It was long ago, 75 years, but David Peterson hasn’t forgotten. A second-grader then, he knocked on his best buddy’s door, just a half block from his boyhood home near Seattle’s Alki Beach.
“I remember going to his house,” said Peterson, 83, who recalls being saddened by the answer: “Sorry, Jerry doesn’t live here anymore.”
Everett’s Jerry Hilson doesn’t remember a sudden move from his early childhood home. It was likely due to his father landing a new job near Port Townsend, he said.
On Thursday, the 82-year-old Hilson sifted through a box of snapshots. He found the one that takes him back. There they are, in the 1945 photo, he and David sitting happily on the steps of the Hilsons’ house near Alki.
“It rang the memory bell,” Hilson said in an email last month. The message explained how he’d managed to find his grade-school friend after so many years.
He and Peterson now share fresh memories. With their wives, Helga Hilson and Janice Peterson, they rekindled their friendship with a lunchtime get-together Wednesday at a restaurant in their old neighborhood. They walked the beach where they once played as kids and visited Alki landmarks.
The Petersons, who still have children in this area, moved six years ago to Hawaii’s Big Island. They’re in the Seattle area for a visit through this weekend.
“We hit it off, it just felt like old times,” David Peterson said of their grand reunion.
Through phone conversations before meeting in person, the men learned their lives had taken remarkably similar paths. Both graduated from the University of Washington, served in the U.S. Army, joined different choirs affiliated with the Pacific Coast Norwegian Singers Association, and with shared heritage had traveled to Norway.
As fraternity members while at UW, they may have even walked past one another. Peterson was in Phi Gamma Delta, known as the Fiji house, and Hilson was a member of Phi Kappa Sigma. Both houses are on 17th Avenue Northeast, just north of the Seattle campus.
After 75 years with no contact, it took some doing for Hilson to find Peterson once his curiosity was piqued by that photo of little boys on Hilson’s front porch steps.
He figured his friend had stayed close to home. Through an internet search, Hilson found the coordinator for West Seattle High School’s class of 1956 — the same year he graduated from Port Townsend High School. The West Seattle classmate gave Hilson a phone number and email address for Peterson.
The phone number didn’t work, but email did.
“I was in Hawaii reading my email when I see ‘Looking for David Peterson,’” said Peterson. Within an hour, he sent a reply.
That was soon followed by a long, emotional phone call and “our immediate return to the joys of early childhood,” Hilson said.
And although Peterson said “nobody had much” during their early school days, which coincided with World War II and rationing, they remember an idyllic childhood.
They were together from kindergarten through second grade at Alki Elementary School.
“We had three hubcaps in the street — first base, second base and third base,” Peterson said. “We played baseball, kick the can, hide-and-seek.”
Kids played in vacant lots where today there are high-priced condos. The Natatorium at Alki Beach, long gone now, had a saltwater pool.
Trygve Peterson, David’s father, owned a grocery store. David’s grandfather, Oskar Peterson, had been raised in Everett. Hilson’s father had been a dairy farmer in Wisconsin. During the war, he worked in a shipyard.
Jerry Hilson was featured in The Herald in 2015 when he and his wife held a fresh-pressed cider party. He makes cider and syrup from apples grown on their property in Everett’s Boulevard Bluffs neighborhood. And in 2016, Hilson told Herald readers about Sangerfest, a gathering of singing groups hosted by the Everett Norwegian Male Chorus.
Seventy-five years after a camera caught them as smiling children, Peterson and Hilson are fathers, grandfathers and retirees. Peterson’s post-military career was in insurance. Hilson met his wife while serving with a U.S. Army airborne unit in Mainz, Germany. He served in the Army Reserve, worked for the Boeing Co. and for Overall Laundry Services.
Both have traveled the world, raised families and had careers. Yet happy memories of Alki and their early friendship haven’t faded.
Hilson shared another photo with Peterson. It’s dated 1943 and shows three little boys in a yard.
“There was Jerry,” said Peterson, recalling that the other pal in the picture is Larry Capeloto. “I was in the middle with two buddies on either side,” said Peterson, who’s also in touch with Capeloto, now a Californian.
Looking at the old photos, “I started to tear up,” Peterson said. “I could remember the loss of this very good friend.”
Lost, but now found.
Julie Muhlstein: firstname.lastname@example.org