The great day finally came when Mother, Ruth, and I boarded the SS Queen for Seattle. We were on our way to Springbrook, Oregon to stay with Daddy's youngest sister, Florence, and her husband, Elmer Thorne. They had four children: Earl and Phyllis, about our ages; then Robert and Doris who were much younger. Ruth and I were both excited to think of becoming acquainted with cousins and a totally different lifestyle.
The luxury of the old ship impressed us. Also, at each port more young people came aboard on their way "outside" to school, either high school or college. Their sophistication scared me a little, but Ruth had no problem.
Days before we were to leave a black bass flopped out of the barrel in the Midget when we were fishing. It caught Ruth in the ankle with one of its spines which became embedded in the bone. It broke off and we couldn't remove it. Since it would take surgery to remove it, it was decided to leave it until we reached Oregon. (There was no doctor of any kind in Sitka at that time.)
From the first she was of interest because she was on crutches and everyone rushed to talk to the pretty red-head, to open doors and help her down the stairs when we hit rough weather.
Mother, too, soon knew everyone aboard and was in her element. She never knew a stranger and it was never more apparent to us.
I shuddered because I knew we were ill-dressed and I became tongue tied in the presence of these chattering, worldly, well-acquainted young men and women. It was a trying ordeal and I looked forward to the day we'd gain all that polish.
One of our ports of call was Kake. I looked forward to it eagerly, wondering if my memories were just fantasies. The Queen was only there an hour, just long enough to load several hundred cases of canned salmon at the cannery, so there'd be no time to go ashore. Just the same, I wanted to know what it looked like.
Somehow, it seemed important to me.
Well, it did look just like my memory, all except for one thing. As we slowly sailed past, I couldn't see the shanty we'd lived in. Mother said it must have fallen down from age and lack of care. The long curve of the coast was there, the Indian houses, Kerberger's old store, the manse and the school. I was elated to think my memory had not played me false. Ruth didn't remember any of it, nor care. She even thought l was silly to think it important.
When we reached Seattle about 10 o'clock on a drizzly morning we had another disappointment. Uncle Wilfred was not there! Mother had arranged for him to drive up from Portland so that he could transport us complete with luggage to spend a few days with her mother, Grandma Markell, in Portland.
Mother telephoned. No answer. We waited around about an hour thinking he'd been delayed. Again Mother phoned with no answer. It was cold, wet and dreary hanging about the docks. Finally Mother called a cab and took us to the Greyhound station. We had to wait awhile, but were finally on our way to Portland. It grew dark early in the rain. Mother kept exclaiming, admiring the lights as we lumbered along. They just hurt my eyes and I couldn't see anything all that great about them.
When we reached Portland, Mother again tried to phone Grandma. Again no answer. This began to worry her about Grandma as well as Uncle Wilfred and it left her in a real dilemma. She had to make her money last until she had us safely deposited and then return home. To take us to a hotel would have dug too deeply into her reserve. Finally she booked us onto a Greyhound going to Newburg and we jostled along again. It seemed like forever, only it was just about sixty miles. We were cold, tired and hungry when we reached the station about nine thirty that evening.
Once again Mother phoned. This time to Aunt Florence and Uncle Elmer to come pick us up. We weren't expected for a week because we were to stay with Grandma. I'm sure from the conversation at our end that Aunt Florence was most reluctant, but finally Uncle Elmer was sent for us. It was cold in that open bus station and there was no coffee counter. We were so tired that we could have slept standing up, almost. Only the strange newness of our surroundings kept us going. Uncle Elmer was a quiet man, but friendly as he came chugging up in his Model T Ford. He greeted us kindly, loaded in our luggage, and drove us back the three miles over dirt roads which we came to know well. Back then it was just an on-going part of the ordeal.
Aunt Florence was pretty crisp when we arrived. They'd been in bed and she didn't appreciate our early arrival. We weren't offered anything to eat although Mother made a point of explaining that we'd had nothing since breakfast aboard ship. We were ushered up to bed in the room Ruth and I were to share for the year. Mother and both of us bunked in the double bed. It was a Saturday night, I remember.
Aunt Florence was still grim next morning, but fixed the best hot biscuits for breakfast I ever ate. We were to get to know those biscuits well too, as they were the customary diet. (We also used them for our school lunches.)
Phyllis was there for breakfast, sophisticated, windblown dark hair, and very quiet. Robert and Doris bounced down, too.
