Our Heroes

Tales of Vashon

Brother Mike and Kit Bradley and I were down in the woods smoking one of Kit’s Mom’s Herbert Tareytons.  We kept a lighter and cigarettes in a jar that was buried under the roots of a giant fir tree stump on the trail to the beach.  “I’m telling you,” Kit said, “That wimp Mr. Rogers was a sniper and killed lots of Germans.”   My reply was non-committal, since I knew that Kit was wrong and that Mr. Roger’s television show wasn’t a kind of penance for all the killing he had done in WWII.

Sheriff Tex’s show ran every afternoon on Channel 5 and we knew where Sheriff Tex lived on Mercer Island, because you could see his big pink house from the floating bridge.  At the end of every show, Sheriff Tex would join his index finger and thumb of his right hand in a circle, click his tongue as if he was talking to a horse and say “Remember kids, “SAFETY,” and that was how he signed off.

Uncle Bruce Brinton was our scoutmaster and teacher of all sorts of woods lore, such as building an Irish fish boat from canvas, sticks and rope.  Uncle Bruce helped us lash the 6 foot circle of sticks into the shape of a doughnut, which would then be placed on top of a tarp and tied tight, so we could sit on the rim and dangle our feet in the hole in the center of the Irish fish boat.  Uncle Bruce called it a “coracle” and told us kids how it had been used in Ireland for thousands of years.  “Uncle Bruce”wasn’t really our uncle, we just called him that because he wasn’t really official and took us up to the mountain to learn how to glissade, using an alpine stock as a rudder and the heels of his boots for skis, a very ancient practice in Norway.  Kit wouldn’t dig in his heels to stop, as he was having too much fun and crashed into the rocks below.  Kit wasn’t hurt bad, but we did lose a Vashon scout when he fell off a cliff and was killed on the edge of the Nisqually glacier, the same glacier where we learned to glissade a few years earlier.  You could use an ice ax if you didn’t have an alpine stock, or any old stick that was 6 feet long and thick enough to hold your weight as you leaned back with your right hand holding the stock, just above the snow.  The top of the stock was in your left hand, out in front.  If the snow in the summer was just right, it made a swishing noise as you glissaded down the slope.

Rod Thurston was another hero of ours on Vashon.  Rod dug water wells and if he didn’t hit water, you didn’t have to pay him $25.  He drove a wooden wheeled bicycle and as he came down Beal Road, where we lived, we could hear him singing and watch him come with his front wheel wobbling back and forth in the gravel.  Rob played the violin and it was strapped across his handlebars most of the time and there was always a pile of water-witching sticks lashed down to the rack behind him.  “Hey kids, Rod’s coming!” someone would yell and we would all run down to the road, even Kathy from next door or Colin from down the road.  Rod would stop for us and enquire as to the health of our parents and then he would pull hard candy from his pocket that looked like it had been there for a long time, all fuzzy and sticky.  Mom told us to politely thank Rod for the candy and then throw it away when Rod was gone.  “Everybody knows we didn’t do that.”

Of course the real hero is my friend John Sweetman who bragged to me that he had Ted William’s baseball mitt and could prove it; because it said “Ted Williams” right on it.  I took him up, knowing that every baseball mitt had Ted William’s name on it. John admitted that he wasn’t a very good baseball player, but had played hard and had the bruises to show for it.
John was convinced that his glove, purchased via mail order, after a summer of earning money in the berry fields was ‘genuine’. He ordered the glove after an enticing comic book ad, and finally got enough cash to buy the glove and save some money for Christmas presents. The glove had an actual signature from ‘Ted Williams’, although someone did point out that the glove appeared not to be ‘broken in’ with well formed pocket..
Acquiring the ‘genuine’ glove was a tough thing to accomplish after being fired (and rehired) about four times for throwing strawberries, which he defended by saying..’it helps my throwing arm!’.

John remembers that his old friend, Gene Amundson and rival for the secret mutual affections of Carol Harper..had also acquired a glove from Mickey Mantle (a Yankees player) , but was argued to be not genuine because it had been given in a trade involving bicycle parts and marbles.  .. and the signature was vague and kind of worn off.. , although the glove did have the advantage of appearing to have a well worn pocket.  And besides.. for reasons not yet known, we all hated the Yankees. At that  time we could occasionally get games on the radio and would listen through scratchy reception from east coast stations or through what must have been retransmissions by KIRO.  Sometimes one of us was sent out in the late summer drought to pour water over the radio ‘ground’ rod to improve radio reception. OnlyEast Coast teams were heard, if at all.

Ted Williams was John’s hero because he would be shown in ‘movietone’ news (In black and white film clips..) before the main feature of the films he saw. Later, and sadly John became a Cubs fan and was resigned to semi-decadal disappointment.

He remembers the milkman, also a hero: ‘I would get up early to see him bring the milk and cream’.  “He told me stories about Norway before WWII, where they would wait to pick up their milk until the milk froze to where it pushed the caps up , releasing all that precious cream to which we would address, by licking it up. The milkman had been a Halibut fisherman in the Bering Sea on an old four-masted schooner. I think the boat may have been out of Port Madison.  He told tales of bashing ice with baseball bats.. off the rigging and hull and close calls of adventure and danger .. with the near misses of being dashed aground.’ ‘John remembers a tale of near disaster off of Point no Point where the milkman claimed to have been grounded and then refloated, but with a massive load of halibut.

‘He was either Swedish or Norwegian, although it was hard to tell the difference’. It may have been a clue that he occasionally brought a jar of his hand caught herring, pickled with island grown dill’.

‘I learned the trick of licking the cream that would rise after whole unpasteurized milk froze and lift the cardboard round up so one could lick off the cream and place the cardboard back on the container’.

John’s Mother somehow knew what mischievous act had been done and never accepted the ‘raccoon did it’ excuse’.

Sean@vashonloop.com