A Ladder can be Many Things

Tales of Vashon

“Molly, just put one foot out the window,” Dad called from the grass below our bedroom window.  “I can’t do it,” Molly called down, “I’m too scared, I’m going to fall.”  We were in the middle of a fire drill and Molly had failed the drill.

We lived on five acres down at Cove and our kid’s bedroom was up a steep set of stairs above the trash burner in the kitchen, a way out, in the case of a downstairs fire, was out of the question.  Dad’s solution to the danger of fire was to buy 50 feet of one inch manila rope and tie an overhand knot in it every two feet.  Then he bought an eye bolt and set it in the wall under a window looking down on Colvos Passage.  In case of fire, we were to throw the rope out the window and slide down it, hand over hand to the safety of the lawn above the rose garden.  “Watch out!  Here I come,” Mike yelled from the open window, “I’m coming down.” He then dove out the window, his hands around the rope as it flipped him right-side-up and he skipped knots as he hurtled for the ground.

We had an oil stove in the living room and it blew up on occasion when the float valve in the carburetor stuck and all the soot from the chimney spewed out on our bamboo straw rug, a born-again haven for the fleas that the dogs carried into the house.  “Whumph” was the tremendous noise the stove made; though it never did cause a fire; just belched flames, soot and ashes and that was the demise of the bamboo straw rug.  As I was pulling up the rug to take it to the dump, I noticed a little shape under the window.   It was my pet chameleon, Seamus, all shriveled up, crinkly skin.  He had escaped from his cage a long time ago; I got him at the Puyallup fair.

Down at Dockton, there was the hulk of the Winona, an old wooden three-master on her side in the mud.  John added; “The Winona must have had a sister halibut schooner that languished in Lake Union at the wooden boat institute being restored for decades. They recently gave up on restoration. About ten years ago, I went on board and looked it over. I went down several ladders to inspect the work.  The ladders were rotten , narrow and dangerous in the dark interior.

The bilge still stank of rancid fish oil.

It was a sad premonition of the end of a wooden classic schooner
The name was the ‘Wawona’.”

The fact was that my 10 year old mind had made a mistake in spelling but accepted the information 70 years later as being true.  The Bullitt foundation of King Broadcasting had financed the restoration of the Wawona for years.  They were also the reason I was able make documentary films.

Also at Dockton, were several fish boats and a 65 foot long factory packer from Alaska, an old military boat like the coast guard cutters we see around the sound.  She was so old; there was a speaker’s tube between the pilot house and the engine room with a whistle in the middle that the captain had to blow to get the attention of the engine room.  The whistle had to be turned aside by maneuvering a brass wire loop to permit a person to speak or more likely yell into the tube before communications could be had.  “Hey Kit, can you hear me?”  I yelled into the tube and contact was made between the bridge and the engine room.  I called for more steam as we headed out the harbor, bound for Alaska and the season’s fishing, or so we imagined.  Mike was at the wheel and I was jiggling with the compass with the big iron balls on either side.  Harold Green yelled at Mike; “You’re going to hit Pinar Point.  There’s not much water there.”  And Mike brought her hard over to get us on the correct side of the buoy and not run aground and we’d take turns going down to the dark engine room and I can still remember the dank smell of burnt oil.  All in fun; until we had to pedal all the way to Cove in the dark and Kit had the only light, a bullet shaped silver tube with two batteries that were mostly dead.

We used a jacob’s ladder to get up the side of the ship at Dockton and skipped swimming lessons to go play on the old packer.  We knew we were trespassing in the shipyard and were planning on not being caught.  The way we did this was by hiding in the woods at Dockton so we wouldn’t have to take swimming lessons and now, I can barely swim, not enough to save myself let alone somebody else.  Stupid doesn’t pay.