HERITAGE JOURNALS: STORIES COLLECTED BY 6TH GRADE STUDENTS OF JAQUI EICHER, 2002

“I graduated from Jefferson High School in 1944, in a class of 14. Two of my classmates were already in the armed services.

When the war ended, my sister went back to Nebraska to be with her husband but I was in love with Oregon, so I stayed here. Fortunately some very good people: Lettie Stansberry Mixell and Bud and Laura Wattenbarger, took me in and sort of looked after me. They became life long friends. Eventually I married James Wied, whose grandparents homesteaded a lot of land around Jefferson. They were also related to Jacob Conser, who founded the city of Jefferson, which was first named Santiam City (and it was on the other side of the river). There was no bridge, so the only way to cross the river was by horse-drawn ferry. Eventually there was a flood and Santiam City was no more. It was re-named Jefferson. Jacob Conser built the house which is now the library.

A doctor would come to Jefferson by train. When the mother of my husband and his two sisters was 13 years old, a young man was enamored of her, but she rejected his advances. He brought a note to her class room saying someone outside wanted to see her and when she got outside, he hit her in the head with an axe and buried her in the wood pile. Fortunately it didn’t kill her. He was apprehended and served a long jail sentence. However Lulu died quite young as a result of the injury. I learned of this incident after I married into the Wied family and read many reports of it when I was doing genealogy research. Some of it even appeared in the San Fransisco papers.

Jefferson has grown a lot residentially in the last years, but not as much business-wise. Of course some of us like the small town flavor!”

–Marcella King Wied

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COLLECTED BY 6TH GRADE STUDENTS OF JAQUI EICHER, 2002

A Pioneer Mother’s Story

The year 1852. The immigrant train on its way to the West paused en route somewhere near Willow Creek in the John Day Country, Eastern Oregon. Why this delay when there was always the need to press on as expeditiously as possible, even though no Indian trouble had as yet interrupted its westward trek?Draw near, you who would turn back the pages of history, and stand by the open grave that holds one more of Life’s tragedies on the Oregon Trail.

A young mother, too frail to withstand the rigors of the long trek from Missouri to Oregon–the land of promise–is being lowered into a lonely unmarked grave. A grief-stricken husband and six wide-eyed, wondering children stand by while friendly hands of other members of our party perform the last rites.

The clods fall on the rude coffin. The earth is smoothed over. No stone is raised to mark the spot, in fact every precaution is taken to obliterate any indication of an interment there. A hymn is sung. A prayer is said. The train moves on. Young Mr. Thornton must now accept the role of both father and mother to his little brood, the eldest of whom is thirteen, the youngest is a year and a half.

Several days more of slow travel brought the party, after five months’ weary plodding, to its destination: the Willamette Valley in Yamhill County, Oregon. How their very souls were gladdened as they viewed this beautiful valley bathed in the golden September sunshine, and realized that it was now to be their home.

To induce worthy settlers to come to the Willamette Vally, the Federal Government had promised a section of land here to every man and wife. Mr. Thornton, being now a widower, was allotted only a half section. Bereft of his helpmate, and burdened with the physical and spiritual development of his six children, a less Spartan soul might have given up in despair. But the blood of Revolutionary fore-bears (one, Matthew Thornton, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence) flowed in young Thornton’s veins and he accepted the challenge of adversity.

Each family must raise the food for its own sustenance. So the ground was plowed, and the grain sowed. The harvest foods were supplemented with plenty of wild game: deer, grouse, pheasants, quail, ducks and geese. When the second Spring had come, the Pioneer Settlers, assured of the permanency of their settlement, began to plan for their children’s educational advantages.

A Subscription School was organized, costing five dollars per child. To increase the attendance and to make it worthwhile for some competent person to teach the school, Mr. Thornton sent five year old Surrilda, the heroine of this story, along with her four older brothers and sisters.

As each settler had built his home somewhere near the center of his allotment, the families lived rather remotely from each other, necessitating a walk of three of four miles for many of the children in order to reach the centrally located school house. However, little Surrilda grew sturdy as she trudged beside her older brothers and sisters.

Social events were few and far between, but Husking Bees, Quilting Parties, and Cider-making gatherings served to draw the growing boys and girls together and gave opportunities for choosing life partners. In those far-off days girls married young. Surrilda was fourteen when she married James Lemuel Ballard. For a young couple, they were content to make their home near where they’d been reared, for a couple of years; but after the first child was born they decided to move to California.

Leaving Oregon in 1868, Surrilda, together with her husband and one small child Perry, came to Montgomery Creek near Millville in Shasta County. Two years later they moved up on Pit River where they built and operated a Toll Bridge about four miles below the present site of Portland General Electric Power Plant Pit One. Where a second tragedy came into Surrilda’s life when the waters of the Pit River claimed the life of her first born, five year old Perry.

