Celebrando la Familia

Today and tomorrow we celebrate The Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, All Souls and All Saints Day. It’s a time to celebrate and honor those family members (both blood and chosen) who have left this world for the next.

I have celebrated this day in a very private way for over a decade, reminiscing on the departed, remember our good times and their accomplishments and sharing a meal and a glass with them after sunset, feeding their portion to a fire as a final gesture of remembrance.

I was introduced to the custom by a friend whose husband had recently passed. She invited me to her home, and to a table that was set for nearly a dozen people. She and I ate mostly in silence, and then we took portions from each plate out to the fire she had set in her backyard circle. A few years later, after losing 10 people from my social circle in 10 months (including my father and my husband), I started counseling my friends to memorialize birthdays rather than death days, as a mode of recovery from our tremendous and collective loss. But when you reach a certain age, even that starts to take on the airs of a perpetual wake.

The Day of the Dead is in a way, an emotional efficiency. It also takes those remembrances to a more communal and joyous level. I continued my private rituals, but also started attending community celebrations. These are photos from 2017 at the Seattle Center.

This year, the COVID-19 precautions have taken most celebrations virtual, and in Mexico, the graveyards are closed to families today and tomorrow. So earlier this week, I scoured my local Mexican grocers for pan du muertos, sugar skulls, chiseled paper banners, copal and candies, and built my own offrenda, with special focus on my mother who died earlier this year, and her parents who passed on in the previous century.

Inspired by an invite to a ZOOM Holiday Happy Hour this past Friday, I carried out the theme by dressing as my version of a Catrina. I asked a neighbor if she had time to take a couple of photos of me on my patio, and she said, “Yes, or we could go across the street to the graveyard…” She arrived with long stem marigolds and her camera, and the sun came out, and it became a perfect day.

I took the opportunity to decorate a grave. When you scatter ashes, there is no grave to decorate on Dia de los Muertos, so I decided to decorate someone else’s. At first, it was going to be a random grave, but ‘one has to be careful about whose spirits you call’ so I settled on celebrating one of Seattle’s famous figures instead.

It was a reflective experience, which I now plan to repeat in coming years. To learn how you can celebrate the day, go to https://dayofthedead.holiday/. If you are curious about the bench I sat on, it’s called a mourning chair, which you can read more about here.

Gunnison – 1918

March 11, 2020 was a tumultuous day here in Seattle, WA, the nation’s epicenter for COVID19. At 9:30 AM Pacific time, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus to be a global pandemic. At 11 AM, Governor Inslee took steps towards viral containment in three counties in Washington State by banning groups of more than 250 people from assembling; encouraging schools to develop contingency plans; reminding people to wash their hands and practice social distancing. Those of us over the age of 60 or with underlying medical conditions are following recommendations to hunker down at home.

Wish us luck…

History is full of stories about cities that sequestered themselves during times of plague. In recent history, one of those cities was Gunnison, Colorado, which “declared a quarantine against all the world” during the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918.

My grandmother’s family lived in Gunnison – my grandmother recounts having smallpox there in 1917. The following year, the family moved to nearby Jack’s Cabin, (which her notes record as Jack’O Cabin Valley). I don’t know if the intention was to protect the family by moving to an isolated area in the county, or if her father was simply following an offer of work on Jim Spann’s farm. My grandmother was 10 years old and may not have even been aware of the pandemic, in spite of the Spann family being quarantined after they visited Denver for Thanksgiving in November 1918. According to the Gunnison County Times, Mrs. Laurel Spann [possibly Bill’s wife] later succumbed, and is thought to be the first flu-related death in Gunnison County that year.

My grandmother, Mildred Carpenter, and Bill Spann at his farm in Jack Cabin Valley, circa 1918-20
(Photo from my family archives)

Gunnison sat at a highway junction and train stop between Denver and other major Colorado cities, which put them at heightened risk [not unlike Seattle, WA being a major port for both air and sea travel]. At a time when many nearby towns suffered consequences through their inaction, Gunnison’s early containment measures via “protective sequestration” resulted in zero deaths during the first wave of the pandemic. The Guardian News, US edition, published an excellent story which you can read here.

Photo credit: The Guardian News, US edition

This article from the Gunnison Country Times recounts that the pandemic hit the US in January 1918, and by October there were 78 deaths in Denver, and 9,000 reported cases throughout Colorado. On October 18th, Gunnison city officials closed schools and churches, and banned both public and private gatherings. On November 1st, they quarantined the entire town, erecting barricades on roads, sequestering visitors, and arresting violators for the next four months. Nearby towns took similar actions but not soon enough. The town of Silverton – thinking it had no cases – took no action at all, and between October – December 1918, suffered 125 deaths and 833 reported cases.

