There were two roads out of Allen Point: the long driveway that led up to the bus stop, Eide’s Store, and to town, and the overgrown Green Gate Road, which led to the northern border and a simple Green Gate. The gate was padlocked, but you could slip through it. If you did, it was a bit like going through the back of the wardrobe in Chronicles of Narnia or down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. That was largely because the road from there led to Cherry Cove.*
You knew, when you got to Cherry Cove, that you had entered another world. There were little street signs for squirrels staked onto the big windfall logs criss-crossing the forest. You could walk the logs all the way down the hill, never touching the ground, until you got to the bottom and to Danny’s house.
Nobody else had a house like Danny — except for some people in SunsetMagazine. It was in the shape of a giant “A” and had trees coming right through the deck. The living room was open to the ceiling, so they had Christmas trees that were so tall the house looked like the stage of the Nutcracker. Danny’s bedroom was on the second floor, and was long and narrow with a slanted ceiling. His mom and dad, Shirley and Big Dan, slept in an open mezzanine overlooking the living room and Cherry Cove. His brother and sister, Laura and Scott, lived on the main floor. Scott was the same age as my brother, Brian. I don’t remember Scott being as much fun to pick on, but he probably was. That’s how younger brothers are, at least until they get a bit older and can hand it right back to you. Laura was already a teen-ager and had the glare down to prove it. I tried not to mess with her. I had no sisters, and I wasn’t sure what might happen if I did.
Everything about Danny’s family was exotic and cool. We were short. They were tall. We had crew cuts. They had long wavy hair. We ate meat from Grandpa’s and potatoes from the garden. They ate foods from faraway lands. I had my first taco, my first store-bought cookie, and first salad dressings from Italy and France on Cherry Cove. The dressing from Italy was like one of those experiments on Mr. Wizard. You had to shake it before you put it on your salad. They kept pre-sliced bread in their freezer, and when they wanted toast, they took out a slice and put it directly into a toaster that knew how brown you wanted it. It was all strangely fascinating.
The house had modern furniture from Scandinavia. No curves or carvings at all. Cool and sleek, like them. Same with their boat. Other people had sensible boats with lots of freeboard like the local Tiderunner brand and, if they were small, you steered them by the outboard motor. Not Danny. His family had a strange little low boat — with a steering wheel — that people used to hunt whales in Boston. Not even the people who had captured Shamu in the bay had that kind of boat. Over time, it was on Cherry Cove that I fist puzzled over a kayak, and saw someone (Big Dan) stick a sail on a surfboard and wind surf. They were always ahead like that.
We, like so many others, had a cavernous station wagon, and eventually an old GMC pickup with big fenders that my mom could drive like a banshee. Shirley and Dan drove strange cars that came from Germany and were named “the people’s car” in German. I remember the bus the best. It had the longest stick shift I had ever seen, which I imagined was especially for tall people to use. That was good, because they sure had to shift a lot to get up Swede Hill.
Did I mention the dogs? Everyone had labs and shepherds. Danny’s family had an Afghan named Ruff and, later, a Great Dane whose coat looked like it has been caught in the cross-fire of a paintball game. It was amazing. You never knew what you would find once you arrived.
The neighbors at Cherry Cove and Danny’s extended family were exotic too. Several houses down there was a log home on the beach. Not an ordinary log house, like the old one in the woods back at the Point or the kind you built with Lincoln Logs, but a kind where the logs went straight up and down, like the perimeter of Fort Nisqually. “Jock Man,” the owner, sunbathed on the patio in a micro-brief. This was during the age when even risque movie stars like Burt Lancaster wore boxer-briefs on the beach. We kept our distance, but every so often a bronzed and svelt Jock Man would rise from his chez lounge to amaze and appall everyone. And just farther down was our friend Billy and his own wonderfully eccentric family. They would take another whole other post to describe.
