Monday, February 28, 2011

What lovely skin she had . . .

On the previous post, Leah commented that Ina had lovely skin. Here’s what Ina had to say on the subject:

“Well, it’s nice to be called ‘the prettiest girl in the class.’ It was a moot question in those days; some thought I was pretty and some thought otherwise, but there was no question about my eyes, the color of my hair and complexion and of course, in those days we didn’t know how to make the most of our good points.”

And here’s what her sister Bertha had to say: “When Mrs. Chase and Mrs. Moss were here this fall, Mrs. Chase told me she knew Ina and me both by that class picture in the Journal. I was in hopes I had gotten over looking silly. Mary W. E. wrote that one woman she showed the picture to thought me the best looking girl in the class. ‘Course I’m glad she did but don’t admire her taste. I told Ada about it and she said ‘was Ina in the class?’ and Ina should have thanked her for the compliment but I didn’t appreciate it a bit.”

The photo is of the three girl graduates from Lakeview (Oregon) High School, 1889 – Ina on the left, her sister Bertha on the right. The class also included several young men. Apparently the class photo was printed in The Oregon Journal sometime in the early 1930s, which occasioned comment as to who was the fairest in the land. 

Note the fancy dresses. My mother told me that it was customary for girl graduates to have a lovely dress for the ceremony, and when she graduated in 1927, she and some of the other girls decided that they would forgo the dress in deference to those whose families couldn’t afford it. However, she said, one of the poor girls approached her and asked that they reconsider. The classmate told Mother that their families had scrimped and saved for months so that this special dress might be made / purchased for graduation. It was their chance for something extra special, and the well-meaning graduation committee was taking it away. And that’s how important high school graduation was. KW

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Grandma Ina was an avid reader. My dad told me that she had a photographic memory and remembered almost everything she read. Whether or not that was true, she enjoyed books and magazines throughout her life. She didn’t read just for pleasure -- that is, her interests weren’t frivolous. She enjoyed keeping up with what was going on in the world and reading was the main avenue.

“We do enjoy our evening’s reading,” Ina wrote to Vance in 1935. “We have a lot of Geographics to read – also Collier’s, the Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, three Copper monthlies, Pathfinder, Daily Chronicle, Clearwater Tribune, and M.W.A. monthly. Also Christian Herald.”

In 1935, the Dobson family was just discovering ‘Reader’s Digest.’ Apparently at that time the Digest didn’t carry advertisements. Here’s what Ina said in thanking Vance for the subscription he provided as a Christmas gift: “I’m so tired of all the magazine advertising that that alone makes the ‘Digest’ a treasure. Don’t you get tired of looking at pictures of blasé men and wanton women, whose only idea is to look ‘smart’ and show their clothes to the store models looking on and offering a cigarette?” Though the phrasing seems a little odd, we get the idea: Ina disapproves of current trends and products in advertising.

Occasionally Ina mentions specific books. “I want you to read The Conquest of Fear,” she says to Vance. “I liked it so much and found help and instruction in it and it was amusing, too, in spots. You’ll want to keep it when you’ve read it. The author tries to keep free from religion in the way that he explains; of course, it is psychological, too.”

Ina received several books for Christmas 1934. “One book is Cross Road, a story of Arabian adventures, fascinating but harsh and cruel. It is by Joseph Kessell – never read anything by him before. The other is The Coming of the Lord by Sarah Gertrude Millin – never heard of her before. The story is laid in South Africa and concerns a religious sect. I have only just begun it.”

Books come and books go. And I admit it -- I don’t keep up with my own generation’s literature let alone that of previous decades. But I found this fascinating – a quote from 1936: “Have you read the ‘Jalna books’ by Mazo de la Roche? They are very popular and entertaining. I’m reading the second one now. Jalna took the $10,000 Atlantic Monthly prize in ’27 against 11,000 others.”

