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Thursday, 16 April 2009

Dad and Westport

By Celia Andrews of Celia's Blue Cottage

My father was a fisheries biologist and avid river fisherman. He came to it at a time when it was a field with good opportunities. He said there was a rumor that fisheries biologists had daughters and indeed eventually there were four of us girls. I doubt anyone did the statistical work to verify this. The first two of us were born in March under the sign of, Pisces. How funny.

He traveled often. When I was in high school, he spent his summers in the Bering Sea on Japanese fish processing ships. While he was gone, the housekeeping collapsed, we’d stay up late and sleep late.

A couple of days before his return to domesticity, Mom would frantically haul the vacuum out and start chasing dust bunnies. The washer ran all day, beds would be changed, floors scrubbed and bathrooms cleaned.

Mom put us in our dresses (this being the 50s) and good shoes and we met him even when his plane arrived in the wee hours. He’d get off the plane in a suit and an auburn beard that would have honored his Scots forebears or Eric the Red. Same gene pool probably.

My early memories of him begin in Westport, Washington. He got our first car, a 1932 Dodge with running boards. The paperboy hitched rides on the running boards. Dad taught Mom to drive out on the beach. She drove a woman home from church and the woman didn’t shut the back door tightly. We drove off and my two-year old sister hurtled out on to the highway. We drove madly to Aberdeen, an hour’s trip to the hospital.

Flat tires were epidemic. One rainy trip to Grandma’s we had another flat. Dad took the wheel off, pulled out the inner tube, and put yet another patch on it. He left us in the car telling us not to move but we did. As he was put the wheel back on, the car fell off the jack onto his hand. He had to finish changing the tire with his mashed hand and Mom drove us again to a hospital.

I felt horrid about it. He told us later (when we were older) about a girl he knew who had been leaning against a car while the tire was being changed. Someone driving by hit the car and killed the her, so he would never allow us out even on the road when we were stopped. There was very little traffic on those narrow highways but they were often dark and rainy in the winter. Some of the passing traffic was logging rigs with just one giant log on them. He’d have rather risked himself than let us bounce around on the road, as I’m sure we would have.

People brought Dad wild animals because he worked for what passed for the state Fish and Game circa 1946. We got wild bunnies, birds and finally a baby hair seal that someone found on the beach. The mother had been shot.

The seal cried like a real baby and Mom fed him with a baby bottle. He lived in the utility tub on the back porch until it could eat fish and then he went to the aquarium in Westport. We gave him a very long name that started out Donald Rover something-something. Then someone gave him a lost Irish setter pup.

In good weather we’d go to the beach. He’d sit us in the sand and build a sand car around and over our laps adding little sand dollars for headlights, with driftwood for a wheel and a floor shift. Best of all, he’d let me sit on his lap and drive (steer) the car on the beach. Hog heaven. Small surprise I’d try to drive away every time we got left in it.

On occasion, Dad took me down to the docks of that hard-working fishing town. He wanted to talk to the men on the boats. To keep me entertained, he gave me a fishing pole and tied me around the waist to a pier post on the dock. It worked. I never fell overboard. Once in awhile I caught something, some little flatfish of some kind.

We kids got left in the car all the time when someone ran in for groceries or the mail or whatever. Once my cousin got the gears into neutral and we started rolling down a slight downhill chunk of the street. We were chased until someone jumped in on those running boards, got in and put the brakes on.

We were all under five and we weren’t supposed to touch anything. We did though - turned on the lights and fiddled with the choke and the gas until it flooded. Dad repeatedly asking, “Why do you two keep doing this?” I don’t think it was we two. My sister was only two or three. Duh, Dad.

At an older age, I heard stories of him at age four and five and realized I not only came by it honestly but I was an amateur compared to him. The world of children has really changed.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Celia, I loved your story. It was exhilarating and full of adventure.

When I was a kid, if my dad had no buddy to go fishing with, he'd take me along. I was expected to hold up my end, too, steering the boat while he trolled for muskie, bailing out water in a rainstorm, as well as keeping still and quiet. There were plenty of challenges. The demands were great, but it was rewarding, and I learned not to whine--about anything.

Celia - What wonderful memories! I especially liked the image of you fishing, while tied to a piling. Also, your dad letting you sit on his lap driving on the beach. Mine did that too - only it was on real roads, with real traffic!


Your story was so much fun! It brought back quite a few memories to me.

My Dad had a 1932 Chevy. Navy blue with yellow wheels, giant whitewalls.

Every Sunday after church we would all pile into the car for a ride. Dad was always prepared for the worst. He would say, "Now, kids, when we get the flat you MUST stay in the car." He never said, "IF we get a flat, it was always "When we get a flat". And, guess what? We always got a flat!

Your Dad and mine had the same fear; that someone would run over us if we got out of the car to "Help" with the flat.

Great memories....

A great story and a lovely tribute to your father. He was a prince.

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