Roy L. Davidson, my Grandfather, who is no longer with us, wrote and read this to our family, on their 50th Wedding Anniversary.
I thought it appropriate, during this Christmas season, as time with our family is so important.
I hope you enjoy reading it, if even half as much as I did. Of course, reading it again made me cry…
I sure miss my Grandfather. He loved to fish with a passion. He would sit there in the boat with his arm out, erect, holding that fishing rod and staring down to the tip of it for hours!
Never was there a more serious nor dedicated angler.
I still treasure the old gear I acquired from him!
One sunny afternoon, fifty two years ago come September, my Mom, Dad and I walked out their front gate at Helix and up to my Model T Ford Touring car, which was loaded with enough clothes and other gear to last me through the school year. I was taking off by backcountry route for Monument where I was to be the principal of their school. I didn't have a car trunk and the rear end of the Ford was piled high. Of course my fishing tackle, Remington 12-gauge shotgun and 30-30 savage were aboard. I was all set to leave even if I did not have an operator's license--you see back in those days no on had ever heard of a driver's license.
I told Mom and Dad good-bye, climbed in and started the motor. You did this by making sure that your emergency break lever to your left front was set, for this placed the gears in neutral. Then I advanced the hand throttle to the right of the steering, retarded the spark lever on the left side to avoid a kicking backfire, then turned the ignition key one notch counter clockwise which was the battery circuit. Then I stepped on the starter button on the floor. Soon as the motor started, I switched the ignition two notches clockwise, which put the motor on the magneto. It was easier to start on battery, but you always drove on the mag to save your battery while traveling.
Now to get going. Down directly in front of me were three pedals. The right one was the foot brake, middle on the reverse which also doubles as a brake when needed for that. But ah, that one on the left was held midway between fore and aft with the emergency lever set. I put my left foot on it to hold, removed the emergency lever, waved to Mom and Dad, and pushed that pedal forward as far as it would go. I ground away in low hear for a few feet, then removed my foot and the little old pedal flew back by spring action and I was in high gear and really going. There was no second or intermediate gear.
I was on my way to Monument and high adventure but had no idea then just how high that adventure would go. Down the gravel road to Pendleton then out the gravel to and through Pilot Rock, and from there westerly up and over the high rough road that switched back and forth across those rock-ribbed ridges headed for Heppner where I'd stay overnight.
As I drove into Heppner, I saw a sign at the forks of the road, pointing to Pilot Rock in two different directions and giving exactly the same number of miles each way. "Well, Mio-My! Maybe I'd taken the wrong road and driven all that rough road by mistake."
I swung up to a garage with a hand gas pump in front--no fancy lighted filling stations with electric pumps those days. The garage man did it all with that one gallon pump, which he cranked and when he ran it up to the top, he reversed and ran that thing down and started on another gallon. Sometimes, the guy would crank, especially if you were not to observant, could get eleven or even twelve gallons in your ten gallon tank. I got out of the Ford and had the front cushion off the seat by the time the garage came out--you see the gas tank was under the front seat. If you wanted to check the oil, you got down and reached a pair of pliers back under the front fender where there were two pet***** on the crank-case, one a little above the other. If any oil came out the bottom one you were still safe, but if non came out the upper one, you'd better put some in. It was better not to wait until you had on your good clothes to check the oil.
While the pump man was cranking gas into my tank, I asked him about the two roads, both the same distance to Pilot Rock. "Yah," he drawled, they'll both get you there, if you're lucky."
"But which one is best?" I asked. "Wal," he sad as he gave me on of those back country grins, "Which ever on you take, you'll sure as hell wish you'd taken the other one before you get to Pilot Rock!"
I spent the night at the town hotel with my loaded car parked out front--no one bothered about stealing all your belongings those days--and next morning headed south for Grant County, principally Monument. By early afternoon, I came down through a gap in the rim on Monument Mountain. There spread out before me with a lot down to it was the North Fork of the John Day, with the little town I knew had to be Monument at a bend in the River. I was soon in town and talking with Mrs. Vilott Merrill, the postmistress, and mother of seven and clerk of the Union High School board.
She welcomed me to town but one of the first things she told me was that my assistant, a young lady who had been signed up to teach in high school had, at the last minute, backed out. But they were going all out to get a replacement. I told Vilott not to worry--I'd run the show till help arrived. I figured that that young teacher had confided in some yarn spinning old galoot, with nothing better to do, and he'd pumped her full of lurid details of such creatures as gollywampuses, ledge leapers and that hideous monstrosity, half snout, half lungs, the Purple beak people popper. This cantankerous cuss, stalks his victim until she is near a badger hole, whereupon he rams his snout into the hole and gives a blast that blows out a huge crater and if the falling debris doesn't finish her off, he wastes no time in finishing the job himself. While he will eat most anyone venturing into his domain, his preference, by far, is the fair young lady fresh out of the city boondocks.
