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Alice Elinor Lambert: A Personal Profile

©Elizabeth S. Poehlman 2005, author of Darrington, Mining Town/Timber Town
We are awaiting a photo scan of Alice and her family and home in Darrington. We hope that a reader can send us such a scan or copies of documents that will help us understand this most colorful nonagenarian.

      Alice sat regally at her kitchen table. The mid-morning sun poured through the windows, lighting up the bright yarns with which she was hooking a rug of original design. Her presence filled the low-ceilinged room. Her white cap of hair sat impudently on her large head. Her bright, wide-spaced eyes danced mischievously. Gnarled fingers poked and pulled impatiently at the stubborn yarns.
      As she worked, she talked about what was on her mind. In a loud voice and with eyes snapping with fervor, she lambasted the President: "A pompous prince! We should have crowned him king instead of making him President."
      Alice was outspoken and opinionated. She held no secrets about how she felt about a wide array of subjects and individuals. The local drunk and the President of the country, the Episcopal church and the local school board were all fit subjects for her to declare a personal war on in the course of one conversation. Those who knew her either loved her immensely and excused her headstrong, outspoken ways, or they disliked her passionately, seeing her only as a rude, opinionated woman. I loved her.
      Alice was a legendary character in the community of Darrington when my husband and I moved there in 1966. She had come to town in the 1930's. My husband, Paul, was the first of us two to meet Alice. He had gone to a small repair shop to get a radio fixed. Alice was there, too. She had heard there was new Baptist pastor in town. "So, you're the new Baptist pastor," she greeted him. "Say, tell me. Why are there three Baptist churches in this town? It is a disgrace to have so many in a town this size," she said accusingly.
      Paul was taken aback, but he told her (only half-jokingly) that Baptists had a way of not getting along, and when they didn't, they formed another church. Alice shook her head and again voiced her displeasure in the situation. Then, in a voice for all to hear (for Alice never whispered) she told how she herself was a "fallen Episcopalian." She just couldn't get along with the church warden and a whole list of other Episcopalians in the local congregation, so she just didn't go to church.
      "Well, you see, Miss Lambert," my husband said, "if you were a Baptist you'd just go down the street and start another church for the people who agree with you." Alice had no reply.

For Alice, her phone was her throne
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      It was April of 1968 when Paul had his next contact with Alice. It was one of Alice's characteristic phone calls in which she would give a very biting opinion, make a demand or an accusation and then hang up without giving the person she called a chance to say a word. Martin Luther King, Jr. had ben murdered just a few days earlier. Alice had overheard one of the members of our congregation say King's death was no loss to the country. Alice was furious. In her inimitable way she concluded that if one of the church members believed that way, then that must be the position of the pastor and the church. She told my husband in no uncertain terms what she thought — and hung up.
      Paul wasn't going to let Alice's outrage continue uninformed by the facts. He took the risk and went to call on her unannounced. Her respect for him was immediate, and she was relieved to know that some-one else shared the loss, hurt and anger she felt because of Dr. King's death. That meeting began a friendship that would last until Alice's death.
      A few days later Paul took me to meet Alice. I was fascinated by the imposing, energetic elderly woman and by her cobbled-together cottage filled with books and mementos from years of work, joy and heartbreak. I was a young newspaper writer and was beginning work on a book on Darrington's history. Alice had worked in the 1920's for the San Francisco Examiner, later for Seattle papers, and had four novels to her credit. She was always writing, and, as we got to know one another, she took pleasure in prodding me to do the same. She soon became one of the chief encouragers of my book project.
      Alice hated to be interrupted when she was writing. Her favorite time to write was the morning, and I learned very soon that it was disastrous to phone her or stop to visit her during the morning hours. She had one acquaintance who insisted on stopping in every morning. "The stupid woman just doesn't understand: I don't want to be bothered in the morning," Alice complained. She finally banished the woman from her place — and made another enemy.

She was a tenacious writer
      Alice had learned over the years to live with publishers' rejections. When a rejected manuscript came back in the morning mail, she would re-wrap it (or have her favorite storekeeper re-wrap it for her) and mail it out to another publishing house in the afternoon. She was forever optimistic that the next publisher would say yes. Even in her final years in a nursing home in Marysville, Alice continued to write. Many of us who visited her found her pecking away at her ancient typewriter, busy on her next novel.
      In 1979, after I had sent her a copy of my newly published book, she wrote: "My new 75,000 word novel is in an agent's hand in N.Y. and two new 3500 word stories and I've sent three to Reader's Digest....Thanks a lot [for your book]. I'll send you a copy when mine comes out." Then again in 1981, the day after her 94th birthday, she wrote me, "My 5th novel is at my agent's in New York and he is very pleased with it. I have put you down as getting a copy as soon as it comes out." She noted that a friend had come to see her the day before to celebrate her birthday. "Can you imagine my writing at my age. My 6th novel is now at the typist as I've sold my typewriter as I make mistakes."
      As far as I know, novels five and six were never published. Some of us wonder if she really had sent them to an agent. But the work on them and the hope of being published must have been part of what kept Alice going in those last years of her life.
      People were never really invited to Alice's house; they were summoned. "I'm having a dinner party on Saturday night at 6:30 in honor of Dr. Wu," she said one day. "You and Paul are to come." She hung up the phone before I could say "Yes, we'd be delighted to come," or "No, I'm sorry we can't come." For some reason we always felt obligated to rearrange schedules to fit Alice's. We did not want to fall from Al-ice's good graces. Her dinner parties were always delicious, the mix of guests eclectic, and conversations stimulating and colorful with Alice leading the way with anecdote and opinion.
      Alice used one dinner to help me out. I had tried unsuccessfully for a long while to make contact with Edith Bedal in order to get information for my Darrington book. Edith was one of Alice's old friends. So Alice invited — or rather, summoned — Edith and Paul and me and two other friends to come for dinner. "She likes you," Alice confided to me a few days later. "I think she may soon be willing to talk with you." Shortly afterward Edith did agree to talk with me in the company of another of her old and trusted friends, Harold Engles.

Elden Abbott violates her privacy
      Alice guarded her privacy with a vengeance. She had an unlisted phone number and gave it out to very few people. One who had her number was Elden Abbott, the town's pharmacist, who was also one of Alice's "dear friends," as she used to say. Elden made the mistake of giving Alice's phone number to the school superintendent who called to ask her to please stop writing letters to the editor about the Darrington schools without having all the facts at her disposal.
      Alice called me. Very accusingly she said, "Betsy, don't ever give my phone number to anyone. Some stupid person has given it to the school superintendent, and he is bothering me terribly. I'm going to have to change my number." She hung up.
      Now, what did all that mean? I telephoned Elden. I could almost see Elden blush with embarrassment. "I'm the culprit," he said. "She called here, too, but didn't give me a chance to say anything. I guess I'd better go see her."
      It took Elden a couple of days to get up the courage to go see Alice. He walked over from his house, stopping at a neighbor's first to get up his nerve. His friend walked him to Alice's gate. "I'll leave you here. I'm glad it's you and not me," the neighbor said.
      Elden walked slowly to the door. He knocked. Alice greeted him warmly. "Alice I'm the one who gave Mr. Farley your phone number. I'm really sorry, " Elden told her sheepishly. Alice grinned. "I thought so," she said and kissed him on the cheek. "I just wanted you to admit it. Now come in and have some tea."
      Alice had had her game, and Elden had learned his lesson. All was well. That was how life was with Alice.

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Story posted Oct. 11, 2005
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