Huck Finn Family: A Story of Seattle's Green Lake by Dorothea Nordstrand

  • By Dorothea Nordstrand
  • Posted 9/20/2007
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8298

This story of two sons impersonating two Huck Finns was written by their mother, Dorothea (Pfister) Nordstrand (1916-2011). In 2009 Dorothea Nordstrand was awarded AKCHO's (Association of King County Historical Organizations) Willard Jue Memorial Award for a Volunteer, for contributing these vivid reminiscences to various venues in our community, including HistoryLink.org's People's History library.

The Green Lake Fishing Derby

When our kids were growing up, the Seattle Park Department sponsored an annual event at Green Lake.  It was a combination fishing derby and contest to find the boy and girl who looked most like Huckleberry Finn and Becky Thatcher.  This event was held at the T dock on the lake directly across the street from our house.  The week before, hundreds of legal-sized young trout were trucked in and planted in the area where the kids would be fishing. 

It was a gala event, with prizes for just about anything the sponsors could think of.  There were prizes for the biggest fish, the most fish, the skinniest fish, and the fattest fish, and they were nice prizes: fishing rods and reels, creels, jars of eggs, fishing knives, etc.  But the Grand Prizes were for the best impersonations of Huck and Becky ... brand-new bicycles. 

The first year John entered, when he was about 10 years old, he won a fishing outfit for catching the most fish.  I never saw anyone catch fish like he did that year.  He caught some using bait, and some with no bait at all on the hook, and some he simply snagged with a hook through a fin. It was as though the fish just hurled themselves at his tackle.  But, some other lucky kid rode home on the beautiful, new bike.

When the contest rolled around the following year, he was ready.  We all helped with the preparation.  He borrowed Vern's straw gardening hat.  I found him an old, torn shirt in the Goodwill bag and ripped off a few more buttons. His own, worn-out jeans looked about right.  Dave lent him his home-made slingshot, and Paul filled his brother's pocket with small stones.  John tied a length of string onto a limber stick and fastened a hook to the string. Hildy painted his face with hundreds of freckles with a brown eyebrow pencil.  I don't remember where we got the corncob pipe, but it was just right.  The final touch; somebody tied a floppy bandage around his big toe.  That day he came home with a shiny, new bike, and he and the Becky look-alike were featured in the evening newspaper, with an article and photograph. 

Four years later, when little brother, Paul, had reached the age of eight, we awoke one Saturday morning to hear the loud-speakers down by the lake, reminding the kids that there was only so much time before the judging would begin for the contest.  Somehow, the publicity for the event had slipped past us, but, again, the family rallied around. It wasn't hard to find old, torn clothes in that family of four active children, and we had the picture taken of John to remind us of what to do. 

We couldn't find the brown eyebrow pencil, but Paul looked great with black freckles and my straw hat fit him better than his father's.  Other than those two touches, we just duplicated the outfit John had worn.  We hustled him down just in time for the judging.  He was too cute to resist, and home came another shiny bicycle.  There was another newspaper story with another picture, and another family celebrity.

I think we must be the only family around to have given birth to two Huckleberry Finns.   

Related Topics:   Environment | Seattle Neighborhoods | Society

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