The Days of ’49 – Mary Peterson

February 17, 2012 — Last evening ten volunteers met for dinner in front of the fireplace at the Log Cabin museum in Port Orchard.  Although dark and dreary outside, the room was filled with firelight and laughter, memories and manikins. Dried out holly branches left over from Christmas helped feed the fire, the tree was still standing in the corner and stockings were still hanging on the mantel as though the manikins could not quite give up the holiday season.

We met to discuss what the Orchard family manikins would be doing on May 5 when the cabin opens for the 2012 season and to try out a menu that will be used at a fund raising luncheon.

Inevitably at these dinners which we throw together three or four times a year, we start telling stories about the past, obviously spurred on by not only the wine but the surroundings. How can a room filled with antiques and manikins in period dress not cause the mind to wander back into “I remember when”.

Last night was no different and we started talking about 'The Days of a 49', a celebration held in downtown Port Orchard in the 1950's and meant to bring back the rollicking days of logging in the South Kitsap area.

My memories of the festivities are extremely limited as my parents made a point of staying out of town during the celebration for reasons I didn't understand then and fully understand now.

As luck would have it, when I was 10 years old, our family of four ended up in Port Orchard on the way back from a camping trip, right in the middle of the 'Days of 49'.  My brother and I pleaded and begged and promised years of chores done without whining if we could just walk around town with mom and dad. We wanted to watch the people, listen to the music and find out what we were missing. I urged the family past the jail cell erected in the middle of town to hold all the men who refused to take part in the beard growing contest, fearing the 3-day growth on my normally clean-shaven father would catch the attention of the “sheriff” and he'd be hauled away forever.

As dad and my brother walked past all the taverns that faced Bay street in those days, toward the east end of town to look for an ice cream cone, mom and I walked toward the waterfront to look at the carnival and donkey rides and things more appropriate to a young lady and her mother.

Mom was surprised to see small trailers (no Winamucca's in those days) lined up against the waterfront and even more surprised at the people who were sitting in front of the trailers, smoking and passing around bottles. I knew nothing of the nomadic life of carnival people or of shared bottles in paper bags. I remember my mouth dropping open when a red-haired woman wearing nothing but a slip stepped out of a trailer and took a drink from a bottle-wrapped bag handed to her as she teetered down the three tiny front steps on high heels that I thought were beautiful.  She seemed to have a difficult time walking to the front door of the trailer parked next to the one she'd exited and slumped against the door frame while pounding on the screen door, yelling something about “I ain't waiting all day.”

I pointed to her as I told my mom that, “That lady is outside in her slip!”

Mom grabbed my shoulders, spinning me around so fast its a wonder my shoes didn't screw themselves into the gravel. We rushed back to the car and she wouldn't answer my questions about why a lady would walk outside in her underwear and could I wear shoes like that someday.

That was my one and only glimpse of Port Orchard during the 'Days of 49' and when I told dad and my brother about what I'd seen while they were looking for ice cream mom and dad just looked at each other and shook their heads. I don't think my brother even believed me. 

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