Life in Vancouver
Conrad Frieze (l.) and brother Richard, 1926
We finally arrived in Vancouver, Washington with no major mishaps that I can recall and my father got a job in the DuBois sawmill on the waterfront of the Columbia River. Having come from where the largest river was narrow enough to throw a rock across, that Columbia River looked like a big ocean to us kids. We liked to sit on the docks and watch the chugging tugboats pulling or pushing big rafts of fir logs to the sawmill. I also enjoyed the big sternwheeler steamboats thrashing the water to a froth as they chuffed by the muddy waters of the huge river.
We remained in Vancouver for two years that first trip West. In the beginning we lived for a while in an apartment on the second floor of a store building on Kauffman Avenue on the West side. The only way up to the apartment was via an outside stairway which was not very nice when it rained—which it often did. There was no bathroom in the apartment. The only toilet was at the bottom of the stairway which was not much of an improvement over a country privy when you had to go on a cold rainy night. The porcelain of the toilet was stained brown and the place stunk as bad as a country outhouse. Kauffman Avenue was not actually on the wrong side of the railroad tracks, but you could sure hear the train engines chugging from there.
Next we lived in a little weathered wood house located in a small cul-de-sac off Kauffman near the store building. That was where we were living when my brother Rex Donald was born on May 9th, 1926. Being only four years old at the time, I do not remember much about Rex as a baby except that we were sure proud of our little brother.
My memories of living in Vancouver that first time are quite sketchy, but a few things stand out. I recall that once while we were there we went down to see the ocean at Seaside, Oregon. I recall standing on the sandy beach and my mother trying to explain to me how big an ocean is. I looked real hard at the far horizon and, if I squinted, thought I could see shapes down along where the sea met the sky. Oh,” I said blithely, “it’s not so wide. I can see buildings over there!” Mother tried to convince me that I could not, but I went away convinced I could see across the Pacific Ocean. But it was pretty darn big at that.
Unfortunately, I had a couple of bad memories about that time in Vancouver. Both times my mother cried which I had never seen her do before. That made me feel bad. My first bad memory from our first time living in Washington was because of my cousin Emma Lee. Emma was the daughter of Uncle Austin and Aunt Macy, who was my father’s sister and the reason we had come to Washington. Although Uncle Austin had a good job with the water department, they lived with their children in a little house near us and so close to the railroad tracks that you could not only hear the trains that come through several times a day, you could pretty near throw a rock and hit them. Anyway, my mother cried when she overheard Emma tell one of her friends about us, “Oh, those are our poor relations from the Missouri Ozarks.” I resented being called a poor relation (even though we did not have much in the way of money and things and Dad had been forced to sell the Chevrolet.). I did not like it because it made my mother cry. Even in later years I never felt real fond of Emma although she grew up to be a very nice and gracious lady.
My second bad memory of Vancouver was that, while we were living in that little weathered brown house in the cul-de-sac, I developed a morbid fear of dentists that I did not loe until about the time I was in high school. My mother developed an impacted tooth. I recall going out into the back yard by the clothesline and finding her out there holding her swollen jaw and crying. It made me want to cry just to see her do it.
I asked my mother what was the matter and she said through her sobs, “My tooth hurts and your daddy is going to take me to the dentist!”
Her voice was so anguished that I did not think to ask her if she was crying about going to the dentist or because her tooth hurt. Instead, my three-year-old mind decided that going to the dentist must be terrible. It made a deep enough impression that a few years later when I was ten or twelve years old, my father took me to the dentist in Greenfield, Missouri because of a decayed molar that had to be pulled. Before the dentist even touched the tooth, I screamed and hollered so loud that they probably heard me all over the courthouse square. That embarrassed my father no end. I felt very foolish later and vowed to myself that no matter how much something hurt me I would not even flinch.