Fifty-six years ago this month, I stepped onto Washington soil for the first time.
I was born in Illinois and had lived there for 15 years. I was a Midwest girl and loved it there — the lightning bugs, great thunder and lightning storms, playing in the snow in the winter, and visiting the Adler Planetarium, the Museum of Science and Industry, and Riverview amusement park.
Back in the fall of 1962, my mom and dad announced at dinner one night that we would be moving to Washington state. My dad had accepted a job with a company called Weyerhaeuser (which none of us could pronounce at that time, let alone spell!), and he would be moving soon while my mom, brother and I stayed behind and got the house ready to sell.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said to myself. “How can you do this to me?”
We had lived in that house since I was 4. I’d gone to school with the same kids since kindergarten. I had just started the school year at Niles High West, a brand-new high school that had two swimming pools (one for the boys and one for the girls).
To make matters worse, the first phone call we got from Dad after he had settled into a boarding house in downtown Longview was to let us know we shouldn’t be too concerned if we heard about the big windstorm that had hit the Washington coast. You see, Dad arrived in Longview the Monday after the Columbus Day storm of 1962: Trees were uprooted, power lines were downed, roofs were torn off houses in most of the city. It was a mess.
We moved after school was out in June and settled into a house on the outskirts of Kelso. About a week later, Mom and I went to the high school to register for my sophomore year, and I couldn’t believe what I saw: an old brick building that had seen much better days. (Rumors were it had been condemned several years earlier.) Inside wasn’t much better: old wooden floors, a couple of ramps instead of stairs, and classrooms full of desks that looked like they should have been in the museum.
I was devastated. My life was over — I just knew it. At that moment, I would have given anything to move back to Illinois.
Of course that didn’t happen, and thank goodness it didn’t. It took a couple of months, but before long I was falling in love with Washington state — and that love affair has lasted for over five decades.
My life has been pretty darned wonderful. I met the man I would marry in sophomore English class. It took 7½ years but was certainly worth the wait! I had terrific classmates at Kelso High School, and the Class of 1966 still has a get-together luncheon once a month at the Kelso Elks.
I can’t imagine living anywhere else than Washington state. We have everything here within just a couple hours’ drive.
If you like hot summers and huge rolling wheat fields, Eastern Washington is the place for you. Want to go snow skiing or mountain climbing? You have your choice of the Mt. Baker, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, the Olympics or the Cascades. Is the beach calling your name? Washington offers miles and miles of sand, salt water and beautiful scenery. Need some quiet time to renew and refresh your spirit? Visit the Olympic rainforests.
I’m a big fan of the weather we have here in Southwest Washington. The temperature doesn’t vary all that much throughout the year — it’s rarely too hot or too cold, and I don’t have to worry about having a “winter” or “summer” wardrobe. Sure, it rains a lot, but who cares? It’s really more of a heavy mist than actual rain.
Every February I swear we have about a week of weather that is absolutely gorgeous. It usually comes about the time the national news is talking about blizzards and record-setting snowstorms in the Midwest and we are walking around in shorts and t-shirts. And beyond a doubt, during mid- to late summer and into the fall we are blessed with the most amazing bright, clear days and absolutely gorgeous evenings.
Sorry, Mom and Dad, for being such a brat for those months before the move and the first couple of months in Washington. There really is no other place I’d rather live, and I have you to thank for that opportunity.
Karen Barkstrom, The Daily World’s editorial assistant, can be reached at 360-537-3925 or firstname.lastname@example.org.