Wilma Hughes: The House that Bribes Built

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 entered Carl Tuckett Junior High School in 1943 and this school held several experiences for me. I had trouble getting to all of my classes because they were so spread out, with history being held on the high school campus, and library class held in the basement of the junior high campus. One day, a girl brought her pet white rat to school. He rode on her shoulder and I was so fascinated with him that I went to all of her classes instead of mine (we were taking the same classes, just at different times). I had a problem explaining the next day why I was marked as absent, when I knew I had been in class.

There were three new girls in my home room that year, a pair of twins named Eva and Elva Van Newheusen, and Pat Pappadis, whose dad owned and managed the only restaurant in Kelso. Everyone brought lunch to school and we could eat in our home room. Most of us brought a sandwich, an orange or apple and a cookie. Pat’s lunches were leftovers from the restaurant – steak or roasted meat sandwiches and very fancy desserts. She was a spoiled snob who was always bragging about how rich her family was telling others their lunches were ‘hog slop’. She was especially harsh to Eva, Elva and I because of our clothes. One day we had simply had enough. We got up and stood around her desk at lunchtime and glared at her. When she got up, we followed her for the rest of the lunch hour and she never had a chance to eat her fancy food. For the rest of the year, I don’t think Pat got the chance to eat her lunch, and the next year she was gone. [Mom said that she saw Pat years later in the Naval Reserves, and that when she tried to instruct Pat on something, Pat recognized her and quit the reserves. Mom never saw or heard about her again].

Reflecting back on my life up to this point, I don’t remember ever getting hugs from my parents. I was a chubby child and always had to eat everything that was put on my plate. There was a bakery on the route I took home from school, and a friend and I would always stop for a couple of cream-filled sweet rolls to eat on the way home. She never gained weight (not fair!) but I did. Mom was still making my clothes, and before she was finished, they were too tight. She would yell at me and call me names, yet she never cut back on the meals she served me. When she found out about the bakery, she threatened to kick me out of the house. I was 14 years old. [Mom would remain heavy for the rest of her life, and remembers these years as being an unloved and unwanted outcast. And yet, not unloved by everyone – below are a couple of photos from 1944, with Berle Zuinlist, which I believe is the boy she referenced earlier in her journal – see “Boys, Scouts and a World at War.]

In the summer of 1944 we took a family vacation. Dad had saved all of his gas ration coupons and we drove to Depot Bay, OR. Some friends, including three women whose husbands were working overseas, joined us in another car. I got car sick and was miserable. But Depot Bay was beautiful, the ocean was so blue and the town so clean.

On the 2nd or 3rd day, the women friends met a crab fisherman and talked him into taking us out with him when he hauled in his catch. They left at about 3 AM and I stayed at the motel by myself. They came back at dusk; Dad had gotten terribly seasick and Mom teased him about being a ‘pansy’, and teased him for several years about ‘feeding the fishes’. The one good outcome was that Dad had a little more compassion for me when I got car sick.

On our way back to Kelso we stopped at Agate Beach, OR and gathered agates along the beach. Dad bought agate rings for Mom and me as well as moss agate lavalieres for us. I remember a house near the shop had a retaining wall of concrete with polished agates imbedded in it. Prettiest thing I’d ever seen.

In the fall, I was in the 8th grade. That year Mom had a day or two off from work so I was able to become a ‘plane spotter’ – spotting and recording the airplanes that flew over Kelso. We worked from the roof of the courthouse and observed mock dog-fights between U.S. P-38 fighter planes. That was always exciting.

The war was still going on and things were hard to get. Dad bought land on Cascade Way in Longview to build a house on. (Dad’s parents lived in Longview, and Cascade Way was in an elite part of town, which pleased Mom. She always wanted to be ‘high society’). We worked on weekends to clear the land [which was heavily wooded] and to look over the plans for the house. Building supplies were scarce, but many things were found because Dad being in the grocery business, would ‘bribe’ the contractors (which I suspect was illegal). Ten pounds of sugar helped locate plumbing supplies. Five pounds of butter assured us of getting oak flooring for the living room and hallways. We always said the house was built with coffee and sugar.

We moved into that house in 1945. A president would die and the war would end later that year, as new friendships – and new loves – would begin…

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.

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