EXCERPT: “Growing Up In Rat City And Beyond”

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Alexander Sasonoff grew up in "Rat City" and lived to write about it.

by Scott Schaefer

Alexander Sasonoff is a longtime Burien resident whose acronym could easily be “AAA” – Architect, Artist and now…Author.

Just don’t call him if your car breaks down (although he could probably fix that too…).

Sasonoff, an accomplished local architect, grew up in neighboring White Center, and has just released an autobiographical book called “Growing Up in Rat City and Beyond” which he has generously allowed us to post exclusive excerpts from right here on the White Center Blog.

Sasonoff’s book takes readers on a gritty, often humorous journey from his earliest days in “Rat City,” starting when his Russian immigrant family moved here in 1936, through his childhood growing up in a tough neighborhood, playing in swamps, hanging out with boxers, getting fresh milk for 10-cents a jug from “Frenchie’s Farm” and much more.

Here’s part one of “Growing Up in Rat City and Beyond” which can be purchased online for just $13.04 by clicking here.

Part I • The Move to Rat City

The Move

As I sat in the front seat of the moving van clutching my cat, Reezhik, I had mixed feelings about moving to the house my parents had purchased near White Center. I was leaving all of my friends at F.A. McDonald Grade School as well as the other kids in my neighborhood. It was 1936 and the Boeing Aircraft Company was hiring workers. My Dad landed a job there.

The drums of war were starting their death rattle in Europe and the U.S. government ordered the construction of thirteen B17 bombers. These same thirteen bombers were flying into Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It was a typical gray overcast day in Seattle. We were moving during a mid-school term so I would have to start all over again with new friends. Many good memories were being left behind. We lived across the street from lower Woodland Park. There were many picnics in the park and on the shores of Greenlake. Visits to the zoo will always be with me.

The driver of the moving van hated cats and threatened, if the cat got loose, he was going to throw him out the window. I tightened my grip on Reezhik. He made me sit as far from him as possible so I was squeezed up against the door panel with my brother, my Dad sat in the middle. I could not convey the threat to my cat but the cat must have sensed the hatred and did not move. Our dog, Spot, had already been safely transported to his new home.

It took about two hours in the lumbering moving van to get from Green Lake to our destination. We arrived without incident. The house was located on a double lot so there was plenty of space to play. Fruit trees abounded, there were apple, cherry, pear, plum and peach throughout the yard.

The oldest portion of the house used to be an office for a logging company that had cut all the timber in the area years before. It rested on a log foundation with the rest of the house added later. The newer portion had a very strange concrete foundation. I believe the basement was dug out after the house was constructed. The concrete was stepped and appeared to be about two feet thick. There were no sewers in the area and all of the streets were gravel. The sewage system was a simple cesspool that we all were warned to stay away from for fear of the wood planks collapsing.

Years later this area was sewered and after that came paved streets and sidewalks. My brother, Leon and I shared one bedroom while my two sisters, Vera and Ireda shared another. Later, we refurbished the attic creating two more bedrooms, so eventually each of us had our own room.

The house had only one bathroom. The water was heated by a coil of pipes in the wood burning furnace and kitchen stove. In the summertime there was never enough hot water generated by the kitchen stove. It was too warm to fire up the big furnace. Kettles of water were heated atop the kitchen stove to supplant the weekend baths. To save hot water, my brother and I used the same bath water.

This became a greater problem when our cousin moved in with us after being freed from a Japanese prison camp after the war. My Dad used to call me into the bathroom to wash his back. He sat in the tub while shaving. On one such occasion I asked him why he did not have any gray hair. I had noticed everyone getting on in years had gray hair. He answered me in Russian, “Ya vsegda moyu golavoo s holodnoi.” Translated, “I always wash my head with cold water.”

As the years passed and when I was in my twenties, washing my hair with cold water, I burst out laughing at the realization that he was telling me to keep a cool head. In that old house we finally had an electric hot water tank installed and there was much rejoicing.

Next week: part two of our continuing exclusive excerpts of “Growing Up in Rat City and Beyond”!

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