I helped set the breakfast table while Mother tried calling Grandma once again. No luck.
I was fascinated by the telephone. It was the first private one I'd ever seen. It hung on the wall just inside the kitchen door and rang often. To my amazement no one jumped up to answer it--not until it gave a special ring--and then the mystery was explained. It was a four- party line----and a very popular one, too. Moreover, the other subscribers often listened in to the conversations. Now they have soap opera and don't need that
kind of free entertainment.
Around 10:30 AM Mother made contact with Grandma. Uncle Wilfred had taken her to the beach for several days, getting his dates for our arrival totally mixed--a not unusual occurrence.
No one went to church--a vast departure from schedule that distressed Aunt Florence. We had almost finished the lunch dishes when Grandma and Uncle Wilfred arrived to spend the afternoon. Aunt Florence made her displeasure very apparent, but still they stayed until--it must have been six o'clock. No refreshment of any kind was offered and I know this upset Mother. Both Ruth and I were puzzled. Florence didn't like people to drop in and never, while we were there, was anyone invited to a meal. Once the parents of the boy Phyllis was dating came by pre-arrangement on a Sunday afternoon, but they weren't offered anything, either. Very strange!
One Monday Grandpa and Grandma Mills came to call but didn't stay long. Mother made an appointment for Ruth to see the doctor and I think it was Grandpa who took Ruth and Mother back to Newberg. She had to have the fish spine removed from her ankle. Dr. Hester had been the Markell family doctor when Mother was young.
He apparently did the job satisfactorily because while Ruth was on crutches for another several weeks, she seemed to have no further trouble.
Once the surgery was performed, Mother took us back by bus to Portland for our visit with Grandma Markell. She and Uncle Wilfred lived on a corner upstairs over a closed grocery store they had run on Clinton and (I think) 14th Streets, but I'm no longer sure of the address.
Without Grandpa Markell they couldn't manage the grocery. I'm not really sure why they left Springbrook and tried to run the store in the city. Grandma wasn't very well and Uncle Wilfred was a salesman for Calumet Baking Powder. He had been married and divorced twice.
Mother was happy to be in the city. To me it was just confusing with all the street cars clanging about, the endless noise, and traffic.
Mother took us to visit her cousin, Mabel Jolly, who was at home in traction from an accident. Then we went to see her Uncle Will Markell's widow, whose name I can't recall. While there the adopted daughter barged in, demanded some money, and when introduced to us said, "Humph" and sailed out with her nose in the air. It was embarrassing for the aunt as well as for us. We left too.
Back at Grandma's, Mother's sister Aunt Eva came with Uncle Martin Vollbrecht and their daughter (about six years old), Betty Anne. They were friendly--we liked them immensely.
Mother took us back to Aunt Florence and then she had to return home to the island.
That year was quite an education for us in more than “book learning." Uncle Roy came over from Salem to see us as soon as he found we were there, taking various ones for a short "spin" in his new Ford. He looked more like Daddy than his brothers, Lewis and Paul, whom we met later. He was cheerful and friendly.
Aunt Florence insisted on our attending Sunday School, church, and Christian Endeavor at the Friends Church in Newburg. Poor Elmer was always the chauffeur.
Ruth and I joined the Girl Guides that were just then being formed. We were only about a dozen girls. In order to attend the state convention (a totally new idea for Ruth and me) we gathered at the home of the lady leader on several successive Saturdays to make doughnuts and then peddle them about town. Another project was to take part in a huge stage production in Portland. Each group was assigned some portion of the show. Ours was to do a very simple dance to "Down by the Old Mill Stream." Ruth wore overalls, a straw hat, and a bandage on her big bare toe. I had a sunbonnet.
When it came time for the convention, disaster struck. An epidemic of the "Seven Year Itch" (Editor’s note: Scabies) closed the high school. Ruth and I both had it badly. Ruth was slower healing than I and not allowed to go to the convention. We'd used everything to treat the itch. Sulfur ointments and even coal tar--horrible, all of them.
The convention was held in Astoria and besides the expected speeches there was a tea hostessed by the governor's wife and a candlelight church service that impressed me.
Grandma Markell and Aunt Eva - our mother's mother and sister - made every effort to entertain us. They'd phone and we'd go by Greyhound to Portland to stay with Grandma and Uncle Wilfred. Aunt Eva and Uncle Martin had his sister, Hildegarde, staying with them in their cute little doll house out by Reed College. Since it only had two bedrooms and Hildegarde used the living room sofa, there was no question of our staying there.
