Chapter Three: The Half-Life of Pie
Patricia Campbell first noticed “Jack” in Study Hall at West Seattle High School. (Which is just two blocks north of West Side Presbyterian Church on California Avenue in West Seattle, also a similar distance from both their houses, a few blocks east.) John was talking with another student, maybe a girl, about his Christian faith. "I sort of listened in on the conversation, and was impressed that he would share his faith." As a new Christian herself, and either a freshman or sophomore, "I was kind of shy, I didn't have the nerve to go up and talk with him."
They began to get to know one another at West Side, where the young people’s group “did everything together,” and where it turned out Jack also had a mischievous streak:
"The girls at West Side had a slumber party. Jack and some of his friends put some cats in a bag (put them in the room), and they went out and went flying all over the place. The girls went out the door screaming their heads off. The host was just furious."
What was Gloria’s first impression of Mom? "So pretty and so vivacious and so much fun to talk to. Your Mom just knew how to win (Edith's) heart." Being out of town, Stan was not too aware of John's social life, though he knew he dated Margaret Macklevein. His early impression of Patricia? "She was nice and she was pretty.”
Pat learned to speak up about her faith, which by her senior year led to one of her most enduring friendships, and one of West Side’s most faithful families.
West Side had sponsored a boat trip. Pat came with a date, not yet John. But when the boat broke down, and drifted until 3 AM, she ended up talking for a long time with a younger girl named Connie, who was going to a church that had already developed a questionable reputation among evangelicals, Fauntleroy Church. “Your Mom ended up sitting with me a long time and talking to me about the Lord,” Connie (now Burke) recalls. What encouraged Connie was Pat’s “inclusive attitude.” Studying nursing and then sociology at the University of Washington, Connie would later be distressed at the anti-Christian tone of some of her professors, but was encouraged to find welcome in the “Calvin Club” at the University Presbyterian Church.
The pastor at West Side was the Reverend Charles Hoffmeister, a charismatic man who drew young baby-boom couples by the hundreds. Ron Rice, who recalls that his father built a boat for Hoffmeister and a fellow cleric, said “People really loved him because he was very outgoing and personable and he really built the church. The late 40 and 50s was a time when everyone was going to church.” In 1957, not long after John and Pat married, however, he left for a position in Merced, California:
"We loved that man. He was very kind to the young people. He left when I was pregnant with our first baby, and we just felt terrible. We wanted him to stick around and see the baby." (Patricia Marshall)
After marrying, for several months the young couple lived in a small apartment across California Avenue from West Side. This was convenient in some ways, inconvenient in others. On the one hand, the location allowed young people from the church to drop by after church. On the other hand, their visits could threaten the prospects of vulnerable young peach pies. This remained one of Pat’s favorite stories, one I don’t recall her husband contradicting:
"I made a peach pie one afternoon. I asked (our friends) to have coffee and went to look for the pie but couldn't find it. I had cookies in the cupboard so I served cookies and coffee. Afterwards I said to Dad, 'I'm sure I made a peach pie, I can't figure out where it is!’ Dad very sheepishly opened the bathroom door and took the pie out of the bathroom towel cupboard."
Connie recalls one occasion on which Pat also chose her new husband over her close friend:
“I was a little disappointed that your Mom didn’t come to our wedding. But the reason (she gave) was because . . . ‘Since it’s his first birthday (since we married) I think I’d better spend it with him . . . ‘“
But Connie attended Jack and Pat’s wedding, and therefore had the chance to hear some second thoughts. Pat took her friend into the women’s room and admitted confidentially, “Connie, I sure hope I’ve done the right thing.” But she called shortly after the honeymoon and declared, “Connie, I sure did the right thing. He’s such a wonderful man.” That opinion would not be altered, on either side, by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, over the next 57 years.
Pat’s mother, though, asked her, “Well, now you’re getting married. Should I marry Burt?” She was a little indecisive, too,” Connie notes.
