Immigrants, Seattle, Travel, History, Family, Writing, and Maine

 

Pederson-Cover-Front

Features excerpts of our wide-ranging lives

 

All  the themes covered in my updated book are finally published after years of work. For decades I believe my mother’s tale that Danish immigrant Hans Pederson left us penniless. Then I uncover the truth about my father’s wealth and prolific contributions to Seattle. I discover my mysterious father’s boom to bust life in the early 1900s as I grapple with family secrets and heartbreaking deception in this very personal memoir. My coming-of-age journey from Seattle to Singapore, Shanghai, Honolulu, New York, New Jersey, Maine and North Carolina.

 

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World War II Car Travel

 

 

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1941 Nash Ambassador courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

During my World War II childhood in New York, my mother, my sister, and I escaped the city and went to Maine every summer. We left the car in the garage all winter, took  buses and subways, and saved our gas rationing coupons for the summer trip.

It took two full days to drive the 350 miles to Maine since the wartime speed limit was thirty-five miles an hour. We watched the cows in the fields and read the Burma Shave shaving cream signs along the sides of the two-lane roads.

                      “His cheek was rough                                  His chick vamoose

                       And now she won’t                                     Come home to roost

                                                                                                                            Burma Shave”

The first night we stopped at a tourist home in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. Someone told my father about this new kind of place out West called a motel. You’d just drive your car right up to the door of your room and carry in your own suitcases. “Keep your eyes peeled for a motel,” Dad told us, but we never saw any. All we saw were cows and Burma Shave signs.

The next day we drove to Maine through all these little town on Route 1—York, Ogunquit, Kennebunk. More Burma Shave signs entertained us.

                   “To kiss a mug                                                 That’s like a cactus

                    Takes more nerve                                          Than it does practice

                                                                                                                         Burma Shave”

We stayed a couple of days in Portland with our aunts and uncle. Whenever our uncle had fun somewhere, he’d say, “Gorry, it was a real whiz-bang.”

They saved their meat coupons for our visits. Aunt Edith cooked huge roasts. If we stayed over a Saturday night, she made baked beans and brown bread. Aunt Edith knew a good bean baker. She took her bean pot over in the morning, he baked it all day, and then she picked it up that night. I loved the spicy smell and the soft dark bread.

We  stayed in Portland long enough to get gold fillings from Dr. Woods, Dad’s dentist. He never used Novocain. “If I hit a nerve I want to know it,” he’d say. Boy, did I know it. He drilled awhile, squirted cold air on the tooth when it got hot, then swabbed the cavity with iodine or something before he filled it. It was awful, but it was only once a year.

Next we drove up the coast to the camp. Dad stayed a few days before he took the train back to New York. In August he’d take the train back up to get us and we’d drive back to New York in time for school.

We were so  lucky we could spend summers in Maine away from hot New York City with its danger of polio.

Unwilling Train Travel

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attribution, Roger Kidd  courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

The train sped West with me sitting on a well-indented wicker bench. I was leaving Maine for a Southern California college that had awarded me a grant for my Junior year.

My restless parents couldn’t decide where to retire. Pre-World War II, we led an expatriate life as my stepfather’s Standard Oil career took him to Shanghai, Manila, Honolulu, Mumbai, and Java. During the war years we lived in New York City.

When Mao Tse-Tung ended Western commerce in China, Dad retired to Maine, the home of his youth. Mother, originally from Canada, soon agreed with him that Maine was too cold. They decided that I should lead the family to sunny California.

I was grateful for the scholarship, but since I’d been to three high schools, I had no desire to transfer to a second college 3000 miles from home.

The railroad rocked through the boring Texas landscape. Along with my back, my tooth ached. my jaw began to swell. I felt another impacted wisdom tooth making an appearance like the one I’d had pulled two months earlier. But I still had another two nights to go in this well-worn wicker seat before I could see a dentist.

With nowhere to go, I turned to my rangy seat companion. Lean and sunbaked, wearing jeans and cowboy boots, he looked the epitome of a real Texan. Exasperated, I said, “There’s nothing to see here in Texas. There isn’t even a single tree!”

He placed his cowboy boot on the foot rail and looked out the window. He brushed an imaginary speck off his perfectly tailored jeans before he turned to me. “Waall, I went back East to Arkansas once,” he drawled pleasantly. “But I couldn’t see nuthin fur all the durn trees around.”

What spells home to you?

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