By his brother James K.West

Copyright 2007

 

 


Music by Bach.

To Amy, from Uncle Jim.

I hope this narrative give you a glimpse of the early life of your Dad Mike. The chronological order might not be reliable but my heart is in all of these little dear memories. This is “The Way We Were” for you, Amy, to keep sake. To my knowledge, your Mother was his first and only date. He met Sharon when he was a sophomore at Grant high School. They got married after Sharon graduated.

 

1940-1945

Going down the lane of memories in childhood, I was delighted to find an assortment of beautiful images of my brothers and sisters, shining through different feelings of sweet love and innocent joy. We were from a big family and our age didn't matter much. We were all in what seemed to be a big "WEST Bunch" in a slim Bertleson Rental Property in Junction City Oregon first, then on 26th St and Brazzee.

Across the highway, the WEST children attended a one room Grade School. There was only one Teacher for all the grades. The rail road tracks ran along the side of the school. It was Mike’s habit to walk the track with Janiece on the way to school. They would jump off the tracks when a train came roaring by. On the way home Mike would throw rocks at the snakes on the lane. The snakes would race down the lane while Janiece was running down screaming ahead of them. Mike thought that was fun but Janiece was terrified all the way.

Jerry, Mike, John and I slept in the upstairs bedroom near toward back of the house. For some reason or another John had his own twin bed. Jerry, Mike and I shared a double bed in the same room. Unfortunately, I ended up in between the two of them: in the middle of the night I had to go to the bathroom to pee and that disturbed them to no end. They wouldn’t want to let me get up and go. The result was that I would have to uncontrollably release myself on bed. Either one of them or both would get a sour bath that way. Eventually, Jerry decided that enough was enough and he went to buy me a cot so I could get up in the middle of the night without disturbing anyone. We all lived thereafter comfortably and dry each night.

 

 

Mike and I we were only 3 years apart but he seemed so much older to me. I knew who his friends were. I knew most of what he was doing, because I always hung around. They paid attention to me because I was the little West and my brother Mike was exceptionally nice to me. I looked up to him and would be proud if they let me get a little involved into their adventures and explorations.Yes, Mike 's life was indeed full of adventures and explorations.

Like this one he did and got away with it : It was in the afternoon one Summer when my sister Barbara and I we were playing near the front porch and the wheat field next to the house all of the sudden caught on fire ! Barbara and I were blamed for the fire! We were terrified to see the firefighters who came with their big trucks to put out the fire. We both hid in the out-house for what appeared to be a long time. Mike was only nine then. Later, much later when he became a grown up man, he confessed to have started the fire. I still don't know if I should believe him.

I love my brothers and sisters; I love Mike who was both a tough and impassive guy, and at the same time a deeply caring human being. Who would take me but Michael to the Fire sale 3 blocks away from the house to buy me a belt and never mention it? I was 5 at the time, but I would remember that day as if it was yesterday.

 We played all the sports in the streets or in one of the neighbors’ yard. The family left Junction City for a house Father bought in the late 1942 on 26th St and Brazzee. At first, all we had was mattresses on the floor in the bed rooms and Orange crates to sit in the living room. Material things were meager along with clothing and food. Father and Lynn worked at the Kaiser Shipyard building Cargo Ships for the War Effort. The house was heated by sawdust and later we used coal. It was Mike’s job to remove the coal clinkers and place them outside the house for garbage pick up. We never locked the house or cars, because there was no concern about thieves. We kids all played outside until dark each evening when Lynn or Janiece would call us in for dinner. Children could walk to the stores or city parks without fear of being bothered by strangers. We all attended Church on Sundays and if we could somehow get 15 cents, we would go to see a movie in the afternoon

Our life was just barely functional. Dad was working hard to make ends met. He would take whatever job available and thus was not home much at all. Mom was always too busy with the house chores and six children, five of us still in grade school. World War 2 was lurking at the corner. It was going to kill what was left of Humanity and for the kids, no fun, no toys, no TV, no entertainment. However, we the West Bunch did not let anything ruin our childhood. We were each other's joy; we were each other's fun. Kids from 2, 3 blocks came to our house to play with us and we made up games and all the rules. We had enough laughter and appetite after that. My brother Ted was not home and Jerry was too old to play with us, so Mike is our leader. He was doing things none of us would dare to think about doing.

