Fourth of July Memories by Jerry Fay

Boom! I sat bolt upright in bed. My entire body tingled with excitement.  If it hadn’t been six in the morning, I would have yelled at the top of my lungs. That single firework salute by American Legion Post 199 was the official beginning of the highlight of my year, Carnation’s Fourth of July celebration.

I had turned thirteen in June and this was the third “Fourth” I had celebrated in Carnation.

Carnation in the 1950s may have been only thirty miles from the metropolis of Seattle, but you could describe it as thirty years removed in time. We still slumbered in the bucolic setting that existed in a small farming community of just over four hundred souls.

I slipped quietly into my clothes, not wanting to wake my sister Norma who was sleeping in the bedroom just above my mine. I was one of seven children, the youngest of four boys and only Norma, the youngest of us all, and I still lived at home. We had been in this house only a few blocks from Carnation’s main drag for a year, having moved from the outskirts of town when my Mom married my stepfather Clarence. He worked at the Carnation Farm Company,

the town’s namesake, which to old-timers was subject to dispute. My Mom worked at the Country Kitchen, one of two restaurants in town. The other, the Tolt Café, carried the town’s original name.

I thought briefly about breakfast but quickly discarded the notion. Claude Ramsey, my best friend, was hopefully going through the same routine I was. If I hurried I could catch him before he left his house across town. I opened the door slowly and slipped out, thinking my Mom didn’t hear me. Fat chance, she heard everything. I jumped on my twenty-four inch, no-name bicycle without any fenders and took off down the street. In less than five minutes I was sliding to a stop in the gravel driveway behind Claude’s house.  His bedroom was in the basement with a separate entrance, so I didn’t have to worry about waking his mom or stepfather. His three younger brothers slept upstairs.

I rapped on the basement door. I waited. No answer, no sound, no movement inside. I knew he was still home because his bike was leaning against the stair railing. I rapped again a little louder.  It figured, Claude was probably still sound asleep.  He was never one to get up early unless it was absolutely necessary, and even then, he usually didn’t. I walked around to the window and tapped on it. I could see his bed. It contained a large motionless lump. I tapped louder and it began to move. Suddenly, a head appeared, eyes blinking, brain not yet functioning and mouth mumbling. He gazed around, focusing on me in the window.

“Hey Fay, what time is it?” he asked.

My name is Jerry, but no one called anyone by their first name, it wasn’t cool. “About six thirty,” I replied.

Ramsey stumbled to the door and opened it. “Fay, what the heck are you doing up at this hour?” he grumbled.

“It’s the Fourth, you idiot, get your butt in gear!”

He dressed quickly, washed his face and ran a comb through his hair. Out the door and onto our bikes we scrambled. We jockeyed our way across the backyard, past the vegetable garden and an old, weathered, single-car garage that would someday hold Claude’s most prized possession, a turquoise-and-cream, two-door, hard-top 1957 Chevy. We scrambled to freedom onto the street and quickly made our way to the state highway that bisected Carnation and headed downtown.

Downtown is a relative term, and in Carnation it meant one short block with businesses on both sides of the state highway and a scattering of additional businesses on each end. On the west side of the highway, as you drove north through town, you first encountered Paar’s IGA. Formerly a meat market, it was now a full-service grocery store, owned and operated by Mike Paar and his wife Garnet, who took over operation from Mike’s dad in 1940. Both were 1930s graduates of Tolt High. Garnet graduated with my stepmother Edith. Next was Benny Chielen’s Barbershop, one chair and the ubiquitous red-and-white revolving barber pole. Benny was from the old country, what old country I don’t know, and had a thick accent, which made him very hard to understand. He was your basic old-fashioned barber, and you got what he gave you. I had yet to go to Benny for a “store bought” haircut. My big sister Janice cut my hair.

Next was Hockert’s Lumber and Hardware, which doubled as the state liquor store and had cold storage lockers for rent. When I was younger, the storage lockers held a certain mystique about them, and I always wanted to go with my Mom when she went to retrieve some of our frozen food. The dark cold air and the loud closing of the door behind us gave me a creepy feeling, but it didn’t deter me. Finishing up the west side was the Cedar Log Tavern and Miller’s Dry Goods. Howard Miller was a small Jewish man with a big heart who opened his store in 1938 and was becoming an icon in Carnation. If he didn’t have it in stock, you probably didn’t need it. As far back as I can remember, he was the official timekeeper for all Tolt High School sporting events. Little did he know that through his faithfulness, generosity and kindness, the new Tolt High School football stadium would be named after him. Howard was also a very reserved individual, and the town joke was that he knew the bra size of every woman in town. I’m sure he was not privy to this joke.

