July 5, 1953

July 5, 1953 – Baby Billy’s Birth

Seventy years ago today, Pauline Kombol bore her second son.  Twelve months earlier, she buried her first daughter.  Paula Jean lived for but two days.  Paula’s father, Jack was sad.  Pauline was devastated.

Paula Jean’s gravestone is in the Enumclaw cemetery about 50 feet from her parents.

Just over a year later, the Kombol family gathered at Lake Retreat for their annual Fourth of July picnic.  By late afternoon, Pauline’s father-in-law, Papa Tony Kombol had indigestion that he blamed on the baked beans. The next day after hearing Pauline had her baby, Tony, in his distinct Croatian accent said, “It must have been the beans.”

The boy was delivered on a Sunday at 5:04 pm at Seattle’s Doctor’s Hospital by Dr. Albert Lee with nurse, Anne Green in attendance.  A year and one day later, on July 6, 1954, Pauline welcomed his baby sister, Jeanmarie into the world.  For Billy and Jeanie Kombol, born on the 5th and 6th of July, Independence Day would always be the kickoff to their birthday celebrations.

As Pauline rested comfortably, her dad, John H. Morris stopped by to ask what she planned to name her son.  Pauline had spent so much of her pregnancy praying for a healthy baby, that she’d given little thought to a name, either boy or girl.  The boy’s grandfather, John H. Morris provided the answer – his first name would be William, in honor of his own brother, Bill, and the middle name John, after him.  In 1982, that baby boy, William John Kombol assumed the same position as head of the family company, that his grandfather held for 30 years following Palmer Coking Coal’s founding in 1933.

As Pauline held her 7-pound, 12-ounce baby, she saw his eyes were blue and his hair was brown.  The ‘Kombol, Boy’ record completed by Nurse Green listed his length at 20.5 inches with a head circumference of 13.5 inches.  Billy, as he came to be known spent the first week of his life at Doctor’s Hospital, whose original façade and entrance at 9th and University is now a part of the Virginia Mason Medical Center on  First Hill.  The bill for the delivery, anesthesia, nursery, pharmacy, and lab work, plus a six-day hospital stay came to $193.40.

The hospital invoice shows details of Pauline and Billy’s six-day stay in the hospital.

Letters of congratulations poured in from Aunt Nancy & Uncle Bill Morris (his namesake); Lloyd & Lucile Qually; Palma Weflen, Yvonne & Keith Grennan; Rose & Woodrow Gauthier; Wilfred & Wilma St. Clair; Marian Dahl, and Aunt Ruth Forest.  Pauline’s mother, Marie mailed her a letter every day.  Pauline kept all of them.

That week’s visitors to the hospital included his Grandma Marie & Grandpa John Morris; Aunt Nancy Morris, Aunt Nola Fontana, Aunt Alice & Uncle Jack Morris; Palma Weflen, Lucile Qually, Grandma Lulu Kombol & Aunt Dana Zaputil; plus Billy Guerrini with his Daddy, Jack.  Bill Guerrini was a close childhood friend of Jack back in their Kangley days.  Guerrini often told the story that Jack’s son was named after him.

The baby record completed by the hospital nurse with Baby Billy’s footprints. The booklet had several pages.

On July 11, Pauline and baby Billy left the hospital and traveled several miles north to Aunt Nola’s home in Lake City.  That Saturday night, Jack picked Pauline and Billy up driving them to the family’s rental home in Selleck.  By Monday morning, Jack was back at work as a truck driver for Palmer Coking Coal.

Pauline poured all her love into the baby boy at that small Selleck home.  It was built in 1912 to house workers of the long-since-closed sawmill. There she nurtured and cuddled Billy to ward off a repeat tragedy and heal the loss of Paula Jean.  So, all the love she hadn’t buried with Paula was invested in Billy.

And that’s how William John Kombol grew up, surrounded by love and affection.  As that grown boy writes another chapter in his story of scenes from a charmed life.

Pauline with Billy in the living room of their Selleck home, his milk bottle on the lamp-stand, Sept. 1953.

