A day in the life at the Lehman household is predictable. Karen and I partake in her favorite activity – “chores.” Any real thought of relaxing could never be considered without certain items being crossed off “the list” (continually throughout the year it’s about the same thing: tend the yard, refinish the deck, clean the basement, paint, pay the bills, organize files, etc).
I must admit it is a satisfying feeling to see a dent in the list. After a day of tasks, a glass of liquid grape is always warranted. Karen and I clink glasses and set our feet in motion toward the front deck, sometimes lighting up a great Cohiba cigar. Minka, our rescue cat, follows to inspect the neighborhood and protect her domain indicating the end of the chore phase and the beginning of what we call “celebration.”
One such evening, two friends from my 9-year-old era happened to drop by. We hadn’t seen Alan - who used to live next door to me - or Karl who lived three doors down, in many months. We attended J. J. McGilvra about the same time and enjoyed the same neighborhood antics. After a while other folks dropped by and soon we had a veritable deck party. We found ourselves reminiscing about the carefree lives of our youth where the only real chore was going to school.
A story I recalled was the last day of school back in the 40’s. We signed each other’s school photos and shared what we would do during the summer. Even the teachers joined our conversations creating an uncommonly lighthearted school day. Mr. Cheechester, the principal, seemed to have forgotten taking my schoolmate and me to the boiler room to paddle us with a wooden paddle for fighting in class just weeks before. But all that was behind us (pun intended).
The school served pop and ice cream encouraging us to clean out our lockers and desks. That was the last sighting of the inkwell as the following year we were introduced to bladder pens and ballpoints. We sat at our desks waiting for words of wisdom from our beloved Mrs. Noon who explained that whatever path we decided to take in life, grace, grit and gusto should be the operative words.
Then the bell rang. Everyone shouted with glee at that last resounding clang, evacuating the school in less than a minute. Kids screamed and ran through the halls in total mayhem spilling out onto the school grounds. Just before heading down the hill, we looked back to see the shades slowly being pulled down. Sad, but for only a second or two, it was onward to three months’ vacation. The beach! Girls! Parties! Movies! The Seattle Rainier’s ball games! Did I mention girls?
Karl, Alan and I remembered what a special summer it was. It was spent mostly at the beach along with all the rules staring at us whichever way we looked. The three of us were about to break the mold and venture into near adult status. A test, which if passed, would allow us to go beyond the ropes and out to the “raft”…. where there were adults, dive boards and girls!
Before the test, we splashed merrily away in waste deep water near the ropes in hopes of stealing a dive to the other side. Of course the friendly lifeguard yelled, “you kids stay inside the ropes!” What a bummer. Another rule was we had to be accompanied by an adult so I hung out with my two buddies whose mothers were in attendance because my mom worked during the day. We sat near the now defunct north walkway, 4-foot by 4-foot uneven pieces of concrete that extended about 20 feet into the water and was covered with slippery, mossy seaweed. Baby oil and iodine was the prescription for lots of sun. It is true we burned, but always it turned into a golden tan. These days number 50 sunscreen is essential for the danger lurking behind old sol, although, the damage is done.
Big boats sped by causing a wake and when someone shouted “waves!” the rest of us to ran into the water to perch ourselves on top to ride them to shore.
Finally it was time for lunch, usually a peanut butter “fold over” and a can of pop. No time to lose; get back to the water games! Well, that was met with absolute rule number three. You must wait an hour before swimming or be consumed with terrible cramps, gasping for air, and finally slipping under the surface with a resounding thud hitting the bottom never to be seen again. To avoid such an awful demise, we sat on the blanket with the adults and watched the big clock on the ferry dock tick the minutes away squirming with boredom.
The hour was up and it was now time to submerge ourselves safely within the ropes and plan our next activity. Like the commandos we saw in the movies, we slid out of the water and snuck carefully over the north walkway where we blended with moms, toddlers and family groups, past the water-flailing, diaper-clad infants into the stocks of seaweeds growing in the water. We crouched down and disappeared under the ferry dock. This is where we swam to a big cable that hung down just above the water. There, in the darkness, we hung onto the cable laughing, proud that we pulled off another mission that would have to impress John Wayne.