A train and passengers, just east of Gunnison, CO. Photo credit: Gunnison Country Times

As a result of Gunnison’s isolation, deaths and illnesses were minimal and occurred only after a second wave of flu hit, after city officials lifted the quarantine in mid -February 1919. That action resulted in 58 reported cases and only a handful of deaths. Statewide, nearly 8,000 people died out of 49,000 reported cases.

Gunnison served as partial inspiration for the novel The Last Town on Earth” by Thomas Mullen, which coincidentally, is set in my home state of Washington.

My grandmother and her family survived the pandemic, and remained at Jacks Cabin until about 1924, when they moved back to Gunnison so she and her sister could attend high school.

Mildred and Nella Carpenter, from my family archives

Wilma Hughes: A Graduation Flood

Excerpted from Wilma’s personal journal which she wrote in September 2002 and May 2019, and supplemented with materials from her high school scrapbooks. My additions are in [brackets].

I graduated from R.A. Long High School in June 1948 [with an average grade of “C”]. That year, Longview was hit with a terrible flood. The place where we were to have our Senior Sneak Day was covered with about three feet of water. The day we were to have our Senior Assembly, school was closed and all able-bodied students were put to work filling sandbags on the dike. The river was well above flood stage. We were lucky to have commencement.

[The remainder of this information is gleaned from Wilma’s high school scrap books.]

From her graduation events program, she writes that her baccalaureate on May 30 covered “a very moving topic. It makes one stop and think that there is a great deal ahead of us to conquer”. It is interesting to note that for the practice on May 28, seating was segregated, with boys taking seats in the Sophomore section, and girls in the Senior section.

She received instructions for commencement and practice, of which there were two sessions on June 1 and 2. “When you receive your diplomas, say “Thank You”. Seniors are to leave the school grounds as soon as commencement practice is over.

Of the actual commencement ceremony, she writes: “a very beautiful pageant, telling of the progress that R.A. Long [School] has made.” The pageant was a history of the Longview schools to commemorate the silver anniversary of the city school system, and was inspired by the dedication speech delivered by R.A. Long when the school opened in 1929 and replaced the traditional commencement program.

There were 208 students in her graduating class. Her class colors were red and black, graduation robes were wine and white. Wilma kept her tassel, foregoing the 25 cent refund for its return.

Her prom was held on April 17 in the cafeteria. Music was provided by the Knights of Rhythm, (which she notes as her favorite band) and punch and cookies were served.

The theme of the Senior Girls Breakfast was “We Face Tomorrow”. It was hosted by the Longview Business and Professional Women’s Club at the Hotel Monticello on May 2 at 8:30 AM. The young ladies were told that “it was a challenge to all to keep their perspective as they face the tomorrow. All should develop a philosophy by which they can live and work, and should have a better understanding of the world problems. The facts one learns in school are not so essential as the experiences of living and working together, of becoming tolerant and doing away with prejudices.”

The All-Church Senior Banquet was held on May 26 at 6:30 PM at First Christian Church. According to tradition, mothers of the graduating students in the churches assist in the dining room and kitchen for this event. [I did not see anyone from Wilma’s family listed.]

Mildred Carpenter: School and Marriage

Excerpted from Mildred’s letters and interviews I had with her between 1977-1990. My additions to her letters are in brackets and I have edited her letters to clarify family names and to put events into chronological order. Photos are from my personal archives.

Mildred at left, her sister Nella at right

My folks moved to Gunnison so Nella and I could go to high school. We rode horses to school, though the one I rode sometimes aimed for low hanging branches and knocked me out of the saddle.

I took piano lessons; it was so good to work out my problems on the piano. I spent hours there, progressed fast and soon joined three others that played for some dancers. I took voice lessons, belonged to the drama club and the Glee Club. Our Glee Club entered state contests in Montana and took second place each time. I used to do some painting, took two years of instruction under a college teacher. She wanted me to go into designing clothing but I wasn’t interested. Most of the paintings were scenery. [Much later in her life, Mildred would apply her artistry to becoming a ceramist, and ran a shop in the back of her home where she sold greenware, supplies, and finished pieces.]

When I first entered high school, the principal had us write down what we would like to do when we graduated. I said “be a teacher.” Three weeks later I was in charge of the study hall for one period. It was a trying job as all my classmates were in it. Each day six or eight were sent to the principal’s office for misconduct.