I had never heard of the Jalna series, but an online search confirmed what Ina says and from our perspective some 75 years later, Jalna is revealed as a 16-novel saga about the Whiteoak family. The books were written over 30 years, covering a time period of 1854 to 1954. They were not written in sequential order and each is an independent story. In the mid-30s there was a movie, Jalna, which I have never seen but apparently it appears from time to time on TCM. I’ll watch for it now. Radio and television productions have also been based on the series. Where have I been? I’m anxious to see if I can find these books at the local library.

Speaking of the library, aside from gifts, I don’t know where Ina got her reading material. I don’t think there was a library in Orofino that early. I’m sure the families at Gilbert shared their reading materials. And apparently Ina exchanged books with her sisters in Drain. “Tell Frank I’m reading his book,” she wrote to Mabel in 1934, “but can’t go fast in it and am much interested. No hurry about The Christ of the Indian Road. Read and get the good of it.” KW

[This studio photo of Ina was taken in 1940. Lucky to have it.]

Monday, February 21, 2011


“The Cellar” in our case was not the name of a below-sidewalk bar, neither was it a basement room. It was a small shed on the west side of the house accessible just off the kitchen porch. It was of wood construction and the walls were thick. Sawdust had been packed between the outer and inner walls to provide needed insulation. The object was to provide cold storage for food. A cellar should be cool in the summer and protect food from freezing in winter. You need one if you don’t have a refrigerator.

What was kept in the cellar? Root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, beets and onions; also other vegetables such as winter squash and cabbage. Apparently it is desirable to keep fruits, like apples and pears, in a separate cellar. I’m not sure that happened at our place because I only know of the one cellar. Also in the cellar we would undoubtedly find dairy products,  salt meats, and just anything that needed refrigeration.

When I was a child, while Grandma Ina and Aunt Lynn lived at the farm, my dad installed a propane refrigerator in what we now call the mechanical room. I suppose it was better than the cellar for a number of reasons – steady cold, no need to worry about the effect of seasonal temperatures on stored foods, located inside the house and in proximity to the kitchen. Those are just the reasons that come to mind. Whether or not the cellar had been compromised in some way I don’t know.

I never entered the cellar alone. I thought it rather creepy there. But sometimes if Daddy was in there, I would peek in. I remember that it was cool in there despite the summer heat. It had become a storage area for this and that – jars, odds and ends of kitchen utensils, maybe some tools. And as time passed, the things in there became more and more “cool” – you know, antique oddities. In fact, my mother’s breadbox was in there – the one that matched her 1920’s green canisters. Seems like Daddy kept seeds in it. One of my half-sisters decided she would like to have it and I was supposed to get it for her, only that didn’t happen before the big pine tree hit.

Yes, the little cellar was in the path of the big pine tree that fell and hit the house that wet spring of ’96. Of course, the cellar was demolished and we found the smashed breadbox as we cleaned up the mess.

The other thing I remember about the cellar was that one summer while we were there – I mean Mike and I and the children – one of the boys found a dead rat in there while exploring. I said, “You mean a mouse.” And the finder said, “No, Mom, it’s big; it’s a rat.” I never went to check.

Even in this age of refrigeration, I think a cellar has its place for volume storage of vegetables and maybe some folks still have one. If you grow your own carrots, onions, and potatoes, you might store them in your cellar for use throughout the winter. KW

[I was glad to find these pictures. The cellar was actually bigger than I remembered. That could be because the thick walls would make the interior seem smaller. Photo 1 is the house in 1940. You can see the cellar behind the back porch. Photo 2 is quite picturesque, I think – the cellar graced by hollyhocks; note the watering can. And photo 3 shows plainly the double door.

Photo 3 identification: This picture was taken Aug. 5, 1956, while my cousin Stanley (Ina’s oldest grandchild), was visiting with his wife, Betty. My dad, Vance, sits in front. On the left, I’m playing with L.J. My half-sister, Harriet, L.J.’s mother, sits beside me; then her husband, Bill Reece. Next is my maternal grandfather, C.O. Portfors, and Pat Nunan (half-sister Joni’s new husband).]

Saturday, February 19, 2011


I only have so many stories, you know. I say that's what makes me believable. At any rate, I make that comment to explain that I've posted this paragraph before, but I love it for all it says about Ina and life on the farm in the '30s.