Mrs. Merrill took me to the two places that wanted to room and board teachers, one in town that wanted $35.00 per month and the other up-river half a mile, the home of Murd and Mattie Stubblefield, their two kids, Rita and George and Mattie’s elderly father. The Stubblefields were real anxious for me to stay and were only asking $27.00. I was really impressed with their common sense, down to earth slant on things. They also told me they would like to keep my assistant when she showed up. So I took Vilott back to the post office and went back to Stubblefields and began to move in.
I got things under control soon as school opened and one evening two or three days later, I worked late at school and the Stubblefields were already eating supper when I walked into their kitchen which also served as a dining room. There was an attractive young lady seated with the others at the table and as Mattie rose she said “This is Miss Brown, our new teacher, who has come to help you. She has decided to stay with us.”
Well kids, that’s how I met your Mom. And grand kids, I’d found you a grandma. Next morning I took her to school in my Ford and before the day was out we had things pretty well worked out and she was doing a good job with her classes, though she never got to teach math, which was one of her favorites.
Vilott really had news when the stage came in next day. Another teacher had showed up—they had been trying so hard and now they’d overdone it. Vilott, always wanting to do everything fair for everyone, suggested to me that maybe we should get the two girls together, talk things over and decide who should have the job. "No,” I said, Miss Brown was here first, has already assumed her duties and is getting along well. I’m awfully sorry about the other teacher and think she deserves to be reimbursed for her expenses. But Miss Brown should have the position. That settled it. Mom and Grandma has been my assistant ever since, through thick and thin, though many times there was a lot more thin than thick.
I was soon to learn that Miss Brown was getting a car, also that she had a boy friend in Portland. Sure enough, after a few weeks he showed up with a used Chevy, also a touring car. He taught her what he could about driving it during the weekend. After that we alternated cars driving to school and other places and I sort of served as instructor, though the Chevy gear shift was also new to me. I found out that her main purpose in buying the car was to take her family to Yellowstone Park the next summer. She has always been that way, through fifty-two years, always wanting to do something for someone else! We enjoyed out stay at Monument and the Stubblefields. Mattie did everything she could and would try any recipe that Miss Brown taught her. Murd was a seasoned woodsman and hunter. I’ve never seen his equal in camp. Give him a coffee pot and frying pan with some flour in a sack, backing powder and salt, and he’d make biscuits by hollowing out a hold in the flour for a mixer, pouring in milk or water. After the dough was molded he’d bake it reflector style before the fire. Give him a few extras and he’d give you a banquet.
My old friend, Jim Burgess, with whom I’d roomed three years at U of O, had told me fabulous talks of Silver Lake. He’d served there as principal after graduation. People, he said, were the greatest and he painted a great picture of fishing, hunting—always something to do. I relayed all this along to Miss Brown and we decided we’d both like to go to Silver Lake. So I called Jim and asked him about the job situation at the Lake county town. He’d get in touch with—them—he just thought they had a vacancy or two. In a few days I received a letter containing two contracts from the clerk at Silver Lake. Please sign mine and get my assistant to sign the other—they still didn’t know her name and were taking both of us on old Jim’s recommendation. We were headed for Silver Lake.
In the meantime Miss Brown had invited me to take my car and haul some of the camp gear and people on the trip to Yellowstone. One car couldn’t do it all. So after If finished my job bucking sacks of wheat in the grain harvest at Helix, I met the Brown family in Pendleton and took aboard a whole load of equipment, including my own tent and other gear that I brought from Helix and we were off to Yellowstone. I was driving a brand new Chevrolet touring car—I had traded in my Ford at John Day. The trip was great, and I think everyone enjoyed it fully, with one possible exception. A Brown family member who didn’t care for camping and told people after we got back home, that “Ernestine and her boy friend wanted to go to Yellowstone and her family had to go along as chaperones.”
Came September again as the two Chevrolets met at the Dalles and headed south on a narrow gravel highway, through Redmond, Bend and on past China Hat, by Fort Rock and finally Silver Lake after dark. By the car lights we found the Chrisman Hotel which Jim had recommended. “The old Man Chrisman is kind of a nut but there’s nothing Aunt Judy won’t do for you,” Jim said.
The lobby was pitch dark but we went in and banged around a bit and when no one came, I yelled, "“Anybody here?"” And a sleepy male voice from upstairs, “What do you want?”
