Morey Skaret, third from left in middle row, poses with classmates at his one-room schoolhouse on the Canadian prairie. Most of the students were the children of German and Norwegian immigrants.
Good for 20,000 miles!
Conversations with Morey Skaret
This is the fifth in a series of articles on longtime Fauntleroy resident Morey Skaret, who came to West Seattle in 1923 as a wiry, wide-eyed 10-year-old, fresh off the Canadian prairie.
As a transplant from “the sticks” of Canada, Morey Skaret wasted little time seizing the educational, economic and social opportunities awaiting him in his new land. He enrolled in Jefferson Elementary School, and was a member of its last class to include eighth grade students. “In 1928 they finished James Madison,” he recalls, “where they had the middle school. Before that, you went from the 1st to the 8th grade, in grade school, and then you went directly to high school as a freshman.
“Now, the people that study behavioral patterns,” Morey observes, “say that it was a mistake. The old school—1st to the 8th grade, then to high school—was better. When you sent kids who were just in the 6th grade to junior high, they all tried to act like the older kids in the school. A lot of girls got into trouble, trying to be too lovable and all this, and a lot of people criticize the school department for having the middle school. But I guess they’re not going to change it.
“Now all my kids, I got ’em all through college,” Morey continues. “Cheryl, my oldest daughter, is principal at a Bremerton high school. She was born in that house right behind me; I built that house. She’s like Elsie (Elsie Freeland, Morey’s longtime friend, neighbor and dance partner): she’s a giver; she wants to give. . . .”
Morey peers through a stand of big firs across the gently shifting waters of Fauntleroy Cove. He’s lived at this site for over seventy years, in this house since 1973. His dad helped him build it; paying him back, perhaps, for all Morey did in his youth to help the struggling family stay afloat.
The talk turns to our mutual ties with these waters. “Mark Sears called the other day about a school of fish that were out here,” Elsie says. Mark Sears, longtime caretaker of Colman Pool in Lincoln Park, is the unofficial Keeper of the Cove.
“Oh yes, yes,” Morey says. “There was a school of Orca whales goin’ by. Elsie and I saw the helicopters. . . . Another time I was out there in my Cape Cod dory, and I was out there a little bit farther than the end of the ferry dock. All of a sudden a pod of Orca whales came up between me, in the boat, and my home here, on the beach.
“So I laid down in the boat—I had a camera—and I got a good shot of them right along the water, and up there, there’s my house. I was lucky—I’ve never seen them come in that close again. They chase schools of fish, schools of small herring. We used to have a lot of herring out here, but we don’t anymore.”
Mark Sears called me as well, I remember: one bright spring morning over thirty years ago, when I lived down the street, to say the Orca were passing by. I scurried down to the beach just in time to see one of the monsters rounding Brace Point, not ten feet offshore. It was worth being rousted from bed early on a Saturday morning. . . .
Morey Skaret, meanwhile, had immersed himself in the world of work at a tender age. Having already held several key jobs on the family’s prairie homestead, he was no stranger to the notion of working for a living. One of his first jobs in West Seattle was as a paperboy, where he earned enough money to pay for much-needed dental work, buy clothes and “take the load off my parents. . . .
“High school was quite different than it is now,” he recalls from his Fauntleroy home. “We were so poor that when our shoes wore out, Dad took old car tires and cut the soles out of the side of the tire, which is quite thick and makes a good sole. He’d cut that out and he’d nail it on our shoes for our soles.
“And I wasn’t a bit ashamed of it. I’d sit in one of the classes before the teacher came and say, ‘Now attention, the class has started.’ We’d kid and laugh back and forth, and I’d hold my shoe up and say, ‘Good for twenty thousand miles!’ It didn’t bother me a bit!”
Morey’s longtime friend Elsie Freeland chuckles empathetically, having lived through the same era. Growing up in the relative affluence of the 1960s and ‘70s, I can only imagine how tough it must have been for an immigrant family to make ends meet during the Great Depression. But we both agree that “kids nowadays,” living, as we do, in an age of instant gratification, tend to take a lot of the luxuries they have for granted.
“You know now if I was a young kid I’d be ashamed,” Morey says. “‘The guy’s so poor he’s got old tires for shoes.’ But that was the way it worked. A lot of people had to take special measures.”
Morey worked like the dickens to help his family—who had moved from the West Seattle Junction area to Olympic Heights—keep the wolf from the door. One of his after-school jobs was selling popcorn and hotdogs in the old Sick’s Stadium. “My cry was, ‘Hot Dogs! Hot Dogs! Coney Island Red Hots! A loaf of bread, a pound of meat, and all the mustard you can eat! For one dime, one tenth of a dollar: who wants my C-o-n-e-y I-s-l-a-n-d hot dog?!’
“Then you have a bag, and a guy four seats down in the row, he’d say, ‘Hey, kid: gimme a hot dog!’ ‘Okay, comin’ right up.’ And you’d have a little bag that you put ’em in. Then you give it to the guy here. And he’d pass it to this guy, and he’d pass it to that guy. And he got my dime ready, and he passes it back. And I stand there, and as soon as I get it I stick it in my—I had a little apron on that I carried my different utensils in it. ‘Coney Island red hots!’
“Well that was a wonderful heritage,” Morey recalls fondly. “It was better than any college course you could go through. To live in the era of the Depression, I learned so much. And it affected my personality so strongly. I never could shake it. It was just part of me.”
Morey also “worked the harvests” each summer for his wheat-farming relatives in the upper Midwest and Canada. “When I was sixteen, in high school,” he remembers, “my Grandpa Johnson in North Dakota said, ‘C’mon back, Morey. I’d like to get acquainted with you, and have you work as a harvest man.’ A hired hand, hired man, they called it.”
I don’t know how common this is today—city slickers going back to help their country cousins with the harvest—but I know of at least one West Sider who recently answered the call. Worked harder that week than he had in a whole year, he said; but came away with all kinds of new muscles—and a new appreciation for what it takes to work the land.
An old Dutch proverb states: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” If that’s true, then Morey Skaret must be one of the luckiest men alive, for he has worked hard all his life, and reaped the rewards. But Morey has also been lucky in another key arena: that of love—as we will see next week.
Next week: Streetcar Named Desire
In case you missed any in this series here are some links to previous installments: