The Summer Fear Was Born

Tacoma, Washington …

childhood-memories-march-242012-041Author’s Note:

This will eventually be a novel.  It’s the opening chapter, or what will be the opening chapter, before various changes are made during the final project.  It’s a book that’s been kicking around inside of me for quite some time about a loss of innocence, loosely following my own life n 1961, the year a little girls by the name of Anne Marie Burr went missing from her home one hot August night, never to be seen again.

With that as your only introduction, here is the opening chapter:


Tacoma, Washington was a city waiting for change in 1961.  Most people who lived there at that time could not give voice to what they were feeling.  It was a rumbly in the tumbly as our friend Pooh would say, a sense that something was about to happen, but whether it was good or bad they could not say.

At that time, in that year, Tacoma was the plain girl sitting in the corner of the gymnasium at a high school dance, resigned to being the perennial wallflower, not terribly satisfied with her life to date and not really sure what to do about it.

The city’s history was weighing it down.  By 1961 it was tired and in need of rejuvenation, in need of vitalization and in need of shaking up.  Again, it’s doubtful the citizens would have said that.  They were locked into the business of living, the day in, day out grind of rise and shine, tote that barge and lift that bale, all the while tending to families and mending white picket fences.  The Fifties of Ike and Mamie were gone.  The logging industry was drying up, as was the smelting industry, the fishing industry and any other industry cemented in the stale past.  The population had flat-lined, the downtown core was looking a bit dreary, and there was an ever-present smell of decay, both real and imagined.

Still, there was hope.  A new couple occupied the large white house on Pennsylvania Avenue three-thousand miles away, and Ike and Mamie they were not.  They brought youth to the screens of American televisions, and they seemed to symbolize the change so desperately needed.  Threats, some real and some imagined, rose in the distance like storm clouds over the Pacific, and school children practiced duck and cover, but for the average Tacoma life just plodded on.  Barbecues were held, church was attended, family gatherings were dutifully attended and stories, some true and some pure bullshit, were passed down from one generation to the next.

I turned thirteen years of age the year Tacoma turned eighty-six.  I doubt either of us will forget that particular birthday year.  It was a coming of age.


It was a hot summer by Tacoma standards.  In July it hit ninety-nine degrees.  That’s a scorcher for weather-pampered North Westerners who are accustomed to mid-seventies.  August seemed to be in the eighties daily.  Great baseball weather and we all loved baseball but still, even a kid got tired of his shirt being plastered to his back by sweat.

There was also a great deal of roadwork and public utility work done that summer.  Huge trenches were dug to lay new pipe.  Dust seemed to cling in the air for three solid months.  It was a traffic nightmare for drivers.  It was a playground for us kids.

It was a summer of slow movement and the wiping of brows, of constantly dirty clothes and dogs under the porch with tongues lagging, of swimming holes and Snow Cones, picnics under the shade of an apple tree, A&W and top-down T-birds with three on the floor.

It was the summer Karl and his family moved into our neighborhood.  He and I became instant friends.


August eleventh, mid-morning, already seventy-five degrees, a knock on the front door.  I pulled myself away from a Looney Tunes cartoon on the television, answered the knock and found Karl grinning at me.

“Let’s call some guys and go play ball at the park,” he said to me. He was grinning that lopsided grin of his, and shifting his weight from foot to foot, as was his norm.  Karl Thomas Zetter, three generations removed from Sweden, he was one of five Zetter children, all with sparkling blue eyes and surfer-blond hair.  His family had moved into our neighborhood in early July, five houses away from us.  It took us four days to spot each other, make the first attempts at conversation and decide we were worth spending time with, and begin hanging out as friends.

I grabbed my glove, bat and ball and found mom in the kitchen.

“Mom, Karl and I are going to the park to play ball.”

My mother, Evelyn Josephine Howland, was Midwest born and raised, a child of the Great Depression, and not a believer in idle hands.  She was home that day from her part-time job at the Proctor Dime Store, but a day off from work simply meant catching up on canning, laundry and fifty other odd-jobs waiting for her.  She looked up from her pie crust and brushed a strand of her dishwater-blond hair from her face.  A streak of flour appeared.  She had been a beauty as a teen in Iowa.  By 1961 she was just a tired mom with too much to do to worry about her looks.

“Did you do your chores, Bill?”

“I took the garbage out, made my bed and fed the dog.  I’ll mow the lawn when I get home, okay?”

“Just don’t forget.  Your dad will tan your hide if you do.”

Whether my dad would actually take a belt to my butt was a matter for debate, but I had no desire to actually find out.  I kissed mom on the cheek and Karl and I raced out of the house before she could dream up some other chore for me to do.  We ran the block to Karl’s house and commenced dialing the phone.

Our phone calls netted five more players, all of whom promised to meet us at the park in a half-hour.  Jefferson Park was a mile down the road, a straight shot down Monroe Street.   Our Keds sneakers kicked up dust as we walked.  Ten a.m. and already hotter than Hades.