“There are two of us and we would each like a room.”
“Well, light a couple of candles, come upstairs and take the two rooms at the end of the hall.”
“Where are the candles?”
“Right straight ahead of you. Go straight ahead.”
I did and crashed into the wall.
“Can’t find them,” I shouted.
“Try to your right.” I veered off to the right and was rewarded with a sharp poke just in front of my ear. It later turned out to be the corner shelf that held the candleholders, candles and matches. A bit irritated, I yelled, “Its no use, I can’t find them.”
“Well, who are you anyway?”
“Davidson, the new principal and other party is Miss Brown, a teacher.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so before?” I could already hear footprints being made on the way down. He had probably thought us as a couple of cowpokes and figured we should know what to do without waking him up. He gave Miss Brown what he considered to be his best room and it was real good except for a room that wouldn’t turn water and when it began raining before morning, she ran out of vessels to catch the leaks and had to start moving the bed around. But we both thought it a great adventure.
Silver Lake was all and more than Jim had claimed. Everybody, even old Chrisman, was great and we soon were in the swing of things, fishing, deer hunting, ice caves, arrowhead hunting, the high desert, trips to Bend and activities of all kinds, it seemed. A great bunch of kids at school. We got along great.
One teacher resigned at Christmas time and during Christmas vacation I interviewed a number of teachers at an agency in Portland ended up hiring Hesba Wilson, whom we took back with us when we returned after Christmas. We have been great friends with her and husband, Tad, ever since. They even moved to Forest Grove here they lived for some years and Tad and I teamed up on deer hunts with real good results.
We decided to return to Silver lake for another year, but had also decided to get married during summer and live in our own house. So before leaving for the summer, we had rented a two story house near the school, so we could move in the following September. And on June 29, at the Brown home in Hillsboro, with me being just scared aplenty and hoping I wouldn’t trip over something, your Mom and your Grandma, became mine in name as well as everything else. I like to think that she had been mine pretty much since the first day I met her in the Stubblefield kitchen. And if I had it all to do over again she would still figure as Number One in all my plans. What more can you say?
What can you say for fifty years working together? There are many highlights and only a few can be listed here. One would have to be Mom and I patching up and making livable an old deserted house that was to be our permanent home. At first we lived in our present kitchen, the while we tore out and restored other portions of the old house. We had a fox yard where our main garden now is and at one time, we had about 75 silver, red and cross foxes. We had purchased the start while at Silver Lake. We sold the pelts for fur.
Another highlight would be on June 12th about dawn in the delivery room of the old Jones Hospital in Hillsboro, where I had been standing by all night hoping and trying to give Mom a wee bit comfort. Finally, after what seemed ages, there was a bit of commotion and old Dr. Robb held up a tiny parcel by the heels and said “Well, Roy, here’s your b—“. Then he caught himself and said “Oh, Oh, it’s a little Betsy.” He administered a few gentle slaps to the appropriate place, which resulted in “Hawanh, Hawanh, Hawanh!” One minute there had been just the two of us. The next one we were three and when Mom smiled and though groggy from the dope they’d given her, said to me “It’s a little girl isn’t it?” I could only squeeze her hand and say “Yes,” I would not have sold out for millions at that moment, though I didn’t know at the time just where I’d scrape up the $30.00 to pay for the hospital bill, $30:00 for ten days stay, including everything. Robb’s bill would be $25.00
And on a March 15th about 21 months later, there we were again, same delivery room, same cast of characters, excepting the third family member who was with her Grandma Brown in Hillsboro. But the wait wasn’t as long this time and when Boy-minded old Doctor Robb again produced a tiny bundle, he said as it was arriving. “Well, here comes your boy!” And then he got a look and said, “Oh, oh, another little Betsy.” Neither Mom nor I had ever told him that we were looking for a boy. We were perfectly satisfied with another girl.
When I took Grandma Brown and Dorothy Lee to the hospital to see Mom and the new family member-—we were now four—Dorothy Lee wanted to hold her little sister and just beamed when she said, “Some day, take tiny baby sister home wif.” And we did, too.
Mom’s next hospital session was not such a happy one. She had major surgery to have a tumor removed, but she made it just fine and before so awful long was as good as ever. And it happened again, this time the day before Christmas and they have always said that the third time is a charm and so there we were in the same old delivery room, waiting I believe hoping that this time the Doctor could really produce a boy. But when the critical moment arrived, he wasn’t going to speak out of turn like he had twice previously, so he waited until he was sure and really was elated when he almost shouted, “This is your boy!” And so it was.
