A Catholic Dog Tag

The hair went up on the back of my neck when the mean old guy grabbed my scapular medal by the chain around my neck.  A scapular is a Catholic dog tag and I was 12 years old and naked to the waist, as it was hot and I had just finished Mrs. Anderson’s lawn.  I was walking by the church camp at Cove, on the flat above the old hotel, just mining my own business when the old guy came striding up from behind me, grabbed my scapular in his hand and told me that I was going to go to hell for wearing it.  He had the fear of God in his eyes when he strode off to the church camp.   I was more scared than insulted, besides it’s very difficult to insult a 12 year old with a dollar fifty in his pocket, as he headed for Mackie’s store for a bottle of well deserved coke.  It didn’t matter to the boy if the man came from off island or not, though if he was mean or a stranger, he probably was off island.

Most of the Cove community was Scandinavian, mostly Norwegians and Swedes, some of them having the same name but spelling it differently, depending on which.  It was either L-A-R-S-O-N or L-A-R-S-E-N and I can’t remember which.  I don’t think we had many E-NS on Vashon.  Our own great grandmother Mattson couldn’t read, speak or write English; signing her name with an “x”.  Our people were farmers from Denmark and owned much of the North end of Maury Island.  Some of the old people at Cove spoke only Norwegian and most of these people from northern Europe were neither mean spirited nor aggressive; but the old guy didn’t fit that description by a long shot, and besides I’d never seen him before.
There has never been much theft on Vashon and most of the serious robbers came from off island.  The sheriff would just shut down the ferries until the culprit was smoked out, a great deterrent to people thinking about coming out to the island to do us harm.  Thus came the distrust of off islanders, you could spot them a mile off, strutting across the street to the Hardware Store or coming out of the only tavern on Vashon.  That’s all the nine churches in town would allow us, was Cunningham’s, the only tavern on Vashon.  There are ten times more people on Vashon now, whereas in the 1950’s most of us knew everybody else, making a stranger stick out.  This knowledge turned on the local when one or more of us got caught stealing pigeons from Otto Therkelsen’s hen house.  Somebody saw us and told.  The sheriff made us return the pigeons to Otto and apologize for the commotion we had raised in the chicken house, because Otto’s hens didn’t lay for four days.

The county jail is just off Cemetery Road and rumor had it that when you were old enough for a driver’s license, all you had to do was to drive around the jail three times and not kill any of Otto’s chickens and the Sheriff would give you a license.