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Nothin' to do in January? You gotta be kidding! | Ferry Home Companion

Howard Schonberger writes Ferry Home Companion and Making a Difference for The Journal of the San Juan Islands.  - Michael D
Howard Schonberger writes Ferry Home Companion and Making a Difference for The Journal of the San Juan Islands.
— image credit: Michael D'Abrosca

When I first came to the islands, I lived across the road from Ross and B.J. Miner and next door to Jim and Bea Hitch. These two fine couples guided us as to the ways of the island.

"There's nothin' to do in here in January," said Ross, "except freeze."

They convinced my late wife and I that January was a good month to get away, so we'd go to Mexico and stay at Xijuatenejo to bask in the sun and fish. Sometimes we'd have others join the gang. It was fun, but eventually, like all things, it ended.

I thought of that last weekend, after all the holidays including Epiphany, when Helen and I spent a quiet January Saturday that ran us ragged ... but delightfully so.

First, we went to the Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church for a joint production of the opera "Zanetto" by Pietro Mascagni with highlights from Puccini's "Suor Angelica" using the fantastic talent of the Puget Sound Concert Opera and Bellevue Opera.

Maybe it was the new carpet at the church, or the finely tuned piano, but somehow the acoustics of this program was just as thrilling to me as hearing The Three Tenors — Spanish vocalists Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras and Italian singer Luciano Pavarotti — during the 1990s and early 2000s.

I was shocked that only a couple dozen attended, with their choice of seats in the sanctuary. Everyone was given Italian librettos with English translations, line for line. Instead of the Three Tenors, this was performed by The Three Sopranos: Carla Hildebrand, Sharon Annette Lancaster and Regina Thomas.

Unfamiliar as I was about this opera, the splendid majesty of these great singers both in appearance and talent made every person in that audience feel as if they were being given a command performance by some of the finest voices to be found. Following the libretto, with accompanying music performed beautifully by John Burkhardt, it was not difficult to feel every emotion of the arias.

Lasting from 3 to 5 p.m., with a mere pittance of $15 suggested for donation, it was something anyone who enjoys brilliant music should never miss when they return later this year.

Being a Soroptimist, I had to move on to the Chili Cook-Off at the fairgrounds so we could have something to eat before going to the "Fireside Chat with Island Elders" at the San Juan Island Library in the evening. There was a fair crowd there, as the Rotary, Kiwanis and Soroptimist clubs dished out red-hot bowls of chili and lots of brownies covered with generous dollops of ice cream and chocolate syrup for dessert.

This first-time event, featuring the rock and country western music of Steve Keys and Cecil Demeerleer, was not for profit and was happy to come out even. Winners of the cookoff were Susan Matthews, first; Paradise Cafe, second; and Mike Close, third. Nine entered. Lopez Larry donated the ice cream.

We wondered, though, if the economy was keeping everyone at home these days and wondered if anyone would be at the library. Not to worry.

When we arrived at the library for the "Fireside Chat with Island Elders," it was standing-room only as we squeezed in to the back of the room. David Bentley, a good friend in need, saw me dropping my notebook and camera as I tried to cover this jam-packed room photographically and gave me his chair.

The event was co-sponsored by the San Juan Historical Society and Museum.

Mike Vouri, National Park historian, who is debuting his book on Friday Harbor history to concur with our Centennial Celebration, was moderator. He had a host of elders sitting at the front, including Mary Jane Anderson, Bucky Buchanan, Jim Cahail, Marlene Crosby, Candy Dossett, Roy Franklin, Lynette Guard, Nourdine Jensen, Richard Lawson, Margaret McRae, Al Nash, Betty Nash, and Al Sundstrom. I'm sure there were many others I missed from my backyard view, but fortunately, the screen Vouri used was ample.

Some 161 people attended.

Vouri would show a slide and tell what he knew about it and, about half the time, when he asked the audience if they had any memories of a particular scene, one of the elders would get the microphone and have everyone laughing as they told their memory of events at the Moose Hall, the schools, the courthouse.

Examples:

— "I remember that gully by the waterfront, we used to have boxing matches there," said Al Nash. "Did you win, Al?" someone shouted.

— "When somebody tried to skrootch in ahead of the ferry line we'd pull 'em out and make 'em go to the end of the line," said one lady, a former ferry worker.

A lot of the reminiscences came from the audience when Vouri would show pictures of school classes. One man remembered when a particularly mean teacher was shown, that the man had a rubber hose he'd beat you with 10 times when you were late. Kitty Roberts, got a big laugh when they told how they paid 27 cents and 34 cents an hour at the Cannery. "That was good pay. The whole town worked in the Cannery! When the whistle blew because the fleet was in, they all went down and worked all night at times."

Al Nash had the record for remembering who lived where and when regarding houses. At least no one challenged him, except one comment: "You weren't there when they started, were you, Al?"

It was a great time and took 2 1/2 wonderful hours, even getting the names of most every ship in the Mosquito Fleet that was shown. We hope it all gets done again. In the theater, I hope. Maybe we'll all get a seat.

Go with the F.L.O.W. (Ferry Lovers Of Washington)

— Contact Howard Schonberger at 378-5696 or hschonberger@sanjuanjournal.com

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