"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

My Summer of ’42 moment

By on August 28, 2018 in Columnist with 0 Comments

By Cary Ordway

I happened by my old hometown the other day — just a drop-in visit, mind you — and now I’m awash in those childhood memories that we all carry around but leave neatly filed away in the backs of our brains like some sort of instinctual Dewey Decimal System.

For example, right there under “S” I found “Summer of ’42” or at least my own version of that popular movie played out sometime when I was about nine or ten years old with a whole cast of neighborhood characters who helped me graduate from a know-nothing kid to a kid who knew only slightly more than nothing.

But more about that transformative experience later.

My trip down memory lane was triggered by my band’s appearance at the Waterville Days celebration. Waterdog played Waterville, my first appearance as a musician in my hometown since my teenage rock band played the NCW Fair back in 1967.

Conquering hero returns — oh wait, I never did have that hit record, never toured, and almost never played music again until I was in my late 30s and some buddies talked me into it. But I managed to play rock music in Waterville again — after a 51-year hiatus.

There in Pioneer Park, the memories started calling out to me.

About 50 feet from the stage was the back door and loading dock for my dad’s newspaper office, a place I would sometimes go for a respite from my after-school job at the newspaper.

I didn’t smoke, so they weren’t exactly smoke breaks. More like time-outs to help me cope with the pressure of working from 3 to 5 p.m.

On the other side of Pioneer Park was the home I lived in from about age 5 to 13, and this immediately called to mind the vivid memories of my well-intentioned mother’s horrifying calls for me to come in from playing in the park.

She was an accomplished musician and singer and, instead of just yelling for me to get home, she kind of sang me home. She would use her operatic voice with all of the requisite vibrato to summon me in such a way that crowds would gather.

It worked, though — I would run home like a track star before any more kids would hear this and realize I was the textbook definition of a mama’s boy.

Just a block over from the Waterville Days stage was Main Street, releasing an entirely different set of memories such as the pickles and hot dogs we used to buy from the Waterville meat market, on a stick, for five cents.

I know that sounds like something out of the 1940s, but even in the early 1960s we had good deals. Like the five-cent maple bars that Nils, the local baker, always had fresh in the morning. Or the Perkins hamburgers that were cheap and tasty and right next door to the newspaper office.

I was flooded with thoughts of boyhood friends and our various activities.

I remembered one particular backyard game we played when we were in grade school where a bunch of us would excavate enough dirt to create little homes and subdivisions where we could drive our toy cars on the roads.

Funny thing is, all the kids who created the fanciest yards and buildings grew up to live in the fanciest houses.

While Andy and Opie would find a little bit of the Great Outdoors by fishing in the local streams, Waterville kids found the wilderness on Standpipe Hill, just a 10-minute bike ride but light years away from what we perceived as Waterville’s bustling downtown.

It was fun to hike or bike on the road to the top of the hill where we could sit and view the vast wheatlands of the Columbia Plateau and munch on a knapsack full of peanut butter sandwiches.

Venturing a little farther, we sometimes would go down over the hill to a forbidden zone just on the other side of the hill that we considered Waterville’s prime waterfront property.

Some called it a lake, some called it a pond, but city fathers called it a sewage lagoon.

Not content to simply enjoy the waterfront view, we found spare wood lying around that was wide enough and buoyant enough to support us on a scenic cruise around the lake — er lagoon — where we were only mildly concerned about the water quality and the assortment of objects contained therein.

This was a few years before they created the Environmental Protection Agency but I’m confident, had they been around, EPA would have designated Waterville as Super Fund Clean-up Site No. 1 and sent my friends and me into the same kind of extended quarantine required of dogs moving to Hawaii.

It was after a long afternoon on the lake one day that I had my Summer of ’42 moment. No older women or even females involved. It was just an animated conversation as my friends and I sat atop Standpipe Hill and I learned in some fair amount of detail just how babies are made.

I recall my surprise and shock, and I should also note this was a good three years ahead of when my parents finally got around to broaching the subject.

“Great, thanks for the info,” I remember telling my parents. “I think I’ve got it.”

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