On February 16, 1936, Ina wrote to Vance:
"Well, I wish you were here right now. The hill east is a marvelous pink and the shadows fall blue to its top. We have about three feet of snow and it is cold. It began piling up week before last and we have had sub-zero weather off and on ever since. Week ago Friday at 9:30 p.m. it was 12 degrees below. That is the coldest we have noted. The last few days are colder – yesterday a.m. it was 8 degrees below, this a.m. 6 degrees below and the highest today we noted was 4 degrees above. Dad keeps a lantern in the cellar 'of a nite' and nothing has frozen. At Musser’s it registered 19 degrees below. Reports from Saskatchewan are as low as 55 degrees below, Montana 40 degrees below. I dread to think of Pearl [living the farm life in Alberta] . . .  The front door is corked up. We have been using the dining room evenings this cold weather. It is so much warmer, but I’m going back to the other room as soon as possible. I make a little fire in the bedroom every evening now and then the bed is warm. I hang up some things by the stove so keep comfortable. . .   Now I must go and build the fire in the bedroom and wash my late dinner dishes and do all the little things to make the evening comfortable. . ."

Ina opens her letter by talking about the play of light and shadow on the eastern hill. Obviously, the sun is setting and casting shadows, so I know she's writing at about 5:00. Apparently they have already had supper. Perhaps there's just enough natural light for her to start this letter at the dining room table.

Two weeks ago it snowed, she says, leaving an accumulation of three feet, which is significant in that locale, and on the heels of that an extended arctic chill set in. She knows the region affected by the cold is extensive -- through Canada and into Montana -- and she worries about her daughter in Alberta, undoubtedly affected by this same chill.

Jack, she says, puts a lighted lantern in the cellar at night to keep their food stores from freezing, and this treatment has been successful. What food would spoil if it froze, I wonder to myself. I suppose root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and beets. Maybe apples and pears.

Next, Ina describes how they manage their daily activities in the house. They "corked" the front door, then shut off the living room -- front door and all -- from the dining room by means of the pocket doors. Thus, they were basically living in the kitchen and dining room, but Ina allows that she doesn't like this arrangement and will use the living room again as soon as she can. And so I learn that Ina loved to be in the living room. I also sense that perhaps she's under some pressure to keep the living room closed.

Then she excuses herself from the letter in progress and says that she will go "to do all the little things that make the evening comfortable." Perhaps she'll stoke the fire and light a lantern or two.

What little things do you do to make the evening comfortable?

[These photos were all taken in the great winter of 1936. The first is the view to the north, much as we see from the kitchen window. The second is from the yard toward the pond. Ina calls our attention to the fact that Jack was shading the camera for her with a newspaper and she caught it on film -- probably disappointing then but rather interesting now. The last picture is of Julian in the yard.]

Sunday, February 13, 2011


How do you think of Valentine's Day? Are you a traditionalist, reserving the day for expressions of devotion between yourself and your sweetheart? Or is it a day when you extend good wishes to special couples you know? Or perhaps it's a day when you send valentine cards to many friends and relatives to wish them a happy Valentine's Day. I have heard of individuals who use Valentine's Day to remember others rather than sending birthday cards throughout the year.

Special dates tend to sneak up on me. For instance, I know that Valentine's Day is February 14, but I fail to realize that I must be ready in advance. So, with the arrival of a valentine card in the mail on Friday (Feb. 11), I realized it was time to buy and send a few cards. Arriving at the local Dollar Tree, I was startled to find the open stock valentines depleted. Gone. Empty slots. Labels denoted that there had been cards for sweethearts and lovers and also for mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, granddaughters, grandsons -- well, you get the picture. Ironically, the few remaining cards were for husbands and wives. Probably half a dozen shoppers stood staring at the empty rack, trying to comprehend how it was that three days before Valentine's Day the shopping was virtually over at this place.

Since I still needed a couple of cards, I went on to Albertson's. I was amazed by the Valentine's Day displays of decadent desserts, varieties of cookies frosted pink and white, strawberries dipped in chocolate, roses, plants, and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. More chocolates were located on aisle 11, said the sign. Again I found the cards picked over. Selecting one from the rack, I found it was priced at $5.00 and put it back. I'm philosophically opposed to paying that much.

