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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Joker Was Wild--sort of.

I felt better about working for the Columbia Riding Academy the next day when I met Charlie Barnett, Farr’s partner.  He was pretty much the opposite of Art Farr.  Charlie was a big, pleasant-faced man with a mop of unruly black hair.  Where Farr fancied dude-ish western shirts and that silly string tie, Charlie always showed up in grey riding breeches, black boots not always too well polished, and a white shirt open at the neck.  The only time Charlie duded up was when we put on a horse show and then all he did was to wear an Ascot scarf and a jacket.  There were no pretenses with Charlie and I liked him immediately.
My summer at the Columbia Riding Academy was memorable in more ways than one.  I found out quickly that Art Farr was, indeed, an ornery s.o.b.  As for fat George, he was everything a barn boss should not be.  I do not know what previous experience he had with horses but he was no horseman.
George’s idea of quieting down an unruly horse on the loading platform—whether to saddle or curry it—was to grab a twitch and cinch it on the animal’s nose.  I did not like a twitch and can truthfully say that I seldom had to use one.  There are no mean horses that I ever met—only those who have been treated meanly by someone.  (Dogs are the same way.)
The horses, however, were a delight to this old country boy.  I got acquainted with all thirty-two of them in short order.  In a couple of days I knew all of them by name, and in a week I knew which saddle and bridle went on which horse.  I tried to be impartial, but I quickly had some favorites.  One was “Don Dee”, a big sleek black jumper that stood near seventeen hands high.  He was a gentle horse and could have modeled for Black Beauty.
Another of my favorites was “Joker”, a small (about fourteen hands) palomino stallion with a flowing long mane and tail.  Joker was as mischievous as a small child.  He was quartered in one of the standing stalls and he had a favorite trick when I came into his stall with a bucket of feed.  I would pat him on the rump and speak to let him know I was there and Joker would politely move over to let me by.  Then, when I was beside him half way to the manger box, he would lean—pushing me against the wall of the stall.  I would have to give him a good shove and a slap on the belly to make him move over.  He was not mean—he just like to devil me.
One evening Joker’s antics could have injured me but it was my fault, not Joker’s.  I was late getting the horses fed and had a party to go to that night.  Fat George, as usual, had already gone home to his plump wife, leaving me to do all the feeding.  I was hurrying with my bucket of oats when I got to Joker’s stall and failed to whack him on the rump and speak to him.  The little stallion was standing with one hind foot relaxed, half asleep.
When I rounded the end of the stall, the bucket bumped Joker in the rump and startled him.  Like greased lightning a back foot lashed out in a kick.  I was close enough to him that there was no bone-breaking impact but his flailing leg picked me up and threw me across the alleyway, slamming me into the wall.  Fat George would have gotten up and beaten the tar out of Joker but I knew it was my fault so I just calmed him down and gave him his oats.  Fortunately, I had ridden the bicycle that day as I developed a big purple bruise on my thigh and limped for a couple of days.
One of Joker’s best tricks was his uncanny ability to unseat even an experienced rider.  He especially picked on women.  The experienced lady riders who participated in the Columbia Lancers, our drill team, were allowed to ride the many bridle trails on the west end of Hayden Island alone.  Often they would ask for Joker because he was such a beautiful little horse.
On more than one occasion, after about half an hour, Joker would come moseying back up the trail to the stables all by himself, carefully holding his head to one side so as not to step on the trailing reins.  Unless someone took Joker back, a little while later a very sheepish lady rider would come walking up the trail.  I never saw him do it, but according to his victims, Joker had a cute way of shying sidewise when the rider was relaxed and right out from under them.
I recall one day when the lead lady rider on the drill team came for a canter and asked for Joker.  I reminded her that he could be skittish and offered another horse, but she was insistent.  She was a tall lady who looked a lot like Eve Arden and spoke with the authority of a school teacher.  I just shrugged and saddled Joker.
As soon as she was out of sight, and not being especially busy at the time, I put a wester saddle on Clown.  Sure enough, about twenty minutes later there came old Joker alone.  I swung onto Clown and took the little stallion back down the trail to find her.  She did not have much to say except to thank me and never asked for Joker again if she was going out alone.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Horse Whisperer

