NORTH BEND – As Zara Fritts cleaned out her North Bend home last week, she started deciding what she would take with her when she moves, and what she would throw away.
There were some hard decisions. She would be moving out of a house she had lived in for decades and going to a two-bedroom apartment in Everett. Each room in her cramped home was filled with old boxes being unpacked and new boxes being packed up. As she went through her belongings, Zara was telling quite a story, unknowingly, to anyone who dropped by.
Clare Lucille Brady
On Zara’s living room floor was an old diploma placed in a glass frame. It was awarded to Zara Fritts’ mother, Clare Lucille Brady, who received it after graduating from nursing school in Chicago. She went on to marry James Paine, who settled the new family in South Dakota. Working the land was hard, though, with too many grasshoppers and too little rain. When Zara was 14, the family bought a truck and headed west to Washington with $428, money the family had made after auctioning off all their possessions.
The family first settled in Sunnyside, but Zara’s father didn’t get to experience much of the new state as he died when Zara was 17. After Zara graduated from high school in 1940, she went to work in Seattle for a year. Zara’s mother was distressed over her not writing enough and found her a job working in North Bend. Zara would eventually go to work at Thompson’s Cafe and later got her mother a job there as well. Clare would end up working for Boeing on airplanes during World War II, running her own restaurant in Snoqualmie’s Meadowbrook neighborhood and operating a boarding house on Ballarat Avenue. That house on Ballarat eventually became the home in which Zara would spend the rest of her years in North Bend.
It was at Thompson’s Cafe that a young man named James Fritts came in with his girlfriend. Zara recognized the woman James was with and said hello, but the woman did not return the pleasantries. It didn’t bother Zara, though.
“The ruder she was to me, the nicer he was to me,” she said.
There wasn’t a long courtship and the two were married on Nov. 11, 1941, just a couple weeks after they met. They would be together for 59 years.
Zara had clocks to put away in her living room. Zara remembered that Jim was always punctual, except for one evening when he came home four hours late from work at Western Fuel. At first, Zara was worried, but when Jim finally got home he was excited. He had spent the night working at a tire shop, a place he usually stopped by because he was fascinated by the tire making process.
Once Jim went to work at the tire shop, he soon became so proficient that he opened his own tire shop called J & G Tires (named after the couple’s children, Jim and Gerry) in 1947. It was located between North Bend and Snoqualmie on the site where Chinook Lumber is now. In 1968, the business moved to a new building next door.
The shop’s first customers were from out of the Valley and deliveries went as far north as Snohomish County, and as far east as Mercer Island. Jim’s skills soon brought business closer to home, but he needed a delivery driver, a role Zara filled for 26 years, going through five trucks. It was on those long drives that she remembered funny names of people she met, said hello to just about every face in the Valley and once saw a UFO against a full moon.
Articles about children
Among Zara’s belongings is a yellowed newspaper article with a picture of a pretty young woman. The woman is “Miss Maria de Lourdes Ortega,” and the article is an announcement of her marriage to Zara’s son, Jim. Jim met her while serving in the Navy in California and he jumped out of a boat and swam to shore for their first date because his crew’s shore leave had been revoked.
“I knew she was the one for him because of all the women he dated, he told me her name,” she said.
Jim is one of the Fritts’ three children. They have another son, Gerry; and a daughter, Mary.
For every trip Zara made in a truck for J & G Tires, there seemed to be another trip required to deliver a child to Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Campfire Girls, Rainbow Girls, numerous school events or the homes of friends.
“There were some times I would come home real tired and would forget I had to drive them somewhere,” she said. “But I never regretted it.”
Zara now has eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Also on Zara’s table is a certificate of commendation signed by North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing. Zara received it at the April 19 City Council meeting where she gave a brief speech thanking the city for all it had given her and her family. The words from Zara to the city were not always so nice. Hearing’s predecessor, Joan Simpson, got an earful from Zara after Simpson tried to have more medians installed on North Bend Way. Zara, who thought they were public hazards, dismissed them as “brush piles” and was not shy about telling Simpson her thoughts.
Zara became more involved with civic life around the time she and Jim retired from the tire business in 1976. Zara had started to buy antiques and got into the business of selling them out of her home. Before long, she earned a reputation for quality merchandise and began selling items out of a store on North Bend Way. One time, she even chased a potential thief down the street.
As a North Bend businesswoman, she was active in the town’s civic life and even spent a couple of years on the North Bend City Council in the 1960s. While Zara did not always have the kindest words for the governing bodies of North Bend through the years, Hearing, along with city councilmen Mark Sollitto and Chris Garcia, made a point to acknowledge all she had given to the city.
“Thank you for you service to North Bend,” Hearing said.
Pacing the house and shadowing Zara’s every move was a dog, big in both name and size, called Montana. This giant black Labrador was trained to be Zara’s best friend, but there was a deep personal connection between them. The dog’s first home was in the arms of Jim on Christmas Eve in 1998. Zara had asked her children to get a Labrador for Jim, who had become ill. They found the puppy in Kalispell, Mont., and gave him to their father as a Christmas present. Zara remembered the puppy burrowing his head in Jim’s arms the first time he held him. Jim loved the dog so much that Zara credited the dog with helping Jim stay alive two more years before he passed away on Nov. 11, 2000, 59 years to the day of he and Zara’s wedding.
Zara can not say enough about her husband, a soft-spoken man who loved the woods, boxing and his family.
“His capacity to love left me in awe,” Zara said.
Zara’s move to Everett is partly out of love for the dog that loved Jim. When Zara decided to move, she visited numerous homes in the Puget Sound area, but had a hard time finding one that would be big enough for both her and Montana. Leaving him with someone else was not an option.
“You love me, you love my dog,” Zara said.
A reminder from Mount Si
Outside of Zara’s house is a view of a mountain, Mount Si. This, Zara had to leave behind, and it was hard. It was the most beautiful and constant reminder of where she has lived.
“I never climbed it,” Zara said, with a just a tinge of regret. “But I have stared holes through it.”
Although it may be just another natural landmark, Mount Si has been for Zara what it is for many people in the Valley, a symbol of the love she felt living in what she considered to be just about the best place on earth.
“You have given me more than I ever gave you,” Zara said at the North Bend City Council meeting when she received her certificate. “Thank you.”