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(2 girls and logger)

Skagit River Journal

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My grandfather, Malcolm Woods
From the Journal's extensive Dowdle collection

By Mollie Dowdle, Skagit Valley Herald, circa late 1960s
(Mollie's kitchen)
Mollie in her kitchen, taking notes

      My memories of my grandfather, Malcolm Woods, go back to North Carolina in the days before he brought his family, including me, to the state of Washington in 1908. My mother came from a family of ten children, nine girls and one boy. Early in life she learned to weave the cloth for her long sweeping dresses. Once a year my grandfather made each child a pair of rough brogan shoes.
      Food was raised and gathered and cooked in iron kettles over an open hearth. I often heard my mother say that her life was a happy one, each and every day. She had gone to school exactly one month in her entire life and that was when a traveling teacher came into the area. That didnít mean she could never read, because she found some books and taught herself. Her writing was, as she said, just legible. She told me of hoeing corn on a rocky North Carolina hillside for twenty-five cents a day when a neighbor needed help.
      So many memories! Grandpa Woods didnít like to work. He loved the hills and sometimes brought home a wild turkey. Grandpa liked hound dogs and they came next to his children in his affections. But they had to be fed and were always a thorn in my grandmotherís life. My loveliest memories is the happy life of my grandparents. At night there was hymn singing around the hearth and prayers remembered from church.
      Life was good — no one had to hurry and world problems were unknown. It seemed as if the only bad memory which was ever told to me was about the time when my great-grandfather ran away from home when he was just thirteen and joined the army of the South [Confederates] during the Civil War. He was barefooted when he left, and in tatters when he returned carrying a muzzle loader and a head full of stories to tell. And he was an expert as a bugle and taps boy.
      Children grew into adults and Grandpa Woods began to plant fields of corn for himself. He was known to say that none of his kids were ever lazy. (No one dared to breathe the fact that Grandpa himself didnít like tq work!)
      Then tragedy struck. First the only son, who was now married with a small child, contracted typhoid fever. There was no available medicine. There was no doctor. The small child died first and then his mother, then the son. Grandpa couldnít hunt. He sat in his old rocking chair with his graying head between his hands and prayed. Even grandmother couldnít console him. He had lost his only son and the world was a dark place. Then a daughter came down with the dread disease. Neighbors hewed out another rough coffin and another mound was placed near that of her brother. The sun had ceased to shine on the western hills of North Carolina.
      Within three weeks six beautiful young ladies were carried to a rocky cemetery. Typhoid fever had taken a heavy toll. Grandpa aged into an old man. The hills which he loved cast shadows on too many mounds of graves. He would go away. He would take his remaining family and leave the mountains forever.
      Somewhere he got the mosey and came to Hamilton, Washington, looking for work for the sons-in-law. Here they would build a new life and he would find other hills and valleys. He did find there was plenty of work in the logging camps and he got a new grasp on life. Grandpa was in Washington when my grandmother died very suddenly in the arms of one of her daughters.
      Another death, another rough coffin, another rolling mound on a hillside, without even a marker, and another deep heartache for a great old man. He gathered his remaining family, three daughters, their husbands and children, including me, and came by emigrant train to Hamilton. He also brought his four hound dogs, his fatherís muzzle loader and his fishing tackle. We had to carry all of our own bedding and food with us and cook on the trains. Food spoiled on the way — it took nine days to cross the country to the Northwest. Children became ill and there was constant fear of another death.


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.


      My memory goes back to kind relatives who gave us shelter until rough hand-split cedar boards could be built into homes for each family. Grandpa found new hills and streams full of fish. His glory had returned! The best thing in my life was being a part of his. A scrawny little red-headed girl hanging tight to the gnarled hand of an old man, whose secret ambitions were just short of reaching to the moon. We didnít talk very much, but in silence he opened up the world that he knew to a little girl.
      He couldnít read. He couldnít write. He had no checks to sign. He had no bank account, and he had no worries. I was with him when he slashed out trails where we could fish. He slashed out the first trail into Grandy Lake and built a little lean-to there to protect us from the weather on the cold days we fished the lake. I curled close to him when we had only one blanket at night. I learned to clean a fish, set a trap, and shoot a gun when I was barely five years old. I remember trying to hack out a notch in the trunk of trees to set traps for the martens which provided my Grandpaís only source of income. We didnít like to kill anything, not even a mink or marten in a trap, but Grandpa had to have chewing tobacco.
      Grandpa taught me about God and all his creation. Around a blazing campfire we listened to the hoot owl, the splashing of a fish in a lake, and sometimes the thrash of an animal in the brush. We sorted out the stars and held close the hush of silence.
      There was always one last question before sleep, ďDid you talk to God?Ē ďDid you thank Him for life?Ē ďDid you ask for tomorrow?Ē When I was fourteen I lost him. But already my life had been molded and my values put in place. No teacher on earth could have taught me the wonderful things I learned from my Grandfather.
      I didnít really lose him. He just went on to find another mountain that we will climb sometime, hand-¨in-hand, to the very top.


Links, background reading and sources
Other Dowdle stories

Story posted on Nov. 6, 2006 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them
This article originally appeared in Issue 36 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine



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