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The Adventures of Wee Coyle: Chapter IV
Will Lomen, 16 May 2011

Prologue

In 1954, early in the year of my second grade in school, my mother Rosanne Coyle Lomen and my brother Terry and I moved from Kirkland across Lake Washington to Seattle. We arrived without my dad Jerry, who disappeared from our lives, never again to appear except by rumor. Suddenly within days, the three of us were living in a large three-story northwest box house on Capitol Hill at 1412 E. Aloha, with my mother’s parents Minnie Dalby Coyle and my “larger than life” grandfather William Jennings “Wee” Coyle and his stray cat, Civic, a brown tabby. As our grandmother, whom we called Mimi, showed us our giant bedrooms on the third floor, her gentle voice calmed the confusion of the unsettling changes that had occurred during the past week. Then when Wee said to Terry and me, “As soon as you boys get unpacked come on downstairs and I’ll teach you how to play blackjack,” our new house began to feel like a home.

Everybody called my grandfather Wee, from his own daughters to strangers who would introduce themselves to him on the downtown streets of Seattle. He would politely shake the newcomer’s hand, introduce his two grandsons and then listen patiently as the person would explain how he knew Wee Coyle. My brother and I would stand there on the sidewalk listening to stories about a specific football game, a political event, or an occurrence at the Civic Center, and we could see the joy in the person’s recollection. After they shook hands again, we would be on our way to the Washington Athletic Club or to visit Henry Broderick or Joe Gottstein. After a moment we would ask, “Wee, who was that man?” Wee always had two answers: Joe Bush or Harry Williams. After a while we realized that everyone we met had those two same names and when we asked why, he would say, “Boys, I’ve met so many people in my life I can’t remember them all.” As our walks with our grandfather continued around the city, we would ask him, after meeting another one of his admirers, “Was that Harry Williams?” He would look thoughtful for a moment and then say, “No, I believe that was Joe Bush.” Terry and I would laugh as we neared the Pike Place Market or Pioneer Square. The main point being that a lot of people knew who he was and he never walked past one of them who wanted to talk.

(Click here to read Chapter III)

Chapter IV

In September of 1902, astride his newly purchased red Schwinn Roadster, Wee Coyle burst from the alley behind the First Hill Drug Store, just missing a horse-drawn Cascade Ice Truck  that was meandering up Jefferson Street. “Sorry, Mr. Lindley,” he called out as he sped down the hill on his way to the Madison Grocery & Market,  one of his clients for his neighborhood delivery service.  “That’s OK ,Wee,” Mr. Lindley called back with a smile. He was used to the near misses with the speeding youngster and admired his cheerfulness and “get up and go” attitude. The black-haired bicyclist was a fixture around the First Hill - Capitol Hill neighborhood as he jumped curbs and skidded around corners with his two-wheeled acrobatics. At the bottom of Jefferson Street, Wee slowed his bike before taking a quick left that caught up with a chugging Model “T." A block later, he dodged the Cherry Hill street car that was crossing 12th Avenue. “Hi, Mr. Bridges,” he called as the conductor tooted back. Continuing down twelfth, he stood up on his pedals as he neared Madison Street.

As he had become more familiar with his new bike, he had developed  an uncanny knack for anticipating openings between horse-drawn wagons and clattering streetcars. Since giving up his paper route at the end of the summer, he had gotten stronger and his time between the stores and his deliveries had shortened. He knew First Hill and Capitol Hill like the back of his hand and he had invented short-cuts that included paths through side yards, vacant lots and muddy alleys. Also, with two wicker baskets donated by his mother Mary Kate, one mounted on his handlebars and the other attached to a rack on his rear fender, he had increased the amount of deliveries he could carry. In addition, he had re-rigged his old paper delivery bag into two saddlebags that hung over his rear wheels. Both the bracket mounted on the handlebars that held the basket and the rack that carried the other basket and his side bags were custom made by his father Bill Coyle, a machinist who had a shop in downtown Seattle.

Having ridden every trolley and cable car in the First Hill-Capitol Hill neighborhoods, he knew all of the conductors. When they saw him coming, they tooted their horns in greeting, which also acted as a warning to elderly pedestrians and skittish horses. They all liked the cheerful kid who always remembered their names. "Hello, Mr. McKee," he'd call out. "Whoops, look out,” he'd yell as his front tire whisked past the Madison Street Car.  Besides The Madison Grocery & Market, his clients were the First Hill Drug Store at 618 Broadway (near Cherry); the Broadway Butcher Shop next door (at 620); the Broadway Baker (in the alley at 514-1/2); and the T. L. Irving Shoe Store which he was cultivating -- a work in progress.

