By: Verna (Cook) Weatherly
Along the Middle Fork of the John Day River is the town of Bates where I lived the first seventeen years of my life. Growing up in this setting had a powerful influence on me. As you enter Bates from the south following Clear Creek, you see a row of twelve house on your right. The Cook family lived in two of these houses.
The first house we lived in was small, unpainted, wood framed, and only had one bedroom, where the family slept. Denny and I slept on small cots, and after Dana was born, she slept in a cardboard box near to our parent's bed. Mom said all of us children as infants had slept in a cardboard box. Later the back porch was converted into a bedroom, with a cot for each of us children.
Our small kitchen had an iron hand water pump mounted on a small kitchen cabinet and a sink. All water used to bathe or wash dishes was taken from the water pump and heated on the wood stove. Mom used a large tub for our Saturday night bath. She brought it in from the back porch, sat it down on the kitchen floor and poured hot water from a steaming tea kettle or large heavy water basin. We yelled and screamed at the thought of the bath time, we loved it. For us it signaled play time.
One of my earliest memories was when our mother tied Denny to the clothes line. He had such a love of the hills and creeks, and Mom could not keep track of him. She did it out of worry, not in a punishing way.
Another memory I have was when Lawrence Millage, who was a playmate, and my cousin Jessie were sitting with me, at about four or five years old, in front of the first house making mud pies. Mom called us to the front porch where she helped us stir up syrup and peanut butter in a cup for sandwiches. We then sat on the front steps eating our peanut butter sandwiches. My cousin Jessie and I were actually more like sisters than cousins, and spent a great deal of time together.
My mother traveled every other day to Prairie City to see her sisters, Lilace and Betty, her Aunt Kate and Grandmother Gwyn. Betty visited us many times. She later returned for a year as a grade school teacher. When I was older, she helped me make a beautiful red quilted box filled with a chicken dinner for a box social at the Bates Dance Hall. Our mother's two brothers, Calvin and Glen, came over several times, and once while were were gone, tipped the furniture upside down for the fun of it. We never locked our car or front door, nor were there any police in Bates. I do not remember any occasion when they were needed.
In the early spring, before the last fresh snow was gone, Mom would often make homemade ice cream. She placed all the ingredients: cream, sugar, vanilla, etc., into a long narrow silver contained with wooden paddles. Carefully she set it into a green wooded bucket packed with snow and rock salt. All this was locked in place with a bar across the top, which was connected to the paddles inside, and a handle which she laboriously turned. She knew just how long to turn the handle, and the results were not soon forgotten.
When I was about seven years old we moved to the third house on the right, along the main street into Bates. This house too was wood framed, painted white, with a high pitched shingled roof and a large front porch with a railing. We had a wooden screen door which had a small metal latch. As the door opened, it squeaked until you released it, and as it gently slammed shut, the latch quietly rattled against the wooden frame of the screen door. This sound became familiar and memorable. You entered the living room from the front door. It was a small room with maroon colored sofa and chairs, with several bookcases of my father's many books. A Zenith floor model radio sat against the left wall where every night of the week you could hear one of your favorite radio programs. This entertainment was shared with friends and family. My cousin Louise and I often listened together. Some of the many favorites were: The Lone Ranger, Fibber Magee and Molly, Jack Benny, Amos and Andy, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Amateru Hour, My Friend Irma, Lum and Abner, Arthur Godfrey, The Life of Riley, and lovable Dagwood Bumstead saying, "Don't touch that dial; listen to Blonndieee!"
Along the far wall of the living room sat a large wood-burning heating stove that was tended every evening by our father. The cord wood for both stoves was hauled in from the mountains and stacked in the wood shed, which was built along the creek in back of the house. Every hour or two he would stoke the heating stove fire with a long iron rod and add large chunks of wood. As he opened the small door on the right of the stove, the door and the handle always squeaked, as did the swinging little cast iron plate you automatically bumped as you tossed in the wood. After the reloading of the fire box in the bottom of the stove and adjusting the draft on the well-exposed chimney pipe, he pulled the squeaky door closed, turned the handle and sat down again. This routine and all the noise became reassuring and important to us. We knew he was there. Our father would again sit in a chair, directly in front of the stove, leaning forward, elbows on his knees, one had supporting his chin, the other a book. Dad read incessantly, and while doing so, a look of great peace swept across his face. As our Dad read, Dana and I would often brush and comb his hair. We tried many different styles, and some were real funny. With each new hairdo we usually collapsed into giggles, but he never moved. I think he loved it, and he calmly kept on reading. Our father was uncommonly patient, and all three of us children seemed to know he cared deeply about us.
The Sears and Roebuck catalogue was a mainstay. The Christmas 1940 catalogue listed a bushel of oranges for $2.29, strap on beginner's roller skates, 47 cents; cowhide leather briefcase, $1.89; beautiful fully dressed Baby Dolls for two and three dollars. Cotton chenille girl's bathrobe, $1.00. Monopoly game, $1.79.
To the left of the living room was the front bedroom, later made into a dining room with a piano. Our mother was a natural musician and could pick out any tune on the piano to accompany her singing. She could also play from her sheet music. Down the center of the house was a central hallway, with a bathroom and the second bedroom back left, and kitchen in the back to the right. This room was the heart of our home, where guests often sat around our kitchen table and our wonderful wood burning kitchen stove.
