Category: Writings

I have written all of my life and this collection will be diverse in content and genre.

Buzzard Duck

by Pat Edwards

Buzzard Duck was a member of that large mute breed of black and white duck that looks like it has a hamburger patty wrapped around its face… the Muscovy Duck.  He came to live on our farm many years ago when someone gave him to us (that’s one of the “perks” of living on a farm… you get all of the animals that your friends and acquaintances no longer want!).  Buzzard Duck had the run of the barnyard along with an assortment of chickens and a pair of turkeys.  Because he didn’t have a mate, he had to use his imagination.  He took a shine to his own image that reflected from a piece of shiny aluminum that patched a large hole on the bottom of the barn door.  B.D. stood before his reflection for hours on end, whispering sweet nothings to it in duck-fashion, and caressing its smooth surface with his head and beak.  He was so enamored with his own image that we didn’t think that any of us existed in his mind.  But, apparently, he did feel he owed my husband, Jim, a debt of gratitude for feeding him each day.

One day, Buzzard Duck was in rapt discussion with his reflection, as usual, while my husband was hammering away on a piece of equipment in the barnyard.  Jim was completely oblivious to the fact that our huge Tom Turkey was nearby.  Tom, who had long before instilled terror in the hearts of our 4 children, especially our youngest daughter, Kelly, by chasing them across the barnyard whenever they ventured near, began to circle Jim, preparing for a full charge.  Then, with wings spread and neck extended, the turkey sped (as fast as a 50 lb. hunk of white meat can speed) straight towards Jim.  Jim was at first unaware that he was a target, but when he heard the rustle of feathers, he looked up to see a black and white duck streaking past him.  When he turned around to see where Buzzard Duck was going in such a hurry, he saw what looked like a potential game of “Chicken” between a turkey and a duck.  It was the turkey that put on his brakes and made a retreat for the far reaches of the barn lot with a very mad Buzzard Duck in fast pursuit.  When B.D. figured that Jim was once again out of harm’s way, he calmly returned to courting his aluminum mate.

It was not too long afterwards that we found someone who had a female Muscovy who was looking for a mate.  It was to be Buzzard’s reward for saving the dignity of his benefactor.  And a few months’ later, it was Thanksgiving.  (No, we didn’t eat Tom, but we did find him and his mate a new home.)  Kelly and her sisters and brother were able to cross the barnyard… unarmed… once again, and they all lived happily ever after.

The Sweet Sauce of Labor

By Pat Edwards (April 2010)

Greek historian, Plutarch, once said, “Rest is the sweet sauce of labor.” I agree and believe that it is only when we experience exhausting physical labor that we can appreciate the sweetness of rest.

Now that I’m nearing my 70th year, I find myself thinking back over my life. I’ve always been a hard worker – some of my work was physically hard, but much of it was (and is) of the type that exercises the brain more than the muscles. A short period of about two years in my youth, however, seemed to be my most physically challenging and one of the most rewarding periods for me.

I was born in Los Angeles and raised in various large and mid-size towns during my childhood. These included Lebanon, Eugene and Portland, Oregon; Eureka, California; and for a short time, Phoenix, Arizona. It was always my dream, however, to live on a farm where I could have a horse and experience the wide-open spaces that didn’t include paved streets and houses sitting so close to each other that you could hear the neighborhood mothers calling their kids in to dinner.

My long-held dream was answered in my sophomore year in high school. My nomadic father, who moved us every few years, decided that he, too, was ready to become a farmer. Up to that point, he had tried his hand as a training tech for Douglas Aircraft during WWII, an electrician (providing the first wiring in some of the homes in Lorane), a logger, a salesman of heavy equipment, an owner of an International Harvester dealership and a commercial fisherman. He had helped my grandparents on their farm in Lorane for several years before I was born and for a short time afterwards, so he was familiar with what it took to be a farmer.

When he and our mother announced to my sister Barbara (B.J.) and I that we were buying a bean and strawberry farm outside of Lebanon, Oregon, we were ecstatic! At the time, we lived on east 139th Street in Portland and I was attending Parkrose Junior High School. Our older brother, Jim, had already left home and had served a stint in the U.S. Marines.

