I recently had an opportunity to take a nostalgic trip to Lakewood. My wife and I booked a room at the Best Western in lovely downtown Lakewood. I traced some of my footsteps and visited places of my youth.
My earliest memories are from Tacoma. My parents would come home shortly after five in the afternoon. My mom worked at the Mount Rainier Ordinance Depot and then at the Boy Scouts office in downtown Tacoma. My father kept books for Howard Chapman Plumbing and Heating and Riser Drugs both located at 23rd and K Street. K Street was always fun to visit. I loved the Sear’s Farm Store as well as the movie theater on K. People would gather outside the appliance store to watch television. We were the first home on our block to purchase a TV. It had a nine inch screen.
We moved from a small two bedroom house, the only home I had known, at 2520 South Ferry in Tacoma, It was quite a change. I had attended Stanley Elementary K-4th, My best friends lived next door, We lived on a dead end street. We roamed the filbert covered hills and the unimproved plots that had wetlands filled with polliwogs, The higher grounds had occasional trees we called Indian wood. They were madronas. We would make bows and arrows out of cut off limbs. We had two dogs: a cocker spaniel named Cindy, and my collie mix called Pal.
Coming home from school I would clean up the tiny corral under the carport where we kept my Shetland pony, Koko. Sometimes I would saddle him up and ride the same wild lands (now the home of the News Tribune) on our own.
Initially my mom would take me once a week to my piano lessons. The first time I went kicking and screaming. The teacher looked ancient. After she died my mom found a teacher who lived on my route home on South Wilkinson. The walk from Stanley was approximately seven blocks, unless I diverted elsewhere or climbed the reservoir at 19th and Wilkinson.
My knowledge of Lakewood was pretty much based on visiting Lakewood Theatre to see the film The Boy with Green Hair in 1949. I remembered we drove by miles and miles of Scotch broom traveling on South Tacoma Way and on into the Colonial Center. We moved into a three bedroom rambler on Maple Avenue between my fourth and fifth grade school year (1956). My mom, dad and I painted it sea foam green and reddish brown. I helped paint both inside and outside.
We first moved Koko to my aunt and uncle’s home in Sumner where my Aunt Virginia grew to hate my pony, Not matter what people tell you, Shetlands are mean and have a mind of their own. He kicked me in the knees on Christmas day 1952 when my parents surprised me with him. In Sumner he would chase the calves and jump the electric fence to eat the carrots. He was soon sold.
We moved into our home on Maple Avenue where within a month my dog Cindy was put to sleep. She was old and a little grouchy. The next door neighbors had two dachshunds who yipped and barked as they ran up and down the fence line in their backyard. Cindy ran the fence and barked at them. Cindy could have taken them, but my parents wanted to be nice neighbors. The house still looks comfortable and now has several vegetable beds on the front and side yard.
Besides the two yipping dogs, there was a dentist and two boys and a girl. I don’t recall seeing the parents. The boys would take cigarettes from their parents packs and hide them. Salems, I believe. We rode our bikes some distance to smoke the cigarettes out past the game farm. That was pretty much my only cigarette history, except when my hero was Ayn Rand, I tried again. Once or twice. I just couldn’t get the right feel for disdain.
I attended Park Lodge Elementary. Even though I was taking piano lessons now from Ken Hall of Lakewood Music I was given the choice of learning clarinet or Saxophone for the band. We bought a used alto Sax from a family friend, Gerald Pepos, who was also my band teacher later at Mann Junior High.
Although my father claimed to be a Methodist and my mother only occasionally attended church I was introduced to the Methodist Sunday school and church a few blocks away. I was expected to participate. I attended briefly, but when I realized my parents had no desire to become actual church members I formed my own plan. I would simply set out on my bike and ride over to Lake Steilacoom. I would sit by the lake admiring the view and reading a book. Soon I dropped all pretense and the subject of church never came up, again. I think I started going to the ice arena where I stumbled, slipped and slid along before giving that up for better things.
I loved visiting the library in the basement of Park Lodge school with my mom. I loved reading. Still do. While attending Park Lodge I recall standing curbside and cheering as President Eisenhower drove by to visit his brother.
Lakewood Theatre was close at hand. I was a regular attender by myself. I remember seeing Love Me Tender and Moby Dick. Later as a high school senior I saw my last movie there, To Kill a Mockingbird. I also played two piano recitals in the basement of the theatre. I played boogie-woogie . . . eight to the bar.
I would usually take the back roads to Park Lodge, but coming back home, I would walk down Gravelly Lake Drive. I had three favorite stops. One was a small sporting goods store in the Lakewood Shops, now closed, I wanted to buy special handle grips for my bike. You could push a button on the grip and a red light on the butt-end would flash telling people behind that you were turning. I liked high tech even then.
Across the street was a small drug store. I looked over their magazines almost daily. My first paying job was there helping move boxes and cleaning out the store room. Again, it’s closed and has been for some time. My next stop was the Old Country Store. I drooled over their hunting knives. One had a handle featuring a half naked woman. You just never know, when you might need a knife like that.
As on South Ferry, my parents worked and left me to my own devices. I could do not wrong. My wife Peg once asked me, “Who died and made you God?” I replied, “My mother!” I played hooky, not hockey, quite a bit during sixth grade at Navy Base. I entertained myself. I remember making a wooden model of a Russian Mig jet airplane and blowing it up with fire crackers in the fireplace. Sometimes I would go fishing off the bridge on Interlaaken Drive. Many of my friends are amazed at my knowledge of films from the 1930s and 40s. This stems from watching old movies on TV all day long instead of going to class.
The summer between my sixth and seventh grade we moved to Ponders Corner, when I parents bought a motel and quit their jobs. I began renting rooms when I was in the seventh grade. I was tall and confident. The customers never dreamed I was just a kid.
I went to Hudtloff and Mann Junior High and then onto Clover Park High School. I began playing baritone Sax in the ninth grade. At Clover Park I played baritone in the concert and marching band and alto in the orchestra. Most of my friends were in band, too. At the end of my junior year, there was a year end band party at the home of Gail Morley (she played trumpet). Two friends and I took a canoe onto the lake. We capsized twice just getting into it. As we paddles around the lake, a graduating senior jumped off the bridge and swam out to the canoe and dumped us, As my friends swam to shore, I brought the canoe back myself. I couldn’t swim.
During my senior year, my friends and I would sometimes play tag with our cars. One would take off and the others would try to keep up and run the other to ground. I remember several times pulling into drive ways in Nyanza Park and doing a fire drill. We would all jump out and run around the car and get back in. Frequently we would leave a friend and drive away.
Fairly regularly we ended up at my house. I had the second floor with a pool table in my living room/bedroom. I had my own bathroom and an art/hobby room. We would order pizza “to go” from the Roma Cafe. Sometimes the used pizza boxes ended up in a pile beneath my bed.
After graduating, my buddies encouraged me to join them at the University of Puget Sound, which I did. By the end of the second quarter they had flunked out. I stayed on and met my wife there. We’ve mostly lived in Tacoma’s north end ever since.
My wife and I enjoyed driving around. I love the streets near the hotel. The lots are not all the same. Sometimes the homes and yards are unique and interesting. I was a little disconcerted with all the traffic and the number of empty buildings and shops, but it still feels like a great place to grow up. When I drive through Lakewood or visit Lakewood and Clover Park Rotary clubs my mind replays my adventures in Lakewood . . . and I smile.