Category Archives: Memoir

The Bay Ate My Brother… Almost by Ken Malich

In the winter of 1950, I lobbed a rubber ball off the kitchen wall. The aroma of spaghetti sauce filled the room and nook. I slid across the linoleum floor and chased my seven-up ball. I never could reach more than ‘foursies.’

Mom, housebound by Gig Harbor’s record blizzard, tired, 24 inches of snow or not, frozen bay or not, decided to get outside. Didi, my grandpa, sat at the metal-legged kitchen table in the nook and sipped a small glass of red wine. An overhead schoolhouse light lit his Croatian newspaper, which sprawled flat as he clasped his glass. Dad was down at Pete’s tavern. No relief for mom.

She herded my brother, then me, and checked newborn Theresa napping on the other side of the breakfast nook table. Mom layered me with a shirt, sweater, wool coat and mittens. A red wool cap stretched over my tender ears as I stretched to reach the porch light switch. “I want to do it!” But Markey snuck from behind and flipped the light switch. He slammed the door and trounced across the lapstrake-boarded porch, thumping down the steps. The tongue and groove boards covered with salt needed new paint and nails. He skipped the four-boarded staircase and launched into the snow-covered sidewalk, landing on his feet, and rushing to the car.

Mom commanded, “Watch Theresa.” My fourteen-year-old sister JoAnn whined. She wanted to go. “Stir the spaghetti sauce.”

Didi mumbled, “Yes” beneath his breath, taking a sip.

I hopped, thump, thump, thump onto the shaky porch, down the wood-planked shoveled steps. My runny nose began to freeze. Crunch, crunch, crunch in the snow, my brother Markey trudged quickly towards the old bare wood garage with an attached woodshed. I stretched my legs to match his. At eight, his footprints spaced themselves too far for me. Mom jingled her keys. She kept to the shoveled walk avoiding the deep snow paths of my brother and me. If I had a carrot stick, I could be a snowman when I reached the rust-bucket car. Snow dust covered my clothes.

Markey shoved me to the center of the front seat of our 41 Dodge. “Shotgun!”

“Stop it!” I whined and shoved back. I wiped my nose on his sleeve. I yucked him. He wacked and slugged my shoulder. “Owwww! Mom… Markey hit me!” She opened the door and glared at Markey. He stilled.

Her foot on the floor pedal starter, the engine rolled, slow at first, then cranked as it rumbled to life. Our breaths steamed the windshield until the rackety heater fan cleared it. The brakes squeaked. The Dodge slid down Novak Street, turned left onto Harborview and circled along the bay to the Peninsula Yacht Basin, a long dock with a marina at its end. Gig Harbor Bay was filled with netsheds and purse seiners, now sealed in ice as they waited for next summer’s salmon season. Slightly lit houses lined the bay and crawled up forested hillsides into the low-hung clouds. I could only see upward since my head was below the bottom of the windows. An occasional streetlamp and rooftop were all I could see.  Markey rubbed his window to look out at the bay; then, he cranked it down. The frozen air circulated inside.

“Oh boy,” Markey shouted outside into the neighborhood, “we’re going to ice skate!” The street was empty. We didn’t own skates.

“Mommy, what’s ice skating?” I asked. “Can we really walk on ice? I’m hot. Where are we going?  I can’t see anything. I’m hot.” 

“You’ll see.” Her eyes were fixed on the road. She clenched her jaw under her white scarf tied under her chin and over her jet-black hair. Her long camel coat draped to the floorboards. Black shoes worked the clutch, the brake, the gas. “Markey, roll the window up!” Her strong perfume filled the air.

Our Dodge slipped and spun. Crusted snow chips sprang to sidewalks from the tires. Mom feared the drive. Harborview Drive wrapped the stilled harbor and tire tracks grooved to the head of the bay. Then, we parked, half into the traffic lane in north Gig Harbor. 

The ice on Gig Harbor’s Bay was 14 inches thick at its head while it thinned towards the mouth from tidal action. In January, dark clouds hung our frozen bay.

“Markey, you stay close. Don’t go running off.”  Mom grasped my mitted hand as we centered on the dock.

Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch, my feet made footprints in the path. Children squealed and squeaked. The distant sounds grew closer as we scrunched our way to a marina ramp. The Peninsula Yacht Basin pier reached into deep water. It held the only ramp down to water level. There, the bay’s ice stayed solid beyond the beaches, where tidal movement broke the thick ice into shambles. A Texaco sign lit a small fuel shack office. Inside, smoke wisped and floated. Three men lounged as they watched the activity on the floats and ramp. Mom squeezed my hand, gripped the frozen steel handrail and towed me. Down I stumbled. Down I tripped. Down I landed on the wood raft. Barnacle flesh oozed and stank ice scraping along the creosote pilings. Dim streetlamps along the floats lit the nearby frozen boats and rafts.

“Markey, slow down, be careful!”  Mom yelled to my brother. “Don’t go running off!” Markey skidded onto the bluish ice field and vanished into the darkness. He ran. The Voyager, an extra-large purse seiner that was almost tuna boat-sized, was dimly lit and held by an icicled anchor chain. Skaters circled it and pushed red flares attached to hockey-like sticks. Mom tightly gripped me when she stepped on the ice. I cried out. I became her brace from falling. She leaned on me, lifted me and towed me.

Echoed screams delightfully flowed from children as they wandered near us. The Hi, How are Ya’s? Ain’t this fun’s? People sang. Big kids towed little kids in snow sleds or pushed them in cardboard boxes. Many fell. Two kids spun a third on a wooden kitchen chair. A smiling toss spun him and spilled him. Yachts locked in the marina stalls stood quietly waiting for the spring thaw.

I stamped my feet and tried to pull away. I dangled with Mom’s grasp. Coldness seeped into my shoes. “Mom, let me go! I want to play! Let me slide!”

“Oh, oh, oh, be careful, don’t slip.” She crushed. Her breath fogged the dark sky. We stood only a few feet away from the wooden rafts.

The skaters pushing road flare sticks disappeared in the distant darkness. Red fireflies crisscrossed and weaved towards the bay’s mouth. Away from the marina light, it made sense, yet the darkness looked foreboding.

Markey accelerated and skidded near and far. His red plaid jacket and ear flaps flopped from side to side. He slipped to all fours and smiled as he spun past us. I shuffled my feet, slid and swung with mother’s arm, tugged and tugged. She held tight.

Mom shouted, “Don’t get wet! Stand up, Markey!” He accelerated for another long slide without falling. “You’ll get cold.” Even then, he showed his football star future at Peninsula High School by keeping his balance. I wanted to follow my brother. My feet kicked out from under me. I whirled and squirmed. When I get older, I’m going to get down on the ice and play all day.     

“Mom, Mom, Mom… let me go, let go, let go,” I said. She didn’t respond. More noise, laughter, falling and shrieking in the distance. “Mom!”  Time was running short. “Mom… let go; I want to play.”  I dangled. With her glare, without hope, I quieted. Perhaps, she would let go if I were good.

“Markey… Markey… come here, we’re going home.” Mom yelled.

I was still in tow. My brother hopped and slid, not wanting to leave.

“No,” he said. “Boy, it’s cold on my feet.” He spun his feet in place.

“Come on, let’s go; Kenny’s getting cold.”

“I’m not cold, Mom,” I protested, “Just let me slide once, Mom, just once.” 

Oh, no, we moved; I struggled to get free for the last time. Desperately, I gripped the handrail to keep her on the landing. We started up the ramp.

“One more slide, Mama,” Markey yelled, hopping and skipping along the marina walkway.

He took one last, long slide. Near the pier, he eyed two snow-crusted logs floating across the face of the pier as a buffer to hold the ramp and raft away from the overhang.

I watched Markey as he sprung for a big jump on the logs. Bang! Crack! He crashed through the thin ice shell.

“Arrgg!” He shouted and plunged into the water. He flayed his arms on the ice to break the plunge. Mother released me. She turned, and took full strides down the ramp. The ramp bounced. I hung to the railing.

Finally!  I thought. Finally, I was free, free to move, oh, so wonderful. I moved. I freely moved, but I stood. My brother floundered. Then I knew what ice was — not solid. I could fall through it. I saw it. Instantly, I knew my mother’s worry. Instantly, I saw the water under this frozen world.

“Markey, Markey!” Her coat flayed open. Eyes focused on Markey. She readied to jump and stretch to reach him. A nearby crowd silenced.

