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The way it was: Bellingham in late ’40s through early ’50s, through a child’s eye

I have wonderful memories of being raised in the child-friendly era of late ’40s early ’50s in Bellingham, when adults respected children and children respected adults. Life was good, and fun, too.

Hot summer days, my brother and I used to dig up old oil drums and pallets so we could go behind Sears and build a raft to sail down the creek. I spent a lot of my time at the Harley shop chatting with Leo; picked strawberries to buy my first motorcycle there at 13 years old.

We would walk to the docks and watch the boats come in and unload their catch, amazed at how many BIG FISH they had. At least 50 percent of the time someone would throw me a fish and say, “Here kid, take this one home.” Sometimes so big I had a hard time proudly walking home to show mom what I got to barbecue tonight.

On real hot days I would go to grandma’s, across from Darigold, get a dime from her to go across and buy ice cream. I didn’t know it was just a distribution center, but I did know that if I tried to buy an ice cream there, they would give a whole box of them and say, “Here kid, these melted, we can’t sell them.”

We walked to Walton Fruit and watch these guys unload boxcars of fruit from exotic places, wondering if there were poisonous bugs in there from faraway places. We’d go behind my house and wave to the train engineers as they rolled by honking, got a ride from them a time or two.

One of my favorites was putting pennies on the track so the train would squish them. I was always afraid they would make the train derail.

Then I had to get older. I used to skip school to go down to the bay and fish for bullheads or whatever decided to bite, but watching for adults, because ALL ADULTS were the boss. Everyone knew everyone, and mom would learn what I did. But I would rather watch the guys work on the motorcycles at the Harley shop, and practice running them up the hill in the back of the shop, or go to the taxidermist and be amazed at the animals, or even check out those big boats from faraway places.

We moved out to Yew Street then. That was in the country, too far to walk to town. But I did have goats and rabbits.

I would push my bicycle over the hill the coast to Bloedel, then push up the hill to coast down, would go too fast to stop at the house. My stepdad clocked me at 30 mph once; I was scared, but would never let anyone know it.

Now I come back and find everything fenced in or fenced off — “keep out” and “keep off” signs, “no trespassing.” The huge pipe I used to crawl over the creek on isn’t so big, but I no longer have the nerve to crawl on it again, anyway.

My little town has grown up, but that’s OK. I think it’s the norm anymore. I miss the way it was when I was young, but would I be happy if they said, “Here, have a fish old man.”

Bellingham still has a special place in my heart.

Frank E. Brown, 72, now lives in Maple Falls.

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