A FEW FRIENDS

 

By: Verna (Cook) Weatherly

 

While we lived in our first house, Lawrence Millage lived directly across the street.  We were about seven - eight years old.  Each day was a whole new adventure as Lawrence and I set out to explore Bates.

 

One day we discovered a man standing on a ladder, which was learning up against the side of one of the company houses.  The man was medium height, slender and all dressed in white, including a hat.  He also had a bucket of paint popped up on the top of the ladder, and a paint brush was in his hand.  We stopped and visited with him, staying for quite a while.  As we stood close by, looking up at this pleasant man, we felt we had found a friend.  We also got the impression he was from out of town, so we made an earnest effort to tell him all we knew about everyone in town.

 

This went on for several weeks.  Each morning we would rush out to find him, and each morning we would ell him he news.  He would smile gently, rarely looking up, but spoke in a quiet friendly way.  Occasionally he changed his ladder to a different part of the house, or just stood on the ground and painted, and many times refilling his paint bucket.

 

Then one morning he was not to be found.  We ran all over Bates looking for the gentleman who painted houses.  Looking around, we could see that all the houses had a fresh coat of white paint.  He had finished the job and had apparently gone on to another job for the company or left town.  We truly missed him.

 

On another occasion, when Lawrence and I were out roaming around, we came across a family with two young children our age, setting up a campsite two doors up the street from Lawrence's house.  They had partially cleared the grass between the base of the hill and the creek and were in the process of setting up a tent.  After the tent was in place, they put a portable picnic table, along with other campsite essentials.  The father had been hired by Oregon Lumber Company, but there was no house yet available, so they decided to camp out.

 

Later Lawrence and I were invited to supper and we enthusiastically accepted.  The mother was very clean and gracious.  Other than their tent, what I most clearly remember was their tin plates and cups.  It was a modest supper, in fact each person was only served one egg, but I am sure they shared all they had.  Soon their days of camping were over and the moved into their house.

 

The exact year of this next memory, I do not remember, but I am sure our Uncle Laurel Busby could tell us.  He was our father's stepbrother, and he and his friends would drive from Portland and stay with us several days during hunting season.  Our house during these visits looked like a dormitory, and our mother worked very hard to cook the hunters good meals.

 

On this particular visit, it had been several days since their arrival.  Lawrence and I were playing out in the back yard next to the creek.  A large woodshed sat on the creek's edge, with a smaller shed attached to it.  During the summer months, this smaller shed was used as a chicken house where our mother gathered eggs, and during the winter it was dark and empty except for two rows of hen's nests, lined with soft yellow hay, waiting for summer and the hens to return.  The small shed was well built, with a high ceiling almost equal in height to the large shed, but much smaller in length and width.

 

One this memorable day in the fall, Lawrence and I, quite by accident, opened the door of this lonely chicken house.  As usual it was cold and dark, with only the light from the door, plus a little light from the gaps between

the rough side board on the side of the shed.  We were startled to see a long rope hanging from the center of the ceiling, and dangling fro it, touching the ground, was a huge "black thing" which we could not make out.  We stepped into the shed, groping to get a better look.  We reached out to touch the "black thing" and felt something cold and furry.  Our eyes were beginning to adjust to the darkness.  Little by little the "black thing" began to take shape.  We saw a black nose, ears and huge body.  We stepped back, stunned at what we saw.  It was a big black shiny bear, hung by its neck like a murdering horse thief, right in the center of our chicken house.

 

By the end of the day the news was out, and every kid in town wanted to climb up on the poor thing and ride it like a pony.  From the first time I saw the bear and touched its fur, I would not go near it.

 

Our Uncle Laurel, who shot the bear, had a bear rug made proudly showing its head and huge ferocious teeth.  It was placed in the second story, directly at the head of the stairs, of our Uncle Laurel's house in Portland.

 

Finally a fourth row of houses were built in Bates. All we had to do was run across the bridge in the back of our house and we were there.

 

Uncle Albert, Aunt Emma and cousin Louise Stone lived on this row and I spent a lot of time with them.  I went on a trip with them to Portland when I was probably about ten or eleven years old.  It was the first occasion I felt I was very grown up.  Uncle Albert and Aunt Emma in the front and Louise and I sat in the back seat.  We stayed all night, in a motel, at the base of Mt. Hood, and the following day drove into Portland to visit their cousin.  Next we drove down the Oregon coast for a couple of days.  It was such an exciting trip.