He took a tight left turn on Madison Street and jumped up on the wooden curb in front of the Grocery Store at 1021 Madison Street. Covering the entire length of the outside was a red awning and a matching enclosed red wagon, parked in front of the store, that delivered the daily grocery route. On its sides, printed in black and white letters, it read: “Madison Street Market and Grocery.” Lancelot, the wagon’s four-legged motivator, gave a surprised whinny. Wee swung off his bike, propped it up against the outside of the store and walked over to the charcoal-colored horse. “Did I wake you up, old boy?” he said with a smile, rubbing the horse’s muzzle. Lancelot snorted and nodded his head as if he understood the question. “Sure, you understand, don’t you,” Wee said with a laugh. “You just want an apple; you can’t fool me.” He gave the horse another pat before hurrying into the store. On the immediate right was a waist-high counter that was manned by the store’s owner, Mr. Jennings. “Hi, Wee, I’ve got your deliveries ready to go.”

“OK, sir,” he said, noting five small brown paper bags and four larger bags on the floor next to the counter. He sized them up and judged the small bags would fit into his front and rear baskets and the four larger bags would just barely fit into his saddlebags. Squatting down, he inspected the names on the bags and began to assign them the addresses he had memorized, which he then translated into the fastest route for his deliveries: Stimson, Carkeek, Minor, Terry, Dunn, Denny, Green, Fewing and Baylor. A few minutes later he was on his way with a surprise pair of shoes from the T. L. Irving Shoe Shop (1029 E. Madison Street) tucked tightly into the large bag of groceries for the Dunn's over on Boren Street. He had told Mrs. Dunn a few weeks earlier that he could deliver her newly repaired shoes from the shoe store that was next door to the grocery store. At the time, she chuckled at young Wee’s innovative idea, doubting if she would ever take advantage of it. But surprisingly, two weeks later, she remembered his offer after dropping off a pair of high-button shoes for repair at Mr. Irving’s. When she called her grocery order in to Mr. Jennings, she asked him to have Wee pick up her shoes next door. She remarked to the grocery store owner about Wee’s initiative, and Mr. Jennings had  chuckled and said. “Wee keeps me on my toes; sometimes I feel like he’s my boss.” Taking an easy right turn at Twelfth Avenue and Union Street, Wee headed up the hill past the triangle building that housed the Pearl Restaurant and barber shop. 

During the time that Wee was at Pacific School and playing every kind of sport and activity with his pals, he pretty much travelled in the First Hill, Capitol Hill, Cherry Hill and Renton Hill neighborhoods of the city. This large area -- which he covered by foot, bike and streetcar -- ran roughly north from Seventh Avenue and Yesler along the western ridge of  First Hill. Then it wove along the ridge from where it climbed to Boren Avenue, as far as Pike Street, and then farther up to Harvard Avenue. From Harvard, it went farther north to Volunteer Park and Lake View Cemetery, then east to Fifteenth Avenue. From Fifteenth, it went south to Madison Street, then continued along Fifteenth to Yesler and back up to Seventh Ave. Along with the “working class” people in the area, who were building the vibrant city -- which had climbed from 10,000 residents in 1902 to 80,000 a year later -- were the extremely rich, who were financing the boom, and the snooty, who looked at the working class as a necessary evil. 

Wee had entered the seventh grade at Pacific School, where in September 1902, attendance had risen to a building-busting 700 plus students. His older brother Frank was a Freshman at the newly opened Seattle High School on the corner of Broadway Avenue and Pine Street. (In 1907, in Wee’s senior year, it was renamed Washington High School, then because of the obvious confusion with the University of Washington, the name was changed again, on October 7, 1908, to Broadway High School, which is what all the kids always called it anyway; photo left). Seattle High School had opened to 873 students, and to justify its size, the eighth graders from Pacific, Cascade, Central, Columbia and Twentieth Avenue Grammar Schools were transferred to the new high school where they were in a totally separate program with its own principal. It was Seattle's first building specifically constructed as a high school. Its construction was controversial for its large size and location (then remote from downtown), but within a year, it was filled to capacity. The 1903 class had 103 graduates, the largest graduating class in the history of Seattle.

Wee remembered one night at dinner a year or so earlier when his mother Mary Kate had remarked that she wondered if Seattle needed a high school since there weren’t enough students to fill the new building.  Wee looked at his father, who was a machinist and was involved in building projects all over town.

Bill Coyle nodded at his wife then said. “Seattle’s a growing town. It’s going to need more schools, more streetcars, more houses more everything to take care of all the people who are coming here. People all over the country are reading about our booming city, and the railroads are bringing them out here.”

Wee and Frank stared at their father, normally a silent man, who had just said more words in those two sentences than he had uttered in the past month.

He continued, “Pay attention, boys, those muddy streets down Broadway are going to have to be paved, every house and building is going to need lighting, and all those outhouses you see in everyone’s backyard are going to have to go; they’re not sanitary.”

Wee and Frank stopped chewing their dinner and just stared at each other. Finally, Wee said, “What does sanitary mean, father?”

Bill Coyle smiled at his fourteen year old son, glad that he was paying attention. “It means keeping everything clean and free from dirt so people don’t get infected and get sick.”

Wee and Frank eyed each other then wiped their hands on their clean cotton napkins.

