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Skagit River Journal

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An introduction to stories by Mollie Dowdle,
pride of Punkin Center, Hamilton, Washington

(Mollie and her woodstove)
Typical pose: Mollie Dowdle, upriver author and homemaker, relaxes in her comfy rocker by the wood range in her roomy kitchen. (Herald staff photo)

      If you have read more than a smattering of history about the Skagit Valley, especially upriver history, over the past 40 years, chances are you have read a story by Mollie Dowdle. Four decades after she debuted in the Skagit Valley Herald, her columns that were collected in her book, My Best Loved Stories (1985, self-published) are available again. The Skagit County Historical Society reprinted her book in paperback form and it is available at a modest price at the La Conner Museum or by mail to P.O. Box 818, LaConner, WA 98257. You may also order it with this order form.
      She passed away at age 97 on Jan. 13, 2003, after living in Hamilton for 55 years, 50 as a widow after her husband, Ralph Dowdle, died. Mollie's maternal grandfather, Malcolm Wood, brought Mollie and her parents to the upper Skagit River in 1908, from Haywood County, North Carolina, where fever and sickness was raging through the hills. As she describes it in her pages, her life was one extended segment of TV's Andy Griffith show, with a lot of laughter as well as tears. She even had a Barney, her firstborn, but he was not Barney Fife; he graduated from college and went on to teach forestry at the University of Washington, where he retired in 1999. Her constant companion for the last 50 years of her life was her other son, Wal, who stayed and worked in the hills behind their home.
      Although Mollie never attended college or had formal training as a writer, her natural ability became evident by her middle age. She graduated from Hamilton High School in 1925, an achievement that may have eluded her if she had been trapped in the poverty of the area where she grew up in Tarheel country. She married Ralph Dowdle soon after high school on Sept. 14, 1925. Her last years were spent in a rest home and her memory slipped away from her. What a memory it was, full of the details of how to live off the land and how to entertain and amuse and educate her family and friends. Punkin Center is not a place for royalty so she was not treated as a queen. If she ever came close to putting on airs, she once told me, her neighbors soon whittled her down to size. She started writing vignettes in the Skagit Valley Herald in 1960 and became a regular columnist there in 1966.
      The story is best told by Mollie, herself, because she was a gifted writer and story-teller, writing mostly about her own family and friends, and of deep, abiding faith that has little to do with reading books and formal learning, but everything to do with honest living, and with remembering to thank God personally, for the wonderful gift of life.
      Below you will find the first profile of Mollie in the Herald and at the end you will find links to all our Dowdle stories on the website. Many more will be added in the future. Mollie started writing about Valley history before any of us who are still alive and she gave us plenty of ideas. Thanks, Mollie.

Who is Mollie?
Skagit Valley Herald, undated, March 4, 1966


(Mollie at her flower bed)
Mollie digs for a flower root to share with the Family Editor. Although she enjoys outdoor life, Mollie's first love is writing. (Herald staff photo)

      Many of you have been asking; so, to answer your questions, we drove upriver to become better acquainted with Mollie Dowdle before introducing her to our readers.
      It was a delightful visit, and now we are facing the task of describing a blithe spirit with so many "down to earth" qualities, it is quite impossible to convey our thoughts. Perhaps our readers will be able to read "between the lines," thus seeČing a true picture.
      Mollie's two-story home is beyond Lyman, "down the road a spell." [ Journal Ed. note: In 2006, Wal still lives in their home, which is north of Hamilton in Punkin Center, located near the old site of "The Siding," the switching yard for the old Puget Sound & Baker River Railroad.] She was expecting us, so before we could stop the motor, there was a hearty welcome. No put-on airs here, just plain old fashioned hospitality. Leading the way to her roomy and cheerful kitchen, Mollie offered a comfortable chair and, from that moment, carried the ball, scoring with this reporter all during the visit.
      A wood fire crackled in the range. A pan of corn bread and a pot of beans stood on the warming shelf. The coffee pot was on and there was an atmosphere of home.
      Mollie Dowdle was born in North Carolina and, at the age of three, came to Skagit Valley with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. David Moyer. Living up-river may have led to a secluded life, but here was an adventuresome lass who did not let the world enclose her. Reading kept her abreast with the times and her natural interest and curiosity grew with the years.
      When only 14, this logger's daughter went to work as a waitress in the No. 11 Logging Camp near Lyman. Here she met the logger she married five years later.