With one great push by his legs and arms, Markey sprang on the edge of solid ice. He crawled towards her. Wetness slowed him. Dark seawater splashed in the hole. The logs weren’t there. He faked a laugh, crawled farther and cast an artificial smile towards Mom. Trouble with Mom, for sure.

Two grown men scrambled down the ramp and lifted me to the landing; nobody noticed me while Mom was with Markey. I sprang for the Voyager. Off I scurried to slip and slide. Finally free! The cold bit to my knees. It was great. Smiles on my face, I looked back with glee towards Mom and Markey. “Look, Mom, look at me…. wheeee!”

Mother glared at my pesky brother, lifted him to his feet, slapped the water off his legs, and whacked his behind. The smokers looked down off the pier, smiling. I’m sure they thought, Serves you right, kid. Or Listen to mama, while other men pulled both of them away from the open water hole.

“You’re all wet. Look at you!”  Then she hugged him.

Happily, I slid on the ice around the wooden floats. Wow, this was fun. I wanted more. Then, it was over.

Mom pointed directly at me. I saw a firm and intolerant gesture. Mothers rule. I hurried, once more I slid, then scurried and bounced up the ramp in front. She collared my brother.

Quickly, I leaned out over the pier’s edge and gazed into the broken crust. Eerie blackness rippled of nothingness, a dark hole of water. Its mouth opened wider as if it invited the next boy to jump.

Markey was lucky.

Mom herded and kept me from the edge of the pier and pulled Markey back to the car as he dripped from wetness. Snow print to snow print, I hopped and romped to the car.

My brother shivered and whined. “It’s soooo coooold-d-d…” His teeth chattered.

The Dodge rumbled to life. Mom revved the engine to start the heater working, but it wasn’t much use in sub-freezing weather. The frosted windshield had to thaw for a peek-a-boo view. I didn’t care. I happily bounced on the back seat cushions, rubbing the windows to view the frozen bay as we hurried home.

“I slide on the ice,” I said. My moment of freedom had been short. It became the only time I walked on the ice of Gig Harbor Bay though I discovered frozen ponds and puddles in later years. Never again did Gig Harbor bay freeze solid enough to skate.

It was fun except for the brother part. 


Ken Malich writes and lives in Gig Harbor, Washington. His family initially settled in the harbor in 1910 and is a third-generation descendant. His first attempt at publishing a story was developed from his memory when he was four years old. He grew up in a fishing family and fished until he worked for the Navy at Bremerton as an engineer after receiving a degree from the University of Washington. He was elected to the city council and served four terms. He’s married to his wife Barbara and has a son, Matthew.

The Rat House by Mian Bond Carvin

Gypsy moths crept through my window as I dreamed. The only draw being the pixie night light at the foot of my bed, given to me by some woman I no longer know. I recall chubby arms lifting me up and holding me with tenderness. There was a sweet, powdery smell to her soft, crêpe-like skin. She may have been a babysitter or, perhaps, someone more to my young life. There were others like her, back when mom worked at the A&P, ringing up and bagging groceries for the local mill families. I hated when she left me. I would often run down the road after her, the Ford Falcon wagon kicking up dust into my teary, dejected face. Eventually, I would turn back to those matronly strangers and their houses of frilly tie-back curtains and doily-draped sideboards.

Later on, Mom hired a girl to watch me at home. Emma Dorothy was just a teenager when she came to the rat house on McLemore. After she arrived, I never ran after Mom again. I lived for weekdays, for Emma Dorothy to lumber through the door, scoop me up, and blow raspberries into my sweaty pink neck. As soon as Mom left the house, Emma Dorothy, whom I had dubbed Edie, would dial the radio to a station coming in from Memphis, WDIA. That’s where I came to love soul music. Most of my mornings with Edie were spent in the water-stained, clapboard kitchen – she, draped over the deep rusted iron sink, her butt swinging in time to The Miracles, The Shirelles, and Ben E. King, and me, at the red dinette in my wooden highchair. That was before I graduated to city phone books for a boost at the big table at Grandma’s house. Around ten a.m., Edie would sit down and have a cup of coffee with a sweet roll. I was always troubling her for a drink. “Coffee’ll turn ya black,” Edie would argue. “Gimme some, Edie,” I would say in my best ain’t-I-sweet? voice. Giving in, Edie would pour a thimble-full for me. Oh, I was so big!

Dottie, our pregnant black and tan rat terrier, was always there in the kitchen with us, curled up next to the wood stove on those cold winter days. Early one morning, she began scratching at the faded linoleum floor. Edie said it meant she’d gone to welpin’. Right after she made this declaration, Edie set about gathering things: a box, an old torn sheet, a bucket. “Bring these, Sis,” she commanded. At that, she scooped Dottie up and made a beeline for the shed. Once there, Edie grabbed the box and sheet and gently placed Dottie in the driest corner possible. The floor of the shed was mud, damp with a certain earthy odour. I have smelled that same dank aroma several times since then and am always brought right back to that shed on that day with Dottie panting, babies coming, and Edie wanting every one.

There can be only one reason to call a home the rat house. Yes, there were many and bigger than those puppies. Every day we would hear the snapping of the traps. One sunny afternoon, Mom sat down at the piano and began playing. She’d never had a lesson in her life, yet she played for the church every Sunday morning; the Beckville Baptist Church. I sat down on the floor with the puppies, who, by this time had begun to wobble on their own. Just a Closer Walk with Thee was playing when I heard the dreaded snap. My mom’s emerald eyes met mine, both of us fearing the same doom: The puppies! Mom ran over and counted them. All there! She then went to dispose of the rat whose life had just been smashed out of it. No more piano that day.

On one other afternoon, as I listened to the familiar hymns, the ceiling caved in right above the piano, barely missing Mom. That was the same day I fell on the floor furnace and burned my arm. Edie swept me up, just as she had done with Dottie, and ran the five blocks to the hospital. We didn’t have insurance, so Mom made a deal with the doctor to clean his office every Saturday afternoon for a month. That meant more time with Edie. I was thrilled.

It was rough going for a while. Eventually, we moved out of the rat house and in with Mom’s folks a couple towns over. The day I said good-bye to Edie was the first time I felt my heart break.

*   *   *   *   *

Mian Bond Carvin lives, with her partner, on a farm just outside Olympia, Washington. She began life in the small town of Brownsville, Tennessee where her family have resided since the 1700s. That is where this true story, with embellishments, occurred. Mian’s early life was filled with Black women who nurtured her life and taught her, by their love and generosity, that no matter what her family said, Black Lives Matter. This proved to be a valuable lesson to a young girl who, at three, already knew she was different. Mian’s pronouns are she/her ands she identifies, with glee, as Queer.

Oh Holy Night or The True Story of Christmas Eve Dinner 2014 by J.R. Henry

My grandmother’s house is quiet, spacious, and ostentatiously expensive. It’s dressed up like Hollywood money from the 1930’s, back before she married into wealth. White columns frame every floor length window, the light from beyond filtering through the slits in the heavy draped curtains. There’s a sleek grand piano in one corner of the room, a glass encased cabinet of silver odd and ends in the other. The plush white carpet is spotted with iridescent sequins of colored light bouncing off the tinkling chandeliers. Dean Martin pipes in softly from the house-wide speaker system.

I’m in the sitting room, perched upon one of several silk upholstered chairs around the massive glass dining table. I try, fruitlessly, to adjust my tights for the half-dozenth time while simultaneously taking in a mouthful of ruby red Chateau St. Michelle. My grandmother’s cat materializes out of nowhere, weaves between my crossed legs, nudging my heels, and ultimately causing me to slide sideways on the slippery silk of my seat. I lurch to one side and manage to set down the crystal glass onto the glass table with an unsettling clang. Some of the wine dribbles down my chin and drops dark crimson onto my lap – no matter. I wore a burgundy dress for this very reason. There is, perhaps, not enough wine in the entire cellar to get me through this evening. I fear the grave outcome of miscalculating my intake and sobering up too soon into the night. I heard estranged cousin Ryan might arrive for dinner.

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Infertility Goddess by Heather Pilder Olson

Heather Pilder OlsonI am an infertility goddess.
You can’t wear me around your neck like a totem.
You can’t rub my belly for good luck.
I spent 10 years of my life trying to have a baby.

It didn’t work. I didn’t get the happy ending you expect.
I never read What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
I was never expecting.
But I want to tell you my story: I want you to hear me.

We often stay silent.
It’s time to get loud.

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All People Poop, Some People More Than Others by William Turbyfill

sandwich-1024x682Do I poop here in my home or do I wait until I get to the sandwich shop? Like all great adventures, this one started with a choice.

