While traveling through Europe that year I’d set a tight budget: $10 per day, excluding travel. In London, this tiny allowance would be tested. The first night I tramped about Kings Cross station looking for economical accommodations. Most were at prices that fully consumed my budget goal. I chose the cheapest of the lot and the next day scoured classifieds looking for something under $5 per day. I avoided hostels, to be free of Americans with Eurorail passes moving about in herds. There were a hundred too many young Yanks, each backpacking through Europe with indeterminate plans to some day attend grad school when back home. They simply didn’t interest me. I wanted to live among locals.
A boarding house in northeast London at Highbury & Islington at £2.50 a night caught my eye. The exchange rate of $1.85 per pound was favorable, so the room came to a frugal $4.65 per night. It also included a full English breakfast, so that would cut down on food costs. I had a private room with a free-standing tub, sink, high ceilings, and water chamber down the hall.
The building was a sprawling Victorian affair, a bit shabby and nearly a mile from the tube stop, which meant there were no tourists in sight. In fact, the boarding house only accepted men, mostly tradesmen and laborers. Breakfast was served from 5:30 to 7:30 am in a drab, low-ceiling basement. We sat on benches at heavy wooden tables hunched over our hot breakfasts. It was the same every day: runny baked beans, greasy bacon, stewed tomatoes, bread toasted on one side, butter, marmalade, cornflakes, tea, juice, and coffee, all served cafeteria style. There was little conversation. Men of all ages sat sullenly contemplating another day’s labor. It was fine by me. I rose early, ate the hearty fare, and was out the door for my day’s adventure.
Soon after arriving, I read about a free concert at Victoria Park in east London. There were expected to be 80,000 fans to march from Trafalgar Square to Rock Against Racism, as the event was known. After observing the masses at Trafalgar I’d hopped the tube to the park. In early 1978, punk music was pretty new. I considered England’s biggest act, the Sex Pistols to be dreadful. But, the Clash were different – talented musicians with inventive lyrics, good melodies, and two front-men, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones who rocked with the best of them.
I sidled my way up front near the stage. When the Clash performed mobs of young men jumped up and down some with violent intent. From its resemblance to a pogo stick, Pogo-ing soon became a verb. I joined along, but the most rambunctious of the pack swung heads and fists so violently that I beat a quick retreat to safer spaces along the edge. Also on the Rock Against Racism program that day were: the Tom Robinson Band (political rock); Steel Pulse (reggae) and X-ray Spex (punk), with only TRB being any good.
During most days, I’d visit museums, galleries, historical monuments, fashionable squares, parks, and vibrant districts. Hyde Park, Speaker’s Corner was always a hoot, like the half-bearded wit who entertained the crowd for an hour. Towards early evening I’d gravitate to areas with cheap restaurants to peruse menus, looking for the best prix fixe value for a multi-course meal. Those deals were usually found in immigrant districts so I often dined in Indian, Pakistani, or Middle Eastern joints.
I typically planned an evening’s entertainment and often joined the London Walks around famous neighborhoods. These walks had names like Sherlock Holmes’s Baker Street or the Secret World of Jack the Ripper. You’d meet the guide at a pub. Then a dozen or so tourists followed a well-spoken Brit who guided us through the streets of London relating topical stories with anecdotal stops at key points.
At the end of the typical 90-minute tour, most of the crowd topped off their evening with a pint or two in the pub where we’d first met. Some nights I’d catch a music performance, some freely presented in a club or church. I saw a bit of theater, the one to remember being Agatha Christies’ “Mousetrap,” the world’s longest-running play having been continuously performed since 1952. I’d hope to have seen more theater, like my literary hero, Somerset Maugham did when he was a youth 80 years earlier, but ticket prices were far higher than those days when Maugham paid pennies for a show.
Afterward, I’d catch the tube back to Islington & Highbury station for the long walk home under lamp lights to my boarding house. Sometimes the station was filled with festive, red-garbed Arsenal soccer fans, as the football stadium was a 15-minute walk. Sometimes one’s thoughts conjured dire images of walking home alone at night in a foreign city. But fortunately, this area hadn’t much cause for concern as few people were out late, and the ones that were had work in the morning. Still, I stayed alert as getting jumped was never far from my mind.