On to Jo-Ann where once again I found a nearly empty rack. So I went to WalMart where I played shuffle with other shoppers before the rack of cards. I was able to find the cards I needed. There were plenty still available but they were going fast.

Some years ago, I used to buy and mail quite a number of valentine cards, but one year Mike balked. As we were signing the cards, he asked, "Do I have to ask Doug [grandson] to be my valentine? Men do not ask men to be their valentine. Only one person is  my valentine -- you!" Well, I had to admit it was food for thought. The children were still home at the time, and I moved to providing a gift of candy for each instead of a traditional card that was tossed over the shoulder at first glance.

These days, we celebrate Valentine's Day simply. Mike and I exchange cards over a simple supper I have prepared and share a heart-shaped cake. There will not be expensive gifts -- not even a box of candy, thank goodness. Just a comfortable evening shared after Mike's hard day at work.

[The card is a mid-'70s Hallmark sent to Mike and me and signed from my mother and dad. On the back is noted: "From the Hallmark Historical Collection. The cover design is a reproduction of an antique Valentine in the charming style of the Gay Nineties era." This is a flat reproduction of a card that no doubt had a 3-dimensional element. Price: $1.25.]

Thursday, February 10, 2011


“A dull day,” writes Grandma Ina in her diary over and over again between November and March -- “A dull day.”

“A dull day,” repeats Mike thoughtfully, and then concludes, “as opposed to a bright day.” However, Ina referred to a sunny day as “a good day.”

Winter days in this region are often overcast and “dull,” even if the temperature is moderate. We don’t have much sunlight this time of year. The lack of light affects our activities and for some of us, our ability to cope; it makes us feel dull, depressed, uninspired.  Today dawned bright and sunny. As I drove a friend to the grocery store, she remarked on how wonderful it was to see the sun and how she would like more sunlight.

Back in the day when homes weren’t electrified, natural light was very important to the accomplishment of the tasks of daily living. For one thing, the dark sky shortens an already short day. For another, we just don’t see as well when light is dim. Lantern light is effective only in darkness and then it tends to be shadowy.  So, any housewife without electricity would have to consider well the daylight hours available to her before beginning a task, especially on a winter’s afternoon. Truly, the housewife of yore had to manage her tasks well on short winter days. 

I remember Ina sitting in her old overstuffed rocker by the big dining room window where she read or stitched by the natural light. She wore a visor with a green celluloid bill that filtered the light for her. Sometimes in my mind’s eye I can see her sitting there yet, the radio, her Bible, and her pin cushion within reach. Who needs ghosts? Or maybe that memory is the ghost.

As I sew here in our little town house this winter, there’s a time in the afternoon when my thought is arrested by the beauty of the natural light, especially if the sun happens to be shining. It seems like there’s a sudden burst of light as the sun approaches the western horizon. (Perhaps it’s just that the sun has come out from behind the shed.) “This is great!” I’ll think to myself, but it’s really the signal that daylight will soon begin to wane. Within a few minutes a dullness creeps in and shadows lengthen. I can hear my mother say, “We’re losing our light.” Once the sunlight begins to fade, it goes quickly. Well, if I didn’t have that electric lighting, I would have to clear away my sewing and gather whatever I need for the evening’s activities. Like Ina, I would bustle from room to room gathering the needful for my evening’s comfort.  

Of course, I’ve never known a world without the magic of electricity. But when I was young we spent some evenings at the farm. It didn’t surprise me that my dad knew how to cope as evening fell since this was his home place. At dusk he gathered several kerosene lanterns for the kitchen work and stoked the wood cook stove. But what did surprise my child mind was that my mother also “knew the drill,” as it were, without any coaching. But of course, she too had known life prior to electricity.

