I was somewhere over the Pacific Ocean traveling from Honolulu to attend my Seattle Prep sixtieth class reunion. I wasn’t expecting much since I had attended Prep for less than a year. Gerry Dinndorf, the reunion chairman, a casual acquaintance, sent me an invitation which I ignored until four more classmates, Parker, Mike Fischer, Dan Regis, and Jim Bradly, also encouraged me to attend.
I was moved by their interest in seeing me since we hadn’t spoken in sixty years. I thought if I went, I would probably not know anybody besides them, but we were good friends back in the day so why not go. I may never see them again.
Elizabeth reminded me, “You guys were good buddies in high school, and they are reaching out to you, Jake. You owe them the courtesy of showing up. Besides, it will be an opportunity to see your brothers and sisters.”
I agreed, bought a ticket and e-mailed my sister, Alisha, to see if she would put me up for a few days. Not only would she do so, but she offered to host a dinner party for my four siblings, cousin Kitty, and their wives, and husbands the night following the reunion.
During a mediocre airplane lunch, I ordered a cup of coffee and a cigar. I got the coffee and a smart ass remark from the stewardess. As I sipped my coffee, I got to thinking about life, death, family, and friends. I just turned seventy-eight, and when you do that, you can’t help but think about stuff like that.
I reminisced about how I had left Mom, Dad, the family, and Seattle behind in 1964, fifty-four years ago, to follow my passion, that of becoming a world class builder. Although I returned to Seattle briefly in 1968 and again in 1985 for a few years. The rest of the time, only Elizabeth remembers where we were. She sometimes reminds me that we lived in twenty-six different homes in two countries, and ten states. Needless to say, I lost track of my siblings and many friends, and they lost track of me, but we always kept our three boys, and six grandsons close.
Alisha set out to masterminded my return to the family in 2014. She started a friendly dialogue with me via e-mail when I was in Hawaii. First, it was a happy birthday greeting, followed by Marsha Rossellini’s and Fran’s funeral notices. It went on from there to develop into an ongoing, e-mail relationship which culminated in an invitation to a family reunion, and crab feed on the beach in front of their home in 2015.
I was reluctant to attend because I had been away for an awfully long time, and I perceived there were unresolved issues between my siblings and me over my handling of Doc’s estate. Trust me, you never want to be the executor of an estate. However, I gritted my teeth, put on my big boy pants, and flew into Seattle for the event. I had several reasons for doing so. Cancer and a heart issue threatened to send me packing to my maker, and I wasn’t sure if there would be another chance to be with them, and see what they had done with their lives. I didn’t verbalize it, but if there was going to be a crab feed on the beach, and possibly a boat trip to Gig Harbor, I was going to be there.
I was surprised and grateful by how the family embraced me. Not an unkind word was spoken, and I could feel that special love that only families share with one another. I realized that the bond we shared as children, not only truly stood the test of time, but played a role in shaping our lives. Because of that remarkable 2015 reunion, I am tonight returning for the fifth time.
SEATTLE – EDMONDS
As I stepped onto the airport curb a little after eleven p.m., Alisha was waiting to whisk me away to their Burien home on a high bank fronting on Puget Sound. Gary was down for the night due to an early morning appointment, but their little dog, which I call Pussycat, was there to greet me with a wagging tail. I think he smelled Elizabeth’s cats on my jeans.
Having nothing much to eat all day, I was hungry and thirsty. Alisha poured me a drink and made me some giant prawns, which were brushed with wasabi and oil, and wrapped in hot bacon. Oh, so tasty. I ate four of them as we talked story about family, work, and the upcoming week’s planned and unplanned events until 2:00 a.m.
When I rolled out of the sack about nine the next morning, she had coffee, a coke, and a delightful pastry from the local patisserie waiting for Pussycat and me on the deck. When Gary returned about ten, we talked for a few minutes, he handed me the keys to his truck, and I was off. I was feeling kind of guilty about using his truck for the better part of three days, but he graciously insisted it was no problem, he would drive the Mercedes. Alisha had suggested if I wanted some one-on-one time with my sister Monica, and brother, Fr. Ethan, it would be best if I spent a few hours with them at their home before the Saturday dinner which was sure to be a hectic, loud, free-for-all. I agreed.
