November 2nd…“TELL US ABOUT THE FIRST DATE YOU HAD WITH OUR MOTHER.”
“Ohhh, Elliott, if I were 30 years younger, I’d be after you!!!” The twinkle in “Grandma” Nell’s eyes matched the demure way she cocked her head of perfectly coiffured silver hair as she shared her happy heart with me. Though Nell Thacker held no bloodline connection to our clan, her genuinely kind soul and pleasant ways about her were a magnetic pull that eventually brought me to call her “Grandma”. This dear lady, of quiet elegance, and I got along famously as we’d visit or enjoy a light lunch together there in her home on what was then called Hawthorne Street in Battle Ground, Washington. It was roughly 1974 and with her grandsons, Greg and Jeff, in college or busy, I had been approached to work for her, and her lovely daughter, Mary Ann Peck, as a yardman. Seeing that our Noorlun home was just across the street, all I had to do was saunter across the cul de sac each week to see that Nell’s lawn was mowed, flower beds were kept clean and perform other landscape related tasks like planting trees or flowers. It was convenient for me to help Nell and Mary Ann out as a yardman, seeing that my regular job with the Battle Ground School District was as a Swing Shift Floor Scrubber. That left my daylight hours available to make an extra dollar this way. But, more importantly, I had the joy of kinship with this delightful woman who was the essence of gentility and kindness in her dealings with me.
Likely through a neighborhood Bible Study, Nell Thacker had become sweetly acquainted with Mrs. Thelma Cass and family who lived just three houses, or so, to the west of the Peck/Thacker home. It was only natural, as two proud matriarchs, that Mrs. Cass and Mrs. Thacker likely had many a happy occasion of discussing the love for their respective families and what each were accomplishing in life at that time. Mr. and Mrs. Cass had two daughters and two sons. The eldest daughter was named Shirley and was a mere year and nine months younger than myself.
Having always had an affinity towards respecting and enjoying “The Greatest Generation”, I delightfully discovered not only a neighbor in “Grandma” Thacker, but a kindred spirit on so many topics. On more than a few occasions, I was Nell’s invited guest to have a bite of lunch with her while we discussed a myriad of issues and nostalgic trips down memory lane. Nell knew that I was not dating or courting any young ladies at the time, so pretty soon, she garnered the courage to begin suggesting that I enquire regarding a “date” with Miss Cass.
As the weeks passed into months, “Grandma” Nell would put in a “plug”, like any good Matchmaker, that I should take that cute Shirley Cass out on a get acquainted excursion somewhere together. In gentle retort, I would come up with excuses why Shirley wouldn’t be interested in little old me. “Well, “Grandma”, Shirley will likely want to date and marry a PK (preacher’s kid) someday, seeing how every time the door is open at Battle Ground Baptist Church, she and her family jump in that big Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station-wagon and head down there.”
It was mid-May of 1975, while working in her yard one day, that “Matchmaker Nell” snuck up on me, in a sense, while we were chatting at her doorway. “You know, Elliott, if you don’t call that nice Shirley Cass up for a date soon……..I WILL!!!” Of course, her words were laced with tenderness and powered by her loving and well-intentioned heart. “O.K., O.K., “Grandma”….I’ll call her tonight while I’m on my lunch break at my Floor Scrubber’s job at Chief Umtuch Primary School.”
My station of trepidation that evening, was sitting behind the secretary’s desk at Chief Umtuch Primary School (since torn down and a Middle School now sits in its place) in Battle Ground, Washington. With the school’s location at the very end of that town’s boulevard, I had a perfect view down the length of Hawthorne Street from the school secretary’s desk. Thanks to the street lights dotting each side of that quaint length of neighborhood, I was sure I could see the Cass house in the distance. With mustered courage, and the phone book flopped open to the “C” section, I found and dialed the Cass family’s phone number.
The reserved, yet friendly voice of Mrs. Cass picked up my call. Shirley was summoned to the phone and greeted me kindly. Even though I was a nimble 21 year old “buck”, at the time, you’d think I was a “bull in a china shop” the way I stumbled all over my tongue and words that evening. From a distance, I had always been impressed with this lovely young lady who’s long, auburn hair was like a regal mane of beauty as it flowed almost to the small of her back. It was only recently that I had seen that she’d had those long tresses cut and now sported a “bobbed” short hair style. Amazingly, Shirley accepted my invitation and our “date” was set for June 1st, 1975.
Unbeknownst to me, during our chat that evening, on the phone, I learned that Shirley and her family had recently moved to a new home just north of our town. Sunday, June 1st 1975 crested as a perfect day in every way. I found the Cass family’s new country home and with customary greetings to her parents and family accomplished, Shirley and I pointed that 350 cubic inch Malibu chariot in the direction of the gorgeous Oregon Coastline.
With the Malibu’s throaty mufflers purring plenty of power, we made our way up the Interstate 5 freeway to Longview, Washington. After crossing the sky-high Longview Bridge from Washington State into Oregon, the Columbia river teased us with its views as we paralleled it on our way to the Coast of Oregon and some fun.
Through our conversations that day, both Shirley and myself realized that we two had many similarities to the early American explorers Lewis and Clark. The Cass family, like Lewis and Clark, had traveled to a “new land” from Montana, just months before my family had traveled to the same “new land” and explored our way from Minnesota. It was amazing how both of our families had found the same destination of the same town and even took up residence on the same street.
From the Fort Clatsop National Memorial Park, we made aim to the fun coastal resort town of Seaside, Oregon. My lady friend, Shirley, and I enjoyed everything from playing arcade games, eating till we about busted a gut, hunted through unending souvenir shops and drank in the sunshine that could sometimes be fleeting on the Oregon Coast. Venturing out onto the warm sands of the Pacific Ocean’s shoreline, we could see, in the distance, Tillamook Rock Lighthouse that, since 1881, still stood solidly upon its basalt rock foundation fully a mile off of the coastline.
With the June sun beginning to acquiesce to the ending of a perfect day, that yellow orb was being pulled down into the misty waves of the distant Pacific Ocean’s horizon. The time had come to slide ourselves onto the bench seat of that Malibu and make our way back inland to Battle Ground town and our respective homes. We ended that first date with a handshake that night, but a spark had been lit by our Matchmaker Supreme (Nell Thacker) and on July 10th of 1976, “Grandma” Nell was a very special guest at the wedding of Shirley Jo Cass/Noorlun and this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.