“A Neighbor’s Bounty”

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When I lived on the houseboat, and later when we moved into our own home on our five acres, we were surrounded by farms. I had taught myself to can and to make jam and jelly and with produce so readily available, the summer was full of jars.

Canning food is only economical if the supply of produce is abundant and affordable. Fortunately, in Scappoose, it was both. The first farm I visited to buy cherries was owned by a childless couple Walt and Hazel Gilbert. Hazel took to me and my daughter, just an infant, right away. After that first visit, I never paid for any produce.

The Gilberts supplied me with cherries, apples, raspberries, blackberries, pears, corn, tomatoes, green beans, squash and asparagus. I made jam and jelly from all the fruit and canned the pears and all theĀ  vegetables except the summer squash. I had been raised with holy dread of botulism, and I took no chances in my canning techniques, carefully following the USDA approved methods. Only the asparagus failed to can properly, and it was the only batch I had to discard.

Walt was a silent type, but he willingly went up in the trees for the fruit. Hazel was very warm and social and delighted in our regular visits. Their gift of food was a real blessing at a time when we were short of money and long on time. I will always remember their bountiful generosity.

“A Shower of Love”

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When I was expecting my daughter, the woman who lived on the houseboat next to us asked me about my baby shower. I told her that I wasn’t having one. This was unacceptable to my kind neighbor, so she threw me a shower herself. Helen Miller was that kind of person. Married to a fireman, mother of two grown daughters and two grandchildren, she was a friendly but fairly private person. That she went out of her way to throw me a real baby shower touched me deeply.

She pulled out all the stops. There was a cake shaped like a baby sweater, matching cups and plates, and fruit punch. We played silly baby shower games. The only one I remember involved guessing how many sheets of toilet paper it would take to wrap around my late pregnancy self.

She invited a few neighbors, her daughters and my mother. My mother came for the shower, the only time she visited the houseboat moorage. Still, Helen supplied plenty of maternal care and attention. We only knew each other as neighbors, and I never saw her after we moved on land. But she stepped in to supply a need I didn’t even know I had. A party to celebrate my coming baby!

“A True Friend of Mine”

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She always called me “Bang Goes Old Betsy” after Davy Crocket’s rifle. It was a term of endearment, nothing more, and I can hear her even now chuckling as she said hello. Melody Ann Blake eventually Ollison became my friend right after college when I was seeing a brother of the father of her little boy. My dating ended quickly, but in Melody I found someone who easily traversed the white/black divide that was Portland, Oregon in the late 1960’s.

Melody’s son was biracial, white from Melody and black from his dad. His dad was from a large warm extended family, and Melody had stayed close to them even though she had never married their son. She had a terrific sense of humor and we enjoyed each other’s company immensely. After I left the little apartment house for the houseboat, Melody took over managing the eight units, since she had moved in after I had become the manager. I remember her most for her ability to make molehills out of mountains. I was fairly overdramatic in those days, especially about romance, and she was always ready to ground me.

We lost touch after I moved to the country, though she let me know that she had married a kind and hardworking man and felt settled in her life. I didn’t hear of her again until I read in the newspaper that she had been murdered by an adult stepson. I never learned the details, but I attended her funeral. I said goodbye to a decent woman with a wicked sense of humor and without a mean bone in her body. A real friend.

“Harvard’s Other Dr. James”

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Harvard Yard

The other great listener my freshman year in college was Dr. James, not to be confused with the famous William James from an earlier time at Harvard. My Dr. James was the professor of a freshman seminar I was fortunate to enroll in. These seminars had just 12 students and were a saving contrast to the huge lecture courses that filled the rest of my first year in college.

Dr. James had selected the students for his seminar on “Freud.” I knew nothing about Freud except for the phrase “Freudian slip” and the quote that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” My classmates were, to my mind, all terribly sophisticated and knowledgeable about psychoanalytic theory. I was silent during most of the discussions, terrified to reveal my ignorance.

Each week we had assigned readings, but we also were to hand in a two page paper about any topic we felt like exploring. These papers were read only by Dr. James, so my fear of being exposed was eliminated. I frequently wrote about feeling lost and out of place at Harvard. Suddenly surrounded by a majority of private school educated classmates, my West Coast public high school education left me behind many of my peers.