A few days after the airplane ride, I was sitting in Gearhart’s with David Schaeffer and Ariel.  We were just talking and killing tie.  I mentioned that so far I had not been able to find a good summer job.  David came up with a suggestion.
“You know all about horses, don’t you, Conrad?”
“Sure—but what good does that do me when I am trying to find a job in Vancouver?”
“Tell you what,” he said, “over on Hayden Island back beyond the Jantzen Beach amusement park and the midget car race track, there is a big riding academy.  They have a bunch of horses and I’ll bet an old country boy like you could get a job tending those horses—if you don’t mind the smell of horse manure.”
I perked up my ears.  Some people object to the smell of a barnyard but I did not mind at all—it was like home on the farm.  The more I thought about David’s idea, the better it seemed.  I sure was not finding anything better to do.
The very next morning I set off on foot.  I hoofed the long mile across the Interstate bridge to Hayden Island.  West, beyond the amusement park roller coaster and the dirt race track, there was a yellow building with an arched roof.  Big black letters on the arch read “Columbia Riding Academy”.  Strung from a corner of the building there was a row of stalls.
The office was at the south end of the building.  I went in and knocked on the office door but no one came.  Finally, I turned back through the large building which turned out to be mostly a big, sawdust-floored arena—to the stable side.
I found a large, wood-floored area where the horses were saddled and mounted.  There was a tack room adjacent with racks of English saddles and a few Western saddles plus a rack of bridles.  I called out but only horse snorts answered me.  I realized that it was almost noon and probably everyone was gone to lunch.
I walked along the row of box stalls, each occupied by a sleek horse, then back through the loading platform to where there were two more box stalls then a row of standing stalls down the side of the building along an alleyway.  A feeling of nostalgia swept over me as I inhaled the familiar smells of a barn.
Walking back after inspecting the long row of horses’ rumps, I halted at one of the box stalls near the tack room.  In it was a very pretty dainty small black mare with a sore leg.  She backed away from the stall door as I came up.  Her lower left foreleg was trailing the dirty end of the bandage that had been carelessly applied.  I could see the edge of an ugly gash above the loose bandage.
The mare had moved against the back wall of the stall.  I leaned through the open top half of the stall door and spoke gently to her, holding out my hand.  She snorted fearfully at first then came forward to sniff at my fingers.  I kept talking soothingly to her and she finally brought her head close enough for me to stroke her nose and scratch between her ears.
Behind me, on a timber along the alleyway, there was a can of salve.  I reached back for it then, still stroking the mare’s nose and speaking to her reassuringly, eased open the door and stepped into the stall.  The horse flinched and drew back but relaxed as I stroked her un-curried neck.  She even nuzzled me a bit so I knew she was friendly.
I gradually worked my hand along her neck, then down her foreleg until I reached the bandage.  The mare stood quietly so I unwound the bandage and exposed a gash that looked as if she had tangled with a barbed wire fence.  I gently rubbed some of the salve onto the cut, tore off the end of the bandage that had been trailing in the dirty straw, and rewound it on her leg properly.  I was just re-tieing the bandage when there were footsteps across the loading area and into the alleyway.
“What the hell!”  It was a rough masculine voice.
I did not look up right away as I was still busy with the bandage.  The voice then said, more quietly, “Don’t make any sudden moves, kid.”  The stall door creaked.  “Just back away easy so you don’t scare that mare.  She’s mean and will kick your head off!  Come out of there!”
I straightened up and turned, stroking the mare’s neck with my free hand.  “Don’t seem mean to me, mister.  She is a nice little mare.”
The man facing me was a short individual dressed in tan whipcord riding pants, brown riding boots, and a western-style beige shirt trimmed in dark brown.  He had on a string tie.  His thinning hair was mustardy blond and he had a cigar stub clenched in the corner of his aquiline and angry face beneath a thin blond mustache.  “Some dude!” I thought to myself.
Replacing the lid on the can of salve I stepped out of the stall and closed the door.  “I’m sorry, mister, didn’t mean no harm.”
Sensing that it might help, I did something that I have continued to do through the years on appropriate occasions—I lapsed into Ozark idiom that would mark me for a country boy.  “I was looking for whoever runs this here place and I seen that there mare’s leg needed some attention.  The bandage was loose and trailing in the dirt.  I jist put a little of that there salve on her cut and fixed the bandage—didn’t mean no harm.”
The angry flush left the man’s face and he removed the cigar stub from his mouth.  “How in the world did you do that?  Every time George tries to treat her leg that mare fights back.  Can’t no one hardly get near her!”
The mare had her head out of the open upper half of the door.  I stroked her nose again and said, “Well, maybe somebody was been mean to her.  You get mean with a horse, it’s gonna get mean with you every time...”
He laughed and held out his hand—which was clammy when I shook it.  “My name’s Art Farr—an owner of this place.  I don’t suppose you would be looking for a job?”
My heart leaped at his words.  “Matter of fact, Mister Farr, that is why I came looking for someone.  I could use a job for the summer.”
“Well,” he said as he turned, “you got one if you want to be a barn boy.  Anybody can talk to horses like that I can use!”  He stepped outside the stable door and yelled in the direction of a small yellow house on the far side of the parking area, “George!  You lazy bastard--you ain’t got all day for a nooner! Quit pokin’ that wife of yours and get your fat fanny over here!”
I was astonished and repelled by Farr’s uncouth language.  After a minute the door opened and a short very fat little man came out, still hooking one of the galluses of his blue overalls.  He shambled quickly across the parking lot, his fat belly shaking up and down.
As the man approached, Farr said, “Think I’ve got us a barn hand, George.”  He turned to me.  “What’s you name, boy?”
By then I was thinking that maybe I did not want to work for this uncouth man and I did not like him calling me “boy”.  Fat George was not exactly my idea of a barn boss, either.  But then I thought about the horses and the little mare with the sore leg, not to speak of making some money, and meekly said, “Conrad Frieze.”
“Well, Conrad, I’ll pay you a puck and a half a day, seven to four thirty, six days a week.  Sunday’s off because my partner, Charlie, insists we close up on Sundays and George feeds the horses then.  If it is a deal, be here at seven tomorrow in your working duds.”
It was with mixed emotions that I walked back up the dirt road to the bridge and across to Vancouver.  I was elated to have found a full-time job and I like the prospect of working with horses.  My uneasiness came from the fact that I dislike Farr almost on sight and I certainly coubted that I could take a liking to fat George.  I idly wondered if he had rally been screwing his wife at noon.  Oh well, I mused, mine dollars a week isn’t all that bad.  If I worked for two and a half months, that would be around ninety dollars all told.  I strode on home, whistling as I went.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The First Time

