Sometimes a moment can go on for hours and on rare occurrences that’s not quite enough. My parents owned La Casa Motel (Spanish for home) in Ponders Corner. We lived there and we worked there. In a moment of teenage angst I once told my mother, “We don’t have a home. We have a motel.” My parents rarely went out together and never got away for a weekend. However, they bought various places where they could go and get away from duties of renting rooms, doing laundry, and making repairs, even it was only for a few hours.
Their first vacation home seemed like fate. We drove up to check it out and there was a sign bearing the name of the cottage: La Casita (Spanish for the “little home”). The house was on a high bank near Purdy on Henderson Bay. There was a trail down to the beach. We never stayed in the house. We would pack a lunch, build a fire on the beach and roast hot dogs and sometimes place butter clams and oysters on the embers until they opened up their shells for eating. We kept the property for perhaps one summer and then sold it and bought a little house on Burley Lagoon.
Burley Lagoon lies at the end of Henderson Bay on the other side of the bridge from Purdy to Vaughn, Home, Lakebay, and Longbranch. The property was level and gently sloped to the water’s edge, but instead of having a gravely beach like La Casita, it was mostly mud. The good point was that the sun warmed the mud and made swimming nicer, the bad point was that it was mud . . . thick mud . . . that your feet sank in . . . creating a suction that pulled off shoes, boots, and thongs.
We followed the same pattern as with La Casita, we cleaned it up and never stayed overnight. I enjoyed the cleaning up, however. I took care of the garage and storage building. I found a pile of men’s magazines with stories of adventure, war, battles, and pictures of scantily clad young women. I was a young teenager at this point. I liked them.
My dad owned a 1957 Ford Ranchero. I loved it because it had a hot little engine (the same as used by the Washington State Patrol), and a stick shift, and looked so sporty. Later, I flunked my driver’s license test in it when I killed the engine three times in an intersection . . . but I still loved it.
It must have been spring in 1960 and there was just the three of us in our family, that we had a family moment. My sisters began appearing in August of that year. We had simply turned on the “No Vacancy” sign and took Sunday off. We took the Ranchero to Burley Lagoon. With three of us, it was a tight fit. It had been a pleasant day, but as darkness approached we stopped work and started back to Lakewood and Ponders.
As we drove in the dark with the radio playing, we found ourselves listening to Harry Belafonte performing at Carnegie Hall. The album was a live recording. It felt like our little pick-up truck was sitting front row center. I know we were driving through the night, but the images I saw and still see in my mind were imaginations of Belafonte singing, grinning, and laughing with the other mesmerized viewers from April 1959. He had the audience join him in sections and directed them when to come in with their parts. “Now, the people in the cheap seats.” We were listening to songs that unified the audience no matter where they were. My friend Donn Irwin knows exactly what I’m talking about. He loves those same songs, that concert, and the voice of Belafonte.
The drive and the night seemed to last forever. I savored every second.I don’t remember if we listened to the entire concert or if we simply turned the radio off with the engine. The concert was our journey. Two years later for Christmas by parents gave me a reel to reel audio tape machine, which wouldn’t have been inexpensive in those days. Included was a blank recording tape and “Belafonte at Carnegie Hall.”
Many times I’ve driven home, either with my wife Peggy, or by myself, listening to the radio and so engrossed in the moment that I will park and just listen. With just the two of us it seems even more intimate. And each time I park and tune in to the voices or music, I think of that one rare evening when my family was close, and loving, and enjoying ourselves.