A few weeks later I was asked to work in the office two hours a day. I kept that job the full four years I was in school. It was great! I knew what was going on in school and out of school as well. There were drinking problems, thievery and family problems to deal with. I learned to type so I sent letters for the principal. [Mildred insisted that I learn to type when I was in high school as well, which I fought against at the time but am now very grateful for.] I also did extra work after school some days, addressing envelopes for pay. It wasn’t much but gave me some extra spending money.

I excelled in athletics and when school was out, I helped the coach teach tennis to college students at summer school. [Mildred must have been very engaged in high school sports – she had several photos of the football team as well as shots of both the basketball team and the individual players in her scrapbook. ]

My sister and I were among the 21 students on the class roll for the Gunnison County High School commencement exercises on June 11, 1928. Our class motto was “No Progress Without Labor”; our class colors were Emerald and Silver, and our class flower was White Rose. My sister was listed as Elizabeth McKee Carpenter. We didn’t make the honor roll or other class distinctions, but I did serve as Class Treasurer. [Her diploma was dated June 13, 1928, and signed by W.L. Curtis (President), Mary A. Lawrence (Secretary), Richard Aspinall (Superintendent) and V.M. Rogers (Principal).]

Earl Hughes and I were married [the day before graduation] on Sunday, June 10, 1928 at 2 PM . The Roman Catholic priest was the only minister in town that weekend, so we had a Justice of the Peace [Robert J. Potter] perform the ceremony.

My mother did nothing for my wedding. No reception – nothing. All she did was cry. I knew nothing about weddings. Margie said she should have been told so she could bake a cake. Mamma didn’t tell her until that morning. She kept hoping something would happen and I wouldn’t get married. [Mildred would later relate this to her daughter Wilma – that her wedding was very simple with no flowers; that her parents did nothing to help; and no one told Earl that he was supposed to buy the bridal bouquet.]

Earl and I were happy. There were some arguments but the anger was gone in a few minutes. I couldn’t have had a better husband. We were very much in love.

[Her daughter Wilma, also recounts that not much was said about her parent’s courtship. Her mother did tell her that the night before the wedding, she slept with one of the Voutaz boys to make Earl jealous. This story gained some validity when I removed a photo of my grandparents from its frame to see if there was a date on the back, and out popped a photo of my grandmother and a man “not my grandfather”. That photo appears to be Joe Voutaz, captain of the Gunnison High School basketball team, shown in the sports section above. Perhaps it was a final fling…]

Wilma Hughes: The War Ends, and Love Begins

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].

President Franklin Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945 [a day before my mother’s birthday]. I was in music class when the announcement came on over the intercom, and a few students felt that school should close for the rest of the day. When they found out it wouldn’t, they opened the windows and ran away.

We were still at war, still buying War Bonds and still running to the train station to wave at the troops. And I was asked to be a temporary leader of a Girl Scout Brownie troop. We mostly played games, did crafts and took nature hikes around the neighborhood. I graduated from junior high school in June 1945.

The war finally ended in September. The city went wild. Cars were driving fast and honking their horns, and everyone was shouting. It was a great day.

I enrolled in R.A. Long High School in that month. It was a new start, away from the kids who had taunted me in junior high school. [Interestingly, I did the same thing, for the same reason, by enrolling in A.C. Davis, the “other” high school at the other end of town from where we lived in Yakima.]

I wanted to become a nurse and two things that were required were Latin and chemistry. Our Latin teacher insisted that we call him professor. He took us through Latin 1 in the first semester but only one student passed. He had been to seminary school and had taken Latin in order to become a priest. I also failed chemistry in the first two weeks, so my teacher made arrangements for me to get into a retail selling class. I made “A” grades for the first time in my life.

I made friends with four other girls, who like me, were misfits – Marjorie Hanson, Doris Tyler, Audrey Gulickson, and Iris McDonald. Margie was very tiny and slightly hunchbacked. Dores was very shy. Audrey giggled all the time. Iris was fat like me, and had been adopted by a judge. (As of 2002, Doris had passed away; Audrey was an art dealer with a gallery in Longview, and Iris became a real estate agent in Tillamook, OR. Marge dropped out of sight. During high school we were very close, but after graduation, we lost touch except for Iris, we still write.) [As of January 15, 2020, Iris was still alive and had recently moved to a nursing home. She was very saddened to hear of mom’s passing, and relayed fond memories of Wilma during my phone call with her that day.]

It was in high school that I had my introduction to Negroes. There were none living in Kelso but there was a large community of them living in Longview. I was so surprised to see that the palms of their hands and the bottoms of their feet were almost white. There were three Negroes on our football team and they were great players. One in particular, was tall, well-built, handsome and the star of the team. A white girl kept hitting on him for a date, but he kept telling her ‘no’. Finally, he took her by the shoulders and said: “Girl, I wouldn’t lower myself to go out with you.” She stopped bothering him after that.