By the time school was out for the summer of 1938 and Dick had graduated from VHS, Dad’s “itchy feet” had resulted in our moving twice.  He first moved us for a time to a small yellow house about three blocks further away from the railroad yards, then to a three-bedroom two-story house on 17th a block off Kauffman.  Since we only moved a few blocks each time, we were still Vancouver “westsiders” so our friends and the Gearhart Gang remained unchanged.
Dad had apparently gotten some raises at the sawmill because he bought a car, our first since the Model T in the Ozarks.  It was only a dark green 1928 or 1929 four-door Chevrolet, but it was wheels.
When school was out I wanted to get a job that would pay more than a paper route—which I could have gotten since Dick quit the Columbian in favor of a job that he could go to college.  Dave was making enough to keep us comfortably housed, fed, and clothed, but there was no way that he could send us boys to college unless we earned the money.
My good friend Dave Daniels and I were both avid about airplanes.  (When I joined the Navy two years later, the ceiling of my bedroom was literally covered with balsa and rice paper models.)  We never s=missed a movie like “Dawn Patrol” with Errol Flynn and David Niven or “Eyes of the Navy”.  We saw each of them two or three times.
1940 LaSalle

One Saturday Dave and I had a job washing and waxing a big maroon LaSalle sedan that belong to Mr. Larson who had a grocery store on Kauffman near where Dave lived.  It was quite a job as he wanted it rubbed down with carnauba wax.  We worked all day on that car and when we finished it was a gleaming beauty.  Mr. Larson was so pleased that he gave us three dollars apiece for a job that I would have done for a dollar.
Dave and I felt rich.  We trekked off down to Gearhart’s and had a coke while we talked about the things we could do with three dollars apiece.  (It did not occur to either of us that we could put it in the bank.)
I had an idea.  It was still early in the afternoon and was a beautiful, calm, sunny day.  I said, “Hey, Dave, for three bucks apiece we could go for an airplane ride.  There is a fellow down at Pearson Field who has a Curtis Robin that will hold two passengers.  I will go for an airplane ride if you will!”
Dave thought it was a great idea since neither of us had ever been up before.  We downed our Coca Colas, trotted home for our bicycles, and off we went to Pearson Field.  I neglected to tell my mother where we were going because I figured she would object and put a damper on the idea right quick.
Curtis Robin

The Curtis Robin was out on the flight line and its owner agreed to take us up for fifteen minutes for six bucks.  Now a Curtis Robin was a pretty ugly angular high-winged monoplane (the kind “Wrong Way Corrigan flew across the Atlantic) but this one was freshly painted green and yellow and we thought it was beautiful.  We liked the way it smelled inside of fuel, motor oil, and airplane dope.
The pilot strapped the two of us into the rear seat, then slid into the front.  Someone cranked the propeller and the engine caught with a satisfying roar after it coughed a few times.  I believe it was a WWI ox-5 engine.
We taxied out, warmed the engine, and as we roared down the grass runway Dave and I were grinning at each other like fools.  The Robin went bumping along and shaking until it got flying speed, then the nose came up, the ground seemed to drop away and it got smooth except for engine noise and vibration.
We climbed away over east Vancouver into a new and wondrous world.  Objects on the ground shrank until cars on the highway looked like little beetles that scurried along and people looked like ants.  From up there you could not see the dirt and trash and the whole world looked clean and beautiful.  The sky was an unimaginable blue, studded with snowy cumulus clouds that we skirted.
I was exhilarated and entranced with a feeling that I could never adequately describe until, sometime later I chanced across some lines written by one John Gillespie Magee, Jr., a young American that served with the RCAF in England before the U.S. got into the war that became WWII.  After he was killed in 1941 this sonnet, written while he was in flying school, was found in his effects.  For those of us who must fly, this says it:

“Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,

                And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth’      

of sun split clouds—and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of—wheeled and swung and

                Soared—high in the sunlit silence.

Hovering there, I’ve chased the shouting winds along,

                And flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue, I’ve topped

                The windswept heights with easy grace,

Where never lark or even eagle flew.

And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod

                The high un-trespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”

Those lines reflect the jubilance and awe that I felt during that memorable first short airplane flight and, later on, when I few small airplanes alone.  It is a joy that no earthbound mortal, and those who have flown only in bus-like airliners, can know.

That day our pilot climbed to three or four thousand feet and circled over Vancouver.  Dave and I sat there excitedly pointing out individual buildings—the courthouse, Gearhart’s, the high school, and our own houses—all looking like a tiny layout for a model railroad.  It was marvelous and all too short.

