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Back in the Summer of ‘69

I didn’t get my first real six-string.  And Enumclaw’s five-and-dime was the last place this teenager wanted to be.  The allure of candy cigarettes and cheap toys had long since passed.  They may have been the best days of Bryan Adams’ life, but for me the Summer of ’69 was a middling byway on a slow road to adulthood.

Summer started off with a bang!  Literally! A Fourth of July bag of fireworks exploded on the front hood of my parent’s Ford LTD after an errant firecracker found its way in.  The following Monday, the Ltd with tarnished hood traveled three blocks to Enumclaw City Hall for my driver’s test.  Scoring 100 on the written and 96 in the car, I went home two days after my 16th birthday with a license to drive.

Woodstock Music Festival logo.

The summer of ’69 sounds so moving in retrospect – astronauts on the moon, hippies at Woodstock, Charles Manson in L.A, Kennedy on Chappaquiddick.  That wasn’t my summer.  Mine was frankly boring.  I didn’t have a full-time job.  Well, I actually had two part-time jobs: Office boy at Palmer Coking Coal manning the telephone and scale earning the princely sum of $5 for my five-hour shift. The second gig, as high school sports reporter for the Courier-Herald, I inherited from my brother, Barry.

I worked on July 5th, my 16th birthday earning $5, the cash receipt signed by my dad, Jack Kombol. It would mark the last time I ever worked on my birthday.

In the slow months of July and August, that second job meant little more than tracking down the two Franks of Enumclaw’s summer sports: Manowski and Osborn, for league scores and standings. That took all of a couple hours before Monday’s deadline.   During the rest of the week, tedium oozed.

I do remember going to the drive-in movies once at the recently opened Big ‘E” in Enumclaw and another time at Auburn’s Valley 6.  We rode in Wayne’s car.  I didn’t really see many buddies as most had jobs or played summer baseball, a sport I’d left two years prior. A very special thing did happen – one night Dad and I walked to the Roxy to see the film: “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.” It was likely the only time I went to a movie, just Dad and me.

That summer our family’s traditional vacation of one week in Grayland, and a second at Beacon Point on Hoods Canal ended.  The old-fashion cottage resort at Beacon Point shuttered and our joint vacations with the Cerne family were no more.  Those trips were the highlight of every summer since I could remember.  Barry graduated in June and headed to Alaska seeking his fortune. He returned soon enough finding out, that even in Alaska jobs don’t grow on trees.

Jeanmarie shipped out to Wilsall, Montana with her good friend, Cindy Johnson to help at her aunt’s cattle ranch.  Jeanmarie’s stay was cut short when Cindy’s grandpa died suddenly.  So the four remaining Kombols packed up and drove to Yellowstone retrieving Jean, coupled with a short tour of the park.  It seemed anticlimactic compared to our summer vacations of yesteryear.  The times they-were-a-changing.

Bill, Jack, Jeanmarie, Dana at Yellowstone, July 1969.  Mom as always was taking the picture.

I clearly remember the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 24th.  I remember not watching it.  It was an overcast day.  I bandied about the neighborhood, over at Jim Olson’s home, then here and there.  In the living room, Dad and Henry D. Gillespie, our Australian foreign exchange student sat transfixed on the sofa absorbed for hours.

Popping in that evening, I glanced at the TV then headed back outside.  I wasn’t slightly interested and had no appreciation for the magnitude of that moment – to me it seemed little more than a grainy television experience that went on for hours.  It turned out that Neil Armstrong’s one small step was viewed by more than 500 million across the globe.  In retrospect, my lack of interest was one giant failure to leap.

Henry D. Gillespie was a foreign exchange student from Australia who lived with our family for a year, from Dec. 1968 through Nov. 1969. This photo was featured in the 1969 Enumclaw High School yearbook.

Nationally, the Manson cult murders were a minor headline in the Seattle P.I., the newspaper I studiously read each morning.  Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick high-jinx was a much bigger story, which I earnestly followed.  I’d become a news junkie, with alternating subscriptions to Time magazine and U.S. News & World Report.  But, my perusal of the news was cursory – Woodstock in mid-August?  It didn’t register for me.  It wasn’t until the following year when Steve McCarty and I saw the movie that I even grasped what a music festival was.

What did register was a peevish, late-night, television personality named Bob Corcoran.  He hosted a channel 13 talk show.  Corcoran was the prototype for a mad-as-hell-and-not-going-to-take-it-anymore character, later seen in “Network.”  Half his audience was bored teenagers listening to drunken adults who called in to converse with Bob.  When teens placed a call – you could always tell – they’d make rude remarks, before the inevitable kill button and dial tone.  Between callers, Corcoran offered screeds on controversial issues, then ceaselessly promoted Tacoma’s B & I Circus store.

Bob Corcoran, our late-night TV fascination in the Summer of ’69.

That summer, our family friends, the Hamiltons were staying with us, having just moved back from London.  Their oldest son, Scott was a year older and we took over Barry’s bedroom in his absence.  There Scott and I watched Corcoran, howling at the inanities Bob spewed forth each night.  We giggled mindlessly at the mere mention of his name.  His show was so bad it made perfect sarcastic sense to our teenage-addled brains.  We even tried calling his show once but hung up after waiting on hold too long.

