Sunday, July 10, 2011


It’s the morning of the Fourth of July, 1933, and a busy day for Ina. And she’s excited in her phlegmatic way. Pearl and Al are coming with their son, Stanley. She last saw them in the summer of 1931. Since then Stanley has been ill with osteomyelitis. They are all coming to grips with the fact that Stan, a bright and talented individual, will be crippled.

But Ina doesn’t dwell on sadness today. She looks forward to the picnic at Melrose – a reunion of family and friends. Beyond spending the day with her own family, she’s particularly thinking of Alice Sanders, Al’s mother, who was a neighbor when they were young wives living on Burnt Ridge near Troy, Idaho, 1892 until 1896. She hasn’t seen Mrs. Sanders (yes, she always refers to Alice as “Mrs. Sanders”) since Pearl and Al wed in 1917, though she often has news of her through Pearl or Mrs. Sander’s daughter, Nina Portfors.

Ina is busy, but she can rely on the assistance of Shirley, her youngest, now 22. Shirley will not attend the picnic, space in the car being one consideration. But, with Shirley Jean in tow, she will take care of her daily chores and help Mamma prepare for the picnic.

Even in lean times, farm families had enough to eat. That was part of the great government agronomy plan – let a man have 160 acres of land so that he can be his own boss, earn his way by growing crops, and sustain himself and his family by living off the land. How well it worked in the end, I don’t know, but there are those who remember the small family farm as a good way of life. 

In 1933, access to our farm was gained through June’s farm to the east. We can hear motors from miles away, so about 10:30, Shirley Jean, dressed in a pretty little frock and admonished to stay clean, was sent outside to listen and watch for the expected visitors. She reported excitedly when she heard a car in the distance. Pearl and Al would have stopped at June and Bertha’s house just to say hello, and of course, Bertha would know all about today’s picnic, and perhaps she would wish to herself that she had been invited. Undoubtedly Pearl and Aunt Bertha made plans to visit and share a meal on another day.

Already Bertha, as the Gilbert correspondent to the Clearwater Tribune in Orofino, was composing her “news item” on this event. “Mr. and Mrs. Albert Sanders (nee Pearl Dobson) and son, Stanley, of Foreman, Alberta, Canada, visited this week at the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Julian Dobson. Friends and family gathered for a Fourth of July picnic especially honoring Mr. and Mrs. Sanders at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Bud Long of Melrose.”
But right now, Pearl didn’t have time to stand around talking. Driving on into the farmyard, the scene must have appeared much like the picture above taken in 1927. After fond greetings all around, Ina’s food was packed into Al’s big old car, and all who were going to the picnic clambered in. When the car reached the road, Dobson Road as we call it now, instead of heading to the highway, Al turned left down “Plank’s Pitch” and drove right on down the gulley to the dangerously steep road into Little Canyon and the village of Peck – a road that no longer exists, though we see evidence of it. 

However, if you are relying on your GPS for navigation to Gilbert, it will show that “back road” as a viable option. How strange is that! And that’s why we hear of folks tragically lost on some “short cut” because they were trying to navigate with their GPS without using a map – or much common sense.

[Photo 1: Sisters Pearl Dobson Sanders and Ethel Dobson Robinson in their parents' yard at Gilbert, Idaho, 1931. Pearl's son Stanley is 11 while Ethel's daughter Shirley Jean is 5. Stan and Shirley Jean were Julian and Ina's only grandchildren for many years. During the 1940s, three granddaughters were born.

Photo 2: This picture of the farmyard was taken in 1927 but the scene was still much the same in 1933.

Photo 3: The present lane, or driveway, is the left fork of the "Y" you see in this picture. The lane was not there until about 1950. The right fork, the old road to the canyon, is not an option today, and that's immediately evident as you approach. The county has graveled the area as a turn-around.] KW


Chris said...

I think I'm finally getting the family relationships sorted out! Sounds as if this was a very special 4th and everyone was excited. I wonder how many days it took for Pearl and Al to travel down from Alberta? I'm sure the roads were not the best and travel was slow.

How sad for them to have their son have such a serious illness. I googled osteomyelitis and it looks like it's treatable today. I'm grateful to be a parent and grandparent in these days.

Kathy said...

Well, there won't be a test, but I'm glad that you try to sort us out. Eventually I hope that my children will care about the people who came to this place and built their lives here. I do want them to have life and not just be names on a page.

I read about osteomyelitis, too, and concluded that it's an infection that is treatable today. I have never known anyone who had it except Stan, and ironically another cousin, Neil German (Aunt Muriel's son).

And I tried to find out how far it is between Orofino and Foreman, Alberta. Results were inconclusive but a map seemed to show Foreman as northeast of Edmonton. That's pretty far north. Since they arrived in Orofino at noon, I'm guessing it took them not less than two and a half days.

Leah said...

Great glimpse into the Dobson past. It's funny when you think about Fourth of July picnics today and in the past. Long ago, picnics on this holiday were a big thing, just as today (and it should be a big thing).

Pearl is 5 years older than Ethel. On July 4 1933, Pearl was 40 and Ethel 35. Their birthdays are Nov. 3 & Nov. 9. They must have celebrated together when they were children at home.

Pearl must have missed her family so very much, being so far away. And with Stanley's health challenge, she must have wished she could see her family more often. Stanley, too, could have benefited from visiting Grandma & Grandpa Dobson more often. But as we say today, "It is what it is." We deal with what life gives us.

Kathy said...

Yes, and Ina's birthday is Nov. 7. And Ruth, Bertha's daughter, was born Nov. 10. I don't know if they had birthday celebrations, but I remember reading that Ina had sent a bouquet of chrysanthemums to Ruth for her birthday.

It was probably lonely where Pearl lived, and she was a "people" person. Apparently, though, she was not a disciplinarian. Perhaps more on that later . . .

Hallie said...

This is silly, but I have trouble imagining that they saw the farm in the same vibrant color as today. Those old photos just have me convinced that the wold was in black and white (I think Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes concluded the same).

Chris said...

Hallie, I often think the same thing!! I have to remind myself there was color in those days. Too funny! (And I'm so glad I'm not the only one who does this.)

Leah said...

I never think about b&w photos of the past as a world without color. Usually I overthink anything, but not in this situation. I grew up with b&w photos and I felt that it was wonderful to capture people & events. When we took our first color photos in Germany in 1958, I didn't like them. Granted, color images have improved (especially in the digital age). And do you know that b&w photos from the past have great definition. They can be enlarged easily (if the original was in focus) and b&w photos do not deteriorate quickly at all.

I'm also a purist. I don't think b&w movies should be colored. It's respect for things in their original state. When you begin to think of whether a photo should have color, you need to slip back in time in your mind and concentrate on the subjects. What treasures these photos are. How lucky we are that Kathy is taking us on this adventure.

Kathy said...

When Nina was a little girl, Mother was describing to her (the story goes) the color of a dress Mother had had when she was little. Nina said, "You mean you had color?" To which Mother responded, "Do you think I was born in the dark ages?" And Nina came back with, "Well, it is to me."

When I lived in Boston, I attended a presentation given by a professional newspaper photographer who extolled the virtues of b&w film. He said that once in a while, to please his wife, he would take pictures of their children with color film, but that was his only concession. He argued the definition of b&w that we don't get with color. But as far as I know, b&w is a thing of the past, and I think it's too bad. No one knows the historic future of the pictures we're taking now.