Wilma Hughes: Vacations and the Great Depression

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 additions are in [brackets].

We moved back to Kelso in 1937 where I went back to Catlin School to finish 2nd grade. Many of my first grade classmates did not advance to second grade. I guess it was a good thing I finished 1st grade in Clatskanie.

We finally moved into a nice two story house on South 5th Street in West Kelso, which my parents bought from Jim & Minnie Spooner and which was right next door to where Grandma and Grandpa Hughes had lived. It had a garage, and a porch where I set up all my doll furniture, most of which Dad had built for me.

By this time, Dad was working in a grocery store. He would bring wooden crates home from the store and help me fashion a play house with them. [The grocery store may have been MacMarr Stores, a national chain which was purchased by Safeway in 1940. Mom also mentions a Piggly Wiggly throughout her writing although I have no photographic evidence of that prior to the 1940’s.]

The store where I think Earl Hughes worked, this shot is circa 1930.

There weren’t a lot of children my age but I did find some playmates. I made friends with Frances – a girl who lived in the apartment building at the corner of the block. We would play in the halls and bathrooms, and sometimes she would come to my house if she saw my things on the porch, since she could see that from her second floor apartment window. One day she took one of my doll dishes and ran home with it, and taunted me with it from her apartment, and called me names. I told my Mom, who told me to fight my own battles. Mom did nothing, and I never got the dish back.

On the other side of our house lived two other girls – Donna and Carol Ann Shellenbarger. They lived with their parents and a grandmother Headley. Donna was several years older than me, Carol Ann about a year younger and we had great times together. Their house had a big back yard with an apple tree we could climb. A few of her friends would come over, and we would all play hide-and-seek among the shrubs and bushes. We’d play among the sheets hung out to dry on laundry day, and pick apples in the fall, beating them against the tree until they were soft and then squeezing the juice out of them and pretend it was cider. In the basement there was a wood stove, where we would pull carrots from the garden and cook them in an old coffee can. Sometimes on Saturdays we would put on a variety act; she would dance and I would sing, and we would charge the neighborhood kids two cents admission. Carol and I would divide up the money and buy penny candy at the little store up the street.

One summer, Carol got a sun dress. I wanted one badly but my Mom said “no”. One day Mom and I were visiting the Shellenbargers, and Carol had on a sundress that looked like one of my underskirts, except that her dress was print and my underskirt was white. I went home, put on an underskirt and went back, proudly saying: “Look, I have a sundress too!” Mom shook me and spanked me in front of everyone and told me to get home. As soon as Mom got home, she took the hose she used to drain her fish bowl and whip the dog, and whipped me until I fell to the floor. She yelled that I had embarrassed her in front of her friends and whipped me some more. I never did get a sundress. [As you have probably notice, Mom was often whipped, sometimes in front of other people, and sometimes severly. It formed a pattern that would become multi-generational.]

When I was 8 years old, I took swimming lessons at Catlin pool, a block or two from the grade school. One year the chlorinating machine quit working and the chlorine was dumped into the pool by the bucketful. Four or five of us became very ill and the local doctors couldn’t figure out what we had. They thought it might be typhoid fever and I was given huge pills to take, which I hid under the mattress. Of course, I wasn’t getting any better. The doctors finally got together after asking their patients where they had been, and found that the common thread was the pool. We all had chlorine poisoning but finally did recover.

Mom made all my clothes, including my coats and farmerettes (called overalls now) and my underwear, which matched my dresses. Oh how I hated those! Kids at school would flip my dress up and tease me about them. Finally, when I was in the 4th grade, my grandmother [Velma Eastman] bought me rayon ones in pastel colors that were embroidered with the day of the week. She had taken me to Portland the year before and bought me a purple tweed coat with a velvet collar, and a purple felt hat with a brim. It was my first store-bought coat.

It was still the Depression, and I remember one of my schoolmates, who lived with her grandparents, brought an unpeeled raw potato as her lunch every day. I was so lucky that my mom baked our bread. She kept chickens and traded her eggs for milk, from a lady who lived down the street and owned a cow. We usually had chicken to eat on Sunday, with vegetables from our garden. Some nights our supper was bread [in a bowl of] milk. I loved those suppers and still on occasion will have them. [She continued this with her own children – we had milk-toast suppers frequently in the summertime when our Dad was out of town.]

