Another Northwest Passage
This 48 state odyssey of ours was not just an ordinary trip; it was a journey of discovery, of learning—a chance to absorb and study America. What could be more logical, then, than to include an occasional review of what had been learned? When Mr. Yates dropped us in front of the hotel where he'd spend the night, he again repeated his Seattle invitation. But again we demurred.
It was strange, but Win and I both instinctively started north—not south—out of Red Bluff, seeking a place to camp.
At 6:30 A.M. we were on the highway waiting, really more than half hoping we had missed our ride. At seven o'clock the Hupmobile showed up. We were off on our journey of review—one which would prove to be far different than any review lesson we'd ever experienced in school.
The Siskiyous seemed almost warm and even the snow-capped grandeur of Shasta domineering the valleys could not chill the sunshine in our hearts. Not until we had crossed the Siskiyous, beyond the Oregon line, did we encounter any heavy snowdrifts. These gave us little real trouble.
Medford, Grants Pass, Roseburg, Eugene. Mr. Yates knew the whole area well. He pointed out places of interest and related local episodes which gave us a liking for southern Oregon which our rain-soaked earlier travels in the state had completely failed to do. Review lessons are worthwhile.
There were business calls in Portland; our host interspersed them with stories of local lore. At Seattle, he spent a final half hour showing us some of the sights we'd completely missed on our two former visits to the city. We genuinely hated to part company.
"I can't thank you enough for making the trip with me," said Mr. Yates.
"You almost took those words out of our mouths," I responded. "Now we'll head back south, but we'll never regret coming up here a second time."
There was a good night's sleep behind the same billboard which had twice previously been our Seattle bedroom, although this time our own blankets were augmented by a blanket of white snow that fell during the night. Then we turned our faces southward again, but our review journey was not quite over.
In Tacoma we re-outfitted, both buying new hats and other gear, and I a new pair of shoes, the eighth that had graced my feet since leaving Howell. Win was wearing his initial pair, still in fair condition. We had traveled a long way to get re-outfitted.
Two army officers picked us up and we were secretly glad our outfits were spruced up. On the way to enormous Camp Lewis, our military hosts glowingly pictured the wonders of army life and tried to enlist us. "You could work right up to West Point" was one of their inducements. They showed us around the great encampment but we declined their invitation to supper and continued on. West Point wasn't in our future.
South of Centralia, a cold night forced us into a log loft of a fairgrounds building. Next morning, while pounding our hands together to keep warm, we noticed the occupants of an approaching car acting very strangely. One door was open and a woman was waving wildly. As the car stopped she jumped out, crying, "My boys, oh, it's my boys." It was Mrs. Lathey with whom we had ridden six months before near Yakima, Washington, and who had mailed gifts to us at Burke. This time they joyfully carried us all the way to Portland.
At Salem we bought some household gifts and went out to say hello again to our "flood hosts, " the Antricans. Of course they insisted on our staying for supper and overnight, so there was a chance to visit with Jenny once more. By the light of an old lantern the three of us walked over to a neighbor's house where Win and I were supposed to help Jenny and the two neighbor girls study for their next day's lessons. Vivid accounts of our travels—and their school activities—filled most of the evening.
This study session reminded us of home. Next day I dashed off a letter:
"We sat up till 1:00 A.M. with the three girls, helping them with their lessons. At least we were supposed to help. You remember how we used to come to your house and study French? That's the same way we worked. Study ten minutes then talk ten minutes. We told them all about you, for it sure did bring back good memories. The old folks had gone to bed so not too much studying was done."
At Corvallis, south of Salem, we fulfilled a wish that had previously been denied us because of the floods. George W. Peavy, a former resident of our hometown in Michigan, a graduate and former teacher in our Howell High School, had become the Dean of Forestry at Oregon Agricultural College. We hunted up the campus, located the Dean's office, and knocked on the door. Then came a great surprise. We were not only thrilled to meet this important man, we found that he was thrilled to meet us. He knew all about our "College on Wheels" hike from reading the Howell papers. He had also read a story I had printed about him in the alumni section of our school annual. Peavy later became president of the college (now known as Oregon State University) and mayor of Corvallis.
