We lived on a dusty, bumpy street named Hamlet Road in a small town called Port Orford on the southern Oregon coast. We were there from approximately 1954 to 1960. I was about 4 years old when my family moved from Los Angeles where many of my Wade family members lived, eventually by the 1970’s I would have 17 cousins and more born later in the Southern California area. My Grandparents Rosamond and Howard Wade from El Sereno, California retired in Santa Maria north of Los Angeles area where the cooler coastal weather made life more reasonable for them. Moving north we did not see our Wade cousins so often. Four more of my cousins on Walker-Storm side of the family lived in Langlois several miles up the 101 highway from Port Orford where we settled because my Grandfather John and Wilma Walker owned a large sheep ranch in that area.
I do not have many memories of the move from Los Angles near West Covina. I relocated with my Mom, Dad and two sisters, Cindy, and Lyn. Jamie would arrive 8 years later when I turned 10. We inhabited a small wood frame house on the gravelly, dirt, and pitted road with 1920-1950 houses built sparsely along the 2 mile route that ended up at Garrison Lake. The neighborhood was an ideal place for my sisters and me to wander looking for fishing areas, collecting black berries, playing hard in the yard, and being adventurous in the piney woods.
The loud clanging ship’s brass bell would be the way our Mother would call us to come home. We could hear it ringing at a great distance as we wandered exploring hideouts, and other neighbor kids on the Hamlet. We lived in several cozy but small houses along the road built with wood, cold in the winter but heated with wood stoves. They would be an inefficient shelter to some of the wild and windy winters we had along the coast. My parents struggled to get by with my 10th grade uneducated and naval retiree Dad working in a local saw mill. The work was back-breaking and physically hard. My Mother stayed home with 4 daughters. We lived on a limited budget and took advantage of my Grandfather Walker’s sheep meat, apples from his ranch, local farm gardens, a small grocery store, and local seafood from a generous neighbor. My favorite food memory is my Dad’s baked apples probably collected on my Grandfather Walker’s vast sheep ranch orchard. The buttery hard sauce on them was excitedly shared by my sisters. He was a retired navy cook and could come up with some great basic and nutritious dishes. Speaking of food, we loved visiting the family friend’s scenic McLeod’s spacious and productive ranch located high in the hills above Langlois. They would have wonderful canned garden peaches, fresh vegetables and fresh beef and lamb and wonderful variety of garden foods. We would meet for our Sunday get together with hymns and bible readings.
The rich earthy smell of blackberries and sawdust kept us engaged in the hide outs we found at an old abandoned saw mill down the road. It perpetually smoldered and probably was dangerous, but we learned about the history and prevalent use of wood in the area. There were exotic myrtles, unique Port Orford cedar, and acres of coast pine and Douglas fir. These were the mainstay for local lumber work with a hard press economy, as well as fishing and local services existed. The locals would pick salal and blueberries to sell and eat. The area was famous for their productive cranberry bogs. Every Summer we would take pails and fill them with fragrant blackberries. I felt so proud of being the successful young trout fishing person in our family as I caught them in Lake Garrison with worms dug up from our yard. I loved the smell of the earth when I searched for the wriggle worms. I knew that the worms helped me feel a shiny wiggling trout on my primitive bamboo fishing pole, as a 6-year-old it was so exciting. We often cooked them on the bank in a camp fire. Later I would learn to swim in the dark green waters of this lovely lake. My youthful skinny knees would knock with chill in the cool waters even in the summer.
We would walk to Pacific Elementary school where I attended primary school until 5th grade. It was about a mile walk each way. As a preschooler at age 6, I had to wait to go to school since my birthday landed at a cut off point. I attended first grade when I was almost 7 and felt taller and very awkward next to the other kids. I missed Kindergarten, the school district did not have it so I loved school when I finally got there. Maybe that is why I loved school and maintained a good grade point average and continued until I had finished a Master’s degree at 46 years old. I loved watching and learning from my independent, smart, and funny older sister when she came home from school and would listen to her eagerly about what school was like. She always did well in school. Later she tested very high in IQ tests and tested best in Washington for SAT scores.
We would often visit my Grandfather and Grandmother Walker who lived in a log home in Langlois, Oregon about 10 miles north of Port Orford not far off the highway. They had a beautiful garden with big floppy gladioli, mums, raspberries, blueberries, and an adjacent pasture holding cows, sheep, and other animals. There were chickens in the back yard too. To get to their home we would drive past cranberry fields, open pastures of sheep and the rushing and lively Elk River which we would swim in during the summer months. It was rural, scenic and very much in the “Country.” Visiting them was always an adventure and we enjoyed seeing their colorful, unique home. My Grandmother created braided wool rugs, and they had a large table that they used that was used and from an historic bar.
Highlights of my childhood on the Oregon coast were mostly the scenic and wild aspects of the area. Plus fun with cousins, family friends and sisters. The unique Port Orford Cedar, which I remember as a child, and it’s the fantastic smells was a fond and soothing memory. The wild blackberries we would pick in the summer, the beautiful wild beaches with Battle Rock a focal point were memorable. To climb up this challenging rock (Battle Rock where the local Indians fought the pioneers) that was on our favorite Port Orford beach was a thrill. The Garrison Lake trout fishing, the abundant crabs and fish our generous fisherman neighbor would give to us, my Grandfathers ranch-these all created a memory of wildness and naturalness that I benefited from as a youngster.