Midway through my sophomore year, we moved to our new farm, located northeast of Lebanon. The Santiam River, which provided the irrigation for the crops, flowed along our western boundary. Compared to commercial farms these days, it was a small farm… probably about 60 acres. The flat bottom land allowed us to plant 15 acres in green beans each year in its fertile soil and there was a 5-acre patch of strawberries on the bottom, gentle slope of the hill below our house. We also planted about 5 acres of winter squash and had approximately 30 acres of wheat, oat and barley fields and pasture. The house and barns sat at the top of a small hill on about 5 acres of land. As soon as the purchase was finalized, my father signed a contract to sell all of the fruit and vegetable crops that we raised to Flavor-Pak, an Albany cannery. In exchange, they provided us a “rep” who made frequent visits to advise us in all things – the “how-tos” and time-lines for preparing the ground, planting, fertilizing, spraying, weeding and harvesting.

B.J. and I immediately began petitioning our parents for horses, but because money would be tight for awhile, we were told we’d have to wait. Fortune shone down upon us, however, when an ad appeared in the Capital Press seeking someone who would be willing to board two horses for their use. Soon, we moved Rocket and Topper into the pasture below the huge three-story dairy barn. Our dream had indeed come true!

Did I mention “labor” at the beginning of this story? I know that it seems I got sidetracked, but all of the preceding was meant to set the stage for what was to come next.

While B.J. and I settled into school – she, at the little “eight-grades-in-one-room” Griggs Elementary School, down the road, and I at the considerably larger Lebanon Union High School, Daddy put on his farmer hat in earnest. While the fields were too wet to plow, he tightened fences, worked on fixing the stalls for the horses, fenced areas for the geese and built a coop for the chickens. B.J. and I had our own chores – feeding the menagerie and helping Mama with the house. In those days, I was mainly the “outdoor worker” and B.J. was the “inside help”… It shows! I’ve never had a “neat-as-a-pin” house, but in those days, I loved working outside where I could be close to the animals.

When Spring arrived, Daddy and my grandfather, who with my grandmother, came to spend the summer with us in their travel trailer, spent their days on the tractors, fertilizing, spraying and tilling between the rows of strawberries and working the rest of the ground for the crops that he would later plant. When I got home from school each day, I changed clothes, grabbed a lightweight hoe, and headed for the strawberry field where I chopped down the tender beginnings of weeds that the tiller had missed before they got too much of a head start. For the ones that grew too close to the precious berry plants, I got down on hands and knees and pulled them manually.

As the fruit began to ripen and the days progressed, our work became more intense. The weeds began to grow faster and bigger and I was having a hard time keeping up with them, so the whole family spent whatever time they could to help.

For the strawberries, we depended on local people to help pick the crops. We didn’t have our own crop bus, so when the berries neared the time when they would have to be picked, we held our breaths, hoping to have enough help. On the day we began picking the first strawberries, enough local people arrived in response to the ad that we placed in the newspaper to fill our need for workers. Most were mothers and children, earning money for school and the necessities of life. Others were there to enable them to buy the horse or take the vacation they always dreamed of having..

Each day, a steady flow of the luscious red berries were brought to the check-in station that Mama ran as the carriers were filled. I worked alongside our other pickers, gently twisting the berries off their stems as the cannery required, and at the end of each day, my fingers were stained bright red and the knees and seat of my jeans were crusted with dirt and mud. It was hard, hard work, bending over, crawling and scooting along the ground to retrieve the sweet berries hiding behind the huge green leaves. B.J., who was in fifth grade, tried picking for awhile, but she ended up starting berry fights with the kid in the next row or sat eating berries instead of putting them into her carrier. She was soon “promoted” to being our house worker and was put to work helping Grandma prepare meals and keep the house clean.

After the berry season ended, Mama spent her days with the normal chores of cooking and cleaning, but in addition, she was in charge of cleaning and preparing our migrant cabins for what we hoped would be families arriving to help with the bean harvest. In those days, the local farmers depended on the seasonal workers who moved from one crop to another throughout the spring and summer. Most began picking early crops in California and then gradually worked their way to Oregon for the beans. When those were harvested, they moved on to Washington for the apples. Most had a regular pattern they followed and returned to the same farms each year. In those days, they were mainly poor white families who made their livings from picking the crops. In the late 1950s, before children were no longer allowed to work in the fields, whole families would labor to bring in as much as they could. Fathers, mothers and the older children worked full days; the younger ones worked for shorter periods, but when they tired, they were allowed to play quietly at the ends of the rows. Mothers took breaks occasionally to breast feed their babies under the shade of the trees that usually lined the fields on at least one side and the whole family joined her there for a lunch break where they ate the food that she packed that morning.

