Swain’s General Store, Part Two


Perhaps, I spent my most memorable moment at Swain’s when I turned ten, long before I became an employee. Every year we Stanfields made homemade root beer with Old Fashioned Root Beer Soda Mix (gotten at Swain’s, of course-at least in the sixties). We kids picked discarded beer bottles out of garbage cans, and bought new bottle caps because, of course, Birdie Stanfield the Self Sufficient One owned a bottle capper.

While we mixed the root beer, that fragrance of warm, fruity brown liquid filled the house and reminded me of gentle ice cream pillows in an icy mug piled deep with sweet, latte-colored root beer foam. All I wanted to do was jump into a root beer float and do the backstroke.

Mom said we had to let the root beer ripen for a few weeks which, to a little kid felt like a few years. With great reluctance, we capped the beautiful, drinkable nectar into bottles and set them in a dark pantry on the back porch beneath the watchful eye of a dim light bulb for a very long time.

We had plans for that root beer.

When it finally reached its full bloom of flavor, we each grabbed a bottle, snapped off the bottle caps, and set out for Swain’s. And bragging rights.

Oh, the looks we received. We were too cool, parading through the scenic hills and valleys, the aisles of Swain’s, taking deep swigs of root beer from umber beer bottles, checking out rows of Can’t Bust ‘Em jeans, steel-toed boots, and Welch Leather Loop suspenders. Concerned shoppers stopped to stare, looked away, walked again, stopped and turned back with incredulous eyes pulled to the irresistible magnetism of a double take.

We took the evaluation process we could see taking places in their eyes as our cue to leave, so we bought popcorn from a cashier too busy to notice our bottles, and finally burst out of that store with our now empty beer bottles. My brothers and I inhaled deep breaths of pristine air, laughed our heads off. I felt older, smarter; the fine edges of my newfound cockiness blurred ever so slightly by the ittiest aftereffect of guilt.

Ah, Swain’s, as much a part of a Peninsula childhood as log booms, mountain lakes, fishing, and a River called Elwha the color of cat’s eyes rushing to an icy Salish Sea.


Swain’s General Store, since 1957

Have you been to Swain’s? You can see Sasquatch paraphernalia on an end cap, a great selection of camping gear, and some seriously tough clothing built for such a place as this glorious and sometimes punishing Peninsula. Oh, and you might want to try the popcorn, which you will find situated at the front, close to the cash registers.

Swain’s General Store

It’s not that the Olympic Peninsula doesn’t have much to offer a visitor. It does, but I am compelled to ask, have you ever visited the real Port Angeles? Have you experienced the intricacies and possibilities of an iconic place of business with its own internal landscape as vast and varied as the space it inhabits: have you been to a place called Swain’s?


Swain’s General Store “has everything.”

Sure, on the Olympic Peninsula, pristine lakes drop exclamation points beneath tips of craggy crevasses and lap at ragged edges of evergreen bowls in colors too exquisite to name;  just one of their colors impossible to label, all colors unthinkable.  It’s true, rivers the color of cats’ eyes furtively search their banks for silt to shoplift from beneath arthritic roots of black evergreens and umber feet of Madrona trunks clawing and scraping glacial melt that rushes  by from snow-capped peaks, strutting joy down, down turbulent avenues to the depths of the Salish Sea. This piece of land, this Peninsula, nearly an island hanging by threads of ragged inlets like the sleeve ripped from the body of an entire continent, promises astonishment, joy, and unsurpassed beauty, yes. But have you gone to Swain’s and checked out the jutting fishing pole trees and acres of outdoor clothing? Have you seen all the mountainous flavors of Idaho SPUD candy bars, Aplets and Cotlets, and Almond Roca there, or observed rivers of nuts and bolts, galvanized thirty gallon trash can-invaluable for monkey capture-rushing down the main aisle to cash registers, flowing into pickups waiting like handsome steeds in a rain-soaked parking lot?


