They Were the Haftersons
By Peggy Sturdivant
The Haftersons were the first people to welcome us to the neighborhood. Idling their car in the alley along our snowy backyard white-haired Marion leaned over her husband Jim to say, “You must be the new neighbors.”
Not missing a beat I replied, “And you must be the old neighbors.”
When they both laughed I knew we were all in good company. They’d moved in with a newborn daughter forty years earlier, leaving behind a trailer home closer to Jim Hafterson’s mechanic work at Sea-Tac Airport.
Jim Hafterson later told me, “It was the cheapest house that I could find, and it was in bad shape.”
The house had good bones though, with a view of the Sound and a big yard. The Haftersons raised their two girls there, the alley becoming one big playground for lots of kids, with few fences in between. There were swing sets and sprinkler runs, Easter egg hunts and trick-or-treating. Now those children are grown-ups who remember being allowed to play in the basement of the house with the dance floor. But sometimes, even decades later, their best friend is the same.
We met Jim and Marion after their daughters were grown. Yet their back porch was always a place for socializing; the coffeeshop across the street a regular meeting spot. The front yard boasted rose bushes and legendary blueberries. The back yard was home to rhubarb and plums, Tombstone roses and irises that smelled like grape Kool-Aid. The clothesline was used year round. Marion loved to tell the story about when they finally had to get a new washer and the delivery person kept asking, “Where’s your dryer.” She’d point to the clothesline. I had clothesline privileges.
A few years ago Marion had some falls and her memory began to falter. Marion and Jim Hafterson moved over to Port Orchard to a retirement community that was supposed to be safer, but Marion broke a bone stepping off a curb almost immediately. She recovered and was able to receive rightful honors for her years of work with the Ballard Historical Society in June 2016.
The last years have not been so kind, not to any of the Haftersons.
In January their first-born daughter died after a recurrence of breast cancer. She left two children and family and friends, stretching from Ballard to around the world, following years working overseas. On a Saturday there was an open house in her honor. Jim spent his last night there. Next morning the Happy Hauler arrived to begin emptying the house of its last 49 years.
The tools, the knick-knacks, the cleaning supplies, the china cabinet in the hall and the leftover food, “Take it!” Jim said, “Take it!” He loaded a few things, including the photo albums and a trundle sewing machine he’d decided to fix. The following Sunday, on March 4, 2018, Marion Hafterson died, just eleven days short of her 89th birthday.
Over those clean-out days I’d pored over the photo albums looking at first Christmases and grandparent visits, birthdays and the first day of school. There was Marion as I never knew her, glamorously blonde, with her tow-headed girls.
Over the years I observed their summer pizza nights in the backyard of another friend on the alley. Sometimes Marion Hafterson would stroll down to visit, in our matching garden clogs, calling at the back door. She never suffered fools and had toothy grin. I liked her version of how she and Jim had met on a ski slope. She had chosen to leave her hometown of Hanover, New Hampshire and was working in the Bay Area in California. She’d packed her lunch and Jim had not. She sized him up to decide whether to share her sandwich with him, perhaps already realizing her decision might be for keeps.
Last week Jim Hafterson told me his account. He’d been invited to ski with the Palo Alto Ski Club when he was working in California after the service. “Marion was the only person I could keep up with, and besides she was carrying a lunch.” They were married on July 11, 1964. After he was transferred, “I drug her up here,” Jim said. She claimed that when he first drove her to the Ballard house he took every bumpy back road and made her water break. Until college their daughters never lived anywhere else.
Last week the house sold in a bidding war heartbeat. “If the new owners don’t take out the plum tree,” Jim said to me the day that it went on the market, “and don’t pick them…make sure to rescue them.” He left by the back door, after a beer with us in the kitchen. He gave a backwards wave.
I mourn the losses within this family, along this alley, and to the fabric of Ballard and neighborhoods like these. There was a time when a young family could move from a trailer into a house, and stay there for 49 years. I will miss my neighbors dearly, and the past they represent. One doesn’t meet neighbors any more like Marion and Jim. They were the Haftersons.
a heartwarming story!
Lovely article Peggy, you captured them perfect.
A celebration of Marion's life will be held on Wednesday, July 18th in Ballard.