

A few relatives and two high school teachers sent congratulatory cards. My Grandma Kombol, a school teacher for 44 years gave me Webster’s Third International, a 13-pound dictionary I still cherish.  I loafed all summer.  I bought a motorcycle in August and moved to Lincoln City that fall.  There I collected unemployment checks, read books, and walked on the beach.

Working at a coal mine my senior year of college was an experience I’ll never forget.  It was a lonely existence within a beehive of perpetual motion.  My life was a rolling slog in squirrel-cage.  That choice shaped my life, unlike anything before or since.  Perhaps the Stoic philosopher, Seneca said it best, “Things that were hard to bear are sweet to remember.”

The mine and the old miners are now all gone.  All that remains of Rogers #3 is the weather-beaten washhouse.  Still to these memories I remain eternally grateful – the miners with whom I worked, the hours spent driving to and fro, the classes attended, and college papers written.  Textbook pages studied, the picking table, cement-floor showers, and the sense of freedom that spring when released from the whirlwind into a world of plays and theater.

Of those days long-ago, this memory I shall never forget – dinnertime in the hoist room, standing beside a hot coal stove, and tasting the melted cheese on the sandwich Mom lovingly packed for me.

* * *

After loafing all summer, bumming that fall in Lincoln City and cashing unemployment checks, seven months later, I came back to work for Palmer. Bill Kombol in Enumclaw helping the company relocate the Stergeon cement  bins to Black Diamond for use at the coal mine wash plant. Photo by Charlie Falk, January 1976.

 

 

 

Categories
History

Cal Bashaw: A Life Well Lived

The day he graduated from Kent High School, his mom took him to lunch.  There she announced, “From now on, you’re on your own.”  He spent that night in the basement of Mrs. Shaffer’s home, the mother of the man, Marie Bashaw would soon divorce.  The next day, Calvin Frank Bashaw started a journey that ended on Sept. 29, 2021, several months past his 101st birthday.

Cal Bashaw at Kent High School.

Cal Bashaw was born June 19, 1920, in Edmonton, Alberta to a French-Canadian father, Reuben Bashaw (formerly Beauchesne) and Scandinavian mother, Marie Caroline Peterson.  He died in Enumclaw, his adopted hometown since 1966.  Cal’s early years were spent in Renton at the Sartori School, then Hillman City where he attended Columbia Grade School.  Cal was 13 when his father died in 1933.  His older brother, Ed had already left home.

When he and his mother moved to Kent in 1935, Cal was a scrawny boy of 15 who barely made the football team, and was quickly ignored as undersized.  The following summer, he labored at his uncle’s sawmill on the Frazier River, 60 miles east of Prince George.  His job was “dogging the carriage” where he worked 10-hour shifts alongside stout mill hands, ate hearty meals in the mess hall, and slept in the camp barracks.  Cal’s summer labors earned him $45, of which $16 purchased his first car, a Model A Ford coupe.  Kent’s legendary coach, Claude French took note of the now brawny Bashaw boy and he became starting tackle on the football team.

Cal and his Model A Ford, purchased  for $18 with summer wages from working at his uncle’s sawmill on the Frazier River.

A few days after that graduation day lunch, Cal turned 18 and started work at the National Bank of Washington in Kent.  Banking was not his calling, so he next labored in a cold storage plant earning enough to start school that fall at Willamette University in Salem.  He secured room and board through a job set up by the college and the following summer worked at J.C. Penney in Port Angeles.  But in those late years of the Great Depression money was short, so he left college with plans to reenter after earning enough to pay his way.

Next came jobs cleaning and remodeling kitchens, which led to a position with Boyles Bros. Diamond Drilling at the Holden copper and gold mine in Stehekin.  Deep underground, he and a partner drilled exploratory holes allowing mine engineers to chart the course of mining. He earned $.75 per hour plus room and board in the remote mining camp located at the upper end of Lake Chelan.  As war against Germany and Japan approached, work becoming more plentiful so Cal hired out to Siems Drake to help build a Naval Station in Sitka, Alaska.  He learned to run a P & H shovel and became the youngest man to earn his union card in the Operator’s Engineers, Local 302.  At $1.75 per hour, Cal was earning so much money he had to open a bank account.

Cal and Varian in Sitka, Alaska, shortly after Cal earned his union card in 1942.

Secure in his potential to support a wife, Cal reached out to the girl he left behind in Washington.  Her name was Varian Graham of Kent, and in early 1942, he sent a telegram asking her for her hand in marriage.  No response came for Varian had another boyfriend in Seattle.  Cal booked passage on a southbound boat to help make up her mind.  Varian’s mother advised her 20-year-old daughter, “You can’t get along with him and you can’t get along without him, so give it a try –you can always come home.”  They were married on April 12, 1942, Varian’s 21st birthday, and remained so for 58 years until her death on November 10, 2000 at age 79.