Who’s who among those named:

Pauline Lucile Morris (1927-2011) – Pauline was born the 4th of four children to John H. Morris and Nina Marie Morris.  Both of her parents were children of Welsh coal miners named Morris who immigrated to America.  She grew up in Durham, the coal mining town where so many of her Morris uncles and aunts lived, as did dozens of miners and their families.  Pauline moved to Enumclaw at age six, graduated from EHS in 1945, and married Jack Kombol in late 1950.

Laverne Shercliffe “Jack” Kombol (1921-1979) – Jack was born the 4th of five children to Tony Kombol and Lulu Shircliff.  He was struck with polio at age six so didn’t attend school for two years.  Jack dropped out of high school at age 19 and moved to Seattle where he lived with his sister, Nola, and drove trucks for the garbage companies.  He bounced around at a number of jobs but mostly worked in the woods driving logging trucks and running equipment.  Jack joined Palmer Coking Coal Co. in June 1952, the same month Paula Jean died.  He died of pancreatic cancer at age 57.

Paula Jean Kombol (1952-1952) – Paula died two days after birth and is buried in the Enumclaw cemetery about 50 feet from her parent’s grave.

Tony Kombol (1884-1967) – Jack’s father, Tony emigrated from Croatia at age 17 and made his way to Roslyn where he joined two brothers as coal miners. Tony worked at the Ravensdale mine, avoiding the 1915 explosion that claimed 31 lives.  The family moved to Arizona and Montana where he worked the copper mines before returning to Washington.  A 1925 explosion nearly blinded him and he could no longer work.  For the next 42 years, he kept track of their small farm and worked around the home.

Lulu (Shircliff) Kombol (1885-1976) – Jack’s mother, Lulu was born in Walla Walla to Jennie Brown, age 17 who was seven months pregnant.  Jennie married William Shircliff, an Army paymaster clerk, who abandoned his wife and daughter after eight months of marriage.  Lulu’s mother remarried and she grew up on a Cowlitz River farm.  Lulu attended Bellingham Normal School attaining her teacher’s certificate and eventually moved to Ravensdale where teachers were paid more.  After bearing five children, she went back to teaching, primarily in Cumberland and Selleck schools after Tony’s mine accident  In total, Lulu taught for more than 50 years before retiring at age 80.

John Henry Morris (1894-1973) – Pauline’s father was born in Wilkeson into a large family of coal miners.  John’s mother and father emigrated from Wales shortly after their marriage.  His father and brothers all worked in the coal mines, eventually rising through the ranks and starting their own coal mining company, then a second named Morris Brothers. John with three brothers and one investor started Palmer Coking Coal Co. in August 1933, during the darkest days of the Great Depression.

Nina Marie (Morris) Morris (1890-1967) – Pauline’s mother was born in the coal mining town of Franklin.  Her father, Joshua was a coal miner who in 1880 was on the prospecting party that discovered coal seams in the Green River Gorge that led to the establishment of Black Diamond and Franklin.  Shortly after Marie’s birth, the family moved to Osceola where Joshua farmed in the summer and mined coal in the winter.  Marie and her two sisters, Lena and Ruth graduated from Buckley H.S. and all three become school teachers. She met John while teaching in Wilkeson where he was working in the coal mines.

Uncle Bill Morris (1897-1979) – William “Bill” Morris was the closest brother to John H. Morris, thus a great uncle to his namesake, Bill Kombol.  Bill Morris was a jack-of-all-trades around the coal mines, working primarily on the surface in the preparation plants.

Aunt Nancy (Boots) Morris (1899-1969) – Nancy and her husband Bill lost two children, each of whom died shortly after childbirth.  Great Aunt Nancy often babysat the Kombol children in their Four Corners home.

Lloyd & Lucile Qually – Lloyd was the head mechanic for Pacific States Lumber, the company that owned the town of Selleck.  He held that job until the mill closed in 1939.  Lucile was a school teacher with Lulu Kombol at the old Selleck School that burned down in 1929.  Eventually, they lived in the town’s biggest home, once occupied by Frank Selleck.  The Quallys were good friends of Jack and Pauline.