I went to all the home football games. My cousin Clair played on the Kelso team and we always had a bet on who would win the Thanksgiving Day game. When he turned 16, I suddenly had a strong attraction to him. I would go to his house on Saturdays and we’d put on shoe skates and skate through his house while his dad and step-mom were gone, and take drives in his folk’s car. I was very much in love with him and hated the fact that we were cousins. He gave my my first kiss one night. I made a comment to my parents that I wished he weren’t my cousin because he made me feel so special.

A few weeks later a boy named Bruce Talbott (from a very prominent family in Longview) asked me to go to the movies. I’m sure Mom set this up as she knew the family from church. I said ‘yes’, but all through the movie he stared at me and I was very uncomfortable, which I later confided in Clair. After that, the three of us went out together. A few weeks later, Clair called me and told me to keep clear of Bruce. Seems Bruce had paid Clair a visit and had come on to him. Boy, Mom could sure pick the guys…

I spent the summer of 1947 at Grandmother Purdy’s house at Ocean Park. What a wonderful summer it was, filled with fun and romance. It was there that I met Neil De Figh.

I met Neil at the post office when I picked up Gram’s mail. He invited me to his father’s soda fountain shop for a cherry coke. We saw each other every day. He would walk me back to Gram’s house about a mile away. He was an amateur photographer and had his own dark room behind the soda fountain. I spent time with him there while he developed his films. We would cuddle and kiss but he never tried to go any further. We would go to the dunes on the beach to watch the sunset. He was such a gentleman.

One weekend my Mom drove down from Longview to bring me my bike and to visit my Gram. While I was in town, she found and read my diary, and made fun of my ‘summer romance’. By the end of the summer, Neil told me that his dad had told him we could no longer see each other. I wondered if Mom had something to do with that. I burned the diary and never kept another one. [She would eventually return to journalling in the 1970’s to document her travel with a Girl Scout trip to Washington DC, and only sporadically after that].

Neil and I wrote to each other during our senior year in high school. After graduation he moved to Fargo, ND and I didn’t heard from him again until a couple of weeks before I got married. He had been in and out of an engagement and wanted to renew our friendship, and that he still had deep feelings for me. Writing a farewell letter to him was very hard. I still think of him often [when she wrote this journal in 2002], wondering if he is still alive and if he continued photography as a profession. [I also tried to find him but failed. She requested that her ashes be scattered at the place “where I met my true love – not your father…]

He and Clair were my first deep loves. Although they were different in stature – Clair was tall with blue eyes, Neil was short with dark hair and deep-set brown eyes – their personalities were very much alike. Both gentlemanly, caring and polite, their kisses both gentle and loving.

Back in 1945-46 I joined the Mariners – a senior scout troop whose activities were related to the water. We learned navigation and sailing, and had many mutual activities with Sea Scouts (the Boy Scout equivalent to the Mariners). They had a large open sailboat called the Amberjack. A couple of times a month we’d all go sailing, with the boys teaching the girls. I always had fun because I was ‘just one of the boys’. I didn’t spend time fussing with my hair or brushing dirt from my clothes. I would wrestle with them and did my share of manning the rudder or the running lines [the ropes that control the sails].

Each year we would have a Halloween dance and a Christmas formal dance. The formal dance was held for both Sea Scouts and Mariners from Longview, Kelso, Vancouver and Portland, and would alternate between Longview and Portland. We’d charter a bus to go to the Portland dance.

I believe it was 1950 that the Sea Scout unit got a new assistant leader. I first saw him at a formal dance we had. He was wearing a fancy naval-style uniform and was escorting a very nice looking lady. I asked one of the Sea Scouts who they were and I was told it was Cal Fifield and the lady was his mother.

Calvin Lennan Fifield

The next girl-boy cruise was on the Sea Scout motor launch. Of course when we hit the beach the boys wanted to wrestle, and this jerk, Cal, made them stop. Whenever I sat or stood, he was there. I’d move and he would follow.

Several weeks later we had a costume dance. I provided the record player and the records. At some point Cal had trouble getting the record to change, so I went over to assist him. When I came back and sat down, this woman sat next to me and said: “that is my son, and he’ll never get married.”

That was my first encounter with who would eventually become my mother-in-law.

Calvin Lennan Fifield and his mother Dorothy

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…

Wilma Hughes: A World at War

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].

