Signed first edition of Dennis Hopper’s photography book “Out of the Sixties” in very fine condition.   It was given to me as a gift over 20 years ago and has been wrapped in plastic (not a publishers wrap) and laid flat on a shelf ever since then.  There is a very slight, very small smudge on the front dust cover.  It is signed on the introduction page where he wrote about himself.  He signed it “D. Hopper”.  Price: $439.

This book is now listed on

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In September, 1959  I was packed and ready to go by rail to Northampton, Massachusetts to enter Smith College.  Until then I had never been east of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  And I had never been anywhere on my own.  I was a very protected young lady.  I clearly remember my mother saying to me as we waited for the Northern Pacific train to pull into the station: “I have taught you everything I can.  It’s now up to you.” 

I got on the train, exhilarated, waved to my parents and sisters, then over the next four days, watched America roll by.  The Rocky Mountains were just taller versions of the Cascades.  The plains of eastern Montana, however, were astounding: so flat it was possible to see the curve of the earth.   

In Chicago where I had a few hours layover, I was surprised to be waited on by a black salesclerk.  The dominant ethnic groups–and we never thought about people that way in those days–in Spokane and much of the Pacific Northwest  were Swedes and Norweigians.  The tiny black population of Spokane was almost invisible.  In Chicago they were very visible. 

I changed trains in Chicago and found myself on what could have been called  the “Eastern College Express”.  Somewhere in Montana, 3 or 4 young men heading for Harvard had boarded the train and we had talked.  Now there were dozens of students going to the colleges in New England.  We all identified ourselves, somehow or the other, and the midwest rolled by almost unobserved because there were so many new people to meet.

The train rolled through small midwest towns where laundry was waving on the clothes lines and past farm lands which could have been in the Willamette Valley where I spent much of my early life.   One thing I noticed immediately as the train crossed into Massachusetts was how close together towns were and how charming they looked, as if taken from a story book.  Over the next four years this lack of space–well, that was and is how I define it–made me eager to go back out West after I graduated.  I love the open spaces of the American West.  I love the idea that you can walk through forests or out into the desert and put your foot where no human being has ever stepped before.  I love being able to look around and see no evidence of human beings, only the land and the sky.  New England eventually began to feel very claustrophobic.   At the end of 4 years Smith College did, too.

(This post is part of an experimental memoir.  I teach memoir writing and will edit your memoir to make it better.  Learn more at

Doing time in Spokane

October 30, 2009

About six months ago I received a phone call from a woman who said she had been in the Class of ’59 at Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane.  And “We’re going to have a 50th reunion!!!!”   And “Do you plan to attend??!!” 

I laughed. 

Then told her:  “No, I do not plan to attend.  I spent 3 years living there a long, long time ago.  My life has been in another world.”

Undeterred, she chatted away about this person and that person who were coming to the reunion.  None of the names did more than faintly resonate in my memory.  It was as if I were listening to a total stranger rambling on about her high school years in a place I had never been.  I ended the conversation–and she was very persistent in trying to get me to say “Yes”–with the suggestion that she send me whatever information she had.

When the package showed up in my mailbox it was even funnier.  One of the events scheduled was a luncheon based on what Spokane Grade School a person had attended.  Grade school?!?   That left no doubt that the people organizing the reunion were born and raised in Spokane and never left.  Spokane Lifers. 

My family moved to the South Side of Spokane–which in those days was the best part of the city–the summer before I entered 10th grade.   I hated the place–primarily because it was new to me.  Suddenly, I went from being a very popular girl in a tiny high school (fewer than 300 students) in Dayton, Oregon to being a new girl in a large (over 2,000 students) urban high school where I knew absolutely no one. 

The teenagers at Lewis and Clark high school were like those in the movie, American Graffiti.  There were the cool kids.  There were the outsiders.  There were social clubs–I was invited to join one my senior year, but by then I knew I was on my way out of Spokane, so I turned them down. 

 There were dances in ballrooms and country barns. 

There were summer days spent hanging out at the city pool and taking tennis lessons and getting a sun tan.

There were sewed-down pleated skirts, white suede shoes, and a red-and-white striped blouson style blouse I really loved.

