Revisiting the Park: Youth of the late forties made trouble too

We, the proud kids of the 70-plus-years-ago era were pretty similar to today’s youth, except we were definitely more visible and focused on real life around us.  Misbehavior was met with much more severity than today’s punishment of a timeout or loss of privileges, however.

On a fall day like November 18, 2017 (my 83rd birthday by the way) we’d be out on the street playing baseball on the corner of 41st and Garfield.  The manholes made a near perfect baseball diamond.  Quite often fans rooted us on.

In those days, there were many shortages because of the war.  When news came of the Madison Park Hardware store started selling caps six rolls for five cents, we ran to get all we could get our hands on.  Loading up our Six Shooters we ran through the district firing at will yelling “gotcha!”  The one hit yelled, “You got me, you dirty rat!” and promptly fell dead directly onto the sidewalk.  Shoppers just smiled and walked on by.  Imagine that scene today. 911 would be called and then the police would check for weapons permits.  Let’s not go there.

Another physical activity was roller skating. We actually had an enterprise before its time.  When our roller skates wore out we nailed the wheels to a 2x4 and voila, we had a scooter.  Then atop an old wooden produce box we nailed a length of broom handle for steering.   It really worked, albeit a little clumsily but good enough.  If someone would have just said, “hey, what if we nail the wheels to a piece of plywood say 3’x6” then standing on it lean one way or the other we could do tricks, paint them, compete with others and even construct several.

Sell them for $4 each, equivalent to $70 today and we could make a killing.  There are a few guys who might agree with this history like Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen and many more.  Not in the money mind frame we were way safer if not influential.

Jacques Cousteau movies inspired us to dive and to create something to assist in adventures underwater in Lake Washington.  A friend’s uncle cut an old water tank to fashion a helmet.  He even cut in a small piece of glass for a window.  Next came a small compressor to pump air into it via garden hoses.  Dick Turner was first to slip into the water near the little dock on Madison.

He described that the air being pumped in kept the water level just above his chin.  He passed the end of the dock where there was a thermal layer—it was dark and really quiet.  Sounded good—my turn!  What a trip and it was cold!  Soon a crowd gathered so much so we could have charged admission.  When it was Kim Matson’s turn a little girl pressed on a sparkplug on the compressor and it stopped.  We pulled him out as water filled the helmet.

Actually, none of us ever did anything dangerous per se. Dick Turner surely contributed to any sort of perilous fun in life.  On many a night, he removed the screws on his family’s garage lock and voila’ we would have a car!  Those were some nights!  We cruised through town in a ’49 Chevy Coup as 13-year-old juveniles acting like adults.

One of our main stops was the brand-new Ivar’s on Elliott (the only one).  Here we shared a big clam chowder in a quart paper cup.  We finished that, ordered another as there was four of us and it was good!

“This second one leaked” we told Bob the barker (or server), and he poured us another cup saying “Fill ‘er up!”

Completely satiated with seafood deliciousness it was “train time”.  The trains on the waterfront maneuvered back and forth but some took off to points far away.  We ran alongside being careful not to fall then we would hoist ourselves up.  It was important to note if anyone was in the boxcar they could be very annoyed and yell so it was best to leave, which meant “Jump!”  “Ouch!”  Usually we’d ride just past Sears then catch flat cars back.  None of this is advisable today with the new and improved faster trains.

Back to the Turner family car and onward to Madison Park. Right around 15th and Yesler we smelled pies!  There in the dark were racks full of fresh hot pies cooling for packaging.  Surely, they wouldn’t mind just one missing for a good cause.  A slight problem was that no stores were open to sell us any ice cream.  Somehow, the warm berry pie was still good.

We continued these little adventures a few times more but one early morning as Dick put screws back in the garage door lock, his dad caught him.

We was given a particularly harsh punishment, but even at school applying the paddle was considered acceptable with parental consent.  Mr. Chechester, principal at J. J. McGilvra Elementary, presented the paddle usually in the boiler room.  After a slight scuffle in the lunch line, my counterparts and I made a first class visit there.  The paddle really smarted and henceforth any disagreements between students were settled away from school.

At Edmund Meany Jr. High, big doors separated the boys from the girls’ gym but when it was opened it was time to dance  No way were guys up for that.  We were given a choice:  Sit out the dance on the stage while the others danced or man up and dance.  Most boys hit the stage.  Mr. Leeds the gym teacher held a size 14 tennis shoe and one after another we met and shook hands with “Mr. Goodrich”, the tennis shoe.  After hearing the sound of the first whack most left the stage and started dancing.  Not me!  I stayed with schoolmates and experienced the warming effects of “Mr. G”.  The next week when the big doors opened it seemed no one was up for two whacks.  It was a boys-to-men thing before its time.  Afterwards altercations between students always ended with a handshake.  Girls got “timeout” Boys got “the whack!”

A lifelong friend during Junior High had a serious relationship with Patty Crenna.  Kim spent quality time with Patty but Kim’s parents thought best he go to military school.  No winners here.  We were just growing up.  There was no, “give me your phone or no computer for a month!” Or, “no TV or give me those Porsche keys.”  What could be worse?  For one, the paddle—a foot long board with holes for more impact, less friction.  Any doubts?  Ask a grandparent.

Looking back when my accessory in crime and I returned from the Swat we snickered and shook hands knowing full well it would happen again.  We never looked for trouble but sure enough, we found it on the way to adulthood.