Excerpts from the autobiography of Edith Garrett

source:Daryl Johnson nephew of Edith Spaul Garrett

My father, Walter James Spaul, was born in London, England in 1868. When he was 15, his family, mother, father, one brother and four sisters moved to Ontario, Canada. My mother, Alice Pauline Purviance, was born in Oswego, Kansas in 1879. She met my father when she went to visit a sister whose husband owned a hotel in Canada. They were married on January 2, 1899.

I was born in 1902 in the little town of Plantagenet in Northern Ontario, Canada, near Montreal. When I was five months old, my father got a job in British Columbia. While in Canada he was a bookkeeper and worked for several mining companies. One year later we all moved to Chicago. When I was nine years old, my father got his naturalization papers. That made all of us American citizens.

I never thought that my mother believed in fortunetellers, but my parents drank tea and she had a lady "read" the tealeaves that settled to the bottom of the cup. The fortuneteller predicted that we would take a long journey. My mother decided to make that come true. She contacted her younger brother who lived in Clarkston, Washington, with his wife and two young sons.

My father quit his railroad job and off we went. That long train ride across the country was fascinating. Having always lived in a city, the vast forests of trees made me want to leave the train and run through them. We went through tunnels that cut into the mountains. Because of their length and no daylight, the conductor turned on the train lights.

When we went through the spacious prairies, little prairie dogs popped out of their holes to watch the train pass by. We made a stop in Montana and saw a huge mountain, which had a lot of snow on its top. We were lucky enough to reach Butte while it was still daylight. We looked in wonder at a huge snow capped mountain. Chicago hardly had a small bump here and there.

We were about to climb over one of the mountains, but we were detained. Two more locomotives had to be added to our train, for the mountain was very steep. Before we got very far, darkness had descended and we missed the scenery. Someone told us there were shear drops from the tracks to the valleys below. They said some were very scary. We would have liked to see them anyway. Our United States was a pretty awesome place.

Clarkston was a beautiful little town on the Snake River. My father got a job managing a jewelry store in Lewiston, Idaho, across the river from Clarkston. It was a five-mile walk to Lewiston, which meant my father walked ten miles going to and from work each day.

All roads in Clarkston were unpaved. There were no sidewalks, just paths made by many feet. Because of being east of the mountains, both towns were very dry. Ditches with running water stretched for many blocks down the side of the roads. We had to cross a small bridge to get into our house.

We stayed there a year and a half and it was a wonderful experience. We went backward in time. We had a wood stove in the dining room. A register was above it so some warm air would get upstairs. My mother had to cook on a wood stove instead of gas. We had a pump in the kitchen sink, which was some improvement, but our toilet was way out back. We took baths in a laundry tub.

These were wonderful days. We were in Clarkston for two summers. The house we lived in was on a corner. The whole property was fenced, probably because of free grazing. We had a very large weeping willow tree in our front yard. We took turns climbing to the top of that tree. It had very convenient branches we could use like a ladder. On top was a natural platform. We could sit up there and see quite a bit of the surrounding countryside. There was a large closed-in area at the back of the property with a coop where my mother raised chickens. There was also a large shed.

One day we saw a large cloud of dust coming down our street from the west. When it was a block away we saw hundreds of sheep which were being prodded along to get to the slaughterhouse. They went on through Clarkston and across the bridge to Lewiston, so presumably the slaughterhouse was there.

We swam in the Snake River and helped ourselves to wonderful peaches when we went through the peach orchard to get to the river. Because we went swimming almost every day, my mother did not have to go through the ritual of heating bath water on a wood stove. We sure were clean.

Everyone had fruit trees and we ate apples, apricots, plums, pears, etc. No one seemed to mind if we helped ourselves because we only took one at a time. A few morning doves had made their nests in the small peach trees. We could reach out and touch them and they would hold very still and stay on their nest. We never knew whether they were covering eggs or babies. There were apparently no predators in the area and the doves seemed to have no fear of us.

It seemed as though everyone grew everything here. We always bought from vendors. We could pick all kinds of fruit - peaches, apples, cherries, apricots and plums. We were given cantaloupes free when they were in season, and huge watermelons were ten cents each.

An elderly man who lived near us had huge gardens and made his living selling his produce. He had a very large watermelon patch and when he went to gather them to take to market, he found the melons slashed and destroyed. There was a small group of boys in town who were always causing trouble so the watermelon man knew immediately who must have slashed his melons.

