Monday, June 22, 2009

Sounds From the Past, part 2

Anna Bernice Adams, later Bernice Ann Smith

I've been continuing the slow process of transcribing the tape my mother helped my 92-year-old grandmother make back in December 1994. My husband says it's strange hearing their voices coming from the studio where I work; I guess it is. Like ghosts, almost. At the beginning she is still talking about living on the "Big B" ranch, which was in the southeastern part of Washington, not far from the Columbia River, and the Tri-Cities area today.

Bernice Tess interview pt 2
We had more horses than cows, because cows were purely for our own use. The horses were for sale and for breeding purposes. We had a lot of horses, and a lot of hired men and a great big lot of land. Four square quarters of wheat. I used to ride on my special mare all around the acres. It seemed like we’d go forever and still be on “our land” I called it, because to me it was our land. It eventually did become our land because my mother ended up marrying the manager of some of the land, the son of the man who owned it, and that was a turning point in my life.
It was my eleventh year. Everything seems to have happened in my eleventh year. My real father was shot and murdered when I was eleven years old, and six months after that my mother told me she was marrying again. The only son that was managing the ranch. Which was not particularly good news to my ears because I didn’t think he liked me, and I knew I was very much afraid of him, because I had been taught to be afraid of him. Because he didn’t like children. Well of course I would grow up. 
So, then I was sent away to school. To a Catholic school, and I was the only Protestant in the whole school. In the questions that my granddaughter Sherry asked, she wanted to know some of the people who had had a big influence on my life, and that I admired. And even though the girls were so hostile to me, there was one of the sisters. Because it was a Catholic school with sisters and priests, they went out of their way to be very very nice to me, and they really made up for it. – the coolness of the Catholic children. And this one sister, I think her name was sister Teresa, she encouraged me very much in my English and my composition. And I remember her telling me one time that she hoped some day to read an article or a novel or a piece of fiction, that I had written with my name on it because she was sure I would become a great author. Of course I would have disappointed her, because I never went on to college, and I never wrote anything that outstanding. I loved to read, but it was other people’s writings I enjoyed, not my own. That lasted, I was in the academy one full year, practically.
At the end of it they came and took me to Hillyard, no I think we went to Spokane first. I know that we lived very near the Jesu Church, and they told me there that next to that church was were there was a little house , not very big, and they said that was where - what was that singer? Bing Crosby was born, just a block from where we lived. And I always thought that was very exciting. Our house there was very small, not pretentious at all. But it was wonderful to me because I’d never had an inside toilet before, electric lights before. It was the first time in my life I’d ever had electricity or any of the nice things about living.
Carol: How old were you then, Mother?
Oh, I was eleven years old yet; that was my eleventh year. That’s my daughter, I’m glad they’re asking me questions, because that’s what I want .
My best friend died while I was still eleven. She was – I considered her my best friend. She lived next door, and she as a lovely sweet Catholic girl. But she didn’t hold my being a Protestant against me. She was, we were, very very close friends. And she played tennis with her brothers one morning and fell against the wire that was put up between the two poles. And I never understood how, but somehow she hit her head on the wire and died instantly. And that was a terrible shock to me. So I had lost two dear people that year, that I loved. 
Then I had the news given to me that I was to have a new baby brother or sister. Well, I was pleased about that, I guess. In the beginning it was such a shock to me I couldn’t hardly comprehend what was happening. But I was, later, it made me very happy, and I always enjoyed having a brother. It was wonderful, because I’d never had a sister or a brother. And I, I thought as much of him as I possibly could, of a real, full brother. And he never wanted me to call him a half brother. He was really angry with me if I said that he was my half brother. He always said, “There are no halves in our family, just wholes.” And that’s the way it was, all through our lives. 
I’m sorry for the interruption, one of my daughters just told me that I hadn’t told my brother’s name. His name was DuRell. And that was a family name from Dr. Smith’s side. His mother was a Durrell. She was French, French Dutch, or Dutch French; I don’t know which it would be. I always considered her more Dutch than French.
Carol: Is that the diamond that Sherry has?
Pardon me, Carol’s asking something.
Ellen: Is that her diamond that Sherry has?
Yes, Sherry has her diamond. And it was mine for a while, and before it was mine, I guess it was Dr. Smith’s mother’s. Yes. 
Carol: You never said who your stepfather was either.
Carol said I never said who my stepfather was. 
Carol: He wasn’t a doctor then.
He was not a doctor at that time. But that’s when we came back to Milwaukee he decided to become a doctor. And we had eleven long years ahead of us. And they were not easy years. We had DuRell to raise, and we had ourselves to take care of. Because his folks did not approve of him coming out there.
I wasn’t happy about leaving Hillyard, It seemed as though my life was just a series stops and starts m strange people, and losing friends, making friends and losing them. So I was very unhappy about the trip way “back East”, as we called it, although really it was only half way. But, we boarded the train. I couldn’t take any of my toys.
Speaking of favorite toys, Sherry once asked me which one was my favorite. And I did have a favorite doll? I had very few toys as a small child, because we moved so much and I never had a place to keep them. So, this doll was very special. The last time I ever saw my father, he brought the doll to me. Mother and I went to Seattle, no, we went to San Francisco, right after the fire, and the earthquake. And we went to a big hotel, ‘course most of the hotels were burned out then, and we could still see the black skeletons of them, and the ruins of bricks that were left, and the burned out houses. I can remember asking my mother what happened, and she said that they’d had a terrible fire after an earthquake. Anyways, afterwards we met my father at this hotel, and he had a big present for me. And it was a doll, a walking doll, and big, came up to my knees you know. And I treasured that doll more than anything I ever had, but I had to leave it behind with all the rest of my things when we started out for our new life in Milwaukee. 
Being on the train was an experience. We had a baby, of course, DuRell was very small, ten months old when we left. And we had to get our own meals. We had just what we could buy at stops. The train would stop and we could get off and buy things to cook on the stove, which was an old coal stove. The conductor put coal in, and some people heated up soup. And we heated up DuRell’s milk on it. And, the smell, of the coal smoke was not nice. We could, everything in the car smelled of oranges and coal smoke. Because so many of the people ate oranges to get the taste of coal out of their throats. And I always well remember that smell - coal smoke and oranges, mixed. To me, that’s train smell. And the conductors were very friendly, They’d come around very often, and set and talk, and play with the baby. But it was a very hard trip with a small child. And we had lost so much that we left behind that I was very sad.

I wasn’t happy about going to this new city. When we finally got there it was a long trip,, we slept in relays. We had just the chairs that we made into a bed at night, with a curtain that came round them. And we’d sleep for a little while, and then somebody else would get up and they would sleep, because we only had the two seats. Double seats. For the three of us. No, four of us, with the baby. So it was very cramped, very uncomfortable, And we were glad when we crossed the big muddy river, and finally landed in Milwaukee. The muddy river was the Mississippi. And I remember they got me up out of sleeping to go and look at it, and I was so anxious to see the Mississippi, all the things I heard about the mighty mighty Mississippi, and how beautiful it was. And I looked at it and was so disappointed. All it was, it looked like mud, like a river of mud. A big wide river of mud. And of course further on it looked much better, but that was near the big cities and it was very polluted. So I was disappointed in that.

1 comment:

Judybec said...

nice series you're doing here Sherry. wow, what memories.... and listening to the voices .... I'm sure it's quite an emotional experience.