I headed up I-5 to Monica & Tommy’s condo on the Edmonds waterfront. I got lost as usual, but after thirty-minutes of wrong turns and backtracking, I found the place. We hung out at their new, gorgeous condo which is situated above the Port of Edmond’s new marina a few blocks south of the Edmonds/Kingston ferry dock. Just being there flooded my mind with pleasant memories of years past when there was not much there besides the ferry dock, a big oil tank farm, the Northern Pacific railroad tracks, and the old Edmonds Yacht Club.
Monica reminded me that when we were kids aboard the Frisky II, Doc often laid over at the yacht club here on Friday nights before heading up into the Islands. I remembered that we would wait for Mom and Dad to go up to the club for drinks and a late dinner, and we would sneak up to the RR tracks, put pennies on the rail and gleefully wait for the big Diesel engine to smash them into souvenirs.
Tommy and I shared war stories about our health challenges, and talked about the summer we added a family room to their Mountlake Terrace home years ago. The conversation turned to boating, as it always does when we are with the family. Tommy was an excellent, cautious skipper and ran a couple of pretty big boats, like forty-five footers.
I teased him about his first wood boat, but he didn’t think I was amusing. We both felt that Doc was a little jealous of his boats which were much bigger than the Frisky II. Regretfully, we shared our concerns about how getting old left us a bit unsteady on our feet and how that made boating a challenge. What can I say, Tom hadn’t changed a bit, and he’s the greatest.
I hadn’t spent much time with Monica over the last sixty years, and so my dimming memory of our early days was that she was a quiet, serious, and stand-offish young lady. I recalled that she was a no-nonsense kid, with a mind of her own, and an unwavering determination to get what she wanted. She had no qualms about taking on Doc when he was out of line, being a bully, or mistreating our beloved Mom.
It wasn’t until today that I realize that she played an important, but passive role, in my early development. She taught me to be my own person and not to take crap from anybody, growing up isn’t a popularity contest. Despite my foggy memories, today she was a gracious, outgoing delight to be with, I thoroughly enjoyed her, and I was glad she was my sister.
After lots of talk story about boating, family, and our lifestyles, Monica said, “I’m not about to cook for you, so if you want lunch, come with us. We arrived at an upscale bistro on the Ave which I remembered from our last visit. Tommy insisted I order the calamari fries and the lobster bisque. The calamari was excellent, but the bisque needed some work. Monica had a delicious looking Italian bruschetta with all the trimmings.
After lunch, we did a drive-by of a landmark Edmonds tavern which Tommy wanted me to see, Engels Pub. We drove by the condo on the hill their friend, Mike, from church, lived in. They said they had many good friends in the neighbor hood, including a gal from Hawaii. We said goodbye about two, and I was on to my next adventure.
I continued up I-5 for Clear Lake to meet Harry Jay Follman, my construction partner in Hawaii for the last fifteen years. A half hour south of Mt. Vernon, I called him to see where he was. He responded, “Hey Full Share, Glad you called, I’m on my way to Mt. Vernon to meet my attorney to wrap up my Father’s will. Meet me at their law offices in about thirty minutes. it’s just north of the old Highway 99 bridge in an old bank building, you’ll find it.”
I was surprised when he asked me to sit in on the meeting with his lawyer as they took care of business. His Dad had been a Washington State superior court judge for years and had just died at ninety-three. I’m not sure why he wanted me there, but I was, and sometimes you just don’t ask a friend why.
The meeting took longer than expected due to a lot of talk story coming out of Jay which had little to do with the business at hand, but it was fun to sit and listen. On the way to his Clear Lake office, I struggled to keep up with him, as he darted in and out of narrow county roads at breakneck speed, to avoid the construction work on Highway 9. You talk about Mr. Toad’s wild ride. We arrived in one piece, an hour late, for our meeting with his Chief Financial Officer, and new General Manager. They were about to give up on us, and go home. I was anxious to meet these guys, and I think it was mutual. We enjoyed talking about the construction company and what the future held.
About six, I followed Jay to the nearby Harry Jay Follman Manor which sits on a bank, seven-hundred-feet above the shores of Clear Lake. It’s surrounded by several wooded acres. Their property was very similar to Athena and Gary’s. Jay was interested in learning more about their proposed tram to the beach. I dumped my bag in the guest room overlooking the lake and dock and joined Jay on the deck.