West Side was one of the bases for a network of friends with young children, who would often also meet at the summer home of Ken and Claudia Cheadle. Among John and Pat’s closest friends throughout their lives were Jack and Marcia Chesterfield. Claudia recalls one special evening at her summer home when “everyone was praying for Jack Chesterfield,” who alone of the group of friends was not yet a Christian. Earl Mortlock, the youth pastor at West Side, talked with Jack and asked, “How come you can’t believe?” Jack responded, “I don’t have enough faith.” “Do you have enough faith for this little grain of sand?” Bending down to the beach. “Well, yeah, I guess I do.”
Jack Chesterfield was a quiet man. But next morning he stood up and started to talk about his new faith. “Everyone came unglued, (we all) started to sing, ‘There’s a New Name Written Down in Glory,” recalls Claudia.
Jack and Pat helped with fifth and sixth graders for "Christian Endevour." One Halloween, sixty-five kids showed up at church, several times the expected number, and haunted the house like a tribe of unschooled poltergeists. They knocked over a coat rack for a group of older people meeting downstairs, ran all over the church and outside. The youth director came by to say hello, "Took one look at the situation and turned around and left." John and Pat must have wondered, at this point, how large a family they really wanted.
But soon they located a piece of property that could accommodate more than the baby that was already on the way: a small house on a beautiful 80 by 100 foot lot a block from Puget Sound, at the bottom of one of Seattle's tree-covered ridges that run north-south, the remnants of moraines from the glaciers that scooped out Puget Sound. (Now they are called Green Belts, but in those days they were recognized, mercifully, as "woods" that children could explore, without worrying about being environmentally correct, and could people with as many Boogey Men, hippies, ware-wolves, and assorted other monsters as imagination desired.) It was on a “dead end” street, which meant that children could play baseball in the street without worrying too much about traffic, and wage neighborhood warfare from lot to woods. Each house had their own character, since the neighborhood had evolved rather than being planned, and everything in the city was within reach, but it was also quiet and bordered by woods.
It was the yard that first caught Patricia's eye. It had three big apple trees and plenty of room to run. "We were expecting Laurel and it was such a nice neighborhood. We had the woods and the water."
Prospects west proved even better for young children. There was a vacant lot neighborhood children could scramble to, to reach the beach, and a strip of grass a block north with a concrete bulkhead. One had to know where to grasp the rusted iron railing, and where to put one's foot, to get down to the beach, one of the first tricks neighborhood children would learn. Or one could run along the bulkhead in November, and dodge waves as they splashed spray towards Beach Drive. The beach itself was bewitched by the moon, now shrinking to pebbles and muscle shells and flecks of rounded glass as waves washed in and sucked them out, now expanding into a hundred yards of crawling muck towards the sentinel Olympics across the water. This was the place to go in summer. One could dig twenty or thirty fat butter clams with bare hands, if one didn't mind fighting rocks and the smell of muck, or that clams seldom fit into Mom's culinary plans. Here all four children would learn about nature, wade through eel grass after dungeness crabs (never quite bit enough to eat), pull up rocks and watch baby crabs scurry away, sea anemones withdraw into their colored kingdoms of flesh, fish or eels flap, or orange sea cucumbers pull in their crowns and writhe disconsolately.
The house itself was small, but Pat had married a carpenter. "It was pretty cozy and it did have a fireplace."
Ron Burke tells how he was dragged into John Marshall’s construction schemes. Ron and Connie had taken her younger brother to see Cecille B. Demille’s 1956 blockbuster, The Ten Commandments, with Charlton Heston. Coming out of the theatre, they met Pat. “One thing or the other, we ended up down at your house down on Angeline.” Ron helped John repair a water line, then drew up plans for adding an addition upstairs, a big kitchen (at least it seemed big to me), a dining room, and the living room, with big picture widows looking out on the poplars and Puget Sound in the distance.
“It was quite complicated trying to work around that old house,” Ron recalls. Remodel jobs, as several Marshalls would come to appreciate, can be dicey: “The husband wants one thing, the wife wants another, and they get mad and blame the carpenter, who then blames the architect.” He doesn’t say so, but this may have been a problem on Angeline: in any case, Ron remarked on how smoothly designing Ron and Phyllis’ house proved, with both knowing exactly what they wanted and could afford.