We were still excited when we climbed out of the airplane.  I stood, stroked the sleek side of the fuselage, and exclaimed, “Boy oh boy, I sure want to learn to fly!”

Dave threw an arm around my shoulders.  “We will, Con, we sure as hell will!”  And time would prove him right.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Finding a Tribe

There was a double incentive for me to make good grades at Vancouver High.  I knew that the higher I kept my grade point average, the better chance I would have in getting a crack at the Annapolis examination when I joined the Navy.  I also had the incentive of keeping up with my brother Dick.  We had both discovered that our years in those country schools had left us, if anything, somewhat ahead of our peers.  Just one class ahead of me, old Richard was maintaining aggravatingly close to a four-point average.  Matter of fact, seemingly with seldom cracking a book at home.  In 1938 Richard was to graduate on the honor roll, twelfth out of a class of 287.  My work was cut out for me.
                During my junior year at VHS, I still had not shed my shyness and reserve from feeling that I was just an old country boy from the Ozark hills.  Particularly in the presence of the rather new breed of girls that I found in high school, I was almost tongue-tied and not aggressive.  I did start getting acquainted with a few of the west side girls like friendly and very likeable Lena Helm, but most of my friends were boys.
                The only achievement I could claim during my junior year, other than a better than 3.5 grade average (which did not please me as I had maintained close to straight A’s at Bona) was at one of the football rallies.  There was to be a contest to see who could show up as the worst-dressed bum.
                That was duck soup for me.  I fished out one of my old pairs of overalls that were much too short, put on a torn blue work shirt of Dad’s from the rag bag, left one suspender hanging down, blacke my face with burnt cork for a beard, donned a beat-up old felt hat, made a bundle in a red bandanna to carry over my shoulder on a stick, and appropriated one of Dad’s old corncob pipes.  I won hands down and was awarded a little cartoon certificate at the next Friday school assembly by Roger Camp, the student body president.  Otherwise, during the 1937-38 school year, I had little claim to fame.
                I did not ignore the “fair sex” entirely.  I had discovered that I had a knack for dancing and often attended the noon sock hops in the gym and some of the evening dances.  I was quite smitten off and on with a variety of pretty girls but did not yet have the courage to approach most of them.  I suppose that I felt that many of them were “out of my league”, not realizing that I was passably personable and many would have readily accepted a date.  I had dance or movie dates occasionally, but always sooner or later I would wind up back drinking Coca Cola or going to a movie with Patty.  I privately wished fervently that she were older so that I could take her to the school dances.
                (It is possible that Pat Cross and I might have developed a more permanent relationship had I not suffered from an attack of stupidity after a while—but that is a later part of my story.)
                Sometime during that year the “Gearhart Gang” came into being—those of us drom the west side that used Mrs. Gearhart’s drugstore as an after-school hangout.  The regulars included pert and pretty Ariel Mansfield who had dropped out of school and lived with her mother in a storefront next to the drugstore, David Schaeffer from an apartment building a half block away, another dark-haired girl from the same apartment (I forget her name), and two or three others, often including brother Dick and an olive-skinned handsome young fellow named D’arcy DeJuan.  I do not recall much about D’arcy but he was often around with Richard and got so he sort of wandered in and out of our house like it was a second home.  My mother liked D’arcy and had no objections even when he showed up for a meal without prior notice.
                The “Gearhart Gang” is difficult to explain.  We rarely chummed around together away from the drugstore except for a dance once in a great while or maybe a little beer drinking down by the river, but it was sort of a second family relationship.  Recently [1989] I found Ariel with her husband Buster Davis (who was in my class) at the 50th reunion of the VHS Class of ’39.  In introducing her to Phyllis, my wife, I was sort of at a loss to explain our relationship since never once did I date Ariel.  Ariel solved that—in answer to Phyllis’ questions about what the Gearhart Gang did, Ariel tossed her head and laughed, “We grew up!”

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Mapping the Way to Annapolis and Extra Cirricular Activities

In September when school started, Vancouver High School was another totally new experience for an old country boy.  Shumway Junior High went through the ninth grade so VHS had the sophomore, junior, and senior classes and there was upward of three hundred students in each class.
                Vancouver High was a large red brick building on the corner of 29th and Main Streets which meant that we had to walk about sixteen blocks to and from school.  We thought nothing of that, however, after years of walking a mile and a quarter to Bona School.
                Part of the newness, other than size, was that I found that I could choose some of my courses besides the basics that were required for graduation.  We were each assigned a faculty advisor who could help lay out our courses.  I was delighted because I had been mulling over a plan all summer off and on—I wanted to go to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.
                I made an appointment with my advisor, Mr. Louis Barter who taught history and economics, and explained what I wanted to do.  He said that he did not think I would have a chance of getting a senatorial appointment to Annapolis because they were limited and were usually filled two or three years in advance, often by politicians’ sons.  He pointed out, however, that eighty men a year were taken from the enlisted ranks in the Navy by competitive examination and based on their records in high school.
                Together, Mr. Barter and I laid out my courses for my junior and senior years so that I would have all the prerequisites for the Annapolis examination, should the time ever come.  I was pleased when it turned out that, if I skipped a foreign language, I could still have an elective course each year.  I would also have plenty of time for extra-curricular school activities.

