Memory's Sweet Fallout

A man's refuge offers his grandson something different.

By Michael Byers

Before my parents divorced, my family spent our beach holidays in Grayland, Wash., in a house my mother's father built in 1963. The town, such as it is, strings itself along the north-south coastal two-lane highway. The motels are—well, you know what they are. They're Mariner's Cove, Silver Sands, and Ocean Spray. There's one fancy restaurant in a neighboring town. If you order scallops, you may get big meaty plugs of halibut punched out with a cutter and cooked with jack cheese. There's a Chevron station where you can get jojos (fat wedges of deep-fried russet potato), and a maritime museum that I admit I have never visited. You have the sense, driving through, that you are the first person to come through town in a while—for me this was always part of the appeal—and that the town is best experienced at about 15 miles an hour, and sometimes 40.

On the other hand, the used bookstore in Westport, six miles up the highway, isn't bad, and charter boats tie up at the wharves across the street. After you buy your hardcover Eudora Welty or Paul Theroux for $4.50, you can rent a vessel and obtain the services of a captain, who will take you through the mouth of Grays Harbor into the open ocean. It is a trip of about 20 minutes and takes you back out the way Captain Gray came in 1792. The fishing varies, but most people come down for the salmon season, which peaks in August.

Schooners once sailed up from San Francisco to harvest the oysters, prized for their delicate flavor and small size, but the peak of that trade was in the 1890s. Oysters made the area prosperous in Victorian times and financed the construction of several mansions standing monumentally above the Willapa River. The major industry in South Bend, about 30 miles south, is still oysters, although not the native ones.

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