Clarkston and Lewiston were too small to have a police force but there was some kind of law in Lewiston. The boys were taken before him. The owner of the melon patch was a very nice person. He told the boys he would always give them a couple of melons. By the next fall we had moved away, but hopefully, by the time the next season came along, the boys grew up enough to behave themselves. Young children did most of the vandalism. These boys were from twelve to fourteen.

Our eighth grade class had two teachers. There was a petite lady and a tall muscular man who was also the principal. The principal was also there to keep order. Some of the boys who lived on farms were almost as large as he was. They had to quit school every spring to help on farms and took longer to finish school.

We never locked our doors except at night. There were practically no automobiles and almost no crime. After spending most of our young lives in a city, it was wonderful to live in a place like Clarkston. One night we heard a terrible racket a half block down the street from where we lived. We all went down to check it out. A number of people were banging on tin pans and making a lot of noise. A young couple had just been married and a horse and carriage was out in front waiting to whisk them away. Old shoes and tin cans were fastened to the back of the carriage. All this was called a "shivaree". We had had no such thing in modern Chicago.

Because my father was born in England and brought up in Canada, he attended the Anglican Church. In the United States it is the Episcopal Church. Clarkston had a small but very beautiful church with stained glass windows. It had not been used for a few years. Now there were six members - our family. The minister came from an adjoining town every Sunday afternoon at three o'clock. We all had to go. It sure spoiled our Sunday. Everyone else went to his or her church in the morning.

Lewiston had a pretty fair membership in their Episcopal Church. We talked our parents into letting us go to that church for Sunday school on Sunday morning. It was more than a five-mile ride on bikes to get there. My brothers had no bikes. My older sister decided to take my younger brother on her handlebars. I had to take the brother who was only thirteen months younger than I. It sure was a struggle for me, but we had our Sunday afternoons free.

My mother's brother, our Uncle Nat, was an optometrist who lived in Clarkston and had his office in Lewiston, Idaho, across the Snake River. He rode a bicycle to and from work. His charge for an examination and glasses was ten dollars. He ground his own glasses, too.

Our uncle lived on the edge of a large peach orchard; the one we walked through to get to the Snake River. I presume that whoever owned the orchard was glad to sell a portion of his land. A block or so into the orchard another family had built a house. The only way they could get water was a flume. It started near a road, ran past my uncle's house and down the hill to their house. I think we were floating small paper boats in the flume and watching them float down. One day the lady came up and asked us not to play in the water as that was their only source of water, including what they drank. I have no idea where the water came from, but it must have come from the same place that filled the ditches along the roads.

Uncle Nat was a happy and generous man. He took us all to the Chautauqua when it came to Lewiston. It consisted of several vaudeville acts and was held in a large tent. Later, we all went to see the "medicine man" when he came to Clarkston. He had a platform in back of a van and gave the crowd of people free shows. Afterward, he and a partner would go through the crowed selling his wonderful elixir that cured almost everything. It was mostly men who paid a dollar a pint bottle for whatever it was. My parents thought it was an alcoholic liquid.

Sometime during our year and a half of living in Clarkston, a spectacular movie was being shown at the Lewiston theater. My father did not make enough money to treat six of us. So my Uncle Nat, who was a very jolly person and seemed to be very fond of all of us, took us all to see this movie. It was in black and white and also silent, but it was an innovation for the movie industry. It was called Birth of a Nation and starred Lillian Gish. At this late date I do not recall the plot or the admission price. I just know that critics nation-wide were raving about it. It started a new era in movie making

In the spring of 1915, a streetcar line was laid between Clarkston, Washington and Lewiston, Idaho. Chicago had street cars many years before this and we delighted in taunting the new motormen by riding our bikes along side the streetcar and speeding up and racing ahead of it. Lewiston was twice the size of Clarkston and it sure saved Clarkston people who worked there from a mighty long walk.

Clarkston was very small but it had a cancer clinic. We had never heard of cancer but there were several elderly people walking around town, some with cotton stuck in holes in their face. It probably did not help them, but we never knew.

The man who owned the jewelry store my father had been managing, suddenly sold it. That meant my father lost his job and we had to move again. Our family was being broken up. How my parents managed financially I never knew.

My mother got a job as a housekeeper. My father went back East someplace. I never knew where. My Uncle Nat took in my12 year old brother. An aunt in Spokane, Washington took in my younger brother, who was 10. Then, my sister and I went to live with different families in Spokane. I was 13 years old and had just finished the eighth grade. The lady I stayed with had a two-year-old daughter, and just wanted company because her husband was away most of the time. It was my first year in high school and I had a very long walk to get there. Just before Christmas, my father sent for all of us, and we moved to St. Paul, Minnesota.

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