The Road Taken: Harry Truman and The Real World

Chapter 3: Here’s what the Northwest was famous for around the time I moved there: Mount St. Helens, the Green River Killer and coffee. The Green River Killer came on the scene in 1982 and, for the next two decades, he murdered at least 48 women. Ted Bundy, whose own killing spree had ended, on account that he’d been caught, helped paved the way for interest in any news about the Green River Killer. As for coffee, early on I came to realize just what a Mecca, Seattle was for coffee aficionados, of which, I was not one. Starbucks was readily available in the city, and coffee carts were popping up, even in outdoor gear stores, like REI. God forbid, Seattleites should have to walk more than half a block for a cup of joe.

But, just months after arriving, all the news focused on Mount St. Helens, and some small earthquake activity there. For weeks, the authorities debated whether to enforce evacuations, and when the order was finally executed, most in the area departed. Among those that stayed put, an old man named Harry Randall Truman who, for years, had lived near the mountain with his 16 cats. He gave lots of interviews to the local media, in which he balked at leaving. Not for a moment, did he believe he was in imminent danger. “If the mountain goes, I’m going with it,” he claimed.

Then, on Sunday, May 18, 1980, while G and I joined thousands of others, at the University District Street Fair, the mountain exploded. We’d been perusing the craft booths that morning, nibbling on Rainier cherries and morsels of rhubarb pie. G had just purchased a bunch of brightly colored sweet peas for me, which had become my favorite flower. It was a pristine, languid Sunday—one of those rare, sunny days when you can clearly see Mount Rainier in the distance. When suddenly, we noticed someone pointing to the south, with a look of fright on his face. We turned around in time to see massive clouds on the horizon, spewing ash into the atmosphere, and growing larger with every second. Keep in mind, Mt. St. Helens was too far to see from where we were, much further south than Mt. Rainier. Yet, we knew that if we could see the plumes from our vantage point on the north side of Seattle, that the devastation on the mountain must have been staggering. But this was well before cell phones, text messaging and tweeting. It wasn’t until later that we learned of the severity. How there were casualties, including old man Truman, who went down with the mountain, and presumably his 16 cats, too.

There’s something to be said for a man’s blind determination to stay in his home. Unlike Truman, I had no such loyalty to the house I now called home. From the get go, meeting the roommates was like meeting parents who didn’t approve of your relationship and who wasted no time in letting you know. I met Marigold first, and instantly sensed that she was holding a grudge. The way her smile turned into a flash of a grimace as soon as G introduced us, and the way she flicked her eyes as she glanced at me. Oh yes, she made it clear where I stood in her estimation.

Marigold was tall, lithe and, in summary, everything I wasn’t. Pretty young thing, was the expression that came to mind, with her short corduroy skirt, Frye boots and long, dangling earrings that jingled every time she tossed her thick, brown hair. G admitted they had dated, but added that he soon realized she wasn’t for him. Too high maintenance, he said with a wry grin, as if that would make me feel better about the situation, and how the girl with a grudge would be sleeping across the hall from us. Knowing I wasn’t pleased, he took my hand in his. I was the one, he reassured me. I believed him and figured I’d just have to do my best to avoid Marigold.

This Nazi villain (Ronald Lacey) in the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, was the spitting image of Stan.

Stan, a slightly balding man with Aryan features and wire-rimmed glasses, owned the house and he never let you forget that. He and his girlfriend, Jeannette, along with their two cats, had the second floor to themselves. Stan, unilaterally made the decisions on everything relating to our living arrangements, and kept a cleaning schedule chart posted in the kitchen. It was as if we were the Von Trapp children and he was the captain, running our lives like a tight ship, and letting us know what was allowed in the house and what wasn’t. At least, he didn’t use a whistle to call us to dinner.

Meanwhile, Jeannette, was sweet and serene. A bit soft spoken, and ordinary looking, with not a stitch of makeup. She definitely embraced an earthy lifestyle. The only likeable one in the bunch, I never could figure out what she saw in Stan, who had a knack for making me feel small and unimportant, treating me with his mock disdain. Several years later, long after moving out, when the original Raiders of the Lost Ark film was released, I took one look at the Nazi pursuing Indiana Jones and was instantly reminded of Stan. It was all I could do not to break into a cold sweat.

