Here is the beginning of Chapter 1 of my father's memoire.
In the Beginning
It is said that the active memory of a child begins at the age of four or five. That may be true; nevertheless, there are many early memories buried deep in the subconscious. As a matter of fact, I “remember” the moment of my birth.
Before you say that is ridiculous and toss this aside, allow me to explain. I do not actively remember; however, between preschool age and about ten, I often experienced a very vivid nightmare. It was always the same—I would “wake” and become aware that I was in a very small and confining space. It was rather like a tiny igloo expect that it was soft, warm, and snug. It pressed at me, however, and I would suddenly have an overpowering urge to escape. Almost in panic I would struggle against the resilience that enfolded me, desperate to find a way out.
With all my being I wanted desperately to go back into that soft and safe warmth, but I always knew that I could not. No doubt that was when old Doc Drisdel smacked me on the bottom and I drew my first breath, then expelled it in a howling wail of protest in that lamp-lit farmhouse bedroom on a cold and blustery night in the Ozark hills. It was sometime in the early hours of March 3rds, 1922, when I was first stuck with the world and it with me.
My earliest active memory goes back to when I was about two and a half years old. The family album has an old snapshot of my older brother Richard and me with Dad’s best friend “Skinney” Neill. In that faded old photograph, Richard—typically solemn faced—is in a clean Sunday outfit. Both he and Skinny are looking at me who, in dirty rompers and with a very dirty face, is grinning into the camera.
We were at Grandpa Stanley’s house beside his country store in Bona, Missouri. While Mother was dealing with Richard, I wandered out to a flower bed along the side of the store building where my grandmother had planted something called “elephant’s ear.” I had been shown by Skinny that if you broke off a triangular leaf from the plant, bruised it gently between thumb and forefinger, then blew at the point the stem was broken off, the leaf could be inflated like the belly of a frog. I had been playing in the flower bed and attempting to duplicate Skinny’s feat. In the process I made a very dirty mess of both my grey rompers and myself. Another snapshot taken later the same day during an automobile ride shows that I cleaned up very respectably.
In 1925 when I was three years old, my father decided to shake the red dust of the Ozark hills off his feet and seek his fortune elsewhere. He was destined to do that two or three times during his long lifetime; however, he always eventually returned to his roots in Dade County in the Ozarks.
With whatever money he could scrape together, Dad bought a new 1925 Chevrolet touring car and equipped it to head for the far Pacific Northwest. One of Dad’s sisters, Aunt Macy, and her husband lived in Vancouver, Washington, and they had written that times were good there and there were jobs to be had in the lumber industry.
Dad and Mother planned carefully because money was scare as hen’s teeth. It would be a long and arduous trip over many virtually unimproved roads. There were a few paved highways in 1925 but the Interstate freeway system was still more than forty years in the future.
I remember that Dad built a wooden supplies cupboard that he mounted on the left running board of the Chevrolet. The Chev was a big touring car with a canvas top and very large wood-spoked whells to handle the rough roads and mud that we would inevitably have to negotiate. The car was, I believe, dark green and I remember my father painted the wooden cupboard balck. He also bought a lean-to tent that could be pitched beside the car. It had a flap that attached to the car top. We would camp beside the road for the most part because motels did not exist then except for occasional primitive “tourist cabins” at infrequent locations.
There were five of us on the trip—Dad, Mother, Richard, me, and an orphaned teenage cousin, Lewis Hayward, who would live with us in Vancouver and go to Vancouver High School. Richard and Lewis rode in the back seat, squeezed in with the bedding. I alternated between sitting with them and sitting on my mother’s lap in front or between her and dad.
Although I was only three at the time, I remember two events during that long trip quite clearly. One is that somewhere (it could have been Eastern Colorado) we encountered a severe sand storm. Dad had forseen that possibility and had included in our gear two pairs of driver’s goggles. The car had no side curtains; therefore, Mother put a blanket or quilt over we three boys in the back seat to keep some of the dust and sand off. Occasionally she would keep her eyes closed awhile and give us the goggles so we could take turns sticking out or heads to see the sandstorm. Being the little one, I did not get to see much of it and probably just fell asleep under the quilt.
My other clear memory of that trip is probably quite typical of the trivia that will stink in the mind of a small child. We had stopped in a small town somewhere in Wyoming to get gasoline. While my father was getting the tank filled and going to the outhouse, my mother held me on her lap in the front seat of the car. I remember looking across a desert-like area toward some low cliffs in the distance. They caught my attention because they had an ominous appearance. To me they looked like a row of skulls along the horizon. I shivered, snuggled down in my mother’s arms, and was glad when we drove on down the road away from there.
A quarter of a century later when I was driving between Seattle and Wichita on the same route I stopped in Opal, Wyoming, for gasoline. There on the horizon were my skull-like cliffs just as I remembered them. I am quite sure that it was the same filling station but the outhouse had been replaced by ten by restrooms inside.