Corcoran later parlayed his quirky television stardom into politics by running for Congress in 1972.  His shtick was rabble-rousing, stick-it-in-their-face, populist rant, but in the primary, he was soundly defeated by Julia Butler Hansen.  How I ended up with the Elect Bob Corcoran to Congress ruler, I’ve long since forgotten.*

Corcoran used his television notoriety to promote a run for Congress, but failed miserably.

Night after night we tuned into Bob and played chess.  I’d taken up the sport during my just-ended sophomore year after reading an article in the Hornet student newspaper announcing formation of a new chess club.  My game improved quickly, landing me one of the top five boards.

The student newspaper, Hornet announcement in the Sept. 28, 1968 issue that changed my high school trajectory.

Scott Hamilton was a decent chess player who desperately wanted to win.  Late each night, we played game after game, again and again – 49 straight losses before Scott finally won.  But playing chess was just a way to pass time. Our real goal was to laugh at Bob Corcoran.

Scott Hamilton in 1967, one-year earlier when our family visited theirs in West Byfleet, a suburb of London

Amazingly, those memories are the most poignant of my summer of ’69.  The summer I turned 16, during one of the most dynamic times of the Sixties, when all the world’s charms lay before me – staying up late to watch a goofball TV talk show host and playing chess were my highlights.

All the same, everything turned out fine.  Returning to high school as a junior, my driver’s license landed me behind the steering wheel of the family’s second car, a 1965 Renault.  Our winning chess team became an important cog in my developing personality.  That semester I took an Economics class from Wes Hanson that ultimately directed my life (B.A., Econ, U.W., 1975).  Second semester I joined the Hornet staff and learned how to write.

Mr. Hanson at the lectern, a typical pose for the teacher whose Econ class led to my college major.

Another favorite, English lit was taught jointly by Miss Thompson and Mrs. Galvin.  Novels like “Catcher in the Rye” and “A Separate Peace” jolted a new sense of existential feelings through my all-to-logical heart.  “1984” and “Lord of the Flies” called into question what that heart was made of.  We read “Romeo & Juliet” out loud in class.  Franco Zeffirelli’s movie version had recently captured the nation’s attention, so our whole class attended a special showing one night at the Roxy.

Life accelerated.  The following summer, I worked 12-hour days selling popsicles, fudgesicles, and ice cream sandwiches.  High school life gave way to feelings of liberation and control.

Looking back on things, that summer of ‘69 was a quirky way station on the road through life – no longer a boy, but not yet a man.

* One day a few weeks before writing this essay, I ruffled through my desk drawer and grabbed for a straight edge.  Out came a Bob Corcoran for Congress ruler.  I have little idea how it landed there.  It came decades past from a Corcoran campaign booth brimming with swag at the Puyallup Fair.  Only serendipity can explain how that ruler appeared while writing this essay.

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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.

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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.

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Musings

A Tribute to My Mother: Pauline Lucile Kombol

“Our being in this world is not accidental.  We all have a mission to do some special work, and it is work that will honor Him and bless those around us.  If we do not find that work and do it, our life is a failure; the true end of living is not realized.   We may not learn in a moment; but step-by-step, day by day, as we go on things will be made clearer.  Those who do the smallest things well because they are God’s plan, are to be honored far above those who do great things for the world’s praise.”  – Nancy Matilda Hembree (1837-1922)

Nancy Matilda (Hembree) Snow (1837-1922)

Thus spoke Pauline’s great-grandmother, Nancy Matilda (Hembree) Snow decades before my Mother was conceived.  Pauline Lucile Morris was born to John Henry and Nina Marie, both had the last name Morris.  She was as Welsh as one could be.  Her father was a coal miner and her mother a school teacher.  Both her grandfathers and great-grandfathers worked in the coal industry.  Her great-grandmother, Nancy was a pioneer of the 1843 Oregon Trail. 

Pauline grew up in the coal mining town of Durham surrounded by an extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins most of whom worked in or around the mines.  Her family moved to Enumclaw when she was six, first to a hop farm in Osceola and later a home above Newaukum Creek.  At school she made life-long friends many of whom are here today.  She edited the school newspaper and annual, graduating from Enumclaw in 1945, just as World War II ended.  Her obituary claims she briefly attended the University of Washington.  The truth . . . for about 15 minutes

Pauline Morris, left with Shirley Stergion in front of Enumclaw High School, circa 1944.

After a short stint in Seattle, she landed back home working at the Palmer Coking Coal mine office at Four Corners.  There she pumped gas and helped with bookkeeping.  In 1950, she and Jack Kombol eloped to California and married.  Eventually the couple made their way back to Selleck, where Barry, Jeannie and I first lived, and then to Elk Coal where Dana was born, just a quarter mile from the Durham of Mom’s childhood.