I picked up a clump of dirt and tossed it at Karl.  “Spahn goes for three-hundred today,” I told him.

“He’ll get it.  Nobody can hit that curve of his.  Sure wish I could be there to see it.”

Karl had three sisters.  One of them, Eva, had just turned twelve.  She was damned cute and I had a crush on her.

“What are your sisters doing today?” I asked with what I hoped was supreme nonchalance.

“You mean what’s Eva doing, right?  Why don’t you ask her yourself?  You chicken?” He nailed me with a dirt clump and ran ahead.

Truth was, Karl was right. I was chicken.  Girls confused me back then.  Eva was way too pretty….pretty in an intimidating way…and I had no clue.  Talking to her was painful. The thought of doing anything other than talk was way beyond my comprehension.  Still I had my image to uphold.

“Nah, I’m not chicken.  She’s too young and besides, girls are a pain in the butt.  Why bother, right?”

Karl wasn’t buying it but he let it drop.  Friends were like that back then. They knew just how far to push and then they backed off.  Kidding around was fine but there were limits.  He gratefully changed the subject back to safer ground.

“Do you think Maris can beat Ruth’s record?  He’s got forty-eight now.  Only thirteen to go.”

I was shaking my head. “No way, Jose.  He’s going to choke big time.  You just watch and see. Mantle might break the record but not Maris.  Hey, did you see the bomb shelter the Peterman’s are building in their backyard?  I’d hate to have to live in that tiny room underground for a month until it was safe outside.”

“Are you kidding me? Lisa Peterman is hot.  That would be the greatest month of my life.  If the bomb drops I’m running to their house and begging them to let me stay with them.  If I can’t have Connie Francis as a girlfriend then it will have to be Lisa Peterman.  That girl gives me a boner.”

I started singing “Where the Boys Are” and Karl nailed me with another dirt clod.

We laughed the rest of the way to the park.  When we got there the other guys were waiting for us.  We played a game of Pick-up for three hours, the heat forgotten as we ran the bases with reckless abandon, Maris and Mantle playing with us, just kids being kids, testing our own limits and learning about ourselves along the way.

And there was so much learning to do.


Latest posts by William D. Holland (see all)

William D. Holland

Really, when it comes right down to it, I'm just a human being. I could list this, and I could list that, and I could attempt to dazzle you all with the landscape shorthand of my life, but strip away all the b.s. and I'm just a human being who has tried to do more good than bad during my lifetime, and who firmly believes the most important thing in this world is love.

23 thoughts on “The Summer Fear Was Born

  • September 26, 2016 at 2:41 PM

    Ah! Great first chapter, Bill. Kudos! I grew up in Tacoma, Washington and I well remember the town and industries going down. The smelter – omg that thing smelled bad! Every Sunday we passed the smelter, holding our breath as Dad drove by it, on our way to our Grandparents house in Sumner. I have a video of the smelter going down when they imploded it. Although I remembered that horrible smell, it was rather sad to see the dirty old icon being demolished. Downtown! My gosh – my sister and I went downtown every Saturday with our coins we save up. We always headed for Woolworth’s to sit at the counter and get fries and a coke, then go buy a little trinket for ourselves, usually the little blue bottle of Midnight In Paris perfume. Oh! I could rattle on and on about my beloved Tacoma, you brought some good memories back. But, I actually came here to read your story and it is very enjoyable. Well done, Bill, well done.

  • September 26, 2016 at 2:45 PM

    Phyllis, I didn’t know you were from Tacoma. How wonderful! Yes, Woolworths, I bought many a milkshake there, my friend. Thanks for mentioning that….my mother worked at People’s Dept Store downtown…you might remember that.

    • September 26, 2016 at 2:59 PM

      I do remember People’s. Yep, lots of memories downtown. The theater! My girlfriends and I would go there, not to watch the movies, but to mess around down in the girl’s bathroom. One day we wanted candy bars from the vendor machine and when I put my dime in the till went berserk and about 3 – 400 coins emptied out. We filled out pockets, so excited the matron came running down the stairs scolding us, saying we had to quiet down and told us to leave. She never knew about the coins weighting our pockets down. You know, that was the only time I stole anything and never felt guilty about it – till many years later. LOL Speaking of baseball – my four brothers, older sister and I played baseball every day after school in an old apple orchard next door to our house. About 10 neighbor kids would join us and we had two good teams. Wow! I bet you and I could talk up old memories till the cows came home! What fun!

  • September 26, 2016 at 3:02 PM

    Amazing…the Roxy, Temple and Rialto theaters. I spent many an afternoon at those theaters watching double features. What part of town did you live in?

    • September 26, 2016 at 3:19 PM

      Yes, amazing. I think it was the Roxy where we usually went. People’s, Woolworth’s and a tiny cafe were our haunts. 41st Street is where we lived, which is now underneath the Tacoma Mall. I believe there are only 2 or 3 houses left from our old neighborhood, high up on a hill. Just below that hill was our home. Dad raised chickens there and we had a huge pig, two sheep, four goats, apple, pear and cherry trees and our huge vegetable garden. Enough food came from our yard that fed the nine of us year round. Funny, that neighborhood had a mix of Scots, Irish, Italian, German, Polish and French. We were the Irish. Brings tears to my eyes with all the wonderful memories. What part of Tacoma did you live in, Bill? I vaguely remember some streets you mentioned in your story.

