Joe Brignone in his home in Bay Center, Washington, November 4, 2011.
Photo by Katy Barber.
Joe Brignone was born to Oscar Joseph Brignone and Mary Lorene Bakke and is related to both Chinook and settler families in this area. His father’s family was Chinook and Italian, his mother from the Rhoades and Wilsons. Joe explains that the families were not happy with the marriage. Despite objections, Joseph Sr. and Mary were married and had two children, Joseph jr. and Dewey. When Joe was a year and a half, his mother left he and Dewey with his ppaternal grandmother. Joe moved between his fathers and grandmothers home as a younger child but ultimately stayed with his Chinook grandmother Tilly.
Joe’s father was a champion oysterer for seven years. He cut oysters so fast because the military taught him how during World War II. His grandfather worked his own oyster field where Joe learned to harvest oysters and work the river. His grandfather was known by his burn holes in his shirts because he would keep long matches in his pockets to light his cigarettes. He would always catch them on something and light his pocket on fire. Joe explained people in the harbor would say, “Looks like Blackie got his fire going as he would try to put out the fire in his pocket. Joe attributed his work ethic to his grandfather, who made him work from a young age but also paid him well. His maternal grandmother played the piano and was well known in Bay Center and around for her musical expertise.
Joe joined the navy and spent twenty years in the military in some capacity. He spent some time on the Midway carrier and was invited to see it decommissioned. He worked at various jobs throughout his life, including at Boeing as a draftsman, a draftsman at an architectural firm, at a surveying company, a s a soil tester, a building inspector, in the sheriffs office, and as a photographer. For most of his life he was a musician and played all over the country. He pickedup the guitar when he was young snd continueed while he was in the military. He spent some time playing in bars on the weekends and enjoyed the lifestyle. He was very patriotic and felt that military personel coming home from Desert Storm may get the same reception as Vietnam soldiers. He wrote a song about their experience and how Americans should treat them well. It didn’t get a lot of airplay on regular radio stations, but it was played on Armed Forces Radio and was played all over the world. After a while Joe recieved a letter from General Schwarzkopf saying that the song was one of the most patriotic songs he had ever heard.
Joe loved Bay Center and shared many stories from his youth. He remembered the smell of Bay Center, which he said, smelled off rotting oysters. He reminised about working with his grandfather and how other kids would work with him as well. Bay Center was a small community where everyone let their kids play together and the parents watched everyone, an example ” it takes a community.” Joe had memories of the Methodist Church being a place where the kids would hang out because they had a good youth group. He also shared experiences of working, playing and living in the bay.
To Joe, the Bay Center was a tight knit community that had its problems with back biting and gossip. However it was a great place to grow up.