This reminiscence of an old friendship was written by Dorothea (Pfister) Nordstrand (1916-2011). Both she and her friend, Margaret (Bavin) Medley (1915-2006), were graduates of Seattle's Roosevelt High School. In 2009 Dorothea Nordstrand was awarded AKCHO's (Association of King County Historical Organizations) Willard Jue Memorial Award for a Volunteer, for contributing these vivid reminiscences to various venues in our community, including HistoryLink.org's People's History library.
Miggs and Dixie: Lasting Friendship
In an old album I found some snapshots of Margaret Medley, a friend of many years’ standing. That brought back a whole flood of memories of the time when Margaret (Bavin, then) and I, Dorothea (Pfister, then) were Sophomore classmates at Roosevelt High School. We were unaware of each other, since she was in the traditional high school classes, while I was in the commercial classes. At that time she was known as “Miggs” or “Miggles” and I was nicknamed “Dixie,”often shortened to “Dix." I well remember the day we met.
Good buddy, Charley, invited me to go boating on Lake Washington the following Saturday afternoon. There would be another boy and girl, too. I hoped she wouldn't be like the last girl I had met under similar circumstances; one of those coy, too lady-like creatures, afraid of getting hair and skirt mussed by the wind. I was a tomboy, unconcerned about tidiness and had little patience with fussy girls.
On Saturday, I dressed in white sharkskin slacks, a red-and-white striped soft-knit top, knotted the laces of my sturdy, black-and-white saddle-oxfords, and topped it all off with a white, sailor gob hat. When we met Jack and his friend, I was pleasantly surprised to see a girl of about my same height and size, wearing white sharkskin slacks, a blouse similar to mine, (only hers was blue and white). Her saddle-oxfords were brown-and-white, and she wore a white baseball cap. She was a brownette with blue eyes. I had black hair and hazel eyes, but, otherwise, we could have come out of the same cookie box. We smiled, and there was an almost audible click as we each recognized in the other a kindred spirit. That was the start of a friendship that has endured for many years.
Miggs had come to Seattle the year before to stay with her Aunt Lucille and recuperate from malaria and typhoid, which had almost taken her life. Her parents were divorced. She came to Seattle from Mexico. Before that, she had lived in India. My background was very different. My life, since I was two, had been spent right here in Seattle’s Green Lake district, in the midst of a poor, but stable and loving family.
Right from the start, Miggs and I had an instinctive understanding of each other. We finished each other's sentences and often got a complete message from a slightly raised eyebrow or a flicker of expression. It was a very comfortable friendship. We had several common interests; hiking, swimming, embroidery, and especially, sewing. We also shared being “financially challenged” and spent many a Saturday stitching the clothes for ourselves that neither of us could afford to buy. We turned her left-handedness and my right-handedness to advantage, each hand-hemming on the same circular skirt, stitching in opposite directions, and finishing in half the time. We often bought one pattern we both liked and each used it to make a piece of clothing, varying the color or changing something to make each garment unique.
McCall and Butterick patterns cost 25 to 35 cents each, while the "classy" Vogue was priced at 50 cents. We found beautiful, suiting-weight woolens for $l.00 a yard, while cottons ran anywhere from 20 to 50 cents a yard. We learned to tailor and fit garments competently and dressed well on very little money.
The boys in our lives came and went. We dated separately or double dated, but our friendship didn't change. We really enjoyed each other’s company.
When we finished high school, I went to work at the Green Lake State Bank. Miggs found a job at J. C. Penney's store at 2nd Avenue and Pike Street in downtown Seattle. I continued to live at home, paying $25 a month for room-and-board to my parents. When her aunt moved to Alki, Miggs rented a one-room apartment above the Neptune Theater on 45th Street in the University District. There was one window in the apartment and it overlooked the theater parking lot behind the building. There were two steps up to a tiny bathroom and on these steps she had a two burner electric plate for cooking. Dishes, pots, and pans were washed in the tiny bathtub. A Murphy bed sidled out of a closet in one wall for sleeping and was hoisted up on a spring and returned into its hiding place during the day. As I recall, her rent was $l5 a month. She also had to pay for electricity and telephone, and, of course, her food.