Jay is an exciting character and adventurous soul. As a young man, he was a USA Olympics’ team downhill skier and later raced sprint cars up and down the West Coast circuit. For the last thirty-five plus years; Jay fished the annual, Bristol Bay Salmon Run aboard his thirty-two-foot gillnetter, the Erika Lynn, and answered thousands of fire calls as a Clear Lake volunteer fireman, fire chief, and paramedic. He’s also a talented guitar player and singer. When he and Sharil do Johnny Cash and June, it gives me goose bumps.
Sharil is a sweetheart, She retired after a long career as a licensed, drug and alcohol abuse counselor at the family owned, Follman Agency. She now devotes her time to being with family, especially the grandkids. She’s also a hell if a piano player.
Their son Jack, a fledgling Los Angeles screenwriter, just put his first movie in the can, which Will Smith, the actor, bankrolled. It’s scheduled to debut at Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival in January.
As we waited for Sharil to get ready to go to dinner, our conversation turned to BJ, my 20-year-old, six-foot-five grandson, a smart, hard-working kid who is a charmer. He’s sometimes shy, sometimes outgoing, but always articulate, opinionated and fun to have around. He’s determined to earn the thirty-thousand-dollars needed to return to Oregon State University full-time to continue his pursuit of a biology degree.
Jay saw something special in the lad the first time they met in Hawaii a few months before, and subsequently stepped up to the plate, invited BJ to spend a day at Follman Manor to see what he was made of. Jay and Sharil liked what they saw in him.
Jay sent him out on the Erika Lynn, to fish the Bristol Bay Salmon Run as a quarter-share deckhand. Based on his performance on the Erica Lynn, BJ scored a five-month position on one of Jay’s construction crews in Dutch Harbor, working long hours for good money.
I remembered that as much as Elizabeth and I wanted BJ to succeed, we knew he had to do it on his own. We could possibly open the odd door for him, but then it was on him to make it happen.
I was proud of my grandson when Jay told me, “I knew BJ had it in him, I wasn’t surprised that he did well.” I wondered what I had done to deserve an extraordinary friend like Harry Jay Follman. I meekly muttered, “Thanks, Jay.”
We drove up to the Oyster Bar Restaurant, overlooking the San Juan Islands on Chuckanut Drive in Bellingham for a late dinner. Kumamoto oysters, Oysters Rockefeller, fried oysters, a bowl of mussels in pesto sauce for the table, followed by a Petrale sole, and King Salmon entries. It was a gastronomical event.
We stopped at a Mom and Pop grocery store for lime-aid popsicles and soda half-way home about eleven, followed by a tour of Jay’s new steel fabrication shop, and a short visit with happy-go-lucky, brother John at midnight. who was up watching Gunsmoke on late night TV.
Back at the house, Sharil keep saying, “I’m going to bed.” However, she kept staying for just one more story, My favorite Sharil story was how she came to meet and marry Jay. I also enjoyed the retelling of some of the adventures Jay and I had shared, including crabbing in the Bering Sea, and being thrown off our private jet in remote Cold Bay, Alaska,
The following morning, we all sleep in until ten. Jay and I had coffee and talked about the business for an hour, then we headed over to Evelyn’s TAVERN in Clear Lake for breakfast. Jay introduced me to Billie, the cook, and Hillbillies’ brother, the bartender.
While we waited for breakfast, consisting of hamburgers, a salad and a soda pop, in the outdoor beer garden, Jay greeted a scary looking homeless man, Sleepy Joe, who was cutting through the beer garden on his way to his home in the brush. He was living in an abandoned camper back which was hidden in the woods behind Evelyn’s. Sleepy Joe was a gifted guitar player and composer who had fallen on hard times years before. He played with the band at Evelyn’s most Saturday nights. He and Jay talked about what he was up to and how his songwriting was coming. When Jay asked, “Do you need any money, Sleepy?” He responded, “ You know that I do, but I’m not going to ask you, Jay. You know me better than that.” Jay tossed him a hundred-dollar bill and said, “Don’t spend it on drugs.”
“I don’t do the drugs no more. Thanks, my brother.”
I asked Jay, “Why did you do that?”
“I sometimes stop by Evelyn’s on Saturday nights and toss a hundred-dollar bill in the band’s tip jar when I leave. I missed last week, that’s the band’s tip. He gets the whole thing this time.”
Stay tuned for Episode II:
It includes: Father Ethan, The Metropolitan Grill, The Class of 1958, The Family Reunion, and Ivar’s Salmon House.