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Ch 06: Goodbyes

Jody rowing Kara and Jasmine near the Spellbound, 1977

My grandparents planned on taking a three-year tour of the South Pacific with three of their children: Gary, Larry, and Kerry.  Little Jody and Bobbie couldn’t go with them as they each had young daughters.  My grandparents thought three years old was a bit too young to go on an extended sailing trip.  To placate my mom, who wanted to go with them, my grandparents agreed to sail across the Atlantic to France with me after they returned.  They figured the Pacific would be calmer water than the stormy Atlantic, where they would earn their sea legs.  Such a trip seemed a possible for a six-year-old girl rather than a three-year old.  My mom would homeschool me on the Spellbound as we sailed towards Paris.  I often wonder about the different path my life would have taken if they had returned to take us with them to Europe.  Who would I have met?  What would I have become?

I love to travel, and am fortunate to have visited many parts of the world: Europe, Russia, and Central Asia.  But never France.  Still, I can see myself, age seven, waiving to the camera with my grandparents on either side, smiling with the Eiffel Tower behind us, as if it really happened. In reality, we said goodbye on a sunny day in July, 1977, and I never saw them again.

The goodbyes were hard, even though we expected they would be back in a few years.  Three years is an eternity in a child’s mind.  But there was also excitement.  My grandparents were thrilled because they were finally leaving after all of their hard work and planning.  My mom was excited because she knew they would be back to take her to France.  And my aunt Kerry because she was happy to have a fresh start, leaving behind a string of dead-beat men she’d dated.  Bobbie seemed happy to stay behind, as she never liked adventures.  I don’t recall Larry and Gary being there.  My uncles didn’t make much of an impression on a three-year girl. 

They chose to leave at the end of Moss Bay Days, an annual celebration in Kirkland we went to every year. During Moss Bay Days, Kirkland was overrun with motorcyclists, beer, and partying on the street.  I loved going, as everyone was so happy.  We rode on carnival rides set up at the park, ate cotton candy, and stayed up late.  I watched all of the silly grown-ups yelling at the air, dancing spontaneously, and then collapsing asleep a moment later.  I couldn’t wait to be a grown up.  My grandparents loved Moss Bay Days, and knew their children did, too, so they waited until the party was over to set sail.

The day after Moss Bay Days we had lunch at a restaurant along the water in Kirkland.  The sun was shining as we watched the boats bobbing in the water.  I was so excited to be at a restaurant with my entire family.  It was rare for all of us to be together: Loren, Jody, Kerry, Bobbie, and her daughter Jasmine, my mom (Little Jody), me, Gary, and Larry.  The excitement caused me to lose my manners.  My elbows were on the table, I couldn’t sit still, and I kept interrupting.  My mom kicked me under the table for being rude and my shins hurt.  It wasn’t fair.  My cousin Jasmine was running around the restaurant and she didn’t get kicked in the shins. 

The photos of the day depict the perfect extended family.  When I think about the long table with food everywhere, my cousin and I giggling, anticipation on every face, I believe it’s the very picture of a happy family.  Yet there was a sense of fear, or perhaps sorrow, there too.  Now that I am older, I know that while venturing into the unknown can be fun, it is also a little scary.  I can’t help but wonder, though, if everyone knew or somehow felt this was to be our last meal together.

The original Spellbound crew taken in Kirkland, Washington in 1977. 
From left to right: Gary (crew), Loren (captain), Jody (1st mate), Kerry (crew), and Larry (crew).

Hours later lunch was finished and we walked to the parking lot.  My grandparents gave Jasmine and me each a red tricycle, which we immediately jumped on to ride, our goodbyes forgotten.  I can still hear the geese honking on the beach and taste the salt in the air.  Life seemed perfect as I rode in circles in the parking lot, feeling safe and dizzy.  There were hugs and tears. My grandparents, aunt Kerry, and uncle Larry waived to us, and then they walked down the trail towards where the Spellbound was moored.  Any memory of Gary being there seems to have faded.

We saw the Spellbound crew two more times.  They planned a combined goodbye party at Shilshole Bay Marina in Northwest Seattle with their friends from the Puget Sound Cruising Club. There were three couples, including my grandparents, who spent more than a year planning their sailing trips to the South Pacific together. They decided to leave at the same time: Jerry and Randi on the Restless Wind, Russ and Flo on the Drummer, and my grandparents on the Spellbound.  The couples arranged to meet at various times throughout their journey.  They were going to keep in touch via “the web,” which in those days meant the Ham radio network.  There was a big party at the marina that lasted long into the night, and the boats left in the morning. They all agreed to meet in San Diego, California before departing across the Pacific Ocean.

After leaving Shilshole Bay Marina, they spent a lovely day slowly sailing to Port Townsend Washington.  When it is sunny in Western Washington, I cannot think of a more beautiful place to be than sailing in the Puget Sound.  While in Port Townsend they picked up an airline pilot, coincidentally named Gary who was an experienced sailor to help them with the trip down the west coast.

My mom, her siblings, and my grandparents’ friends planned a final farewell, a weekend of more parties on the beach in Port Townsend.  I’ve been told by many that my grandparents liked to party, in a good way.  For their last night, everyone camped on the beach together.  My mom says I was there but I don’t remember.  I can only remember my tricycle, the sun, the geese honking, and that they were gone.  Finally after all of the preparations and goodbyes, the Spellbound left on July 29th, 1977 and my grandparents were gone forever.

I am sure I understood in some way that they were leaving, even at age three.  My grandma was a wonderful, warm, carefree person who was always smiling.  I can still feel the warmth of her smile in my heart when I think of her.  My grandfather was always sanding or hammering, and my memories of him are lost.  It was my aunt Kerry that I was the most sorry to see leave.  She babysat me often.  She knew how to play the best games.  And, she loved my artwork.  I missed her chasing after me and giggling with her.  These memories now collide with the later, darker thoughts of her possible involvement in my grandparents’ death.  What happened to transform her from beloved aunt to a possible accomplice to a murder or a murderer herself?

How does a family go from pleasant goodbyes on a sunny day to murderous violence? I’ve learned the family my mom grew up in was not the ideal it appeared to be, with dad working and mom staying home raising the kids.  I suppose it never is.  What I want to know is what happened to change the Brady Bunch family into a dysfunctional, shattered remnant of a family with a possible murder as our family secret?  I am sure it took more than one weekend in the South Pacific for this to occur.  I wish they had seen it coming. But, like many changes, the slowness and nearness of it can be blinding.

Postcard to Kara from the Spellbound