Tequila Hangin' on the other side of the train tunnel on off Chuckanut Drive
Most of you out there really don’t know a lot about Don. You may think you do, but I have to say you really don’t. Don was one crazy dude, man. I mean the stories I can tell are beyond the scope of this letter. So don’t be offended if some of the words burn a little and the language is a bit rough, but that was Don. At least, that was Don and I when we roamed around together.
I had all these thoughts earlier, when I was lying in bed awake, too shattered with grief, thinking of the words to express my feelings, views and thoughts about Don Kruger. Now they seem to have evaporated! So maybe I just start at the beginning. I want to get it right, ‘cause this is my one shot to tell all of you today about my friend.
You see, we go all the back to the start together. Dee-Dee Don, Donny, Donny K, Red……..just a few of the names we knew him by. When we used to run around the westside of Olympia, Washington. The neighborhood was one where we all ran around into each others homes, hoping to get offered a little bit of food or drink. Parents always saying, “go outside to play”, so we did. We would all go ride bikes, or in the summer evenings hang around under the corner light posts talking about everything under the sun, from what was the coolest bike to own, who was the strongest super hero in the comics we read to who was the cutest girl. Don, his big brother Kai and I and the neighborhood boys.
It was Kai I was first friends with. I found an old picture of us going to Helen Hood’s birthday party together. I was 5 years old. Don was too little to go to the party with us. That was sort of the thing you see, Don was originally the little brother, just like me. Always wanting to hang out, be part of the gang. Maybe that’s why we hit it off. He would always be there, but most times you wouldn’t notice, as he was so quiet. Once we were all packed in the Plymouth Valiant of Greta’s, coming back from some event downtown, and we take this huge turn. We didn’t realize it for a about a block until we noticed that Don was missing. The backdoor of the car was slightly closed, and we realized he had fallen out of the car on the big corner. We started laughing and yelling and being all a commotion. Greta shouted at us to be quiet. I am sure she felt terrible. We stopped the car and Don ran up the hill and hopped back in. We were all “ are you okay?” “ wasn’t that cool?” Don’s status went up quite a bit after that. A real member of the gang.
We did finally create a short lived gang: The Nobles. A very short lived gang! That must have been around the age of 11 or 12. We thought we would be tough guys. So we gathered up some of the neighborhood buddies and started strutting around in our white T-shirts and jeans, sleeves rolled up to look like greasers. We cruised through the neighborhood like so much hot air blowing out of a balloon, loud and quick, but soon empty. We managed to destroy a neighbors beautiful garden, and harass some of the other neighbor kids who lived on the edge of the imaginary line of our few blocks of neighborhood! We did our contrition later when all the parents in the ‘hood made us go around apologizing, and then spending an entire day working in the earlier mentioned neighbors garden. That would be Bob Clum’s.
So during those early days all I have of memories are the summer days, Greta and my mom packing us all into the ’59 Plymouth station wagon and making the hour or so drive down to Pacific Beach to spend the day on the coast. We would play alphabet signs or just talk incessantly while Greta and Cheta would talk and smoke cigarette after cigarette, with their hair wrapped in kerchiefs, the radio playing pop music like Streets of Laredo or The Legend of Big John.
When we weren’t going to the beach we would spend the rest of our free time playing tackle football on the Kruger’s side yard. Day after day. Especially when it was raining, as we could get muddy and look tough. That is when “oyja-goyja” started. That was a term we learned from my older brother Jeff. When we were all mixing it up together in the huddle and bumping shoulders and elbows, we would all say “oyja-goyja”. Don’t even ask what that is all about. You had to BE THERE.
Then they moved a couple blocks up the street. It was there we had our first inkling of girls. Don, Kai and I would sit upstairs in their house, where Kai taught us how to play poker. Isn’t that a little bit of foreshadowing. Anyway, we would talk about the neighbor girls, who were more than happy to display their talents to us in those times we went next door. We really didn’t know what to think about it other than it was exciting and forbidden. Don and I would go next door where Judy Fiddler and Marty Trees would lift up their dresses or take off their shirts for us in a tent in the backyard. Those girls were only a year older than us. Really exciting times for two young boys of 10 or so. Nothing really happened other than we became confused over why we found this so exciting. Testosterone on the rise in a couple young boys.
Then Don moved to Crestline Boulevard. That is where Don and I made a pact! We decided that when we were 21 and living on our own we would move into together and have a really cool bachelor’s pad. We would be able to do whatever we wanted, and we would wallpaper the place in playboy pin-ups! We were going to be hotshots man! It is also when we heard this munching sound in their dog’s purina chow bag. We knocked it over and the fattest field mouse you ever could imagine came waddling out. Seriously, wadding and looking fat fat fat. We laughed our asses off. We called Don’s mom to come look and she started laughing too! So crazy.
Wild days they were. Then the Krugers moved to California, and so went Kai, Don and their little sister Jan. I didn’t get to see them until my Bar Mitzvah a couple years later. They made the trip up and we hung out for a couple of days after the event. I felt a little disconnected to them, but Don really made the effort to stay buddies and that is when he and I became much closer, Kai moving off into his own life.