 There was Sputnik and the Cold War.   The launch of the Russian Sputnik was announced in the middle of a high school basketball game.  Lewis and Clark was playing North Central.

There was rock ‘n roll–although Elvis Presley had come along while I was still living in Dayton.  When Elvis played Sp0kane, I sat in the second row and screamed my lungs out. 

There were hamburgers, fries and milkshakes at the Triple X drive-in followed by the thrill of cruising around the dark streets of Spokane late at night in a friend’s car.  

Then there were the classes at Lewis and Clark High School.  At the high school in Dayton I had been voted “Most Likely to Succeed.”   In Spokane I rose to be in the top 10% of the class, academically.  Lewis and Clark High School was among the top schools in the U.S. at that point.   Most graduates went on to college, even the girls at least for a year or two.    In contrast, my two best friends from Dayton moved to Salem, Oregon after high school where they got secretarial jobs.

As much as I disliked Spokane, had it not been for my parents’ move there my life would have been drastically different.  My parents’ best friends in Spokane had attended Smith College and Amherst and the next thing I knew I was being recruited by Smith and a couple of other women’s colleges on the East Coast.  I applied to Smith, Wellesley, and Mt. Holyoke.  Smith and Holyoke accepted me;  I was wait-listed at Wellesley. 

I was not going to be a Spokane Lifer.  I was going to Smith.

(This post is part of an experimental memoir.  I teach memoir writing and will edit your memoir to make it better.  Learn more at

Part 6

In the 1950s the Willamette Valley was noted for agricultural production on family farms.  There were bean fields, strawberry fields, walnut orchards, plum orchards, and some dairy herds.    Today it is still agricultural, but the dominant plant is grapes.  There are vineyards full of wine grapes everywhere. 

As with many farm towns then, the school year ended in time for harvesting the first crop of the season.  Around Dayton it was strawberries. 

To harvest the crops there were crews of itinerant farm workers and their families who lived in unheated one-room shacks tucked away in a corner of a farm.  There were crews of men brought down by bus from Skid Row in Portland.  And in Dayton, there was a crew of local townspeople, mostly women and middle-school age children, my mother, myself and my sisters among them.  Our next door neighbors–the mayor’s wife and her older child–were also in our group.  We knew all the other local people, too. 

Each crew was kept separate–no contact at all.   But we all had the same job: picking strawberries to be made into strawberry jam at a canning plant somewhere near Portland.  I remember kneeling down in the cold, muddy rows picking basket after basket of strawberries on chilly, damp mornings.  Within minutes the knees of my dungarees were soaked and caked with mud. We were paid by the number of baskets we picked.  My sisters were too young to really work.  They ate strawberries and played at the side of the field.  The strawberry season was short–thank goodness.   In three or four weeks the strawberry harvest was in.  To this day I do not like strawberries in any form, except in strawberry shortcake.

There was a break after strawberry season and my sisters and I went to Summer Vacation Bible School at the local Congregational church. 

Then bean season began.  They were Blue Lake beans which in those days were only available canned.  Now, Blue Lake beans are available fresh in farmer’s markets all over Southern California and probably elsewhere, too. 

The bean fields were not cold and muddy:  they were dry and the soil had hardened into clumps.  Picking, however, meant being down on one’s knees to pick the beans near the ground, then standing up and picking all the beans up to the top of the bean plant, which grew up string and wire to about 6 feet high.    So it was down and up and down and up and down and up all day long.   After one field was harvested we moved on to another.  Within a few days we were back at the first field where new beans had grown. 

We picked the beans into large burlap bags and they were weighed when full.  We were paid by weight.  The atmosphere, unlike that in the strawberry fields, was slightly festive, at least among my friends and me.  We kids used to have contests to see how quickly we could fill a bag and who could pick the most beans in a day.    If I remember correctly, one day I picked almost 400 pounds of beans.  I  was never the winner, however. 

Our work days ended in early afternoon and we would walk home and get cleaned up.   Then we would go to the local drug store which had a soda fountain and have a cherry coke or phosphate drink which we paid for from our own earnings.  After that we sit around the park and talk and talk, the way teenagers always do.