Whether they had seen the movie late, or Ron was telescoping the Marshall-Burke family relationship a bit, Ron clearly recalls a little Laurie sitting on the steps to the new addition, eating a hamburger.
Ken Cheadle also seems to have worked on the addition. In any case, after the roof of the old house had been taken down, late autumn rains were falling, and a doctor advised the Marshalls to find a more healthy place for their children to stay during construction. That holiday home turned out to be the Cheadle home, where they stayed for a month over Christmas. Claudia recalls Laurie’s delight at finding a big stuffed bear under the Christmas tree, which she referred to as her “Grandma Marshall Bear.” (An honor her grandmother did not much appreciate, but that seemed to fit.)
The relationship between a contractor and his customers can be as clumsy and as tangled as a dance. A builder is like any other professional, loath to cede authority to amateurs, or even to other pros with different (and therefore misguided) ideas. Creation involves conceptualization of a vision that one does not easily part with.
Certainly, John Marshall was “intense about the work,” as his youngest son, who worked with him longest, recalls. He preferred building new homes on speculation, which allowed him to plan and execute the entire project, since he “didn’t like customers hanging over his shoulder.” He would even stall finalizing deals, Peter notes, because “he wasn’t going to allow them to pick purple carpet.” This phobia had some basis in reality, when a customer demanded off-beat customizing, then the deal fell through, and John was stuck trying to sell an oddly apportioned home. But just as he always drove when his wife was in the car, John also liked to be in the driver’s seat when he was building a house. Perhaps it was in his case as Mother Dimble says in C. S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength: “Men can’t help in a job, you know. They can be induced to do it: not to help while you’re doing it. At least, it makes them grumpy.”
Living on Alki, Ron and Connie Burke would walk down to Angeline on occasion, or the Marshalls would bring a chicken dinner with corn on the cob to share. Connie remembers little Laurie, too: “She would let out these squeals,” with a “mischievous look in her eye that she has never lost since.”
Such as it was, the little house on the big lot had a history, was one product in fact of a sort of asexual reproduction. Its shell, along with that of its neighbor -- which would be inhabited by the Marshall's long-time friends, the Hallberg family -- were originally part of a single bunker house, a wanagan, used to house loggers, that could be floated from one logging site to the next. The couple that owned the house, split up, and split their house along with their marriage. Having been separated, the two houses grew independently, into shapes that no longer resembled one another, like a fruitful church split.
"Jack and Pat" (as the couple were usually called by relatives) borrowed two thousand dollars from Pat’s mother to make a down-payment on the property, a sum she worried about repaying. it would not be the last such worry.
Laurel recalls what she learned from her Dad in those early years:
“From the time I was a little girl, he read to me, listened to my dreams and hopes, helped me learn to read, showed me rocks and plants, discussed politics, sang songs, told stories and shared his love of God. I can still hear the sound of his pick-up truck rumbling down Jacobsen Road after work, and racing my brother Steve down the alley; waiting for dad to stop and then jumping on the sideboards for the ride home. Though he worked long hours, he was available to us when he got home. In first grade, I remember my dad helping me learn phonics at the dining room table. At the end of that year, even though we didn’t have much money, he wanted to encourage me for working hard. Dad took me to a dress shop in West Seattle and waited patiently, for me to choose any dress I wanted – of course it was yellow.
“When I woke up in the morning, I saw my parents reading their bibles and sipping coffee. After dinner for many years, Dad read the Bible aloud, had family devotions, and then read literature. While dramatically reading Pilgrim’s Progress, describing Christian’s hopes and travails as he struggled through the Slough of Despond towards the Celestial City, my brothers slipped bits of unwanted food to the dog under the table or made faces at each other while my mom unwittingly undermined his efforts by laughing at these antics. Envisioning images of a man reaching out his hand to pull Pilgrim out of the miry slough settled in my mind not only as an early literary vision of human frailty, but as a vision of human interdependence and the reality of spiritual struggle as we seek God.”