Mollie becomes the 'old woman in the shoe' with her boys
      Mollie became the mother of two sons — Barney, a Yale graduate with degrees In economics and forestry now teaching at the University of Washington; Wal, a man who makes his livelihood from nature's forest and who received a gold star for bravery in the Korean War, a fact unknown to his mother until she accidentally discovered it later. Barney was also In Korea during this time, the brothers having gone to war in 1950.

Journal Ed. note: Mollie's father, "Gramp," was David Moyer, who married Florence Wood in Hamilton on May 24, 1911. So he was technically her stepfather but he obviously had a strong influence in her life, more than her birth father, whose identity is a mystery. Dave died in 1969 at age 97 and Florence died in 1965 at age 85; both are buried in the Hamilton cemetery. David had three children by his former wife, including Gertrude, Chester and Vinnie, who also lived into her 90s. Dave also moved his family West, from Arkansas, in 1900 and he went to work as a logger for the Lyman Timber Company. Mollie's maternal grandfather, Malcolm Wood, moved Florence and Mollie and other members of his family from Haywood County, North Carolina in 1908 and they settled on land across the river from Hamilton, where a school was also built.
      Many thanks to Carol Bates, for the information from official records and descendant memories in her book, Hamilton 100 years, that helped me sort out the genealogy of this very complicated family tree. Dave's former wife remarried to Irving Cary, a son of another pioneer Hamilton family, and in other Mollie stories linked below you will find many of Mollie's memories about the Carys.

      Although the Dowdles had only two sons of their own, Mollie could be likened to the old woman in the shoe for, at times, she has so many boys she hardly knows what to do, and we aren't joking when we say that.
      One boy she raised from childhood — he's in Washington, D.C. Others have come and gone, two are a part of the family at the present time. No one is ever turned away. There is always enough food to share and there are beds upstairs In cheerfully painted and wall-papered rooms. There are also two davenports in the living room, one spread with a sleeping bag. By way of explanation the homemaker said, "He won't sleep any place but there."
      Mollie became a widow in 1952 [actually, Ralph was buried on Dec. 12, 1953; we do not know his death date] but didn't let herself steep in self pity. She had her parents to think about, besides all her sons, and there wasn't time for wastin'. Her mother died two years ago. Her 93-year-old father is now in a Burlington nursing home.
      Mollie 's neat home is comfortable and roomy. The fellas cut wood for the kitchen range and always wash the supper dishes. On wash days they help hang clothes. Each takes a turn at bringing home a sack of groceries and no accounts are kept in this department. Wal milks the one cow kept to supply fresh milk for the family, and the steelhead served from Mollie's table would make any fisherman envious.
      Mollie loves the out of doors, flowers and gardening; however writing is her first love for it is by the pen that she finds expression to her innermost thoughts. She needs no desk, no swivel chair, just the workspace of her kitchen cablnets and a step stool. Here she perches like a teenager in dungarees, sweater and tennie-runners (to use the modern term for footwear) while words literally flow from her pen. (You'll see her at work in this week's Saturday feature of the Skagit Valley Herald.
      Those of you who have enjoyed Mollie's articles in the Herald will be interested to know that Redbook published, in 1964, a tender story authored by Mollie entitled, "My Two Sons." This same article has also appeared in English, French, Spanish and Belgium publications.
      Through her writing, Mollie Dowdle is known far and wide. Fan mail comes from all parts of the world. The self-educated [60]-year-old author writes about life, and what is more interesting or closer to the heart? Not long ago she decided to take pictures to accompany her stories but camera mechanics and Mollie weren't compatible, so she gave the camera to a friend. This is typical of the Dowd1e generosity. If someone has a need and she can fulfill it this is exactly what she does. Truly she personifies the slogan, "The only joy you keep is that which you give away."

Links, background reading and sources
Other Dowdle stories

Story posted on Oct. 29, 2006 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them
updated October 2017

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