Our First Home: A Seattle Story by Dorothea Nordstrand

  • By Dorothea Nordstrand
  • Posted 5/22/2007
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8141
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This is a reminiscence by Dorothea (Pfister) Nordstrand (1916-2011) who has lived in Seattle most of her life. The Pfister family homesteaded near Tiger, in Pend Oreille County, before moving to Seattle in 1919. Dorothea is a graduate of Roosevelt High School. Vern Nordstrand (1918-2009) graduated from Ballard High School and retired from Boeing after working for 40 years as a mechanic (later superintendent of tooling). 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.

18368 47th Place NE        

Vern and I planned our wedding for May 13, 1944, so early in the spring of that year we were out scouring the area north of 85th, which was then the Seattle city limits, for what would be our first home together.  We looked at vacant lots, with the idea of building, and we checked out small homes.  Our plan was that I would give up my position with Green Lake State Bank and be a stay-at-home wife and we would be living on Vern’s salary as a shop foreman for the Boeing Company, where he had completed an apprenticeship not long before.  We both were sure we didn’t want to rent, even for a little while.         

One day, while driving around the back roads of Lake Forest Park, we found ourselves on Circle Drive and saw a “For Sale” sign on a large piece of property (approximately two-thirds of an acre) that sat right up against the Lake Forest Park watershed.  A naturally aged, gray picket fence enclosed the front and two sides of the property, leaving the back side open to a woodsy hillside.  Within the fence was a unique little house and a yard full of fruit trees (24 by count), flower beds, berry bushes, grape arbors, a 26-foot-long rose garden (carpeted with pansies), a well, and a chicken yard ready for a flock of hens.   Each front corner enclosed a huge pine, whose wide spreading branches barely missed touching the ground.  There were several large weeping willows.  Dead center, right in front of the house, was a tall acacia tree.         

The front fence was graced with a pretty, rustic arbor over a gate. Two red, Paul’s scarlet climbing roses twined over the gate and just to the left, inside a flower bed containing coral-colored and China red Oriental poppies, stood a Rose acacia tree, so full of bloom that the branches were braced to keep them from breaking.         

The house was different from anything we had ever seen before. (When my new mother-in-law, later, saw it for the first time, she commented, “It’s a shicken coop” in her Swedish accent), and she may have been right about it’s original purpose, before someone with a lot of imagination turned it into our dream house.  The whole upper part of the front and half-way back each side was made up entirely of a series of four-foot-square windows, one after another, with no wall space between.  Inside, that enclosed space, 28 feet long and 8 feet wide, was the living/dining room.  Onto the back side of this had been built a shed-roofed area which contained two tiny bedrooms and a small kitchen with a big coal and wood range in the back corner.  All of the interior walls were finished with wide cedar boards, stained a warm, soft brown.  Attached to one end of this back section was an enclosed porch which held a minute bathroom with shower and pottie behind a narrow door for privacy and a double laundry tray standing against the porch wall under a wide window that looked out onto a double row of raspberry bushes.  Into this porch was the only entry to the house, a door with a pane of glass in its upper half.         

We both fell instantly in love with the place, and would have bought it right then, but we had been warned by our parents not to make a snap decision.  However, the very next day, we were back to close the deal.         

 After the real estate agent had given us the keys and left with our check for the down payment in his pocket, we lingered ...  strolling around the beautiful yard, hardly believing we would soon be living together in our own cute house, surrounded by our own small “farm.”         

We heard the click of our gate and watched as a little, white haired lady came up our sidewalk.  She introduced herself as “Mrs. Smith” and said she lived straight across the street in the small cottage we could see from where we stood, with her husband and their 60-year-old son, Harry.  She wanted to welcome us to the neighborhood and said her family had been hoping the young couple with “the girl in the red coat” would be moving in.         

Over the next few weeks, we moved bits and pieces of our belongings into the house, including a cast-off sofa from Vern’s Aunt Aina Fogelstrom, my cedar chest, a tall chest of drawers, and a mattress.  We were all set up to move in when we got home from our two day honeymoon trip to Vancouver, B.C.  Two days was all the time Vern could take away from his job in that time of war-driven urgency.           

The shortness of our honeymoon trip was not a disappointment to us.  We were anxious to move into our “shicken coop” at the back of our lovely garden. 

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