Olympic Mountains

When I was a kid, I grew up in Port Angeles, the largest city on the Olympic Peninsula, set like a gemstone amid the stunning backdrop of the Olympic Mountains . We lived in a Victorian, five bedroom house right across the alley from Swain’s General Store, on Second Street. We frequented Swain’s every time we had a need, especially when we planned to hold one of our famous yard sales beneath the maple tree, not that we kids were much competition for Swain’s. My brother, Jack, perhaps the most successful businessman of us four kids, paid Little Susie a penny for every paying customer she could find in the neighborhood and bring to the sale. We ran to Swain’s for tag board and markers so we could advertise effectively. Swain’s had everything, after all, from tag board to shoes. Don’t forget the popcorn-ten cents then, twenty-five cents now.

With paper route money I bought my first horse bridle and gleaming saddle in the equestrian aisle, across from sporting goods, where I also bought fishing tackle and a license too, right before I went fishing at Peabody Creek. I even got screws for Dad when he sent me to Swain’s on an errand to the hardware department, deodorant for myself when I began the perspiration of adolescence (Chapter Three of my book Second Street), and slippers for Mom at Christmas. Swain’s existed as our sole go-to place outside of the Tradewell Grocery Store and the garden in the back yard.

It was from Swain’s I stole my first and last package of headbands the colors of a rainbow. I always was a sucker for color; I admit, the beauty of those headbands proved irresistible.  Across the alley I, thief, sprinted, and I hid them in the branches of the pear tree in our side yard, where Mom wouldn’t find them and I could return to get them later. But my experience with Swain’s was about to teach me crime did not pay.

I was wrong about Mom. As a perfectly balanced counterpoint to Swain’s motto, “Swain’s has everything”, it could safely be surmised that “Mom saw everything.” I swear she had eyes in the back of her head, because she saw me hide the headbands. Big mistake on my part, an underestimation the size of a gaping hole in the black earth of my thieving sole. After the bitter sting of a pear switch across my back side, she marched me across the alley to apologize to the lady behind the counter at Swain’s. Mom made me give the headbands back.

When we grew old enough to work, three of us four kids got jobs at Swain’s. I began at the age of fourteen as a Christmas bagger, graduating into a cashier position when I grew old enough. I worked for a total of seven years at Swain’s during Christmas and summer breaks and learned a lot of important lessons like:

  1. The customer is always right
  2. Be polite, no matter how bad you feel.
  3. Start work on time.
  4. Hardware is everyone’s friend.

Swain’s was, still is, a great place to work. Thanks goodness they forgave the headband incident of childhood and gave me a job.

To be continued….



The Rhesus monkey, Macaca Mulatta, inhabits India, northern China and Southeast Asia, as well as parts of Florida (since its introduction there in the early Twentieth Century). It also migrated to parts north, along the west coast of the United States. Recent history reveals the rosebud-faced primate was reportedly seen roaming as far north as Second Street Corridor in the city of Port Angeles, Washington in the Sixties and Seventies. Details of this adaptive creature have been documented in a yet-to-be-published work entitled SECOND STREET. The book is about Second Street, a place near First Street.

In addition to lots of interesting  and questionable facts, the author of SECOND STREET claims the existence of four additional monkeys, supposedly descended from the same familial line and raised on Second Street.

Since Second Street is near First Street, and in the vicinity of Swain’s General Store, it is worth considering whether or not the monkeys shopped at Swain’s General Store. Local wisdom says they may not have actually shopped there, though there was much speculation about where the package of headbands and five Idaho Spud Bars came from.  In addition and furthermore, it doubtful the monkeys were seen at Swain’s at all. The store’s motto, “Swain’s Has Everything” proved untrue for primates: they had no bananas.


Unfortunately, Squeeko was fatter than the Rhesus shown above, due to his excessive buckwheat pancake consumption..

. The book SECOND STREET contains mostly factual information.

It should also be noted the monkey’s diet includes insects, fruit, vegetables, mice, rats and, when seasonally available, very young children.



Still Dancing Contra

So Saturday Night there was another contra dance at the Black Diamond Hall. Once again, I found myself travelling up the dark, mountain road in the rain, but this time I was not nervous. By the time I got the only leftover parking and got out of the car, I could hear fiddle music weaving through the rain, beckoning me inside. Sure enough, after I walked in and paid my eight bucks, I saw Joanne had, indeed, talked Bob into coming and there they were, over on the other side, the sheep farmer and the workman, dancing away.

