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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Should auld acquaintance be forgot...

I always have mixed feelings when I go home to Vashon Island. They came to me again yesterday, as I waited in my car on the hill above the Point Defiance dock. It's only across the water, but the island I always think of floats somewhere out there, ghost-like, on the surreal seas of memory.

I felt cold sitting in the car without the heater going, at the end of December. Thinking warm thoughts of my childhood could quite compete with the winter day. And I felt sad too, knowing yet another member of one of the old families, like mine, had died, a family I care about left grieving. Like salmon swimming back to the stream where they first knew life, those of us who left the island return, to gather in memory of one of our own. It would be a day to say goodbye, and also say hello.

From my vantage point the view was all gray, the water and sky exactly the same color behind a veil of fog, the island's distant shore merely a darker band dividing them. I could barely see the white shape of the ferry boat across the span, heading my way. I looked around at the other cars and wondered how many held people I knew, taking a ferry ride for the same reason.

As it turned out, there were several, including an old friend of mine and her husband. Having arrived early, we ended up at a large table in a restaurant in the middle of the town of Vashon, joined by her siblings. It's called The Hardware Store now. I remembered when it really was a hardware store. I still pictured my father as we looked through packages of garden seeds. I missed the fishing tackle, tools, ladders, nails and rope. Instead, I saw a huge crowd of people I didn't know, on a Tuesday.

"So who ARE all these people?" I asked. The place was jammed and the traffic and parking mess outside amazed me. So many people, all with their own ideas about what the island is or should be. They are good people doing good things, but they can't possibly feel what we feel.

"Newcomers," my friend answered. Her family arrived in the 1890s and mine a decade before that. "You have to be here four or five generations to think of it like we do."

After the memorial service we visited with others at a reception. I was related to a good number of them through marriage and tied to many more through long family friendships and associations. "You look so much like your Mom," I heard again and again, or "How's your Dad doing?" or "Remember that time when..." From among the many who now populate the island, those of us in the ever-shrinking pool of people from the old days, seemed to feel some kind of unspoken comfort in the sight of each others' faces, the shared memories and experiences, and our love of the place.

Then it all broke up. The cars left the parking lot of a church my grandfather had helped to build. I had nothing more to do, nowhere to go, except "home" which is now Tacoma. Before long I found myself back in the car parked out on the end of the exposed ferry deck as we left the dock and darkness overtook the scene. We glided through inky liquid toward the distant lights of Point Defiance. It began to rain. The cold and damp slipped into my car like unbidden thoughts enter the mind and I cuddled under a little fleece throw to shield myself from them. As we neared the shore I felt glad to live in Tacoma, where I'm as enthusiastic about the place as those "strangers" on the island are about theirs. That's when I realized that to some people in this town, my five years of living here do nothing to change my status. No matter how much I contribute, praise, or love Tacoma, I'm a newcomer too.

To old-time Tacoma folks let me say this: I will do my best to be worthy, just like those unfamiliar folks on Vashon are. Things change.Time goes by. The old year ends and a new begins. Peace to all, and Happy New Year.


Anonymous said...

The last time I sat at the Point Defiance dock, I was surrounded by saddness, as though the skies above Vashon were weeping with me. It is so bleek in December. I've heard it said you can never go home again. I always felt that didn't apply to me. Now I am not so sure. Just as the Hardware store no longer has those charming bins of grass seeds to run my hands through, the charm of Vashon and my need to be there has lost its luster.
As always, thanks for your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

It appears that your roots on Vashon go pretty deep and over the years they may have spread to other places, but you can appreciate, more than any "newcomer", the changes that life brings to people and to place. It may be true that you can't go back to Vashon Island, or that it has lost it's "luster", but it still seems to change slower than other places and hopefully the "old-timers", with their deep roots, who hold on to what is important and are the ones who keep it from changing too fast.