MABEL JOHNS INSPIRED ME
By: Beth Thompson Stevens
My dad, Royce Thompson, came to Bates when he was 16 years old - after lying about his age in order to join the CCC's (Civilian Conservation Corp.). He became a cook in the CCC camp that was about a mile from Bates on the main highway that runs past the Austin-Bates junction where the State Highway Department is now located. After three years in the CCC's he joined the Army and served overseas in New Guinea, the Philippines, and Australia for four years during World War II. After being discharged from the Army he returned to Bates where he started working at the sawmill in the boiler room.
At Thanksgiving time in 1945, Dad went to Haines to spend Thanksgiving with his Mother and his step-dad, Wallace Maxwell. Reverend Mabel Cox, who had been a pastor to both Mom and Dad for several years at different times and in various localities, brought Mom, who was then Miss Edith Blanchard, to spend the holiday with the Maxwell's also.
Mom was a school teacher in King Hill, Idaho at that time. A month later Mom returned once again to spend Christmas vacation with the Maxwell's and Dec. 21, 1945, Royce Byron Thompson asked Edith Elizabeth Blanchard to be his wife. The wedding took place on June 4, 1946 in Hemlock, Oregon with the Revered Mrs. Cox herself officiating. Dad brought Mom to Bates after the wedding and they lived in a little log house to which Dad added several rooms later. This house has many, many memories and was located on the highest hill above the upper section of Bates, called Newtville.
I also have many happy memories of Bates with its long crescent-shaped cow pasture running through the middle of it; it's many surrounding woods and hills with paths and trails for hiking, sledding, and wandering; the big upper mill pond where we skated in the winters; the river road where we went fishing, picnicking and bike riding; and with its hot, dry summers and cold, snowy winters. Bates, with its one store, one lumber mill, one grad school and one hotel, had a small enough population to create a real feeling and sense of "community."
Mom gave piano lessons to many of the children who lived in Bates for many years and there was one particular piano student, Jackie Rapp, who many years after taking piano lessons, would come to visit Mom ever once in a while in order to practice for her lodge meetings. She would always sing "Indian Love Call" per Dad's request and called Dad "Nature Boy" for some unknown reason.
One time, when she came to practice singing, my younger brother Carl had a very bad infection in his big toe after having ripped his toenail off in his tricycle spokes. Dad was working and Mom didn't drive, so Jackie insisted on driving Mom and Carl, and my sister Joyce and I to John Day t the doctor as there was a red streak beginning to run up Carl's foot, indicating blood poisoning. After the doctor saw and treated Carl's foot, Jackie took us all to a restaurant and treated us to a big meal before driving us back home in a blinding blizzard.
I eagerly anticipated starting school and still remember my very first day of first grade - the shining, varnished, knotty-pine-paneled walls, the smell of Pine Sol disinfectant, the long hallway running the full length of the school, shiny highly polished and waxed green-tied flat, smooth floors, the four big classrooms with orderly rows of desks, the big blackboards which ran nearly the full length of two walls, the big multi-paned windows lining the far wall that were too high to see anything from except the sky, the American flag in one corner and the Oregon flag in the other, the alphabet in Capitols and small letters above the blackboard, the old phonograph in one corner and bookshelves in the back of the room on one side and the coat rack on the other side of the room in back. I had never seen such orderly arrangement before and was very impressed with it. I often wondered about it and pondered over the mystery of how a school with every school-aged kid in he community tromping in and out could possibly stay so near and orderly when there were only four kids in my family at home and our house was never, ever half so clean and orderly, let alone shiny.
The big community hall with its gymnasium was located next door to the school and was also a wonder to me with its shiny varnished pine paneling and hardwood floors. On cold, snowy winter days we would have noon recess in the gymnasium and I can remember the sound of hundreds of ringing voices bouncing and reverberating off the knotty pin-paneled walls and ceiling as a hundred screaming, sweating kids ran in every direction. I also remember the smell of those sweaty kids, a smell that I loved, although I can't say why. I loved having recess in that big gym.
When I was seven years old, I joined the Brownie Scouts. Jeanette Mattox was our Den Mother and her house was located on the hillside across from the truck shop and just a couple doors down from the school nurse, Mabel Johns. I loved Brownie Scouts and Jeanette Mattox. I really looked forward to those meetings once a week. We learned to weave mats, made sock monkey dolls, went for hikes and picnics and sold Girl Scout cookies around the community.
One day at school in 1956, when I was seven and in second grade, I was running out to recess behind another child who ran through the doorway, letting the door close behind him. I stuck my arms out in front of me to keep the door from closing. My arms went right through the glass which in those days was plate glass and not safety glass. It broke in long jagged pieces and cut a deep gash in each arm, the scars of which are still there to this day. Mabel Johns, the school nurse, happened to be on site at the time which was rare. I was not even aware there was a school nurse as she was there so seldom. Mabel took me to the sick room and she and Mrs. Smith, the mother of a student named Darrel, applied tourniquets to both arms to stop the bleeding. They put me in Mabel's car and drove me to her home where she had a small one-room clinic. There she dressed my wounds and called Dad at work to come pick me up and take me to the doctor in Prairie City where my wounds were cleaned thoroughly and stitched up with large sutures which left little scars alongside the wounds after they healed. When I returned to school a week or so later the plate glass in the two main doors up to eye level, had been replaced by plywood with bars over it and this was how the doors remained forever afterward.
When I was about eight years old we heard the fire siren going off. We all ran and looked out our front windows to see if we could spot the fire. After while we could see a huge blazing fire and found out it was Mabel John's house going up in a massive conflagration. It burned completely to the ground and I remember well the overwhelming shock and horror I felt as I viewed the blackened, charred remains on my next trip to Brownie Scouts. Mabel was a real heroine in my eyes and I thought she was one of the nicest ladies I'd ever met after the care she gave me when I cut my arms at school.
Her house was rebuilt by the sawmill as she was employed by them as the mill and town nurse. A year or so later we all trooped to Mabel for Polio shots after a five-year-od girl in Bates died of Polio.
The summer I turned 11, we moved next door to Mabel and Roscoe Johns, which was very thrilling to me. The following spring Mabel invited us over to watch "Cinderella" starring Ginger Rogers in color on her T.V. Mom, Joyce and I thought that was just wonderful! Mabel was such an inspiration to me that I dreamed of becoming a nurse some day, but thought that it was a vast impossibility.
I graduated from eight grad with ten other students from Bates and achieved the honor of being Valedictorian. Every graduating student was required to memorize and give a speech which was picked from some unknown source by our teacher, Mr. Cardwell, who was also school principal. I have no idea where he came up with these speeches, but they were different every year.
While in high school I took a chemistry class, thinking that if I could figure out chemistry I would be smart enough to become a nurse. I got my only F in high school in that chemistry class, and knowing that you have to have chemistry in order to become a nurse, I gave up my dream temporarily.
After marrying, having two children, and moving to Alaska, I decided I still waned to be a nurse and started nursing school at age 35. I graduated from the University of Alaska in Anchorage in 1989 at the age of 40 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing and feel that I owe Mabel Johns a great debt of gratitude for her caring attitude, example and inspiration.
I now work at Central Peninsula General Hospital in Soldotna, Alaska and just recently cared for Bruce Blume's daughter, Tina, who had just given birth to Bruce and Gloria's first grandchild and the great-grandchild of Stella Blume who was one of Mom's closest friends in Bates.