Mr. R. Helps the War Effort

In A Logger’s Daughter: Growing Up in Washington’s Woods, I wrote about our elementary school principal, Mr. R. We students were confused by his joviality one moment, his fierce reactions to minor misbehaviors the next. He ruled through fear of his inconsistency, and I have to admit that students pretty much toed the line at Granite Falls grade school.

After Elsie, the older sister of one of my classmates, read the book, she offered some background about Mr. R. that helped me understand him a little better.

In Granite Falls, as in other communities across the USA, male teachers and principals had been called to fight in WWII. Without a principal at the helm, near-anarchy reigned in the grade school.

An older female teacher came out of retirement to “do her part for the war effort.” Not only did she take over one of the upper grades, but she also tried to fill in as principal. She wore her thinning hair teased and puffed–a perfect target for the boys in her class who made a game out of shooting spitballs when her back was turned. They competed to see how many they could make stick in the beehive of that hairdo. The lady soon quit in frustration.

The school board then hired Mr. R. to take over. Balding, short, and middle-aged, he arrived determined to run a tight ship. Elsie said he called an assembly his first morning on duty. He strode to the stage before the massed students, a big wooden paddle sticking out of his back pocket.

“You can call me ‘Paddle-packing Papa,” he proclaimed with a scowl. Next, he recited a long list of misbehaviors and the number of swats each would earn. “Any questions?”

No one dared to say a word. A quiet group of students filed back to their classrooms.

Mr. R. carried that paddle in his pocket for the remainder of the school year. Elsie didn’t know how much he actually used it, but no one doubted he would follow through on his proclamation. Mr. R. did bring order to Granite Falls Grade School.

Perhaps that was his contribution to the war effort.

Another School Bus Story

Since my latest book, A Logger’s Daughter: Growing Up in Washington’s Woods, came out in October, something delightful has happened.

Long-ago friends, as well as new friends, call or write to share their memories. Some had parents in the logging industry, like I did. Many remember picnicking or hiking in the Robe Valley. Others share memories of a well-used galvanized washtub, or an adventure on the school bus, or the day electricity came to their homes.

In my next few blogs, I’d like to share some stories that didn’t make it into the book, because I didn’t know about them. Here’s one from Marcella Bond, our unofficial Big Sister back in the 1940s, who had a school bus story of her own:

“I went to the country school at Robe for my first year. Then the school closed and we rode the bus to Granite Falls. In 1935, the hilly county road was not yet paved. All the men teachers had been drafted to fight in WWII. So one of the high school boys who lived in the valley drove our bus.

big log on truckHeavily loaded logging trucks used the road, too. Everyone gave them the right of way on the twisting, mostly one lane dirt road. Brakes weren’t the best then, and you didn’t dispute the right of way with a careening log truck.”

One afternoon, the valley-bound school bus, with Marcella and four or five other children aboard, headed uphill, around a sharp curve. A logging truck appeared just ahead. The young driver pulled the bus as far to the right as he could. He breathed a sigh of relief as the truck squeezed by.

Suddenly the children heard glass shatter at the back of the bus. The bus jerked and began skidding backward. The projecting stub of a huge branch had punched through the side window at the corner of the bus, hooked it like a fish, and now the unnerved passengers were flying down the road behind the log truck.

The screams of the children alerted the unwitting truck driver who stopped, backed up, and released them to make their shaky way home.

All of the valley residents and log truck drivers, too, were grateful when the road was straightened, widened, and paved in in the mid-1940s.

(Photo courtesy of Granite Falls Historical Museum)

A Gift from Cosmo

Lenora and Steve couldn’t have loved a human child any more than they loved Cosmo, their big, sweet-tempered Border Collie mix.

Dog-loving people have a built-in bond with other dog people. Over the years, Lenora had made many friends as she and Cosmo went for their daily jogs in Seattle’s green parks. One of those friends, Steve, fell in love with Cosmo and then with her. Shortly after she and Steve married, Steve’s job took him away from her beloved city, back to his home town of Tucson, Arizona. Lenora stayed to sell their house. Then she and Cosmo set out on the long drive to their new desert home.

Cosmo made the adjustment easier for her and helped his people get acquainted with their new neighbors just by being his own friendly self as they walked around their new surroundings. Eventually, arthritis slowed Cosmo’s gait. Still, they walked every day.

Lenora and Gretel One hot morning, Cosmo pulled them toward the shade of some nearby eucalyptus trees. They heard what sounded like the cries of a baby bird. Cosmo looked up and woofed. Clinging to an angled trunk above their heads was a tiny kitten with outsized ears and feet. She was barely old enough to be away from her mother. How had she managed to climb that tree?

Gently they pried the terrified kitten off her perch. Hungry and dehydrated, she trembled in Lenora’s arms. An extra toe on each white front paw made her look as if she wore mittens.

None of the neighbors claimed the kitten, so Lenora and Steve took her home and fed her, then took her to the vet for a checkup. Before the day was over, Gretel had helped herself to Cosmo’s food dish and played “ride ‘em cowboy” on his tail.

Cosmo and Gretel Then, ignoring his disconcerted expression, she curled up against his fluffy chest and purred herself to sleep. The aging dog had a new friend, and Gretel had a new family.

When Cosmo succumbed to a sudden illness, Lenora and Steve were heartbroken. But Gretel, with her winsome, playful ways, did her best to distract them from their grief.

Sometimes I wonder. Did Cosmo give Steve and Lenora a gift by drawing them to the right tree at the right time? Or did God use Cosmo as an agent to bestow the gift from His own divine hand?