With shovels, an axe, sharp machetes and determination, we hacked a crude driveway into the property from the logging road on its south side. A few back and forth runs with the old Chevy pickup tamped the leftover underbrush into a functional access.
The next project began with clearing a spot a few feet off that entryway for our primary human necessityan outhouse. Because it would need a fairly deep pit, we dug for two Saturdays before adding the floor, commode stand with genuine plastic seat and lid, walls, roof, and a hinged door with hook and eye closure. Work-worn and sweaty, we paused in the driveway to admire our efforts.
"I’m gonna christen it!" Mike stepped into the new structure, giving me a grin before closing the door.
"Good grief." I picked up a hammer and box of nails and put them into the large tool box in the bed of the truck. While closing the lid, I spied a wide black marker in the upper tray. I picked it up, walked to the outhouse and drew a quarter moon on the door, filling it in with solid black so it appeared to be an opening.
Mike approved of the moon, and we laughed at it together.
Saturdays were too short. Dusk crept into the canopy of tree branches over our heads in late afternoon, serving as a reminder that total darkness was but a couple of hours away. We’d hurry to pack the truck and lock the cabin before we had to fire up the Coleman lantern or use flashlights to find our way around. Satisfied that everything was packed and secured, we’d drive back home to face undone chores and another hectic work-week.
Stressed by boring drawings and gridlock traffic, Mike would sometimes come home behaving a little too giddy for my comfort. "Eeeeeeeah!" He’d squawk, and plop down into his favorite chair by the television. "Damn job. Wish the county would hire me."
"Keep asking," I’d say, rushing back from the kitchen with a glass of juice. "I’d like to quit my job, too. I’m so tired of the headaches and constant interruptions, not to mention that arrogant sales manager."
Why did I keep trying to conquer that ever-increasing workloadinventories to balance, titles to clear, license applications and plates, bank contracts to formulate and type, warranty policies to complete, fleet sales to cover, payoffs to make, stock cards to code and type, car deal accounting and, most annoying of all, flippant salesmen to tolerate. The list went on and on, with an unreasonable deadline for every piece of paper. Dear God, please grant me the strength to handle this job, or send me a different one. Please.
Our vision of life on the Olympic Peninsula remained foremost in our thoughts. The Saturday trips continued with purpose.
We cleared another opening, on the other side of the driveway from the outhouse and a good distance away. We hauled tools and pier blocks and two-by-fours and plywood to build a twelve-by-sixteen foot cabin. From scratch. Just the two of us. Infrequently, a family member or friend would show up and lend a hand. By fall it was walled and roofed.
Inside, Mike built upper and lower bunks for us at one end of the cabin and fastened a small counter under an equally small window at the other. We hauled in a used trash burner and installed it in the corner by the counter, running its stove pipe up and out the back wall. The burner, much like a narrow version of a 1940s wood-burning kitchen stove, would be used for heating and cooking.
The entry door was a reinforced portion of the plywood wall, secured by a heavy-duty padlock when we were not there. Mike cut a large window opening in the same wall, and used the excised piece of plywood to make a cover, with hinges at the top so we could prop it open, and holes at the bottom so we could bolt it closed. He covered the opening with screening to keep out bugs, and, as we discovered later, to allow excess heat from the trash burner to escape.
With the cabin habitable, our Saturdays at the property turned into overnight weekends. One afternoon I took time to sit on the threshold of the cabin door, taking delight in the splendor of naturethe hint of rain forest in the air, the rushing, gurgling river, the rustling leaves, the call of birds, and the thud of a deer that abruptly stopped its glide to return the spellbound gaze of our German Shepherd, Duchess.
I grabbed her collar, ready to restrain, but it wasn’t necessary. They locked eyes for a good two minutes, neither one moving a muscle except for the stretch of their necks for closer assessment. The deer then bounded away, disappearing into the lush greenery around us.
Duchess loved visits to the cabin as much as we did. Upon our arrival, she would leap out of the truck bed, dart out the driveway and down the logging road to the river. I’d catch up to find her lying rib-deep in the icy cold flow, lapping up a fresh cool drink every couple of minutes. It became her habit.
Ours was to enjoy the solitude, the subtle sounds, the absence of stressexcept for Sunday evenings, when we’d get cranky with each other in anticipation of returning to Seattle and another week of grueling workdays.
Mike continued commuting to Todd Shipyards in the old Mercury wagon, and I to the Ford store by bus. Our jobs, though distasteful, appeared secure, so we ordered a new Ford pickup truck at my employee price. The old ’55 Chevy, becoming a bit unreliable for trips to the cabin, sold quickly in September. The new pickup, a green over cream next year’s model, arrived at the dealership in October. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Mike.