Whatever success Grandma and I have achieved was made possible by working together. Even back at Monument and Silver Lake, we would drive our Touring cars, all open except side curtains when it was bitter cold, and when the ice froze on the windshield, she would hold the foot warmer on the windshield while I drove, and I’d hold it when she drove. That way you melted off some ice and could see better. No windshield swipes those days. No car heaters, no radios and you didn’t see or meet many cars.
Many times through the last fifty years there were times when we hardly had enough of what it took. But we never lacked one thing and that was the belief that we could and would make it. You can be the judges of whether or not we did. We owed a $3,000.00 mortgage on the farm and owed Grandpa Brown about $2,000.00 on the place and both of these accounts were drawing interest. The great depression hit us all back in the 1930’s. Sometimes we could pay as little as $10.00, sometimes nothing when the Veterans’ loan payments came due, but we tried to get a little for the State which held the Veterans’ mortgage and also pay Grandpa a little also. But we were going behind and finally came the day when the State man who was checking all their veterans’ accounts came and said he had bad new. They were going to foreclose on the place.
“I can’t stop you for we’re behind. But if you give us some time, we’ll make it and pay in full, “I told him. I always thought it was bluff for he was having trouble with a lot of others like us in the same fix. They did not foreclose.
Then Wendell started helping us on the payments. Lloyd helped pay some of my life insurance premiums and I landed a job at the Cannery in Hillsboro, where I worked the night shift after a fairly hefty day here at home. I received 25 cents per hour but it was all take home pay and those days you could buy a pound of cheese for 16 cents—a T-bone steak was 25 cents per pound, but we didn’t buy any. Things were getting better. And all the more so when I was called to a highway construction job between Hillsboro and Aloha at 55 cents per hour. Wow!
Then there came the awful day when I was hit with polio and Dr. Robb, who else, told me that I would not be able to walk again—five months in the Vets Hospital, determined and trying to learn how to walk once more. Then came the day in April, when I walked away from the hospital, though aided by a brace and two canes. Not only that, but I wrote and sold a story of illness and experience to the Sunday Editor of the Oregon Journal—yes, we had an Oregon Journal those days.
One summer day with just a few dollars and a car load of gear, food and three kids aboard we started another trek to Yellowstone. You three kids know that story and can save me telling by relating it to the grand kids With the tank of gas that Lloyd gave us at LaGrande we made it home after a great time at the Park, but were dead broke. But two or three days after getting home a plain looking letter arrived from the Reader’s Digest. Inside was a check for $300.00,first prize in the nation for writing in 400 words or less and telling what you said to people to get them to subscribe to the Digest. With our entry we had to send 10 subscriptions, and we had 380 words giving the lowdown on what we did and said.
And thus I was. It happened that all the low points were more than made up by highlights. There came a day finally, after all the years when mom, Grandma if you will, and I, after all the years of struggling, would look out on the farm, now grown to 74 acres from the original 21, and know that it was ours—we didn’t owe a penny on it. Grandpa, Wendell and Lloyd had been paid off. We had raised three fair country kids, and though we had not been able in trying times to give them all we desired, they had all done well and each of them had taken on a worth while life partner and better yet, had and still have the good sense and decency to make their marriages work. And ten grandchildren—Go, kids, go! You can do it if you think you can! Both Grandma and I are sure you can!
And finally, with your indulgence, just a few words to someone I have known longer than any of you “Thank you, God,” I’d like to say, “For all you did through all those fifty years to make it possible for this occasion today. And a special Thank You for Grandma and all she has done, though there have been trying times when we did not accomplish what we would have liked we are still thankful for what we did get done. Half a loaf is better than no loaf!
“And forgive me, please dear Lord, for all my mistakes, and there were many. You know, Lord, that I dislike crowds and the likes with all their rabble and babble. I believe that perhaps, you have spoiled me a little by going with me on every fishing and hunting trip that I ever took. Many were the times, that just you and I, up some winding canyon, with nothing but hush clean up to the brim, save the low moaning of the wind in the pines and the music of tumbling water, interspersed occasionally by the raucous cry of a bird, who challenged not you, but me for being there. And how I loved and enjoyed all of it.
Bless all of this family and give them strength and health. And may Mom and I continue to work together and do even better as we start the next fifty years. Give her strength and health and just a whole great big lot of happiness.”
And that, kids and grand kids, is just a little teeny, tiny, we bit of what happened during the last fifty-two years!
Retyped by Andrew for a small fee, (and a good history lesson) and posted by Grand daughter, Jennie
[ 12-16-2001: Message edited by: [email protected]