In the hallway was our father's gun and fishing cabinets. A large linen cabinet was on the left at the end of the hall. He would kneel on one knee in front of the bottom drawer and pull the heavy drawer open. As he did this you could see two stacks of carefully placed, often referred to WEST COAST LUMBERMAN. This was a magazine he loved and was his bible for an industry he cherished and knew so well.
As we had lived in the larger house for a couple of years, our Dad built a stairway to the attic to add a second story. he put windows in both ends of the attic, added floor, walls and finally a partition, making two large bedrooms The front bedroom was for our folks, and Dana and I had the back bedroom close to the creek. Later we lined the walls with pictures of movie stars cut from movie magazines.
The base of the stairway was built out of a small narrow hallway between kitchen and back porch. A violin in a black case had hung on the wall in this hallway. It had belonged to our maternal grandfather, Thomas Harrison Maddoz, who was born in Silvies Valley, Oregon in 1888. His father and mother, Israel and Emily Maddox arrived in Oregon by covered wagon in 1879 from Kansas. They had 13 children. Having made several trips in a covered wagon, two of the children were born along the Oregon Trail, one in a tent and another in an old abandoned log cabin near Fort Collins, Colorado.
Our back porch was built along the creek. It was on this porch our wringer was machine was kept. Along the wall next to the house was a row of nails. From the nails hung all sorts of odds and ends. Some of the items had hung there so long they were dusty and well hidden, and I have no memory of them. I do remember blueberry buckets, Dad's snow shoes, old jackets, hand saw, and one kerosene lantern. Some of these items were broken, but because of sentiment, impossible to throw out. Two pretty large benches and galvanized tubs were pushed up against the screen side of the porch. These were used on wash day. Also on this small porch was a large pile of split cord wood, replenished each day by Denny or me taking turns carrying it in from our dad's chopping block.
During these years our mother did everything by hand, from canning venison and fruit to coloring our butter, which was really white margarine, placed in a bowl and sprinkled with a small package of orange sprinkles, turning to a radiant yellow color as you stirred gently with a fork. It was into the very small kitchen she pulled the heavy wringer wash machine from the back porch and set up two galvanized tubs of water, one always had a deep blue rinse. She peeled large flakes of felsnaptha soap into the tub of the electric agitator wash machine. She often scrubbed dirty clothes on a scrub board, and I saw her iron with old fashioned irons heating each on the top of the stove and one interchangeable handle. This she did every week, even after she worked full time at the hotel, and one summer in the mill. When she was through with these chores, she took us huckleberry picking along Bridge Creek below Dixie Campground. She also baked the best deserts I've known, and made clothes without patterns to guide her for both Dana and me.
Our mother carefully planted large leafy vines along the ground all around the edge of the front porch. Each spring she tied strings to each plant that grew from the ground to the ceiling of the porch. In the summer afternoons the sun seemed to set in our front yard. The sun filtered through the tender leaves of the thick vines, creating shade that covered the entire porch.
Behind each house was a woodshed lined up close to the creek. Our house had a narrow footbridge over this creek, as did about half the houses n the row. During the summer, lying on our stomachs on the bridge with our arms and legs dangling over the edge, we lazily watched the stream gliding by. The bridges were usually made from logs about 14 feet long. To these logs were nailed short planks, or sturdy lumber, horizontally placed board after board until the walking surface was covered. There was a pretty well-built bridge about half way down this row, which was accessible by bicycle. You could hear the planks rattle as the bikes whizzed across, and hopefully you had the good luck of not being on the bridge at the same time.
Eventually, from all this activity of running between the bridges and down the creek banks, narrow paths were well formed along the water's edge, all of which made a wonderful playground. The creek was usually shallow, except in the spring when it almost flooded the banks, and was unusually cold from the snow in the high peaks. Crawdad lived a well protected life in the nooks and crannies under the large rocks along the edges. Small pools formed not far from the gradual slope of the bank. It was in these pools that you could sometimes catch a fish. I did that very thing. I talked a fish into living in our bath tub one day, and he agreed. All went well until our mother came home and I had to pour him back into the creek.
Wading in the creek was high adventure as you learn to maneuver your small tender feet between the rocks, all the time praying the sharp claws of a crawdad would not bite your feet. After inching your way to just the right spot, where sharper rocks and gravel had given way to a smooth sandy creek bottom, you hesitated a few minutes, you might even sit down, but not too long, as the cold temperatures could make your teeth hurt. Then you would inch your way back to the bank and start all over again.
In the summer months along with our many friends, we would play late into the evening. Often we would gather up dry twigs, dead willows, scraps of lumber and odds and ends that were thrown onto a pile on the bank at the creek's edge. After we lit this jumbled stack of wood, facing the fire, we sat down. The flames burned high into the darkening sky, exploding with burst of fire stars, collapsing inward as hot ashes formed, settling deep on the ground. We felt the gift of heat and saw our friends' glowing faces as they laughed and cheered. The spirited blaze rose again with an orange crown of flames, each ascending into small glowing sparks. And to all of this the sky moved closer and looked near to us. Her stars managed a glimmer or two, but none could compare to our lovely glowing light.