When we moved to Tacoma, Washington, ten years ago today, we first lived in the Guest Cottage for several days, waiting for the truck with our furniture to catch up with us. As soon as the furniture arrived, we moved into an apartment in one of the buildings here. It was tiny (800 sq. ft.) – a living room with a kitchen/breakfast area, a hall, a bathroom (shower only), and a bedroom. We were “on the list” for a two-bedroom duplex, so we had to make do until somebody either died or moved into nursing care. We had carefully pared down our belongings from our 2400 sq. ft. house in Texas to fit in a 1500 sq. ft. duplex, but there was NO WAY we could fit everything into the apartment. Luckily, the apartment came with a cage in the storage room that we could put stuff in until we got our house.
One of the nicest things about the Garden Apartments was the brunches, and happy hours provided by the concierge. We met in the big living room downstairs for brunch (coffee, tea, sweet rolls, etc.) three mornings a week with the other residents of the building. Friday evenings we had Happy Hour with the drinks provided by the concierge. We would each bring potluck snacks to offer to our friends there. It was an excellent way to begin to meet the other residents.
After 9 months of living in each other’s pockets, we learned that our duplex was ready for us. Now we had a full kitchen, a laundry room, a BIG living room and dining room, two bathrooms, and two bedrooms. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven as we retrieved all our belongings, and the many, many bookcases and books that had been in storage. That was the end of January, 2013.
Our house was next to a large Gazebo that had lawn chairs and an iron picnic table that had been given to the community years before. When the weather got warmer, we would see other folks sitting out there in the late afternoons. They would bring their cocktails or wine with them. It wasn’t long before Al started walking over with his hi-ball and sitting in the shade enjoying the cool breeze that usually comes up in the afternoon.
One of the first couples we became friends with were Marty and Barbara Neeb. Marty had trained as a Lutheran pastor and got his start In radio with the Lutheran Hour. Then he went on to be the executive producer of the Lutheran Hour on television and won an Emmy for it. When we knew him he had been the station director for one of the local PBS stations, and he had lots of stories to tell. Al and I started to make it a habit to go over when we saw them there. Their duplex had been built before central Air Conditioning was needed as often, and they got really hot on late summer afternoons that year – so they came to the Gazebo to cool off. Other folks would be taking a walk in the evening, and would see several of us sitting there, and gradually a crowd organically formed. We called ourselves the Gazebo Group.
Ruth Dougherty was a great conversationalist who had lived in the area all her life. She was also a fine gardener, and had a plot in the community garden. She would walk over almost every evening and harvest green beans, and lettuces for her supper. Her partner lived in Assisted Living. Her husband had died several years before we moved here and her partner’s wife had died about the same time. They traded places to sleep every other day or so. They didn’t marry because she was a service wife who would have lost all her military privileges if they had married, so their priest (Episcopalian) held a church commitment ceremony for them, instead of marrying with a marriage license.
Another of our favorite couples were Ernie and Marilyn Carlstrom. He was a Marine Biologist and had been a professor at Pacific Lutheran University. He spent a lot of time studying and working on the declining mollusk population in Puget Sound. He also helped in tracking the ecological recovery of the area around Mount Saint Helens after the eruption. They had lived on one of the islands in Puget Sound before moving to FTJ, and they were familiar with all the natural attractions. Ernie could always be counted on to educate us on things like “lutefisk” and other Norwegian delicacies.
We weren’t exclusive to the Duplexes. Anyone who wanted to join us was welcome in the evenings. After a couple of summers of doing this, we got our little informal gathering listed in the weekly calendar for the community – and the Gazebo Group was born. Marty and Ernie were both on the board of FTJ, so we became a “shadow cabinet” for things we felt could be improved.
By the fall of 2014, we began searching for a place to meet once the weather became too cool to meet outside. We prevailed on the powers that be to let us use the living room of the Tobey Jones building at 5:00 pm, because their dinner time was at 5:00. That lasted a couple of years, and then we outgrew that space. We met in people’s homes, and we met in the activity area of assisted living. During the pandemic we still met weekly on Zoom. We always returned to the Gazebo whenever the weather was possible.
Ruth died in 2015. Barbara moved to Memory Care, and Marty moved to the Garden Apartments in 2016. Marilyn died in 2017, and Ernie moved to assisted living.
Those folks were replaced by lots of others who filled the holes in our little community. I loved having all of them as friends, and I’m glad the Gazebo Group continues to meet once a week.