December 7, 1941

This Sunday morning was warm for December. Carol Shellenbarger and I were playing house on her back porch. Dick and Bill McAuliff and several other boys were playing a baseball game called 7-Up. Bill, the older of the two boys, went into the house and came out shouting that Pearl Harbor was being bombed. I knew where Pearl Harbor was and so did Carol. She got upset and I said “It’s just a game they are playing”. She decided to go inside, and I went home.

I asked my parents about it, and they had not had the radio on. Shortly after that, newspaper boys flooded the city with the newspapers and shouted “Extra, Extra, Pearl Harbor Bombed, War Declared”. (Hawaii was still a territory at the time and would not become a state for several more years.)

We were at war. President Roosevelt immediately initiated the draft. Men 18 years and older had to register. Those who had jobs involving the war effort, or who had families or health issues were exempt. My Dad was classified as “4-E” and did not go into the military. He was a father, managed a business (a grocery store) and was 37 years old. Dad was appointed as an air raid warden. He had to inspect homes at night to make sure all windows were covered with black-out paper, porch lights were turned off and car headlights were covered, with just a slit in the covering so drivers could see at night. I learned that a plane could see a porch light from 2-3 miles away.

We lived about 2 hours away from Fort Lewis, WA. There were a couple of plants in the area that produced materials for the war, including aluminum.

For me, the War Years were the most exciting time. Sure, sacrifices had to be made on the home front, but people pulled together. My family would invite a couple of soldiers from the area to have dinner with us once a month. We also made arrangements through the USO to host a couple of servicemen at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Dad would give them each a carton of cigarettes and Mom would send a box of candy, cookies and fruitcake with them when they went back to their units. I never did find out where the men were stationed.

In school we talked a lot about the war. We learned and sang patriotic songs and bought stamps for 25 cents each, which we put into a book. When the book was full ($18.75), we turned it in for a War Bond which would pay out $25 after 10 years. (I later used my War Bonds to buy a Hollywood style bedroom set, which made my Mother unhappy.)

There were all sort of War Bond drives. One Saturday the pump & ladder fire trucks from Kelso and Longview came to an open field in West Kelso. A pair of 20-year-old twin girls dressed in white shorts would take one step up their assigned ladder for each war bond sold. It was a competition between the two cities but I don’t remember which city won. There were also Army jeeps there, and for every child who bought four war stamps, they got a ride in a jeep. I managed to get two rides.

The schools worked on writing letters to members of the military. We learned to knit squares which the Red Cross ladies sewed together as afghans to be sent overseas. Kelso was also a debarkation center for the military. Men were trucked in and boarded the train. The Girl Scout troop would bake cookies and take down to the departing soldiers. When school let out at 3 PM, we would run like mad to get to the train station by 3:45 to wave to the soldiers and sailors as they headed out for deployments. The train would have military trucks and tanks on it and always headed south.

By this time, a large number of men in the city had either enlisted or had been drafted. Nearly every house had a Blue Star flag in the window, showing a son or husband was serving in the military. Some flags had more than one star. In a few months some Blue Stars changed to Gold, showing the loss of a son or husband.

I was teased a lot in school because I wore home-made and hand-me-down clothes. I beat a girl up in math class because she kept taking my eraser and throwing it across the room, and spent an hour in the principal’s office. In the Spring of 1942, I was almost expelled from grade school. A girl called me “a dirty yellow Jap” so I cornered her in a bathroom stall and beat the crap out of her. I spent the rest of the day in the principal’s office and was lectured on tolerance and anger control.

The government ordered all Japanese gathered up and sent to confinement camps. One day, soldiers came into the classrooms and pulled the Japanese children out. This was so sad, as several of my friends were Japanese and the poor kids didn’t know what was happening.

[Wilma graduated from Catlin School in 1942, complete with a little Memory Book constructed of blue construction paper, mimicking a high school commencement program, complete with Class Colors (white and blue); Class Motto (“If you never begin you will never finish”) and three class officers (President, Secretary and Treasurer) It listed a graduating class of about 30 students. Wilma held a B average in grade school.]

By 1943 there were more shortages of many things, and rationing of sugar, coffee, and meat. We used a lot of honey in baking and substituted chicken and fish for meat. Chocolate was very scarce and butter was in short supply. Coffee grounds were used over and over – the wet grounds were spread on cookie sheets and dried, and eventually mixed with chicory.

Somehow, my mom obtained a Nucoa (margarine) route. At that time, margarine could not be sold in stores, and it could not be colored. It came in one-pound packages with a color and flavor packet which had to be mixed in to the Nucoa. A supply was delivered to our house on Friday afternoons by Railway Express, and Mom would deliver the orders on Saturday mornings before going to work. She took orders in advance and was paid on delivery (like Avon is now).

