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Tales from the Nook

There was a mighty crash in the breakfast nook and our table was covered with broken glass and curtains.  There was something moving under the curtain which turned out to be a Chinese pheasant.  This one lived but the two previous birds that tried to use our nook as a flyway had met their demise.  The insurance company called Dad and told him that they were not going to pay for any more broken windows.  It wasn’t the pheasant’s fault, our nook had windows on three sides and  the pheasant saw the light coming from the other side and tried to fly thru.

In the mornings, all five of us would sit down to grab a quick breakfast before we ran for the 7:30 ferry for school in Seattle.  Dad wanted us to get a Catholic education and he commuted to town for 14 years to guarantee that would happen.

Mom complained to Dad for the umpteenth time not to pile the jelly on his toast.  Us kids thought it was because he was using too much jelly; who knows.  Dad had to have jelly because the seeds from berry jam would get under the plate of his false teeth and raise havoc, so we had jam and Dad had jelly.     

Dad’s temper was always causing him troubles including having to dress or arrange the vines of our Olympic berries.  He would twist the vines in  groups of four or five; then he would wrap them around the wires making garlands between the posts for easy picking later in the summer.  Olympic berries were common on Vashon in the 1950’s and are a cross between a Logan Berry and the wild blackberries found in the foothills of the Olympics.  I hear that the Olympic Berry is nearly extinct.

His Irish temper would get the best of him fighting the thorny vines that didn’t want to twist in the direction he wanted them to go.  He wore a white bandana around his bald head to keep the sweat out of his eyes.  He would come home with his arms streaked with blood; but we had berries and Dad got jelly.

Mom was after him all the time; especially when she thought he was using too much salt.  “Ray, taste your food before you salt it”,  Mom’s standard approach.  We had a strange bringing up.  It must be the Irish.  She was always busy with her projects, knitting, sewing, or baking up a storm in the kitchen.

We ate well by anyone’s standards because Mom was an excellent cook and raised us to appreciate all sorts of foreign food such as arroz con pollo, tomato aspic and ratatouille,  a French dish that hid  dreadful squash in fine sauces making it appetizing to kids.  Other times she baked the butter and brown-sugared squash to a fare-the-well.  “Mom”, my sister Molly would ask; “Do we have to eat our squash?”  “Just take one bite” she said.  Grimacing, we would take the required bite.

Brother Mike was the youngest and Mom’s favorite; so she let him get away with “murder” such as not having to do the dishes.  Mike hated peas and would hide them in his napkin to be thrown out the window when Mom wasn’t looking.  Other times, he would just let the peas dribble down to the floor for one of the dogs to eat.

Mom kept her cooking chocolate in the highest cupboard in the kitchen and to her dying day never mentioned the teeth marks she found in her chocolate.  She kept sweet and dark hard chocolate in a tightly screwed  jar which only Molly and I could reach and we would have to share with Mike.  We never took so much that there wasn’t enough left to make the frosting for the next cake.

Us kids slept upstairs where the floor was plywood and baby Mike had an iron bed with wheels and sides that would go up and down.  It was heavy and Molly and I would push Mike around until the parents would yell because the noise of the wheels on the plywood was creating a din downstairs and it was time for sleeping.  The stairs were steep and right beside the trash burner in the kitchen, making escape in case of a fire impossible.  Dad brought home 30 feet of one inch manila rope that scratched your hands coming down it.  He put knots in the rope and anchored it to an eye on the inside wall below the window.  Fire drill consisted of our throwing the attached rope out the open window and climbing down the knots to safety on the ground.  Molly couldn’t make it as she was too scared to climb out the window, but we never had a fire.

When Mike was a little older, Dad partitioned off the basement with doors and plywood walls so we could each have separate bedrooms.  Molly stayed upstairs.  The only problem with sleeping downstairs was water coming through the concrete walls.  We had 2 x 4’s laid out on the floor to walk on when the water got deep until Dad stopped the leaks several years later.

We had our share of childhood accidents; take the time I found brother Mike, in his diapers, sitting under the big fir tree with a box between his legs.  He was all pink around the mouth.  The box was arsenic.  I yelled for Mom who grabbed Mike and washed the pink off his face while we all piled into  Grandma’s old Chevy and raced for the doctor.  The doctor assured Mom that Mike hadn’t swallowed the poison.  We drove home thanking God.

I got into a lot of trouble swimming at Burton.  The jellyfish were thick and I must have swam into a “Man-of-War, which it couldn’t have been, because they don’t live here.  My chest itched and hurt something terrible and by the time we got home, the poison had gotten into my bloodstream and the pain drove me crazy; till I was running around the house naked to get the air to my skin and screaming bloody murder. Twenty minutes after a visit to our Doctor and an antihistamine, I was back in the nook at Cove, counting my blessings, until the next time I had to eat Mom’s squash.