The fun, safe game we played was to await the big boat approaching, hear the bell sounding from the captain’s wheelhouse and the orders to the engine room to “reverse engines!” Slowly the huge propeller stopped, and then turned very fast in reverse sending a huge wall of water toward us. The trick here was to know just when to let go of the big cable and not be pulled into the propeller, but instead be pushed with the force of the big wall of water which sent us out almost to the raft. This was a ride! This was totally thrilling. The parental figures would not see it this way, we knew, so it was a tightlipped maneuver. Of course, while here, we dove for coins people on the passenger deck threw. As the ferry pulled away, we returned to the less adventurous group near the ropes.
On another very special Saturday morning, we returned to the beach and signed our names for taking the test to receive our swimmer’s badges. We had to go out to the end of the north walkway, waist deep. The lifeguard stood nearby with a whistle that sounded the start of our test. At the signal we left the starting point and swam down range to the finish line at the south walkway. It didn’t seem that far, but it felt like an iron-man feat. Arms and legs flailed in every direction and eventually we found our stride with a combination of sidestroke, dog paddle, crawl and floating.
The goal to keep us going strong: to reverently don a swimmer’s patch. Near exhaustion and not wanting to be the last one to reach the south walkway, I looked ahead to the finish line that now looked farther away than when we started. I must have been swimming against the tide! Friends and family cheered us on as we finally reached our goal and joined the others.
We lined up at the lifeguard shack and with hands outstretched, we received our swimmer’s patches. What an honor. I recently came across that patch when cleaning out the crawl space the other day. It is the type of memorabilia one hangs on to because it brings back the most poignant memories. I happen to have a dozen boxes or so of poignancy.
That was the day we went beyond the ropes to the raft! Once we climbed onto the somewhat weathered dock, we looked all around viewing what we left behind. We gazed back at the kids inside the ropes and felt in awe yet oddly adult-like. The next hurdle was to experience the diving boards. I walked out to the end of the smaller of the two boards and peered down into the bottom at light gray sand, rocks and long stems of seaweed that flowed back and forth. Small fish darted back and forth and glistened in the early morning sun. Finally I did a dive with the intentions of looking quite smart and instead did a total belly flop.
The next feat was to climb the high platform made of wood and a crude wooden ladder that was nailed to the north side. There were two landings, neither one with dive boards. Looking down from the first landing, which is the height of the high dive there now, made us a little unsure and we found ourselves climbing back down the ladder. I figured if I belly flopped off the 4-foot dive, how would the 12-foot help my form?
We watched as some brave souls made the final climb to the 20-foot level, perch themselves on the handrails and make beautiful swan dives. They made it look so easy; we agreed we could do the same. Once I climbed to the second level just take a peek over the end. I must have pondered too long as a young lady behind me asked if I was going to dive. I clutched the handrails and tried not to look as scared as I was, but knew I had to follow through (gulp!) and answered her “sure, I was just measuring the distance.” There didn’t seem to be a surface to the water. I could see the bottom, which made it seem twice as far a drop. All I could think was that I would definitely hit the bottom even if it was 15-feet deep. So to save face, I grabbed my nose with one hand while the other hand thrashed like a wounded bird. It was a very crude landing with body parts left behind on impact. I laughed along with the throngs of spectators after getting my wind back.
Our patches sewn on our bathing suits meant we were one step closer to adulthood. We lived in the water that summer; either at the main beach area or just north of Madison Park beach in the warm shallow waters of Little Beach. At Little Beach we built rafts with discarded pieces of wood from Johnson’s Marina located on the south side, which added to our commission of finding fun. If not detected as residents of the Edgewater, we laid in the warm sand that covered the bathing beach there. Usually the grounds keepers found us out and urged us to move on.
We had an even better swimming area just west of Edgewater where the bottom was a soft mud texture and out past the cattails and lily pads a bit north was a hard sand bottom with sparkling clear water. Hoisting ourselves onto a log boom, we could see further along the bottom where there were old discarded boats and tons of fish.
Yes, swimming, playing games, and sleeping in were our “chores” most summers. If it were not for infinite imaginations, I am sure our parents would have lined up plenty of tasks around the home. They must have fondly recalled the complete freedom of their youth; hence, they nonchalantly encouraged us in our endeavors to celebrate life and to stockpile memorabilia for a rainy-day cleanup marathon.