Mom had six life-changing experiences: Barry, Billy, Jeannie and Dana; but two others I’d like to tell you about.  Her second baby, a daughter Paula Jean died two days after birth.  Mom used to say that after the loss of that baby, she loved the rest of us so very much, so that she would never lose another child.  One day years later, Jeannie and I rambunctiously raced around the living room, and Mother’s prized china cup collection crashed to the floor shattering every piece.  Despite her initial sadness, Mom decided then and there that she would never value any possession more than the people in her life.

Pauline holding her second son, who 58 years later read this eulogy at her funeral, Sept. 1953.

Our family moved to Enumclaw in 1958.  There Pauline joined civic life as a den mother, Camp Fire leader, election-day poll worker, raising money for the March of Dimes, helping elderly aunts, and later caring for her own mother.  There she ran the home – baking cookies, canning homemade jam, making pies – always from scratch and never with a recipe or measured ingredients.  Menus were traditional and set: Friday – fish or tuna noodle casserole; Saturday – hamburgers; Sunday – fried chicken or pot roast; Monday – meat loaf, and so on.  We never had soda pop or potato chips, but did enjoy Kool-aid and homemade frozen popsicles.  Each summer we took vacations with the Cerne’s to Grayland and Hoods Canal – I later learned that we stayed at the same Beacon Point cabins where her family vacationed when she was young.

One of the big events of our lives was the family trip to Europe in 1968.  Mom researched and found our Welsh and Croatian relatives and planned our journey through ten countries in six weeks.  Using her dog-eared copy of Europe on $10 a Day, Mom found cheap pensions and small family-run hotels to fit her tight budget.  Jack drove us across Europe in a small station-wagon jammed with six people and 13 suitcases.  We played Hearts in the backseat and listened to Radio Luxemburg with Danica stuffed back amongst the luggage.

The Kombol family portrait, 1967.

In later years we spent our summers at Lake Sawyer where Dad built a cabin.  During one particularly inebriated summer party, Mom earned the nickname ‘Carrie Nation’ when she raced around the cabin pouring out booze and opening the tap of the keg refrigerator watching cold beer spill to the ground. 

In early 1979 Jack was diagnosed with cancer and passed away within 3 weeks.  A night before he died, he called me to his bedside and said, “I want you to take care of your mother.”  Since the girls were away and Barry was married with a growing family, the primary duty of caring for Mom fell to me.  So, I frequented her home where she cooked me delicious dinners.  And, made sure I brought my laundry so she could wash it.  And, she hemmed my pants and sewed buttons on my shirts; and, always sent me home with casseroles, lentil soup, and blackberry pies.  It seemed the more I tried taking care of Mom, the more she took care of me.  And who could ever forget the summer Keith Timm Jr. moved in with Mom and me.  Then there were two of us . . . “to take care” of Mom.

Pauline and her three siblings, Evan Morris, Betty Falk, and Jack Morris, June 18, 1977.

During the early years after Dad’s death, she kept herself busy on the Enumclaw School Board and as a Director of Cascade Security Bank.  But like a caterpillar, she spun her cocoon waiting to find the wings of the butterfly she became.  And that she did.  I can’t claim credit for pushing her out of the nest – I was too busy “taking care of her.”  But off she flew – first to Seattle where she bought a condo and found friends through extension classes and her beloved movie group.  More grandchildren were born and off she went to care for them.  She enjoyed traveling and over the years took trips to Russia, China, Hungary, Italy and elsewhere.  She loved her time in Lincoln City, and eventually spent her winters, first in Palm Springs and later Scottsdale. 

Coal Miners’ Daughters: with Loretta Lynn at Sesame Street studios, circa 1983.

Around the turn of the century, a wonderful gentleman entered into Mom’s life.  His name was Cal Bashaw.  He was a widower born the same year as my Dad.  Mom and Cal had known each other from their days as bank directors.  Well, I have to admit that Cal and I have radically different styles.  When he started to “take care of” Mom; he did things like always helping her with her coat; opening doors; helping with her chair, fixing things around the house, running errands, taking her out to dinner, and always being there to care for her needs.  It seemed the more we were around Cal, the more my own lovely wife began pointing out all of Cal’s far-too-many good traits.  I started hearing things like, “Why can’t you be more like Cal?”  Basically, Cal’s caring manner made my previous efforts to “take care of” Mom look fairly absurd.

Cal Bashaw, Pauline, and grandson Henry, Christmas 2004.

But truly, Mom and Cal had a wonderful ten years together.  And if only more people were like Cal, and like Mom, the world would be a far better place. 

So, I come to the end, but also the beginning: the beginning of our lives without Pauline, without her sunshine.

Still, her light still shines – a small, bright star to guide me – to guide me through the darkness and back to life.  So until that day when my light joins hers, I will rest easily, knowing that Pauline led a good life; a life worth living; a life which blessed those around her; a life of small things done well – done not for the world’s praise; but done through an honored existence, dedicated to her friends and to her family, and lived according to God’s plan.

Pauline Morris, graduation photo – Enumclaw Class of 1945.

And, if she were here today  . . . I’ll let you complete the thought.