A century of memories

"Who better to recall the significant moments of a century than those who have lived through it the longest?At the Bayview Senior Center recently, several of the community’s elders regaled listeners with tales of twoworld wars, the Great Depression, the Berlin Wall (going up, coming down), Sputnik and Prohibition. They also remembered their awe at the figure of the first man to walk on the moon, and their horror at the sight of the Challenger space shuttle exploding in the skies over the earth.Their recollections were brought on by the coming this weekend of the turn of the century, which the Bayview Senior Center is celebrating on the afternoon of Dec. 31 with a festive holiday party called Millennium Madness.Part of the decoration scheme is a wall hung with long paper scrolls on which the seniors have been recording their thoughts about the momentous events and people of the last 100 years. Willis Bohnke cited the development of the atomic bomb as an event that changed history. “It was a big deal,” he said. Bohnke talked about World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but in a lighter vein, he also added the invention of the dishwasher and Bill Gates to his list of important events and people.On a more personal note, Marie Bohnke recalled riding the original Seattle trolleys when she was just five years old. “And I remember people talking about Lindbergh,” she said. “And Amelia Earhart, who never came back.”Jean Nicolaysen put the Wright Brothers high on her list of important people.“They really started things,” she said. For Marge Morey, the sounds of Irving Berlin and the “days of dancing, tap and ballroom” held the fondest memories.“People sang a lot,” she said. “It was during the Depression, and music helped keep people happy. A Whidbey Island native, Thelma Blasko, (“I was Thelma Johnson first,” she said.) talked about her days in the Mutiny Bay School, no longer in existence, where she remembers playing baseball with the boys.“There weren’t enough boys for a team, so they had to play with us,” Blasko said, smiling at the memory.She would also go with her girl friends to Freeland Harbor, where they walked on the logs floating on the water.“”The logs were from Mexico. I’m not sure what they were used for,” she said. “But everyone told us that if we’d ever fallen in, we’d never get out from under all those logs.”Other people, inventions, or events the seniors felt were especially noteworthy? “Elvis the King” -- Barb Guernsey, fiscal director of Senior Services.“Toilet paper” -- Vicki Staley, Senior Services director.“Indoor plumbing” -- Lucille Hansen.“Shirley Temple” -- Jean Nicolaysen.“Women’s right to vote” -- Janis Wright.“Bingo machine” -- anonymous.And written on the scrolls: Social Security and Medicare; space exploration; Walt Disney, Maya Angelou, Joe Dimaggio, Jonas Salk; the Kennedy family, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa; the inventions: matches, computers, airplanes, television, Scotch tape, antibiotics, the lawnmower, electric sewing machines (saying goodbye to the treadle), the poodle skirt, electricity, the Pill.An “awesome” moment for Nicolaysen was getting up at 2 a.m. to see Sputnik.“There it was, this little thing going around the sky. But because it was Russian, we were worried that it would be spying on us, that it could see whatever we were doing.” For Wright, the century was one in which so many things happened, it is hard to pinpoint only a few.“The second World War was the best and the worst,” Wright said. “It was the worst because of people dying. But it was the best because never before or since has the nation pulled together so completely.”Wright remembers the economies that were necessary and the ingenious methods people came up with to meet the war’s demand.“We used to take gum wrappers and carefully peel off the foil to save for aluminum,” she said. “I can’t imagine anyone doing that today!” She also gathered milkweed plants that scientists were trying to use to make latex. “They couldn’t make rubber so they tried latex,” she said. “We’d get 50 cents for a bushel basket full of milkweed -- and that was a lot of money then.” A quart of huckleberries was worth 10 cents.In Wright’s home town of Punxsutawney, Penn. (also the home of the famous Groundhog who pops out of the ground on Feb. 2 and may or may not see his shadow), the ladies of the Presbyterian Church set up a USO center for any soldiers who might come to town, a scene repeated in small towns and large cities across the country.“They set up a room with beds and a Coke machine. They sat and rolled bandages, knitted caps and scarves. Only five soldiers came through, but they were ready,” Wright said. In Jean Nicolaysen’s town, the church ladies meeting the troop train with doughnuts and refreshments.“The year the banks failed I was just a little child,” Nicolaysen said. “But I remember sitting outside at my grandmother’s house when my aunt drove up in a Willys Knight (it was a very big car), furious about her $60 in the bank. I couldn’t understand why the money was so important.”Many people in big houses during the Depression closed down most of the house and brought everything into the kitchen and “keeping room” (similar to a family room, Wright explained). “Cots and everything,” Wright said. “They lived there.”Not much will surprise these seniors in the 21st century. The marvels of the past 100 years have prepared them for just about anything they’ll see in the next.“We’ve gone from outhouses to indoor plumbing to man walking on the moon,” Wright said. “We’ve seen so much, we’re not as excited about 2000 as we could be. I expect to see lots of new stuff, but I won’t be surprised by it.”Some of what she envisions for the future has its basis in this century.“Cloning, and regeneration of body parts,” Wright said. “I look forward to that -- to lose an arm or leg and have it grow back. It’s not too much to suppose it could happen. They’re studying starfish and lizards to see how they do it.”Wright also expects freeways on which cars will take over the controls and take riders to their destinations by computer.“Think of how many lives it would save,” she said. She believes the century will bring “all the stuff we see in Star Wars and Star Trek.”“It’s like taking a cave man and showing him an airplane,” she said.Her dreams of the future include “no more disease,” and “wars turned into sports events.” And the races must get together, she said.“We have to start acting like we’re citizens of the world, not isolated in just one country.” "

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