Monday, November 23, 2009

A fond farewell to our friend and good neighbor Ib Werner Christensen

We said goodbye to an old friend on Saturday. Ib Christensen has been gone since September and we all in our own way have said goodbye to him but had not gotten together as a group till now. The gathering was hosted by Peter McDonald, one of Ib’s long time friends. Ib was a proud and independent man and did not want to be a burden to anyone. He allowed only a select few to help him during his loosing battle with cancer, Peter was one, and we all thank him for it. It was a great party and just the kind of event Ib would have enjoyed.

I met Ib 20 years ago after buying into the community of Salmon Beach. His one story cabin was the first place to the north of mine, so close that our roofs actually were connected at the trail end over our boat decks. Over the years as tends to happen in such a close community, Ib became a part of our family. His advice and generosity towards me and my family was the kind that I had been use to getting from my mom’s dad. Even though Ib was the kind of man that enjoyed his privacy, he rarely turned down an invitation to dinner and for a few years running accepted an invite to Mom an Dad’s Christmas Eve dinner at their place on Fox Island. He only stopped coming when he felt to unsteady on his feet to make the steep stairs to the second floor of the barn where we gather each year.

In the beginning our interactions were limited to beach business since our place had to be rented out full time. When our first renters had to move and we ended up renting to collage students from University of Puget Sound, we had the summers to do our cleanups and repairs and also got a better opportunity to get to know our neighbors, and for them to get to know us. Some of the best times were when in the afternoon, after his mid day nap, Ib would sit out on the little strip of deck next to the boat ramp on the south side of his cabin. This was the perfect spot to catch the afternoon sun and he would sit there smoking his pipe and enjoy a glass of wine. He wouldn’t say anything but you knew he was there. The complex aromas of salt air, fresh cut fire wood, and pipe smoke will always remind me of Ib (although I think that the pipe smoke would probably do it by itself). If Ib felt like visiting he would call over to me that I was working to hard and should sit with him for a little while and “swap lies”. Always a good invitation to accept. He was always good about reminding me and Rhonda that there was a time to work and a time to appreciate living at Salmon Beach. If he was out on his deck for the sunset and could tell that we were going to miss a good one we would here him calling “Scott, is time for the sunset” so Rhonda and I would stop what we were doing and come out to the front deck and quietly, with Ib on his deck and me and Rhonda on ours, we would watch the sun go down over the harbor. We all need to slow down at least once a day to appreciate life, and a few minutes to watch a sunset seems like a worthwhile use of time. Thanks Ib.

In December of 1996, the beach had lost power from an ice and snow storm. Ib was starting his dinner on a camp stove he had set up in the kitchen and the hose connecting the stove to a five gallon propane tank was old and apparently cracked. By the time the neighbors saw the smoke and came to Ib’s assistance the fire had gotten into the old dry wood of Ib’s kitchen walls and there was no stopping it. When I got home from work a little before five, Rhonda was on the front porch telling me that the neighbors had called to tell us that Ib’s place had caught on fire. I jumped back in the car and at the blazing pace of about 20 mph (the winter sun had gone down and refroze the streets) I drove across town towards the beach the whole time wondering how bad it might be and that we might have to put him up in our place next door since it was not being rented at the time. I arrived to a parking lot full of fire trucks and I made my way down the trail. It didn’t help my anxiety when I had to climb over a land slide that was the trail behind cabin #39(the beach was not having a very good day). As I got closer I began to realize how bad of a day it was. My thoughts turned from putting Ib up in our place to, did we even have a place. The smoke coming from #54 was so thick that I could not even see the second floor #56. After a few tries I found a fire fighter that would lead me through the smoke and rubble and hoses to the other side where our house stood, Intact, charred but intact. Luckily the burn damage was limited to the exterior on the north side. The inside was water and smoke damaged. Ib’s was however a total loss. The shared experience of the fire cemented our friendship and linked us forever in Salmon Beach history .I always looked at it as an opportunity to make some needed improvements to our place and for Ib’s part he could have taken the insurance money and let some one else deal with the hassle of rebuilding but Ib had a vision. His hope was to build a place laid out in such a way that it would be a place for the community to gather with a resident caretaker on the upper floor. The location being almost smack dab in the middle of Salmon Beach was perfect. It was the only time I ever saw him really spend his money but now that I think about it he probably looked at it like it was the insurance company’s money and that made it easier. The second part of his vision was to see that the community would take over the ownership of what he dubbed the Longhouse. He offered to sell the longhouse to the Salmon Beach Improvement Club and he swore me to secrecy at the time but it can be told now and everyone should know. His intentions were to gift the Longhouse to the beach if we would agree to buy it. His offer was more generous than anyone ever knew. How in a place as precarious as Salmon Beach where if the storms and landslides don’t get you, the City of Tacoma or Washington State Fisheries will. How we could turn into such a bunch of wimpy worry warts afraid of liability and responsibility I will never understand. We were lucky though that Ib allowed some of his beach friends to hold some special events there and until he finally sold it, in the last few years people were willing to ask to use it for its designed purpose as long as it was Ib takeing the risk, not us…go figure.

A few years ago he gave us his boat, he said he was getting to old and we need it more than he did. The only catch (it seems with Ib there was always some strings attached) was that when we were done with it we had to gift it to another “boat needy” Salmon Beacher. I still have the hand written note with my conditions of ownership .I will cherish it and probably copy it word for word when it is my turn to find a worthy caretaker for Ib’s Salmon Beach boat. Not long after that he offered to sell us the boat ramp that separated our two places. It was one of the few parts of his orignal place that survived the fire since it was high tide at the time and covered with water. We agreed on a price and payment plan and his only complaint was that the contract was too long and he didn’t think that he would live long enough to see it paid off. I joked with him that I though that I knew him well enough to know that he would find a way to make it till he got paid in full…and you know what, he did.

So as I sit here nursing the last of a day long hangover from last nights send off, I feel lucky to have landed in a place where your neighbors become family. Hopefully I can remember what I learned from my good neighbor Ib and carry it forward. Ib loved Salmon Beach and added greatly to it's character. not only are we trying to preserve the history of Salmon Beach by restoring a little wooden boat but by keeping the stories of the people who lived with the boats preserved for the future and in our small way keep Ib’s memory alive.