John would refer to his “crumby little kids” with a big smile, Connie recalls, and “They just take it like a compliment.”
Friends, said C. S. Lewis, are not like lovers, who stare into one another's eyes. Friends stand side-by-side, exploring common interests. John and Pat were lovers and the closest of friends as well, and so did a great deal of both. But John understood that if you want friends, have fun with your kids, doing the things that delight you, and then they will grow up to love those things, and you will have friendships "on the house," not figuratively speaking of casinos as houses, but on the real house, the ones he built with rebar and a caulking gun. I doubt John planned this consciously, as his second son may have done. But many of my loves and curiosities grew up naturally, from seeing what Dad was doing, and wanting to do it, too.
John would almost always grow a garden, when he had time, though not often so big a garden as he tended as a boy. He loved in his last years the same vegetables he grew under Grandma's wartime tutelage: Kentucky wonder beans, hubbard squash, and some tomatoes. A few days before his death, I brought some of the tomatoes he grew into the house -- I think he got more from those six or seven plants, than I did from the forty or so I planted -- and he put them carefully on the window sill, though he had not eaten (almost) for a month, and would not touch these. He had not lost the magic at growing things. I still kept one of those tomatoes (to eat, not as a momento), as late as December 8th.
Steve also recalls learning about trees from his father.
John began to apply his love of gardening to this large, nicely situated property. Its most outstanding horticultural feature, along with the apple trees, was a row of four towering popular trees facing the Angeline Road spur that cut from Beach Drive into the lower slopes of the moraine. (When the second story was added, we could look out the large picture windows at the Sound, across some telephone poles and wires, and see a bit of the Olympic Mountains.) John planted a camelia bush which exuded what seemed like drops of honey, against the outside of the fireplace. He found a mountain hemlock that he placed on the opposite side of the walkway, a scarlet trumpet, these being especially cherished leafy friends, then birch and plum trees. All his children caught this love of growing things: I would feel the velvet on the camelia buds, smell their nectar and rejoice in the variegated white and red blossoms, take pleasure in the odd shapes and colors and musty smell of poplar leaves as they covered the yard on a windy autumn day, and watch flowers emerge in a row along the Hallberg's fence-line, where I watched Dad plant misshapen bulbs he called "glads.” A good name! They seemed glad to see the sun. This flower still seems to me to grow with a special magic, breaking ground like delicate green swords from the ground in spring, to spread out like cups of color sharpening to a point.
With Dad's encouragement, I began gardens at the age of ten in the alcove formed by the second-floor deck, the garage, and the Hallberg's fence. The corn reached ten feet high one year, with big ears, some fused together. The bug bit deeply: one of the things I missed most in Asia, was the change to bring delicious vegetables out of friendly brown soils.
Growing is a kind of building: it expresses a deeply-grained instinct, though one we seem to share less with monkeys than with birds or beavers: doubtless an instinct hidden in that 2% of our genome popularly supposed to differ from chimpanzees, along the ability to make jokes about growing bald. (Dad loved it when a Harlem Globe-Trotters wannabe team visited Skagway, and during the middle of the show, one of the players ran up into the audience, pointed to Dad, and said, “Look! Mr. Clean!”)
Growing things and building houses are two of Jesus’ favorite metaphors for the Kingdom of God: “The wise man built his house upon the rock, and the rains came down, and the house stood firm.” “On this rock I will build my church.” “A farmer went out into the field to sow . . . “ Both, for Christians, are also acts that reflect the creative character of God. As Jesus put it, "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." Perhaps this understanding grew, in the natural sense, out of Jesus’ own relationship with his carpenter father, building things together as the eldest in the family, and naturally therefore the first Joseph turned to when he needed some help. In his world, even more than today, trades were passed from father to son. We learn by imitation. Jesus suggested that these instincts to copy and to make is more than animal: it is build into us as a reflection of our relationship to a Creator God, the counter-entropic desire to make things, to structure material objects so as to form beauty, produce tasty things, and create a home for those we are given to love.
