Dorothea Nordstrand Tells of Games and Friendships in the 1920s

  • By Dorothea Nordstrand
  • Posted 9/04/2003
  • Essay 4238
See Additional Media

In this People's History Dorothea Nordstrand (1916-2011) describes the daily life of her family after her father (Joseph Pfister, 1883-1947) was severely injured in a streetcar accident that occurred in Seattle on January 5, 1920, at N 39th Street and Woodland Park Avenue. Her father had been on his way to a paying job. After the accident the family suffered hardships, but also had a lot of fun. The Mom of this story is Mary Annie (Gierhofer) Pfister (1888-1962). The brother Jack is John Joseph Pfister (1907-1973), and the sister Florence is Florence Mary (Pfister) Burke (1909-1998). 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's People's History library.

Daily Life and Friendships After the Accident

Things got a little better. Daddy found part time construction work with Strandberg & Carlson and Mom washed lunch dishes in a small local cafe, where the understanding owners let her bring her smallest daughter to sit quietly in a corner and play or read while she worked.

A neighbor and friend, Mrs. Hansberry, who lived in one of the big houses overlooking the lake, hired Mom to help her in the kitchen when she entertained. The Hansberrys were well-to-do, owning a large hardware store on Woodlawn Avenue in Green Lake’s small business district. Their daughter, Helen, was just a little older than I, so she and I played in her room during parties. Helen and I were good friends.

I can't remember a time, growing up, when we didn't have a cat. The first I remember was Queen, a very ugly feline, colored like a tortoiseshell; dark brown and black with irregular splotches of gray and orange. Her hair was long and constantly matted. I loved her dearly. She usually had the patience of an angel and allowed me to dress her in doll clothes (including a be-ruffled bonnet), bed her down in my doll bed, or take her for strolls around the block hung around my neck like a ratty shawl. If she didn't want to play, she had sharp teeth and claws to let me know that. Jack loved to tease her and would lead her along a fence or up and down the piano keys with a tasty tidbit held just beyond her reach. She would go along with this for a while, then spring like lightning, leaving him empty handed.

The Hansberry's son, Byron, was studying pre-medicine at the University of Washington. He offered to perform surgery on Queen so that we wouldn't be constantly trying to give away her numerous offspring. Something went awry. From that time on, she still gave birth at regular intervals, but, to only one kitten at a time. Byron didn't live long enough to become a doctor. He died of bone cancer while still in school. I think his death was my first realization that love and money (and the Hansberrys had both) were no guarantee against personal tragedy.

My very best friend was Bunny Leppla. Her family lived directly across the street, making it easy for both mothers to keep a watchful eye on their young daughters at play. Mrs. Leppla's parents owned a citrus ranch near Phoenix, Arizona, and they often sent crates of grapefruit and oranges to their daughter. Both of those wonderful fruits were out of the price range of our family, but Lepplas sometimes shared. Of special remembrance are the "blood oranges" that are so ugly with their bright orange segments liberally splashed with the true color of blood. I ate my first blood orange with my eyes squeezed tightly closed and my nose wrinkled....but IT WAS GOOD!!

At the top end of Bagley Avenue, stood a very large farm house on a big plot of ground. The Picardo family lived there. They owned truck farms and sold their produce at the Pike Place Market. Florence and I were friends with some of the children, (Mary, Mimi, and Georgina), so were invited to have dinner with them on occasion. They were a large, happy, noisy Italian family and we were made very welcome. We got our first tastes of dry, red wine at that table. When we wrinkled our noses at the tartness of it, Mama Picardo mixed it with water for us, but insisted that it belonged with the food. I still don’t like dry red wine, but I did (and do) like spaghetti and lasagna.

Florence took me along when she went to see her girl friends. Marion Weyant and Beatrice Stoltzenberg were nice about it, but Doris Bellamy never missed a chance to let me know I was a pest. One of their favorite things to do was to walk the three miles around Green Lake, but when Florence was with Doris, I had to walk a little behind or in front of them. I didn't care. I got to go along. Besides, just my being there annoyed Doris. In my mind that made up for being considered a pest.

The Bowens lived kitty-corner from us. Their young son, Stanley, was my age and exactly the same size. We both had shiny, straight, black hair, cut Buster Brown style. We looked like twins. He, Bunny, and I, and Arthur Delfel from up the street, made up our usual play group. We played cops-and-robbers, cowboys-and-Indians, and "house," and ran miles and miles playing "tag."

One day, Stanley and Arthur found a nice, wide plank, placing it so that it slanted down the long stairway from Bowens' back porch. We waxed it with paraffin and it made a wonderful slide. It wasn't so wonderful when I ran afoul of an enormous sliver that pierced my little backside. I can still remember lying on my stomach across Daddy's lap, howling, while he used his razor sharp jack-knife and a pair of pliers to remove the splinter.

One of my treasures was a red, sponge-rubber ball, just the right size to fit my hand. If I just dropped it from my hand, it was lively enough to bounce right back, so was perfect for playing “Squares,” a game we drew onto the sidewalk. The idea was to bounce the ball into each marked square and hop into that square on one foot at the same time, then into the next, and so on, never missing with the ball or the foot. Here and there on the “court” we would mark two squares, side-by-side, so we could put both feet down.

Another game using the ball was something called “One, Two, Three, O’Leary,” where the ball was bounced with the one, two, three count, and with the O’Leary, you circled one leg over the bouncing ball. It went on to four, five, six, O’Leary, seven, eight, nine, O’Leary, ten, O’Leary ... Postman. (Postman was just a double bounce before you started over again, using the other leg ).

We played “jacks” and “marbles.”

Daddy taught me how to do “Mumbly-peg” and gave me a jack-knife to play it with. This was a game of skill I was not allowed to play when another child was there. The knife was balanced on my hand, which was then moved in such a way that the knife flipped up and over to come down and stick in the ground. There were many configurations to handling the knife, and, over time, I got to be pretty good at it, though never a patch on the way Daddy could do tricks with his knife.

That jack-knife of Daddy’s was a source of much pleasure to all of us. He used it to make whistles from the early new growth on the willows that grew along the lake shore. He whittled me a doll with jointed arms and legs. He would cut an inch thick rectangle of white pine into a fancy shape and then cut thin slices of the wood about half-way down one end of it. Then he would carefully move the sliced sections out and hook them each one behind the next one, until he had a wooden fan. I wish I had one of those fans. I have never seen another anywhere.

We kids played hide-and-seek. We roller skated, if anyone had skates. One pair did for two small children, each skating on one foot and pushing with the other. Stanley had a scooter made with skate wheels fastened underneath a board with an apple box nailed to one end of it and V-shaped handlebars on top. Many times I would be curled up within the box while he went riding down the sidewalk. We had many a crash. Skinned knees and elbows were normal.

Empty condensed milk cans, stamped on sideways so that they clung to our shoes, made satisfyingly loud clumping noises. We could pretend that we were horses galloping. Hopscotch only needed a piece of chalk to mark the squares on the sidewalk. All of us enjoyed the stilts my father made for me. We even made time to just lie on our backs and make up stories to fit the clouds in the summer sky.

Days weren't long enough to play all the games we invented.


Dorothea (Pfister) Nordstrand has lived in Seattle since the family moved here about 1920.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You