Mad River Union
SEASIDE VILLAGE – In Trinidad, folks tend to meet in front of the post office, waiting for the morning mail. A group of men would often wander into Bill Dimmick’s laundromat next door, The Washery, and drink coffee from the vending machine while waiting. After a while, they moved their morning coffee meet up a notch, migrating across the parking lot to the little restaurant called LOZ, where they filled up all the tables. When Lois Harrington closed LOZ in 2000, the stalwart group moved their meeting place to the Seascape Restaurant on Trinidad Pier.
At times their group, dubbed The Doghouse Gang, swelled to 21 men, give or take a few. Others visited on birthdays or when in town from out of the area. They owned the first big booth every weekday morning. The name was a tongue-in-cheek reference to being in the doghouse if they didn’t get their honey-do chores done. No wives were allowed to join the group.
The reality may have been that the wives were just as glad for a little peace and quiet.
But the guys didn’t just sit around swapping stories and eating breakfast. One of their group was Tom Odom, a retired contractor. Tom never said no to anyone asking for help in town.
“He’d say, ‘I’m going to do this today and I need volunteers’ and we’d all go along,” Jim Cuthbertson said.
“Going along” meant painting the Town Hall, tearing down the old police department, putting up lights on the Memorial Lighthouse, fixing a lock that some scofflaw had filled with glue, or any other task that needed doing in the little town. If it needed doing, The Doghouse Gang showed up and did it.
Past members include Phil O’Neill, Merrill Stiver, Dave Zebo, Art Edwards, Bob Baldwin, Bill Henson, Roy Heightman, Alan Berry, Arne Jenson, Bill Harkins, George Bowman, Jim Gould, Don Blue, Jay Leger, Jim Buegler. Frequent visitors included Glenn Saunders, Don Miller, Bud Forbes and Richard Heller. (Thanks to Bud Miller for this list.)
Over the years, their number has grown smaller, as is natural to a group of old guys. Some have moved away and some have died. Just last week, Tom Odom moved with his wife Anne to Oregon to be closer to their daughters. But the group still meets and they take turns teasing their faithful waitress, Erica Ervin. Ervin has worked at The Seascape for 35 years, waitressing and baking her famous pies and cheesecakes.
“It’s like waiting on my family,” Ervin said, “because Bill and Tom knew me before I was born. Bill was always my neighbor. I miss my dad and uncle, but these guys know everything. If I have any questions, I save them for the next day they’ll be here. They are my encyclopedia.”
Ervin has a sweet and joking relationship with the men. “Bill calls me ‘Ears’ because even if I’m in the back I can hear when they are misbehaving,” she said.
Ervin was also kindness personified when a former member was descending into age-related dementia. He had forgotten what money was and had trouble remembering what he wanted to order. She’d help him keep his dignity by saying, “I’ll bet you are feeling like having a pancake this morning, right?” He would nod and smile, clearly relieved. When it came time to pay, she’d help him sort through his wallet for his credit card. (It makes me cry to write this because I was one of his caregivers, and I saw her do this many times, always patiently and lovingly.)
Bud Miller, one of the longtime members, recently put together a scrapbook of photographs of the group over the years. Many of the pictures are old ones of the men who served in the military – Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Army Air Force – for these were the men of the Greatest Generation. Merrill Stiver, who has since passed away, was a B-17 pilot in World War II, and flew more than 35 missions with the 8th Air Force, 303 Bomb Group. “He said, ‘You don’t get too friendly with other crews because you might not ever see them again’,” Cuthbertson said. “He also told the story of flying along in his B-17 and seeing the first jet plane. It wooshed by him and he said, ‘What the hell was that?’ ”
Other pictures show crab feeds, card games and early views of the pier with the fishing fleet.
Bob Hallmark, another member, owned the pier until he sold it in 2000. He built his boat, The Jo in 1980 and sold it in 2007. He is a relative newcomer to the group because he was too busy around the dock, although he has known everyone for all those years.
Hallmark had an exciting story to add to the group one recent morning. “I had a boat sink under me,” he began, a master storyteller and fisherman, setting the hook. The group was all ears. “My brother Dave and I were out by Patrick’s Point. I was on the radio with Don Sparks and Dave came in to say we had some trouble. I told Don, ‘I’ll get back to you.’
“I went out on deck,” he continued, “and the stern was almost completely under water. I tried to use the radio but the mic was under water. We ended up on a hatch cover, drifting by Flatiron Rock. We didn’t have time to get a life preserver. The hatch cover was just a piece of plywood.”
“Did you lose your engine?” Cuthbertson asked.
Hallmark gave a ghost of a smile. “It was still going when it went under.”
“Are you a good swimmer?” someone else asked.
“I can dog paddle pretty good,” Hallmark answered.
Now that’s a storyteller.
“What happened to the boat?” I asked.
“We saw it go under and disappear just as Don got there to pick us up,” Hallmark said.
“You polluted the ocean,” a Doghouse member teased him.
Teasing and ritual are an important part of the group. A member has to buy everyone else’s breakfast on his birthday. And Cuthbertson and Dimmick both agreed that Miller was the receiver of all the extra food that no one else could finish. “He’s never hungry but he eats all the food,” Cuthbertson joked.
“I give him my bacon,” Dimmick added. Miller, it should be noted, was not present, off on a trip down south.
So now that the group is down to four or five, will they entertain applications from wannabe Doghousers?
“If they are old enough,” one joked.