Jack, Jim, The Dungeness Crab and The Neighbor Boys
by Jack & Pat Johnson
by Jack & Pat Johnson
IN 1943, the John Robert Johnson family moved to Sunnyside, Washington. Dad worked at Todd’s ShipYard in Everett, Washington. He worked in the ship yard that built “Victory Ships”. It was owned by Henry Kaizer and his method of assembly allowed the ships to be built especially fast for the War effort. Dad had come to Washington with his good friend Merle Avert from Lovell, Wyoming. Dad worked the second shift at the ship yard as a welder.
The family rented a small shack to live in, as housing during WWII was at a premium. People rented out any sort of structure they had on their property.
This was a new environment for two little boys that were used to the plains of Wyoming. One morning Jack and Jim woke up before the rest of the family and when they came into the kitchen, lo and behold, there was a huge, ugly, monster sitting in the middle of the kitchen table. The “thing” was big, red, had long spidery legs and they couldn’t for the life of them figure out what it was or where it came from. Maybe it crawled into the house and died there. After many whispers, and a few glances at each other, the boys were brave enough to get up close. What on earth could it be? They had never seen any creature that looked like that awful thing.
After awhile Dad heard the boys in the kitchen and he called out, “Hey, did you boys find that crab on the table?” They looked at each other as if to say, “Oh, that’s what a crab looks like.”
When Dad had left from work the night before, a man was at the gate selling Dungeness Crabs for 25 ¢. Dad figured it was worth 25¢ to try it. Later, Dad left for work and left Mom in charge of the Dungeness Crab. She was unfamiliar with such an animal as well, so she just sort of tried to ignore it. She didn’t know what you do with them, or how to clean them.
Our landlords were Mr and Mrs Whistler. They lived a short way from the little fruit pickers shack where we lived. Mrs Whistler adored our mother and came every day to visit with her. When she came in that day, she saw the Dungeness Crab and sort of gathered that Mom was not sure about the thing. She offered to clean it and get the meat off of it for Mom. Having been raised in Washington, she knew all about Dungeness Crabs. She went to work at once and ended up with a big heaping plate full of crab meat. Mom politely took a few bites, but Jim and Jack would not touch it with a ten foot pole. Not after seeing it in its original state. Dad had no problem eating it. Wouldn’t you like to buy a Dungeness Crab for 25¢ today?
Now, about Mrs Whistler. She was older than our Mom and was having mental difficulties in her old age, but as I said, she adored our Mom and befriended her and helped her. Once she got after her husband and said, “You get some lumber and get over there and build a room for those folks. They have a big family and need more room.” Sure enough, one day here he came with lumber and tools and built an extra bedroom for us. Mrs. Whistler was sort of “hygienically challenged.” Many times her housedress needed a good washing, and usually had “skid marks” in broad view. Our Mom was so gentle and polite and sweet, she never once was repelled by Mrs. Whistler’s condition. Perhaps that is why she loved our mom. A few months later, Mrs Whistler passed away and Mr Whistler was left alone. We are sure he missed his wife, even with all of her problems. She was so good to our Mom, may she rest in peace.
In 1943 the world was such a different place. The adults were often both working in jobs for the War effort and kids were pretty much expected to take care of themselves. Our neighbors had two boys about ages 12 and 14. We never did see the parents, so it is assumed they were off working somewhere and the boys were on their own in a big beautiful house. One day Jim and Jack were over there and the boys said, “Do you guys want to play a shooting game and win prizes?” It sounded real good to us, so we quickly said, “Yeah, sure.” The boys went in the house and came out with their mother’s good dishes and knick knacks and set them up on the beautiful stone fence. We all took turns shooting at the treasures with a BB gun and when we would hit one, the boys would say, “Alright, you won a prize.” Jack asked the older boy, “Aren’t you going to get in trouble with your folks?” He said, “Aw no, they aren’t ever around anyway.” Whatever happened to them we never heard, but they probably DID have to explain why Mom’s dishes and knick knacks were laying out in the yard all shot to pieces. It was fun though. In this day and age, both sets of parents would be arrested for child neglect.
This was a perfect place for two little adventurous boys to be. We could roam the fields of strawberries, plums, apple orchards, and investigate the Snohomish River and all of the wonders it held. In the Fall of 1943, all but Dad went home to Lovell, Wyoming. But the adventures we had still linger in our memories. It was a grand time.
As we said, 1943 was a much different world.