One night whilst on a London Walk, I met a young Brit about my age who told me Queen was playing at Empire Pool (now Wembley Arena). The thought of spending a night at the opera with Freddy Mercury and Brian May was enticing so plans were made to meet at a certain time and place outside the arena. The bloke never showed so I bought a ticket (£2.50) and found myself witnessing one of the greatest performing bands of all time. Queen rocked most all their hits, including eight songs from “Night at the Opera” and some lesser-known personal favorites like “39” and “Love of My Life.”
My favorite hobby was reading London newspapers. Newsstands were everywhere, and it was easy to find discarded copies at any rail or subway station. I read them all: Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Evening Standard, Daily Mail, London Times (a tad too dry), and page 3 of the Sun (aficionados will understand). There were also the weekly music rags like Melody Maker and New Music Express filled with stories about rock and pop groups of the day with a listing of nightly happenings at hundreds of music venues scattered through town. Rare but welcome was the International Herald-Tribune, a joint-venture daily by the New York Times and Washington Post, bringing news of home, especially U.S. sports which weren’t often covered abroad.
I made one brief sojourn from London to Oxford to see a hometown friend, Anne Biege who was studying there. She showed me about the storied campus and we had a pint at the Eagle and Child, the pub made famous by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and fellow inklings. Anne found me a bed in her friend Tim Gallagher’s room. He was an English major with a fascination for Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene.” In an ancient cathedral, I made a brass rubbing from an armored knight. I still have it.
My two-month visa to the United Kingdom was set to expire in a few days. I’d spent a month in Wales (including one week traveling with a rugby team up the Irish coast) and nearly a month in London. Soon it was time to head back to Paris and join my sister, Danica for her birthday, then head for Spain.
Here’s the postcard I wrote home to the folks towards the end of my stay in London.
May 8, 1978
Dear Mom & Dad,
Well, I’m here in London and have been about a week and a half now. It’s a great city though I now have a much different perspective of it than I had 10 years ago. I’ve been trying to go out every night and have so far seen three plays, four movies, five rock groups (all in one day at a free open-air, Anti-Nazi concert in Victoria Park), one classical concert, and innumerable pubs. I’m living in a nice ‘dump’ in the suburb of Highbury, northwest of the city. It’s kind of a working-class boarding house for those single people on the lower end of the economic ladder. Quite comfortable, yet unremarkable, though its cheapness compensates adequately.
I’ve been really active touring and such, having taken in many of the main and not-so-main sights of London. Among the more notable with short descriptions:
House of Commons – where I heard the Rhodesia problem debated.
Old Bailey – where I saw a real live murder trial.
Hyde Park – where the better part of yesterday’s sunny Sunday was spent listening to all sorts of weirdos at Speaker’s Corner.
Tower Hill, a Chelsea pub walk, a Dickens’ Oliver Twist walk, most of the major art museums, the London Stock Exchange, and several assorted churches.
I wrote to Anne Biege and will call her Wednesday in hopes of going to see her in Oxford. Tonight I plan to go to the Marquee Club for a rock concert in the same club the Rolling Stones frequently played in the early Sixties.
Oh, by the way, this postcard represents my favorite picture from today’s visit to the gallery listed below (Edouard Manet, The Bar at the Folies-Bergere, 1881 – Courtauld Institute Galleries, University of London). I’ve been doing that with each visit to a gallery lately. I still haven’t written to Barry. Ahhh . . . tell him I lost his address. I’ve written Jean a couple of times though I just got a letter from Dana the other day. Also, got Scott Hamilton and his English sheepdog, Gretchen off at Heathrow Airport okay.
Forty-five years ago, I wrote this letter to Mom & Dad. I was in Paris near the end of my first of five months in Europe. My sister Danica (then known as Dana) was studying at the Sorbonne for a year so my parents decided to visit her during an extended vacation.
I quit my job at Seattle Trust & Savings Bank and decided to start fresh and discover my future. I’d explore Europe – alone, for months, with little direction and no particular plan or focus, and somehow at the end of it all at age 24, find myself.
I came to Paris a few days before my parents arrived. On Feb. 6, 1978, we began a 25-day auto tour of Lyon, Nice, Monte Carlo, Pula, Zagreb, and Vienna, highlighted by visits with several sets of Croatian relatives.
Mom and Dad left for home on March 3rd and several days later I penned this Aerogramme letter.
March 6, 1978
Dear Mom & Dad –
I don’t quite know what to say. I hope you weren’t disappointed that I didn’t express my gratitude as much as I could, but you’ll understand that the ‘thank-yous’ would have been so numerous as to make one thank-you seem inconsequential. So, I guess what I want to say is thank you a thousand times for everything. I hope I was acceptable as a traveling companion as I sure enjoyed your company and now miss it.