Aunt Eva and Uncle Martin took us to the big theaters in Portland, the ones that had dance revues (a-la-Rockette style) before the movie, up to Mount Hood for the ski exhibition, on tours over Portland parks and other points of interest. We went out to the Oswego Country Club (they were members) so Ruth could swim, driving up the Columbia River past the falls, and other places I've forgotten. One special thing Aunt Eva did just for me. She fretted over my limp, straight hair and when the first Marcelling machines became available, took me for a permanent. It looked so much better, but I didn't know how to take care of it so I guess you'd call it a failure.
Uncle Wilfred was very partial to Ruth and took her to ball games sometimes.
Once I screwed up my courage and took the three different trolleys it took to go to see our cousin Vera Mills, our father's brother Lewis's daughter, newly married and very pregnant.
Our father's brother Uncle Roy, and Aunt Mable invited us to Salem one weekend. Roberta was attending college at Corvallis. Ruth and I walked the block from their house to the state Capitol building to climb up into the dome. We were very suitably Impressed,
On Sunday Aunt Mabel fixed the traditional fried chicken dinner, the table properly set with cloth and candles and flowers. Ila, the younger daughter, was there and we waited for Charles (then 8 years old)--and waited--and waited. Uncle Roy went out searching. Aunt Mabel called his friends' mothers. No Charles.
Finally they decided we should eat dinner and save his. We'd just sat down when the phone rang--the POLICE!
Uncle Roy took off without a word. We were just finishing dinner when he returned with Charles, his arm in plaster. He'd tried to jump on a moving freight train, fallen off, and broken his arm.
Our first big new adventure was provided by our father's parents, Grandpa and Grandma Mills. They took us to the State Fair. We'd never heard of such a thing, but were enthralled with all the color, the crowds and especially the Ferris Wheel. It was a wonderful day.
On the way home we kept exclaiming over the glorious yellow borders along the road. Grandpa laughed and invited us to get out of the car and pick some. We had an armload when we arrived home. Uncle Elmer (Grandpa's son-in-law) took one look. He snatched them from us and took them to the furnace in the basement. Scots Broom! He'd worked for years to rid his farm of the pest. I bet Grandpa chuckled every time he thought about it.
In early October, on a bright sunny Sunday, the Clan Mills gathered at Grandpa and Grandma's to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Ruth was still on crutches, but I was pressed into service to help serve and WASH DISHES. No paper plates or napkins. Grandma had prepared gallons of chicken and dumplings. There were a great many other things like fresh tomatoes, too.
The Clan Mills is huge. It was the first meeting for Ruth and me and the only one for us with many of the members. I was totally confused from first to last. Earlier we'd been approached to pay our family's share of the gift--a davenport. I've often wondered if Grandma was consulted because it just didn't look right in her house.
Aunt Florence did her best to educate us properly in other ways. She was horrified to learn we'd never been to a "proper" funeral with the service in church followed by cemetery burial. She searched the newspaper for the time of a service when we would be free from school. When she found one, for someone she did not know, she supervised our getting dressed (dark dress, hat, and gloves) and took us. It was a long "windy" service not very well attended, but we tried not to squirm. The flowers made me sneeze. Walking past the open casket distressed me. Why should anyone be allowed to view a body just because the soul is gone? What about the privacy of the departed person? My determination to never let it happen to me began then.
Aunt Florence had some very peculiar beliefs and customs which we found quite difficult to live with. Yet--I learned a lot. Ruth discovered that she could claim tennis lessons or band practice and escape much drudgery. Unfortunately, that devil conscience smote me. As a consequence, every Saturday morning I churned butter the old-fashioned way. It does help develop muscles in the arms. Also, that was baking day. I skinned and seeded Concord grapes for pies. Aunt Florence made the best I ever ate, but it was a tedious job. Aunt Florence made wonderful pumpkin pie and I've never tasted such good burnt sugar cake as hers. "Burning" the sugar was another job that became mine, but worth the trouble.