Palma Weflen – Census records show she was a 55-year-old widow and nurse living with a family in Seattle. Most likely she was a kind of a midwife to Pauline.

Yvonne (Cross) & Keith Grennan – Yvonne was one of Pauline’s best friends from high school.  Her husband Keith was a brother to Dolly (Grennan) Fugate another of Pauline’s good friends.

Rose (Kombol) Gauthier (1920-2001) was Jack’s first cousin who moved from Roundup Montana when she was 16 to live with the Kombol family in Kangley.  She went to work at the Durham Hotel, which was managed by Jonas and Maggie Morris, John H., and Bill Morris’ older brother.  Rose married Woodrow Gauthier (1913-2001) (pronounced goat-chee), a logger and later a sawmill owner.  Jack worked for Gauthier Brothers Lumber & Logging Co. on and off for 10 years.

Wilfred & Wilma St. Clair were next-door neighbors to the home of Tony & Lulu Kombol, and friends with Jack & Pauline.  Two of their sons, Bill and Dick St. Clair often played with the Kombol boys.

Marian Dahl (1912-2005) was Pauline’s cousin, though almost a generation older.

Ruth (Morris) Forest (1892-1968) was Pauline’s aunt and Nina Marie Morris’ sister, hence Bill’s great-aunt.  She was born on the Fourth of July.

Jack Morris (1918-2007) was Pauline’s brother and Alice (Hanson) Morris (1920-2016) was his wife, hence Bill’s uncle and aunt.

Dana (Kombol) Zaputil (1918-2012) was Jack’s oldest sister, married to Frank Zaputil (1914-1984), hence Bill’s aunt and uncle.

Nola (Kombol) Fontana (1919-2017) was Jack’s older sister, married to Chester Fontana (1916-1971), hence Bill’s aunt and uncle.  Chester’s Fontana relatives, who during Prohibition were involved in bootlegging gifted Chester & Nola their Lake City home in 1940.  When Jack moved to Seattle to drive garbage trucks during the war years, he stayed at Chester and Nola’s Lake City home paying for his room and board.  Twenty-five years later, when Bill took a bank job in Seattle he stayed with his Aunt Nola and paid her for room and board.  Nola lived in that home for 77 years before dying there in 2017.

Billy Guerrini, at age 97 is still alive and lives in the family home in Kangley.  Jack was best friends with his brother Martin “Fats” Guerrini, but after Fats died during WW-II, Jack and Billy became close friends.  When Jack drove to the hospital to see his new baby boy name Billy, Billy Guerrini came in with him.


‘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.


First Tastes of Mortality

“Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one, a moment, in childhood when it first occurred to you that you don’t go on forever.” – Tom Stopppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

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.

History Musings

The Longest Cab Ride or How I Fell in Love with Lincoln City

The veil lifts slowly like summer fog from a morning beach. Memories creep back but only in fits and spurts.  I still can’t piece it all together, but the puzzle recently unfolded after discovery of chronicles from his probate.  Yet a teenager I was to play a bit part in the tragicomedy that became my grandfather’s final years.  His Oregon Coast beach cabin was center stage and like any drama the site of my several scenes.  This magical place was destined to play an ongoing role in my life.     

My first stay in Lincoln City was nearly two weeks long in June 1971.  There’d be more visits to that cabin on a knoll Grandpa increasingly called home.  Twenty months later I was attending his funeral.  This is an incomplete tale of those days, his decline, and the first stirrings of my love affair with Lincoln City.  Some bits are lost through mists of time but the central story is intact.  For me it all began a few days after graduating from high school.

The Lincoln City cabin on a knoll in the early 1970s.

A long bus ride from Enumclaw delivered me to the DeLake bowling alley.  It’s still there just a stone’s throw past the bridge over the D River, advertised as the World’s Shortest – river that is, not bridge.  DeLake was one of five merged towns rechristening themselves Lincoln City on the 100th anniversary of their namesake’s death.  The place even had an amusement park of sorts built around an eatery called Pixie Kitchen.  Grandpa picked me up in his Lincoln Continental.  He liked big, luxury cars.  My cousin Dave Falk was at his side. 

