This will represent the first in a series of posts where I reflect [in a somewhat public manner] upon various aspects of my journey these past four years. I debated calling this experience a “journey,” but that is quite the accurate term for what occurred: a journey is a experience where one starts out with a vague goal in mind and posses only a general understanding of how they will accomplish that. The rest is entirely up to the traveller to figure out. I will be breaking up my posts into a series where each focuses on a specific theme or event. Today, fittingly, I will focus on my life until high school. The goal of this section is to introduce my experiences and environment in which I grew up.
Life Until 18, or “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Lived to Deal with North Mason”
I unknowingly have followed quite a bit in the footsteps of my parents, especially that of my mother. My mother was raised in the same physical house that I grew up, and we graduated from the same high school. After graduation, we both graduated from state universities in Western Washington, and we both got our degrees in liberal arts. Our education was paid for by our parents, and we came from a family where both parents were degree holders and expected that their children would follow in their footsteps. Following a rather different path: my father was raised by a single mother in Bremerton, but through hard work and determination gradated from the same university which I soon will be earning an undergraduate degree from.
Yet they both ended up in the same place: Seattle. Eventually marrying, I was the first child of two successful adults in their mid-30s with respectable careers. They bought their first house in West Seattle, in the Admiral District. We lived there for two years while they decided to move back closer to where they grew up: I think parents have an urge to raise their children where they themselves grew up. They had purchased property and were building a house in Seabeck when my mother’s father made a fateful offer: he was thinking about selling the house that he owned [and where my mother grew up] and build a smaller house more suited for a retired individual right next door. Needless to say, the offer of living in her childhood home was alluring and we moved to rural Mason County.
Around this time my only sibling was born: a sister. My mother quit her job to raise us when I was born, and it was a stable family life with homemade meals every day and someone to walk us home from the bus. Dad always was able to provide us with a comfortable life, and our parents always encouraged us to follow our dreams and passions. We both took piano lessons, and I took a liking to the works of Henry Mancini, which I could be frequently heard playing on our upright piano in the living room. The local library was always my friend: and my favourite topics were history and science. Robert Ballard was a personal hero to me, and his exploration stories about the Bismark, Britannic, Titanic, and others inspired countless hours of reading. World War II was particularly fascinating, as was all history. On a weekly basis we would go to the library and I made ample use of the reservation system to get my hands on as much knowledge as I could find.
We were a liberal family, and politics were always a topic of discussion around the dinner table. Trips were made often to Seattle and other areas around the Sound, and vacations to Arizona and California helped expand our horizons even as small children. We weren’t allowed to watch TV much: we could only watch one show a day. Game systems were objects of desire: we never owned any gameboys or nintendos. Our family computer was also limited: only half an hour a day on weekdays. With the electronic entertainment of our youths limited, we of course explored other hobbies: we hiked around the property, along the beach, and visited our grandparents often. During the summer my mother took us to museums, taught us how to use a sewing machine, instructed us on how to weave [I made a few placemats!], had us cook and bake, and helped us figure out budgets and keeping track of money. My mom used her home economics major well: we were taught all the basic skills to survive and be self-reliant.
Only 90 minutes from Seattle, Mason County is a world apart from the thriving metropolis on the eastern side of Puget Sound. I grew up in a town where we had a restaurant, post office, liquor store, and gas station. You could drive through the “town” in under a minute, and probably would not even notice you went through it. Fifteen minutes away was where I went to school. At least this town had a proper grocery store and multiple gas stations. Where I grew up the distinctive feature was the water.
Scenic beauty attracts people to Mason County: the thick forests, tranquil streams, rolling hills and calm inland waters of Puget Sound sooth the soul. I grew up with the water: I played on the beach, dug for clams, and enjoyed the moderate marine climate. And the rain! We didn’t enjoy the rainshadow that Seattle often does, and ample rain was common throughout the year. Yet for all of this water it also defined the community in another way: socioeconomic class could clearly be delineated by how far one lived from the water. Mason County is basically filled with two groups of people: the fairly well-educated and successful people who lived on the waterfront, and those lived elsewhere. There were many exceptions, of course, but this rule generally works. You can imagine the community then from this sample of population groups, and the schools suffered from a poor tax base, low population, and a lack of resources to devote to anything over than basic education.
I actually went to public school for pre-school, which is fairly rare. It turns out that nobody could understand what I was saying: the letters “l” and “s” were unknown to me, and I had speech therapy until 5th grade with near-daily sessions my first few years. Despite my horribly incomprehensible handwriting [which still exists today], I was recognized as somewhat of a bright student in elementary school. I always went to learn math with the “older kids,” read constantly, and even at that young age could be found dinking around with computers and this new wondrous internet. It seemed I was always in experimental classes: for second grade I was in a large classroom of 50 students and two teachers that was split between first and second graders. For third through sixth grades I was in a multi-age room with 25 students, three grades, and one teacher. I went to elementary school with a very close group of friends: some of us had been in the same class for 4-5 years in a row. It’s a shame the school didn’t repeat these experiments, as I found the mixed-age environment and same teacher from year-to-year enabled Mrs. Burns to get a better understanding of who we were and shepherded us through school. Our strengths were refined and our weaknesses were carefully eliminated through the years.
In sixth grade I joined the band. Three days a week I took the early “big kid” bus to the middle school where I learned my second instrument: the clarinet. I wish I had some big long story about how I decided on this particular device to learn, but I didn’t want to learn a brass instrument and the clarinet seemed to match my personality in ways that I’m unable to fully explain.
Middle school was a shock. Both elementary schools in our district combined for middle school and suddenly there was a huge influx of students who I didn’t know. Except for fellow band members and the few I knew from elementary, I few friends. Going to math with the older students certainly didn’t help matters much, as I missed our “advisory” classes that I suspect were designed to help students build a social network as much as to disseminate information to us.
Final fun fact: My parents didn’t want to know if I was a boy or girl until I was born. Mom picked “Nickolas” for me since she was convinced I was a boy. Dad maintains he picked “Kelsey” if I were a girl, but mom said that she would no have approved it. I’m named after “Nickolas Charles” from The Thin Man series, and he is referred to as “Nick Charles.” I actually decided to be called “Nikky,” my parents claim, although family and friends called me “Nick,” “Nickolas,” “Nikkster,” and even “Nick Chuck of the North.”
Next up: Read how the “the piano-playing, collared-shirt wearing, nerd who played soccer” survived high school!