Immediately, a man came through the crowd and asked me to be his partner. We danced, he the far more experienced one. He seemed very nice, although as the next half hour progressed I noticed his eyes became a little too fixated on me, and I felt myself becoming more interesting than I thought I was, under the intensity of his gaze. We danced a couple dances and, breathless, I excused myself,  told him I would be back but that I needed a drink. Hey, this dancing is exhausting! I was sweating! But you know, I sensed he was immediately impatient with my need, because he followed me into the kitchen and grabbed the sleeve of my shirt and said “Come on, hurry! The music started.”

Well, I don’t know about you, but I have this personal space thing and he got into mine before I could say “pushy.” I said to him, “Not until I finish.” He pasted a smile on his face and pretended he enjoyed learning patience for the first time. It was a look I had seen before and did not like. It made me feel stressed, hurried, and believe it or not, rude. But I was not the rude one here, he was. When guilt issues forth from the unwarranted expectations of another, I want to pay attention to the source.

Finally quenched, I went back out to the dance floor with him. I do not know this guy for more than a half hour and he’s already revealing his pushiness?  I thought, then thought again, How considerate. In my book, Buttwheat, you get one free pass but you don’t get two.” So I mentally issued a free pass and we danced again and chatted about this and that until I asked him what line of work he was in. He said, “I was a potter for seventeen years.” Klunk. He plopped that one right out on the dance floor without flushing. I had questions I did not ask. Why did he stop pottering? How long ago did he stop? Was he not serious? Perhaps he dabbled more than worked, I could not know. So I said,”Oh, wow, that sounds interesting,” and tried to think what he might possibly do now for work. Where might a potter go from a position of pottering? “So, what do you do now?” I asked.

“Oh, for the past several years I have studied railroad law. Did you know Congress doesn’t know much about Railroad laws?” He asked, not knowing this was shaping up to be something about which to blog.

“You don’t say.” I said, trying to think on my feet how the heck I’d be able to come up with a  thoughtful question that would sound more intrigued than I actually was. I wanted to be polite after all. So I said, “I believe it’s true that Congress doesn’t know a lot about several things.” It was a joke. He looked at me blankly. I felt pressure to fill the newest lapse in the conversation with something both clever and kind. Hurry..hurry…dig deep now… OK, I had one! “Well, now, how railroad law intersects with Congress certainly is a niche occupation, isn’t it?” I asked and continued, “I imagine studying railroad law must take up so awfully much of your time. How very tiresome it must make you. Hmm, not doing so well in the kind thoughts segment for the evening…

He said, “You seem very interested in this topic. Most people are not, when I talk to them about railroad law. You are interested, right?” He asked.

“Actually no, I am not interested in it at all. It bores me to death, I am sorry to say,” I said and was glad when he laughed at my frankness. At least he was a good sport.

“Say, why don’t you come with me to the Valentine’s Day Dance down at the Sequim Prairie Grange this weekend?” There it was. The asking of the date I had known was coming. “Come be my date. It’ll be fun!” There it was again.

“I don’t know, but hey, will we get to talk about the cool and interesting railroad laws if I go with you?” I did not ask him. Instead I thought about how much I cherished my brother, David, and his excellent wife, Kathy in that very moment, in that very place, up on Black Diamond Road. “Oh, unfortunately, it will be impossible for me to go because my brother and his wife are coming over that weekend.” I put on my best frowny face in the hopes that he would be completely deterred. Instead, he said, “Your brother and wife can come too. Do you think they would want to dance with hillbillies?”

Wait. I’m a hillbilly now? Uh, OK, Fine with that. Don’t care. “The plans are not firmed up yet. All I know is that they are coming,” I said in a sure tone.

After that, we danced one more set. Then he said he was going to get himself another dance partner. I didn’t blame him. I don’t do pushy. Not anymore.


Learning to Dance

Things We Learn At Dance Lessons


The Tuesday evening West Coast Swing dance was over. We successfully completed number 4 out of 5 beginner classes. A new friend, Joanne, spoke as we put on hats and coats.”There is another Contra Dance this Saturday night up Black Diamond Road. You goin’? Asked Joanne.