One afternoon after grade school, Mike, I, Janiece Barbara and John arrived home only to find that the door was locked. Mike decided to gain entry by climbing up the drain pipe on the back porch. He climbed all the way up to the second floor when the drain pipe gave up! Mike was thrown down from the second floor landing on his back in the dirt, that saved him He did get hurt but in those days, we did not see a doctor and there wasn't much of an emergency room anywhere around. The dirt was soft enough to mitigate the fall, and our hero was saved.

 

 

Mike was born a leader; he was creative and ingenuous though as a child, he didn't know how to make the right decision in order for everybody to win. In 1944, at 12 he contracted with "Colliers Magazine" to sell it in the Neighborhood of 26th and Brazzee. Being naturally industrious, Mike figured out a way to sell the magazine without having to put any effort out on his own behalf. I was privileged to do all the selling (!). I enjoyed selling them for 10 cents each, and proudly turned all the Magazine sales money over to Mike. When I became disinterested in the project, Mike ended the relationship with Colliers Magazine rather than actually sell the Magazine himself. He was already thinking of doing something else before the business closed.

When stories like the above get told, it might sound so serious. It sounds serious because we are looking at it through the eyes of an adult. Instead children live with the heart and by the heart. Innocence is the most wonderful blessing. Innocence is like the clearest water that can wash out any impurity and brought life back to it true and deepest joy.

This anecdote will prove it: Lynn had a bicycle that all of us, Janiece, Barbara John and I envied. We all wanted to have one like hers. Lynn had said that when she died one of us could have the bicycle. We all looked forward to the day she died so we could have the bicycle. In naive love and good faith, we frequently and eagerly wanted to know WHEN she was going to die. I don't know what happened next, but Lynn was still alive when lucky Mike got the bicycle. That was 1945, Mike was 13. He was entering Teen-Age World. He looked good and began to pay attention to his attires.

The next winter, he went to work as a bus boy for the Heathman Hotel in downtown Portland next to the Paramount Theater. The work was hard but he was able to buy the clothes he wanted such as Cashmere Sweaters, Cords and London Boot shop English Brogue Shoes.

My big brother was growing up to be a young man. Soon I would feel the difference. One day Mike and I were throwing a baseball back and forth in the back yard when Mike, with his newly found strength threw too fast a ball which hit me in the front teeth. I didn't lose the teeth but I didn't want to play catch with Mike any more. I missed playing with him in our back yard and I felt bad about it. Meanwhile Mike had his own problem: He and his friend Dan Harris went in the woods to cut Xmas trees for a guy names Jack Neidimier. Poor Mike who didn't get paid accordingly because Jack was rather slow in paying them the agreed-upon amount of money they were to receive per tree.

 

1945-1951

Brother Ted was with the Air Force when Brother Jerry was shipped out with The Merchant Marine. Before he left, he gave Mike money to buy a car. Sixteen years old Mike thought he found the finest car he could imagine. A 1930 Model A Ford Roaster. The fact that the car didn't have a convertible top was of no concern to him till he drove in the rain. It still didn't bother him. "The rain just blew by!” he said.

In summer 1947 Father and Mike drove sister Barbara and Jim to Laurie Washington. The ranch was about 100 miles North of Spokane. Mike was 15 years old with a Driver’s Permit so Father let him drive his 1941 Pontiac Chieffon part of the way. Mike would occasionally exceed the 50 miles speed limit and father would be awaken form his snooze to catch him just on time. At the end of the summer, father and Mike would return to pick Barbara and Jim up. Along the way we would also pick up 15 years old Donna West, a relative from Spokane.

