Were We Poor?

At the age of 66, Mom went in the hospital at the end of January, 1992, expecting a rather routine gall bladder surgery.  It turned out to be cancerous. She had treatment but was gone by August the following year. After she passed, Dad gave this back to me. I share it now to simply say, there is never enough time.

 

February 1, 1992

Dear Mom and Dad,

Some time ago I heard you talk about the years when I was growing up, saying how we were poor, how it was hard to make ends meet. Well this kid didn’t see it that way.

Sure I spent hours in October, November and December memorizing the Sears Christmas Catalog. There were lots of things to want. I wanted an electric train, the Lionel at the top of the page, with switches and a tunnel.

When I did get a train for Christmas it was the Marx version a at the bottom of the page. I thought it was great! I admit to disappointment when a curious toddler sister switched it on and burned out the controller the next day. But someone quickly ordered a better controller from Sears. And my train was running again.

I didn’t know any other kid so rich as I was with a train set and a room all to it. I made my own tunnel through a mountain. I had a jigsaw right outside my bedroom door at the top of the stairs. And all the scraps of plywood I needed to cut and glue and hammer anytime I chose.

I didn’t understand what it meant for you to have this kid traipsing through your bedroom to go through the door to the stairs next to your closet. As for me, I was well off. I had a big room all to myself with big windows that looked North to cedars and cottonwoods and green velvet mountain forests across the river valley.

School was right across our quiet country road. It’s now a little old country school house. Then it was a BIG old country school house filled with who all lived even farther up in the hills.

I’d go home for lunch where you had Campbells chicken noodle or tomato soup. Maybe it was Franco American spaghetti or leftovers. No matter, it was warm and it was home.

I had one of the largest libraries a kid could want. Every two weeks the Snohomish County Bookmobile parked by the school. I didn’t know where this thing came from but I checked out as many books as I could carry and sometimes, on sunny days, I stopped on the lawn to read.

I had a year ’round stream to play in, building dams and fishing, watching ice row at the edges r frogs eggs in slack water, or water striders or little trout barely legal.

Parts of the stream were a jungle. I explored mysteries under the Devils Club, Elderberry and vine maple. At the end of the pasture I had my own cabin and a place for campfires and marshmallows and a white dog named Sam.

I saw kittens and puppies, calves and kid goats being born. I felt those kids kicking in NancyGoats insides. I learned to milk a goat, and a cow. We had horse to ride in the high Cascades or along the logging roads near home. I didn’t know other kids so rich as to ride horses.

I learned to run a chainsaw, how to fall a tree, to split wood, to drive a tractor and plow a straight furrow.

We had strawberries. Boy did we have strawberries. I may have gotten tired of them when picking. I shuffled down the row smashing berries into knee pads as I went. I may have earned 60 cents an hour but I had strawberries…..and raspberries, and blackberries. I climbed to the top of that old cherry tree to find any the birds missed. But I never broke my arm. Never broke my leg. I might have deserved it though when I jumped off the chicken house to see if umbrellas worked like they do in the cartoons. That chicken coop, the pen and te yellow transparent apple tree had to make way for the house Dad built.

The holly had no berries but a hummingbird hid there each season and that was bright enough. I ddn’t climb the holly tree but I did climb the mountain ash. There I built my tree house fort from which I could launch the hard berries at my bothersome little sisters. We had swings and a bar for chinning or just twirling around.

There was a hay mow for jumping, and for the cows.

Our garden always produced green beans, carrots, radishes, little green onions and wonderful sweet corn. To this day, if there is sweet corn on the table, everything else must wait. The plate must be christened with sweet corn butter and salt.

So you see all the time I was growing up I thought myself better off than most kids. I lived better than my friend Freddy up the road, or the Lyle girls farther up, or the Giebel boys on the road to town. I had my own room bigger and even though old, my house was better than Rod and Vonda had.

After 4th grade when I rode the bus into town I knew the Doctor’s kids were well taken care of, and Graham, whose Dad was the pharmacist, Williams that had a sawmill. But I still knew kids like Billy who asked one fall day if I was going to eat all that big Bartlett pear. I’m ashamed to this day that I ate it all, even the core and offered hi the stem. In the fall our back porch always had pears, and peaches and apples. I can still see the simple envy in the face of a guy who surely didn’t get many pears.

I always had warm well fitting clothes. There were other kids whose clothes smelled of cigarette smoke or wood smoke or both. Or they smelled of clothes not often laundered. I’m pretty sure I never smelled like that. Bathing was an adventure, the water plummeting out of that overhead shower into the metal washtub. Dumping the water was always an exercise of not creating a tidal wave to the bathroom floor.

I was taken care of loved and admired. When I had a part in the Christmas play at school you made an authentic workshop apron from Dad’s Merchant Marine dufflebag. It still has his name stenciled on.

Life is too short for regrets. But just about right for thanks and praise. There are many things in my life if some magic took me back. But of that, there’s not much I’d change about growing up at Trafton.

To me it was a great, green, wonderful world. Where could I live now with deer in the creek, or a bear lumbering across our yard? Tall evergreen trees and a school across the road, strawberries, the full freezer, the back porch shelves bulging with mason jars for the winter; it goes on and on. I can’t give my kids such rich gifts.

Now that I have older children I know what it is to have my children bring honor to my name. They’re better know in this community than me. I hope I bring honor to your name.

I know I was moody, pouty, sarcastic, a smart aleck. Sometime I get set back a few notches. But you did well. Thanks for the memories. Of creek and trees, and camping trips and fishing, roast beef and potatoes, fresh fruit and frozen fruit and canned fruit, and apple cider and carrots and corn and that old square grand piano, of goats and dogs and horses and cows, of sledding behind the tractor, of brush burning and marshmallow toasting, of carving pumpkins and carving turkeys, of prune whip and divinity fudge, of sour cream chocolate cake with butter cream frosting and Christmas trees with tinsil; we lacked nothing. We were rich.

I love you,

Ken

One response to “Were We Poor?”

  1. Kathleen Dunn

    These are rich, wonderful memories, and so well written. Thanks so much for sharing them. You had all the things a rich kid needs. Kathleen

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