“I am going. I had so much fun at the last one,” I replied. “You going?”

“Yes I am! Want to meet up at the old Fairview school house and we can carpool to black Diamond?” Asked Joanne, as we walked off the dance floor at the end of the lesson.

“Sure!” I said. “What about Bob?”

She answered as we both turned to look at him, standing a short distance away. “I’m trying to convince him but he’s not sure. There may be some others who want to go too.” She continued, “Contra is so much easier than Swing. I’ve been doing Contra for thirty years and I know both genders, so it’s easy to me. With Contra, it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake or not. It’s just a lot of fun.” I agreed with her, and took a mental note of her easy manner. I looked at Bob again. He seemed calm and shy and sweet and her relaxed vibe might just succeed convince him to go to Contra and live a little on the wild side, I thought.

She said, “I’ll work on Bob for Saturday’s Contra.” She gave me her card and I agreed to call her to confirm our plans. I glanced down and immediately liked the card. I knew Joanne owned a pet pig and that she ran a home-based business but I had no idea she was so diversified. The card read: Hole-in-the-Fence Farm. Grass Fed Lamb and Mutton, Pastured Chickens & Eggs, Icelandic & Wensleydale Fleece, Roving & Yarn. Antibiotic, Hormone & Drug Free.

Wait. I understood all of it except one thing. Roving? As in, “I’ll go a-roving no more”? As in the really old capstan sea chanty about the sailor and the Amsterdam maid whose eyes and perhaps other parts did plenty a-roving of her own? Or did it have something to do with a-roving migration patterns of Icelandic and Wensleydale sheep? Wait. Sheep don’t go a-migratin’. Right. Or, does yarn go a-roving? I was a-gettin’ close. Hmm, I resolved to look it up when I got home. When I drove out of the dark, misty parking lot, I turned on the windshield wipers so I could see better, and noticed Joanne and Bob, who stood, a-chatting in the fog. No doubt she was working on him to come to the Contra Dance Saturday night. I craned my neck and looked upward through the swipes on my windshield and saw a full moon, whose silver circle was frizzy with moisture as it began it’s roving from one blue edge of night to the other. I was at peace.

When I got home, I looked up “roving” in the dictionary. It is wool run through a carding machine, kind of like messy hair being brushed for the first time. After the carding process, the fibers mostly go the same direction, but a few go contrary to the general flow of the yarn, which produces a fuzzy and soft texture. I realized life is like that kind of yarn sometimes, and I hoped the end result would be something interesting, soft, and durable. Oh, the things I learn at dance lessons.

Dance Your Way To Womanhood



The petite Contra Dance caller, Lindsay Dono, took command of the dance floor at the Grange Hall.

“There seem to be more women than men tonight, so some women will have to be pretend men,” she said. “Please decide with your partner,” she continued, “that is, if you are a two women team, which of you will be the man. The gal who chooses to dance the guy’s role will then receive a necktie.”

Great, I thought. Thanks a lot, Lindsey Dono! It’ll be just my luck to be cast in a man’s role tonight. Please don’t make me, please!

Zoe, my new friend and dance partner turned to me and asked, “Who do you want to be, a guy or a gal?” She did not care-after all, she was a seasoned Contra Dancer.

I lied and said, “Oh, I really don’t care.” But I did care, I cared very much! Keep in mind that this was not a big deal up here at Black Diamond Grange Hall. The point of the evening was to have fun and dance the cold, winter night away. No one gave a fig what role you played, man or woman.

“OK, then you be the man and I’ll be the woman,” she said. Gulp, I gulped twice.

“Fine,” I said, but my word did not feel fine. My increased discomfort temporarily sabotaged my mind with thoughts of: I want to find out who the real me is, and, I know for sure I’m not a man, and, I have never been comfortable with role playing, and, I don’t even know how that works, and, I just got done being married to a gay guy for twenty six years and I sure as heck don’t want to be a man, and, I want to dance with a real man! What the heck?

But it was too late for that now. The die was cast. I was given the opportunity to state my preference and I did not take it. What was wrong with me that I was unable to say what I wanted? I felt like Homer Simpson. Doh!

