David’s Art From Squares

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30 years apart – David’s on top from early 2013, and mine from senior year of high school 1982.

“David, did you do this?”

I pulled a crumpled drawing from his backpack.

“Yeah, before Winter break. I still need to fill it in.”

It reminded me immediately of an art project I did for school in 1982, making a layout of boxes of varying sizes in a variety of colors.

It’s not the first time.

Couple years ago he did a drawing that reminded us of one done by his great uncle Doug, who died in 1970. While he doesn’t seem to have a lot of interest in art, I’m happy to see that he enjoys doing things like this.

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Kurt’s Cars: 1972 Chevelle Station Wagon

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Aug 1983 – My totaled Chevelle wagon. Truck next to it is the one that hit me.

It’s a shame that I don’t have any good pictures of this car.

I should, because it was one of the most dependable cars I have ever owned. My parents purchased this 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle station wagon in 1981, to replace their aging 1974 Chevrolet Impala wagon. By then the Chevelle already had 108,000 miles on the odometer, but still ran like a champ. It hauled them and a trailer across the United States with little more than gas and oil. I purchased it from them when I took over a very large Seattle-PI 220-paper delivery route in Edmonds WA during the summer of 1982, and put 60,000+ miles on the clock over the next year.

This was the car on which I truly learned the art of maintenance. As a daily-driven vehicle, it was important that the car work every day. None of my other cars to that point had to operate on that level, because school was two blocks away and 7-Eleven was three. Driving a 31-mile long paper route changed all that. The stop-and-go of driving from paper box to paper box made brake jobs and tire replacement a quarterly affair. The number of tune ups doubled. Things that would normally last 20,000 miles on other cars only lasted 8,000 miles on the Chevelle.

But all along the car never complained. For better or for worse, the 307 small block Chevy motor was a workhorse with enough torque to get the job done. A few things went wrong but nothing major occurred. I trashed an axle when the bearing seized. I went through a set of front brake rotors in one month; to this day I’m not sure why. One day the tailpipe dropped in the street, so I replaced the exhaust with 2 ¼” duals. The water pump went bad, but I managed to eek out another 3500 miles before replacing it. The timing chain got really sloppy at 140,000 miles so it too was replaced. By August 1983 the car had traveled over 175,000 miles without an engine rebuild. Oil consumption never changed from the time my parents purchased it – 800 miles a quart – no matter how hard or easy the car was driven.

Then came the accident.

I remember every detail like it had occurred last week. In August of 1983 I was traveling south after dark on Meridian Ave N. While going through the intersection of N 185th St and Meridian I was hit in the passenger’s front door by a pickup that had run a red light. Nobody in the early 1980s wore seat belts. The impact knocked me out of the driver’s seat. The impact spun the pickup around, which then hit the wagon a second time in the quarter panel – just ahead of the tail light. My wagon was now traveling through the intersection uncontrolled, with the steering wheel out of my reach. It ran head long into a Buick Skyhawk that was sitting in the left-hand turn lane.

When dust settled, there were three totaled vehicles in the intersection and no serious injuries. The pickup driver was not insured, which in 1983 was not as serious in Washington as it is now. Because the pickup’s driver wasn’t insured, the Skyhawk’s owner tried to come after me for the damage to his car. My insurance company laughed and gave him the bureaucratic middle finger. In the end I got $400 for my wagon from the pickup driver’s parents. The Skyhawk’s driver went after the pickup’s driver with legal action for $2500.

A month later, I retired from delivering newspapers and walked headlong into the cruel working world. Day jobs were so different from the life I had known of making my own hours, sleeping in after finishing the route, and paying no taxes (couldn’t get away with that now). For about five years I worked the kinds of jobs that convinced me that going back to school was the best idea.

Oddly, the accident that totaled my car was probably for the best.

Good or bad, that evening became an important turning point in my life. Had I left the house 1 minute later, I probably would have continued delivering papers for some time. But another life awaited me; I look back on a synchronized chain of events that has led me to my loving wife, my new relationship with God, two great kids, and a safe home in a great city. In retrospect it’s probably a blessing that my beloved car got smashed in 1983.

But I still miss the Chevelle anyway.

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Eulogies and Enlightenment

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“So sorry for your loss,” I said while putting a hand on her shoulder. “I learned a lot about your husband today in the service.”

She smirked and looked away briefly.

“I guess we all did.”

While attending the memorial service for a friend’s father yesterday, I heard the wondrous tales told by friends and family, who described this man of 75 with warm tidings and funny stories. Big-hearted. Compassionate, Best Friend Ever. Excited about life. Epic Handshake. Devoted to God and family. Pinochle master. Hard working. An award-winning BBQ cook. Huge sports fan. Enthusiastic singer. Unwavering moral compass. To his friends, he was the guy who got them out of pinches, laughed with them about life, and dedicated much of his free time to teaching kids about baseball or umpiring for their leagues. Even in his last years, while fighting a multitude of illnesses, he went out of his way to help friends in any manor that his physical limitations would allow.

