MEMOIR of ROBERT F DAWSON 1927 – 2015

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Written for his children and grandchildren

I was born in White Bluffs, Washington on June of 1927. First, let me tell you that the name Dawson is Scottish, the Dawson clan was a sub clan of the Davidson clan in Scotland. The Dawsons were hunters for the Lords (Lairds) who were the rich landowners. I think some of that heritage is still in my blood because of my love for hunting.

White Bluffs, Washington was a government town. That is, the government was responsible for White Bluffs being there. The government would give a veteran (this was a veteran of World War I) 20 acres, a mule, a house which was about 20 x 20 feet in size, and a hand-dug well. If he stayed on the land and farmed it for either five or ten years, the government would then give him a clear title to that piece of property. There were a lot of those house units there. White Bluffs was made up mostly of government G.I. World War I homesteads.

The name White Bluffs was used because across the river from the town, that would be on the east side of the Columbia river, there were white bluffs or cliffs. I think they were made up of ancient lake beds. In the bluffs, geologists have found Eohippus, which is a three toed horse, and also camel and other desert-types of mammals. At one time, a zillion years ago, that area was something else. The town no longer exists.

In 1933, when I was six years old, we lived in a one-room house similar to those given to WWI veterans. It was about 15’ wide and 24’ long and not very warm. When there was a cold wind Mom would put the clothes out on the line to freeze, because freezing will take a lot of moisture out of clothing. She would finish drying them on a line in the house. One time, around New Year’s, I had done something that required Dad to get the razor strap out and give me a whack on the butt. He took a swing at me but he hit the clothesline, and all of the wet clothes hit the floor because the strap caught it and broke the clothes line. Mom went after Dad, and I lucked out because when he broke the line down, she got after him and he forgot that he was supposed to give me a whack.

I remember the time of year because my brother Bill had gotten a BB gun for Christmas. That BB gun caused problems for us three boys. I can remember several fights over it. I think finally, as I recall, Dad took it and bashed it over a chopping block because we were always fighting over the thing.

The schoolhouse we attended in the canyon was about 16’ x 24’. It was hard to find a teacher that was willing to drive 11 miles from town to teach school. My mother was chairman of the school board and was responsible for ordering books and furniture and for arranging someone to fill the woodshed (that was usually dad). One year, my great-uncle, Berkeley Johnson taught school. He had a Ph.D. in calligraphy and was an excellent teacher. One of the reasons he was hired was that in 1936, the schools in the state of Washington consolidated. Until then he had been superintendent of schools of Long Beach, Washington. The consolidation forced him out of the job and he needed one more year of work in order to retire, so my mother hired him to teach.

Mr. J. used to shave every morning. The first person to arrive at school would build a big fire in the old potbelly stove and put water on to heat so that Mr. J. could scrape off his whiskers. It sounded like he was cutting wire when he shaved. We certainly had no problem telling he was shaving because you could sit at the back of the room and hear them as he cut them. It the spring time, when the groundhogs came out, my older brother Bill would shoot at them from the schoolhouse windows with his 22 rifle. I do not know why Mr. Johnson tolerated it, but he did.

There were three windows on each side of the school house and there was a honey bee hive in the south wall. We always talked about robbing it, but never did. The outhouses for the school were about 50 feet from the back of the schoolhouse, the seats were all chewed up by the chipmunks, squirrels and porcupines. These varmints would chew outhouse seats to get the salt residual that would build up when people urinated. As a result, the seats were very rough and chewed. Of course, the boy’s out-house was chewed up a lot more than the girl’s.

The school is not so remote anymore and is now located on the rodeo grounds at the Kittitas County Fairgrounds. As you go in the door of the schoolhouse today, you will see “BD” carved in the facing around the door. That’s me.

We would always have a hot lunch for school. My mom would make stew or soup to go with a sandwich and milk. One year I got a new lunch box for Christmas, which lasted one day. I was crossing the creek on an icy log and slipped. My lunch pail hit the ice and slipped into the creek, so that was the end of that. Of course, I had been told many times not to cross on that log as there was a bridge, but I wanted to beat my brothers to school so I was taking a shortcut.

One time we decided that maybe if we filled the road with snow, the teacher could not get to school. We all got up the hillside and pushed snow down onto the road. We made a big pile to make it look like a slide. The teacher did not come along but a log truck did and made it through, so when the teacher came along next, we still had to go to school.

