This is part of the Beaches of Camano series in which I explore and celebrate the 30+ beaches of Camano through listening to the stories of people who lived on them and loved them. This series will culminate in the Grand Opening show of Sunnyshore Studio titled “Beaches of Camano” on Saturday December 3rd, 10th, and 17th.
“When I think of the beach I think of romance,” she said.
I was struck by how the Beaches of Camano are places of romance – of love won and lost – when I interviewed eighty eight year old Shirley Ludwick in her apartment near Stanwood High School. She must have been a very striking as a younger woman. She still carries herself with elegance and grace.
A wonderful love story unfolded.
Shirley was born in Arlington in 1928 to Clarence and Freida Flage. She had too older brothers, Alfred and Donald, were 7 and 8 years older than her. When she was two years old her parents moved to the community that everyone called “Camano City”. When asked why, Shirley said, “I think because my dad loved fishing, and knew it would be close to the water.”
In those days Camano City was one of Camano’s many fishing resort. There was a nice store and a busy hotel there. Fishermen, like Shirley’s dad, rented the boats. Her family knew the people who owned the hotel. She spent a lot of time there. She remembers that Mr. and Mrs. Kinsland, the owners, had elephant tusks upstairs.
Shirley’s father worked in the woods on a logging crew. He was a saw filer.
But on the weekends he fished.
Shirley smiled as she shared about her dad and fishing: “Dad was gone all week, but he would be home on weekends. He would have his boat out in the water at the break of day. It wasn’t much of a boat in those days; it didn’t even have a motor; but that didn’t matter. He knew how deep to fish and what bait to use. He had more friends who wanted to go fishing with him because he was so good. And fishing was good in those days.” She looked away when she said, “He took me fishing all the time. It was our special time together.”
It was at Camano City that Shirley “met all my boyfriends.” They’d come from every year from eastern WA, and other distant places.
Eventually Shirley’s folks who were renting a house, garage and barn for $6 a month at Camano City bought a log house with a garage, barn and chicken house south of there, half way between Cama Beach and Camano City. Shirley had to walk all the way to the Camano Schoolhouse by herself in the 1st and 2nd grade. Shirley’s mother was a hard worker too, and a good cook; she milked their cows and raised chickens.
While her parents worked hard, Shirley remembers playing. Her girlfriends would come to the beach and take the old rowboat out, tip it and swim to shore. “Kids can’t do that these days,” she said. “Now days you wouldn’t dare let your girls sleep on the beach by yourself. Those with the days..”
There was always something going on. There were resorts all along the Island. She could walk up and down the beach to the resorts. Indian Beach to the north was close.
Cama Beach Resort was just to the south.
Onamac, to the north, was busy. At Onamac they used to seine for herring and had a big box in the water where they put all the herring. They sold the herring to the fisherman. Across the street from where Camano Chapel now sits was Camp Pleasant.
And the boys came every summer. “You got to know these kids. I’ll never forget the time the one boy had a motorcycle. He wanted to ride to town on the motorcycle. I was cared to death the whole way. I don’t think my mother knew. I was 11 or 12 at the time, not very old.”
When Shirley was in the third grade her parents moved back to Arlington to care for her Grandfather who had a farm. He passed, and they came back to their home on Camano when she was in the fourth grade. Shirley attended Stanwood High School.
After high school she got a job as bookkeeper at Hamilton Lumber. Her bosses were Durley and Purley Hamilton, so they called the three “Durley, Purley, and Shirley.”
It was there at Hamilton Lumber that Shirley saw the man for the first time that she would marry. His name was Irvin whose folks were both from Norway, whose brother was married to one of the Hamilton girls, and who worked at Hamilton Lumber.
Shirley’s desk was by the window. And one warm day the window was open and she was looking out the window at the men filing past to go to work. And she saw him go by and he was tall and slender and good looking and said to herself “that’s the guy I’m going to marry.” By that point, Shirley told me, “I had had so many boyfriends I was through with boyfriends.”
One can only imagine how a woman of such beauty and charm won the heart of Irvin. She did.
Shirley and Irvin were married in 1950 at Camano Lutheran Church.
They bought a little house over at Madrona Beach and fixed it up. When they moved in it didn’t have a bathroom. They put in nice cupboards and fixed it all up and made it home. Eventually they moved to the mainland with their three boys, only one who is still living.
Irvin is gone to. “Cancer. God wanted him worse than I did I guess.” She said.
As I listened to Shirley talk I thought about love. I thought about her love for her dad and mom. I thought about the way Shirley had “fallen in love” with the boys of summer. I thought about her love for Irvin, and how she had cried when talking about her boys who had passed away.
And I thought about how in 1992 a few weeks after Jenny and I were married we had moved into a basement apartment right above Camano City, near the Old Schoolhouse and fire station. I thought about how we had walked on that beach below Camano City and Jenny had collected shells there and how in that place our love had grown and somehow intertwined with that place.
Truly, the beaches of Camano Island have witnessed all manner of love, and remain places of great romance.