After a short honeymoon in San Francisco, the newlyweds moved to Juneau where Varian worked for the territorial treasurer, while Cal operated a shovel for Guy F. Atkinson on the Al-Can Highway.  A few months later, Cal received his draft notice so joined the Air Force to become a pilot.  He never got through flight training as World War II wound down and Cal was honorably discharged at the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.  Back in Washington, Cal began selling heavy construction machinery for Clyde Equipment, then joined Northern Commercial (now NC Machinery) at their Caterpillar department in Anchorage.  Now with two children, Jill and Win, Cal turned his attention to building his family a three-bedroom home of his own design, at night and on weekends.

The Bashaw family: Win, Cal, Varian, and Jill in Anchorage, circa 1954.

Cal then took the biggest risk of his still young life – he mortgaged his home to start a business repairing and selling heavy equipment.  The family lived frugally, while Cal worked long hours.  Bashaw Equipment Company established a consignment sales relationship with Morrison-Knudsen, a civil engineering and construction company based in Boise, Idaho, who had large contracts in Alaska.  It was during this period he met Dwight Garrett, an entrepreneurial inventor prowling through Alaska seeking used cranes and shovels to remanufacture into logging equipment back in Enumclaw.

Cal at the Bashaw Equipment Co.’s Anchorage yard  during the early 1960s.

Cal’s company prospered and the family moved to a home in a new development on Telequana Drive in Anchorage.  Bashaw Artic Machinery was next founded to sell Snow Trac vehicles manufactured in Sweden.  On Good Friday, March 27 1964 at 5:36 pm, all hell broke loose as did the Bashaw house.  The Great Alaska Earthquake, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale left their home hanging from a cliff and Cal’s businesses hanging in the balance.  The home was condemned but the family was safe.  Cal related the family’s experiences through first-hand reports, one of which was published in the Kent News Journal.  One of Cal’s maxims came from this experience, “You can never really appreciate a gain until you have suffered a loss.”

A year later, Cal was diagnosed with colon cancer, which previously cursed other members of the Bashaw family.  His businesses were sold, and the family moved to Enumclaw in 1966.  There he reconnected with Dwight Garrett, the owner of Garrett Tree Farmers, whose articulated skidders revolutionized the logging industry.  The two formed a handshake business relationship investing in land, which lasted the rest of Garrett’s remarkable life.

Cal Bashaw in front of one of Dwight Garrett’s Tree Farmers, the skidder that revolutionized logging in the 1960s.

Cal joined Dwight on the Board of Directors at Cascade Security Bank, which Garrett founded in 1964 to compete with First National Bank of Enumclaw, because he didn’t like how the old guard operated the town’s only financial institution.  There Cal met a widow, Pauline Kombol with whom he forged a union in 2001, a year after Varian passed away.  Their relationship lasted a decade and ended with Pauline’s death in January 2011, the same day Cal attended the funeral of his daughter, Jill Alverson.

Pauline Kombol & Cal at her 80th birthday celebration in Arizona, March 2007.

When Garrett decided that Cascade Security Bank needed a new home, it was Cal whom Dwight selected to choose a new design for the building after the original architect’s plans were found too grandiose and expensive.  Cal threw himself into the project and in 1980 had it built for one-third the projected cost of the abandoned design.  That building stands at the corner of Griffin and Porter in Enumclaw and since 1996 has been a branch of Green River Community College.

On his deathbed in Aug. 2005, Dwight called Cal into his room asking him to be Executor of his estate, likely the largest the small town of Enumclaw has ever seen.  Dwight’s last words to Cal, “You are someone I know I can trust.”  Cal was 85 years old and it took him till 2017 to complete the undertaking Garrett assigned.  By then Cal was 97, yet still living on his own, driving to the store, and enjoying days out and evenings with friends.  One of his great joys of life was eating strawberry shortcake with whipped cream on his birthday, each June 19th when local strawberries ripen.

Cal on his 100th birthday with a giant strawberry short cake, June 19, 2020.

Cal Bashaw completed his assignment on earth in a manner that exemplified his life.  Sensing time was growing short, Cal accepted his fate with a Stoic resolve and a cheerful heart.  Friends and relatives came to say their final goodbyes, while he remained alert and communicative to the end.  In his last days, Cal spoke mostly of thankfulness, of a life well-lived, and for the family and friends he’d served, as they served him at his passing.  He left behind a written account of his life from which this obituary was drawn.  It’s a detailed story of hard work, dedication, and love of family.

Cal Bashaw departed from this life grateful, content, and fulfilled.  He carried no regrets.  Nearing death, he held hands with those who visited and thanked each for their kindness, while thanking God for the good life he lived.

Cal, happy, content, and with a smile on his face, days before saying goodbye for the last time.

Cal was preceded in death by his wife, Varian and his beloved daughter, Jill Alverson. He is survived by a son, Win Bashaw of Texas, his faithful son-in-law, Bruce Alverson of Enumclaw; granddaughters, Brynn Dawson (Dean) of Klickitat, Tess Heck (Brian) of Lake Tapps, Kalyn Gustafson (Jake) of Seattle, and Katie Smith of Arizona; great-grandchildren, Hunter Dawson, Beau Dawson, Max Hollern, Olivia Hollern, Elle Gustafson, and Emmett Gustafson.