Revisiting the Park: Characters and harmonies in the Park

Revisiting the Park: Characters and harmonies in the Park

Revisiting the Park: Characters and harmonies in the Park

My first memory of Madison Park was in the late 1930s. Dad, Mom and I would visit my grandparents in the home they had built that my wife, Karen, and I now live in.

A treat was to walk to the beach and see so many kids laughing and splashing in the crystal-clear water of Lake Washington. The happy tail-wagging dogs exuded fun, as did the friendly locals!

As a young tyke, I lived in the country near Bow Lake Airport — now Sea-Tac — where I wore bib overalls and rarely any shoes.

We were living in our garage while Dad was building our home there in Riverton Heights. He was working for the Seattle Star Newspaper and began piloting bi-planes in the early ’30s. The newspaper had a flying club, and he often rented out of Boeing Airfield, getting plenty of hours in. On Saturdays he’d buzz the neighborhood, and we all waved back.

I was in school when we heard the nation was at war. I didn’t understand all of that, and so it was quite the whirlwind selling our house and getting Dad signed up with the Army Air Forces. We followed him from Sacramento officer training school and other bases, south to New Mexico.

Dad trained glider pilots and, like so many at that time, became a casualty of war. It was back to Seattle to find no vacancies, so Mom and I moved with my aunt and uncle into my grandparents’ garage — our present garage.

Eventually, Mom bought an old houseboat that had been pulled to 41st, which gave us a bit more room.

Life very slowly got back to normal, and we took trips to visit Dad’s parents on their 10-acre farm on Little Finn Hill in Kirkland. A German gentleman had asked permission to camp on my grandparents’  property.  Grandpa took a few home-cooked meals to him and helped with his English. The tent was big enough to stand in; it looked like a real home. Everything inside was in perfect order. Clothes were hung, shoes were aligned, even the cookware was neatly stacked. Looking back, I realize that it was military discipline. It was incredible that he could serve me fresh bread with butter that he baked on his cookstove. Little Finn Hill had a large German population who all migrated about the same time after World War I.

A friendly businessman in Madison Park had a canned fruit store who was a product of the first world war. This man said little as his speech had been affected by shellshock with the accompanying tremors, but he always smiled and waved. Each morning — kindling and newspaper in hand — he walked to the beach in a bathing suit, robe and white rubber shower shoes. Swimming all year round followed by a then-warm fireside seemed to have made his days a lot better.

In the ’50s, I met Charles Harper III, who was from England. He was a captain for Flying Tigers Airlines and had just become stationed in Seattle to fly one of the new routes starting out of Sea-Tac. Various flight crew moved to our neighborhood, which was a delightful addition. Madison Park was vacant after the war with the ferry no longer in service, but the low rents, proximity to the beach and shopping made for a single person’s haven.

Harper and I became good friends and usually met at the many social events in the neighborhood. Some events were jeans only and were thrown by the Aussies who brought in kegs and bag pipes. Some catered affairs required evening attire and were put on by flight attendants renting large homes while owners took long vacations.

At one kegger Harper and I attended, we found ourselves discussing life, war, etc. Alfonse flew as a navigator with Harper but came by way of the German Youth Corps. Harper flew with the Royal Air Force previously, and before flights, he would toast “Let’s blow the bloody Jerries out of the sky.”

From the kitchen we heard someone say to Alfonse, “What’d you do?” to which he replied, “Luftwaffe German Airforce.” I beckoned to Harper, and since we’d had just enough brews, these two left their suspicions aside. Alfonse’s toast was “Down with Englanders, the world be ours!” Figuring the time frame, they both had been in air battles over England at least 10 times!

This friendship would undoubtedly last a lifetime — to hell with all wars!

An Army acquaintance and I were talking, waiting for our assignment. He was older and had just re-enlisted and described an incident near the end of World War II. His job was to search prisoners. Most of them were happy to be captured by the Americans and not the Russians. He recalled a large prisoner who was almost standing at attention despite a badly injured leg. He pulled out his wallet and began to show pictures of his family. My friend looked right, then left, then pulled out his wallet to show his family photo. The German nodded and smiled. The two of them just shrugged their shoulders. My friend said that it really hit home, having that in common.

A few of us who’ve been around awhile meet at Starbucks and are finding we have much in common with our Madison Park histories, shared service experiences and the ability to laugh at ourselves while appreciating our wonderful village by the lake.