Danny’s Grandma Campbell came in summer residence from time to time. She sat in a straight-backed manner worthy of a queen, and had the kindly smile or severe frown to carry it off. I remember that she once brought a rug that came all the way from Persia. Persia. That was somewhere near from Aladin and The Arabian Nights. And it looked like a flying carpet, too.
And then there was Cousin Richard.
Cousin Richard was a kindly and eccentric character that Dickens somehow forgot to include in a story. Or maybe he was a ex-spy. We visited him several times at his Tacoma optometry shop when my parents needed new glasses. With frames cascading from every surface of the office and a giant black phoropter looming in the examination room, it was a bit like entering a Tim Burton movie. Richard chuckled. A lot. He would dig through the jumble of frames to find glasses my parents could afford (which wasn’t much) and keep “forgetting” to charge us for sometimes over a year.
One 4th of July we went over to Cherry Cove after the sun went down to shoot off fireworks. Cousin Richard was there off to one side, lit up by sparklers and chuckling darkly as he threw lit M-80s and Cherry Bombs into the slate-green water from the bulkhead. Every time the water blew he grinned like the Cheshire Cat, as if remembering some secret mission in Borneo. It was endearing and disturbing at the same time.
Danny’s family had a way of flouting convention. Laura gave her High School graduation speech with McGovern campaign materials pinned to her robe. Big Dan transformed running around the David Day loop into a community event. The family was a conspicuous part of the goofy floats from the David Day Association with names such as “Bull Ship,” “Sheep Ship,” and “Chicken Ship” in Harbor Holidays parades. Can you imagine a float named “Bull Ship” in any community parade today, much less Cantorwood-ized Gig Harbor? I think not. You’d have to go to all the way to Freemont and the Solstice Parade for that these days. At least there they have retained an irreverent sense of humor. But not in the Harbor; if there’s anything that earnest suburbanites cannot abide, it’s flouting. I mean, really. They can’t even abide the neighbor’s house having an unapproved color scheme that doesn’t blend in. Danny’s family looked like it was going to blend in, but then it never did. And, most of the time, that was on purpose.
In fact, there were many things at Cherry Cove that opened up alternative worlds to me. In the bubble of Allen Point it could just as easily have been the 1860s. But on Cherry Cove I heard my first Beetles song, read Rolling Stone, and learned of the new and subversive radio called “FM.” I went skinny dipping for the first time. Scandalous. Later, I attended my first non-traditional wedding — Laura’s — on Cherry cove. Like so many things that happened at Danny’s house, I had no idea at the time that people could do that. Things like this can start you thinking. And they did.
Of course, most of this was back before the toll came off the first Narrows bridge. Back before Purdy Elementary. When Templeton’s was Eide’s. When Dexter’s was Crazy Eric’s. When Pearl’s By the Sea in was in Purdy and Pearl was in the kitchen. Back then, the Harbor was still a fishing village, mostly populated by sons-of-a-viches (Markoviches, Starkoviches, Lovroviches…), and surrounded by enough Scandinavians to require two full days of Lutefisk dinners at Peninsula Lutheran Church every fall. I’m talking the Finholm Grocery era. Borgen Lumber. Harbor Holidays with kegs instead of healthy fruit snacks and free DARE posters. Like my Grandma Johnson used to say, “Them days is gone forever.”
And so they are. Shirley and Dan are gone too, but some things live on. Laura went on to become one of the rare female judges. Dan became an economist in the Virgin Isles until the hurricanes flattened his house once too many times. Scott raced in the America’s Cup, and then took up helicopters as a career change. They all still have stakes, and roots, in Cherry Cove. And me? I have long hair now. I toast my bread slices from the freezer. I’ve owned three VWs, one of them (my favorite) a bus. I built a unique home on a lagoon off Henderson Bay, and — at least for a time — I got to live there. I have a small open boat with a steering wheel that I briefly considered naming the “Deep Ship.” Some people refer to me as an eccentric. I’m coming along.
*Note: This is a version of a tribute that I wrote for Shirley for her Caring Bridge web site during the last days of her long and courageous – and characteristically classy – life with ovarian cancer.