Perry and his younger brother Simeon were playing by the riverbank. Simeon complained of being thirsty. Perry, who had been trained to look out for his little brother, got a can and reached over the bank of the turgid river to get water. He lost his balance and fell into the swirling river. Little brother’s screams brought his parent running to the spot, but they could see no trace of Perry. For several days, Indian divers assisted the frantic father in vain to attempt to recover the little body. It never was.

Surrilda’s grief was so great that she could no longer endure the scene so fraught with tragic memories. Once more she and her husband and family sought a new location. 1872 found them in Lower Goose Lake Valley. In this valley and the surrounding country, the grass grew thick and tall while the Upper Sacramento Valley was suffering a drought. Stockmen drove their cattle to the mountain valleys to get pasture and hay. Surrilda’s husband got a job feeding a band of cattle through the winter. He moved his family to Joseph Creek so he might live near his work.

In 1873 lumber was needed to meet new settlers’ demands for homes. Capitalizing on this demand, the Ballard family moved to Canyon Creek, twenty miles south-west of the present site of Alturas and built the first saw mill in that part of the valley. During the summer the family lived in a tent and cheerfully put up with the many discomforts of camp life, dispensing hospitality to any chance wayfarer. But when a rattlesnake attempted to make himself at home behind the cook stove, they felt this was presuming too much on even Pioneer hospitality.

By September enough lumber had been cut to provide for the erection of a house near the mill. When winter storms necessitated the closing of the milling operations, it seemed advisable to move to the small village of Centerville about eight miles down in the valley. There, a hastily constructed house proved inadequate to keep out the winter storms. Many a morning, the family, now growing numerically as well as physically, awoke to find their beds blanketed with snow that had sifted through the cracks.

Old timers still tell that the winter of 1873-74 was the coldest and stormiest ever experienced in this mountain country. Wood fires were kept burning night and day and still the houses were cold. Winter lasted from November through March. Snow fell three feed deep on the level and the drifts were much deeper. There was not much hay on hand. A scourge of grasshoppers destroyed the hay crop the preceding summer, so there was very little to feed the starving, frozen livestock. Many cattle and nearly all sheep in the area perished.

–unknown

 

In The Unraveling

Thread that binds us

is impossibly strong;

we are more closely knit

than we can fathom

(even if we do try

to deny this often).

 

Seams sometimes split;

some places need

more mending and tender

care. In mending, time

has a strengthening way

of altering the original.

 

Sometimes in the unraveling

we find and follow

the thread that binds us;

it’s then we see how

strong we are and what

we have been together.

Baritone Ukulele

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It’s time for me to tell this story–about the broken baritone ukelele, Buddy the Australian Shepherd and the artisan acoustic instrument shop on 2nd Street in Corvallis.

Just about one year ago, when I was wandering the streets of Corvallis looking for dogs to befriend, short of funds and a job, I found myself on 2nd Street. Since I had never before entered Troubador Music I decided to go in that day. The small container garden out front, mixed with the mysterious and thrilling wood and rosin smells coming from inside as I opened the door, immediately welcomed me.

Imagine a working violin shop: beautiful, well-loved instruments hung above the front counter at about head-height, a large open space which doubled as a showroom and intimate venue for evening concerts, musical sounds in the form of ‘plucks’ and ‘thumps’ coming from a back work room. That is Troubadour Music.

Since I was considering selling my hard-earned Blue Lion Mountain Dulcimer (I’d been playing Mountain Dulcimer for more than 20 years) I decided to ask about their consignment policy. Selling it would pay my living expenses for one month.

I had a lovely talk with Kent (the owner) and the kind sales associate; both gracious and helpful.

Then I had a sweet interaction with Buddy, the elderly Australian Shepherd lying on the floor at our feet. When I stood though, a catastrophe occurred. The baritone ukulele hanging above the counter met my up-coming head and bounced to the cement floor. Many emotions bounced across Kent’s face. He told me it was beyond repair due to the broken inner body. I couldn’t stop from calculating how long it was going to take me to pay for this instrument, especially since I was already having trouble paying for just my rent. Of course I was crying.

“Wait,” Kent said thoughtfully, “you were giving love to my dog when this happened. I don’t want you worry about this. In the bigger scheme of things, love is more important than money or this instrument.”We went on to talk for nearly an hour about potential jobs, including teaching English at the nearest Community College (where Kent sometimes teaches poetry).

I left that day exhausted by the event. I spent much of the following year thinking about this baritone ukulele but my energy was spent looking and trying work that suited me. I didn’t come any closer to paying for that instrument and it weighed heavily on me. My dulcimer hadn’t ended up selling, so I kept it at home with me and played it occasionally but found little joy in it since my chronic pain interfered with the playing.

