Saturday, October 13, 2007

More from Grandma's Autobiography

October 13th was my grandmother's birthday. I missed getting a card to her on time many years because I would forget about Columbus Day and no mail delivery. She was born in 1903, and the story of her life, and of her mother’s life have interested me as long as I can remember.

Edward Lemuel (Len) Adams married Sarah Ellen Hodgson on January 1, 1900, in Leavenworth, Washington. I have no idea how or where they met. I know that he worked for the Great Northern Railroad as both an engineer as a boilermaker. I know he was social and liked to go out and meet friends. I know he and my great grandmother were divorced, and that just a few years later he was dead. Here’s how my grandmother tells it in her autobiography:

“By the time I was born my folks had moved to Leavenworth, way up in the Cascade Mountains. My father was an engineer on the Great Northern Railway, and Leavenworth was where the extra engines were added to the trains so that they could make it up the steep mountain passes.

I was about two when we left Leavenworth, and moved to Hillyard. My earliest recollections are of Hillyard and the little tan colored house we lived in. The McClain family lived next for in another little tan house, exactly like ours inside and out... The McClain girls were my friends. Evelyn was my age and Agnes two years older. Agnes made our lives miserable. She bossed us around and told on use when we were naughty. She also threw all my playthings out the upstairs window and broke all my dolls. I remember my fourth birthday, when I had a birthday party, the only one I had as a child. We had cake and ice cream, and I threw up.

I knew that my mother and father were not getting along. There was a lot of yelling and door slamming after I was put to bed, and nobody answered my questions. My father was a very outgoing, sociable sort, and he liked to stop in at the local saloon after he got home from a run and have a drink with the boys. Mother was brought up to believe the devil was in every drop of alcohol. She couldn’t abide his drinking, even in moderation. ...At this time she was very young, very straight-laced, and unforgiving.

About this time we moved back to Leavenworth. I don’t know why, probably because Father was put on a different run. We only spent one winter there. I remember we were housebound all that winter. Our dining room windows were completely covered with snow and we had to light oil lamps to see. The view out our front door was just huge snow banks and the tops of men’s hats bobbing along as they walked out on the sidewalk.

Things went from bad to worse with my folks. I hated to have my father come come because it meant a fight. The night it came to a head I had an earache and was crying. My father had a headache...He yelled at Mother and told her to quiet me, and she told him she was leaving and he’d never have to hear me cry again. He didn’t believe her, but the next day after he left for work she packed our suitcases and asked the neighbor to take us to the train depot. We landed back in Hillyard, with no place to go except the McClains. Our old house had been rented.

(Grandma writes of her parents' divorce, and how her mother secured a position as housekeeper on a Washington ranch.)

About this time tragedy struck. We received word that my father had been murdered in a logging camp in the Cascade Mountains. He had been foreman and had to fire a logger for drinking on the job. The man left, but came back that night and shot in in the head. I was devastated. I hadn’t been that close to my father; only two years of my life I could remember was spent with him, but in the lonely years that followed I built him into a fantasy figure. I remembered time he gave me rides in his big black locomotive and how he loved to show me off to his friends. The large walking doll he gave me was my most prized possession, and I allowed no one else to play with it.

Mother and I went back to Fairfield for the funeral and I met my Fairfield relatives. There was my spunky little grandmother for whom I was named, my grandfather, and assorted uncles, aunts and cousins. It was wonderful to find I had a large family after years of Mother and I being alone. The day of the funeral it was raining and miserable. The little church was crowded and I had to sit on Uncle Otto’s lap. After the service was over he insisted on carrying me up to the casket to say good-bye to my father. All I saw was the dreadful hole in his forehead... I cried and refused to be comforted. It is still engraved on my memory. I was ten years old.”

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