REVISITING THE PARK | Belts and jolts

REVISITING THE PARK | Belts and jolts

REVISITING THE PARK | Belts and jolts

Traveling from one Air Force base to another all over the southwest so my dad could earn his wings, I met many kids from all walks of life but had little chance to make long-term friends. 

When I enrolled at J. J. McGilvra, I didn’t know what to expect. Everyone wore nice clothes — seldom a patch to be found. Most looked well-fed. Rich or poor, everyone was affected by the war and existed together peacefully. 

I lived with just my mom at this point as we lost dad early on in the war. I met one kid who had both parents: a mom who was a teacher, and a dad who was an architect. I thought he was so lucky until I was invited to their house across from Broadmoor. 

As soon as we walked in, his parents yelled at him, and he yelled back. His dad then said, “That’s it! The belt!” I was asked to leave. 

Never once did I yell at my parents, but in my teens, I would sometimes have an attitude with my mom. I got the belt because it built character.

Another friend was the fifth child in the family and obviously not wanted; he also met the belt many times. A third friend lost his dad to the war, and he, too, got whacked with a wooden kitchen spoon.

The three of us remained friends throughout the years, managing to defy death doing crazy things leaping off the passenger deck of the Kirkland Ferry into the empty slip below, walking railings or jumping onto moving railroad cars — anything to create excitement was our deal. 

When one of us got word of a war casualty in the family, we helped each other over the sadness. Trying to understand the realities of life came far too soon.

The big jolt

Summer, however, was just around the corner with bright days and even more friends. We sat in the hot sun, covered in iodine and baby oil (for the now-popular tanned look) and basted like turkeys. 

The proverbial hour lapsed slowly before we put a toe in the water. No one would want to cramp and drown in front of everyone.

A really jarring memory was of an early morning while swimming in the cool waters of Edgewater beach. We were near exhaustion, so we ran shivering from the water to the really warm, white, sandy beach. 

We came to rest and lay there with only the sounds of small kids playing in the distance. State Route 520 was some 25 years from being built so it was very peaceful. 

In the distance was a roar that seemed to slowly come closer, followed by silence. Then came an explosion so loud the windows shook, buildings echoing off each other. 

We ran. Our first thought: This is the big one — the A-bomb! 

With no bright flash, things calmed down. We called each other with the news that a Navy jet pilot had created a sonic boom while landing at Sand Point. 

The pilot’s parents lived on 42nd Avenue, so when he came home in uniform, we gathered around, and he asked us, “So you heard me?” 

He no longer looked like the kid playing Kick the Can; he was now a hero. When it was time for him to take off, we all stood in the street and waved our hands as he dipped his wings, much like my dad used to.

That was the last time we saw him as he had gone down over Germany. 

Throughout the school year, we saw many flags hanging in front windows with a star, meaning a loved one was lost in the war. 

Rich or poor, weak or lucky, we were all on the road to maturity.

RICHARD CARL LEHMAN is a longtime Madison Park resident. 

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