When Mike and I were old enough, we had to sacrifice our bedroom above the kitchen and move to the basement. Molly got to stay upstairs, as I remember. Our big 12 cubic foot freezer was also in the basement and filled with one-half of a beef and all the game and fish we brought home including six Widgeon ducks we couldn’t eat because they were too fishy. If we shot the ducks when they had just come down from Canada, they were okay to eat, but if their diet had been sea weed for a couple of weeks, their dark flesh was fishy and impossible to swallow. Even the cats wouldn’t touch it.
Dad had partitioned the basement into two rooms and I think we had doors, but the floor was concrete as were the walls which had big cracks and with any sustained rain, we were flooded and Mike and I had to walk on 2×4’s to get from the wooden stairs to our beds. The house was old and the water that drained from the roof came down drain pipes to disappear into red clay drain tiles that were full of Wisteria roots and didn’t work, so the water went right down the outside of the basement wall and into the cracks that flooded the basement.
Mike was halfway across the basement, where the water was the deepest and it was starting to come over the top of the 2×4’s, when he dropped the huge box of toys that he was carrying and tried to jump to the doorway of the bedroom. “HELP-HELP,” Mike called out. “I’m drowning,” as he thrashed around in six inches of water, calling out and pretending!
It took Dad to solve the problem of the leaking basement. Lenay Lewis was his partner in the painting business down on Stoneway by the Lake Washington ship canal. The company was called Professional Painters and dad brought all the blueprints home to read and estimate the cost of the next painting job. When the company first got started, they painted our house for practice and the painters cleaned their brushes on the lawn, spilling paint thinner on the grass which the dogs had sat in. Mike and I came around the corner of the house to see all three dogs skidding their butts across the grass trying to clean the paint thinner off of their “tender parts.”
“Ray, you ought to try Kay-Tite Sealer,” Lenay told Dad and it worked. The water in the basement was gone and so were the 2X4’s.
Us kids were in their office one day, playing with Dad’s check register, trying to print out a check for a million dollars when it was time to go home. The check machine remembered the amount we had rung up on the keys.
Sonny was one of Dad’s painters, a shell-shocked Marine from WWII, whose hands shook all the time, and yet when Sonny painted sash with a three- inch brush, that cost $40, there was never any paint on the glass, his lines were straight. When he tried to buy groceries for his seven children with the million dollar check, the clerk laughed at Sonny and Mike and Molly and I caught hell and were told “Never to touch the check register again.”
The start of Fall with the days growing shorter with rain and much cooler weather arriving was also the time for slaughtering farm animals and beginning the hunt for wild game. At this time many food items long forgotten were preserved to last through winter and spring.
One of the most forgotten items was ‘mince meat’. Mince meat actually contained meat many years ago, the pies were social and reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Today it is merely a sugared sweet chutney like ingredient of pies that should be completely covered in whipped cream to hide their sad demise.. But years ago mince-meat pies were made of real game meat and the prized suet of ‘kidney’ fat, plus small wild currents and other summer berries dried in season with retained flavor and loads of vitamin ‘C’.. As we later learned.
Mincemeat was made with wild game if one was lucky enough to get a deer or a fat elk from the Cowlitz basin area. The trim tips were ground finely and whatever dried berries and precious spices such as Cardamom, cinnamon..and nutmeg were added, then suet was combined with sugar and the result was slowly stirred and then canned. Acid in the form of apple cider vinegar was added because sometimes low acid canning was conducive to spoiling and the feared ‘botulism’.. which was extremely rare but dangerous in probably overstated degrees.
The time of year provoked many fishing trips to stock up on canned and smoked fish of many varieties.
Sonny loaned Dad his Finecraft speed boat and Dad took us up into the San Juan’s to go fishing. Mike and I snuck out of camp early one morning on Orcas; to borrow the 16 foot boat. I had slept on it in case the wind came up and she slipped anchor. Every few minutes, I jumped from my sleeping bag when I thought my landmarks on shore had shifted when it was only the wind and the tide that made me think we had dragged anchor. No sleep that night.
We paddled the boat out of West Sound harbor so the folks wouldn’t hear us start the engine, or, at least we thought they couldn’t hear us. I had my trusty old Spanish 38 revolver, just in case. It was dangerous to shoot because you couldn’t stand on either side of the shooter, because the cylinder was fitted sloppily to the barrel and the gun spit lead out both sides.
A killer whale rose out of the sound not six feet from the side of the boat and I jerked out the 38 and shot him, it was just a reflex to the fear I felt because of the huge mammal that made me do it and I’ve regretted it ever since. Thankfully the worn out old gun probably caused no more than a minor wound to the great whale.