Saturday, July 3, 2021


Spontaneous events that trigger random memories have always fascinated me. Case in point: Back in 2012 it’s an unusually warm and sunny mid October day at the Seattle Center. My long time friend Dave Hoskin and I are attending the International Antiquarian Book Fair. 

For over a decade we looked forward to this event every year. I totally enjoyed these days wandering from booth to booth, the treasure hunt for old books by authors known or not, and the conversations with vendors and fellow attendees. Afterwards we’d venture out for a walk to share our discoveries and encounters over a bite to eat and a beverage. This afternoon we’re on Queen Anne Avenue and I look up at the Uptown Theater’s marquee.

KEEP THE LIGHTS ON”, directed by Ira Sachs. My thoughts have nothing to do with the film, but the title triggered a ‘Way Back Machine’ memory and it transports me back to 1960.

I’m 10 and my brother Steve is 9. The sun is going down fast and early as October sunsets do, even on a nice day. We’re about to head out the door for Grandma’s from our home in Earlington. Mom and Dad are out, I don’t remember why, and we’re following the plan when the phone rings. It’s Grandma, “Now you boys be careful out there and get here as quick as you can. I worry about you two!”

Translation: Those of us kids here in the 1950s and 60s who had grandparents from the ‘Old Country’ (and almost all of us did) often heard these lovely phrases in a wide variety of broken English tonalities. They simply meant “be safe, I love you.”

We live just a mile from Grandma and Grandpa’s house on Tobin Ave behind Renton High School. It’ll only take us a few minutes to get there on our bikes. Grandma continues, “I’ll see you two when you get here. It’s dark out so I’ll ‘KEEP THE LIGHTS ON’ so you don’t get lost. Now watch out for cars and I’ll be looking for you!”

“Okay Grams, don’t you worry! We’re on our way! Love you and we’ll see you in a few!” 

Daisy, our cocker spaniel having completed her backyard pee and poop is now safely in the house with freshwater and a few biscuits. We scramble out the back door to grab our bikes from the garage and like warriors on a mystical autumn eve adventure (cue soundtrack: Rebel Rouser, Duane Eddy) we’re riding full tilt down the dark streets of Earlington, our neighborhood, full of anticipation for the dinner we know awaits. 

At Button’s Animal Hospital we bolt across the four lanes of Sunset Boulevard. It’s all downhill now so we’re flying past Langston Road and the Triple XXX Drive-In to Rainier Ave and downtown. As we cut north through the lot (before Safeway was there) to the school field, it’s pitch black and hard to see when suddenly this humongous sphere of intense bright light appears off in the distance over Tobin.

 “Oh My God, Grandma has the whole neighborhood lit up!” 

Neither Steve nor I can stop laughing as we cross the high school parking lot. “Oh Grandma! You have every light in the house on!” Every window shade is up, all curtains and drapes pulled wide open, even the garage lights out back are on!

About 100 yards out I’m thinking, “No way we're gonna get lost tonight Grandma!” As we’re coming down the last stretch we can see her pacing the front porch. She’s peering into the darkness with intense determination for signs of our arrival. 

Like sayings go, “It was so bright you could have seen it from space!”, but then I recollect it predates the NASA Mercury Program. That won’t be possible until at least February 20, 1962 when John Glenn becomes our first astronaut to orbit the Earth. 

Bless you Grandma, I’m so eternally grateful. Every kid deserves the love of a bright light to guide them in the night. It’s now a cherished memory from a guy getting older who remembers that ‘once upon a time’ there were two young boys in Renton living the dream in 1960. 

Dinner by the way (as always at Grandma’s) was absolutely wonderful!

(The Seattle International Antiquarian Book Fair and the (SIFF) Uptown Theater Marquee, October 14, 2012. Grandma Pauline's photo is a scan of a Polaroid photo (circa) 1968.)

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