One of my fondest memories of Howard regards my high school letterman’s jacket.

Miller’s also provided all the high school athletic supplies and placed the orders for the letterman’s jackets. Buying a letterman’s jacket is a momentous event in a young boy’s life, and Howard took due care in this process. I bought mine my freshman year, and I was quite small at the time. Howard had to estimate my growth to be sure the jacket would serve me through to my senior year. Well thanks to Howard’s fuzzy crystal ball, I have never grown into it. If there is any consolation, it was Howard’s expectation for my ultimate size.

Directly across the highway from Miller’s was Conover’s Drug Store. Lou Conover, a small, elderly man, ran the drugstore along with his wife. It still had a soda fountain with a marble countertop and swivel stools. Popular drinks were Cherry Cokes, Graveyards and Citrus Chokers. On the ice cream side, Root Beer Floats, Hot Fudge Sundaes, Black and Whites and Banana Splits were the favorite fare. Lou was easily riled and didn’t have the temperament for teenagers. Of course we took advantage of him. A favorite stunt was to leave your drink glass on the front of the counter as close to the edge as possible. Lou, because of his small stature, could not reach across the ice cream freezer to the front of the counter and had to walk all the way around the counter to retrieve the glasses. Oh, the fiendish mind of the adolescent.

Adjoining Conover’s, heading south now, was one of the more interesting stores in Carnation, Mary’s Five and Dime. To a kid, the Five and Dime was a place of wonder where you could spend hours looking at a variety of products that included a large selection of inexpensive toys and candy. Most toys at that time carried the stamp “Made in Japan.” Usually a visit to Mary’s small and much cluttered store was to buy something from her large supply of candy, most of which cost a nickel or less. The Tolt Café was the final stop that rounded out downtown. Coffee was five cents a cup. There was a set of dice on the counter in a leather cup, and you could play double or nothing against the owner. What more did 400 hundred citizens need to survive? Food, hardware, clothes, booze, medicine, trinkets, ice cream and haircuts? These were simpler times.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the smattering of businesses to the north and south of downtown. To the south was the town’s only bank, Seattle First National, originally called the Tolt State Bank and then Snoqualmie Valley Bank. My stepfather banked there, and one of his favorite jokes was, “I’m taking my money with me when I die because Seattle First National has banks all over hell.”

The bank was supposedly the site of a bloody robbery attempt in the 1930s. Apparently, the FBI was tipped off and they stationed themselves atop the Shell Station across the street. A gun battle ensued when the robbers fled the bank. I started working for Remington’s Shell Station when I turned fourteen, and I worked there off and on until I graduated from college.

Dwayne Remington, the owner, treated me like a son and always had a job for me when I needed one. Unfortunately, the excessive amount of credit he allowed caused him to go out of business, and he went back to logging where he was killed in a logging accident.

A small town would not be complete without the next two establishments: a Post Office, since there was no home delivery, and a small clinic belonging to Doctor Hermann, who still made house calls. Across the parking lot from the clinic was Carnation’s second café, the Country Kitchen, where my Mom cooked for several years. They had the best pies and hot roast beef sandwiches in town, or for that matter probably in the state. Of course, my Mom made the pies. Finally, the far south end concluded with Firth’s Chevron Station and the Grange Store where all farming needs were met. The Grange, a social and political organization to benefit farmers, also had a hall in town where events were held. My first date with my wife Cheryl was a Grange dance. The Grange Store was only two blocks from Tolt High School and a convenient place to run to for a candy bar or bottle of pop over the noon hour. Unfortunately, the Grange Store burnt to the ground and was not replaced.

Moving to the north of downtown, the tour resumes with Whitfield’s Insurance office, City Hall, and the fire station, with an all-volunteer fire department, as well as the library across the street. The second story of the fire station had a pool table and was a favorite hangout for teenagers. Finally, there was the Texaco Station, and next to the library was Pete’s Club Tavern, where on Friday and Saturday nights you could drink and dance until the two-a.m. closing.

Alcohol was not sold on Sundays, except for the two-a.m. allowance made for drinking establishments. On Sundays, like in most small towns in the 1950s, almost all businesses were closed. The exception was the cafés and the gas stations; they took turns being open on Sundays. I can remember working at Remington’s Shell Station on a Sunday, and even though a state highway went through town, I could have easily counted the cars that passed by on both hands.

