In my family history archives, there sits a ca. 1980s notepad bought and written in by my grandmother, Dorothy Ruth (McMurry) Black, and titled “For Mike—Family events.” For years, I thought it had only one and a half pages of information, as the next page was blank and the rest of the notepad seemed blank.
For years I did not give it the attention it was due, as I was more interested in pushing my family tree back as far as I could go, and my grandparents seemed too recent to pay more than passing attention to. When I talked to my grandparents about family history decades ago, I was usually asking them to tell me about their parents and grandparents and further back, instead of asking them about themselves. I regret that now, now that it’s too late to ask them any more questions.
Today, I was re-reading this notepad that my grandmother had given me so many years ago, and I noticed that a couple of pages further on, she continued writing. How had I not noticed this before now? My grandmother died 21 years ago last week, but just today she gave me another present—a story about her childhood.
Let me present you with my grandmother’s story in her own hand and words. So as not to interrupt your reading of her note, I’ve placed my verbatim transcription at the very end of this post.
Here’s a verbatim transcription of her notes. The only change I made was placing her notes about her mother at the end, so that her notes about her father are continuous.
F. R. McMurry
Gave Hi School Diploma to Dorothy—he served on Olympia School Board.
Built cabin on bay by floating lumber from end of road.
We kids pushed the floating lumber while dad rowed the boat from McKnight’s property.
Dad was a Mason, an Elk, member IOOF, Eastern Star.
In early 1900s—about 1909 to 1915 or 16 Dad lived in Canada—Prince George, + near Edmonton. He and Mr. Hood built and operated a “trading” post general store—in speculation the Canadian RR would be going thru there. But it didn’t and he + mom + Frank moved to Idaho—did some farming there. His dad was doing experimental farming for or with Luther Burbank. His dad passed away 1916 and soon after Dad, Mom + Frank moved to Olympia — bought a large 2-story house at the NE Corner of then Stewart St (now Edison St) and 4th Avenue—then not in Olympia City Limits. About 1921 they moved the house about 1 block east on Stewart St. (where it still remains next to the alley). He built a new house just west of that at 502 Stewart St (now Edison St) and we lived there until Mom sold it after dad died in 1949. Dad + Mom owned the ½ block on Stewart from 4th to the alley (which was east of end of 5th St.
Dad built another house just next door (to the W.) and rented it out for several years + then sold it during the depression years 1928–1936 or later. He also bought a beautiful lot on Maple Park on South end of Olympia to built but depression ended that dream + he sold it.
The property at the corner of 4th + Stewart (Edison) was sold for a Grocery store (I believe it was McCarthy’s). But before that I remember dad rented the land to a Chinese man who had a big firework stand there every 4th of July—and what fun and how beautiful the fireworks he gave us were out at the bay over the water!
Our place at the bay (Eld Inlet—commonly called Mud Bay) was built over a period of several years. First, a kitchen + one bedroom—us kids slept in a tent. Then a living room/dinining room + bathroom.
Before the bathroom we had an “outhouse” a short distance in back of our “cabin”—and a “pot” under each bed at night to be emptied every day! No electricity—a woodstove to heat + cook. Two galvanized wash tubs to do our laundry by scrub board + and a hand wringer ever Monday!! Every Saturday nite we “bathed” in a galvanize wash tub in the middle of the kitchen floor—Harriet (the youngest) first + then me (Dorothy). Frank, Mom + Dad later I guess after we girls were in bed.
Of course, we were swimming in the bay every day so we couldn’t have been too stinky.
After dad built the living room then a platform next to the living room with a canvas top—that was where Harriet + Dorothy slept. Frank and his buddies had built a shack up the hill a ways at the edge of the Alder trees.
We spent every summer there from the day school let out until school started after Labor Day.
Our property on Edison St (between the market and the 2nd house dad built) had an apple orchard—probably 8 to 10 apple trees on it.
When we were little, if we were punished for something we were sent to the orchard to get a good “switch” so mom or dad could give us a few switches across our buttocks and/or legs. If we didn’t get a good one we had to go back and get a “good” one then we got two switchings—one for being bad, one for not getting a good switch to begin with—we learned fast on that one!
We had a cider press and before Halloween we would pick apples and put them thru the cider press—we made gallons of cider and Frank B. would sell it to the neighbors and of course we had gallons of fresh cider to drink. Mother made vinegar out of a lot of cider for making pickles the following summer.
Out at the bay dad always had a big vegetable and strawberry garden in a large cleared piece of our land up the hill in back of our house.
All of us kids “worked” the garden—hoed the weeds, picked peas, beans, strawberries. Dad would take 3 or 4 crates of berries, gunnysack of peas or beans into Olympia to sell to “Cunningham’s” market a couple of blocks from his Insurance office. That money was our “spending” money for the summer.
In June of 1931 mother + I were picking strawberries and carrying the crates (each of us had one) down the hill to the house when mom slipped and fell and broke her leg. We had no phone, no electricity. I helped her down the hill and up the 8 stairs into the house. —How she withstood the pain and how I could give her enough support—she was a large lady—5’7″ and weighed 160 lbs. I got her onto the porch swing and elevated her leg and then ran to a neighbors house about ¼ of a mile to phone dad. In those days you had a cast (and not a walking cast) from your foot to the middle of your thigh! for 6 to 8 weeks!! We couldn’t move back to our home in town because dad always rented it out for the 3 months of summer! I had just graduated from 8th grade, 14 years old. Frank had a summer job working at Mobbs Nursery and greenhouse. Harriet was 12 and not too well. So I did the washing by hand every Monday morning—scrub board, 2 galvanized tubs—one for washing, one for rinsing—Big Copper Boiler on top of the wood stove to “boil the whites”. And hang the clothes on the line next to the house. Dad took the sheets to the laundry!!—4 beds! I did all the cooking and baking—homemade cookies and cakes in the oven of the wood stove! Also all the canning, fruits, vegetables, jams + jellies!
The neighborhood kids still remember the smell of cookies I baked and to our house they would come!
We got electricity into our bay house late that summer and dad bought an electric washer with a wringer on it!!
My dad had bronchial condition—a lot of phlem in his nose and throat and used 2 or 3 white linen handkerchiefs a day. And I had to wash what I called “those snotty” things and when Kleenex first came out I swore I would never wash another handkerchief—so that’s why today I always have a pocket with plenty of Kleenex!
The peas in dad’s garden (the vines) would be 6′ tall and dad used a ladder to pick them.
Harriet and I would go up to the garden to hoe the weeds and eat raw peas + throw the pods over the fence so dad wouldn’t know it—ha! He knew and would say there was nothing better for us to eat! Same with strawberries, green onions, radishes, carrots, etc.—no wonder I was a healthy kid (Harriet didn’t like most of them raw). Just before dinner time mom would send us up to pick some peas/beans/corn on the cob/carrots and or strawberries for dinner!
We dug clams for steaming, for chowder or fritters for dinner. Never dug more than we would eat! Would go fishing—trolling in our small row boat—Harriet would row and I would fish—and we’d usually have one or two nice salmon for dinner—or a few fresh perch. During the depression we really lived off the land and the bay. We had a few chickens for eggs and cooking!!
The only fertilizer dad used on the garden was a small trailer of cow manure in the early spring when he would spade up the soil (by hand), then rake it and plant it. No weed control except us kids!
Graduated from Bellingham, WA, Normal School—Western Wa. State Univ.
Eastern Star—Past Worthy Matron.