So for three summers I worked picking crops and earned well over $200, most of which I put into U.S. Savings Bonds.  I know this for a fact because when I received my Social Security Statement at age 62, there were the earnings from those years listed on the Statement of Earnings.   It was a shock to realize that I had been working and contributing to Social Security for 50 years!  Seeing that, I decided to go ahead and file for Social Security payments–figuring I had better start collecting soon so I could be sure to at least get back the money I had put in during that half-century of employment.

The summer before 10th grade our family moved to Eastern Washington.  My parents had me cash in the bonds I had bought from money saved working in the fields, and those funds were used to move us to Spokane.  I hated Spokane.

(This post is part of an experimental memoir.  I teach memoir writing and will edit your memoir to make it better.  Learn more at

Carol the chicken rancher

October 25, 2009

Part 5

In the summer before I entered sixth grade we moved to Dayton, Oregon, in the heart of the Willamette Valley.  My sister, Merrie, recently told me that she had been back to Dayton a couple of years ago and it had not changed one bit in the over 50 years since we left there.  The bandstand is still in the middle of the town square.  The old log fort is still in the corner of the park.  Small stores still line the main street; no big mall has been added.  Not many new homes, either.

We lived in a big old yellow Victorian house on the edge of town–the edge of town being about 5 blocks from the central town square.  Actually, we lived on the first floor of this house.  There were three bedrooms upstairs, wallpapered with old newspapers from the late 1800s, but we never used them. 

The property had previously been a small farm.  Beside the house was a modest filbert (hazelnut) orchard, only about 8 or 10 trees.  Behind that a steeply sloping pasture ran down to a tiny stream which had crawdads in it.  To the north of the house was a barn and chicken coop. 

We began harvesting the hazelnuts shortly after we moved in.  It was a meager crop, but enough for cookies ‘year round.   A neighbor asked to use the pasture for his cows in exchange for big buckets of milk.  And I was put in charge of raising chickens and selling the eggs.  

This was not my first experience with chickens.  When I was about 4 years old my Mother and I traveled by train from Vancouver, Washington to Tacoma to visit Aunt Lucy and Uncle Harry Morris.  World War II was still going on.  I remember the train being packed with soldiers and sailors in uniform–many of them standing the whole way.  I also remember looking out of the train window and seeing flooded fields stretching away to the west, shimmering in the muted light.

At Aunt Lucy’s the next day I was told I could go out to the chicken coop and collect eggs for breakfast.  I was so proud that I was being allowed to do this.  I found three eggs and carefully walked back toward the house.  Then I tripped over a low-power smooth electric wire fence about 6 inches off the ground that encircled the chicken coop.  And I fell down.  I burst into tears and the adults came running.  They were terrified that I had been electocuted.  I was crying because I broke the eggs.

Years later in Dayton, came my second experience with chickens.

At first the 8 chickens ran free in the pen around the chicken coop.   Every day I gathered the eggs.  But because the hens began pecking each other mercilessly, my father put them into individual cages that measured about 18 inches by 18 inches.  Then they began to develop problems, diseases.  I had to go to the Feed and Seed store to get medicine to put on and force into them.  The medicine smelled awful.  And cleaning their cages weekly was totally repulsive!  But every week I took a dozen or so eggs to the local grocery store where the owner “candled” the eggs.  Candling is placing a light behind the egg to see if it is okay inside.  Usually, they were.   The rest of the eggs we ate at home.

After a year of the caged chickens getting sick and occasionally dying, the chicken raising effort ended.  It was becoming too costly to keep medicating and replacing them.    It was cheaper simply to buy eggs at the grocery store.   I was relieved.  To this day, however, I can spot a good egg from a not-so-good egg in the market.

Next…the land of beans and berries

(This post is part of an experimental memoir.  I teach memoir writing and will edit your memoir to make it better.  Learn more at

Snow ice cream and wolves

October 23, 2009

Part 4

Washougal is located at the beginning of the Columbia River Gorge–well, “beginning” if you are going from west to east.  In those days the roads were narrow and winding;  no freeways at all.  Almost every winter the road up to where we lived was blocked with snow.  We were snowed in–sometimes for days on end.   After my father Harry came back from spending a year in Fairbanks, Alaska, he would hike out, wading through the snow for about two miles downhill to Washougal to buy groceries for us.