You’ll never guess what we did Saturday. Oh, this was ten times better than the sewer system. Dana and I visited the Catacombs of Paris. I wish I could send you a postcard (I sent one to Clinton) so you could get the visual impact of seeing these millions of human bones stacked like kindling in tunnels several hundred feet below the streets of Paris. They were placed there when several Paris cemeteries were torn up to make room for the city’s expansion in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It’s a bit morbid at first but fascinating nonetheless. Got some good pictures (ha ha).
Yesterday, Sunday, Dana and I visited the Rodin museum. Rodin was the famous sculptor who did the “Thinker” – the piece with the man sitting, chin on his head and elbow on his knee in a very thoughtful moment. The gardens were beautiful as was the weather yesterday and today. The skies are now a bright blue and the sun shines hard. The temperature though has dipped and it’s rather cold outside.
Today, I visited the Paris stock exchange which was extremely interesting, particularly after having seen the commodity exchange in Chicago. I almost wish I’d seen the Paris exchange first, as it is so calm compared to the unruly Chicago market. There’s still lots of shouting and such but nothing compared to the screaming in the commodity pits. Here in Paris, I was able to actually walk on the floor of the exchange, though I did get a couple of stares (no doubt due to my casual attire in the midst of a sea of suits). But the amazing thing was that I was walking on the floor of France’s equivalent of the N.Y.S.E.
Their exchange system is quite different from the American counterparts, as prices seemed to be established more by consensus than by the bid-ask system in the U.S. This probably explains the calmer stance as that all-important need to scream your order and acceptance of the other bidder’s order doesn’t really need to exist here. An interesting sidelight was at one point during the bond market when all the men broke into a song they sang humorously for half a minute.
I moved into this hostel for Protestant students. It’s a dormitory situation, but I get a bed, breakfast, and hot showers all included for 20 francs a night (about $4). Almost half the people here are French, a quarter English, and the rest Americans. In fact, before I finished the previous sentence I was engaged in an extended conversation with John Leeson, an Irishman who now lives in Oxford and is teaching French here in Paris. And, this letter might begin to sound a bit disjointed as I’m sharing my bottle of Yugoslavian wine with John and Jeff Alford, an American from Newport Beach, California. We’re listening to Radio Luxembourg (Europe’s Top 40 station).
I met Dana’s good (best) friend Carrie, the one whose parents were here over Christmas. She’s red-headed and quite nice, the exact opposite of Jana. Dana even admits that Jana is a bit too much. Much of the time her stories are B.S. and it can even get to Dana at times.
I ate dinner at Dana’s one night and can understand the source of many of her culinary complaints. The food is horrible. I had spinach – not the fresh green vegetable I’m used to, but a dull, sickly green blob of something that if you didn’t know it was food, you wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. The best I can say was that it was barely edible.
Well, say hello to Barry and Cathy for me (and tell Cathy thank you for the Valentine’s card). Also, tell her I’m sorry I didn’t send her one but I actually forgot when I was making a list of everyone I sent one to. Also, if you happen to see Wheels, tell him that his cassette deck is in my room.
Thank you for everything.
Post Script: I wrote several more letters to Mom and Dad on that trip. Mom kept a keepsake box for each of her four children where after her death I found that letter and many other treasures.
During those four weeks we spent together, I grew closer to my Dad than perhaps I ever been. He worked hard all his life and in later years found numerous ways to give back to the community. He helped the old oddballs to whom he rented tiny apartments on the second-floor above Steve’s Shoe Store at the corner of Griffin and Cole in downtown Enumclaw. He was elected to the school board and as such handed me my diploma when I graduated from high school.
Jack Kombol passed away April 11, 1979, just over a year after coming home from our trip to Europe. He died on a Wednesday, I wrote a poem on Thursday, and read it at his funeral on Saturday. I was 25-years-old, channeling feelings from the 14th year of my life when two grandparents, Dad’s father and Mom’s mother died on the same day:
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.
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
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.
By Pauline Lucile Morris
Post Script:Morris – Stergion – Puttman – Kombol
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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:
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Manowski. Pee Wee, the dirty black mine dog hung out in the hoist room.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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’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 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.
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 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 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.
“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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And, if she were here today . . . I’ll let you complete the thought.