Miggs prepared some pretty fancy meals for us on those two burners. We seldom ate at a table, preferring to lie on our stomachs on the carpet to eat what she cooked. Our favorite dinner was East Indian Curry, which she made so spicy-hot that we ate it fortified with a tall pitcher of ice water standing on the rug between us with which to douse the burning sensation in our tortured mouths. It was a matter of honor to see who could eat the most of the blazing stuff. That was pretty exotic fare for me who had been brought up on pork neck-bones, sauerkraut, and rutabagas. Miggs learned to eat pork neck-bones, sauerkraut, and rutabagas at our house, and it was all one to us.
What one of us didn’t think of, the other did. One March 13, we dared each other to go swimming in Green Lake. It was a cold, rainy day, but of course we went, bodies shivering and teeth chattering all the way. From then on, we went swimming in Green Lake on March 13, no matter what the weather. It was a matter of neither of us wanting to be the “chicken.” We kept this tradition for several years, even a couple of times when there was snow on the ground.
Miggs and I learned tailoring in night classes at the old Edison Vocational School next to Broadway High School. After finishing my day’s work as teller at the bank, I caught the Green Lake streetcar, which circled the lake and went downtown by way of Fremont. Tokens to ride were two-for-a-quarter. We would share a snack near Penney's, where Miggs worked in the Lay-away department (you picked out your purchase, paid something down on it, and made continuing payments until the full amount was accounted for, at which time, the object was yours). We usually ate at Boldt's Cafeteria or Woolworth's Ten Cent Store. Then we would catch another streetcar up the steep hill to Broadway.
The tailoring class was great. We learned to bag sleeves, which means putting roundness into the top of a jacket sleeve without using gathers. We learned to alter patterns to fit ourselves perfectly; to use a pressing ham for shaping a curve into woolen material with an iron and damp pressing cloth; and to beat seams into extreme flatness with a tailors hammer, which was an oversized cloth sausage stuffed tightly with kapock. We made ourselves some very stylish suits.
We took a class in photography, even though our cameras were cheap little Kodak Brownies. The teacher was tolerant of our limited photographic equipment and taught us to compose a proper shot and then develop and print the film. We learned to enlarge what we had photographed. It was fun.
After night school classes, I usually stayed overnight at her place as it was on a direct streetcar line from Broadway. One night I had made a date to go to a late movie with a boy friend after class, arranging to meet him at Miggs' place. Our class ran late and I realized we weren't going to make it back to the University District on time. I was bemoaning the fact that I wasn't going to make it, when a young man in class said he was going to the district and offered to take me with him. The only problem, he said, was that he only had room to take one. Miggs said to go ahead. She didn't have a date that night and would take the streetcar as usual. I was very grateful to the young man, but wasn't so sure when we got down to the street and he led me to a huge motorcycle parked there.
Now, these were the days when one didn't go downtown dressed casually as we now do. I was wearing a black, tailored suit with a tight skirt, silk stockings, and three-inch-heeled, ankle-strapped, patent leather sandals. I carried a black patent leather handbag. On my hands were white, shortie gloves, and on my head, a large-brimmed black felt hat. I was doubtful, but his grin was a dare and I climbed onto that monster behind him, held on with my left hand to his belt with my purse hung from that elbow, clutched my hat to my head with my right hand, and we roared away north on Broadway, then across the University Bridge. We snorted to a stop in front of the Neptune Theater, where my date was waiting. My Lochinvar lifted me off the bike, gave a salute, and roared off.
I can’t remember that my date was even surprised to see me arrive that way.
Miggs and I were friends for 75 years. We shared many of the adventures that have made my life so much fun. I miss her.