I rushed into the house that evening and announced, "Our truck got herelate this afternoon!"
"Great!" Mike rose from his chair in front of the television, his face aglow with anticipation. "Can we get it tomorrow?"
"Nope. It needs body work first."
His kid-at-Christmastime expression turned sober. "What happened?"
"It’s got three bullet holes in the front quarter panel, driver’s side. Somebody took potshots at the transport train on its way from Michigan, most likely in Nebraska or Wyoming. Several units got damagedloaded on the racks like rows of sitting ducks."
"Oh, crap!" Visibly dejected, he sat down. "How long will that take to fix?"
"I’m not sure. Probably a couple of weeks. Depends on the body shop’s workload. I’ll find out more tomorrow." I walked into the bedroom to change clothes.
I had more news than that to share when I got home the following day. "Our truck will be ready in about a week, body work done and canopy installed. And," I continued, "My old boss called me this afternoon."
"Yeah? What’d he want?"
"They’re opening another finance office in the north end, and he asked me if I’d ‘come run it’ for him. Starting in January."
"What’d you tell him?"
"That I would. It’ll pay the same as I’m getting now. If I give my notice next month, that should give them plenty of time to find a replacement." Thank you, God.
"Sounds good. Wish King County would do the same for me."
A month later, they did. Mike would start his new job on January 2, 1969the first working day of the new year, as a road-design draftsman.
Thanksgiving Day came and went. We bought a Christmas tree in December, flocked with white fluffy fake snow, and hauled it home in our brand new truck. Mike decorated the tree with tiny multicolored lights and precisely-placed ornaments. It glowed with Christmas joy, especially when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s holiday hymns boomed into every corner of the house.
The Ford store gifted me with a frozen ten-pound turkey that year, even though I had given my notice to leave. I roasted the bird for Christmas and frugally stretched its leftovers into six weeks of meals.
We spent New Year’s Eve dismantling the Christmas tree and packing the decorations away. The following week we started our new jobs, Mike at King County, and me for the finance company I’d worked for before.
In February, we splurged on tickets for a Vienna Boys Choir concert at the Seattle Opera House. It was wonderful, and something we would repeat yearly in celebration of our wedding anniversary.
March called for yard work, a trip to check on the cabin, and a follow-up visit with my doctor. Again, the exam room was small and too warm. The doctor entered, and shook my hand as we exchanged pleasantries. He slipped the blood pressure cuff onto my left arm, pumped in the air and listened intently before releasing the valve.
"Let’s check the other arm," he said, removing the cuff. He repeated the process, a puzzled look crossing his face before he spoke. "Your pressure is normal. What did you do?"
"I quit my job."
"Well, it worked!" After listening to my heart and lungs, he dismissed me with the recommendation to come back in six months. Thank you Goda whole summer without a doctor’s appointment.
July brought captivating television coverage of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. Later scenes reviewed the rabble at a festival in New York called Woodstock. Our private lives endured the same daily routine as always, until my cousin’s husband advised us they had decided to sell the house, the one we were renting, by the end of the year.
We studied our finances and decided it was time to buy, rather than rent. A house we could own and not be displaced from sounded very good. House-hunting took immediate priority over our weekends at the cabin.
We began to search with the help of a local real estate lady. Her listings in our price range were not many, but we selected four in the north end of Seattle that we’d like to see. The first two were sold before we got to them.
"What’s going on? How can they be sold so quickly?" I asked, suspicious that something fishy was taking place.
"Well," she replied slowly, "It’s Boeing. They’re starting to boom again, hiring a lot of people, bringing them from out of state, so affordable houses are selling fast. Our listings are being depleted."
We kept looking, and signed on the first one we saw that wasn’t sold by the time we got there. It was a 750 square foot World War II era home, with two bedrooms, one bath, and in need of some work. We bought it for $16,500, zero-down FHA, and moved out of my cousin’s house in November. Evenings and weekends were spent patching, painting and settling into our new home.
That Christmas we relaxed on our small living room sofa after dinner, reminiscing about the year’s happeningsthe assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. The moon landing. The election of Richard Nixon as our country’s next President. The unlikely chance that both of us would start new jobs in the same month and year. And, our unplanned and hasty move into home ownership.
Mike took my hand. "Wonder what surprises next year has in store for us . . . "
"God only knows," I whispered.
We sat in silence, staring at a simply dressed tree while the Mormon Tabernacle Choir cast their yearly spell. "Sing now a song of joy, every Christmas is a birthday . . . "