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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
700 total Free Home Page Stories & Photos
(Also see our Subscribers Magazine Sample)
The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Christmas memories of old Skagit valley, 2/2

(Santa Noel 1972)
Your humble editor, San Francisco, 1972, Santa for hire

      As Christmas-time approaches, we share a group of stories about pioneers and their descendants celebrating the holiday on the Skagit River. We also want to know if you or anyone in your family has any documents, letters, diaries or photos from your family archives that illustrate how families in the Skagit valley and the Northwest celebrated the holidays on the frontier. We will add your memories to this section. Below, we present two examples of such memories and we plan to build on this section over the next two weeks.
      We never ask for your originals. Xeroxed copies will be fine. In fact, if you go to a copy shop, ask the attendant for how to access a special button that will make any copy — especially of a photograph — a near facsimile of the original. Or if you have scanned material, please click the email button at the top and send them as attachments. You can also find our street mailing-address at the top should you decide to mail copies by U.S. snail-mail.
      And if you grew up here in the "old days" — before 1964, please share your Christmas memories with us and your family customs, along with favorite toys or presents. We will use your comments in stories this Christmas and in future articles that illustrate how families made do at Christmas time. We especially want family memories from long ago that explain how families created a holiday atmosphere even though they were far away from glitzy stores or if they were short of cash.
      Meanwhile, we were reminded by reader Cecil Hittson that we have more than 150,000 troops serving away from home this Christmas. Many will be on the front lines while we celebrate here at home. I remember from the time I was serving in the U.S. Army during the 1960s how important messages from home were in the holidays. Make sure and let them know that they are in our thoughts. If you have someone in your family who is serving, send us their email address and we will send them a Holidays greeting from back home and links to nearly 700 stories they might like to read in our free home pages and our subscribers section. You also have the option of purchasing a gift subscription for them to the separate Subscribers-Paid magazine online.
      Finally, this is an especially Merry Christmas for your editor, as he has nearly fully recuperated from cancer and surgery earlier this year. Thanks again to all of you who expressed such friendly thoughts and support during that trying time. Here are the memories we share in this story and website:

Page 1 (click link):
Page 2 below:

      And here are links to many stories that share Christmas memories throughout this story and website:

Christmas Christmas memories from the 1930s
By Jeanita Davis Callahan, 1993, daughter of pioneer Glee Davis
      Watching the lights go up in downtown Sedro-Woolley last week brought back many memories to me when I was a child and first saw the town decorated for Christmas. I wanted to share this memory with you.
      It was as dark a rainy Northwest night as could be expected in December. But Sedro- Woolley was decorated as never before this Christmas. I was 6 and my parents knew I would enjoy the Christmas lights downtown.
      Mother was expecting a new arrival very soon and could not go downtown, nor would it have been socially acceptable for mother, in her delicate condition, to appear in the stores. We did not have a car, although Grandpa did, so my father, Glee Davis, said I could ride on the handlebars of his bicycle. That suited me just fine. Off we went, down Northern Avenue about six blocks. Each cross street was marked by a dim street light at the corner. Then we reached Metcalf Street — oh, what a beautiful scene it was.
      Lights all the way. like a ceiling, and a huge Christmas tree with a star on top stood at the intersection of Metcalf and Woodworth, just where one stands today. The three-tiered street lights had been colored: white, red, and green.
      Dad stopped at Sumner Electric, where he was employed, and we dropped off the bicycle. The next stop was the Union Mercantile on Ferry and Metcalf streets. I was taken in to see toys and the dolls, perhaps not so very many but dressed so beautifully. The Union was our usual shopping place -best quality, or I was told.
      On we went up to White's Variety. Now that was a bit more special. Toys of all sorts. I had my eye on a little cast-iron touring car, which I later received. A little wind-up tin lizzy [Model-T] with offset axle was loping around the window display. There were bright gaudy, shiny dishes that I knew mother would just love. That store took considerable time to explore. I was filled with all aspects of childish fascination.
      Across the street to the comer of State and Metcalf we trod. There it was! A real toy electric train, with tunnels, stations and a village, was chugging round and round in the windows of Ludwick-Wuest Hardware Store. This was a glamorous piece of equipment. The longer I watched the more l could see. A Christmas winter scene emerged! , How I wanted it.
      My mother had said we might win it. It was the prize of the lottery and we had a ticket. She had hopes and so did I. I wished she could have seen it. I was so certain we would have the winning ticket. I often wonder who did get it. I'm sure they were equally as happy as we would have been.
      Then back to the fabulous lighted street. I had never seen such lights, but then it was time to go home. Back down to the electric shop to get Glee's bicycle. He stopped inside the store for a purchase.
      Then l saw the electric string of lights he had gotten for our own Christmas tree. In those A days, few people had electric lights for home trees. These were very special. It had 12 light bulbs on it and cost $4. A small fortune for such a frivolous thing. Many times over it was worth it as Mother could have Christmas lights too. We bicycled home down Metcalf and out Northern. It was still raining and we didn't care if we were soaking wet.
      Many years have gone by and I have seen the Christmas lights of the many cities, but I have never seen a more fascinating and beautiful Christmas scene then that Christmas ` trip with my Dad in 1923.