My walks still took me past Troubadour Music and I frequently saw Kent and Buddy enjoying breaks outside together. Each time I’d cringe inside and remember the feeling of that ukelele hitting the concrete floor. Two weeks ago I formulated a plan: I’d leave my dulcimer as a gift for Kent. He’d be able to sell it eventually or use it himself. I set aside the perfect time and dropped it off. Tears came a little as I reminded the sales associate about that earlier baritone ukelele falling day. She told me that Kent wasn’t there, but that maybe I should reconsider. I didn’t need to pay for the broken instrument. But I was insistent and I left my name and phone number and a note explaining the gift.

Later the same day, Kent called to thank me. He invited my dog Pearl and I to visit he and Buddy at the shop any time. We have since met on the sidewalk near Toubadour Music and Pearl and Buddy instantly appreciated each other. Kent reached in his pocket, found two small treats, one for Buddy and one for Pearl. Before giving them to each dog, he kissed the treats (a trick known to increase the value of the food).

Now my walks down 2nd Street are more pleasant again. When I think of that baritone ukulele hitting the cement, I don’t feel like crying anymore.

Home

 img_9269 “Corvallis is too perfect. I’m here to make sure it’s not perfect,” the man says, with a direct stare. He’s eating fried chicken, sucking on the bones and licking his fingers. My dog scratches the ground and whines as we watch the man. I can smell the savory smell and my own mouth waters. My dog and I are inside the downtown dog park; the man enjoying the chicken is just outside the fence looking in. I just asked if he could please move away from the fence because it’s so challenging for my dog and the others in the park. “No,” he says, “that has nothing to do with me and it’s a good time for you to train your dog.” His main goal seems to be to make life hard for others.

This was yesterday. An Oregon native, I have made a purposeful choice to live and work downtown Corvallis. Over the past year, I have witnessed an increasing wave of people creating the kind of challenges this man presented me with.

This letter is a call to action: Please, Corvallis! Of all the times and eras, this is the time to make life easier for those around us (our neighbors). This mounting wave sweeping through town can weaken us or strengthen us, depending on how we respond. Corvallis is not perfect, but I’m trying to make it better by helping my neighbors, even when it requires hard work. How will you respond?

Continuing The Walk, 4

The view from my apartment window is mostly dusted in large, dry snowflakes today, though this rain that is nearly ice might change that. I am deciding when to venture outside with Pearl, my terrier mix. She would choose to go out now, but there are things to consider that she doesn’t consider: it’s cold out there on little feet and a little low rider like her is going to get wet, no matter how many jackets we put on her, especially a low rider that explores like she does. One look at her, pointing at her soccer ball, convinces me that I need to take her out for the air, even if it’s only a short gallivanting walk. We suit up in our cold weather gear together; I have learned to put mine on first, otherwise Pearl’s patience wears thin as she stands, stiff in her two jackets and harness, watching me go through my own process.

We step out the door, looking both ways as we’ve learned to do in order to avoid foot traffic and threats, such as skateboards and wanderers with hard-edged dogs without leashes. Today, the sidewalk is empty and calm, though evidence of the Saturday evening crowd at the Peacock (the infamous bar across the street) is littered in stark contrast with the white snow. Small patches of yellow mark the places where the last customers relieved themselves after 2:30 am, when the bar closed. Corvallis, according to on poll, ranks the 20th/22 most drunk town. Pearl is checking everything out by sniffing every new scent in her path.

This morning, we walk to the left. There is a fire hydrant Pearl enjoys sitting next to in warmer weather. I think she might like to check in with it today. We walk past the parking lot, a place I rarely use because the parking patrol pays particular attention to it. I get my hair cut at Salon 101. Garrett, my hair guy, does a great job and he happens to have a terrier named Oliver that looks a lot like Pearl. Oliver is one of the Downtown Dogs I painted last year; one of my favorite paintings. We walk on to the end of the block to the hydrant, covered in at least an inch of snow, right outside Squirrel’s Tavern (another fixture of downtown Corvallis). Today there are no customers sitting in the outdoor area, but usually there are humans and dogs dining together. Pearl has learned to walk on by, even if growled at by either.

Pearl hasn’t an interest in the hydrant today, and requests that we turn right, toward the Julian Apartment building and the river. Just last week, Pearl learned that Gettu, her best dog friend, lives in the Julian Apartments with her human, Michael. Gettu and Michael are sometimes enjoying a romp in the grass swath at the river park at the same time we are, which always means at least 15 minutes of playtime/entertainment for passing pedestrians. Even though Gettu is much bigger than Pearl, she doesn’t spare Pearl from her best wrestling moves, often taking Pearl to the ground and waving her open mouth playfully. We don’t see Gettu or Michael today though, so Pearl busies herself by checking in on “the morning news”–all the scent messages left by animals along the river. She leaves her own message for the next dog.