I used to cut bouquets of flowers from Mom’s garden, load them into my wagon and sell them around the area. I also walked along the railroad tracks and filled my wagon with beer and pop bottles, and get the refund money from the grocery stores. The 5 cents per beer bottle and 3 cents per pop bottle was enough to pay for the Saturday movie. A serial was shown and always ended in a “cliff hanger” so you had to go back the following week. They were mostly Westerns. A full length movie was shown, plus a newsreel and previews, and was a great way to spend an afternoon.

The next few years were filled with school, and vacations with summer picnics in the country and weekend sleepovers at Grandma’s house. When Mom, Dad and I went on picnics, Dad would play catch or baseball with me. If there was a lake or river nearby, he’d take me fishing, teaching me to walk across logs. In the wintertime if the ponds were frozen, he’d take me ice skating, which was always fun. Mom and her sister Aunt Nella [Carpenter], and Nella’s current boyfriend would come along. Warming fires were built along the shore and there were thermoses of hot coffee and hot chocolate. Sometimes we’d even roast marshmallows.

Grandma Carpenter would take me and Mom blackberry picking. Oh how I hated that. It was an all day event, leaving after breakfast and not get home until dinner. It was always hot and dirty with flies and mosquitos and no food, just berries and iced coffee with cream & sugar. We wouldn’t stop until two washtubs were full. YUK!!!

In 1938 we took a vacation to Mitchell, OR. Mom had a school chum who lived there with her husband, son and daughter. The children were about my age and all of the clothes the girl outgrew were shipped to Mom for me to wear.

The woman ran a logging camp. There was a bunk house which housed 8-10 men; she did all the cooking and kept the books. Her day would start at 4 AM when she would pack the men’s lunch boxes and start making breakfast which was usually biscuits with gravy, pancakes with honey or jam, ham, bacon & sausage, fried potatoes, fruit,and lots of strong coffee. Sometimes there was oatmeal, toast and eggs. On Sundays it was steak & eggs and muffins. After breakfast was cleared and the dishes done, she had a few hours for herself before preparing dinner. The property was overrun with rabbits so rabbit was served as well as chicken, beef and lots of venison. For dessert there was always pie and cake (baked daily) and sometimes cookies.

Her children and I would catch young rabbits and bring them into the house to play with them. We were there for about a week. Her name was Florence and I think her husband was Henry. It was a really fun vacation.

Games that I played in school were hopscotch, leap frog, teacher, statues, jump rope, Red-Rover, London Bridge, and Farmer-in-the-Dell. The playground had two sets of swings, two sets of [monkey] bars, and two slides. On hot days, we’d take the wax paper from our lunches and sit on it as we went down the slides. The wax paper made us go faster. There was a huge maple tree that we were forbidden from climbing. The land where the school was located had been a Cowlitz Indian village centuries ago. We were told that Indian women used to swing their papooses from the lower branches.

At Christmas time, after we opened our packages, we would go to the homes of friends and sing and have Tom & Jerries (hot eggnog with rum & brandy). I had just the eggnog. If there was a piano, Mom would play it and Dad would play his harmonica. One year we went to the home of Babe Adkins and his wife, and they gave me a toy grand piano (which Kevin’s kids now have).

One Christmas we had family & friends at our home. My Grandma Hughes and Grandpa were there. Grandma did not believe in drinking and this always irked my Mother. When Tom & Jerries were served, Mom would put rum flavoring in Grandma’s egg nog. One year she started out using flavoring, then switched to brandy, and got my Grandma drunk. She thought it was so cute. I thought it was awful.

By now [1939-40], Grandma [Velma Eastman] and Grandpa [Harry Carpenter] had divorced, and Grandma married Lee Livermore, who died 6 months later from stomach cancer. She still ran the boarding house and was involved in the Townsend Movement, and although I never really knew much about that, she took me to some of the meetings. After Lee died, she stayed with us during her period of mourning. She would marry a third time, to George Purdy. They bought a farm on Pleasant Hill Road in Kelso, which was fun to visit. George let me milk the cow and feed the chickens. [George Purdy would die in 1956-57 in San Diego; Mildred and Earl Hughes would retire in the 1970’s to a home they bought which was next door to this farm.]

Published by August-Phoenix-Mercantile

I'm a self taught hat maker, working in rescued textiles and found objects. My designs are inspired by my travels and historical studies. Learn more about me and my hats at https://augustphoenixhats.com/.

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