We stayed in touch after that, writing a few letters, and my folks even took me for a visit down to Pleasanton for a visit. Kai had moved on into his own world then, so Don and I would spend the days together swimming, eating and just hanging out in the 100 degree weather.
Then Hartley’s career path brought them back to northwest, so Don became a frequent visitor to the Bean house, spending weekends and weeks during summer vacations.
Then came the summer we rolled the company truck. I was maybe 18 so Don was 16 or so. We had been out cruising around in the hot summer evening looking for fun, as teenagers do. Drank a little beer, enjoying the feeling of speed and vibration from the Dodge Adventurer 4×4. 4 of us crammed onto the bench sit in the cab, listening to The Allman Brothers or maybe Fleetwood Mac, I don’t know. We went off onto some deserted property that had some nice light dusty roads. A little too much speed and the back end comes whipping around to the front, then the momentum takes us end over end. We crawl out of the back window as the truck had come to rest on the top of the cab. No one is seriously injured, but Don’s back is bleeding. We walk the 4 or 5 blocks to my parents house. Don always would say how my folks never raised their voices or got mad at us. My dad Milt took Don to the ER to have a bunch of glass shards removed from his back. He still had those scars when I last saw him.
Then I moved to Bellingham and Don was a frequent visitor on weekends or when he had time off from the Coal Creek Parkway Arco Station where he was working.
Don was the guy who could work on anything and usually fix it. Maybe not perfectly, but he could always get something to run for as long as you needed it to get you where you were going! So Don would come up to Bellingham and we would drink and go out to house party’s, he living on Peanutbutter and me on potatoes, cruise down Chuckanut Drive to get away from the town and people. We could walk the train tracks and go through this short tunnel and sit around at the most beautiful spot. Light up a J, open a bottle and just sit out there and talk. If somebody got going onto their high-horse about something, Don would call them on it and tell them to quit talking “Arvel-Darvel”. I really don’t know where that word came from, but it was a phrase he used a lot about things that were just so-much bullshit, from people of maybe too much self importance. Arvel-Darvel. Ha, that is too much. He was a real Neal Cassidy in those days if you have ever read any Kerouac.
By this time Don was riding his Triumph 650 motorcycle. That was a real ride, we would cruise Mt. Baker highway, stopping in for a beer here and there, and just letting the wind blow by. He finally dumped it on some corner in Bellevue and trashed his arm and hand. His wrist was never the same after that. We wrecked a lot of things together actually, but so it went and Don would always patch them up.
When I lived in Seattle we hung out together all the time. Hell, one time we even blew off the front facing and door of a friends apartment house just for laughs! Funny what a little McNaughton’s with Beer will do for the mind. Thought a 1/4 stick of dynamite wouldn’t do that much damage in the mailbox, eh Burd-Orf-Zee?? O’Brian is still mad at us!
There are moments that happened that strangely always had Don and I together. When Mount Saint Helens blew it’s top, who was I with? Don. When I moved into my first house who helped us? Don. When my car stopped on the middle of the 520 bridge, it was Don who came to help me get off and towed me to a safe place. He was like my other half really. Everything that ever happened to me in the intense crucible of early life and later in older life, Don was part of the picture.
Then he married Christine Calhoun and things changed. Living in the rural Vashon Island, he started to mellow somewhat, and then when Ben came home one day the picture became even clearer for Don. He struggled with a few things, but he did love Chris and Ben. Ben with the balloons, Ben with Butterflies. What a kid he is! Don maintained an automotive repair shop in a large building in the lower half of his property off Gorsuch Road, now owned by the Fortnoff’s. It used to have a tremendous Raspberry orchard, from the days when Sandy Gorsuch lived there. He died in that house you know. It should have been a sign for trouble when Don took all those canes out. “I don’t like all the people coming by”, he said. He sank deeper into his abyss of alcohol until it was booze or the family, and fortunately the family won. Don had been in recovery for 17 or 18 years, right up ’til he dropped dead on that tractor from a massive heart attack, slumped over the wheel as if he was taking a quick nap.
I guess what I am really getting at is Don was bigger than life, and a true true friend! I would often tell my wife that if there was anything I needed or if I was ever in distress, Don Kruger was the one person in this world who I could always count on without exception. I seriously mean that. More than my natural two brothers or anyone else. Don loved me and I loved him, no judgements, no questions asked. How often does someone get to say that about someone??
So the deal is that if a life is telling stories, then the stories of Don are so many and so wide that his life really was worth living, and he will always live through us telling his stories! The end of my story with Don is when he was here just a little over a week ago sitting on my back patio, kickin’ it with my sons when I came home from Seattle. he hung out with us all afternoon and evening, came up to see my band perform. He was so content. The most relaxed I have ever seen him in anytime we have been together. My wife and I both discussed how good he looked and how happy he seemed.
So I feel blessed that Don came to see me before he died. It is now an honor in retrospect, that god or the law of the universe of physics would work in such a funny way to allow us to share one more moment together. So, this is just a weak explanation by a poor would be writer of who and what Don really was to me, but I know I’ll miss Red, and that he is laughing at us right now, being done with all the “arvel-darvel.”
Oh, and the name Red, that comes from him having a crew cut when we all had long hair, because he looked like a red neck around all us hippies. And peanut butter, that has forever after been known as “Red-Sauce”.
I love you dude.