Once each week we had rice. We often had it in Alaska. That Chinese cannery cook taught Mother who passed the lesson along. Not so for Aunt Florence. After the rice was rinsed under running water it was put on to cook. A big dollop of butter was added and someone had to stand and stir the whole time it cooked! It was a glue-like mess we had to choke down. If Aunt Florence got enough for the butter she sold in Newburg, she bought liver. This, too, was treated differently from our way. It was cut very thin then put on to fry, someone standing there, constantly turning it until it was hard and brittle.
But biscuits! No one ever made better than Aunt Florence and they were served every morning with homemade prune butter. Nectar!
Sometimes dusting the living room on Saturday became one of my chores. That room was kept sacred almost, for the rare visitor. I think Phyllis usually did it but sometimes she was excused and I did it. Just at first I made a great mistake. As I dusted, I opened the drapes and windows to let the sun in. As I went around I moved things a bit so they'd be more comfortable. The little green glass basket with glass sweet peas looked better over on a small table. Instead I filled a large vase with white snowballs from the front yard. Horrors! They should never be picked. The windows were closed, drapes drawn, and the green glass basket with the pink sweet peas was quickly back in its accustomed spot. I didn't do that again.
That wise principal at Newburg High arranged that Ruth and I were in separate classes--all except one. It was called Science--now I think called Social Studies (and not accepted for credit when I enrolled for college).
One of the problems with that class (for me) began early. When the teacher (I think her name was Miss Butts) discovered we were from Alaska she insisted I stand up and describe our home. I attempted this--but she quickly interrupted me, "No, no--your real home, not the summer fishing lodge."
I tried again.
"No, no. Sit down and let your sister tell us exactly how it was done." Well! Ruth got up and told the most colorful tale of cutting ice blocks, pouring melted snow to seal the cracks--Miss Butts was enthralled and Ruth could do no wrong in that class. I barely passed. Still, it wasn't enough to keep me off the honor roll. Ruth had more fun.
Another problem and a class later rejected for credit when I enrolled for college was the math class. It was a helter-skelter review of elementary arithmetic. I detested arithmetic, had expected algebra, and just stumbled along. What a waste of time.
Freshman gym was a mess, too—pushups, etc. Ruth discovered that signing up for tennis exempted her and she enjoyed tennis all year when it didn't rain. It was also an excuse to accept a date after school and get a ride home with one of the boys. Aunt Florence accepted that excuse.
If I missed the bus, I trudged the three miles along the rutted road. Once in a while Uncle Elmer would come along and give me a lift in his wagon behind his team of plodding horses. Besides his prune orchard and farm, he delivered mill ends of lumber to the hard-to-reach farms, where it was used for fuel.
Daddy wrote to one of his former pals, telling him where we were. Sorry, I can't remember his name. He kindly followed with an invitation for the two of us one weekend. He came for us and took us to his farm in another community. He and his wife did their best. There were several children, but my memory is sketchy. What we did enjoy most was picking the wild blackberries that grew like a hedge to fence the farm. I hope we wrote and thanked them.
One of the things that stands out in that year was arranged by Mother's sister, Aunt Eva. She had tickets for all of us, herself, and Uncle Martin, Grandma, and Uncle Wilfred as well as Ruth and me. It was the all-state high school orchestra and the first classical concert I'd ever attended. I remember how ashamed I was when Grandma leaned over and asked me if I was sick because the tears ran down my face. I could scarcely believe young people, some younger than I, could produce such magical sounds. It was truly wonderful.
When the school term end neared, Ruth took our hoarded funds and bought our tickets on the SS Northland from Seattle. Aunt Eva, bless her, offered to drive us to Snoqualmie Falls to visit our father's older sister Aunt Ella and Uncle Clem(ent) Niswanger and our cousin John. Hildegarde, Uncle Martin's sister, was on her way home to Olympia, Washington and went with us.
Both Ruth and I related to the rugged mountain terrain as we neared the falls. It was so wooded and more "our kind of country" than the peaceful Willamette Valley.
We were only there a few days, but once again a new experience. Aunt Ella was a club woman. We attended a big "tea" one day. On another, after a crash course in the game we filled in at a fund raiser playing pinochle. We'd neither of us played it before and I never have since. We did enjoy it and everyone was most kind.
The Niswangers delivered us to Seattle and our ship home. It was a big adventure, going unescorted, home to Sitka. There were no other young people aboard. However, there was a tour group of Iowa teachers along with a varied sprinkling of other passengers. We enjoyed every minute, went ashore at each port and danced every night. Fun! The two of us were still quite compatible. The animosity had been almost nonexistent all year!