Opinion

WALLY'S WORLD: More on Semanskis: An ode to my cousin

By Wally DuChateau

Last week we dwelled on the Semanski brothers and their legacy in local history. Their contributions to our community and its institutions may not have been as great as other family dynasties, such as Lafromboise or Smith (J. J. Smith and Rufus), but they were still important cogs in Enumclaw’s societal hierarchy during the early and mid 20th century.

Eddie Semanski, better known in intimate family circles as “Buddy,” died a few weeks ago. He was my cousin. With his passing, the last blood descendant of the Semanski name vanishes from the Plateau region.

Buddy had a few years on me and that made quite a difference early in our lives. As we ran about in the nooks and crannies of grandpa’s deserted chicken coops, our untamed childhood imaginations running amuck, it was usually Buddy who mapped our gunfight strategies when we snuck up on the bad guys. Armed with a broken toy pistol and a wooden, pint-sized rifle, we killed a hundred crooks or a hundred cops – depending on which role we were playing – in a single afternoon.

Of course, Bud left those childish games before I did and, as we moved through middle school and high school, we drifted apart, owing again to the difference in our ages. The first job he had was setting bowling pins in Enumclaw’s first bowling alley. From 7 to 11 p.m., three or four nights a week, he sat behind a wall at the end of the alley and gathered and reset the pins, before this operation became automated. It was noisy damn work but, aside from nerve damage to the inner ear, the work wasn’t particularly perilous.

He wasn’t much of a scholar, but socially he could be quite skilled. He was president of his junior class and cheer-leader in his senior year. He was also elected student body president, only to be stripped of that office by the school administration because his grades were too low. This last incident really hurt Bud, much more than he’d ever openly admit. Somehow I always felt, in one way or another, it influenced his life-choices for the next six or seven years.

He was drunk for a year or two after graduation. I suspect both of us inherited that trait in our Semanski genes.

He gave the Army three years of his life. While stationed in Austria, he met and fell in love with Heidi Hitsch and, after the usual hassle with U.S. immigration, she came into this country, via Canada, and they married in 1959. Thereafter, Bud sobered up and settled down.

Owing in part to the influence and connections of his uncle Rufus Semanski, Bud started driving a logging truck for Weyerhaeuser. About the same time, he decided that, just because he was an unsophisticated, comparatively uneducated gear-jammer, there was no reason he couldn’t become wealthy, relatively speaking. So, for the next 42 years, he invested and traded quite wisely in various companies, stocks and annuities and his strategies proved very successful. His financial knowledge was sometimes the object of playful sarcasm among coworkers, but they just as often came to him for advice about their own investments and money plans. (While waiting for their trucks to be loaded, other drivers frequently spent the time leafing through porn magazines but Buddy was, often as not, reading the Wall Street Journal.)

Our lives took drastically different turns and for the next 30 years we had little contact. Yet, we never lost the love, respect and memories we shared.

“That’s the beautiful thing about America and capitalism,” he told me on more than one occasion. “People can spend their lives doing any damned thing they want.”

After he retired, at a comparatively young age, we got together on a more regular basis over beers in the Mint. He spent his last 15 winters in Yuma, Ariz., where he had many friends and good times dancing around huge bonfires on full-moon evenings.

Only yesterday, it seems, we were shooting one another in the chicken coop. I’m really gonna miss you, Bud.

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