My grandfather John H. Morris circa 1971, but most contemporaries called him Jack.

The man of whom I speak was John H. Morris, but most adults called him Jack.   I called him Grandpa.  Through my teen years he played an active part in our family’s life particularly after his wife of five decades entered a nursing home for three years of mental decline.  Her room at Bethesda Manor on Jensen Street was a couple blocks from our Enumclaw home.  Even as a boy I’d noticed signs of fading memory. The sweet grandmother who once bathed me and later taught me pinochle, slowly lost her ability to think.  As she quietly slipped into a private prison of mindlessness, she no longer knew the people she loved.  My Mom called it “hardening of the arteries.”  Today we call it Alzheimer’s. 

During her internment, Grandpa sought camaraderie from our family.  He treated us, especially Barry and me to recurring weekend dinners at Anton’s in Puyallup, Harold’s in Enumclaw, or the Elks in Auburn.  Dining out with Grandpa held few limits – anything on the menu, plus a Roy Rogers or Shirley Temple to accompany the cocktail he’d order.  Life with Grandpa was all about motion: sleepovers at his big home; drives to Wilkeson as he reminisced of his youth; or trips to San Francisco to catch a few Giants’ games, ride cable cars, and feed pigeons in Union Square.  

Once he took us to Carson hot springs on the Wind River in Oregon.  It was a 200-mile drive to a dated resort which hadn’t changed since the 1930s.  A dozen small cabins lined the road leading to a stately two-story Hotel St. Martin with a dining room featuring meat and potato dinners, served family-style at large tables to a clientele of geriatrics – except two teenagers: Barry and me. 

We took hot mineral baths in cast iron tubs resting on immaculate tile floors which looked every bit the part of a bygone European spa. We gagged down sulfuric-tasting water to “help sweat the poison out,” as Grandpa put it.  Occasional bouts of gout from rich food and high living no doubt contributed to his need.  At age 15, I felt no particular passion for sweating poison, but went along with the ritual and succumbed to the jelly-fish induced numbness of the hot bath experience.  In our sparse cabin without television or radio, we played cribbage games under a bare hundred-watt bulb and waited for old-fashioned dinners, sure to include gravy and string beans.    

The Hotel St. Martin at Carson hot springs in the 1930s, though not much had changed when we paid a visit with Grandpa in the late 1960s.

Marie Morris (his wife and my grandmother) died on the last day of summer 1967.  Without job or spouse Grandpa sought new horizons.  He traveled south spending time in the desert with old friends and meeting new ones.  He visited the homes of his four children, all living nearby.   He indulged the 19 grandchildren they spawned.  His grand white house on the west end of McHugh Avenue, where Jack and Marie raised four children and once hosted large family parties, was now a lonely outpost.  His days there were reduced to caring for the lawn and tending dahlias. 

Not much remained in that empty home and he knew it.  Always on the go, he couldn’t let go.  A burning drive for control thrust him towards new vistas.  So he found new ways to satisfy his wanderlust. But that took money, which a lifetime of business success handsomely provided.

Grandpa Jack & Grandma Marie enjoy a night on the town in San Francisco, March 1959.

Friendly with the ladies he enjoyed the companionship of several women. Maud, an attractive descendant of Columbia River Native Americans fancied his company as he did hers.  But Maud remained a friend.  He fell for another named Kathleen who went by Kay, and discovered too late that business acumen doesn’t necessarily extend to second wives.  What developed was an oft-told story.  Rich man, lonely upon his wife’s death falls under the spell of a gold-digging widow whose chief skill consists of convincing him to spend money on her.  He suspects too late her ulterior motives as she cashes tickets to wealth.  As to the particularities of any of this, I was yet unaware.

Back at Lincoln City in June 1971, Grandpa found himself in the company of two grandsons and oozed the charismatic charm I’d known him for all my life.  The grandfather upon whose lap I sat as a child, sipping beer from his 6-oz. glass.  The grandpa I joined on enchanting trips to San Francisco with stays at the businessman’s hotel where his greatest deals were forged a decade earlier.  The seasoned card player who carved a fine hand of cribbage and taught me the basic skill points, but more importantly the pace and banter of the game.  The grandpa I admired, but whose fiery temper could turn on a dime.  