                After tossing that football around half the summer with Rex Lester, I decided to turn out for football with the Vancouver Trappers.  That was a mistake because I weighed all of 135 pounds.  I insisted to Mr. Gustafson, the assistant football coach that I could play end (we did not have “wide receivers” in those days) and he agreed to give me a chance on the scrub team.  Coach “Dutch” Shields took one look at my skinny frame and just shook his head.
                My high school football “career” came to an abrupt end on the occasion of our first scrimmage with the varsity.  I had made a favorable impression on Gustafson by demonstrating pretty good speed and the ability to leap and catch the football form just about any angle.  That first scrimmage game in pads with the varsity was something else however.  The varsity players averaged around 165 to 170 pounds so I was outweighed about thirty pounds per man.
                I did my share of blocking for the halfback and fullback then Gustafson called a pass play to me.  I streaked out into the flat and leaped high into the air for the ball.  I caught it but when I hit the ground it felt as if a truck had hit me.  A 175-pound tackle brought me down and then it seemed as if the whole varsity piled on.  There were no face masks then and my face was buried into the sod until I thought my nose was broken.  The wind was knocked out of me and it took me two or three minutes to get up off the ground after Gustafson came out and made sure that nothing was busted.  I turned in my suit and helmet and, from then on, my participation in football was confined to rooting and once in a while acting as spotter for the announcer at games.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Falling in Love with a Girl

It was easy for me to make friends and, before the summer was over, I had collected several.  One was Dave Daniels who lived further down Kauffman Avenue and shared my keen interest in aviation.  He and I made innumerable model airplanes, some for show and some to fly, during the next year or so before his family moved away.
Another (temporary because he quit school that fall and joined the Army) was a tall, lanky, curly-haired fellow with a big grin.  I met him on Kauffman Avenue one afternoon when he was strolling along tossing a football from one big hand to the other.  His name was Rex Lester.
We played catch with the football for a while in a vacant lot then Lester invited me to come along and see a nice girl he knew just down the street.  I told him I did not want to horn in on his girlfriend, but he insisted that she was not a girlfriend because she was too young.  He stated that the girl’s mother always had cold Coca Cola in the refrigerator.  That sounded fine and that was how I met my “first love” in Vancouver who drove thoughts of the Ozark girls clean out of my mind.
We walked down to 13th and Kauffman.  The H&H Tavern was on the lower floor corner of a big wooden apartment building.  It was painted a nondescript gray.  We went past the tavern to the rear ground floor apartment.  She was sitting out on the concrete steps leading to the apartment door and I knew at once that she was, by far, the prettiest girl I had yet to meet.  Turned out she was not quite thirteen years old and was just finishing the eighth grade, but she was tall and slender.  Long glossy black hair framed a beautiful young face that had a radiant smile.  Her name was Patricia Cross.
                Rex Lester was right—there was Coca Cola in the refrigerator.  Patty got us each a bottle and we sat on the steps and talked.  Her voice was not high and nasal like most of the Ozark girls and when she laughed I wanted to reach right out and hug her—which, of course, I could not do right there in public and in front of Lester.  The fact remained that she was nearly three years my junior and not even in high school yet so that precluded any serious dating even after Rex Lester left for the Army.  I was strongly attracted to her, however.
                Even after school started and I began to get acquainted with and started to date pretty girls near my own age, I continued to go often to see Patty.  Sometimes, when her mother (who was divorced and worked at the Evergreen Hotel restaurant) would allow, I would take Patty to a matinee movie at the Kiggins Theater.
                My mother did not approve of my seeing Patty as she sort of looked down her nose at Pat’s mother who had a gentleman friend that used to come and see her at the apartment.  When he was there, Patty and her brother Albert would have to stay outside somewhere until the friend left.
                My mother’s objections were not all that strong and I saw Patty off and on right up to the time I joined the Navy.  She blossomed rapidly into a tall young woman and the only blemish to her beauty was slightly protruding front teeth that could have been fixed easily if her mother could have afforded braces.  She was one person in whom I could confide and with whom I could discuss problems.  We were just very good friends and no matter what sort of school “romance” I had going I frequently went back to that little apartment on Kauffman Avenue.
                The nearest Patty and I ever came to “romance” was one warm summer evening, probably in 1939, when we climbed the stairs and went out onto the roof of the apartment building to watch the stars and talk.  It was not too warm to cuddle so I held her close and finally delivered the first truly passionate kiss of my young life.  I remember that Patty sighed and said, “Conrad Frieze, if you ever kiss anybody else like that, I’ll scratch your blue eyes out!”

