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‘The Trees’ – Growing up in Normandy Park in the 1950s and 1960s

Dandy [1]

Barb Sleeper, riding her horse, Dandy at the “farm”. It was taken by Gail Knapp’s dad, Russell Knapp The Knapps lived across the street from the pasture (“farm”) at 19251 Normandy Park Drive. Most of us rode bareback, as saddles were expensive. Both Gail and Barb were friends of mine and they had horses at the horse farm.

MargirMiller [2]by Margie Miller

The trees, those magnificent trees! The year was 1954; I was only 4 years old but I distinctly recall the impact of seeing and smelling those giant conifers for the first time when we arrived from southern California. Mom and dad found a wooded lot for sale in the heart of Normandy Park and the excitement of going there each day while the house was being built was overwhelming. My brothers and I would run through the brush and under the trees in our Davy Crockett coon skin caps and Hop-A-Long Cassidy sweatshirts.

It didn’t take long after we moved in to find other neighborhood children to play with. After all, this was post World War II, the baby boom generation was in full swing. My brothers and I had friends within a short walk of our house and we played hard. In fact, we played into the evening and had to be called home with a whistle. Summertime activities included playing “Capture the Flag” and a game we must have made up that we called “Wax and Waves”. I think the Waves were the girls and so it was girls against boys in a war-like kind of way. We used bracken ferns for spears and spent most of the time running through the woods. One girl received a bracken fern spear to her leg and I remember my dad carrying her home to her parents. He was my hero (although he was a pilot of the B-24 Liberator during WW II, he rarely talked about it). Other outdoor activities included playing in a large swamp and collecting fairy shrimp and tadpoles. This swamp was located near the intersection of 200th and Marine View Drive. On summer days, we rounded up the neighbor kids and played baseball in Nestegard’s field of tall grass which was inhabited by a large bull. An even more daring activity was tree climbing. The woods are still standing (between 202nd and 208th) where we would climb as high as we could in the tall fir trees. My brother, Greg, and his friend, Dick Benedict, built platforms in the trees complete with little wooden shelves and books. Until recently, I could still look up and see those platforms. Dick’s sister, Diane and I would sometimes play and pretend we were pioneers. Our Red Flyer wagon was our covered wagon and our dolls the pioneers. We would bury “treasure”, too. One year, dad built wooden stilts, a pair for each of us. We walked all over the neighborhood in them and were the envy of the other kids. A few years later, my aunt Betty sent me a pair of “Rocket Shoes”, big metal shoes that fitted over regular shoes with springs on them so you could bounce, instead of walk. I don’t know of anybody else who had a pair, but I later saw them in the movie “Back to the Future”.

As we grew older, we wandered and played further from home within Normandy Park. During those years, the “horse farm” (now Normandy Province) became my second home. This expanse of pastures was the exclusive domain and a hub of activity for girls from age ten through sixteen. Between the pastures was “the lane” that connected to a large corral and on the opposite end was a gate that led to a barn. In the rafters of the barn was the remains of an airplane that apparently had crashed at that site in the 1940s. I also recall in those rafters a small collection of Barb Sleeper’s pet rats and mice. Although I didn’t have a horse during those years, I will never forget the first time Pam Johnson (Silvermoon) lifted me onto the back of her horse. To this day, I can still recall the names of all the horses owned by each girl. What I do not recall is ever seeing a parent or any adult on the farm. This is what I mean by exclusive domain. The girls were entirely responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of their charges. What haunts me still is the condition of the water trough at the top of the lane—it was filthy!

Adjoining the horse farm was Albright’s humus lake, Arrow Lake. It is now surrounded by beautiful homes but in those days, it was pasture. In the winter, we built a bonfire and ice skated on the lake (no parents there, either)! Other winter activities in those days involved the usual— stamp collections, marbles, Lennon sister paper dolls and playing with pick up sticks. An activity my brothers and their friends enjoyed when they were young was building with Lincoln logs and playing army. As they grew, they tinkered with chemistry sets and short wave radio sets. My older brother, Greg, was interested in photography and he learned how to develop his pictures in trays of chemicals down in a dark area of the basement.

In later years, an ice skating rink was built in Burien and we would often skate there. We did have a black and white television but viewing was restricted to evenings only, one hour at a time. If I was home from school sick, I got to watch all I wanted…Wunda Wunda and Queen For A Day were my favorites.

The bookmobile was a big part of my life. It would come once a week to the intersection of 208th and 1st Avenue. I would pedal my balloon-tired Schwinn to meet it and come back with my basket loaded with animal stories, especially stories of horses. Because of my love of animals, I paid particular attention to the wildlife of Normandy Park. There were lots of mountain beaver in the woods behind our house and those beautiful chartreuse tree frogs were everywhere. On the playground at Marvista, I would often see Kildeer birds. They built their nests on the ground and would feign a broken wing to keep predators away from their eggs. In the early years, deer roamed throughout Normandy Park.

Gail & Terry 3rd grade [3]

Gail Knapp (right) and my best friend, Terry Gibbs. This is how we dressed to go to Marvista in those days. Terry taught me to ride and was a big part of my life growing up. She died at the age of 13 from an inoperable brain tumor.

Although I started my formal education at Des Moines Elementary school, I switched to Marvista in the first grade soon after it was built. I received a very good education there and I have good memories. In those days, I believe all the children walked to school. I don’t recall buses but there must have been. I do know that parents did not drive their children to school. I don’t think it ever entered our minds that walking alone could be unsafe. On nice days, I would walk home for lunch.

Each day at Marvista began with the flag salute. We often sang patriotic songs such as America the Beautiful, it’s a Grand Old Flag, etc. I remember how scared I was when it was my turn to bring the flag down at the end of the school day. I was terrified I would somehow fumble and the flag would touch the ground!

Another activity outside my immediate neighborhood was hiking down to Murphy’s beach (a short distance north of Normandy Park Beach). Getting to this beach involved walking down a series of switchbacks and crossing a creek. I don’t recall ever seeing adults here, either. One level area next to the creek was rumored to be the former home site of Mrs. Murphy. When I was older, a friend and I built a raft and took it across to Vashon Island from this beach (no parental knowledge of this activity either!)

One interesting old woman (Mrs. Menell) lived in the forest between 202nd and Marine View Drive. This was before the woods above our house was developed into Normandy Forest. My brother and I used to visit her; I think we thought she was interesting and mysterious because she lived alone. She had a very small house full of birds and she was kind to us. She also babysat us when we were younger.

As a teen, my summers were divided between Murphy’s Beach and Olympic View Swim Club (OVSC). My dad was responsible for getting the pool put in and I remember the work he and mom put into recruiting members. I had taken swim lessons at Steele and Angle Lake (can still recall trying to float on my back in icy water with rain coming down in my face). But it was at Olympic View where I swam on the team, life guarded and learned some office skills.

I am sixty-five years old now and with the passing years, I have come to realize what a unique experience I had growing up in Normandy Park. My mom, Jean Weeks, still resides in the house I grew up in. Thank you, mom for giving me such a wonderful childhood!