“No Gas”

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Before I leave my series of posts about automobiles, I realized I had one more adventure to relate. In 1974, I was hired by the Head Start program to be a Home Visit Teacher in rural Oregon. This early childhood program had two centers near small towns, but there were children that were too scattered to be easily attend them. There were real benefits for poor children to be enrolled in the program, particularly dental care and nutrition support. The program decided to try having someone find and serve some of these children.

I was given a Ford van and a map and the requirement to find 10 such kids. Foolhardy as I was, I set out on back roads, stopping at houses and asking about 3 year olds. Once I had found the first two, I had enough suggestions that I quickly reached my quota.  I visited each family once a week, staying for two hours, interacting with the child and parent, leaving toys and books, and setting up doctor appointments and dental and vision screenings.

But these children were really back in the woods, in trailers or cabins, and far apart from one another. I put about 100 miles a day on that little van. This would have been fine, except for the gas shortage and gas rationing. The decision was made to allow alternate day purchases of gas only–even or odd days depending on your license plate. And my little town only had one gas station. And my Ford van gulped gasoline. Fortunately, I was friends with the gas station owner and though I had to abide by the alternate day requirement, I was always able to go up first thing in the morning and buy a full tank of gas, something not available to most drivers.

I kept that job until May of 1975 when I was eight months pregnant and my little van got two flat tires at once on a back road. I sat by the side of the rural road until a kind parent stopped, asked me what the heck I though I was doing anyway, and gave me a lift into town.

I resigned the next day, to the complete relief of all my clients!

Westward Ho!

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Oregon’s white settlers arrived in long trains of wagons such as this one, having decided to head north to the Oregon Territory instead of south towards California. Oregon didn’t become a state until 1859, less than 100 years before this picture was taken in 1949. I obviously thought this was a far superior way of transportation to a car!

The wagon trains really followed the same course, and we used to be able to see the deep ruts remaining on the ground in Eastern Oregon, a much drier part of the state. Of course, there were already plenty of residents in the area, Native Americans, who were fought with no less ferocity than in other parts of the country. The battles were long over when I was a child, and there were a number of “reservations” for their descendants. I always thought the word reservation tried to elevate the description of the land “set apart” for their dwellings.

Throughout my childhood, until the Dalles Dam was built, the fishing platforms on the Columbia River were still being used by the tribes to spear salmon on their way up stream. Just before they built the dam, my mother drove us up to Celilo Falls to watch the men fish. We bought a whole salmon from the back of a pickup truck, brought it home and baked it. Salmon was abundant before the dams and still very inexpensive. The picture below was taken by my parents when they drove west in 1948.

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Celilo Falls, Columbia River, The Dalles, Oregon

Cross Country

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My parents moved from the Bronx to Oregon in 1948. My father had failed to make partner in his Wall Street law firm, so he went to work for the District Attorney in Portland. While his first jobs were routine, he joined the legal profession at a good time in the West. Here, unlike the East, there wasn’t a surplus of attorneys.

Being more than short on money, my parents(I was left with my grandparents–hence all those photos of me with them) drove across the country in this car. Again, without funds for hotels, they camped by the side of the car as they went. My mother is sitting with their dog, and I can see a Coleman lantern to her side.

They were astonished on the last leg of the trip to take the Columbia River Gorge Highway which had just been completed before the war by the W.P.A.(government funded public works for the unemployed in the Depression.) It clung to the side of the gorge, winding up and down along the mighty–as yet undammed–Columbia River.

Although Interstate 80 runs along the thrice dammed river now, there are still wonderful remnants of the old highway which give access to the hikes up the gorge. I parked along it often as an adult, setting off on nearly vertical trails to the top. Fortunately, as they say, “it was all downhill from there!”