With no athletic field of its own, the students at Seattle High used the playfield developed just south of what was then still called the Lincoln Park Low Reservoir. Both the reservoir and park were one short block east of the school. Like the high reservoir at Volunteer Park, the low one at Lincoln Park was built in 1900 for the then new Cedar River gravity water supply. In their 1903 description of the park (which was later renamed “Bobby Morris Field), the Olmsted Brothers recommended that there be "no provision for the more vigorous forms of play." Their plans for the park were "particularly designed to make baseball impractical." However neighbors, including high school students in need of “vigorous play” -- especially baseball -- overturned this effete east coast solution to urban play into just a memory in less than a month.  

Wee and his pals would rush over from Pacific School to watch the varsity games at Lincoln Park, excited to watch the big boys like Will Winsor and Hank Longfellow play for Seattle High School.

One day, Charlie Mullen, Ten Million, Penny Westover and Wee were late getting to the park for a game between the High School and an older team of fellows from the Seattle Athletic Club. The foursome, along with another seven or eight thirteen year olds, were known as the “Terry Street Boys” because of the First Hill neighborhood in which they lived and the youth football team on which they played. As they sprinted down Eleventh Avenue and into the southeast entrance to the park, they could see the distinctive figure of their idol, Will Winsor, at the plate. Knowing Will was the team’s best hitter and batted third, they were relieved they hadn’t missed much of a game. Then to their enthusiastic delight, and as if he was waiting for his young fans to arrive, he launched the next pitch deep into right field and over the young five-foot oak trees bordering the park. The ball continued to carry into Pine Street where it ricocheted off the roof of the Pike Street Car that was on a return trip from Fifteenth Avenue to Broadway.

As his friends stood watching in awe at the mammoth clout, Wee gave chase to the bouncing ball and caught up with it after it came to rest at the entrance to Franco’s Café midway down the unpaved 10th Avenue. Wee picked the ball up in front of a surprised Mr. Franco, who was sweeping the wood sidewalk in front of his store. “Hi, Mr. Franco,” said Wee, holding up the baseball. “Will Winsor sure can hit a baseball, can’t he.”

Mr. Franco looked at Wee, recognizing him from his bicycle antics around the Hill. He noted the baseball the youngster was holding before gazing toward Lincoln Park and the baseball field almost five hundred feet away. “He sure can, Wee,” the man answered.

Wee smiled, tossed the ball in the air, caught it, and ran at top speed across Pine Street toward the field. As he passed underneath the oak trees, he could hear his friends calling to him from the first base line where they were pointing toward home plate.

The three of them had sensed the theatrics of the moment. They had seen Wee Coyle throw a baseball from deep in his favorite position in center field; they had told their classmates and their parents about his rocket-like arm, but most people didn’t believe them or didn’t care.

Then in front of him, the Seattle Athletic Club right fielder said, “That’s our only ball, kid, give it to me.”

Wee stopped, the excitement of having corralled a home run hit by his hero Will Winsor beginning to dissipate. He had imagined running back to the field and handing the ball personally to Will or the umpire or the coach, not the other team’s right fielder who stood holding out his mitt. He doesn’t think I can get it there. 

Standing just inside the trees, he stared in at home plate. Instinctively he knew what his friends wanted him to do and his heart skipped a beat. His brain and body did a quick mutual calculation that automatically estimated a variety of unknowns: the distance to home plate, the weight of the baseball, the angle the ball would have to follow, the tail wind that was brushing at him from over his right shoulder. In milliseconds that information was sent to his right arm and both legs.

With a slight grin of unerring confidence, he took a couple of running steps and then threw the ball in a missile-like arc toward home plate. At first he didn’t think the ball would make it, but fueled by the extra dose of adrenaline from the moment, the ball continued to carry, and suddenly the catcher at home plate began to pay attention.

Charlie, Ten and Penny knew what would happen before it happened. They had seen it before; now everyone in the park who had witnessed the home run along with those who had seen their fifteen-year old friend in deep right field would see it, too.

The tiny dot in the air became larger as the power of the throw held its momentum.

When people see a home run, there are moments of anticipation and optimism before the swing of the bat. Not so with a great throw. Most people are not expecting the ball to go far enough, let alone being dead on target; what the human body is capable of doing is a glorious moment of surprise, and all of us can appreciate its execution.  

For suddenly the ball dropped from the sky into the Seattle Athletic Club’s catcher’s mitt, and he appeared dumfounded as he stared at it.

Will Winsor, who was picking up his bat, glanced up in surprise at the sound of the ball hitting leather, not sure how his homerun blast had returned to home plate so quickly. He looked out toward right field and saw a black-haired boy standing behind the right fielder near the oak trees. Did that kid throw the ball from that far away?  Then he was aware of three boys slapping each other on the back and yelling with delight along the first base line and immediately recognized them. Even Will Winsor knew who the kid jogging in from right field was, so he wasn’t surprised that he had made the tremendous throw; everybody knew him. It’s the Terry Street boys and that’s their leader Wee Coyle.

In the next chapter of Wee’s adventures, the Seattle High School eleven will continue its march down the field against the North Division Wolves from Chicago . The Stakes: The National High School Football Championship.

(Click here to read Chapter V)

Will Lomen can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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