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FOLLOW THE PATH UP THE HILL


Just put one foot in front of the other till you get there. Those were not the words my father said to me, but that was their general meaning as I was to set off for a new school in Port Orchard, WA. Having recently moved from city living to this small waterfront town, everything was new to me, and I knew no one. The small white wooden schoolhouse I would be attending was at the top of a hill, and the well-worn path leading to it led past few houses, meandering through mostly vacant pastureland with an occasional horse in residence. In Long Beach I had walked the few blocks to school on city sidewalks accompanied by a number of other eager first and second graders, and the closest I had come to a horse was the pony ride at the Pike. This would be my first long walk, and my mother and I had checked time and distance out beforehand to make sure I was not late on my first day. We were summoned by the ringing of an old school bell, which resounded throughout the area, and was loud enough so that no one could use the excuse that they hadn’t heard it.

We passed a gypsy encampment on the way, which was a great fascination to me. There were colorfully decorated caravans and raggedy children who apparently did not have to go to school and were able to run around their campground all day without too much adult supervision. I never found too much about them because the word from parents was that the gypsies stole little children. It was the gypsy form of the “Boogie-man” to keep you on the path to school. The Lindberg kidnapping had taken place in 1932, three years before, and my mother had instilled a great sense of fear of strangers in me, so I always sprinted past the gypsies. When the first snow fell, I was disappointed to find that the gypsy camp had mysteriously disappeared during the night. To my knowledge, they did not kidnap any children from our school.

Another cautionary tale for children was to stay away from a grassy hillside which fairly beckoned you to slide on it. Part of the hill had given way a year or so before and a small boy had been buried alive. This story frightened me far more than the possibility of being kidnapped by the gypsies.

gypsy 2

I spent the second grade at the little schoolhouse on the hill, where I distinguished myself once as the curator of the end-or-the-semester art show, guiding parents around the wall of watercolor paintings. I credit the teacher at that little school for introducing us all to the thrill of watching color flow unfalteringly into our puddles of water. What glorious possibilities opened before us!

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I came away with many memories, some quite good, and others reflecting the angst of a seven year old during the year we lived in Port Orchard. I once fell out of the Admiral’s cherry tree while picking cherries, while my mother was enjoying tea with the Admiral’s wife. A rusty nail found it’s way into my knee as I landed on the ground, but the stolen cherries were delicious. One memory which stays with me is of a warm August morning walking on the pier and watching the seagulls with my mother. Suddenly the news came that the beloved Will Rogers had been killed in a plane crash in Alaska.

port orchard

Will Rogers was one of the world’s best known celebrities in the 1930’s, beloved of everyone for his folksy, homespun manner, as well as his penchant for poking fun at gangsters, politicians, and celebrities who grew too big for their britches. His humorous aphorisms had a national audience and were widely quoted. “I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat.” Another famous comment was “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” Known as “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son”, Rogers was born to a prominent Cherokee Nation family in Indian Territory; now part of Oklahoma.

<220px-Will_Rogers_1922

Rogers became an advocate for the aviation industry after noticing advancements in Europe and befriending Charles Lindberg, the most famous aviator of the era. In 1935 he and Wiley Post, an aviator interested in surveying a mail and passenger air route from the West Coast to Russia, took off in a modified aircraft from Fairbanks, Alaska for Point Barrow. Rogers hoped to collect new material for his newspaper column.

Rogers even provided an epigram on his most famous epigram: When I die, my epitaph, or whatever you call those signs on gravestones, is going to read:
“I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I didn’t like.” I am so proud of that, I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved.

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11 comments on “FOLLOW THE PATH UP THE HILL

  1. Lots of good memories. You had the freedom to walk to school and overcame the rusty nail. Most parents now are obsessively afraid and too scared and drive their kids to school in giant black double storey S.U.V’s.
    I can never get enough of your memories Kaytisweet.
    We saw a good movie yesterday, apparently shot in Oklahoma. It was called Osage County with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.

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    • We want to see the movie. The trailers look good. Yes, in rainy weather you will see the cars lined up to pick up the little darlings so they won’t get their feet wet! Mine walked every step of the way. Besides, walking alone gives you all the good memories!

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    • Yesyesyesyes! I just saw it yesterday – it was filmed in Pawhuska, just north and a little west of Tulsa. In my opinion it should have gotten a best picture nomination and best screenplay, but what do I know? I do know that any film that begins with a mashup of TS Eliot and Eric Clapton is ok in my book.

      Did you notice in the beginning the quotation? “Here we go round the prickly pear”? No question who the prickly pear was! Oh, I could go on forever. It’s been a good while since I’ve seen such a good film.

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  2. Wow, how fascinating to hear about gypsy camps and the proximity of the Lindberg kidnapping. I like the memory of the August morning on the pier with the seagulls. Wonderful post xx

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    • Funny the images which stay in our minds. That particular sunny morning stayed with me I am sure because of the adult reaction to the Will Rogers crash. Yes, those gypsies were an anomaly to me, coming from the city. The idea that those kids never went to school fascinated me too. I seemed to go to a new one each year! The Lindberg murder prompted parents to impress upon their children the danger of talking to strangers. I was so frightened of being kidnapped that I was incapable of making sure the doors were locked as I listened to the radio at night!

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  3. Great post, and a great photo of the gypsy camp. There were no gypsy camps in my childhood, so I didn’t hear about gypsies stealing children until I was a grown up and started to have friends who had come from Europe. I, too, have a wonderful memory of a teacher who played music on a record player while we painted. (I still like to do that).

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    • Thanks MrsDaffodil, Isn’t it a shame that the public schools no longer teach music and art in the primary grades? We all had our little song books which started each day. No one seems to sing anymore. Sad. The gypsies I saw as a child bear no resemblance to those in Europe today, whose job seems to be hassling tourists! I guess they were pretty ratty looking then and seemed to keep to themselves, contrary to the fright stories. When the snow fell, they moved out immediately, and I never saw them again.

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  4. Wonderful post. We didn’t have gypsies, but we had “carnies” – the carnival workers. I think they may have been sketchier than the gypsies, but who knows? Sometimes poverty and alcohol can look like malevolent intent when it isn’t at all.

    We had such freedom as kids – and honestly. Many parents today are completely out of control with their fears. And the schools – oh, my. With all of the moaning about obese children, you might think someone would propose reinstituting our twice-a-day outdoor recess program. Of course, we played dodgeball, and Red Rover, and climbed on monkey bars and threw dirt clods at one another. All proscribed today. No matter. I intend to keep swinging on the monkey bars and ignore the sourpusses.

    I was serious about August: Osage County. The screen play is fabulous. In fact, I came home and found the script online, just so I could ferret out some lines that particularly caught me. I’ll not say more, lest I give up a spoiler, but once you’ve seen it I’d love to chat. I have a theory about what holds the hold thing together, and what makes the dynamic so unusual. Oh, it was a good film!

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    • We will probably see it again. One of the best movies ever as far as both of us are concerned. I can’t understand why it was not nominated. Interestingly one of my daughters said it was the worst! Oh well, everyone is different, and she may have been reacting to the 14 yr. old addicted granddaughter. The screen play was fabulous too and the acting amazing on all parts. More later.

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