Fortunately, Dr. James took a personal and caring interest in me. He made his office available to me to come and talk about anything. He shared with me that he had started out in Utah and knew how hard the adjustment was for me. I visited him for the next three years of college, always knowing his door was open to me. He made my entrance into and survival through college possible. I am eternally grateful.

“Hiya Kids, Hiya Hiya”

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Well, unless you were a kid in the 1950’s in the United States, you probably don’t recognize either the frog or the quote. In a very popular(since there were very few) children’s television show called “Andy’s Gang” the frog appeared after Andy said, “plunk your magic twanger froggy.” Then this frog popped up from a wooden stand and said, “hiya kids, hiya, hiya.” The frog was a complete mischief maker, always interfering with the talks other guests were trying to deliver to the kids.

What on earth does that have to do with “cookie people,” those who sustained, comforted and encouraged me in my life? It connects through Ellen Schwartz, a sophomore when I was a very lonely freshman in college. She kept a plush stuffed frog on her bed, and when I first saw it I said,”plunk your magic twanger, froggy” and she said, “hiya kids,hiya, hiya.” It turns out they watched the same kids show in Cleveland, Ohio that I saw in Portland, Oregon.

She listened to me a great deal that first year, about my roommate, about the challenge of my classes, about boys, and about homesickness. At the end of that year, she invited me to join with three other sophomores in moving “off campus,” to the house I described a few weeks ago. She remained a good friend throughout my college years. After graduation she married a wonderful man and moved to Washington Heights in New York City where I was able to visit a number of times.

I lost touch with her after I moved back to Oregon and only learned of her death, in a tragic fall, when I read it in our alumnae bulletin. I grieved then for her life cut short. She provided a lifeline to me when I needed it most. And she did it simply by listening.

“A Timely Reference”

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Mrs. Bassett Vice-Principal

As a junior in high school, I needed recommendations for college. I had a very incompetent counselor assigned to me whose job it was to write these recommendations. She had been my Latin teacher, and I had once observed her getting up on the desk and doing a mock can-can to a declension of Latin adjectives. Such was our awe of authority, that it occurred to no one to do anything but gawk.

Anyway, she was the one to ask for reference letters. She told me that she would only write one letter and I could choose between Oregon State University and the University of Oregon. I didn’t want to go to either college, so she told me she wouldn’t help me. (Maybe I had done a major eye roll at her grammar demonstration. Maybe she was an alcoholic and didn’t like to work.)

To my great relief, Mrs. Bassett, the vice principal, asked me how my applications were going. When I told her my predicament, she promised she would personally write whatever recommendations I needed. In a time when each letter or form had to be individually filled out, this was a gift of her time. Fortunately, in those days, we only applied to three colleges: a safety, a reach and a real reach. Her letter helped get me admitted to my real reach.

Later, she overstepped her helpfulness by asking a senior to invite me to the junior-senior prom since she knew I wasn’t going. When he did, I politely declined, to his great relief I imagine. But I am grateful that she reached out to me both with helpful aid and with unwanted help. I don’t know what she did about that counselor!

“Wardrobe Advisor”

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I had been buying my own clothes since the sixth grade and I was a late bloomer, so I still shopped in the girls’ department. Therefore, I went off to high school still dressed as a much younger girl. Fortunately, a new friend, Laurie, came to my rescue. She politely told me that I should not be dressing like a child now that I was in high school. Our high school was in downtown Portland, so after school she took me to THE store, Charles F. Berg and introduced me to the junior department.

I was overwhelmed by the choices confronting me in this new clothing arena. Plus, I had very limited resources. She said that I should just buy one item today and then, as I earned more money, I could add to my wardrobe. She had a sweater very similar to the one pictured above(now listed as “vintage” on Ebay) and I bought one nearly identical to hers.

I didn’t have any reliable adults in my high school years. I was no longer in Camp Fire Girls, and there were no new neighbors in my very isolated neighborhood. Laurie served as an advisor and confidante, even though she was my same age. At her encouragement, I went to football games and even to after game dances, though I never danced. Though she moved away after sophomore year, I depended on her to make the transition from kid to teenager. Thank goodness she did a clothing intervention, allowing me to look as if I belonged in high school. She saved me from being the “weird” girl, and I am very grateful.