In the same year Brother Ted got a Job at Albina Machinery Co making small parts. Mike was hired for sometime in summer when one day he hurt himself on one of the machine. In operating a piece of machinery, his hand got caught in it and was mangled. It was healed after a while. Mike was a lucky guy.

Next, Mike and Jerry decided it was time for me to learn how to drive a car. I was twelve years old, and the car was a 1936 Chevy Sedan from brother Ted. As if managing the stick shift wasn't bad enough, I had to do some wrestling with a mad stirring wheel that took one full turn to turn left or right. While trying to coordinate my left foot for the clutch and my right foot for the gas pedal, I was living a nightmare with that stirring wheel. Mike and Jerry had a good laugh over that one. I didn't realize that I was providing some special entertainment for my brothers.

 

 

In summer 1950, while Jerry was at sea with the Merchant Marine, Mikes got to drive his new 1950 Ford Custom Coupe. He decided to get Dual Smitty Mufflers put on the car so that it would sound like a Harley Davidson motor cycle. He also had fender-skirts put on over the rear fender walls – Wow! The car sounded so good and the fenders were really cool.

Jerry was pleased to see that when he came back.  He and Mike took the Ford to Limen and Slack motors, the used car lot onUnion Avenue near Holiday Street to visit Bill Werkz – to show off I guess

And there was more: Mike talked Jerry into “burning rubber” in the Ford. Jerry would be driving and Mike, like a great teacher, would give him instructions to burn rubber to the maximum upon accelerating the car.This is how it was getting done:

At the right moment, Jerry should drop/release the clutch along with the emergency brake and at the same time press hard on the gas pedal.  As fully accelerated, the car would “burn rubber” while bouncing up. It was a striking sight: Here it was, the Ford jumped from one lane to another while going forward up the street, the rear tires were screeching and burning rubber. There was a lot of black smoke and rubber on the ground. Thanks Heavens both the car and its occupants were surviving the demonstration. This story was told to me by Mike. He was 18, I was 14 and one of his most devoted fans.

I was one of their devoted subjects, it was true. I would do anything to make Jerry and Mike happy, at least for a while. If they like to have their shoes shined, I would be their shoe shiner. At first it was fun for me, and then I got bored. Shining shoes became drudgery. I tried to avoid them. Whenever they hallooed my name, I would know what they had in mind, and I would hide out till they left the area.

Mike had lots of friends. One afternoon, several of them from High School stopped to visit. A guy named Dick Paul, 6’2’’ and 200+lbs, sat on the living room coffee table and broke it. Mike challenged him till he agreed to repair the coffee table. The same group included Dick Paul, Dan Harris. Richard Jones. Bill Earl, Robert Walker, George Ross and Randy Davis all belonged to the same Social Club at School.  Mike told the following story on the Initiation Night at the Club known as Hell Night.

As a new member Mike was taken to one of the Parks in town for a fun night with games.  A particular “nauseating” prank was to blindfold Mike and one of the regular members would feed him wet spaghetti noodles, telling him they were wet worms. Mike survived it with flying colors of course, and they all went on to do the same disgusting thing to the next new members

To me, Mike was a tough cookie; so much that my heart shrank when I saw him cry, really cry for the first time. That was when Jerry and a guy named Billy Joe decided to go to Hollywood CA to work as carpenters on a movie set. On the day of their departure, all of us siblings were in the kitchen at 26th St and Brazzee, and Jerry was saying goodbye. As soon as the two left the house, Mike broke down in tears.

When we moved to 143rd and Glisan, Mike got a job at the Golf Club on 138th and Glisan.  My brother Mike has become a fine young man. He married Sharon his sweetheart as soon as both of them graduated from High School in 1951. He had a good family and a full happy life. May Michael WEST, the big West, rest in peace.

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By James K West (The little West)
Hoodland April 12 2007