Monday, July 25, 2016

Falling in Love with the Navy

Richard (it was about that time we started calling him “Dick” as they did at school) and Rex still had two or three weeks of school left, so I had time to explore the town on my own.  I usually walked because Dick had not said I could use his bicycle; however, if I wanted to go quite a way I sometimes took it anyway—making sure to get it back before he got home.
I got acquainted with downtown Vancouver then, one sunny day, wandered through the Army post, Vancouver Barracks, where a division of infantry and the 7th cavalry were stationed.  Down between the Barracks and the river there was a small airfield.  Part of it, called Pearson Field, was used by the Army Air Corps for some small bombers but part of it was private and I was irresistibly drawn to the collection of ancient biplanes and some homebuilt aircraft housed in a few small wooden hangars.  I vowed again that someday I would fly airplanes.
I was also frequently drawn to the waterfront along the broad river.  I watched the remaining big stern wheel steamboats thrashing up the river against the current and the pompously chuffing little tugboats maneuvering rafts of logs that arrived at the DuBois sawmill.
I was not a frustrated Mark Twain—I had no particular desire to be on either the steamers or the tugboats.  I did not realize, in fact, that the maritime world held an attraction for me until Navy Day weekend that year of 1937 when several Navy warships came up the Columbia River.  A cruiser and two or three destroyers went on up the Willamette River to tie up at Portland.  One destroyer tied up at a dock at the Vancouver waterfront.
I watched the destroyer come in and sat on the bollard most of the afternoon watching the activities of the white-clad sailors on the deck.  I envied them and wanted to be in one of those snazzy uniforms with a cocky white hat and flapping collar.  I even came back after supper that evening and watched from the dock with some other youngsters while they showed a movie for the crew on the open fantail.  It was a gangster film.
My feelings about the Navy solidified that weekend when the Navy ships were open for public tours.  I bummed a quarter from my mother for the fare and rode the interurban street car from Vancouver across the Interstate Bridge and into downtown Portland.  (The interurban streetcar was replaced by bus service in 1938.)
I waited in lines and toured every one of the Navy ships, marveling at the immaculate grey paintwork, gleaming brass, and the big guns.  I especially envied the naval officers in their crisp white uniforms and gold-braided peaked caps.  The desire to wear a Navy uniform was perhaps even more strong than my desire to fly.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Welcome to Vancouver

Chapter 14

Vancouver and VHS

Vancouver, Washington, on the north bank of the Columbia River, was a town of about thirty thousand people in 1937.  It was quite a metropolis to me after having just come from little Bona, population 21, in the Ozark hills.
Vancouver circa 1940

Going up Main Street from the bridge, Mother pointed out some main landmarks that would quickly become familiar.  The Evergreen Hotel and the Lucky Lager brewery were the two tallest buildings in town.  There were stores and banks lining the street including the CC Store at Eighth where I would one-day work before joining the Navy.

Dad turned left on 11th and went west past the city park behind the brewery and the courthouse.  Across the street from the courthouse was Gerhart’s Drug Store that would become a hangout for some of us west side kids.  We went north on Kauffman past the places we had lived ten years before to 18th, then two blocks west to Railroad Avenue where our rented house was situated.  My Uncle Austin’s house was just a block and a half further toward the railroad yards.
Vancouver 1950

The little house was a flat-roofed square grey stuccoed two-bedroom place.  The front door was at the street level on Railroad but the hillside sloping down to the railroad yards was steep and the house had a full basement.  It was to be the first of our three different houses in which we would live during the next three years before Richard and I joined the Navy as Dad moved us to progressively larger homes.
Compared to our little one-bedroom farmhouse at Bona with its coal oil lamps and two-hold outside privy, that little house on Railroad Avenue seemed quite palatial.  There was a small living room with some comfortable “early Grand Rapids” furniture, a modern kitchen with a gas cook stove and electric refrigerator, a bathroom with hot and cold running water, and two bedrooms.  There was a little bed for Sandra in with Mother and Dad and we three boys shared the other.
When the other boys came home from school (it was the middle of May and school in Vancouver would not be out until the first week in June) Rex Donald seemed to have grown quite a bit and was no longer a little tot that tagged along behind us in the Ozark woods.  He was by then in the fifth grade and was sprouting into a sturdy young man.  Eventually he would be as large as me.  Richard had not grown much and I was delighted to find that I was as tall as he was.
Richard eyed my new height with a wry grin and said, “Boy, nipple noggin, you sure are skinny!”
I snorted, “Look who’s talking!  Bet you don’t weigh a pound more than me!” (And it turned out he did not.)
Richard and I had grown up fighting and quarreling every step of the way until then.  We never did stop completely but, from then on, partly because I had been “on my own” for a while and partly because we were no longer kids, we got along better and even went out to parties and dances together sometimes.
Richard had to leave right away after he got home from Vancouver High, where he was a junior, to go on his paper route.  He had acquired a black balloon-tired bicycle with wide “steer horn” handlebars and had an evening route for the Columbian.  I was immediately envious that he was making spending money and resolved even before I ha scouted our new territory, that I would find a job also.
I recall my first morning in that little house clearly because it was so different from what I had been accustomed to.  It had a sawdust burning furnace in the basement so it was not necessary to grab clothes and run for the warmth of the kitchen stove to dress. 
The kitchen was bright and cheerful.  It had a dinette space that would seat all of us.  My mother had a new electric waffle iron and she made waffles—the first I had ever tasted.  I thought then that they beat biscuits and gravy all hallow; however, in later years one of my favorite breakfasts at times is good tough biscuits and sausage cream gravy.
(I say “good tough biscuits” because, although my mother was an excellent cook, her biscuits were a bit tough and that is the way I still like them.  Never did care much for fluffy biscuits and crumble.)
Anyway, the sun was bright that morning and I was in a new world.  It was good to be part of the family again even though I relished my time with Grandpa and Grandma.  I can still see little roly-poly Sandra that sunny morning, gurgling in her high chair and banging a spoon until she got more waffle.

