Vancouver and VHS
Vancouver, Washington, on the north bank of the Columbia River, was a town of about thirty thousand people in 1937. It was quite a metropolis to me after having just come from little Bona, population 21, in the Ozark hills.
|Vancouver circa 1940|
Going up Main Street from the bridge, Mother pointed out some main landmarks that would quickly become familiar. The Evergreen Hotel and the Lucky Lager brewery were the two tallest buildings in town. There were stores and banks lining the street including the CC Store at Eighth where I would one-day work before joining the Navy.
Dad turned left on 11th and went west past the city park behind the brewery and the courthouse. Across the street from the courthouse was Gerhart’s Drug Store that would become a hangout for some of us west side kids. We went north on Kauffman past the places we had lived ten years before to 18th, then two blocks west to Railroad Avenue where our rented house was situated. My Uncle Austin’s house was just a block and a half further toward the railroad yards.
The little house was a flat-roofed square grey stuccoed two-bedroom place. The front door was at the street level on Railroad but the hillside sloping down to the railroad yards was steep and the house had a full basement. It was to be the first of our three different houses in which we would live during the next three years before Richard and I joined the Navy as Dad moved us to progressively larger homes.
Compared to our little one-bedroom farmhouse at Bona with its coal oil lamps and two-hold outside privy, that little house on Railroad Avenue seemed quite palatial. There was a small living room with some comfortable “early Grand Rapids” furniture, a modern kitchen with a gas cook stove and electric refrigerator, a bathroom with hot and cold running water, and two bedrooms. There was a little bed for Sandra in with Mother and Dad and we three boys shared the other.
When the other boys came home from school (it was the middle of May and school in Vancouver would not be out until the first week in June) Rex Donald seemed to have grown quite a bit and was no longer a little tot that tagged along behind us in the Ozark woods. He was by then in the fifth grade and was sprouting into a sturdy young man. Eventually he would be as large as me. Richard had not grown much and I was delighted to find that I was as tall as he was.
Richard eyed my new height with a wry grin and said, “Boy, nipple noggin, you sure are skinny!”
I snorted, “Look who’s talking! Bet you don’t weigh a pound more than me!” (And it turned out he did not.)
Richard and I had grown up fighting and quarreling every step of the way until then. We never did stop completely but, from then on, partly because I had been “on my own” for a while and partly because we were no longer kids, we got along better and even went out to parties and dances together sometimes.
Richard had to leave right away after he got home from Vancouver High, where he was a junior, to go on his paper route. He had acquired a black balloon-tired bicycle with wide “steer horn” handlebars and had an evening route for the Columbian. I was immediately envious that he was making spending money and resolved even before I ha scouted our new territory, that I would find a job also.
I recall my first morning in that little house clearly because it was so different from what I had been accustomed to. It had a sawdust burning furnace in the basement so it was not necessary to grab clothes and run for the warmth of the kitchen stove to dress.
The kitchen was bright and cheerful. It had a dinette space that would seat all of us. My mother had a new electric waffle iron and she made waffles—the first I had ever tasted. I thought then that they beat biscuits and gravy all hallow; however, in later years one of my favorite breakfasts at times is good tough biscuits and sausage cream gravy.
(I say “good tough biscuits” because, although my mother was an excellent cook, her biscuits were a bit tough and that is the way I still like them. Never did care much for fluffy biscuits and crumble.)
Anyway, the sun was bright that morning and I was in a new world. It was good to be part of the family again even though I relished my time with Grandpa and Grandma. I can still see little roly-poly Sandra that sunny morning, gurgling in her high chair and banging a spoon until she got more waffle.