So this was my new reality. My very own Real World. No welcome wagon here, just a bunch of mismatched roommates, which got me thinking: Maybe I should have taken a tip from old man Truman, and lived with 16 cats instead.

Oh, well. This was the choice I’d made, to follow G. This would have to be my home until we could afford to move out. Which meant I needed to find a job. Stat.

28 thoughts on “The Road Taken: Harry Truman and The Real World

  1. I think I’d say I can understand old man Truman’s determination to stay with his home ’til the day he died. It’s natural human behavior, you know. You live with something/someone for long enough, and you start to get attached. The something/someone begins to hold so much sentimental value for you, that you really can’t imagine letting go.
    I remember the day I had to finally move out of my parents’ house into my own apartment. Granted, it was a really hectic day with lots of box moving involved, but at the end, a little feeling of loss settled into me. It was the home I’d been born and bred up in, the home I’d played in, the home my mother and father had loved me and nurtured me in. I actually went around the house whispering goodbye to all of the rooms.
    Just goes to show how easily we can become attached.

    • You’ve written here such a beautiful sentiment. I think all of us have felt it at one time or another. For me, my special home was the one where I spent the first eight years of my life. When I left on a long trip, I didn’t know that would be the last time I’d see it. When I returned my family was living somewhere else. i never had a chance to say goodbye. I probably would have done exactly as you did.

      You should turn this memory into a post. It truly tugs at your heartstrings.

    • Marigold is not actually her real name, but it’s close enough. Besides, I wanted to convey the feel for Seattle’s laid back, natural outdoors style. Hopefully, the name captures the Seattle I knew. 😉

  2. Enjoyed the read, your blogs are always like a novel, can’t wait to read the next chapter! It would be wonderful to be able to travel around the world, there is so much to see and learn about. Great post !

  3. I can feel the energy in that house – Stan, the Control Freak/Dictator, Marigold, Ms. High Maintenance/ex. Stan and Marigold should have been a couple – but they probably would have made your lives miserable.
    Can’t wait to read more.

  4. i haven’t thought about Mt St Helen’s in so many years. I had met a woman who lived near there several months earlier at an International Game Fish Tournament. Both her husband and mine were in teams competing. As you say, no email or cell phones then so we kept in touch sporadically by snail mail. Imagine my surprise one day to receive from her a vial containing Mt St Helen ash. I had that for a very long time but lost it in one of the many moves.
    Great post.

    • You know, same thing happened to me. I, too, had a vial which has been lost over the years. I’ve moved so many times, I cannot pinpoint when. But I have my memories. I even got to hike through the mountain one year after the eruption and that was a sight I will NEVER forget. The destruction, the desolation, was startling close up.

  5. I was living in Seattle at that time. When the mountain blew, my dad was in Yakima and since they sold out of face masks, he had to strap on a Kotex with a few of his friends. They laughed like they had no good sense. I have since moved away from Seattle, but I remember the night a woman I knew at the UW was snatched up by Ted Bundy. She only had a couple hundred feet to walk down an alley from a fraternity party to her sorority…..and somehow she vanished. I also remember they served ” Bundy burgers,” a patty burnt to a crisp on the day he was executed. I have different memories, but just as vivid. Great writing!

  6. Monica, you’re making it so easy for us to like and dislike these characters! Your descriptions are absolutely wonderful and it’s like I’m living in the house with you, G. and the rest of the clan. Poor Mr. Truman! Yet I feel great respect for a man who stands true to his convictions! I’m eagerly awaiting Chapter 4, friend!

  7. Monica,

    My mom lived in Oregon when Mount St. Helen’s erupted. To this day, she has a jar of the ash that fell in her neighborhood… and when I visited the Mountain on my 5th grade trip, I learned about Truman, and watched a film with him (and his cats). You’re writing evokes so many memories!
    …and is such a cliff hanger!! Sigue-Sigue!! Rapido!!!

  8. It always surprises me how thinking of a major event (like Mt. St. Helens) can take you back to where you were at the time it happened. All the little details flood back, things that we might not ordinarily remember.

    • So true. Remembering these major events really has helped me reflect on the moments. Frankly, I can’t believe how much I’ve been able to remember. These memories are just flooding back! 🙂

  9. Thanks for mentioning Harry Randall Truman. I remembered the man and his interviews but not his name. I love this post and am going to save it as an example of perfectly fleshed out writing!

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