John Marshall’s ministry at West Side, with family, with people he met in his neighborhood, or tending his apartments, was like his gardening and construction: practical, often quiet, productive, and effective. “He had a heart for these sick people and shut-ins,” recalls Ron Rice, who with John took communion to people around the city who were unable to come to church. John would also often visit them on his own. He would fix toilets, paint, and take care of the church’s adjacent rental property some years, even climb up and paint the cross on top of the church.
Jesus did not, of course, mention baseball, unless “The last shall be first” was a reference to the 2001 Mariners. (“And the first shall be last” describe their career since.) But sports was also a passion of John’s, one which he passed on in particular to his second and third sons. How he did that, showed me something about my father.
I remember getting a baseball glove for my eighth birthday, and trying out for a team at Hiawatha Park. Once I’d acquired the needed skills, I played second base, batted over .500 some years, won the Golden Glove award, and played in a few All Star games. I loved baseball, and I loved that glove. I loved its smell, and I loved the unique and slightly awkward way it embraced grounders.
My world was turned upside in sixth grade when my glove went missing. Somehow we discovered it had been stolen by a boy named Robbie Moore. I demanded justice, but most of all I demanded that glove back.
Dad got my baseball glove back all right, far more diplomatically than I was hoping. He also let me know that Robbie had lived a difficult life, and didn’t have much. I learned something about my father through that incident, and also that there is something deeper than justice. (I still have that glove more than 40 years later, indeed brought it to China with me, and am using it as I teach my students how to play baseball. We bought some gloves on the Internet which we put in a box and students grab -- but they don't grab my glove.)
Prayer was also an important part of John’s ministry, and my parents’ life. Connie Burke notes that like her father, when John said he was praying for you, he showed that he really was, by asking specific, detailed questions about the matters about which you had asked for prayer. This was the morning routine for John and Pat, especially after he retired.
John Marshall was never a part of the "1%." The concept of "occupying Wall Street," or any other street that he had not paid for, or improved by living on and backhoeing, breaking roots with a pipe, planting rhodys, soldering copper pipes, or putting new roots on, was however profoundly alien to him. He knew what it was to "fight City Hall," to struggle with environmentally-minded neighbors who did not understanding civil engineering or that a competent builder could build a house on a hillside that would not slide down onto the houses below it. John was politically conservative by instinct and training. He did not want the government to give him things, he wanted to make things, make them well, and sometimes grumbled about bureaucratic roadblocks that could make the difference between profit or loss.
John was, in his one way, an environmentally-friendly builder, though. He never went into a neighborhood and simply knocked everything down, as was often the custom with new home construction. He left as many trees and plants as he could. He built on hillsides where few other builders dared to work, knowing that a good soils engineer can work wonders, and the view you get with picture frame windows is worth your trouble in engineering, lugging concrete to the pour, and maybe even the bureaucrats at city hall.
These were outward manifestations of John’s tendency to bring order out of chaos in human lives, as well.
Laurel recalls of her parents’ relationship, which provided the foundation for the ministry Jack and Pat engaged in:
“He modeled a good marriage in how he loved, respected and played with my mom. While they had very different personalities and liked to do separate things, they also enjoyed spending time together and cherished one another. When Mom was worried about her grandson, Luke going to Iraq, rather than quote bible verses to her, he sang an old Jerry Lewis song, ‘I get tears in my ears lying on my back crying over you.’ It worked. He added, ‘It’s not so much just the song, but how you sing it.’”
Connie was impressed at how John and Pat sacrificed to send their children to Bellevue Christian School. This cost money, and it also meant (part of the time) Pat driving (a choir she did not and does not enjoy) several youngsters to Bellevue and back twice a day. The Marshall house was a safe place for neighborhood’s children to play, even those for whom home was not. We kids remember when young friends a block away took refuge from their drunken father in our house. Connie recalls Penny and Larry being brought over by their mother at 6:30 in the morning. “Your Mom had to bath him and get him dressed.”
John did not always enjoy that level of domestic detail, and once was discovered by his wife parked in his truck a few blocks from home, drinking coffee and enjoying his morning newspaper. “I got caught,” he confessed.