After just moving to a new area I needed to find work. I filled out applications all over town and the one place that felt like taking our relationship to the next level was a sandwich shop a quarter mile from my home. They invited me in for an interview. It was a great job possibility considering the circumstances. Not too many hours a week, an easy walk from my home and free sandwiches.

Up until this point in my job history I worked as a Blockbuster cashier, a Movie Concessions person, a wedding videographer and Catering company lackey. You’ll notice none of those jobs included the perk of free sandwiches. I was moving up in the world. I had a good feeling.

I also had to poop.

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Clogs and Gold Lame Tube Tops by Christina Wheeler

ChristinaBefore I attended Catholic school I grew up with MTV. I headbanged and threw up the devil horns like a heathen child in my crib when Cum on Feel the Noize came on. I loved Ozzy. I couldn’t help it. My parents were barely twenty when they had me. My mother would wear tube tops with no bra, the cotton barely hiding the shape of her nipples. A sight I would grow to become uncomfortable with by the time I was ten. Her shiny blue eye shadow matched the glint of the metal of her power wheelchair and, if she was moving at her top speed of eight miles an hour, you were hard pressed to know which parts were metal and which were her disco makeup.

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Ribbon Candy by Ellen Miffitt

EllenThe satin luster of ribbon candy resembles the reflections from the Christmas tree lights on colorful glass ornaments; it’s not clear enough to actually reflect anything but the surface gives the illusion. My grandmother always had a pressed-glass bowl of ribbon candy set out for the Christmas holiday. I don’t remember her having a tree those last few Christmases but the overflowing bowl of ribbons was a tradition during the holiday. As a teenager no one else I knew set out a bowl of ribbon candy for their guests; candy canes, mints, mixed nuts or a box of chocolates replaced the fragile old fashioned treat that had a propensity to get sticky with moist air. The intricate patterns of colored sugar were fascinating as they wove the length of the candy. How did they make it loop back and forth so precisely?

The McNeill family had grown so large that no one had a house big enough to hold everyone for the Christmas Day gathering so a small church hall was rented. My oldest aunt was twenty years older than my mother and her children were close in age to my Mom. Each of the oldest aunts had five children each; the older of my first cousins were married and had children while some cousins brought their dates to the dinner…

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Season’s Greetings by Michelle Nikisch

Michelle 2“Season’s greetings!” A commonly heard phrase this time of year. The holiday season seemingly starting in summertime. Store shelves stocked with Santa-themed silliness earlier than the 4th of July is underway.

“Season’s greetings!” Season of life, season of year, seasoning for a good savory stew. Joni Mitchell pops into my head, “And the seasons they go round and round…we’re captive on the carousel of time.” For me, greeting the seasons is starting to take on wider meaning, not just a holiday greeting, but an invitation to look at the seasons of life, the beginnings and endings, the natural cycles. As a mother, my own children’s beginnings and endings are often my main focus. Their pictures with Santa from the previous year bring their astonishing growth into glaring view.

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Making It Home by Tiffany Aldrich MacBain

MacBain photoFollowing a 10-day sojourn to the East Coast to visit family and the friends of my youth, I return to Tacoma with home on my mind. It’s a complicated thing, home: an idea, a time and a place, a collection of experiences. Like the experience of rounding the corner and seeing your lawn, two-weeks neglected, dandelions knee-high and facing the sun, and wondering if your neighbor with the addiction to mowing and leaf blowing sees in those yellow faces a children’s choir heralding your return. He certainly does not, and your knowledge of this fact forces you to reassume the weight of ownership. You’ll have to mow your lawn today, and you’ll have to stock your fridge, and you’ll remember that the windows need washing–but how do you remove storms, and does OxyClean leave streaks? The trim needs painting and the fence needs scrubbing and probably some painting of its own. And don’t get me started on the room that is not well lit enough to serve much of a function at all and so is both catchall and eyesore.

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Mobious Streets of Tacoma by M. Morford

cclogo“What’s your ‘beat’?”

I should have expected that question. I was, after all, applying for a job as a writer. But once she asked me that most obvious question, I realized that I didn’t know.

But it made me think.

And now I know.

I write about the hidden, forgotten and neglected corners –and characters – of Tacoma.

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