Monday, October 1, 2007

Ferry Tales

I had an quite a week. Dick and I signed up last April for a short Elderhostel trip to San Juan Islands in Puget Sound. I was interested in seeing that part of Washington because I remembered that my great grandmother, Grandma Smith (Nellie to the adults), had spent part of her girlhood there, along with her two sisters, Jennie and Dora. We wanted to try another Elderhostel, and this excursion would allow me to see an area I knew was important to my family history.

In the 1870's my great great grandparents, then living in Ontario, moved to Iowa to farm. Things didn't work out well for them; their crops were destroyed by grasshoppers. So, on the advice of relatives already in Washington, they sold the farm and headed to Council Bluffs to catch the Union Pacific emigrant train to San Francisco. The letter advised them that they could homestead 160 acres on Lopez Island, and join other friends and relatives already there. That's what they did. Unfortunately along the way they stopped to help some people sick with Scarlet Fever, and my great grandmother sickened and died herself. Great granddad, the girls and seven others continued by train, and later steamboat to their destination.

Our trip was considerably easier, though it also involved several modes of transportation. We flew from Milwaukee to Seattle (the photo is of Mt. Rainier, taken from the window of the plane). From there we took two buses from Seattle to Anacortes. At Anacortes we took a Washington State Ferry to San Juan Island, and then walked to our hotel. It wasn't far, but by then I was tired hauling my little wheeled bag up the hill to our destination.

The Elderhostel presentations helped me to understand the importance of boats and ships to people living in this archipelago of islands, and I learned some local history. One of the two days I left the group and went alone to Lopez to meet Clark Lovejoy and his family. Clark, who is 85, remembered my great grandmother and her sisters. I had the honor of going through family albums, hearing stories, and being welcomed in the warmest way. I had lunch, a tour of the island, and a chance to go through files at the Lopez Island Historical Museum. Oh, how I wished afterward that my mother and grandmother could hear the stories that I heard that day!

After we left the San Juans we retraced our steps and returned to Seattle, where we revisited the Space Needle. In 1976, when we were first married, we took the Amtrack Empire Builder and spent one night in Seattle. I don't remember where we stayed, but we had dinner at the revolving restaurant at the top of the Needle, and I remember it best because there was an eclipse of the full moon. No eclipse this time, but we enjoyed our visit, especially the Pike Street Market, the Seattle Public Library, and the Seattle Art Museum. We also enjoyed the aquarium and the Elliott Bay Bookstore. That's a couple of English majors for you.

Now I am continuing to untangle some of the tangled threads of my family story, still searching, reading, and trying to see how it all fits together.

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