We had three connected cabins on our farm. They were single-room bunkhouses and each had unadorned plank floors and walls, a hot plate, a sink with running water, a 100-watt light bulb in the ceiling for light and several bunk beds. There was a shower room at the end of the row of cabins for all to use. The “bathroom” was a two-holer set away from the cabins that Daddy had to move every week or so to a new site.

While I worked in other areas of the farm, Mama, B.J. and Grandma cleaned and scrubbed and tried to make the cabins as livable and comfortable as possible. The migrants brought their own sleeping bags, so sheets and bedding were provided only as a backup, if needed. The families were responsible for their own “housekeeping,” but Mama always wanted to have them start with a clean environment.

Our first cabin was prepared earlier than usual, however. As soon as school was out, a mother and her teenaged son arrived to work during the strawberry season. Unlike the other families we were expecting for bean harvest, however, the woman, Mrs. Boyles, was a high school teacher in Coos Bay and she had contacted us a couple of weeks earlier about coming to spend the summer on our farm so that her son, Bobbie, could learn how to work.

After strawberry season ended and while we were waiting for the beans to ripen, there was still much work to do. My summer days that first year were filled with helping to hand-string the beans, moving irrigation pipe and doing lots and lots of hoeing on the 15-acre bean field. Despite the fact that we were allowed to spray herbicides in those days, we still had a lot of pigweed and morning glory to contend with. I became browned with the best farmer’s tan anyone could want and my remaining baby fat melted away. I was never happier or healthier in my life than I was on that farm!

It was not all work, though. There were times when B.J. and I took time off to literally jump onto the backs of Rocket and Topper. We didn’t have saddles, so we always rode bareback on the well-worn trails along the river bank and around the fields. We sometimes rode the horses a mile or so down Brewster Road to visit my best friend or to venture down other roads in the area to see where they led. To us, those rides were our well-deserved rest from the work we did on the farm.

A few days before bean harvest was scheduled to begin, our first family of migrants arrived – a mother, a father and two teenaged sons. Then, another family with younger children moved into the last cabin. Both families had worked for the previous owners and had returned to help with our harvest. Though obviously poor, the families were close and loving. The children were polite and respectful of their parents and they had a certain discipline that you don’t see much in today’s youth.

Mama in beanfield

My mother, Ruth Evelyn Smith, weighing beans

Daddy in beanfield

My father, James Sterling Smith, in the bean field

When picking began in the bean fields, the experienced hands of the migrant workers showed the rest of us what work really was. I thought I was able to fill my bean bucket pretty fast, but no matter how fast I picked, all but the youngest kids had their buckets full before I did.

In those days, the beans were pole beans, which climbed five foot high wire and string. The bottom beans ripened first, so much of the earlier picking was done close to the ground and progressed higher with the second and third pickings. We each had a metal five-gallon bucket and a large cloth sack. When we filled the bucket, we poured the beans into the sack until it was full. Then, we drug the sack up to the front of the rows where Mama was running the check-out station. She weighed the sack of beans from a portable hanging scale, record it on the person’s bean card which she kept to tally the day’s weight and then dumped the beans into a large wooden box that, when full, would be loaded by tractor onto the back of the farm truck for transport to the cannery.

There was a lot of camaraderie in the fields. A lot of local adults and children came to work for us – even some of my high school friends. We talked, joked, and sang songs across the rows of beans. Occasionally, a bean fight would break out, but for the most part, we worked.

Frequently, our reward for our hard day’s labor was going back to the house, showering, eating a hearty dinner – usually prepared by Grandma – and then wandering out to the picker’s cabins where a fire was usually burning in the firepit. We joined the migrant families and Bobby and Mrs. Boyles around the fire, drinking ice cold lemonade and visiting. Soon, one of the teenaged boys, Jerry Bean (yes, that was really his name!) got out his guitar and began to sing all of the popular Ricky Nelson and Elvis Presley songs that I loved. He was good! and I soon developed a huge crush on him. I know that my response to him worried my parents, but our friendship remained just that… a friendship. To me, though, it was so cool to have someone serenade me and tattoo my first name onto his arm with a sterilized sewing needle and India ink!

I wonder if he still carries that faint memory of me?

Rest. It means different things to different people, but for me, it means the special rewards we allow ourselves at the end of a hard day’s work… horseback rides, friends, singing around a campfire, ice cold lemonade. It doesn’t always have to mean idleness… to me, “rest” means enjoying the life that you’ve earned through your own hard work… It truly is the “sweet sauce of labor!”

