A FEW BOYHOOD MEMORIES ABOUT GROWING UP IN ANACORTES

A FEW BOYHOOD MEMORIES ABOUT GROWING UP IN ANACORTES

When I was growing up our family lived in Anacortes, Washington at 2102 9th Street. Our house was a two story house on a triangle shaped lot located on a high bank looking out over Guemes Channel below. To the left of the property, on Guemes Channel was the Sebastian Stuart Cannery. A wonderful, old, red painted structure on pilling which extended out into the channel. But, to to be perfectly accurate my earliest memories of where we lived was in a rental house at 7th and N Avenue in Anacortes, directly across from Causland memorial Park and kitty corner from St. Mary's Catholic church. We were there because the mortgage for construction of the house my parents built on 9th street had become too much for them to pay during the depression and they Cannerywere forced to rent it to the manager of mill in town to cover the mortgage. Nevertheless, the rental house was a wonderful place to grow up because the park was across the street and our grocery store was only a few blocks away. I remember being home at this house on Sunday December 7, 1941 when I was six years old when news of the bombing of Hawaii at Pearl Harbor came over the radio. World War II had begun and everyone was upset. I remember that after America had declared war on Japan, Italy and Germany, dad painted over the word "Italian" food on our family grocery store sign. 

After the war began, the economy improved and we were able to move back to the house on 9th street. At our home there, the Great Northern Railroad tracks were at the bottom of the bank our house sat on and running right along the water edge. The entire tracks along the water was protected from the waves by large blasted rocks. The tracks connected from the main line, through down town, along the water edge to the "lower canneries" near Sunset Beach. During fishing season the train collected products from all the fish canneries on the water and from the fertilizer plant at the end of the line. Trains used the tracks on a somewhat infrequent basis and when you heard the whistle that it was coming, one could rush down the stairs to the tracks and put a penny on the rail. The passing train flattened it out to something oval and unique. There was always a caboose on the train and you could wait in the bushes until it passed and then rush out on tracks waving and yelling to the men in the caboose hoping they would wave back or even blow the train whistle. When I was a teenager some friends and I found a railroad hand driven car temporarily turned over next to the tracks. We managed to get it back on the tracks and using the hand power ran it down the tracks some distance until we heard a train whistle. I now confess we abandoned it on the tracks and ran up the hillside into the trees and bushes to escape what we sure would be arrest and imprisonment. Fortunately, we left it on a long straight area and no harm came from our recklessness. 

Dad had hand constructed a long series of wooden steps from the top of the bank of our house  to the tracks below so we could access to the beach below. When the tide was in there wasn't any beach, but the tide went out a substantial distance and it left a beach with treasurers. There were some agates and shells as well as driftwood to be found. Barnacles on the rocks and small crab hiding under rocks with other sea life made it an adventure.

During the Summer fishing season the cannery, like all the rest of the fish canneries along the channel, operated virtually 24 hours a day. Carroll Cannery was a short walk along the tracks towards town and Sebastian Stuart was to the left of our house. At that cannery, there was a large barge tied to the side of the cannery into which the unused fish parts were dumped. Seagulls swopped down to the barge to steal fish parts, screaming their unique noise at each other. Steam from the cooking ovens rose over the red building creating a sight for a painting. Cannery machinery made noises mixing in with the seagull sounds. Historically the canneries employed men from China who cut the heads off the salmon and prepared them for canning, but in time a machine was produced that did this work. It was commonly known in the trade as "the iron chink" as it replaced the immigrant workers. The machine cut the heads off in a straight line leaving a triangle section of good salmon just below the jaw. My uncle, Ernie Babarovich, along with others would sit on the dock where fish heads were being conveyed from the cannery to the barge and pull the heads. He would cut this triangle of salmon plus cut the cheeks of the salmon head and, after collecting enough, would take them home to cook or can. This was regarded as one of the best parts of the salmon. All of the fish canneries were a summer occupation for a lot of Anacortes residents. This was before strict child labor laws and it also meant employment for a large number of Anacortes school children as well. The town economy primarily involved fishing and lumber in those days.

When full the barge with fish parts was towed to the lower cannery area where the Trafton's operated the fertilizer plant and converted the barge contents into fertilizer. You could smell the plant for some distance when it was operating. The cannery below our house was all activity during the season. Boats were arriving and depositing the salmon purchased from the purse seiners still fishing in the San Juan's. On weekends the purse seiners would tie up at the cannery and head home or to town to the bars and the Saturday night street dances. For a boy with a dog, a sling shot and a Summer without school and a beach to explore with a railroad track as a pathway to adventure it was a wonderful magic place to be in the Summer.

With a minimum concern for possible trains, one could walk the tracks all the way to end where the fertilizer plant was located. There, on a low tide, the sand extended yards out and the beach was large. The incoming water was warm enough to swim in. On low tide in this location there were great adventures under the buildings playing around the piling which support the structure. I'd take off my clothes and the dog and I would run and swim in the warm incoming water. 

Further down from there, to the Shannon Point, there was what was once a very grand, Victorian style home several levels high. It had been the elegant home of an owner of a nearby cannery, but had been abandoned long before. The doors were hanging open and the windows mostly non existent. The interior was in a shambles from people breaking things and taking things as well. It was, however, a place of great adventure. Maybe even a haunted house. Exploring it was like an exploration into the jungle in my young mind. There were still treasurers to be found like the labels for fish cans and other objects of interest. It was such a long ways from our house to walk along the tracks that I didn't get there very often. It has long been gone, but I still can picture it's appearance as I approached along the tracks.  

There were a lot of fish, crab and shrimp in Guemes channel when I was a youngster. Mother remembered that before the fish traps were built, Indians actually caught salmon from the shore. I caught fresh shrimp as a boy from Curtis Wharf, at the end of Commercial Avenue in downtown. I'd get the empty onion sacks from the store and tie them to a loop or barrel hoop so they hung down below the loop. I would collect fish heads from the cannery and tie them to the bottom of the sack. I would lower it to the bottom and let it stay there. I'd pull it up and the shrimp would be trapped in the bottom of the sack. I'd pour them into a pail with salt water and take them home for mother to cook. I also fished with a hand line from the dock.

I remember lying on the support logs under the ferry dock which was located near Curtis Wharf dock where small fish and shrimp would be swimming close to the surface. I had a hand line for fishing and could watch all the activity in the clear water. Crowders Boat House was nearby where wooden boats were rented for fishing. They had interior modified Ford engines that moved at a very slow trolling speed. There was a boat launch as well and a lot of boating activity to watch.

These and many more childhood memories come easily to my mind as I think back over a time when things seemed to move a lot more slowly than today. They give me comfort even though I am happy with my life journey. 

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