Claude and I slid to a stop in front of the still-closed Conover’s Drug Store and leaned our bikes up against the brick flower planter that contained a few withering nasturtiums. It was still relatively quiet around town, but the combination Fire Station and City Hall was a beehive of activity. Preparation for the parade at eleven was in full swing.

The bingo tent, strawberry shortcake booth and dunk tank stood silently by. Soon they would be alive with action. In the field behind the library was the also-silent carnival, where I would likely spend a majority of the money I had made picking strawberries at Remlinger’s Berry Farm. To the adults the carnival was a dilapidated, worrisome and cheap, but to me it was an amazing place of beauty, intrigue and excitement. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to always see everything through the eyes of our youth?

We jumped back on our bikes and rode over to the Odd Fellows Hall. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), a men’s social club, built the hall known as Lodge No. 148 in 1925. The bottom floor had been converted into a roller rink a couple years before, and Bert Lind, the operator, had made two sandwich board advertising signs for Ramsey and me to wear as we roller-skated the parade route. Ramsey and I spent every opportunity we had roller skating, and we both had purchased expensive “precision roller skates.” Fortunately, Bert had prepared pairs of old wooden wheel skates for us, and we hoped they would endure the parade route, one-half mile of rough asphalt.

Around eight a.m. I told Ramsey I would meet him back at the Odd Fellows Hall around ten and left to go home for breakfast. Clarence, who was in charge of maintenance at Carnation Farms, had left for work. He would return before the parade started. Norma was sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast. My Mom was busy in the kitchen cutting up two whole chickens, dipping the pieces in her special seasoned flour mix, and frying them in a large, cast iron skillet. After frying, the pieces would go into an aluminum Dutch oven for slow cooking and then be available all day long for snacking, along with baked beans, potato salad, watermelon, fresh baked rolls and strawberry shortcake. This sumptuous fare would be devoured every time I returned home during the day, which for obvious reasons was quite often.

But I didn’t stay home long now. I was too excited. Hopping back on my bike, I made a quick trip up town to watch the carnival awaken and the parade participants begin to gather. It was nearing ten and the town had been transformed into a bustling small city with people beginning to line the streets and moving in and out of the few businesses that were open. The Fourth of July was not just a big event to me, but also to the entire town. It was Carnation’s claim to fame and drew large crowds from the surrounding Snoqualmie River Valley farming community. Some hardy souls even ventured from as far away as Seattle.

I found Ramsey, and we picked up our sandwich boards and roller skates. We headed up to the north end of town where the parade was forming. The American Legion was in charge of the parade, and they were trying to bring some semblance of organization and control. The parade was supposed to start promptly at eleven a.m. It started closer to eleven-thirty, but this didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd.

The first attraction was always the American Legion Woman’s Auxiliary Color Guard with Aldona Remington, wife of my future boss at the Shell Station, carrying the American flag. As the flag passed, no hat stayed on and everyone stood at attention, especially the veterans. It was still a time when patriotism was celebrated openly, the flag of our nation was revered, and tears flowed freely for those lost in war. Next in line, the Fire Department fire engines and aid cars from both Carnation and Duvall passed with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Two log trucks loaded with logs followed, blasting their air horns. Carnation had a dwindling logging presence remaining from its logging heyday in the 1920s and 30s. My Dad still owned a small logging operation, and he and my stepmother had a home in Carnation about a block from where I lived.

Being in a rural area, Carnation was surrounded by summer camps, and they were well represented in the parade, including the Girl Scouts, the Catholic Youth Organization and Camp Gilead, a church camp. They rode in busses decorated with banners, marched in unruly groups or sat on crude floats pulled by old pick-up trucks. In the middle of the parade were the Fourth of July Queen and her court riding in a shiny new convertible. The honor of becoming queen was achieved by selling the most raffle tickets for a beautiful, not-so-lucky Hereford steer that was prominently displayed in a pen by the Fire Station and then butchered after the Fourth and delivered to the lucky winner. Next up was a country western band on a flatbed truck, complete with square dancers, followed by the Job’s Daughters’ float and the Tolt High School marching band.

I mentioned earlier that Carnation, the current name of the town, was subject to a dispute. E. A. Stuart founded the Carnation Company, and Carnation Farms was established several miles from the town of Tolt in 1910. Carnation Farms enabled Stuart to breed his own cattle and was a major employer in the area and tourist attraction.

The town’s original name, Tolt, which is a corruption of the Salish word Toltxw, was changed to Carnation in 1917 in honor of the farm and against the wishes of local settlers and Native Americans. This remained a controversy until it was changed back to Tolt in 1928, and feelings were so strong that David Entwistle, son of the town’s founder, James Entwistle, built four cobblestone cairns bearing the town name Tolt. There were two at each end of town adjacent to the state highway, and two remain to this day. This caused confusion over the next several decades, especially when the name was changed back to Carnation again in 1951.