The Quest for Happy Endings

By Pat Edwards (originally written in August 2015)

Her name was Ruth Smith, but I came to know her as “Dolly,” as many others did. She entered my life in June 2011, when she first submitted a story called “Tuscaloosa, Alabama; I Was There” to Groundwaters magazine. I was managing editor of the literary quarterly which we distributed free to libraries, senior centers, businesses and organizations throughout Lane County, Oregon. Dolly had picked up a copy at the Junction City Library near the retirement residence where she lived. Her story told of her college years in Tuscaloosa during World War II. It had been triggered by the news of the devastating 2011 tornado season that hit Tuscaloosa rather hard that year and it brought forth some poignant memories which she shared with our readers.

In her 2011 bio, Dolly told a little about her life:

Dolly 2“I was a biology major at UCLA after leaving the University of Alabama. I then worked as an instructor and histologist at the University of Oregon while earning my Masters Degree in Biology. My late husband, Damon Smith, worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency and was also a WWII veteran and a rancher. Damon and our daughter, Judy, are both gone now and I moved to a retirement residence in Junction City three years ago to be with other people. I was overjoyed when I found a copy of Groundwaters a couple of years ago. It is an excellent magazine. Thank you for your efforts and good works.”

After that, the mail began to bring other submissions on a regular basis– mainly poetry that Dolly had written, and one day we received the first of several donation checks she sent us, tucked neatly inside a letter containing her most recent poem.

Upon finding out that she was living in a senior residence, I began hand-delivering copies of Groundwaters to her when I did my distribution run to the Junction City Library. Her home was only a few blocks out of the way and when I knocked and stuck my head in the open door that first time, she greeted me with a smile. When I told her who I was, she worked her way to her feet using her walker and threw out her arms to demand a hug in greeting. Her excitement in meeting me was spontaneous and humbling. I sat and visited with her for a short time during which she showed me her desk and the journal that she wrote in as often as she could when her health would allow. It wasn’t long before I had to head out to make my other deliveries, but I knew that I’d be back when it was time to distribute the next issue.

On later visits, Dolly told me about her love of her homeplace which she still owned. It was part of a ranch on Grimes Road  that her husband’s grandparents,William A. and Eliza Jane Smelser Smith, had homesteaded in the late 1800s. Because of my love for the history of our local area, I was eager to learn more about her past, but I missed the chance to learn more directly from Dolly. Her close friend, Anne Maggs-Foster, however, was able to supply some of the details of Damon and Dolly’s very interesting life.

“I met Damon and Ruth in 1982 when we purchased 28 acres from them. Our acreage was 3 of 10 strips of land that fell across both sides of the little valley where their homeplace is now.

“His grandfather homesteaded 160 acres of the valley when he rode out to Oregon on a saddle horse. The main valley is the one Ferguson runs through and the old, original Smith homestead was on a small knoll to the north and east of the current intersection of Ferguson and Grimes Roads. The stage coach used to run along the top of the ridge because the bottom land would flood.

“Grimes Road used to be a wooden road which made it passable in the winter. When we first moved out there, the old, one-room  school house was still standing near the intersection. Damon said the teacher lived with them (which he hated because he could not cut class!)

“Damon told us that his dad, Walter Leston Smith, was one of ten kids. When the kids were grown, Damon’s grandfather, William A. Smith, split the side valley along Grimes Road into ten, 10-acre, strips and gave one to each of their children. Damon’s dad slowly collected all of the strips as his siblings either moved away or died off, and Damon inherited the majority of the original homestead. .

“Damon’s mother, Callie Lilly Wolf, grew violets and she used to trade varieties with old man Kneibl who lived on Ferguson Road. Walter and Callie’s old abandoned homeplace was on our piece of land, as were the big barns and many small outbuildings.

“Ruth met Damon when she was looking for a squirrel skeleton for a biology class at the University of Oregon. He was a “cowboy” and she fell for him. They used to have horses and we rode with the both of them for many a mile on the logging roads up behind our place. She told me that they built the house with hand tools – no electricity at the time. They had an outdoor privy until her mom came to visit after Damon and Ruth’s daughter, Judy, was born, and said that, with a baby to take care of, she needed an inside bathroom.

“Ruth was highly skilled in methods of canning and cooking. She processed and preserved whatever Damon hunted. She wrote a story about “Zoe” which I believe was modeled on herself as a capable, homesteader. Ruth could shoot and cook, care for her family and home, be a good neighbor and a ‘second’ grandma to my kids, and keep a positive outlook on life.

“She gained her teaching credential by correspondence and taught school at Junction City High School after Judy was born. She taught art and science and, for many years displayed the pictures her students had painted.

