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Reflections on growing up in Olympia

Growing Up Oly – Reflections on Raising a Family in Olympia

There is nothing like the birth of a child to get you in a sentimental mood. The recent birth of my son has certainly had that effect on me.

Rewind to the fall of 1980. My mother had barely blown out the candles on her birthday cake when the doctor came in and told her it was time. A few hours later, her birthday having been forever hijacked, a crying baby announced his arrival.

And that is how I crashed my first birthday party.

Over the next 10 years my world was very small. As far as I could tell, the entire universe was centered around Olympia. In my earliest years I can remember shopping trips to Yardbirds and beachcombing at Burfoot Park. There are even some family stories that suggest I used to parade around Capitol Campus sporting a brightly colored cape (though photographic evidence has yet to be proven accurate). And speaking of parades, yours truly was the proud winner of a prestigious costume award at the 1985 Olympia Pet Parade, where I showed off my Joe Montana 49′ers uniform while pulling a wagon filled with my favorite stuffed bear. That’s right, I was a bona fide tough guy.

By the time I reached kindergarten, my cape and stuffed animals having been traded in for a mullet, sports began to play a major role in my life. It started with soccer, as my Cobras ran through the Chinqually Booters 6 year old league. Soccer was quickly joined by YMCA basketball, then Bambino baseball, and even a brief stint with the Lakeside Rams of the Thurston County Youth Football league.

My association with so many youth sports teams led to another pastime: pizza parties. By the age of 12 my palate was so refined I could easily have matched any slice of local pizza with its originating pizzeria in a blind taste test. I was a regular at places like Dirty Dave’s, Pietro’s Pizza, and The Pizza Place. I could explain in great detail the crunchy dry texture of a slice from The Pizza Place or the subtleties that make Dirty Dave’s sauce so recognizable.

It wasn’t just sports and pizza that shaped my memories of growing up in Olympia though. As I entered high school I began to see a side of Olympia I hadn’t noticed before, one that would play a huge role in my eventual return to my hometown. With sports acting once again as the catalyst, I began to feel the support of an entire community. People I had never met before truly and genuinely believed in me and wanted me to succeed. It was an empowering realization for me, and with it came a heavy responsibility which I took very seriously. But I was also beginning to understand that there was a big world outside of Olympia and I was determined to explore it.

When I left for college I had already been fortunate enough to travel around the western U.S. playing basketball with various club teams. And my travels would continue during my college years, taking me from Shippensburg, Pennsylvania to Silver City, New Mexico, from Fargo, North Dakota to Fairbanks, Alaska, and lots of other stops in between. I was blessed to be able to see parts of this country that I would otherwise have no reason to visit. But there was still so much more out there, and it was calling me.

At the age of 21, my parents were generous (and brave) enough to help me fulfill my dream of visiting Italy. I enrolled in a study abroad program and packed my bags for an adventure beyond my wildest imagination. I entrenched myself in Roman culture, hiked the Cinque Terre, baked myself in the Mediterranean sun on the Island of Capri, and ate like a king every single day. It was an experience so great I won’t even attempt to sum it up in this blog post.

A few years later though, reality would come calling in the form of a diploma. My daydreams about watching the sunset from an Amalfi Coast balcony were quickly and unceremoniously replaced by practical thoughts like what to do for work and where to live. I was headed back home whether I was ready to admit it or not.

I won’t lie, returning to Olympia was a little less exciting than my European adventures. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief. After all, I knew what to expect here. It was safe and predictable, laid back and rainy, and at times it was flat out odd. I’m sure the same could be said for many places in this world but for some reason Olympia has always seemed to have the perfect balance of those ingredients.

Now, some 8 years later, I find myself looking at Olympia through a slightly different lens. Instead of viewing my hometown through the eyes of a teenager, bored with the status quo of a small city, I find myself amazed at how much I have yet to explore. That adventurous spirit has been brought out of me, at least in part, by my 4 year old daughter. Ever since she learned how to vocalize her thoughts my life has been an ongoing quest to find new (and preferably educational) things for her to do around town.

We’ve become regulars at several local parks, like Priest Point Park and William A. Bush Park. Frequent trips to the Hands On Children’s Museum have also become commonplace, made possible by annual family passes purchased by Grandma. We’ve gone through countless bags of grain feeding the animals at Lattin’s Cider Mill and Farm. We’ve spent hours admiring the salmon swimming up the ladders at Tumwater Falls. We’ve braved the crowds for community events like Lakefair and Arts Walk, and sat through plenty of rainy parades. We’ve taken full advantage of the generous schedule of free movies, music and entertainment at Huntamer Park offered by Lacey Parks and Recreation. And we’ve built up a lifetime supply of plastic eggs through my daughter’s obsession with the retro clucking hen prize machine at Dirty Dave’s.

Beyond all those experiences though, I’ve learned something valuable about Olympia. The support and encouragement I felt in my youth still exists today. There seems to be a genuine desire to see fellow locals thrive. It is a really refreshing characteristic to find in today’s society, where so often people seem to take on an attitude of “what’s in it for me?” And the truth is, if those people really stopped to think about it, I believe they would find that there can be a lot more in it for them when they put their energy into bringing out the best in others. So thank you, Olympia, for being a place I’m proud to call my hometown and for continuing to provide entertainment, adventure, and support.

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About the Author

Mike ConnerMike Conner is the creator and editor of Living in Olympia. He is also a Real Estate Broker and President of City Realty, Inc. in Olympia WA. Mike has a passion for promoting community. He is active in local athletic programs, volunteering his time with both the North Thurston High School boys basketball team and Tumwater Valley Golf Course.View all posts by Mike Conner →

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