They were describing a man I didn’t know.

In the years that I knew him, I never saw any of those things. I wasn’t on the BBQ list. He had a tendency to bark at or ignore me when I was over at their home. I don’t think I ever experienced his Epic Handshake, or heard a kind word from his baritone voice. My only memory of him in the house was sitting in a chair watching a game. Any game. It didn’t matter what. I tried engaging him in conversation many times, but was shut out quickly – over and over. The reason he didn’t like me may be sad and simple to explain.

I was his daughter’s boyfriend.

While the eulogy at the service was read, and the friends shared their memories, I listened with an ear tempered by an odd combination of confusion and anger. I was perplexed because I couldn’t connect what I was hearing about this man into my own perception of him. Mad, because in a way I felt robbed of ever knowing the moral and compassionate side of him – a side which would have been far more enjoyable to me than the one he ever offered.

I wasn’t the only one.

The people he and his wife attended church or school with seemed to know him better than his own family. His daughter had no idea he had lettered in Football during high school, until the family started digging through his boxes – only to find the awards and trophies which marked his past as a noteworthy athlete.. When he died, friends from church and from the past seemed to spring out of nowhere – ready to share their fond memories of him with anyone who would listen. His daughter smiled wryly during the reception afterward as we talked about the stories.

“There was much left unsaid,” she commented. “He also had an explosive temper.”

It was that temper, along with some unresolved family issues, that made home life difficult for her. I was honored to be the one she called when she and her husband came to town for the memorial. “You were always there Kurt,” she said. “Through all the mess. It means a lot to me that you’re here now.” It was really the first time in thirty-plus years that we talked about those hard days, when the mere act of putting her in the passenger seat of my station wagon for a trip to Dick’s Drive In was enough to make the night a good night. It got her away from a brother who had difficulty expressing feelings in a constructive way. It got her out of the house, and away from a Mom who was very quick to interrupt her Dad any time he started telling stories about his life.

And it got her away from his temper.

While I wouldn’t say that my perception and that of others was an example of pure dichotomy, I would say that there was very little overlap between what I remember and what I was hearing at the memorial. So who’s right? I think everyone is. Their perception was based on years – sometimes decades – as his friend or coworker. One man – who had known him since grade school – described himself as “The Dash in that 1937 – 2013 on the front of the bulletin.” While many knew him during the later years, he was proud to say he knew him during the in-between ones – the “dash” if you will.

My perception of him is probably a product of circumstance or timing. I was “the boyfriend,” a symbol from which he felt compelled to protect his daughter. I also saw him at the end of work days; I recall cringing whenever his brown Ford pickup truck was in the driveway, knowing I would get some sort of grumpy comment when I came to pick up his daughter. These are my only memories of him, and I’m sad that they are.

During the service I determined that I was going to find some overlap, between what I knew and what his friends shared. In the end, after thinking long and hard about my own dealings with him, I could tell that he was fiercely devoted, dedicated to and protective of his family. He also stayed married to his wife for 49 years, even though it was a difficult partnership. I had personal experience with those two things. There was no point in discussing the less-than-stellar matters with people who were there to celebrate a life of someone they clearly cherished; it would serve no purpose other than to hurt feelings. In the end I saw that he had touched a lot of lives in positive ways, even if I wasn’t on that list. He made a difference for someone, and that’s a good thing. When I talked with family and friends at the memorial, I said simply that I “had learned a lot of about him today,” and that it was clear from my own experience that his family was very important to him. The enlightenment, while small, was enough to help me better appreciate some aspects of his life and service to the community.

I’ll keep that sense of robbery to myself.

Me and Big Daddy

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At the Medina Store – 1997

Hey everybody! Look at the thin guy!

Friend/Coworker Nancy Sackman took this photo as part of photography class she was in. Or it was just practice. It’s been so long. Either way, she gave me two large prints of the photos she took, the one you see here and another where I had a very distorted look on my face.

I like this print better.

The car is Big Daddy, our 1959 Chevy Biscayne. We bought Big Daddy a few months before this photo was taken. He’s still with us. Tired, and in need of repairs, but still a part of our family.

The building behind us is the Medina Green Store, famous for its red doors and for being around longer than anything else in the area. The building in the 1997 photo was demolished in the last decade, due to nearly a century of wear and tear that was not reversible. But the building that is there now was built to look almost exactly like the old one. Very cool; it even has a Facebook page.

In 1997 I was riding my road bike for over an hour per day, and sometimes two or more. In the afternoons I would intentionally extend my commute by riding up to Bothell from North Bellevue, and then back south into Redmond before climbing the hill to get home. Around this time I didn’t touch the steering wheel of a car for an entire month, in an effort to ride my bicycle everywhere. That’s how I could weigh roughly 160 pounds back then, and still eat big hurkin’ burritos 24/7.

