Butter Rum Cartoon

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

TRAVOIS TRAVELING TRAVAIL (Be grateful my name's not Travis.)

One of my very favorite movies is George Pal’s 1960 version of “The Time Machine.” And at the end of the movie, after George, the time traveler, left them for the last time, Filby asks the maid if George took anything with him. She then notices that three books are missing from the shelves. Filby asks which ones, and she says, “I don’t know. Is it important?” And Filby says, “Oh, I suppose not, but…which three books would you have taken?”

Three years after this movie came out, I, at fourteen, was packing up some specially chosen possessions to take with me on my trip. I couldn’t take much, so had to be picky. Finally I bundled it all up, and set it on my travois.

I lived in Allen, Washington, a hamlet with hardly more than a gas station, grocery store, garage, tavern, and my Dad’s church, located four miles north of Burlington. My brother, Paul, lived on Sterling Street in Sedro Woolley, seven miles away. Paul was a thoroughly interesting person, riding such motorcycles as a Ducati trail bike and an NSU Prinz, having a goat named Dino, and married to an Italian woman who grew up two blocks from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and with whom he rode a Lambretta motor scooter across the United States. And when Paul said that I could live in the attic above his garage, have it for my own place, I jumped at the opportunity.

This would be my first place away from home, and this idea meant a lot to me. To have Paul come get me, or to have Mom or Dad drive me over to Sedro Woolley, would lack the wonderful drama of the event. And so I cut two long poles, laid them parallel, and tied some sticks across them to make a travois, like Native Americans used to haul their goods. But instead of using a horse to drag the travois, I would drag it myself, the whole seven miles to the first home of my own.

With my carefully chosen possessions bundled on the travois, I dragged it east along the Allen West Road to Chuckanut Drive, through the tiny town of Allen proper, then southeast to the Cook Road, where I turned east, passing the house with the two basset hounds, and on toward Sedro Woolley. The Cook Road is straight and level, its only hill being a man-made overpass spanning Interstate Highway 5. In the summer, when I had a paper route in Sedro Woolley, I would get up at 4:30 each morning and ride my bicycle the seven miles just to get to the beginning of the route, then four miles on the route, and then home--a tiring eighteen-mile ride each morning. But that wasn’t nearly as grueling as dragging a travois seven miles.

Off to the right was Burlington Hill, situated on the north side of my high school town of Burlington. Nowadays there’s all sorts of housing development spattered on the hill, but in those days there was just one house at the top and out of view of the town. I would climb the hill and sit on the “B” and gaze at the town below for hours. The “B” was a giant letter painted on stony ground, standing for “Burlington,” and so large that it could be seen for miles. Occasionally, in the night, high school kids from Sedro Woolley would sneak up the hill and paint over portions of the “B,” turning it into an “S,” but the vandalism was always quickly repaired. But now I dragged the travois along the Cook Road, with cars slowing down as they passed, so their occupants could better see the “nut.”

Very, very slowly I was passing another hill off to the right. This hill was my favorite, for it was almost as big as Burlington Hill but had no houses on it, and it stood seemingly out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by farms. I hiked up this hill once and discovered a cave! Its entrance is in the side of a knoll that sticks out of the hill. Inside it was dark, too dark to see how big or deep the cave is, and I didn’t have a flashlight or matches, so had to let the mystery haunt me for days. Finally Paul climbed up there with me, this time with a flashlight, and when I was about to give up finding the cave again, I was surprised to find I was standing on the knoll, just above the entrance. Paul volunteered to be the brave one, the first of us to step into the unknown. He turned on the flashlight and began to walk in. Hopping with excitement right behind him, I said, “Tell me when you get to the end, okay?”

Sterling Hill, the hill with the cave
And Paul said, “I’m there.” His butt was still sticking out of the entrance. The cave was only a few feet deep. Oh well. It was something a hiker could crawl into to escape rain anyway. But now I dragged the travois along the Cook Road.

Finally I couldn’t walk anymore, and pulled off onto some green grass and sat down, leaning against my bundle. The rest was magnificent, but too long. I almost fell asleep. Maybe I did. But when trying to get up, I felt like an arthritic old man. The stiffness was crippling and painful, and it seemed beyond my strength and endurance to lift the end of the travois and began dragging it again. There were three more miles of the Cook Road to go.

It seemed like months had passed when I came to Sedro Woolley. I passed the park on the left with the old locomotive engine in it, sitting on a section of train track. Too tired to climb on it this time, I enjoyed thinking of all the times I have climbed on it. Kids were welcomed to climb on, and in, the locomotive in those days, and I knew the engine by heart. Others and I had even played tag on it, and it was tall. Nowadays this locomotive sits a bit further to the south, in a triangle between streets, and fenced off so no one will climb on it.

I dragged the travois along the shoulders and sidewalks of Sedro Woolley, passing through its downtown, ignoring the people’s stares, and finally came to the alley behind Sterling Street and to Paul’s garage. The travois poles had been sharpened by the miles of pavement. I was thoroughly and totally exhausted. Paul and Mirella had me come in and rest, and fed me (Mirella was a fantastic cook), and then Paul took me out to my new place, my own place.

I climbed up the ladder in the garage and into the attic. It was too short to walk around in upright. It was dirty and dusty and needed cleaning. There were spiders, and drafts. It didn’t have any of the comforts and luxuries of my bedroom in Allen.

It was a good day, a nice visit with Paul and Mirella. After awhile, I put my bundle of carefully chosen items into Paul’s car, and he drove me home. Even with my feet aching and legs, arms and hands throbbing, I felt so good in my warm, soft bed that night. The next morning, there in Allen, I walked across the strawberry field behind our house, and sat down and watched the Samish River flow.

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1 comment:

  1. Another great story, Dale! So many things in this story brought back a lot of my own youthful memories. That's so cool that you have a picture of the travois, holding your most treasured belongings!

    -Lynnette Corsi