The three of us made an odd party –– a 17-year-old, freshly graduated senior; a 27-year-old bachelor with no particular direction; and the 76-year-old retired businessman with a scheming second wife, from whom he alternately sought comfort or escape.  Sometimes he’d secrete himself in the bedroom for long conversations.  Back then I didn’t know with whom he spoke or why. 

Each morning Grandpa walked uptown for coffee at the bakery.  And back to the cabin relaxing with Dave, who was out of the Navy, on unemployment, and loafing.  They waited patiently for me to arise for I was fully capable of sleeping till 11 am.  We were frequently visited by Jimmy, a six-year-old boy who lived next door with his single mother in a crumbling 400-square foot cabin, a rental relic from the 1920s. 

Grandpa bought his 1,200-square foot Lincoln City home with a stunning ocean view in August 1969 for $16,500. The purchase was made during one of many estrangements from his covetous new wife.  That summer Barry cleaned out the contents from the 1926 home, filled with boxes of memories from former owners, as he helped Grandpa move in.

Jones’ Colonial Barker on Hwy 101. It’s still there but now called My Petite Sweet.

Grandpa, Dave and I led an unhurried existence – scenic drives up and down those “twenty miracle miles” of coastline in his Lincoln Continental, followed by games of cribbage, walks on the beach, and afternoon siestas.  I skim-boarded the flat sandy beach and braved cold Pacific waves just to prove I could.  By day, we lived on a diet of cheese, crackers, peanuts, and fresh crab from Barnacle Bill’s.  Grandpa and Dave drank their afternoon beer.  I drank my Pepsi’s poured into a Pilsner glass kept cold in the freezer. 

By early evening we drove to classic old restaurants for dinner – those kinds of places where retirees enjoyed highballs before a steak dinner or seafood platter.  We rotated our meals between a small circle of staid establishments including Mrs. Miller’s, Surf Rider, and the Spouting Horn Inn in Depot Bay.  But Pixie Kitchen with its kitsch atmosphere and deep-fried seafood was my favorite, and Grandpa was happy to oblige.  It was a style of living to which one could easily grow accustomed.  The weather on the coast even cooperated showcasing fair skies and warm sunshine which burned the morning fog to submission. 

Pixieland on Hwy 101 in the 1960s. Its main attraction was the Pixie Kitchen.

Seven years retired, Grandpa’s business drive remained.  He mused of buying the storied Jones’ Colonial Bakery, the quaint corner cafe on Hwy 101 which had served the Ocean Lake district of Lincoln City since 1946.  Grandpa contemplated installing his grandson as baker.  His acquisitive self was certainly getting the better of his senses.  Didn’t he notice a late adolescent who rather enjoyed sleeping in?  Didn’t he realize his 17-year-old grandson was bound for college in three short months and held no dreams of awaking before the sun to bake bread?  Whose chief interest in baking was eating the Colonial Bakery’s signature treat – Sailor Jack muffins? 

As his bakery dream waned so did my senior trip.  I couldn’t have ordered up a better fortnight.  I said goodbye to Lincoln City, having fallen for its beach town charms.  Days later I began my summer job selling popsicles from a three-wheeled Cushman scooter, and then off to my first year of college.  Three more times I ventured to Lincoln City in the company of Grandpa, and once without.  I was to become his part-time minder and he would be my ward.  But that wasn’t apparent to me then.

A year earlier, second-wife Kay convinced Grandpa to sell his family home of 35 years and redeploy proceeds towards two new homes, one at her native Marysville and the other in Palm Springs.  Fur coats, cars, and jewelry were similarly acquired as community property with Jack providing the property and Kay claiming community.  She persuaded him to buy quite a few things she was destined to enjoy.  A woman on her fourth husband possesses certain advantages in this sort of game. 

