Seniors & Aging

Bellingham man recalls growing up in Sunnyland village

The old saying “It takes a village to raise a child” was self-evident during my early days.

My parents scraped up the down payment for a house at the corner of Humboldt and Maryland in Sunnyland neighborhood in 1943, when I was 7 years old. The price? Four thousand dollars! That included the lot next door, unimproved and available for digging holes, river beds, and improvised forts inside the shrubs and wild blackberries.

That neighborhood became my “village.” Sunnyland School was a short walk from home. When school was not in session, we used the playfields for pickup soccer and baseball games. The brushy area between the school and Memorial Park, as well as the slabwood piles for school heating, served as a setting for playing cowboys and Indians and for army war games.

Gasoline was rationed during World War II and traffic was scarce. The neighborhood streets were our close-in playground for games of baseball, hopscotch, kick-the-can and hide-and-go-seek, and for traveling about with home-built go-carts and apple-box scooters, as well as tricycles and Radio Flyer wagons. Soon, bicycles gave us the ability to venture farther away, but we always returned to the village.

Our dogs were unleashed and accompanied us wherever we roamed. The concept of “play dates” was unheard of. We pretty much had free reign to run at large, but were usually in and out of each other’s houses, the parents unofficially minding us as we played Monopoly, Parcheesi, checkers, Old Maid and a myriad of other kids’ games.

A grandfatherly retired carpenter next door, Mr. Irwin, helped us with our wood projects. The only electronic device we had was a radio, which provided youthful programs like “Captain Midnight” and “Terry and the Pirates” after 5 p.m. A number of “mom and pop” stores were owned by tolerant folks, who usually seemed to care about us even when we took too much of their time making selections regarding soda pop, candy, ice cream cones, Popsicles and other vital necessities.

Recycling was a way of life, and we kids went door-to-door collecting old newspapers, magazines and scrap metal for the “war effort.”

The Washington Department of Highways maintenance compound on Illinois Street is now a large empty plot. During the early ’40s, we played king of the mountain on sand piles and searched for “jewels” amongst discarded road signs that used small red-glass reflectors (rubies!).

Road signs were hand painted by Willard Dix in a shop on the southeast corner of the area. Mr. Dix, a former boxer, welcomed us in his shop for a visit when we stopped by on our way to “the woods” to explore and build “forts” from old scrap lumber and alder saplings we cut down, usually returning home with wet canvas tennis shoes and pant legs wet up to the knee. Located about where Lowe’s front door is now located was a pond, surrounded by trees, that had a floating log to pole about on, which we called “the raft.”

Eventually I wanted a “clubhouse,” so I converted our abandoned chicken coop into a place for the guys and me to hang out. We had an old wood stove for heat and roasting hot dogs, a table and chairs for playing cards and board games, and two surplus army cots for overnighters. A group of Sunnylanders formed the “Hunky Dory Club.” The carnivals and other activities took place in our spacious back yard. Often, our house seemed like “Grand Central Station.”

When I turned 16, I bought a 1930 Model A Ford. The neighborhood guys also bought entry-level autos, which gave us the ability to travel beyond our village and venture as far as our aging clunkers could go. Summer jobs at such places as Stokely-Van Camps on Moore Street provided us with gas money and cash for burgers and shakes at Bunk’s Drive-In on Cornwall and Mastin’s on Samish Way. All too soon, adulthood arrived and the relatively innocent days of living safely in the “village” drifted into the past.