Saturday, July 23, 2016


My next clear recollection of that train trip was when we came down the Columbia River Gorge on the last day into Portland.  We had been in dry and almost barren brown hills of eastern Oregon then, a few miles beyond Pendleton we were suddenly on the bank of the mighty Columbia River.
I moved to the right-hand side of the coach and gaped in awe.  I had never seen so much water in one place before.  At home in the Ozarks, especially during the drought years, I could throw a rock across the biggest river I knew about.  Now I was gazing at a mile-wide expanse of water that was headed for the Pacific Ocean.
The best was yet to come.  After a short stop at The Dalles, we were into the heart of the Columbia River Gorge.  The brown hills gave way to mountains covered with green Douglas firs and rocky cliffs over which streams tumbled in great waterfalls.

I moved back to the left side of the coach and, nose pressed firmly against the windowpane, gaped ecstatically as we passed Horsetail Falls, Bridal Veil, and Finally double-tiered Multnomah Falls.

During the final hour into Portland, I felt a kinship with old Brigham Young as I kept repeating silently to myself, “This is the place!  THIS IS THE PLACE!!!”  That train began a love affair with the Pacific Northwest that would remain steadfast during the remainder of my life, no matter how much of the rest of the world I saw.

My father had borrowed Uncle Austin’s black Plymouth sedan to come to the train station at Portland and he, holding baby Sandra, and my mother were on the platform to meet the train.
My principal memory of that reunion was the reaction of my mother.  She had left behind in Missouri a tow-headed youngster that she could kiss on the forehead but I had grown a full six inches or more during those months.  Instead of little Conrad, she was looking at a gangling youth, arms and legs hanging out of that too-small grey suit.
As I stepped down from the train, I heard my father exclaim, “There is is!” and as I turned toward them my mother stood stock still as I advanced, her mouth open in surprise.  As I came near, she finally said “Conrad?” in a questioning voice then gave me a big hug.  The top of her head came barely to my nose.
“Conrad Ross Frieze,” she said in mock severity but with delight, “I swear you have grown a foot in just seven months!  Just look at you—we are going to have to get you some new clothes!”
Shifting little Sandra, now a roly-poly one-year-old to his left arm, my father gravely shook hands with me.  He simply said “You are looking fine, boy.”
The drive to our new home was fascinating.  We crossed the long Interstate bridge over the Columbia to Vancouver.  Below on the water I saw a tugboat pulling a big raft of logs slowly downriver—just like the picture in the atlas at Bona School.  Upriver there was an honest-to-gosh sternwheeler steamer thrashing along.  My father pointed out the DuBois sawmill from the bridge where he worked.  He had taken the day off to come get me.
It was a wonderful feeling to be with the family once more.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Way West

I woke shortly after sunrise.  The landscape outside had changed during the night.  The undulating prairies had given way to rolling hills and rocky outcroppings as we approached the Rocky Mountains.  I was enthralled.  We were getting into cowboy country. 

I was hungry and feeling the call of nature.  I made my way slowly through the swaying car to the lavatory at the end.  For a country boy fresh from a two-holer outhouse, the train lavatory was opulent.  The sink was marble with gleaming brass fittings and there was a fancy light up beside a gilt-framed mirror.  I wondered where electricity and hot and cold running water came from on the train.  The toilet was flushed by a foot treadle.  I was fascinated by the fact that the treadle simply opened a flapper valve and, peering down, I could see the ties flashing past.  Now I knew the reason for the sign that said “Do Not Flush While Train is in Station.”
I washed my face and combed my unruly mop of hair, then made my way across an open platform into the dining car.  It was a bit overwhelming.  Each table was set with a white linen cloth, heavy silverware, white coffee cups with gold rims, and water glasses that must have been crystal.
There were few passengers in the diner at that early hour.  I took a seat at the nearest empty table.  The white-coated black waiter, flashing his white teeth in a big smile, placed the menu in front of me with a flourish and a “Mawnin’, young suh!”
He waited while I studied the menu.  I was appalled at the prices.  At home in Greenfield a complete breakfast of eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, toast, juice and coffee could be had for 35 cents—twenty-five cents without the juice.  You could also get a hamburger for a dime.  Here on the train, a glass of juice was twenty cents alone and a bacon and egg breakfast was seventy-five cents.  On the lunch part of the menu, a hamburger was fifty-five cents.
I surreptitiously felt of my pocket where, after the movie in Kansas City, I had little more than four dollars to see me to Portland which was still two and a half days away.  I squirmed uncomfortably in my chair.  “We-ell,” I said, “I am not very hungry.  I’ll just have a glass of milk and some toast, I think.”
The waiter never batted an eye but I realized later that he knew the reason for my discomfort.  He smiled, “You sho’ that’s all?”  When I nodded wordlessly, he leaned down before he turned away and said in a low voice, “Tell you what—when we gets the folks from the Pullmans fed, Ah’ll be comin’ through the coach with some sandwiches—they is only two bits apiece.”  Then he turned away to get my milk and toast which was going to total thirty cents here in the dining car.
The black waiter was not only as good as his word, he was better.  About an hour and a half later he did indeed come through the coaches with a tray of ham and beef sandwiches.  When I held up my hand and dug out a quarter, he flashed that big grin again.  Without asking my choice, he pulled a sandwich from the bottom of the pile.  Instead of cold ham or beef, it was a bacon and egg sandwich still warm from the grill.
After that I did not go near that expensive diner but bought sandwiches three times a day and sometimes a bottle if pop when a vendor came through.  A grape NeHi was a dime instead of a nickel that my grandpa charged at his store.
There was not much else during the trip that made a deep enough impression on me for me to remember more than fifty years later.  I recall that there was a boy a couple of years older than me sitting across the aisle.  We struck up an acquaintance and would sometimes get off and stretch our legs when the train was in a station.  I still remembered that other trip when I thought the train was going to leave my mother behind so, even though I now knew that the train would not leave until the whistle blew and the conductor call, “All aboard!”, we never wandered very far from our coach.
I do recall one scene clearly the second day out, probably somewhere in Wyoming.  I knew that I was finally “out west”.  There was a dirt road paralleling the railroad track.  I watched as we passed a man wearing a wide-brimmed cowboy hat and driving a buckboard behind a spirited team of horses.  Behind him loped a young fellow on a pinto rocking along in a silver-mounted saddle.  I was a bit disappointed that he did not seem to be packing a six shooter.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Heading West

