“The Wizard of Oz” is a magical movie from the 1930’s about a young girl from Kansas. She and her pet dog get caught up in a tornado and are thrown into a fantasy world that centers on a place called Oz. At the very center of Oz is a city they call “The Emerald City”. If you’ve seen the movie, you probably thought The Emerald City was a fictitious place, but it’s not. I’ve been there.
In 1962, when I was eight years old, my family went on a summer vacation to Seattle, Washington, by car. Now you must remember that 57 years ago, communication between regions of the country was much more limited. For example, the interstate highway system that we take for granted today literally stopped when we got in the middle of Idaho. My mom became the navigator for my dad as we flew down gravel connector roads between state highways. For me, the kid who, after hitting Nebraska, spent much of his time laying in the back window of Dad’s 1960 Buick La Sabre, with the windows down and the radio on, it was a trip made in heaven. We were heading to “The Emerald City,” Seattle, Washington, and in a way it was like going back to the future for our family.
My mother lived in downtown Seattle until she graduated high school. That summer, her parents, who were in ministry together during World War II, decided to move back to the midwest where they grew up. They were called to a small Presbyterian Church in the middle of nowhere near Greensburg, Indiana. For my mom, it was sort of like being caught in a tornado and ripped away from all she knew. Talk about culture shock! The previous year her summer job was selling dresses in the women’s department at an upscale department store downtown. She was not accustomed to the slow pace of Greensburg. But, as life happens, it’s where she met my dad. He was a farmer who had never lived away from home, except for a stint in the army. Initially, they seemed to have little in common; she was a city girl; he was a farm boy. But they quickly learned they had important things in common such as faith, family, and a love of nature. So, as they say, in many ways, they were actually made for each other.
As1962 rolled around my mom, now stuck at home on the farm with three kids, was desperate to get back to Seattle. She longed to see her sister who had stayed behind and, by then, had a young family of her own. Growing up as sisters and best friends, the girls hadn’t seen one another in about ten years. As it turned out, 1962 was the year that Seattle was picked to be the “World’s Fair” city. Mom and Dad decided to take us kids on a road trip out west to see the Seattle World’s Fair which was literally down the hill from where she grew up.
Because we live in an age with Disney World and Six Flags Parks, it may be hard for you to imagine how magical a “World’s Fair” would be for a third-grader from Indiana. So watch this video clip while keeping in mind that I’m 8 years old and that “The Jetsons” cartoon show was brand-spankin’ new. Can you see why this was my “summer to remember” as a kid?
In spite of the fact that this is probably my most cherished memory from childhood, I was only 8 years old and have only snapshots of memories from that trip, even though my folks took lots of 35mm slides (remember those?) of everything we did. Here are a few of the things I remember:
- Laying on my back in the back window of the car looking up at the stars and moon somewhere out in Montana. These were the days before seat belts, of course, and quite possibly just before the age of common sense.
- Stopping at Yellowstone Park for a few days, staying at the Lodge, seeing Old Faithful, and spotting 23 black bears, including two cubs that ended up on the hood of the car before dad honked the horn making them scatter. Yea, 23 bears.
- Seeing the amazing Grand Coulee Dam but disappointed that it had no Salmon ladders.
- Taking a side trip to Salt Lake City, pulling into town at dusk and by chance walking into the Tabernacle while the choir, including the organist, were in mid-rehearsal. The next day we did a drive-by of the lake and then hit the road only to be stopped by a landslide caused by an earthquake the day before that covered the highway.
- Riding the Monorail at the fair which made me feel like I was “one” with Elroy Jetson. I remember everyone stopping to stare when the Monorail passed by and it made me feel, well, a little self-conscious.
- Standing at the base of the Space Needle with my dad haggling with the security guy to let us just go up the elevator look around for five minutes and come down. The revolving restaurant at the top had long since been booked solid for the fair so I remember figuring we had no shot. Turns out my dad must have slipped him a twenty and we did the up and back in record time. I don’t remember the view but at least we could say we were there. I remember my uncle saying that the security guy probably had the most lucrative job at the fair.
- Meeting my Washington cousins for the first time.
- Watching my dad try to negotiate with a drunk street guy who had somehow unlocked and gotten in our Buick, relocked the doors, and was trying to take a nap. Every time my dad would try to use the key the guy would hold down the push button door lock until dad tried to switch doors and he would hold that one down, too. Finally, when my aunt found a payphone and called the cops, the street guy slowly got out and nonchalantly walked off before they got there. For me, it was almost as exciting as the Monorail ride.
- Riding on the Puget Sound ferries to various venues my mother remembered from her childhood. Places I’d heard about for 8 years, like Bremerton and Seabeck. In my mind’s eye, I can still see my mom looking off into the distance in anticipation of getting somewhere she hadn’t been able to see since childhood.
- Walking up Queen Anne’s Hill just like my mom did as a kid from school to the church Parsonage at the very top. You could see the entire fair from the front steps of her old home.
- My grandfather catching the fish at Pike Place Fish Market just like he did in the 1940’s.
- At the fish market watching my Uncle Bill standing behind dad like a baseball catcher motioning to the fishmonger to throw a high hard one which my dad missed and Uncle Bill caught, which was hilarious.
- Seeing my Dad cry when we got back home and picked up my little brother at my aunt’s house. He assumed my brother would be scared for life being left behind at five years old. In reality, the county fair had been going on while we were gone where my aunt and uncle had a donut stand for the Lions Club. so he literally to this day doesn’t remember us being gone.
- Telling my best friend the first day of school that I had been all the way out west to the Seattle World’s Fair, had seen like hundreds of Grizzly bears, stood in the powerhouse of Grand Coulee Dam, gave the waiter up in the Space Needle a huge tip, was nearly buried alive by a landslide, and him saying something like, “So what?”
So, still to this day, notwithstanding my childhood friend’s assessment of my summer vacation, whenever I see previews of The Wizard of Oz, or a reference to The Jetson’s, it still stirs up fond memories. A few years ago I spent a couple of hours on the back deck of a cruise ship bound for Alaska. Looking out over Seattle with Mount Rainier in the background, I thought about how much my Mom would have loved that view; The Emerald City, The Space Needle, Mom’s backyard.