  • September 26, 2016 at 3:31 PM

    We lived in the north end, on North 18th and Monroe….near the Proctor District. I was a Catholic boy so I went to St. Patricks Grade School and Bellarmine Prep….great memories for sure. Your dad was an urban farmer before the term was invented. 🙂

    • September 26, 2016 at 4:08 PM

      Yes, Dad was an urban farmer. Our pig ended up in Tacoma Lockers, along with a side of beef, 1/2 pig for 1/2 cow. I remember Proctor District and St. Patricks, Bellarmine. We always thought of Proctor as one of the better hoods. Gosh, we are almost homeys, Bill. 🙂 Last time I was in Tacoma was in 2007 when my eldest brother passed on. It was a sad time. The daffodils were just blooming. I would love to move back up there. Circumstances have kept me from going back all these years. Now that I am retired, I would move back in a minute if I could afford the expenses. Oh, well. It would be rather hard to walk through Tacoma Mall, knowing I was walking over so many memories. Gosh, I am a chatter box! You took me back home and I just keep jabbering away! I have to go shopping. See you later, Bill. Hey – thanks! 🙂

  • September 26, 2016 at 9:23 PM

    Nicely done Bill, resonating those days of youth and a kids day to day exploits. A great intro and getting to know your characters. Well done.

  • September 26, 2016 at 9:35 PM

    This will be a wonderful opening chapter to your book, Bill. It was such easy and enjoyable reading that I was disappointed when it ended. Great writing, as always. I also enjoyed reading the interaction and memories between you and Phyllis.

  • September 28, 2016 at 1:29 PM

    I had to laugh when I read the line, “Girls confused me back then. ” You must be doing better than me. They still confuse me! Great opening chapter, Bill. I’m ready for the next one.

  • September 28, 2016 at 1:35 PM

    William, I still don’t have a clue…but I can always hope that one day enlightenment will come. LOL Thanks for the visit and the kind words.

  • September 29, 2016 at 8:14 PM

    Wow, Bill. I frequented Proctor Dime store all the time. I bought all my school supplies there and spent my allowance there. I lived on 34th and Stevens. I turned 5 in July of ’61. You nailed the descriptions. It reminds me of the line in to Kill a Mockingbird when the narrator said “Maycomb was a tired old town.” When I go by my old house and neighborhood and I always amazed at how updated and pretty it is. Also amazed we both lived on the KP.

    As to your story, it will make a great book.

    Where exactly did you live? Funny how three of us here on CE lived in Tacoma.

  • September 30, 2016 at 7:34 AM

    Lori, I’m just about to run out the door for an appointment, but quickly, my mother worked at the Dime Store for, oh, five years or more, and the Proctor Bowling Alley was my first job. We lived at North18th and Monroe….right on the intersection. Very small world!

  • October 15, 2016 at 1:40 PM

    Bill, I just now stumbled upon this. Better late than never, I hope. You have captured the feel of Tacoma so very well–imagine you, Phyllis, and me all growing up in the same place at the same time? I remember that summer of 1961 and when Anne Marie disappeared I was convinced that I would be next. It scared me to death! I am really looking forward to this book.

    Phyllis, you and I were almost neighbors. I lived in the big old house on the corner of 48th and Tacoma Ave. and I’m guessing you went to Lincoln High (but I’m probably a bit older than you). Remember the neighborhood movie theater on 48th and Yakima, and a soda shop and dry cleaners right next door?

  • October 16, 2016 at 9:35 AM

    Hey Linda! It is strange that the three of us grew up in Tacoma and found each other on HP. I was a north end boy, went to St. Patricks Grade School and Bellarmine….no south end for me, I’m afraid. 🙂

  • October 16, 2016 at 9:55 AM

    Love stories like this Bill and then the story below the story! lol Did you guys really say boner back then? I would take that out to keep it Mark Twain good who only hinted at things. That is just me though but here we are more apt to say what we think to each other than like HP. Well some of us more than others but anyway no offense but I prefer my stories with hints rather than out there. Great writing either way.

  • October 16, 2016 at 10:17 AM

    Thanks for the suggestion, Jackie, and most definitely we said it….often. LOL I’ll have to think about it…but either way, thanks for reading.

  • October 16, 2016 at 1:18 PM

    You too, Linda? Wow – that makes four of us from Tacoma, you, Lori, Bill and I. Tacoma was the perfect place to grow up in, or was it the era, or both. I hope you do not change anything in your story, for it is from you, and the characters you created, Bill. I must read your book when it comes out.

  • October 17, 2016 at 7:46 AM

    Gosh, I hope I live long enough to write the darned thing. 🙂


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