While I could never get back to that weight, I sure would like to get closer than I am now 🙂

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Son with Big Daddy in 2011

Posterous Closed on April 30th

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In 2009 I began to use Posterous to blog pictures and share them to several sources.

It was a great platform, allowing me – from work – to post pictures on Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter in one fell swoop by simply sending an email. This was cool, because Twitter and FB are blocked on my office network. Almost two years ago Twitter bought Posterous, and I suspected changes would be coming down the road. But I didn’t expect they would close the platform.

That’s exactly what happened April 30th.

Not only did they close up shop and get absorbed into Twitter, but the the blogs aren’t even available in archived form. I was able to download the contents of all four blogs. Thankfully. I imported one blog – Rusty Camera – to WordPress, where I receive more feedback than I ever did on Posterous.

My primary blog – BelRedRoad – was moved to WordPress not long after.

Although I was able to download an archive of the original Posterous BelRedRoad blog, I cannot open it due to an error.  It means that I can’t extract any of it, and that I must start over.

Memories Of The Little Bothell Cabin

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In the early summer of 1987, I was working at Unocal 76 in Seattle, living at home with my parents, and going to Shoreline Community College. After being out of high school for five years, I was finally getting an idea of what I wanted from life. One morning at the breakfast table my Dad shared some news.

“I’ve accepted a senior pastor position at a church in Illinois.”

Wait What?? With that, the detailed plan I had to get a college degree and a better job just got tougher. My parents’ destination: the north end of Chicago, at an urban church that had been without a pastor for two years. They would be moving in September. Their decision did not come easily, because their family was in the Seattle area and I was still living at home.

Embarrassingly I blurted out, “But what about me?”

I quickly followed that up with, “Wait…that was dumb. I’m 23 and should probably be living on my own already.” My parents said I would be more than welcome to move with them and go to college in Chicago, which was very nice and so like them, but at that point I felt that it was time for me to move on. I had no idea what to do, or even how to find a place to live on what I made.

About a month later the call came.

“My neighbor Carol is going on a rafting trip to South America,” my sister Jan explained, “and needs someone to watch her place while she’s gone.”

I quickly accepted the “job” of watching her neighbor’s home in Bothell for $200 a month through January 1988. That would give me some breathing room to figure out a place to live. By move-in day I had gotten a job at Al’s Auto Supply in Everett. My commute got longer, but the pay was better and my job was now more secure. It also gave me some schedule flexibility for school.

Built in 1912, the cute 800 sq ft house was more like a cabin. Already 70+ years old when I moved in, it was a very cozy study in what a person needs versus what a person wants. No room for want when you only have 800 square feet. The cabin was surrounded by much newer homes; I would imagine it was built when there was nothing else nearby, and when I lived there the street was still in unincorporated Snohomish County.

I lived with Carol’s cat – Angel – one of the sweetest and softest kitties I’ve ever met. But she did love to meow. She was the reason I was not able to bring my cat Byl to the cabin, because there was no guarantee they would get along. While it is sad that Byl died that summer, his passing did clear a hurdle because my parents and I did not know what to do with him.

The brown shingle siding on the cabin was straight out of The Waltons. The cabin had electric baseboard heating, which was expensive to use and not nearly as efficient as the potbelly wood stove in the living room. There was no shower, only an antique tub. The rear of the house had been added some time after the place was built; a window over the tub opened to the back room, clearly left over from when that wall was the rear of the house. In order to spread the heat, I would stoke the potbelly stove with wood, open the bathroom window, and then put a four-bladed fan pointed towards the backside of the stove to push the heat.

Within minutes the place would be at 80+ degrees.

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Cabin November 1987, as I help my brother-in-law dig a garage foundation.

Angel would lie in front of the stove with her belly up purring. Eventually I would shut off the fan and go to bed. By the time I got up in the morning, the cabin temperature was in the low 60s and I would stoke again. Carol left plenty of wood for me to split and stack.

She also scheduled one visit from a Chimney Sweep during her trip, and he came wearing a tall stovepipe hat and singing traditional British songs from the 1800s. He was prepared not only to clean the chimney but to entertain. Quite a spectacle.

In January I determined that I could no longer afford school on what I was making at Al’s. So my education was put on hold, with the intention of getting some student loans and going back either in Summer or Fall `88. I also needed to find another place to live, because Carol would be coming home soon. A basement apartment at my friend Gary’s house was available, so I packed and headed back to Shoreline. This was the same friend Gary who worked at The Fish Bowl.

Today Carol and the Cabin are still there. The structure is nearly 100 years old and has been upgraded with newer windows. My sister and her husband still own the house next door; now all other sides of the Cabin are surrounded by homes built around 1988. The outside of the house still looks the same, almost like a time capsule. I love seeing it every time we are out visiting Jan and the family, because it reminds me of starting over, and starting on my own.