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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Moving On

With high school behind me and the Navy apparently out of the question, I had to face up to what I was going to do.  Dick was back working at the cannery to save money for Eastern College of Education at Cheney.  I had no job, no bank account, and little in the way of prospects.  The U.S. was starting to pull out of the Great Depression of the Thirties; however, jobs were still scarce around Vancouver. 
A time or two I contemplated calling Charlie Barnett to see if the barn job was still open at the Columbia Riding Academy, but I could not face shoveling horse manure again even as a temporary stopgap.  Neither did I want to hear Art Farr calling me “boy” again.
A friend and classmate, Corburn Actley, tipped me off to a possible job.  His older brother Norman and another friend, Edie Sutherland, were working at a combination restaurant and motel, The Summit Grove Inn, several miles north of Vancouver near the little town of LaCenter.  The boys were furnished a small cabin on the grounds to live in, took their meals at the inn, and worked as maintenance men.  They were bus boys in the evening in the restaurant which had a reputation as far away as Portland, Oregon.  It was located on old Highway 99 a mile south of LaCenter.

It was not necessary to go out to Summit Grove to apply for a job.  Coburn said that Mr. Marshall, the owner, came into Vancouver every Thursday to conduct business and that he always got his shoes shined at the stand on the sidewalk around the corner from the entrance to the Evergreen Hotel right after lunch.  The next Thursday noon, I was at the shoeshine stand.  I talked to the black man who shined shoes and he said, he knew Mr. Marshall and would tip me off when he came.
I sat on the sidewalk beside the three-seat stand and read the paper.  In a little while, the shoeshine man nudged me with his foot and gestured with his chin at a short fat in a natty double-breasted brown suit who was climbing into the end chair.  I waited until the man finished his small talk with the black man, then I stepped up.
“Excuse me, sir, are you Mr. Marshall?”
The friendly little man pulled his driver’s license from his vest pocket, pretended to stydy it in surprise, then said, “By golly, I guess I am.  That is what it says right here!”
“Well, sir,” I said, looking him right in the eyes, “I hear that you might have a job out at Summit Grove.  I sure could use one.  Got two friends working out there, Norman and Eddie.  Just graduated from Vancouver High.”
He looked me up and down.  “Friend of theirs, eh?  You think you could chop wood and bend your back once in a while?”
“Yessire!  I split lots of wood back in Missouri and I can do any kind of chore there is.”
He looked at me critically.  “Oh, Missouri puke instead of a prune picker, are you?”  I grinned at him and he continued, “Tell you what, guess I could use one more boy at that.  You come on out to Summit Grove tomorrow morning and we’ll see.  Bring a pair of dark pants, a white shirt, and a black bow tie besides your outside work clothes in case we can use you bussing tables.  If it works out over the weekend, we will work out a day off schedule with Norman and Eddie.”
It was difficult not to break out in a big grin as I asked, “Excuse me, Mr. Marshall, what does it pay?”
He chuckled.  “Dollar and a half a day like the other boys.  Besides that, you get all your meals and you live in a cabin with Norman and Eddie.  Any time in the morning will be all right.
The pay would be as much as I had been getting at the riding academy plus I would get my meals and a bed.  I was elated.  There was air beneath my feet after we shook hands and I started home.  I went by the CC Store and spent the last two dollars I had for a black clip-on bow tie.  I knew that I could do whatever Mr. Marshall wanted and it would be fun to work and live with Norman and Eddie.
The next morning my mother gave me the money for the bus to LaCenter.  I packed my good clothes, black oxfords and toilet gear in a small zippered bag, then hiked down to the depot and caught a northbound bus.
Summit Grove as it appears today.

