From kindergarten through fifth grade, I lived in Blaine, Washington, and still consider Blaine my “hometown.” Dad was the minister of the Methodist church on the corner of 4th and H Streets, and next to the church, on 4th Street, was the parsonage, our house. The main downtown street of Blaine was only two blocks away, yet in our yard, behind our house, was a barn.
This barn was almost a magical place to me. Attached to it was a garage we didn’t use, and it was in this garage that the meetings of the local chapter of the Mighty Mouse Fun Club were held, based on the six issues of the Mighty Mouse Fun Club Magazine, published in the mid 1950’s. I was president.
We built a duck pen outside along the south wall of the barn, to house my pet duck. We got the duck when he was a yellow duckling, and he thought I was his mother. He would follow me whenever I let him, wherever I went. I would walk along the main street downtown with a little duckling right behind me. My Dad once used him as an object lesson in church. To illustrate how we should follow our Master, Dad had me walk up the center aisle with my duckling walking behind me. The congregation loved it. But at one point, my duckling turned and went over to a man sitting in the pew. As everyone laughed, Dad explained how sometimes we’re led astray.
The duck grew up, mainly in the pen, but I would let him loose in the yard, too, and dig up worms for him. Even full-grown, he faithfully followed me; but eventually we thought he should have a mate, and we got a female duck to share his life with him. It was then that he stopped following me. One day, while both ducks were loose in the yard, a dog came and attacked the female. I managed to chase the dog away, but after that, both ducks turned mean, and they would often run up behind us and nip at our ankles. The fun of having ducks was over, and we didn’t keep them long after that.
We got a rabbit, too, a white rabbit, and named it Bunson, after the rabbit in the grade school reading books. We built a hutch against the barn’s south wall, and I was amazed at the hill of brown pellets growing under the hutch. One day, though, I came home to find Dad walking away down the alley, towards downtown, holding Bunson. I knew he was going to the butcher shop, and none of my screaming and yelling and crying did any good. A few days later, there was rabbit meat on the table for dinner. My sister, Linda, and I didn’t touch it.
The barn was mostly empty inside, except for some things we were storing, and some boxes of things left there by past residents. During these years I had a recurring dream about a deer that could change into a man. His name was Furryhop and he was my superhero, and when I dreamt of getting into terrible danger, Furryhop would come and save me. He often stayed in the barn, and these dreams were so vividly real to me, that one morning I went out into the barn and actually called his name. He didn’t show, but my eye did catch an old, hardcover book in one of the boxes. It was Monster Rally by Charles Addams. This was my introduction to dark humor, and to the fascinating work of the man who would later inspire “The Addams Family” on TV and in movies. Being the son of a preacher, I didn’t know how well this book would be appreciated at home, so I half hid it, and gazed at the dark cartoons almost secretly. It was like a guide to a world I had never known existed, and I loved it.
Ben Gaskell lived next to us, on H Street. He was balding, smoked cigars, was generally unfriendly, and I was wary of him. But his backyard was beside our barn, and a high window in the barn was just at the right level to climb out of and into Ben Gaskell’s apple tree. To this day, I can’t remember apples as good as those tart apples were. Ben Gaskell would have chased me away from his tree, but he never saw me climb into it from the barn, and I would sit in its branches for hours, enjoying the fruit.
Nowadays the barn is no longer there. The church became several things, including a thrift store, and finally burned down. Our house was eventually turned into a restaurant, then a house again, and finally was moved to another location in Blaine. The gravel road we used to walk to school on has been severed by the Interstate 5 freeway. But still, much of Blaine remains the same. And as I walk down its sidewalks, during my rare visits, along with the clean air, filtered by the salt of Semiahmoo Bay, I breathe these wonderful memories, and I’m home.
For the complete contents of the Butter Rum Cartoon, click here.