After playing in the grass together for awhile, we begin the amble back to the right again, toward home. It’s cold out. Kicking the soccer ball ahead helps keep Pearl going in the right direction. We pass Flat Tail Brewery, Bellhop (THE place to get chocolate pie), and Tried and True coffee shop. Usually Pearl and I stop in at the door to say hello to the Barrista, but we don’t know this one and she is busy. We walk on, across the street after sniffing the corner garden in front of Irenes’, where I work some days. Pearl lets me know she would like to walk left, toward the dog park, but I enforce a right turn. She takes it all in stride.

We’re back at the front door of the apartment building. Pearl has done her job–getting me outside. Now she’ll continue doing her job as we go in, by just being her companionable, lovely self. I’m happy to share an apartment with this little dog. She makes me very happy and I think I’m not the only one she makes happy.img_0790

 

Silent Boy

IMG_8568_2After leaving my two-week teaching assignment in Cambodia (which is after I left my 17 year teaching assignment in Oregon), I neglected to write about The Silent Boy,  though his story continues to weave itself through my own being ever since meeting him. Just yesterday, at the fragile point of tears, I thought of him again and his immense strength; I wished then that I could have borrowed some of it.

In January of 2016, our small team of 5 adults taught English at a Cambodian public school for almost a week before we travelled to an orphanage in the Southwestern part of Cambodia. We were thrust into this day and tasked with “making the students speak English as much as possible.” I jumped into this task with as much enthusiasm as any introvert could and found myself at the outskirts of conversation as my team members, who knew more about the orphanage than I did, tried their hardest to dive into conversation with everyone.

The January climate in Cambodia is mild, if you are from Cambodia. If you’re from the Willamette Valley of Oregon however, it’s quite  hot–90 degrees F with killer humidity. As initial  bursts of conversations died down, we gathered under the gazebo in the center of the lawn. I found myself watching a very young boy (5 or 6 years old) who was walking by himself out in the lawn. “Who is that little one,” I asked. An older boy answered, “We call him Silent Boy. He doesn’t talk.”

Maybe because it appealed to the teacher in me, maybe just because I love challenges, I went to him with the intent to strike up a conversation with this ‘Silent Boy’ immediately. When we first met, he was near a little flower garden, observing something. It turned out to be a giant seed of some kind. “What is that?” I asked, not sure how much English he understood. This Silent Boy looked up at me and smiled. I continued, encouraged, “Is this a seed?” He pointed across the lawn to a tree growing along the edge. “Is this from that tree?” This was enough encouragement for him to begin walking toward the tree, pausing to look back at me; inviting me to join him.

We stood near the large tree and the Silent Boy looked up, pointing to the large fruit growing high above our heads. “Is that where this seed came from?” I asked. My new friend was busy looking for a stick, which he found and was already using to try to knock the fruit down. Clearly, the lower hanging fruit had already been knocked down and he would not reach the remaining fruit without help. I asked to borrow the stick and easily knocked the fruit to the ground, which the Silent Boy immediately collected, biting into it with the clear purpose of showing me the seed inside. The same seed I observed earlier.

We walked back across the hot lawn to the cooler gazebo, and the crowd gathered there. I showed everyone the seed and the fruit, which I learned is called Jack Fruit and is delicious when ripe. My friend and I had just happened to knock down an unripe fruit, but he continued to nibble on it. The American adults in the crowd informed me of Silent Boy’s traumatic past and I marveled that he had any smile left to offer anyone. He continued to stand near me and to offer up his toys for the crying babies, held by adults who didn’t know them.

The tenderness in my heart recognized the tenderness in his and I continue to be moved to tears by his kindness and compassion. He was a child and had already learned that the world is not a kind or easy place to be, and yet he offered kindness and tenderness back. I wondered at which point in his young life he had become silent, or if he had ever been able to express his voice at all.

As our van load of adults prepared to leave, I found an excuse to go back group of children now in the cafeteria for their lunch. I wanted to say goodbye to my new friend, Silent Boy. I tried to communicate this to the servers, but I didn’t know his name. “I want to say goodbye to the one they call Silent Boy,” I said. Finally, someone realized who I was looking for and went over to the line to get him. He looked startled as he walked over, but smiled as soon as he drew closer. I said goodbye the best way I could and offered a brief and gentle hug.

I walked back to the van, full of love and I wasn’t sure why. This tender sprout of a boy had spent time communicating with me and I enjoyed every listening moment. Our tender hearts had spoken.

Often, my tender heart only wants to communicate like this, silently; words get in my way at times, but silence can be hard to understand for some.

There’s so much more to say on this subject of silence–this is all for now.