So we danced. We switched partners and danced again and it was a blast. It did not matter one fig that I was the “guy” and after a few minutes I did not care. What mattered was, after getting the hang of the moves, there was a connection with others-eye contact, manners, freedom of movement. Freedom of movement that is, until a man asked me to dance with him.

“Sure,” I said, “but I am used to the guy role.”

“No problem,” he said.” You can switch to a woman and it will be all right.” I believed him because I am a trusting soul and, as it turned out, it was not altogether all right, due to the fact that I got a little “contra” with my “dance.”,  He was patient, as were the others on the dance floor. Luckily, they survived.

Needing a break and some water, I went to the kitchen for a drink and ran into Zoe.

“How are you doing?” She asked.

“Pretty well,” I said, “except I had to switch to a woman and I am terrible at it!”

“Aw, don’t worry,” she said. “Here’s the thing: when you find a man who is really good at being a man, he’ll teach you how to be a woman.”

Black Diamond Road


Because I do better with a plan, I studied the map of Black Diamond Road online beforehand so I wouldn’t get lost. I drove the car to a higher elevation, deep into the bowels of a dark mountain.”Hmm, let’s see,” I said to the poor visibility.There was a life lesson here and I wasn’t going to miss it.

This curvy road, like the relational roads of our various lives, was slick, unlit, misty. A little gleam would have been helpful here. I have found found that, at certain points along the way, my relational road is like the Black Diamond. Unless someone-a parent, a friend, a guide, or if they fail, a paid worker-goes to the trouble of installing a dependable light and actually switches the beam to “on”, I have great difficulty finding my way. Unless, that is, I am able to turn on my inner light…I know it’s in there. Now, if I can just find the switch…” At about that time I considered turning my paid-off car around in the dark because I thought to have missed the place,

I turned on my inner light and reasoned, “It has to be here somewhere. I’m not giving up now.”  I stopped in the middle of the wet road and peered through the rainy windshield. Was this it? Off to the right stood a sign, and on it were the words, “Black Diamond Community Hall.” I could barely make it out for all the cars.


Here in the desolate dark, outside this smallish brown building were parked-and I exaggerate, but work with me here-five thousand six hundred and ninety two vehicles. Mine was the five thousand six hundred and ninety third. I could see that I would have to get creative with the parking.

I walked in, paid my $8, and sat along the chair-lined perimeter of the room. The floors were made of wood, the grain of which led the eye to the front where the musicians stood at the ready on a small stage. The place was packed with people of all ages, shapes, and sizes, and more were still streaming into the hall.

I sat alone and felt awkward. I can do this, right? Until very recently, I was a professional musician in Michigan, a classical pianist and seasoned vocalist, a teacher, a mentor to many. I enjoyed the company of fascinating people, people I loved who loved me back. I ran a successful  music studio, performed extensively in stateside and in Europe with the Detroit Concert Choir. My opera buddy, Patricia, and I had season tickets to the Michigan Opera Theater. I was blessed with two bright, successful children. I enjoyed living inside a custom home with a landscaped yard, and an attached garage.There was one thing, though. The husband was detached.

Wait. The last sentence colored everything else that went before. In truth, those words should have been written first, but sometimes we don’t realize a thing like that until it’s been realized last. This detachment proved, over time, to darken all else that went on inside the house with the attached garage, and it is traceable from the beginning to the end. If I had only had some light then. And here I sat, all singular-like and unknown, unsure, in a new place. In reality, though, I had to admit my current sitch at the Black Diamond Grange Hall was much like the marriage-and I use the term loosely-relationship I left.

“Hi, I’m Zoe!” A young woman extended her hand. “Is this your first night?” My negative thoughts were ejected right out of the cockpit of my mind.

“Yes, why, yes, it is, Zoe.” And I introduced myself to her.

“Would you like to be my partner tonight?” This was a lucky stroke. What was I supposed to say? “Uh, no, thanks, I enjoy sitting alone on the sidelines?”

“Absolutely!” I said. “I have no clue what I’m doing.”

“No worries,” she said. “I’ll be your partner and I’ll help you. It’s easy and fun. You can do it!”

Well, shoot dang, maybe I could, with that kind of encouragement!