Wilma Hughes: Boys, Scouts and a World on Edge

Excerpted from Wilma’s personal journal 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].

I joined the Girl Scouts when I was nine years old. My troop leader was a Cowlitz Indian woman named Maude Waunassay Snyder. She was a short, round lady and lived in a river house at the Cowlitz River in West Kelso. Her brother Chuck, and her parents and daughter Jacqueline all lived there as well. We did a lot of short hikes and nature studies. The troop used to swim in the river next to the house, until we found that their toilet emptied straight into the river. Jacqueline was a mix of white and Indian and always had to be in the spotlight. I don’t remember her being part of the troop, but whenever there was an event with parents attending, she was always the main part of the program (usually doing a hula to the song “Hawaiian War Chant”).

One day the troop took a day hike up Goat Mountain in West Kelso. We took ‘hobo lunches’ (tied in a bandana and carried on a stick). At lunchtime, I found a beautiful, shiny green bush and sat in it. Turned out it was poison ivy. Maude grabbed me and we ran (and I mean ran) to my house which was about 15 blocks away. Mom put me in a tub of soda water and scrubbed me, yelling the whole time about how stupid I was to do such a thing. I didn’t break out in a rash, must have been the baking soda and water bath.

While I was in Scouts, I earned quite a few badges and reached First Class rank. At age 14 I was asked to be the temporary leader of a Brownie troop. We mostly played games, did crafts and went on nature hikes around the neighborhood. At age 15 I joined the Mariners, which was the equivalent to the Sea Scouts (in the Boy Scouts). When I was 18, I became a leader of my own Girl Scout troop.

One day at school, some boys decided to not let me out of a classroom, by holding the door shut. The door had a glass panel that I hit with my fist and broke. The movie “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” had come out that year, and so the boys started calling me “Mr. Hydey”. Years later, when I became a Scout Leader, I needed a ‘camp name’ for a day camp, so I used “Heidie” Years after that, when a young adult approached me and said “Hello Heidie” I knew they had been in one of my troops.

I had my first babysitting job when I was 10. The girl I was babysitting was about 7 and What A Brat! I had to be at her house at 7 AM so her mom could leave for work. I fixed breakfast, got her dressed and supervised her until 4 or 5 PM. On Saturdays I took er to a movie (her mom paid). I did all this for $2 a day. The job lasted only a few weeks before they moved away.

It was at this time that I had my first experience with ‘puppy love’. His name was Beryl. Oh, he was cute, with blonde hair, blue eyes and a scattering of freckles. There were several kids near my age in the apartment complex and we played together quite well. One day Beryl teased me and called me names. I got so angry and wanted to get back at him, so Camile (the girl I was babysitting) and I went into the kitchen and made some ‘bon-bons’. The recipe was newspaper soaked in water and formed into balls, rolled in cocoa powder and then rolled in soap granules. They looked really good, so I gave them to him as a peace offering. He wasn’t too happy with the gift and that was the end of that romance.

In school I always had squinty eyes. Mom was always telling me to open my eyes wide when pictures were taken. I remember a Girl Scout banquet where a photographer was taking pictures of the group, and when Mom said “Open Your Eyes” I did, and rolled them to the side to look at her. That’s when the photographer took the shot, and all you could see in the photograph were the whites of my eyes. Of course, when Mom saw it she got upset and said I looked like an idiot.

A school bus stopped at my school every day, dropping off grade school children before going on to the Junior and Senior high schools. The older boys called me “China Girl” and “Chinky”. I never told Mom as she would have made a big deal out of it.

In the fall of 1940, a new girl from England enrolled in our school. The War had started in Europe two years before [Pearl Harbor was attacked] and England had suffered severe bombing. Every time an airplane flew over the school, she would scream and duck under something [like a desk or a slide]. The kids laughed at her, and would pound on the desk or slide and make airplane noises to hear her scream and cry. I scolded them for doing that and pushed them away, and held her. The school principal had a good hard talk with those kids and they didn’t do it again. I don’t remember her ever speaking, and she wasn’t with us long before she moved away. I felt so sorry for her.

Not much happened the next 3 months. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president. We learned a little in school about Japan invading China, and Germany invading Poland. Those wars seemed so far away. Little did we know…

Published by augustphoenixhats

I'm a self taught hat & mask maker, working in rescued textiles and found objects. My hat designs are inspired by my travels and historical studies, my masks from the textiles they are born from.

2 thoughts on “Wilma Hughes: Boys, Scouts and a World on Edge

  1. Fascinating! The Hall of Justice sits where the Cowlitz Tribal fishing grounds on the Cowlitz used to be (or so I’m told; I moved to town in 1974, about the time the HoJ opened). I knew Rankin, the photographer. Sad story: He left his negatives in the shop when he sold it, and the new owners tossed them out. Lots of history went in the trash.

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    1. The Rankin story is a sad one indeed; we lose so much history that way. I took on the role of family historian because no one else wanted the archives (though some things did get passed on to grandchildren, and are now being loaned back to me for this project). So now “when I’m not making hats, I’m making history” (available online).

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