Needless to say, the farm had a significant impact on the community, and Mr. Stuart was a generous man who built a stone chapel for the Congregational Church in Carnation. The Nan Fullerton Stuart Memorial Chapel, built in 1938, was named for his wife who died the previous year. I would be married in this beautiful chapel in 1964.

The parade concluded with several small floats, a group of antique cars, numerous horseback riders and of course the obligatory farm and logging machinery. It was your basic small-town parade, long on local culture and short on showy floats and high school marching bands that dominate the big city parades. But this did not dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd that clapped and yelled support for every entrant.

In the middle of the parade, Ramsey and I made our advertising début and had a good time yakking it up with the crowd. We knew almost everyone along the route and stopped frequently to visit, never resuming our assigned place in the parade. We also took advantage of the opportunity to check out all the cute girls along the way.

After the parade, the Fourth of July celebration moved into full swing: a bingo tent, dunk tank, small carnival, numerous game booths and stalls selling greasy hamburgers and strawberry shortcake. I walked over to the bingo tent and stood behind my Dad who would be planted there for most of the day. He loved to play bingo almost as much as he loved to play cards.

“Want to play?” he asked. “Sure,” I replied.

He had four bingo cards in front of him, and I asked for one. I played two rounds to no avail and quickly became bored. My Dad won one round. I know it’s pure luck to win, but he won so frequently, I believed he had acquired some unknown skill at bingo. He would slowly accumulate his wins to claim the prizes on shelves marked from “one win” up to “five wins.” If I happened to show up at the right time, I got to choose. I thanked him for the games and stood up to leave. He reached in his pocket, pulled out his wallet and gave me a five-dollar bill.

“Thanks” I said, and he returned to his bingo cards.

The money immediately started to burn a hole in my pocket, so I headed for the carnival where I rode the Ferris Wheel, went through the Funhouse and concluded with a ride on the Octopus that left me a bit dizzy. Some cotton candy, a cheeseburger with fries and a large serving of strawberry shortcake almost put the finishing touches on the five dollars. I would have eaten more, but I didn’t want to ruin my appetite for all the food waiting at home.

As I was finishing the shortcake, I could see the crowds starting to gather in the fields next to the carnival. The kids’ games were about to begin. The first activity was the straw pile laced with money, mostly coins, but also a few dollar bills. When the whistle blew, the pile was immediately demolished by a large group of kids. You would have thought a bomb had been dropped on it.

Next was the greased pig chase. I passed on that activity, running home to change my clothes in preparation for the greased pole climb. A ten-dollar bill was waiting for the winner at the top of a heavily greased pole. The top would only be reached after a majority of the grease was transferred to the clothing of long line of participants who, after each abortive try, would quickly retreat to the end of the line in hopes of another chance. My first attempt to shinny the pole was futile. I jumped as high as I could, grabbed the pole and promptly slid back to the ground as my arms and legs protested. I immediately got back in line and watched as others tried. My second attempt was good enough to evoke the screams and cheers of the crowd. I made it three quarters of the way up, stopped to catch my breath and slid slowly and reluctantly back to the ground. Back to the end of the line again. I watched in frustration as each contestant ahead of me got closer and closer to the top. Finally, before I had another chance to try, it was conquered. Wouldn’t you know it, Shirley Evans, the town tomboy, claimed the ten dollars as everyone cheered. Humiliation!

In years past the kids’ events would have been followed by log bucking and wood chopping contests using large crosscut saws and double-blade axes. Bucking is a logging term that refers to the cutting of logs into shorter lengths once a tree has been fallen. My Dad or Uncle Chub usually won the single bucking, and together the double bucking events. My Dad had logged all his life and had shown me pictures of trees so big that it took only one to make a full log truck load. The massive trees were fallen with a large two-man handsaw called a “misery whip.” All the cutting now is done with gas-powered chainsaws.

I would try my hand at logging after high school to pay my way through college. I worked two summers as a “choker setter” and one running a chainsaw clearing right-of-way for a power line.  A “choker setter” is the lowest job on a logging crew, responsible for pulling logs out of the woods to be loaded on the log trucks. I wasn’t destined to be a logger, and my Mom was a big influence on that. She had known too many who died logging, including my Uncle Chub.