My Special Skagit Christmas of '48
By Marvin L. "Jim" Harris, 1937-2009
      The winter of 1948 came early and hard to our northwest Washington mountain valley. The past few years had been likewise tough for my family. My older sister had died suddenly at age ten. My mother had had major surgery after having lost four babies. Both my brother and I had been sick. That September we moved into a derelict old house in Concrete, eleven miles down-river, to be close to the doctor and school.
      Dad stayed on at our isolated ranch in Rockport to care for the animals and work part time at logging — struggling to keep the ranch. Mom took in sewing and ironing and did babysitting and house cleaning. My brother and I did odd jobs after school. There was little money for Christmas.
      I was eleven years old and having trouble adjusting to those big changes in our lives. I got in fights at school and was not always kind to my little cousin who was as a sister to me. When I came home from school on that Friday night, a week and a half before Christmas, Mom was trying to hold back tears. There was a small pile of money on the kitchen table.
      Dad had brought Christmas trees from the ranch the past week-end to give to our friends. Mom said that our friends would not take the trees without leaving money — and had encouraged us to bring more trees to sell in town.
      Mom said that we would have to get trees to town by the next day, and there was no way to contact Dad. I knew what Dad would say — I assured Mom that I could go up town and catch a ride to Rockport that night, get across the river before the ferryman went home, and walk to the ranch.
      I took a shortcut out of town — one that my mother wouldn't approve, walking the ties of the high railroad bridge across the Baker River. With the excitement and hurry, my breath sent white puffs into the darkness. I joined the up-river road and took a cookie from my pocket, put there by my little cousin. The first several miles followed the Skagit River. Bright stars reflected off the snow and cold rippling water. The night was beautiful. I felt good about my mission.
      Upriver people would always stop to offer a ride, but on that wintry night there were few travelers. I had promised my mother that if I got cold, I would go to a house along the way. Two young men, whom I didn't know, stopped and gave me a ride for a short way before turning off into a driveway. The warmth of that car and their friendly concern linger in my memory to this day. I told them that I would be fine. I'm sure that they didn't know the distance and the route that I had to cover. They wished me a Merry Christmas.
      The road narrowed as it wound into the big forest along the steep flank of Sauk Mountain. There were no houses now. I felt the cold, and the stars were gone as the dark canopy closed overhead. I knew the winding road well, and carefully followed the dim outline of snow through the great old trees. I snuggled in my warm coat and remembered the past summer.
      Dad had outfitted my friend Tommy and me with hand tools to cut salvage cedar and split it into shake blanks to sell at the mill in Rockport. We had both been raised helping our fathers work in the woods, and were anxious to show what we could do on our own. One hot day, when we could have been fishing and swimming, we took our old horse, Jerry, from the pasture to pull cedar from the woods. Jerry made several good pulls and then collapsed in the heat. We took his harness off and shaded him the best we could. We were very thankful when the old horse, with tugs and much encouragement, struggled to his feet. Jerry got more than his usual amount of oats and pats that night.
      When the cedar was sold, Mom helped me order school clothes from the Sears Roebuck catalog, including a fleece lined jacket. I now pulled my hand knit stocking hat down over my ears and hurried along with hands pushed deep in the pockets of that good coat.
      It was three more miles to Rockport and another two miles across the river to our ranch. Going down Rockport Hill was tough. I was getting cold, tired, and just a little bit scared. I worked my way along the steep road edge to keep from slipping on the tire packed ice. I wondered about the ferry. The ferryman might go home early on that cold night if he thought there was no one to take home across the river.
      It was reassuring to enter the little town of Rockport, where I knew almost everyone. Those "town people" had electricity, and a few Christmas lights were still on, winking through friendly windows. Joe, the ferryman, was reading by his glowing sheet metal stove in the ferry shack. He was surprised to see me, and insisted that I warm by his fire. Joe took me across the river, and I headed for the ranch.
      This "other-side-of-the-river" was a place I knew and loved. In summer we would shortcut through fields, woods and sloughs. I knew all the people, their dogs, and which bulls to elude.
      The night was now very still and lonely. It was cold. Stars outlined familiar mountain ridges. My excitement gave me warmth and made me less tired. I wondered what Dad would think when I appeared out of the night.
      Breaking from the woods to our lane, I saw weak shafts of lamplight from our log cabin. I could smell wood smoke. Peggy and Laddie gave me away. They came charging from their place on the porch, barking their greetings and nearly knocking me into the snow. My dad appeared in the doorway. I could see the concern change to wonder in his face as I blurted out our need for more Christmas trees.
      Dad woke me very early with exuberant whistling and rattling of fire grates. "Rise and shine, boy, we've got work to do." The frozen tea kettle thawed over flames from the open stove top. We had a quick breakfast of oatmeal and fried eggs, then fed the animals. Old Jerry greeted me with a warm nuzzle. Dad did some "haywire" repair on our tire chains and we headed out to the acreage that had burned the year I was born. Young Douglas-fir stood thick, their boughs hung with snow and frost. We carefully selected trees throughout the burn. By mid-morning we were on our way to the ferry landing, our battered old Pontiac graced and bound with a most lovely load.
      Mother looked tired but relieved when we pulled into the yard. She gave me money to run up town and get a string of lights and extension cords. We strung the lights and stood the fir trees up in the snow of our small front yard. People stopped and selected trees from our snowy "forest", and made excuses that the logging roads where they usually got their trees were snowed in. They thanked us for bringing the nicely selected trees to town, and wished us a "Happy, Merry Christmas!"
      It was a wonderful Christmas. I remember little of the wrapped presents which appeared under our tree that long time ago. But, I remember well that cold, star-filled night. The special memories of that time have been mine for a lifetime.