“In the early 90s, we gave Ruth our old Macintosh computer when we upgraded our home computer. My daughter, Amity, and I taught her how to use it and she began writing in earnest. She would write on a yellow pad, then transcribe it into the computer where she could edit with ease. When the old timers came to visit Damon – and there was a steady stream of men – she questioned them about wildlife and plants and stories of how things were done so that she could infuse her writing with the lore of the times she was writing about.

“Ruth was a unique person who loved life and lived it fully.”

Dolly Ruth Smith, as she liked her byline to read, was indeed a unique and wonderful woman who managed to wend her way into my heart as our much-too-short friendship evolved. I didn’t get to see her often, but when I did, she was always so excited to see me. Sometimes, she had a friend visiting who she would introduce me to as “her editor.” Other times, I would find her confined to bed following what she called “small stokes.” In about 2013, I learned that she had fallen and injured her leg. I traveled to Junction City to visit her in the rehab center next to her assisted living apartment, but when I arrived, I was told that she had been taken to one in Eugene, instead. So, I tracked her down there. When she saw me enter the room, her face lit up and it warmed my heart. After several more weeks, she was transferred back to her apartment in Junction City.

Dolly began an obvious decline at that point, but whenever I visited, she’d talk about the new story that she was writing… a fairytale. As time went on, it seemed to grow in importance to her, even though her ability to work on the story was hindered by failing health. She said that she’d dream about the story and would try to get it on paper the next day, since she was no longer using a computer, but it was not coming together as well as she wanted. She was especially obsessed with the ending that was just not working out for her.

By October 2014, she decided that the story which she titled “Angela” was going to have to be good enough, although, obviously, she still was not happy with it. She had her niece, Martha Mattus, type it for her and she then sent it to Groundwaters as a submission for our January 2015 issue.

I was a bit surprised by the story when we received it. It was not her normal style of writing and it was written with an almost child-like imagination, but I personally knew how much it meant to Dolly, so I promised her that we would use it in January. I also promised that I’d help her figure out an ending for it. Before I could prepare the story for publication, however, I received an email from Martha, who lived in Portland. She said that Dolly was once again in rehab – this time in Junction City – and that she was not expected to live more than a week or two. Dolly asked her to notify her friends and if we wanted to say a last goodbye, we should do so right away.

When I got there, Dolly, herself, told me that she didn’t expect to see her story in print. I assured her that it would be in the January issue and I’d be bringing it to her as I always did. I added an “ending” to it that would reflect her passing and brought her a mock-print of the story as it would look in Groundwaters. It seemed strange at the time because I was talking about her passing, but Dolly seemed touched by it.

Amazingly, Dolly rallied in late December… at least it would have been amazing for someone else, but Dolly had grit and I believe that she somehow willed herself better. I changed the ending again, which still was not satisfactory, but I was able to deliver that January issue to Dolly in person… but she still was not happy with the story.

“Angela” once again became a passion for her as she lay in one rehab center bed after another. Months passed, and each time I would visit, she would hold up her yellow writing pad to show me that she was still working on her story. She was determined to get it right, despite her increasingly failing health.

In May 2015, she began slipping into what seemed to be semi-conscious, coma-like states, but she then amazed her caretakers by rousing enough to eat her meals and talk a bit.

On May 13, I went to see her. She was barely responsive. When I entered her room, she stirred and opened her eyes, but didn’t speak or show recognition. I took her hand and told her who I was, but she didn’t seem to understand. Before I left, a nurse came in to take her temperature and gave her a kiss on the cheek. She talked quietly to her and Dolly smiled a couple of times. She seemed to respond when I mentioned to the nurse that those hands she was holding had written some beautiful poetry and stories… and she smiled. As I was leaving, I leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek to tell her goodbye, I told her that I would make sure that Angela would live happily ever after. With eyes still closed, she formed the words “Thank you” and smiled.

Dolly was put under hospice care shortly afterwards and peacefully passed away in her sleep on Tuesday, July 22, 2015.

By then I knew that in her mind, Dolly was Angela, and this amazing, wonderful lady had written her own happy ending.

Dolly 3

A Celebration of Life and a potluck lunch was held for Dolly Ruth Smith at the Long Tom Grange on Ferguson Road between Junction City and Elmira on Sunday, August 30, 2015. Her interment is next to  her husband Damon and daughter Judy at the Rest Haven Cemetery near Junction City, Oregon in the Smith Family plot.