One thing about living in the place where you grew up is that the city often seems like a rain-soaked sponge. Everywhere I step, memories and associations ooze out. The landscape has become part of my mind, and vice versa. Even the smallest things carry a personal significance. It is one reason I find change so difficult, even painful, sometimes.
I complain a lot about how the city has evolved, but despite growth, upheaval and displacement, I am often struck with ways in which Seattle hasn't changed. Vacant lots have disappeared, housing is more expensive, some parts of the city have been radically over-hauled (South Lake Union, the light-railed portions of Martin Luther King Way), landfills are now parks, downtown sprouts a fungi of ugly high rises. But many parts of the city are stoic in the face of a century of radical transformation.
When I was 12 or so, my father loaned me a camera and I decided to document aspects of my neighborhood that I was certain would not be there when I grew up. I photographed overhead telephone pole and trolley wires because surely these ugly wires wouldn't withstand the tide of progress. As a child of the Century 21 Exposition era, I expected big things from the future — Space Needles, not power lines.
An old friend once told me he was in a science fiction writer's group back in the 1960s or '70s, and he brought in a short story he'd written to share with his pals. His tale took place in the 1980s or thereabouts. In one scene, his character stepped off a bus. My friend said the whole group protested and scoffed that buses wouldn't still be around in the 1980s! Having a character riding the bus in a futuristic story was just not credible. I often think of this as I ride a rattling electric trolley to the U. District.
Old technologies are reluctant to go away, and often find uses in new ages. Major parts of the region's transportation debate are about walking, biking and electric trains, not flying cars. Our police officers ride horses, and mountain bikes. Remember when wood stoves made a comeback? And now locally grown food and hand-made goods? All these things were familiar in turn-of-the-century Seattle. Sure, we wear Gore-tex and blab away on invisible mobile phone headsets, but the old world is still present, and sometimes, even cutting-edge policy (Car-free Sundays, anyone? Grazing mini-goats?).
I was particularly startled by the slowness of some change when I came across a memoir of my father's childhood in Seattle. My dad dictated some of his childhood memories late in life, after he had gone blind. My mother dutifully transcribed the tapes, put them in a binder on a shelf, and they've been forgotten ever since. I stumbled across them a couple of weeks ago, nearly two decades after my father's death.
My father, also Knute Berger, was born in 1915 at Mrs. Mote's rooming house, now gone, which stood on Capitol Hill near the corner of 12th and Pine. After a couple of other stops (Green Lake, east Queen Anne), the family moved into the house my grandfather (another Knute, by the way) built in the mid-1920s. My dad spent his boyhood prime in this small stucco home on Mt. Baker Boulevard, just off McClellen St.
I grew up just a few blocks away along that same street, across from Franklin High School and a series of Olmsted-designed parks that run from Lake Washington to Rainier Avenue where it collides with Martin Luther King Way. My dad and I attended the same grade school, John Muir, played in the same parks, had paper routes on the same streets. Three generations of my family lived there over half a century, and while my people have died or moved on, the neighborhood is still part of my weekly orbit 35 years after the last of us moved out.
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