I am not sure how my mother Cora coped that year when Harry was gone.  They had just purchased the little, one room house from one of Cora’s relatives;  Harry immediately built two bedrooms on the back.  Then he got the chance to work in Alaska on the new air force base being constructed.  At first they were going to move all of us to Fairbanks, but because my sister Joy had such severe allergies, including to wool blankets, they decided that Harry would go and Cora, Joy and I would stay in Washougal. 

Once–and it may have been the year Harry was gone–Cora fried bread dough into something resembling a heavy beignet or doughnut on the oil-fueled heating stove in the living room of our tiny house.  It was the only time I remember her cooking that.   Looking back, I realize that the electricity for the kitchen stove must have been cut off by the severe winter weather, so she improvised.  Fried bread dough dusted with sugar tasted delicious as far as we girls were concerned. Much better than the biscuits she tried to make for years and always failed.  Finally when Bisquick was introduced, she gave up trying to make home made ones.

My best friend, Peggy, was in the same grade and lived across the road in a ramshackle old farmhouse with her father and two slightly older brothers.  If there was a mother in that family, she escapes my memory.   While I only ate food, Peggy could cook–cornbread.  And it was pretty good.  I think that at times, that pan of bread may have been dinner for the family.  (In another post, another time, I will write about the people who lived on Mt. Norway Road in those days.)

A big treat in winter was “snow ice cream”–basically snow, canned milk, sugar and vanilla extract.  Then, one year after an aluminum plant was built across the Columbia River and slightly to the east, all of us girls developed large, painful boils after eating the snow ice cream.  Cora was convinced, rightly, that the smoke/emission from the aluminum plant was poisoning the snow.  So no more snow ice cream.

The winter of 1948 was particularly brutal.  There were huge snow drifts behind the house.  Then a warm Chinook wind blew down the Gorge for one day and melted the snow.  The next day it froze again, creating almost an inch of ice on top of the snow and on all the tree branches.  It was glistening and beautiful.   Our little house, however, was uninsulated and the bedroom where we girls slept was very, very cold.  I remember laying awake at night, hearing the howling of wolves which had come down out of the forests in the mountains behind us to attack some sheep on a farm down along the river.  No one could ever remember that happening before.

So the wolves ate lamb that night, but we didn’t eat lamb until years later in Spokane.

Next: Carol the chicken rancher

(This post is part of an experimental memoir.  I teach memoir writing and will edit your memoir to make it better.  Learn more at

Reading more Afghanistan

October 19, 2009

The Photographer, a graphic memoir of a Frenchman traveling with Doctors Without Borders, presents a picture of surviving a trek through Afghanistan in 1986, by being sensitive to and accommodating to local customs and leaders.  The Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton provides a similar lesson 15 years later.   The message here, however, is that the same sensitivity and accommodation can also be the key to winning a war.

This incredibly well-researched book tells the story behind the photo we all saw of American military men riding horses across a golden Afghan valley shortly after the World Trade Center was destroyed on September 11, 2001.    Around the world there was surprise and some laughter:  “What’s this?  The U.S. cavalry rides again?” 

Horse Soldiers follows the day by day actions of the Special Forces (aka Green Berets) and some CIA paramilitary following 9/11 as they leave their families and their U.S. base, fly to Uzbekistan, then proceed into Afghanistan to launch the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.   We see their skills, their adroitness in working with competing local warlords, their determination, the dangers and, ultimately, the success they experienced in those first weeks in Northern Afghanistan.

For those of us who remember the Green Berets from the Vietnam era as wild men running amok in the jungle, as depicted in Apocalypse Now, these Special Forces soldiers are depicted–and I think truthfully so– as intelligent, highly skilled, and self-disciplined.   They are what we would prefer all our military men and women to be.

Now, eight years later I hope that President Obama listens to General McChrystal, whose background includes Special Forces, to lead the U.S. military in Afghanistan today.  And that President Obama learns the right lesson from Iraq: that it was only when the U.S. began to work with the local Iraqi Sunni leaders that the deaths and bombings began to subside.    Horse Soldiers reinforces the wisdom of that course of action.

(This post is part of an experimental memoir.  I teach memoir writing and will edit your memoir to make it better.  Learn more at