Narrative: Vashon through a family lense
Having lived my entire life on Vashon, I’m quite convinced that everyone on the island either golfs with my grandfather or went to high school with my dad and his siblings. More often than not, I run into someone at community events and football games that graduated with my aunt, played basketball with my uncle, or still remembers the Lande Dairy, my family’s former farm.
We Landes have been here quite a while. My great-great grandfather came to the U. S. from Norway in the late 1800s and eventually built a farm on the island in about 1912, which he left to one of his sons.
We’re not the oldest family still here, but we do have more than a century of history on Vashon.
I’m familiar with the family lore through stories of my predecessors’ high school experiences, and the tales offer a unique look back in time upon not only our family’s history, but Vashon’s as well.
My grandfather was born in 1930, and grew up on our family’s farm. At the time, agriculture was one of the most common ways to make a living on Vashon, and many other families owned sizeable plots of land on which they grew a variety of crops.
The vast strawberry farms owned predominantly by Japanese Americans were a key part of the island economy, as were peach farms; before the creation of the Strawberry Festival, islanders gathered for a peach-themed celebration. The event was nowhere near the scale of our modern festival — Vashon’s population was much smaller then.
Cars were also a rarity in the ’30s. My grandfather remembers biking home from a picture show (movie) without passing a car for over three miles.
There was still plenty of excitement, For most teenagers, Halloween was open to engage in various antics, from blocking the highway with trees to blowing up outhouses with dynamite — as my grandfather once attempted to do.
The Great Depression, as with most places in the United States, hit Vashon hard. The farms scraped by, as people needed bare essentials such as food and milk, but the economy was stagnant.
As the US entered World War II, financial situations improved across the country. With it, however, Vashon experienced other changes.
As conflicts played out across the Pacific and European theaters, my grandfather, 11 when the war began, experienced the homefront first-hand. He watched the Japanese Americans taken away, saw men drafted, and participated in blackout drills, a wartime practice of covering windows at night to ensure no lights would give away the location of an occupied area.
My grandfather’s father was in charge of conducting north end air raid drills — the original, hand-crank siren is still in our basement.
My grandfather graduated from Vashon High School in 1948, having played the typical assortment of sports during that time: baseball, basketball and football. He also helped create the original grass football field.
The graduating class was small, consisting of only about 42 students. Following high school, many students joined the workforce, but others, including my grandfather, chose to attend college. His school of choice, Seattle University, cost a mere $65 per quarter.
In 1952, he married my grandmother, whom he met during the summers she spent at her family’s island beach cottage. The whole of Vashon was dotted with summer residences belonging to city folk who wanted an escape from the urban life during the summer months.
A good deal of these houses still remain, but many of them have been converted to year-round homes, and the island population still swells in the summer.
My dad came into the picture near the tail end of the baby boom: 1960.
By this time, the dairy farm had been converted into a meat business. The number of family farms was waning throughout the United States, but my dad recalls summer mornings spent picking strawberries for Tokio “Tok” Otsuka or the Matsuda family.
However, his most memorable tales of Vashon revolve around long and complex situations having to do with vehicles; he once slid under a bus on his motorcycle and spent all night getting two pickup trucks out of our back pasture after an attempt at midnight fourwheeling.
His senior prank was no different; he and his friends sped into the high school library on their motorcycles and then skidded out the way they had come in.
Though these accounts were not typical for everyone on Vashon at the time, my dad’s stories give me the general impression that the teenagers of every generation enjoyed raising a little hell once in a while.
A remnant of these antics can be found on the Dilworth Loop. Sometime around my dad’s graduation in 1978, one of his fellow seniors spray painted the road with a bright yellow “78.” Though faded, it remains.
Another wealth of old Vashon can be found in the old school newspaper, The Clam. It favored humorous pieces over content-based stories, but the paper itself provides a clear snapshot into the culture of island teens of the past.
My personal favorite section of the old school paper is the staff-published gossip column, which can be found in “Vashon Hi Jinx,” one of the older versions of the paper. Highlights from the column include a gossip section asking someone, “Who’s your boyfriend this week?” and a help section that gave mild insults instead of advice.
We now find ourselves in the late end of the 2010s. My sister graduates this year, as a member of the 2018 senior class, 7 decades after my grandfather and 4 decades after my father.
Vashon has changed considerably from the time of my grandfather’s graduation in 1948. Rules have become more strict — up until recently, VHS was an open campus and students could leave to get food or go home during lunch — the population has grown upwards from its approximate 3,800 residents in 1950, and the island has become more developed as it modernizes with the rest of the world.
However, from our single-screen theater to the Strawberry Festival, and the small family farms to the vibrant art scene, Vashon culture stands still as being undeniably unique. And we’re still changing, year by year, graduation by graduation.
As a Lande, I’m afforded a unique glimpse back in time through this history. My family is woven into Vashon’s past, from the Great Depression to the Swinging Sixties and now the 21st century.
Now, when looking forward, I hold great anticipation for what the future will bring.