Excerpted from Wilma’s personal journals which she wrote in September 2002 and May 2019. I have reordered her entries so they are chronological, and have edited for flow and clarity. My additionL notes are in [brackets].
When I was about three years old, we moved back [to Washington State] from Colorado. My next memory was of us living in a tiny house with a dirt floor in West Kelso. I remember kerosene lamps used for light, and a wood-burning stove which was used for both cooking and heat. There was no indoor plumbing. Water for baths was heated on the stove and poured into a large oval shaped washtub. Father used the water first, then Mother, then me. By the time my turn came, the water was not very clean.
As a small child I had a dog named Pal. She was part Spritz and ‘who knows what else’. My Mother was a great believer in spankings Believe me, I got many of them; one even took me to the floor. Every time she spanked me, Pal would attack her. Later on, Pal was given to a man who always stopped to pet her.
The following year we lived in a house in Kelso near my maternal grandmother [Velma Eastman Carpenter]. I remember one hot summer night when Mom, Dad and I were sleeping on the floor; there was a fire somewhere close and the reflection of the lights from the firetrucks scared me. That same year there was a flood. As I watched the water coming down the street, I remember Mom handing me to a boy on a bicycle, telling him to get me to the school which was on high ground.
I remember living in an apartment on Vine Street in South Kelso, built high off the ground. I don’t remember much of it except that I was in a kiddie kart [a rolling walker]. Mom later said that I learned to maneuver in it pretty quickly, and never got into a corner that I couldn’t get myself out of. I also remember Mom sprinkling dampened cornmeal on the floors before sweeping them, which she said kept the dust under control.
At Christmas that year, I was at my Grandma Carpenter’s boarding house, and had my first meeting with Santa Claus, which I think was actually her brother, John Seeley.
I must have stayed at my grandma’s house a lot, as I have fond memories of Grandpa [Harry] Carpenter coming home from work as a logger, and always having a little bit of his lunch left in the lunch box which he had saved for me. He smoked Prince Albert tobacco in a pipe.
I loved being at Grandma’s. In her front room was a big wooden rocking chair that creaked when you rocked. She let me help pick peas in her garden and then shuck them. She always had flowering sweet peas growing along her fence and I could pick them. I loved the smell and the beautiful colors.
We lived in Seaside, OR when I was about 5 years old. Our house was small but OK; it was on the beach in a high, sandy area. I remember walking around town, there were such wonderful smells. The salt-water taffy store, and and the tavern with its smell of beer and hamburgers. Sitting outside the tavern was an older man who played a banjo for money. There was a store that gave me a paper fan – they type that opened into a circle. We lived in a row of elevated apartments next to a large field. Very early one morning, we were awakened by a God-awful racket. The circus was setting up in the field!
There was a children’s pet parade that I wanted to be in but I didn’t have a pet. A lady who lived up the street let me borrow her little dog so I could be in the parade. Mom, Dad and I would walk along the promenade and watch the ocean. Sometimes we would swim in the big indoor pool. At the end there was a section of deck that had a waterfall you could sit under. Dad and I would play in the water while Mom sat under the waterfall. She never swam because she said she had almost drowned at one time.
Mom and Dad dug clams most every day; it seemed like we lived on them. I would look for sand dollars and shells, and play in the little tide pools.
One late, late night, there was a knock on the door and there stood two of Dad’s cousins, Earl and Jesse Miller. They had ridden the rails from Oklahoma and were looking for a place to stay. They were hobos – hopping freight cars and riding until they were caught and thrown off. They would go to places and beg for food and hop the next freight car, and do it over again. How they found us, I never knew. We fed them clams until I thought they would burst. I was in awe of them as they told their hobo tales. They crossed the country several times, taking their sister with them once because she had threatened to go alone if they didn’t take her with them. They took her ‘hoboing’ a couple of times but she decided that wasn’t the life for her.
On my 6th birthday, Mom fashioned our round dining room table into a May Pole, and a few friends came to the party. I received my first pair of roller skates and learned to skate on the sidewalk. One day my cousins Billy, Clair and Ray Jr. walked up the sidewalk while I was skating, and Ray Jr., who was 9 years old, grabbed me and kissed me. I bit his lip and drew blood. He never tried that again…
In September, I started 1st grade at Catlin Grade School. It was several blocks from home and I don’t remember anyone walking with me. The land where the school was The school was 3 stories tall, and the basement was divided into 4 sections. The furnace room divided the boy’s play area from the girl’s, and the cafeteria was across from the furnace room. Hot lunches were served on Mondays (Spanish Rice) and Wednesdays (Chicken Noodle Soup), and egg salad sandwiches were served on Fridays.
We moved in November to Clatskanie, OR where I finished 1st grade and started 2nd. I remember that the school was quite large, and that if we played in the gym, we had to take our shoes off. I also remember being in the music program, where we all wore red crepe paper capes and pillbox hats, and I played the triangle. During a performance, someone opened a door and a gust of wind blew off my hat, and everyone in the audience laughed. But I was absolutely mortified.
The house we lived in was on a hill, with a well and an outhouse in the back as there was still no indoor plumbing. I used to visit a lady who lived down the hill and a few blocks away. We would have tea together – English tea for her and Canterbury tea for me (hot water, milk and sugar0. I loved her kitchen; it was painted yellow, with lots of windows and a plate rail where here collection was displayed. It was a strong contrast to the dark kitchen at my house. She would play her music box for me, which played the tune “In a Country Kitchen”. The girl who lived next door would play with me. She had a wonderful blackboard on an easel, which had a roll of pictures that you could turn with a crank. When we had snow, she and I would use her sled to slide down the road from my house.
After school, I would walk to the grocery store that Dad ran, and Mom would heat a can of soup for me on a small electric hot plate. One time there was a drawing at a department store for a Shirley Temple doll, 2-feet tall with a pink dress and white rabbit fur coat and matching pillbox hat. Mom won it! I thought she was going to give it to me but she kept it on her bed and I was never allowed to touch it. The day she caught me holding it was the day she spanked me until I fell to the floor.
That Christmas, we drove to visit Grandma and Grandpa Hughes. That was the year I received my wicker doll buggy and my china doll dishes. In the spring, my cousins visited us and Ray Jr. threw my trike down the well. I don’t think it was ever retrieved.