Shoes were limited to 2 pair a year, and silk and rayon stockings were hard to get. Women would line up for blocks to buy stockings. Some women used leg makeup and drew a seam line down the back of their leg with an eyebrow pencil. By late summer, rubber products were very scarce. Women’s underpants had drawstrings instead of elastic, and girdles were hard to get. One day when I was walking home from school, my drawstring broke and my underpants fell to the ground. I just walked out of them and didn’t pick them up. The kids around me were laughing, and I got yet another beating when I got home.

Gasoline was also rationed and at times was impossible to get, as were tires. Dad had a boat trailer chained to a telephone pole in the front of our house. It had 2 good tires on it and Dad was offered $100 per tire, but refused to sell. Rubber products were very scarce and things like elastic and girdles were hard to get.

Dad managed the Piggly Wiggly grocery store in West Kelso. The store was only a few blocks from home so he walked or rode his bicycle so we could use our gas rations for Sunday drives in the country. We would go to Castle Rock (about 15 miles from home) for triple scoop ice cream cones. I really looked forward to both the drives, and the ice cream.

Earl Hughes at work at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store in Kelso, WA

It was difficult to hire men for jobs, so women took over. Some women moved to Vancouver, WA to work in the shipyards. Some worked in the aluminum plant in Longview, as well as the paper pulp plant and the lumber industry. Others built planes and military vehicles. Mom went to work in the butcher shop in Dad’s store, and for a change, Dad was the boss. Mom worked for Lester Lowe, who taught her how to cut meat. She was the only woman to be certified as a meat cutter in that union, and in the entire county.

The butcher’s counter at Piggly Wiggly in West Kelso. Mom’s mother Mildred Hughes worked there
during WWII as the only female certified meat cutter in the union.

Dad hired two women to help in the grocery store. After awhile, Mom became jealous and made Dad fire one of them. Mom quite the butcher shop and went to work in the grocery store. Lester Lowe had his wife Sally, start working in the meat shop. She took care of selling the meat but not cutting it.

With Mom working, my job was to do the cooking and cleaning. I had to leave straight from school, stop at Dad’s store to pick up whatever Mom wanted me to fix for dinner, and then come home to start the wood stove. One day Mom gave me veal steak. I had watched her cook steaks and after browning them, she would put some water on them to finish the cooking [braising]. After cooking the steaks, I covered them with water, not knowing Mom only put a small amount of water on them. For years, Dad never let me forget how I served “boiled steak’ for dinner that one time.

On every third Saturday, a load of planer ends (wood scrap from the lumber mill) was delivered, which I had to stack in the garage. It was mostly in one-foot lengths, some were smooth while other pieces were splintery, and you could always count on finding at least one dead, flat mouse in the load. Oh, how I hated Saturdays. And for all of this, I still got only 50 cents a week allowance. I continued the cooking and cleaning until the end of the war, but managed to keep up with my homework. [She would continue to carry a B average through junior high school.]

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…

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.]

Mildred Carpenter: Adventures with Nella

Excerpted from Mildred’s letters and interviews I had with her between 1977-1990. My additions to her letters are in brackets and I have edited her letters to clarify family names and to put events into chronological order.

A posed shot of Mildred pulling Nella – note the cat under the wagon.

We moved back to Cebolla as Granddad needed some help. I used to wash dishes at Gram’s hotel [the Sportsman’s Lodge] for a nickel, and then spent it for a Hershey candy bar, so Gram got her dishes done pretty cheap.

They held school in one of the tourist cabins one winter. There were about 8 children altogether.

The tourist cabins at the Sportsman Hotel, where Mildred and Nella attended school.

The next year, school was moved to Uncle Grovers’s house [Grover was one of J.J. Carpenter’s sons]. He had a new wife and she was a teacher.

As listed on the back of the photo: Ernest Ogden, Esther & Johnny Songs, Carra Parsons, Nella Carpenter, Nancy Spamn, Mildred Carpenter, Willis Steavens, Douglas Span, and James Shackelford. The boys on the right end look like ‘hell on wheels’.

One noon, Nella and I borrowed a kid’s horse to ride. Things went along fine until we turned around to go back. The horse grabbed the bit and ran, and slipped on an icy curve and fell, throwing both of us into the bank. The horse left and we had to walk back to school.

In late spring, the coal mines turned their donkeys out onto the range for awhile. Several came to our school, so we put them in the school yard and rode them at recess and noon. There was one donkey who would break if any of us got on while wearing a hat. He threw me against a tree one day. I had back aches from that for many years.

