When you were a kid, what was your favorite holiday and how did your family celebrate it?
We owned a hill with fir trees and we often attempted to cut a Christmas tree from our own land. Our hill land was called the Moore Place, because it belonged to the Moore family when my father purchased it. Most of the fir trees on the Moore Place were more than 50 feet tall. We sometimes had to walk and look for hours in hopes of finding a small, bushy tree that would look good in our living room. Most of the small trees on our hill were spindly and sparse. When my Dad went along, he could usually remember where to find bushy trees.
We decorated our tree with lights, colored balls, fake icicles and foil garlands. We had one string of lights shaped like candles, but filled with liquid that bubbled when heated. Gradually the bubble lights failed, one by one, and we gravitated to the ordinary colored incandescent lights. I remember ruining one Christmas tree by attempting to flock it with white flour. White flour doesn’t look anything like snow when strewn over tree boughs.
Our family celebrated gift exchange on Christmas day. The day began with early-rising children tip-toeing to the front room to see what Santa had left. We soon learned that Santa wasn’t real, but played along with the fantasy because it was more fun that way. One Christmas, Santa left a rather noisy electric train with a whistle. It wasn’t long before Dad was hollering at us from the bedroom to go back to bed.
We never had any guests at Christmas because our relatives all lived in faraway places like Kansas and Colorado. We did not mind because we enjoyed being together for our gift exchange and a special turkey or ham dinner with mashed potatoes and vegetables. Mother was a good cook, who could create a dinner and a dessert that all of us would enjoy.
We were a Christian family and stories about Jesus were part of our Christmas tradition. Dad would read from scripture to remind us of the religious basis for Christmas. As children, we understood the story of the birth of Jesus in a literal way.
What kind of house did you grow up in, and what was the old neighborhood like?
After Mom and Dad were married at Fountain, Colorado and honeymooned at Yellowstone, they drove directly to Oregon to look for a new home. Driving south on Highway 99 from Portland, they were chagrined by high farm prices. Continuing south they passed Eugene and soon arrived in Douglas County, where farms were affordable. Fall colors, trees and hills added to the allure of the farms. A ranch was soon purchased in Calapooya Valley, and my parents returned to Kansas to retrieve their possessions.
Pearl Brandner (the mother-in-law) accompanied the newlyweds on the return trip to Oregon. When they arrived, Dad remembers Pearl’s words as: “Looks like you bought yourself a shack in a mud hole.”
The house on the farm was a “cottage” or “tar-paper shack” with electricity and running water for the sink and shower. Toileting required a trip to the outhouse. At age three, I remember being led to the outhouse after dark, terrified of dangers lurking in the darkness.
Dad began construction of a three-bedroom California-Style Ranch house in about 1949. He hired local helpers to speed the work. By about 1951 we moved into an unfinished new home with modern indoor plumbing, a kitchen with a window over the sink, and a large living room heated by a wood fireplace. Picture windows facing Tyee Mountain provided a constant reminder that we live in Oregon, far from the high plains of Kansas. For this Mother was very grateful — no more winds, tumbleweeds, dust storms and drought!
Our ranch was bounded on the South by Calapooya Creek, a 40-mile-long tributary of the Umpqua River. The ranch house was built in the flood plain. Despite a lack of experience with flood plains, Dad listened carefully to the old-timers who said it would be foolhardy to build the new ranch house on grade in the flood plain. So he scooped and trucked many loads of gravel from the creek to raise a level building site for the ranch house. In years to come, our house would become a small island in a sea of muddy flood waters many times, but water never rose above the third step on our front steps. In several of the larger floods we climbed aboard Dad’s tractor to ford the floodwaters to meet the school bus.
Our immediate neighborhood was halfway between Sutherlin and Umpqua off Fort McKay Road. The connecting gravel road was rerouted and paved to support the timber haulers in the early 1950s. Road builders bypassed our gravel lane with a sweeping curve. Thus our parents were spared from worry and we children were free to walk or bike our gravel road between neighboring houses with impunity.
The Monetts, our next door neighbors, were a quarter mile away to the left of our red barn. The Wilsons were just past the Monetts, but of little interest to us because they were older and had no young children.
The Monetts were a blessing for us; Susan was my age, and David was Glen’s age, so that two of us could have a best friend living next door. Pictured below, we are enjoying Sandy’s birthday in the Monett’s yard with their Wattman cousins.
You might notice some personality quirks that are evident in the photo. Glen is holding a toy rifle, betraying his life-long fascination with guns and hunting. David is wearing a Davy Crockett hat, as Disney made Crockett the hero of popular media in the fifties. Kathy was sticking close to a Wattman sister betraying her childhood shyness. I am wearing a cowboy shirt, sewn for me my beloved Grandmother Crouch, a favorite shirt in my early grade school years. Sandy and Susan are normal, cheerful girls with good hair and nice smiles. Sandy is the leader of our group, because of her age and her assertive manner.
After-school and summer activities in our neighborhood avoided ball sports in favor of exploration and adventure. After we reached first-grade age, our parents seemed not to worry about our play, and we roamed the fields, hills, trees and the creek-side. There were a couple of swimming holes in the creek and one of the parents would accompany us to supervise our swimming.
We would often push our bikes high on the hill, and coast downhill through the bumpy field with wild abandon. We would sometimes get the giggles and lose our ability to brake and steer. It’s a wonder that no bones were broken on our rapid bike descents and occasional crashes.