TOP O THE MORN ... Celebrating a birthday stirs up memories

We tried not to have any more birthdays. When they began to pile up, birthdays didn’t do anything for me. And they are hard to remember. One lady asked, “How old are you?” and we had to tell her we had a senior moment and couldn’t remember. The only thing we did remember was Noah dropping us off on his way to Ararat!

We have had some memorable birthdays, mostly birthday parties. But we didn’t expect the coffee table clatch to fill the Daily Grind with green-decorated tables, place mats and napkins, shamrocks and a beautiful birthday cake decorated with rosebuds, plus family from near and far. Lovely cards came with bouquets of roses, asters and other bright fall flowers. Cards were placed on one table, flowers on another, and we didn’t know which belonged to which! But we know who you are, my wonderful friends, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for each beautiful blossom!

We had an evening call from Christchurch, New Zealand, where our youngest son, Douglas, his wife Kathleen, and their son Thomas, 13, live. Thomas played “Happy Birthday to You” on his violin over the many miles of ocean and we learned that in New Zealand it is springtime with daffodils and rhododendrons in bloom.

As beautiful as it might be Down Under, our autumn on Whidbey Island would be hard to surpass. Sunshine and trees dripping with apples and pears, fields of corn being harvested and far to the north Mount Baker looking over the fields of the VanderVoet Farm, make it difficult to believe that springtime in New Zealand is more beautiful. Our Mel, known in Oak Harbor as the Gardener Friend (from some of our columns) always welcomed fall. He was a farmer and with the coming of fall, heavy chores on the farm were finished for the year, and as a farmer, he could lean back on the hoe and begin planning for spring.

Living for so many years on Whidbey Island has been our greatest experience. Coming from Mount Vernon to cross Deception Pass on a little ferry, then to make a whole slate of new friends in a little bay-side town of 400 ... or maybe 450? ... we found that no one was unknown in the town. We first noted the huge oak trees that dotted the hillside, sloping toward Oak Harbor Bay, a picture-postcard scene.

We learned first hard the names of all the store owners — Mr. Maylor at Maylor Store; Mr. Wellington the photographer and librarian; Mr. Whitney, the publisher of Farm Bureau News, and our first boss ... Elmer Jackson, the meat market owner and Bert Nunan, the pool hall operator. Pop Wade, the tinshop owner, Dr. Carskadden, the doctor, Harvey Hill, the variety store owner and early settler Barney Riksen, the bank teller.

And along with the names we learned their history, where they were from, who they were and many a story. In one story, a man was tarred and feathered on Oak Harbor’s main street for selling whiskey to an Indian who then beat his wife unmercifully. Other stories were told about lovely homes built of Clover Valley lumber and the Jerome Ely home’s where many summer weddings took place on the home’s sloping lawn.

We became a part of the community, along with our parents, brother and two sisters. We found a job with the local newspaper until a job that paid better opened up, and we then went to work for the Farmers Association at the end of the dock that is no more.

We went to dances at the Odd Fellows Hall, movies in Coupeville and Fort Casey, picnicked at West Beach, learned to swim in Oak Harbor’s cold bay. There was always something to do! Methodist Youth, bonfires at Cornet Bay, wiener roasts on Penn Cove beaches. Then marriage ... see how fast the years go by? ... and a family and back to the newspaper.

Probably the most exciting years of my life were when my kids were in high school. Seemed like the whole community lived at our house. Before a prom or other excitement, a happy hour was held at the Neil house, with even the teachers present. We told them as they (the kids) left that they had better be home at a decent hour or they would sleep on the porch. They did. Get home that is.

Off to college and more excitement. Phone call: “Mother! I just met the greatest guy and he wants me to got to the prom with him and I need a new dress!” Or “Mother! I’m off to Purdue as their crew coach! Whaddaya think?” Or “Mom, it’s a baby boy! Named Andrew James! His Scottish forebears would be please, don’t you think?”

That’s only half of the long years. The newspapers took first place for a long time. They still are.

Don’t just sit there, send me a bit of neighborhood news for People and Places!

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