One very cold day, I was on my way home from school and I had to urinate. I had learned to write my name, so I urinated my name in the snow. Mom and Dad came up the road behind me and they made some comment about the fact that I was learning something at school – I proved it in the snow.

We played many games at school, including skiing and sledding in the winter and kick-the-can, Annie-Annie-over, and stick hockey in the summer. Quite often someone would ride a horse to school. Emery would ride his horse, Shorty. The Shuey tribe up the road always had all kinds of horses. We would pull a skier from the saddle on homemade skies with no grooves in the bottom.

In the winter time in the canyon, we spent most of our time skiing. We made our skis out of fir. We would boil the tip of them by putting it in boiling water, then we would bend it back and tie it with a piece of wire to hold it. When it dried out, it would hold that form. That form would last only about two months because once you got them outside, the dampness would straighten them out. Once they became flat, they were not too good for skiing. To hold them onto our feet, we put a strap on them, then we would cut up an inner tube and put the inner tube under the strap and around the back of the heel and that was how we used it. Finally, we got factory made skis, and they were sure a lot better. Also, when we got ski boots that made things even better. When we finally got ski boots with the bindings, we learned to ski much better.

When the schools consolidated in the State of Washington in 1935-36, we had to start riding a bus to Ellensburg because our district became a part of the Ellensburg School District. Our bus route was 36 miles one way (it was the longest one in the state of Washington); that meant 72 miles per day. They usually gave us the oldest bus in the district because the roads were so bad that they did not want to put a new bus on there and have it torn apart. I was very prone to car-sickness, so I would have to sit right behind the bus driver. It was really rough because I rode the school bus for 8 years. I do not care to ride on buses to this day. In one week I rode the bus 360 miles, in one year 12,960 miles. If you multiply that by 8 years, you get over 100,000 miles.

Although riding the school bus was an unpleasant experience, I did enjoy getting home at night. In the winter time, it would be almost dark when we got off the bus. The big pleasure was going into the warm house because it was sometimes very cold outside in the winter. Most of the time, my mother, Esther, would have hot food ready and waiting for us boys. She would have hot bread or cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, or elk or deer stew. Mom was the world’s best cook.

Schoolhouse Dances: Four or five times a year, we would have events at the school house. Uncle Ray would play the banjo and Uncle Vern would play the harmonica. Uncle Vern did not have teeth. I think that gave him an advantage in playing the harmonica.

While going to the University of Washington in the year 1948, I worked at the Olympic Hotel in Seattle, now called the Four Seasons Hotel, to make ends meet. I started out cleaning ashtrays. This entailed walking through the main lobby, hallways and so forth with a hand-held screen and bucket with sand in it. I would scoop the cigarette butts out of the sand filled repositories that were placed around in the main lobby of the Olympic Hotel. They also had three spittoons or cuspidors for those who preferred to chew. There were only three spittoons; one was by the main elevators, one was by the reception desk, and one was by the main lobby chairs. I really did not care to dump the spittoons, but somebody had to do it. I had to wash them and polish them. The spittoons were made of brass. Also, I had to polish the brass doors every day. Then I finally graduated to being a bellhop. That was a better job and paid more money. As a bellhop, I had to carry luggage. Some of the big customers would have 8-10 bags. Most of them were very heavy and I usually get a tip of 50 cents, or once in awhile a dollar. One time I got a 5 dollar tip.

Tallulah Bankhead is someone who came in one time and she had at least 15 very heavy large trunks, and they were way out in the back alley. I had to go down, get a hold of them and get them up there. It took me half an hour to get them up to her suite. As I figured, I got no tip from her, so you know what I think of Tallulah Bankhead.

JoAnn Bell Knudsen was the apple of my eye. Her dad Joe and I were good friends. One spring, Joe and Nellie had to go to Seattle for several days. Joe asked me to take care of the farm, 40 acres in the Fairview District out by Ellensburg. Joe had a couple of milk cows and 100 head of sheep. The sheep started lambing the day they left, so I had to pull lambs and get feeble ewes out of ditches. Those 100 ewes had 150 lambs. I later learned that the number of lambs born each year depends on their food supply. The sheep in Scotland have fewer lambs the farther north you go.

JoAnn and I were married June 20th, 1953. As a result of that marriage, we had four wonderful children and seven beautiful grandchildren. In 2013, we had our first great grandchild – Huckleberry.

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