In late summer before starting college, cousin, Dave and I headed south in his Triumph TR6.  We traveled Oregon 99-West and stopped in McMinnville where I looked up Patti Sloss, an EHS classmate and college freshman at Linfield where they start school early.  Dave and I dined at one of those old-time Shakey’s Pizza parlors.  It was dark inside as we sat on heavy wood benches eating pizza off rustic tables and watching Laurel & Hardy movies played continuously. 

In Lincoln City I was anxious to join Dave at the nearby Old Oregon tavern, then a hangout for long hairs and hippies.  He gifted me his old Navy identification; a worn piece of green paper which served my fake ID needs during my first year of college even though my alleged age was 28 and my hair color red. 

On our next rendezvous, Grandpa was without car, having gifted his Lincoln Continental to satisfy his wife’s birthday wish.  Here’s how Kay put it in a later court filing: “Nov. 21, 1971 – My birthday present was a transfer of Lincoln car title to me.”  A few weeks earlier Barry and I visited Grandpa and met the new wife at their new home in Marysville. This was the first time this new wife was news to me, though they’d married in January 1968, a mere four months after Grandma’s passing. That afternoon in Marysville, I saw Grandpa quiver like a trapped bird.  This wasn’t the dynamic man I’d spent a pleasant vacation with in Lincoln City five months prior.

That Christmas, Grandpa joined our family and a plan was hatched for me to drive him to the coast for a week.  He often sought sanctuary in that cherished retreat as the cabin was purchased in his name alone.  Its modest furnishings suggest Kay never spent time there.  I hold no memory of that trip, if not for this brief diary entry Mom produced during the ensuing legal battle following her dad’s death: “Dec. 26, 1971, Bill & Dad went to L.C. – stayed with him until Jan. 2, 1972.” 

Three months later I finished my winter quarter at U.W.  Grandpa had lately escaped Kay and Palm Springs when word filtered back that he might be Lincoln City bound.  Less than a year away from his deathbed, a hobbling dotage was creeping in. How he found his way to Lincoln City remained unclear.  Before his arrival I joined four college girls from Central led by my cousin, Robbie Falk and we traveled to the coast.  They were on a planned spring break trip, while my mission was to intercept Grandpa and bring him home. 

We rolled in late one night and the next morning set off for an adventure up the south side of the Siletz River on a narrow dirt road to find the river home used for filming “Sometimes a Great Notion” starring Paul Newman.  A young boy, perhaps 8 or 9 gave an impromptu tour explaining which scenes were filmed where.  His parents were remodeling the shell Hollywood producers had built as a backdrop for the movie and used for some interior scenes. 

Early that evening as Robbie, Chris, Cathy, Janet and I relaxed in the living room, in through the front door blows Grandpa.  A stern, shocked look on his face sent shivers down our spines, but following a short tense moment Grandpa smiles, invites us all to dinner, and down we traipsed to Mrs. Miller’s cozy restaurant whose featured dish was a crab, butter, and wine medley, eaten with toasted French bread. 

The river home on the Siletz River used in the 1971 film, “Sometimes a Great Notion” directed by Paul Newman.

Robbie and her Central girlfriends continued south on their spring break road trip.  Since Grandpa and I were without vehicle I don’t recall how we got to Portland, perhaps by bus is my best guess.  What’s clearly remembered was visiting a Toyota dealership where we test drove a Celica, then in its first year of production.  The Celica was a sporty model alright, but Grandpa had difficulty getting in and out of the car.  Plus, he no longer drove so trying out a sports car made little sense.  Lots of things were no longer making sense.  It was late so we checked into the Benson Hotel.  Grandpa always stayed at the Benson when in Portland.

The next morning in a hurry to Enumclaw, he directs the hotel clerk to summon a cab.  We hop in and the cabbie asks, “Where ya going?” Grandpa says, “Just across the river a little past Vancouver.”  North of Vancouver the same cabbie question and similar Grandpa answer, “It’s a bit further north.”  With each new fib I slink lower in the back seat.  Somewhere near Kelso the cabbie pulls over and demands, “Now where the hell are you two going?” Grandpa confesses, “Enumclaw, in the vicinity of Auburn.”  The cabbie examines his map and shouts, “That’s another 100 miles!”  A radio call is placed followed by wrangling with dispatch, until permission was granted and back on the freeway we cruised.

