By Margie Bailey Rose
In the early 60s, we lived on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. Numbers 1 and 2 remember those years with fondness and wish the property were still in the family. I, however, remember our time in the wilderness with a little less nostalgia. It was beautiful and quiet, with the Olympic National Park at our backs and the Lilliwaup River at the foot of our driveway. The house was sixty years old, built from odds and ends by the first owner long before electricity came to Hood Canal, and long neglected.
There was a huge wood furnace in the daylight basement that both heated the house and heated our water. I had an old wringer washing machine, no dryer, no television, no mail delivery, and no close neighbors. Some of the time I had a car, but not always. Husband #1 had a bad habit of wrecking them. Electricity had been added to the house, but it was off regularly from snow, wind, or mud slides. I look back on it as one long camping trip with spiders. They lived in the wood piled in the basement and shed– the biggest, fastest, hairiest ones found time to visit me upstairs. To my husband and the boys, our home up the river was paradise.
We had a deep pond fed by snow run-off where trout, frogs, and salamanders lived. The boys loved catching the orange and brown salamanders with a willow stick, string, and hook with the barb filed off– for their safety as well as the salamander's. Periwinkles lived on the rocks near the pond's edge and made perfect bait. When the boys had a bucket full of wiggling amphibians we dumped them back in the pond to catch another day.
The kids waded in the river with baby salmon and played with the half-dead adult fish when they swam up the river to spawn and die in late summer. One afternoon the boys, ages five and three, came up the driveway from the river with a huge salmon on their shoulders with a stick through its gills, the tail dragging in the dirt. They were very upset with me for insisting they take their dinner back to the river for the sea gulls to eat.
One winter it snowed three feet a few days before Christmas. The electricity was off and the roads were impassable. My husband was snowed in at his parents' resort, so I was on my own with the two boys. Day after day went by with no letup in the weather. I burned all the wood stacked in the basement and dug more out of the snow in front of the shed to keep the furnace going for heat and hot water, and the fireplace for cooking. I finally understood why there were hooks in the fireplace– they were to hang cooking pots from. The boys were happy to eat hot dogs cooked on unbent coat hangers and bread baked in the cooking pot. The refrigerator was off, but food kept nicely on the back porch.
I pulled the boys on their sled to the post office each day for our mail– not telling them it was their presents I was most concerned about. Finally on Christmas Eve day the gifts arrived from Sears, and our Post Mistress put them in a large canvas mailbag so the kids could not tell what was in the boxes. We put the bag on the sled, and I carried #2 on my shoulders while #1 and I pulled the sled home. The five-year-old said the gray canvas bag looked like Santa's bag, and I changed the subject.
After the boys went to sleep I wrapped the presents in newspaper with lots of tape and went to bed. The furnace ran out of wood before daylight, so I got up to get it going, and it struck me that we had presents but no tree. That would not do. At first light I got a saw from the basement and fought my way through snowdrifts up the hill toward the pond hoping I could get up into the Park and find a small tree. There in the snow lay the top of our big holly tree, broken off by the heavy snow. It was perfect. I dragged it back to the house and bounced it up and down to get the snow off. I wedged it into a bucket with rocks dug from the snow near the basement door, and carried it up all 23 steps to the living room. Half way up it occurred to me that I could have put rocks in the bucket after the tree was in the living room, but stubbornness kept me struggling up the stairs. The tree was already decorated with shiny green leaves and bright red berries. As I placed the last present, the half-awake boys walked into the room and squealed with delight.
They opened their gifts, and I sang them every Christmas song I could remember while they played with their new toys. My voice was– and is still, awful, but my babies didn't mind.