Then through Oregon—to the California border. We entered the Siskiyous for the third time, climbing higher and higher. Night came on and it began to snow. Already the air was white with the stuff and by the time we had crossed the summit a blizzard was howling around us.
"This is too much," Win yelled above the noise of the wind. "We better try to find some shelter, somewhere."
Not two minutes later came a possible answer. "Look," I shouted, pointing. "Up there, on the mountainside. It's a light."
Climbing up a steep slope, then finding a path, we made our way to a little cabin and knocked on the door.
From the first time we saw the wrinkled, unshaven face of Pierre Loubet, the old bachelor who answered our knock, we liked him. Briar pipe in hand, old hat tipped at an angle on his gray head, wooden French shoes shuffling on the floor, he waved us inside out of the snow. Yes, he had room for us—even an extra bed.
Here was really shelter from the blizzard outside. The kitchen fire crackled and roared as we sat and talked. After a long time the friendly old man shuffled into an adjoining room and came back with a couple of letters. He couldn't interpret English writing very well and wanted us to read them to him. They were two love letters from two different women who had obtained his name through a matrimonial club he had joined. We explained their meaning—marriage.
For a long time he pondered in silence. Then a bashful smile stole over his features. "Answer them," he commanded.
With pen poised I looked up at our host for directions. "What shall I write?"
To our embarrassed amazement he replied that he did not care. I could write whatever I wished. This was quite a responsibility on the shoulders of a boy just turned nineteen. I could accept or reject, and I didn't know which of the two women he wanted. Win and I read the letters again, then picked out the one best suited for the honors. What I wrote was affectionate and intended to bring them together in happy and speedy union.
"My dear Mrs. Andrews," it began. "I have before me your letter of March fifth which I have read again and again (meaning twice). I was very pleased with the description of yourself but would like to ask a few more questions. Have you any children and if so what are their ages? I wonder if it would be possible for you to send me a photograph of yourself. I am enclosing one of my photos in this letter. I am very lonesome here with no one to live with and certainly desire to continue our correspondence with the hope of meeting soon. Affectionately yours, Pierre Loubet."
After that we sat for quite a while, breaking into conversation occasionally but for the most part looking at the fire in silence. When the coals in the kitchen stove died out we went into the sitting room of his cozy little home and put a block of wood in the fireplace. He told us stories of former love affairs in France and America. Outside, the snow beat more furiously against the house. We moved closer to the fire. The bachelor filled his pipe.
Win examined a phonograph in the corner. It had a record on it, ready to play. He started the machine. As the tune broke forth above the roar of the storm, we were thrilled to hear ringing out in the bare room and accompanied by the eager tap of the bachelor's wooden shoe, the strains of the French national anthem, the Marseillaise. This lovely tune soothed our sleep that night.
Two years later when traveling by car through the West with our parents, we stopped to hunt up Pierre Loubet. A woman answered our knock. It was Mrs. Loubet, the woman whom Win and I had selected as a result of her letter and to whom I had written in Mr. Loubet's name. That letter had achieved results. They were happily married.
Next day we were back in the Golden State, heading south. As we reviewed the city sights in Sacramento, we headquartered at a fire station after showing them our letter of introduction from the San Francisco firemen. In Los Angeles and Pasadena we spent more hours in the libraries researching and further reviewing our west coast travels.
One of our final excursions was to the San Gabriel Mission and to attend the Mission Play. After thrilling to the historical stage presentation, the ivy-clad walls of the old church watched over us as we slept. Near here Ramona was once supposed to have lived, and behind a gray stone wall we caught glimpses of what was called the largest grapevine in the world. Near San Gabriel we paid a visit to an artist friend, Norm Chamberlain, a former Michigan-der, who had won considerable distinction with his portrayal of desert scenes. In his watercolors and oils of sagebrush and lonely trails there was a touch that made the desert irresistible. They stirred in us a longing to be off. We turned our faces eastward, heading for Arizona.
- Category: Foot By Foot Through the USA
- Written by Grace McKay
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