Paul Turner: Just how different is a Spokane childhood really?

February 3, 2019

I suppose many longtime Spokane residents who did not grow up here have wondered.

What if they had? How would their lives have been different?

To what extent does growing up in the Inland Northwest shape a person?

Now granted, family circumstances undoubtedly play a far greater role in forming our personalities and character than the exact geographic location of our upbringing. But there’s more to growing up in Spokane than not having fluoride and running into grade school classmates at Rosauers as adults.

Having grown up here gives you a special perspective on where this city has been. That’s valuable, irreplaceable one might say, when trying to imagine where we’re going.

It’s not just a matter of building up a memory storehouse of local trivia. Growing up here, in all the countless varied versions of that, gives you a frame of reference when it comes to understanding our community.

OK, maybe not all Spokane transplants wonder about this. But I have, more than once, over the years.

Perhaps that’s because a Spokane childhood was not a far-fetched possibility for me. My father was on a B-52 crew in the 1960s. And as you might recall, that was a local job description once upon a time.

My family lived in places like Texas and California ages ago. But eventually my dad managed to wangle base assignments in Ohio and Michigan, states closer to where his aging mother lived on the Vermont/New York border.

I’ve thought about what it would have been like if he had been transferred to Fairchild and I had lived here as a child. My guess is it would have been pretty great.

Of course, not everyone agrees.

Many years ago, I asked readers of my column to come up with the title for a Dr. Seuss book set in Spokane. One suggestion that seemed to resonate with at least a few people: “Oh, The Places You’ll Never Go!”

OK, Spokane is not now nor has it ever been Paris or Hong Kong. But here’s the thing. Kid World, at least the suburban-vibe Kid World with which I was familiar, is pretty much the same most places. At least it was.

So when I imagine growing up here, I don’t really picture all that many experiences one might characterize as breathtakingly new and different. (They have lakes, fast food and four seasons in the East, too.) I do, however, think about what it would have been like to know teachers, coaches, neighbors and others for most of my life – instead of just a seemingly fleeting moment in time.

How about you?

Do you think you would have been molded, for better or worse, by Spokane’s political mindset or been ill-prepared for the future by Spokane’s relative lack of diversity? Would you have become imbued with a rugged, independent Western sensibility? Would you have gone to EWU? Would you not have an accent?

Would you still be talking about Expo ’74 and Los Angeles Dodgers greats you saw as minor leaguers or would you have long ago moved to Renton or Redmond?


“This isn’t exactly relevant to your Marmot Day story,” wrote Catherine Short. “But every time the subject of marmots comes up, I think of when we first encountered them on moving to Spokane several years ago. Marmots hadn’t been part of our lives in California.”

She continued. “Being English, I grew up eating Marmite (same thing as Vegemite) like you Americans eat peanut butter as a daily staple. My husband (who buys me a new jar every Christmas) started referring to those rodents as ‘marmites’ and the name has stuck. Every time I use Marmite on a sandwich or as stew flavoring, I wonder what the secret ingredient really is.”

Asked and answered

I had wondered what the owners of vintage automobiles would like to hear as the first song from a car radio long ago given up for dead.

Terry Martin picked “Glad All Over” by the Dave Clark Five.

Bev Gibb would opt for the Joe Cocker version of “Feeling Alright.”

Lawrence Killingsworth said he thinks Dolly Parton’s recording of “Here You Come Again” might be appropriate.

And Nadine H. Campbell said either Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” or Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” would sound about right.

First memories of Spokane

A reader named Margaret, a longtime schoolteacher who asked that I not use her full name, said it would have been in 1943 or 1944. “My family (parents, five kids) stayed at a fleabag hotel downtown somewhere. That was a step up from sleeping by the side of the road, as we’d been doing when we moved from Anaconda.”

Columnist Paul Turner can be reached by email at srpaulturner@gmail.com.

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