During the summer, Nella and I were allowed to build a fire on a rocky formation near the river. We baked mud pies and had a great time. We spent a lot of time fishing. Played in the river but never learned to swim.

When I was eight years old [1916] my grandfather’s sister came for a visit. She smoked a corn cob pipe and wore funny pantaloons under her long skirt, and knelt beside her bed to pray before retiring. You see, Nella and I peeked… She lived on one of the Carolinas, the Tar Heel State and I can’t remember which it is. [The Tar Heel State is North Carolina, J.J. Carpenter was born in Yancey, NC which is where the sister may have lived].

A couple of weeks before my brother [Bud] was born, Mamma went to Gunnison to stay with cousin Margie until birthing time. Daddy hired a woman whose name was Shedhalter. She was a guest once and chewed tobacco. Used to remove a lid on the kitchen range [cast iron cookstoves had lids where modern stoves have burners], chew tobacco and spit into the firebox. Don’t remember that she ever missed. She told some mighty weird stories…

Several months after Bud was born [the summer of 1917], Mamma’s mother [Carrie Proper Eastman] died. Mamma went to Denver for the funeral and Bud was exposed to chicken pox on the train on the way there. Nella and I caught them afterwards, and we were so sick. Grandma C [Louise Wiseman Carpenter] stuck us off in a bedroom and it seemed like she seldom came to see how we were. Mamma and Daddy were gone at the time.

[Harry John Carpenter was born in Gunnison on January 28, 1917. Everyone called him Bud which was the name he kept throughout his life.

When I was about 10, my father got a job with Jim Spann in the Jack’o Cabin Valley. We moved into a house at the end of a cow pasture. There was a nice spring where we got water. Nella and I used to take two white cats, dip water and drown out mice for the cats to kill.

When I was 12, Jim Spamn hired me to drive a sulky rake and a mower during the hay harvest. I didn’t like mowing. There was too much to look out for to protect the sickle. One summer Larry Spann gave me the job of sharpening sickles. I nicked a few blades, thinking he would put me back out in the field, but he just brought them back to be resharpened. He said I was the best sickle sharpener he ever had.

I used to wave at a boy, who was working in the hay fields for a neighbor. A year later I met him. It was Earl Hughes.

Nine years later, I married him.

Mildred Lucille Carpenter Begins

Excerpted from Mildred’s letters and interviews I had with her between 1977-1990. My additions to her letters are in brackets and I have edited her letters to clarify family names and to put events into chronological order.

I was born at noon on September 25, 1908 in Cebolla, CO. I arrived a half hour before the doctor did. I think my mother was angry at me all of her life for that…

Someone loved me though, because Edith Seeley’s mother wanted her first grandchild’s picture taken in a dress that was hand embroidered net, made for her first baby (Vern) who died when he was four months old. Edith still had the dress but it was short, since her mom had tried to make a blouse out of it. [I have not pieced together the Seeley side of the family yet, but believe they would have been Mildred’s great-grandparents].

My parents [Harry Freemont Carpenter and Velma Eastman] lived in a sportsman’s village in Cebolla when they got married. It was a train stop. The train left a mail bag there at noon and again at 4 PM when the train returned. There was also a wagon road leading west to Sapinero and east to Gunnison, though most travel was by train. It was a place where people could vacation, fish and hunt. In the fall the Carpenter boys would take hunting parties into the hills to hunt deer, elk and mountain sheep.

Dad built a four room house about a quarter mile from Granddad’s hotel [the Sportsman’s Lodge built by J.J. Carpenter] and we lived there for awhile, before moving near Fowler, CO, where Dad found a job.

I remember walking into my mother’s bedroom one morning and there was a baby sister, whom Mom had named Nella [born June 4, 1911 in either Fowler or Boone, CO] That was such a surprise.

The other side of the postcard, presenting a new mystery – “the D Woman”

We lived near Fowler for 3-4 years before moving to Steamboat Springs. My dad worked in many places – on ranches, and road construction, and any other job that came along. He must have been doing road construction when we lived here, because he left each day with a team and wagon.

During the move to Steamboat Springs, I stayed with my Grandparent Eastmans [John Eastman, Carrie Proper]. Grandpa Eastman was very ill with heart trouble. One day he asked me for a drink of water, and when I gave him the glass, he drank, then leaned back and died. It was my first experience with death.

There were a lot of springs at one end of Steamboat Springs. Mamma and some lady used to fix picnic lunch and go down to the springs. One of them made the best lemonade. One of the springs was full of sulfur and smelled like rotten eggs.