 

Aunt Emma taught Louise and me how to crochet.  We made a doily which had large white pineapples all around the edge.  This took months to make, my aunt's patience was remarkable.  The white thread we used began to turn shades of gray, but we finally finished.  I believe Louise finished before I did.

 

Louise, Nanette Norgard, JoJo Davis, Peggy Frazier, and I all belonged to a Frank Sinatra fan club.  We would listen to The Hit Parade on the radio and wait patiently for Frankie to sing.  Later we would swoon and giggle over him.  Louise was the President and she thought up the idea of making scrap books out of plywood.  After we had cut and drilled holes in the plywood for leather shoestrings  to bind the book together.  We sanded and varnished the book and took a wood-burning set and wrote Frankie across the front.  Later we collected pictures from movie magazines, and pasted them in our scrapbook. 

 

We had many slumber parties and made a lot of fudge.  Sometimes we slept out in the yard in our sleeping bags.  There were hours of fun and wonderful friendships I will always cherish. 

 

I played at Peggy Frazier's house too.  I liked her mom a lot.  She was such a devoted mother.  Peggy, JoJo and I would walk along the high wooden fence along the back of the fourth row of houses, all the way to JoJo's house at the other end of the row.  It was akin to a high wire act, as you could easily drop, falling backwards into a wet soggy meadow, or if yo fell forward into a yard, you might disturb a territorial dog.

 

On day, around 1947, when I was about twelve years old, JoJo and I saw Jimmy Jamison and her brother Jimmy Davis headed for the railroad tracks with a .22 rifle.  JoJo and I begged to go.  As expected at firt, they refused, but after promising we would not interfere with their plans, we were told we could go.  Jimmy Jamison said he had to go by his house first.  So off we went. 

 

He lived with his family in one of the homes along the Middle Fork River.  As we stepped onto their front porch, Jimmy rummaged around until he found a large iron shoe lastf (shoe stand for cobblers).  It was a long piece of iron, which stood on a base at one end and had the shape of a foot on the other.  The same a cobbler might use to repair shoes.  He immediately took off his shoe and placed it upside down on the shoe lastf.  He had also located a good sized piece of leather.  Within minutes he had skillfully hammered the leather to the bottom of the shoe with small cobbler nails.  I did not see him removed the worn sole from the shoe, but there had been a large hole in the sole.  He cut the excess leather away close to the shoe nails, in a perfect shoe sole shape.  He did it with such skill you would have thought he worked in a cobbler shop.  He placed his shoe back on his foot and again we were off.

 

After we had all wandered through the meadow for less than an hour, one of the boys had shot a rabbit.  Jimmy Jamison quickly skinned it and started a fire, right there in the meadow.  He built a spicket from willows and we roasted and ate the fresh rabbit.  It tasted real good.

 

We swam any place we could find deep water.  The older kids found sand bags and dammed up the Middle Fork River, which ran though the large meadow, not far from the railroad tracks.  There was a good sized curve in the river, caused by the rushing waters of the spring runoff.  One side of the curve had become deep, and when the sand bags were added just below this spot, it was often deep enough to swim in.  It had a shallow sandy side too, just right for the younger swimmers.

 

Soon the Oregon Lumber Company management figurer out what had taken place, and came up and tore out our sand bags.  The older kids waited a few days, then they again brought new sand bags to the same spot, and the next day we would be happily swimming, in the old swimming hole.  This went on for several years.

 

We also swam a lot under the large train trestle, where the clear creek emptied into the Middle Fork.  This was a larger swimming hole, and my favorite.

 

The cool water under the train trestle was very deep.  The heavy timbers, which formed the trestle for the train to cross over the top of the swimming hole, gave it a sheltered feeling.  It was  beautiful the way the willows grew tightly around the bend of the river at the water's edge.  Water skippers, bull frogs and water snakes were often seen or heard around the brush or close to the dark brown timbers of the trestle in the deep water.

Later we would go down Middle Fork and swim in the dredge holes made by mining equipment.  These large dredge machines left mound after mound of small rocks and gravel, filling in here and there between the piles of gravel and rock seeped water, which created a perfect swimming hole.