Summit Grove Inn was well-named.  The restaurant was a large log building with a shake roof that slanted down to low eaves.  It was situated on the top of a hill south of LaCenter in a grove of hug Douglas firs.  There were leaded windows on the side toward the parking area and Highway 99, a large stone fireplace on the south side, and a main entrance on the north.  Two gasoline pumps stood to one side and, beyond those a row of five or six tourist cabins.
Across the highway from the inn, a small white house stood on an open knoll (the Marshall residence) and just down the hill from that, also beneath fir and alder trees, there was a small log cabin.  Beyond that there was a park-like picnic area with neatly raked paths through ferns and grassy areas with heavy picnic tables and benches.  It was an idyllic setting.
I went into the restaurant.  Facing the entryway there was a gleaming oak counter with six stools.  A cash register was at one end.  Around beyond the counter was the main dining area.  It was spacious and had a small fish pool with rocks and ferns slap dab in the middle of the floor.  There were ten or twelve polished oak tables with spindle-back chairs.  Each table held a small vase of fresh flowers.  They were set with white napkins and silverware for lunch.  The big grey rock fireplace dominated the room on the far wall.
The kitchen was to the right.  A woman came from there through swinging doors behind the counter.  She was a tall grandmotherly type.  Her grey hair was gathered into a bun on the nape of her neck just like my Grandma Stanley always wore her hair.  She had a round face, now ruddy from the heat of the kitchen range or grill.  Gold rimmed spectacles were perched on her nose.  She was carrying a plate of delicious-smelling golden brown crullers which she placed on the counter under a clear glass cover.
The lady peered at me over the gold-rimmed spectacles for a minute then her face brightened as she saw the zippered bag in my hand.  “Oh, you must be the new boy!  I am Mrs. Marshall.  What was your name?”
I told her and she said briskly, “Well, Conrad, sit down there for a minute.  Marshall is around here somewhere. Go ahead and have one of those crullers.  They are right out of the oil.”
The cruller was absolutely delicious—like a raised doughnut only long and twisted.  (In the fifty-odd years since, I have yet to find a bakery that can equal Mrs. Marshall’s crullers.)  Mrs. Marshall did not ask if I wanted coffee but simply brought me a glass of milk—which was fine with me as I did not like coffee at the time.
She hurried back into the kitchen.  While I was licking up the lst traces of the cruller, Mr. Marshall came in from the outside.  He was wearing the suit, vest, and tie that I never saw him without the entire time I knew him.  When I had finished the milk, Marshall led me across the highway to the cabin to drop off my bag.  I asked, “Where are Norm and Eddie?”
“Got them doing a little cleanup out back of the tourist cabins,” he replied as we went back across the highway.  “Try to keep them busy so they don’t get into any devilment.”
Marshall removed his felt hat and scratched at his thinning grey hair.  “Let’s see now, you said you could chop wood.  Well, I’ve got a pile up there in the woods that needs splitting.  Might as well start you on that.”
He got a sharp double-bitted axe from an equipment shed beside the inn kitchen and led me up the path into the sun-dappled woods.  The underbrush had been cleared except for the ferns, some boulders, and some fallen logs with ferns growing out of the rotting bark.  It was quiet and park-like in that little forest and I breathed deeply of the pure air.
Fifty yards up the path, in a small clearing, there was a pile of logs that had been sawed to fireplace length.  Marshall handed me the axe and pointed at the pile.  “There you are.  Have at it, boy.”
“How big you want the pieces?”
“Oh, fireplace size.  Just quarter the larger ones and half the smaller ones.  I’ll be back by later.”
Marshall turned and went off down the shaded path without waiting for me to answer or get started.  I shucked off my jacket, took another breath of the clean air, spit on my hands, and stood up the first piece of log.
It was duck soup—the alder was far easier to split than that blackjack and white oak back in the Ozarks.  The alder popped apart almost as soon as the axe hit it unless it happened to be a length with a big knot where a limb had been.
The exercise made my muscles feel good and I worked up a pretty good sweat by the time my pile of split wood was as big as what was left of the logs.  I was tackling a tough and burly cut about an hour later when Mr. Marshall came ambling back up the path.  He halted in surprise when he saw the pile of wood I had split.
“Good lord, boy,” Marshall chuckled, “I didn’t mean you had to split the whole pile today!  You better take a rest—it’s almost lunchtime anyway.  Didn’t sit down much, did you?”
Knowing I had a job, I grinned at him as I leaned on the axe and said, “Well, sir, where I came from, if we went out to split wood, we split some wood and got it over with!”
Well, Conrad, if you can pump gas and bus dishes without breaking too many, you got yourself a job.  Let’s go see what Missus Marshall has for lunch.”