Chapter 13

The Way West

Even though I was fresh out of the backwoods hill country, I set off on my great adventure with complete self-confidence as becoming any fifteen-year-old.  After all, I had been to Vancouver, Washington before (ignoring the fact that I was less than five years old at the time), and we had lived for a year in Kansas City.  I did not consider myself a “hick from the sticks” but I combed my hair carefully to make sure there was no hayseed there.
There was no hitch in my travel plans at Kansas City.  One of my older cousins, Denton Hayward, met me at the bus depot and took me and my luggage to Aunt Ora Hayward’s house on 35th a couple of blocks off the Paseo.  That was familiar territory since in 1930 or thereabouts, we had lived on 37th just about three blocks away.  Faxon School where I had gone for the third grade was just two blocks down the Paseo beyond the big Katz Drugstore on the corner of 35th and Paseo.
My cousins Ennis and Buddy Fulkerson, who were near my age, came to stay at Aunt Ora’s while I was there.  I forget who was getting married, but I believe it was Raymond Hayward, Aunt Ora’s youngest son.  Uncle Hubert and Aunt “Ory”, with their bevy of three sons and four daughters, had created a Kansas City branch of the family of which I could never keep track.  I mostly remember the boys (all grown then) Wilbur, Denton, and Raymond, the youngest daughter Maude who was still living at home at the time.  There was also a very pretty little second cousin, Jackie Lou who was near my age. [Not, sure but Jackie Lou may have actually been a first cousin once removed.  This sort of thing is confusing.]
Aunt Ory was the undisputed matriarch of the Kansas City branch of the family.  (Uncle Hubert had died back around 1934.)  She had a huge house that was sort of a catch-as-catch-can boarding house with all sorts of people, mostly relatives, coming and going.  It would be unthinkable to go to Kansas City and not stop in on Aunt Ory.
Needless to say, with a wedding going on the day after I got to Kansas City, Aunt Ory’s house was even more of a “madhouse” than usual.  We boys—Ennis, Buddy, and me—mostly just tried to stay out of the way.  We ate whenever and whatever we could get our hands on—which was no problem as there was food all over the place.  I believe we spent my Grandpa’s two dollars by sneaking off in the evening after the wedding ceremony and taking Jackie Lou to a movie.
A day or two after the wedding, my Uncle Elbert Fulkerson drove me to the Union Station to catch my train to the Pacific Northwest.  I recall being worried that we might be late and the train would leave without me, but Uncle Elbert would just smile and say, “Stop fretting, boy, we got lots of time.”  Not owning a watch, I had no way to dispute him.
At the Union Station and for the first time the old country boy from the Ozark hills was out of his element and bewildered.  The only other time I had ridden a train was when I was five years old when Mother brought us kids back from the Pacific Northwest.  To me, the Kansas City Union Station was a scurrying mass of people and a bewildering number of ticket windows and gates to trains that were chuffing in and out of the station.
We already had my ticket so Uncle Elbert herded me through the bustle, checked my guitar box and suitcase and led me to the right track when they called my train.  He found me a red plush seat in a coach up ahead of the dining car, patted me on the shoulder, and with a last “goodbye boy” was gone.
The train lurched, jerked, then chuffed out of the station onto a westbound track past the Kansas City stockyards.  As it picked up speed through the suburbs of Kansas City, Kansad, and out onto the plains, I had a very strange feeling.  I was completely on my own for the first time.  It was as if a door had closed behind me and another was swinging open ahead.  I liked the feeling.  Even through the long first night I had no qualms and felt no homesickness for the Ozark hills—I was on my way home and was eager to get on with it.