Tukwila to Montana : A story of place | Dennis Box

I have been drawn to stories of place for some reason since I was a kid.

I have been drawn to stories of place for some reason since I was a kid.

One of the aspects of Tukwila I have enjoyed the most over the past few months is all the stories of the recent past I have been hearing. I call them stories of place.

Many of the towns I cover have been formed within the last 15 years, like Maple Valley and Covington. Those cities are going through a process of trying to outline a sense of place and it is fascinating to watch.

Contrast that with Tukwila where the past weaves through the names of the streets telling the stories of the making of town.

I’ve had the opportunity to get to know some longtime residents for a few of the stories I have written and the sense of place in Tukwila is endearing and interesting.

My favorite story is the one I wrote about Mrs. Louise Strander. The Strander family is the story of the town in so many ways. I wished I could have met Mrs. Strander. I would have loved to talk to her about meeting her husband and being a part of making a town. I found out she also loved opera. How cool is that?

I have also been talking with Dean Radford about his father, Arlie Radford, who built many of the memorable homes around the town and he was member of the City Council. Arlie is spoken about today by folks as if he just left the room. That speaks to the impact he had on so many. Considering what I know of his son, he was both a remarkable man and father.

What makes a story of place come alive are the people. They define the contours of place in the stories.

My first interest in stories of place came from my dad when I was very young. He was raised in Montana.

His mother died in the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic. She was 24 years old and had five children; my father was the oldest. He was about 7.

She died on Christmas Eve in Wolf Point, Mont., and on Dec. 26 the children were placed in the Montana Children’s Home orphanage in Helena.

They rode the train from Wolf Point to Helena and came to a four-story home with a basement about a 15-minute walk from the train depot.

I went there with my dad when I was about 10. The original home was and is still there. The top floor was four small rooms for the boys, connected by a crooked hallway.

The sick kids were put in the basement, which is where my dad was at first. He spent nearly five years in the orphanage. His two brothers and sister were adopted soon after arriving because they were younger. The fourth child, a baby girl, died shortly after arriving.

When I went there with my dad, the Shodair Children’s Hospital had all the old orphanage records. My dad was looking for documentation of his birth date. He didn’t have a birth certificate and the date on the adoption papers from the orphanage was smudged. Social Security wanted better documentation.

We went into Shodair and talked to a woman. A short time later an older woman came out who remembered my dad. It had been 40 years, but she remembered those kids coming the day after Christmas.

My dad told me that his dad signed him into the orphanage and he never saw him or heard from him again.

I have been back to Helena and the orphanage many times. I have spent time in the basement and all the upper floors where he stayed. The last time I was there a woman who lives across the street told me the old home was haunted. She heard children crying at night.

I bet I had my dad tell me the stories about coming to the orphanage and his youth in Montana a million times. I just couldn’t get enough of his stories.

The folks I have met in Tukwila, the way the talk about the town, gives me the sense of place I remember from my dad when he talked about Helena.

I like that.


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