Thursday, June 3, 2010

A weekend with Mary

"My" Mary-

And who should arrive on Willowbrook Lane one day in my brother Ross's suped up cherry red '57 Chevy? A Girl! Well not such a big deal for a teenager to bring a girl home, but then you don't know my brother. In my entire 8 years of life, I'd never seen my brother with a girl, only with a car or a fishing rod.

Apparently, this cute, blonde teenager packed car manuals around the High School until my brother took notice. And notice he did! So one day, he brought her home for dinner.

Sidebar here. My stepdad (or dad as I knew him) grew up in the depression. I'm talking on some dustbowl of a farm in Montana where they darn near starved to death. I truly think he joined the Navy at 17 to ward off starvation, based on the pictures I saw of him. That said, my dad loved to cook and let me tell you, he'd cook (and eat) darn near anything.

Now mind you, I only know this portion of her first visit based on her recollection and it's a wonder she didn't fly out the door that first night! But Mary says that after being introduced to my parents, she commented that something smelled wonderful at which point my dad took her over to the stove and showed her the beef tongue he was cooking. Well, geesh, why didn't he pull out the pickled pigs feet while he was at it!!

To say that Mary has now been part of my family and in my life since I was 9 years old says a lot about her character. Beyond the car manuels that she halled around, she also took up fishing, diving, HUNTING and well, put up with the rest of our family.

In 1965 when my brother flunked out of college the first time (he hated engineering) he was immediately 1-A in the draft. (For anyone under 40 that means first to go to Viet Nam, essentially.) Mary wanted to get married, but Ross wanted to wait until he was out of the service. And wait they did.

I remember after his basic training in Fort Polk LA, he was stationed back up here near Tacoma at Fort Lewis for a short period of time before shipping off to Vietnam. We went to Woolworth's and bought Mary a "Wedding Band" so we could sneak her on base to see Ross. I was 10 years old, it all seemed so secretive and scarey to me. Especially when we arrived on base to see the soldiers on the other side of a chain link fence that seemed a mile high! I swore if we "got caught" getting Mary inside, they'd lock us in the fence and we'd never get out.

I supposed they didn't pay too much attention as my mother had Military ID since my dad was a retired Naval officer. That was the first time I cried seeing my brother and knowing he was going off to war, he was SO skinny!

Mary got a job with GTE, the now defunked telephone company, in Seattle. Although "Willowbrook Lane" was just a (then) 20 minute drive away, it all seemed so cosmopolitan to me. She lived in an apartment with a view of the space needle. She wrote to Ross almost every day and called my mom regularly.

Mary was also a great "Big Sister." She'd take me shopping with her and I'd feel so grown up. In years to follow she'd be with me when I bought my first lipstick, headed together to the jewelers to have our ears pierced, give me her old '45's when she'd earned enough to buy her own "Hi-Fi"-not to mention tell her when I was around 20 that I was on the "Pill" .
"Shelly Louise!"

But meanwhile, we all counted days between letters and "Leaves" allowing Ross to come home. It all came back to me when Andrew was in Iraq. I truly learned first hand what my mother was going through. It was the only time in my life I can really remember my mother crying. I'd wake up in the night to hear her gentle sobs and sniffs and learned that my strong and capable mother was vulnerable too. She was also in the throes of menopause, and although I only witnessed the sudden skin flushes and perspiration then, I understand it well now. I too, started menopause with Andrew in Iraq.

Hormones aside, my brother eventually made it home safe and sound. He never spoke of his time in Viet Nam really, until speaking with Andrew before heading into the Marines. Three medals were mailed home to our home on Willobrook-2 bronze stars and a silver medal. Letters from the Army stated bravery under fire and rescuing fellow officers. Ross was much more concerned about "his girl" and going fishing than medals.

A huge Catholic wedding shortly ensued. Mary dubbed me a "Junior" bridesmaid and I donned my first formal dress and hairdo (closer to God-do you might say) at the age of 11. Their honeymoon consisted of a trip to the San Juan Islands, complete with,,,well, fishing poles! I remember Mary relating getting stung on the bum while sitting on a piece of driftwood at the beach. No metaphor there.....

Ross then re-enrolled in college, starting this time at the Community College instead of the University of Washington. Mary left her job as an "operator" at GTE and went to work for the fast growing Boeing in Everett. They managed apartments for my parents and Ross actually restored car parts and raised aquarium fish for extra monies.

This time, Ross focused his academic energies in Biology, and moved on to the U of W to get his BA,MA and eventually his Phd. He got straight A's all the way through. He went on to work for the Washington State legislature for many years.

They're retired now and live in Port Angeles on the Penninsula with a 300+ degree view of the Sound and Victoria BC is just across the straight. They're grandparents to two gorgeous kids and their son Brodie has worked his way up the Fisheries department. "Grandma and Grandpa" have the grandkids visit often and Connor, the eldest is showing a preference for hunting over fishing, which gets his Grandpa's dander up.

Ross and Mary still have an ongoing love story after all these years, although in so many ways they are different as night and day. Mary is social, my brother reserved. My brother would rather be sitting in a boat drinking out of a thermos than sipping tea out of a china cup. They're some of the lucky ones that grew up together and it's worked. I think both having great senses of humor has helped.

Mary still goes fishing with Ross from time to time, but she loves to go antiquing and has a gorgeous home. We're becoming closer as our families have grown up and our parents gone. I've grown up with Mary and I can't imagine how different my life would have been without the perky little blonde arriving on Willowbrook Lane.

So,,,,this weekend we hit the road,,shop, laugh and "ooh and ahh" and I'm sure there will be one or two antics or stories from the past...

I hope you're creating some new memories this week!


  1. Oh, Shelley, what a wonderful heart felt write ... how blessed you ALL are to have such beautiful memories together.

    I know Ft. Lewis, Tacoma, WA, well ... I was born & raised just south of Olympia in Chehalis.

    Have a beautiful day ~
    TTFN ~ Hugs, Marydon

  2. Another great post in your life story. Thanks so much for sharing. I can tell there is great love between you two. Hugs!