      This story by Jim Harris was printed as a special memorial by Cheri Cook-Blodgett and the Concrete Heritage Museum Association, in honor of the man who shared much Skagit Valley history with us and who passed on June 21, 2009. He and his brother Richard have taken much time to compile our history and record it. The Museum notes:
      A member of the Concrete Heritage Museum Association since 2000, Jim contributed in a multitude of ways to the Museum's mission of historic preservation in the Upper Skagit.
      The Museum's displays of historic logging tools and photographs were designed by Jim. His first-hand experience as a logger, followed by his career in interpretation for the National Park Service, made him a "natural" for this task.
      His extensive knowledge of the people and history of this area also made him a gifted host at the "Old-Timers Get-Together", an annual Eagle Festival event. Jim would pick a topic, then invite a panel of guests to reminisce about their life experiences. A great storyteller himself, Jim made invaluable contributions to our oral history.
      Always ready to lend a helping hand, Jim could be counted on to provide peeled logs for a display, bring in his tractor to move dirt, or tell real-life tales to visitors at the Museum on summer afternoons. We all looked forward to the stories he would share at meetings.
      We honor his legacy with this memoir that Jim gave us, of a Christmas from his boyhood, told in his own inimitable style.
      (You can read Dick Harris's book, Reimagine, and some of his poems here (including Jim's obituary), here and his website here.)

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Story posted Dec. 9, 2010 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them

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