I spent the rest of the day wandering around town, stopping to talk with friends and occasionally visiting my Mom at the Country Kitchen. One of my favorite pastimes was watching local citizens being plunged into the cold water of the dunk tank. Usually once during the day, I would buy three soft baseballs for a dollar and try to dunk someone I knew. I was also fascinated by the people who roamed continuously back and forth across the state highway between Pete’s Club and the Cedar Log Tavern. Both had loud music and drew large crowds to their bar stools, booths and dance floors.

Around three p.m. the temperature rose to about ninety degrees. Ramsey and I decided to head for the Tolt River to cool off. We biked home to get our swimsuits and then made our way down the Milwaukee Road rail line to the trestle that crossed the Tolt River. The trestle was one of the few remaining covered railroad bridges left in Washington State and provided a number of diversions for adventurous kids, such as jumping off into the river below or finding a secure position on it as a train passed through.

We parked our bikes and worked our way down the steep bank, plunging into the icy water that literally took our breath away. After a few minutes we adjusted to the temperature, or maybe our brains shut down. We swam across the river to a place where the bank was lower and walked up the river a short distance. Picking our way over slippery rocks through knee-deep water, we proceeded to the middle of the river. The current was swift and formed a small rapid that shot us quickly down to a deeper pool of water.  This drill was repeated numerous times until we were tired, climbed the bank to our bikes and headed back to town. I went home to change and fill up on fried chicken, potato salad and baked beans. My Mom had finished work and was lounging with my stepfather on lawn chairs in the shade of the back yard. There was usually a bit of a lull between five and seven when the townspeople and visitors readied themselves for the evening’s activities.

I headed back uptown where the revelry continued and the tavern noise seemed to be building to a crescendo. The sun was slowly setting, and you could feel the heat being sucked out of the ground and hear the sighs of relief. A large ridge due east of Carnation across the Snoqualmie River provided an earlier sunset than in the rest of the valley and cool evenings in the heat of summer. I begin to immediately think about the fireworks display, the grand finale of the celebration, and the possibility of a few more carnival rides.  The largest crowds would gather for the fireworks and fill the carnival beyond its capacity.

I walked by the bingo tent and was not surprised to see my Dad had left. There were a few stragglers playing bingo and most of the prizes had been won. My Dad had more than likely gone to the Cedar Log to play cards, his true passion in life. As night drifted over the town, even the small rundown carnival became an awesome sight, providing a kaleidoscope of lights to the youthful eye. There was the smell of cotton candy and the diesel that powered the rides, and the repetitive sound of the carnival music that I’m sure could impact a person’s sanity over time. It could have been the reason that all the ride operators had blank stares.

Ramsey and I positioned ourselves on the field in front of the ground-level fireworks displays along with hundreds of others who were spreading blankets and unfolding lawn chairs. It was still at least an hour before the scheduled start of the show. We amused ourselves talking to the numerous kids we knew that attended Carnation Elementary School with us. We felt like big shots because we would be Tolt High freshman in the fall. After what seemed like an unnecessarily long amount of time, it was finally dark enough for the first ground displays to be ignited. What else, an American flag display was set ablaze to oohs and aahs, followed by an American eagle and Uncle Sam. For what I believe to be the first time in several years, all the ground displays went off without a hitch.

As the ground displays burned out, the earth-shaking sound of a single firework salute pulled our attention to the sky. It was now time for the aerial display. We watched intently as the Legionnaires set off rocket after rocket at short intervals to the satisfaction of the crowd.

Each display allowed enough time for the crowd response to start to die down, ensuring an almost continuous roar. Sparks landed on a house, starting the roof on fire and allowing the Carnation Volunteer Fire Department—with the firetruck manned and ready—to quickly extinguish the fire to the cheers of the crowd.

We scanned the skies intently after each display, watching for the small parachutes that were somehow on occasion jettisoned from the rockets prior to their flaming destruction. Finally we spotted one and off we ran with several other kids tripping through the crowd, across a road and into an adjacent strawberry field. We were not to be denied and succeeded in capturing our treasure by outrunning the other pursuers.

After the conclusion of the fireworks, the carnival resumed with diminished enthusiasm as the crowds dispersed and the adults headed for the dance at the Odd Fellows Hall. You could hear the band tuning up for what would be a late night of partying. As for me, I was ready to go home and savor the memories. When I got there, Mom, Clarence and Norma were resting in the living room. I plopped into an armchair with a big sigh. I was tired and exhilarated at the same time. As I lay in bed before going to sleep, I could only think of one thing: the next Fourth of July.

Jerry, thank you for sharing your FOURTH OF JULY MEMORIES.

Tolt Historical Society 2020