Two hours later the cab stops in front of our Enumclaw home.  I go to get money from Mom while the cabbie keeps Grandpa for collateral.  The fare ran to something like $130, which was a cab full of money back then.  With cabbie dismissed, Mom snaps a blurry picture preserving the moment. Around the kitchen table Grandpa and I tell the tale of how we convinced the cab to drive us from Portland to Enumclaw.  In a day or so everyone thinks it’s the funniest story ever or at least pretends to.  For me, it was an erratic adventure with an eerie premonition that a chapter in his life was ending.  Days later I was back in college for spring quarter of my freshman year.

Mom’s blurry photo of me right after the cab left our home at 1737 Franklin St.

In June, Kay coaxed Jack back to Palm Springs where his check book could be better put to use.  Their on-again, off-again relationship reconciled for a couple weeks.  But he broke and cut his toe which landed him in the Desert Hospital.  The ensuing infection triggered a health decline that first slowed and finally lassoed him. 

Dashing to escape, he checked out of the hospital, cleaned papers and belongings from their Palm Springs home, and retreated north.  Kay followed and soon filed a court action seeking guardianship of her fleeing husband.  Jack entered Seattle’s Virginia Mason for further toe treatment.  A dramatic hospital showdown between Kay and his son Evan played out in soap opera fashion.  Amidst allegations and recriminations Grandpa chose to go home to his family. 

He spent July 1972 at the compound of waterfront lots on Lake Sawyer he’d gifted his children and a favored nephew more than a decade earlier.  Our summer cabin was within that domain so he visited often.  Somewhat rejuvenated, Grandpa asked to go back to Lincoln City.  Again I was enlisted to drive south, this time with my 13-year-old cousin, Evan Jr. in tow. 

We took rides down Hwy 101, but Grandpa soon fell asleep.  We dined out, but his diabetes flared as his health faded.  Many hours were spent soaking his infected toe in Epsom salts.  We came back home a few days later.  It proved to be his last trip to the Oregon Coast and the cabin he loved.  In a week or so Grandpa was placed at a Mercer Island nursing home.

In late November, his granddaughter Roberta visited him there.  Grandpa quickly asked how she liked his new apartment.  Then in a conspiratorial voice, he explained a need to head north followed by a whispered suggestion that she could bring her car round and provide his getaway.  Robbie knew better, for she understood he wouldn’t be leaving.  But she also saw his schemes to escape that gilded cage as the only thing keeping him alive.  She speculated on how hard it must be for that hard-charging businessman to resist the call of the road and attend to business that needs tending.  She reflected on a pensive thought, “Will he ever let go of the reins?”

On February 15, 1973, John H. Morris let go of the reins.  A large funeral was held.  The coal mines he’d opened shut down for a day.  Most every coal miner who ever worked for him came to pay their respects.  A bitter probate battle emerged between the parasitic wife and his four children.  The lawsuit featured contested Wills and was fought for years.  Lawyers swallowed a fair portion of his estate before settlement was reached.  Mom received his Lincoln City home in probate; as I did from her 45 years hence. 

That’s me leaving Enumclaw in late summer 1975 to go and live in Lincoln City.

A few months following graduation from college, I moved to Lincoln City with my motorcycle and a backpack of belongings.  I collected unemployment checks as had my cousin Dave four years earlier.  I drifted aimlessly along empty beaches, and wandered through ramshackle corridors of the nearby public library.  I volunteered at the hippie food co-op by day and quaffed beers at the Old Oregon by night.  I ate the Colonial Bakery’s Sailor Jack muffins for breakfast and baked cheese cakes at home for dessert.  I watched every inning of the 1975 Cincinnati-Boston World Series.  I read novels and wrote poetry, and learned how to be alone.  After several months of introspection I returned home to Enumclaw. 

Upon leaving that house on a hill, overlooking the Pacific Ocean whose waves regularly crashed onto rocks below, I realized a tiny bit of home would always be waiting for me there.  I still do.

The home on the hill, circa 2018.

Banner photo by Oliver Kombol.