During the winter we would go to the ski jump and watch the skiers sail through the air. it was quite thrilling. I started school there, and one year in the early spring, I took a shortcut home and fell through crusted snow and into the water. Soon afterward I developed double pneumonia, and spent several days in bed with big poultices of ‘Denver Mud’ on my chest to try to draw out the infection.

Wilma Hughes: Seaside and a Hobo Visit

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.

Harry Carpenter, before he was a logger and Wilma’s Grandpa

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!

Longbeach, 1935. Wilma at center, behind her sits Edith Seeley, Velma’s sister. Mildred on porch, Velma stands near the #5 post.
Unidentified woman at left, unidentified man behind her.
Wilma and her dad, Earl Hughes

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.

Progress note for Wilma at the end of first grade.

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.

Wilma Hughes: Starting life near our hunting lodge

Excerpted from Wilma’s personal journals which she wrote in September 2002 and May 2019, with additional notes that I gleaned from other family sources [in brackets].

“My earliest childhood memory was when I must have been two or three years of age. It was when my family lived in Colorado.”

“I was pushing my great-grandmother in a swing. She was very tall, wore glasses, and had on a long black dress. It may have been my great grandmother Carpenter, or possibly my great aunt Maude Carpenter Darlington. My mom said my hair went straight when we moved, which she attributed to the dry atmosphere.”

[What my mother did not mention, or perhaps did not know, was that her parents met in Colorado. Her mother, Mildred Carpenter, was the granddaughter of J.J. Carpenter, who acquired land in Cebolla, CO under the Homestead Act in 1908, and developed it it onto the Carpenter’s Fishing Resort and Sportsman’s Lodge. The story behind this property and the dynastic family who operated it has fascinated me for most of my life.]

The Sportsmen Hotel in Cebolla, CO. This photo is inscribed on the back “Mr. Harry Carpenter from Dad, Jan. 21, 1917. Photo from my personal collection.

[My mother’s parents, Mildred Carpenter and Earl Jesse Hughes, married on June 10, 1928 in Gunnison, CO, nine years after they had met during a hay harvest. I haven’t yet pieced together what possessed a pregnant woman to travel by train – against doctor’s orders – from Gunnison, CO to Kelso, WA, but Mildred did that very thing in October of the following year. Some of the Carpenter family had already relocated to the Kelso area, again for reasons that are not yet clear to me. Mildred gave birth to my mom in April 1930. I don’t know if Mildred’s husband, Earl, joined them in Kelso, or if she and Baby Wilma returned to Cebolla to join him there.]

Wilma Lee Hughes Begins

According to her baby book, Wilma Lee Hughes was born at 7 AM on Sunday, April 13, 1930 in Kelso, Washington, on a day when the cherry trees were in full bloom. She would be the only child of parents Earl Jesse Hughes (of Clinton, MO) and Mildred Carpenter (of Cabolla, CO). Dr. Frank Davis and his attending nurse, Mrs. Johnson, delivered the healthy 6.5 pound baby girl. She was named after Mildred’s voice teacher, who was a close friend.

Wilma descended from immigrants who landed in America in the late 1600’s, and whose heritage included German, Dutch, Russian, and Welsh ethnicities; gold prospectors, ranchers, loggers, bootleggers, rail-riders, homesteaders, and a US Supreme Court Chief Justice. On her father’s maternal side, her family (the Risings) has been traced back to 1225 A.D.

Wilma’s baby book, in addition to the standard birth and growth statistics pages, included a page to document “The Baby Was Carried Upstairs”. There was an old superstition that a baby should be carried upstairs, that it may rise in the world, before it is taken downstairs. This feat was accomplished by her mother on May 6th, when Baby Wilma was four weeks old.

  • First smile: April 19
  • First laugh: April 27
  • First tear: May 19 (cause unknown)
  • First shoes: August 10 [white satin with pink embroidery, shown below with what I believe is her teddy bear and a wooden pull-toy horse]
  • First haircut: November 6, by her mother “because it wouldn’t curl real nice”
  • First kiss: November 21 at age 7 months, from her father
  • First words: “Bye-Bye Pal”, uttered in January 1931 [Pal was the name of her puppy]
  • First steps: June 12, 1931

Near her first birthday, Wilma received an invitation to a Cradle Roll party “at Two O’clock March 17 at Christian Church Parsonage” in Kelso. Mrs. Philips, the sender of the invitation, asked that her mother bring an extra snapshot for the roll, and sent Easter Wishes ‘from the Cradle Roll Department” two weeks later…

Her mother also noted that when Wilma got her stroller, she learned how to move it within two days, and never did push herself into a corner that she couldn’t get out of…

Her bear, her first shoes, a horse that I believe was a pull-toy, built for her by her father.