[The picture of the back of the farm house was taken in 1918 during the first winter of its habitation. This side of the house has western exposure. Note all the windows to take advantage of the afternoon light. The photo of the dining room shows the Aladdin lamp above the table. Though Ina was proud of the Aladdin lamp, eventually it was replaced by a larger kerosene lantern that filled the room with light sufficient for evening dining and reading.] KW

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Vignette I

The counter in the kitchen serves as my sewing work table. It’s a pleasant area with lots of natural light. The view isn’t great – mainly the shed and our driveway.

As I looked up from my work one afternoon, something zipped in front of the shed door. I’m amazed I saw because it happened so fast. My first thought was of a leaf blowing in the wind, but when it zipped back I knew it wasn’t a leaf.

“I saw a mouse today,” I told Mike. His response was offhand. “That shouldn’t be a surprise since the woodpile is right there.”

I guess we both thought about it for a couple of days, during which time I saw the mouse again.

“I think we should set a trap,” Mike said. “After all, where there’s one, there are probably more, and they could get in the shed.” The shed? They could get in the house!!!

Mike is busy in tax prep now, so I took it upon myself to carry on the great rodent war alone. What an array of traps they show at WalMart! And it always begs the question – “Can they really build a better mousetrap?” I decided to experiment with a “pre-baited” sticky tray. At home, I carefully placed the trap behind the woodpile. Two days later I disposed of my quarry, trap and all.

Vignette II

We had gone to bed, and as we lay there, I could hear something rustling against the wall behind us – hopefully on the exterior of the house.

“What’s that noise?” I demanded of Mike. He’d had a hard day at work and wasn’t of a mind to investigate.

“Sounds like it’s over there . . . ,” he mumbled. Since “Dagwood” wasn’t going to get up and investigate -- and the dog wasn’t whining -- I went on to sleep.

Awake again at 2:30, I could hear heavy footfalls on the gravel path outside the window as well as heavy breathing. Peeping tom? Not hardly! Mule deer came to mind. Peering through the blinds I found myself staring at the broadside of a cow not four feet away. She had a short rope around her neck. Her companion, a black cow, was standing at the edge of the driveway.

Well, what was I to do? I went back to bed.

When I got up at 6:00, I peeked out the front door into the morning darkness and saw the pair ambling slowly up the street – probably heading home. I wondered if their master would even know they had been out. Investigating the yard, I found they had munched the daylilies that adorn the east side of the house – that’s the rustling I had heard. Nellie’s pen is in that area, and they must have been there – or very close -- when Mike put her to bed. With all of the tramping around, Nellie never complained. But then – cows and horses are her friends.

Vignette III

The town house is located in a housing development on the outskirts of town. We live outside the city limits – what locals call “in the county.” The scenario – and the problems – are rural.
Nellie and I walk daily up the road that passes the county shop, storage units, and a substation. Traffic is minimal and the area affords some fields for Nell to explore.

One day I noticed a strange contraption at the edge of the road near a culvert. Obviously of black plastic, I decided it must be an animal trap. I had never seen a trap like that, but I concluded it was state-of-the-art – a sophisticated model. Days went by and it was still there. Deciding to investigate, I crept up to it from what appeared to be its backside, being careful to avoid the spray of a captured skunk. Then I saw it – “S-O-N-Y” in large letters. Boy, did I feel stupid! It wasn’t a trap at all but an old-style tv set that someone dumped there.

That didn’t just happen, you know. Someone dumped a defunct tv set in my neighborhood just to get rid of it. Why there? They didn’t even bother to push it into the ditch with the child’s wading pool that blew in two years ago and the balls that roll down the hill. And who will move it away? My guess – no one. KW

Thursday, February 3, 2011


I could not believe it when the pieced border actually stitched onto my "Vintage Holiday" quilt, outer edges even, the stitching relatively straight. In all reverence, I could have climbed onto the housetop and shouted, "There is a God!" Frankly, I don't know how it happened. I think the bias element of the triangular shapes must have allowed the alignment.

Since taking this picture, I have attached the upper and lower borders as well.

The next step is another narrow border strip. Then what? Well, I'm thinking about some embroidery embellishment before beginning the quilting process. That one block on top seems to stand out for its blankness. KW