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George Sutherland Low, my paternal grandfather, was born in 1884 to Alexander Low and Mary Littlejohn Low of Aberdeen, Scotland. In 1905 at the age of twenty-one, George and his buddy Charlie emigrated to Canada in hopes of making their fortune mining gold and trapping in the Northwest Territory. Making their way North, George and Charlie encountered only discouraged gold miners. Broke and broken, these survivors had turned tail for civilization. Their stories of hardship convinced my grandfather to reconsider his plan. Instead of excavating for gold, he went to work in the coal mines of Rossland, British Columbia.
During the next three years, George sent most of his earnings back to Scotland with the goal of having his immediate family emigrate to the United States. In 1906 his older sister Barbara (1877-1960) and younger sister Elizabeth (1888-?) came over, then in 1907, older sisters Ann/Abbie (1877-1935) and Mary/Polly (1880-?) arrived. The following year both parents and his younger brother, Alexander/Johnny (1890-?) settled with the other siblings in Spokane, Washington. Only Isabella/Tibbie (1881-1964) remained in Scotland for reasons I have yet to discover. She joined the rest of her family in 1914.
George moved to Spokane in 1909, where he worked as a painter. He married Edna Birch on June 29, 1915, and had a son by her, George Sutherland Low (1916-1957). Grandfathers marriage to Edna was tempestuous and family lore has it that she was insane. To date I have been unable to locate any record of Edna after 1917, when she lived with George at E558 Wabash Ave, in Spokane. What we do know is that Edna and George were divorced and subsequently both Edna and baby George disappeared. In July, 1918 my grandfather enlisted in the US Army.
George mustered out of the US Army as a Private first class Engineers Detachment, 2nd Corps Schools, on August 7, 1919 and returned to Spokane. In the 1920 census George is living at his parents home with baby George. That November Grandfather visited relatives in Scotland ,and on December 21, 1920, married Jessie Fraser Harvey in Aberdeen. Jessie arrived in the US on May 27, 1921, and exactly nine months later, on February 28, 1922, my father, Harvey Littlejohn Low was born in Spokane, Washington. It is his story that is the focus of the remainder of this family history.
The remainder of this history will focus on Dad’s story as told to me and written to the best of my memory. It is not intended to be a definitive record, but more a collection of memories designed to provide the reader with a sense of what life was like as Dad grew up in the early 20th Century, a first generation citizen of working class, Scottish heritage. Through these stories I aspire to present of glimpse into how his life experiences shaped the person Harvey Littlejohn Low would become, and the values he passed along to his children.
It was a working dairy farm with cows in the pastures and dogs barking a welcome. The first stop on our tour was in the milking barn where we could pet the cows while they munched hay and a machine extracted their milk and funneled it into a holding tank. Dad had spent a few summers on a dairy farm as a boy, and he thought this milking contraption was pretty slick. The tour continued in an adjacent room where the milk was pasteurized then cooled and workers, wearing clean white coats, hovered over the vats and added different cultures.
“Each culture creates a different kind of cheese.” Our guide said.
“You make any Roquefort?” Dad asked.
“Something like it,” the guide answered. “A nice smelly Danish Blue.”
The last stop of our tour was a large, refrigerated warehouse where huge wheels of various cheeses were stored to age. Our guide waved Dad over to a block of cheese with deep blue veins.
“Have a taste of this.” He said, chipping a couple chunks from the wheel and offering them to Dad.
“Now that’s real cheese.” Dad smiled. “Is it for sale here?”
“Over there in the gift shop.”
“Look, there’s a trail to the beach.” I said, pointing through stands of seagrass.
“Let’s see what we can find.”
We skidded down the path to the beach. Breathing in the briny fragrance of tide-washed air, we turned over rocks searching for critters. Pelagic Cormorants basked regally in the emerging sunshine, while Kingfishers swooped over the bay, then dove precipitously into the surf for small fry. Glaucous Gulls cried from nests atop pilings, their droppings crusted white over the grey weathered wood.
“Hey, here comes the ferry!” Mike called to me.
“Maybe we can watch it land.”
“Looks like you made it safe and sound.” Dad said, as the rest of the family walked up to join us by the Studebaker.
“Would have been here sooner but we had a run-in with a goddamned road hog Packard.” Grandpa spouted.
“You’ll have to tell me all about it.” Dad laughed. “Let’s get some coffee.”
“We have time to spare.” Mom said to Grandma, noticing how pale she was. “It’s another half hour or more before our ferry leaves.”
“Thank goodness,” Grandma said.
“Is there any food around? I’m starving.” Mike asked.
Aboard the ferry we gathered on the passenger deck. Having burned through the mist, sun now warmed the air, and filled the sky with bright light that bounced upon the ripples on the water. We passed by small and large islands, some inhabited only by birds and seals, others accessible to humans solely by private boat. Across Rosario Straight our ferry steered, through Destruction Pass, into Upright Channel, and two hours later put in at Friday Harbor.
The campground, located on the Northwest side of San Juan Island, featured a few scrub pines clinging to rock formations amid dry grassland.
Long after those halcyon nights drinking pitcher after pitcher of beer with friends, punching quarters into the Juke Box - another round of Honky Tonk Women or Jumpin' Jack Flash. After opening the record store, and closing it. Flat broke. Exiled in the bone chilling depth of icy winter.
After cleaning the spoiled milk of others on hands and knees. After the rebirth. Back on both feet: advanced degree, career, nice house, computers, beagle, roses...After the world seemed in the palm of her hand, everything disintegrated - vanished. Mother died, husband lost his mind; total eclipse - for years - but not forever.
Hope forever flutters
like a baby bird
featherless - naked
will it fly
on fledgling wings
or fall, a soft sack of
tiny broken bones
Wish is hope
a floating feather
drifting ever closer
then sailing away
on hidden currents
will it return fully fledged
or is it lost forever
Controvert sensory experience
disregard Intellectual analysis
only Intuition trusted
belief is soul needs
nourishment in sight
only just out of reach
delicious desire poses
beyond gossamer veil
Displaying bright feathers
want sweeps close
then perches atop a distant tree.
Vital and saucy
belles of June
proffer velvet cheeks
tempting spicy red
pure enticing white
genteel sultry lavender
beguiling luscious yellow
demure alluring pink
eager succulent peach
sirens of August
dazzle lure enchant
brash bright bouquets
laugh sing caper
heads held high
brave autumn’s light
waltz with whirlwinds
shiver scatter shrivel
stark stems steeled
obstinate icy nuggets
solemn fierce sentinels
safeguard secret glow
Resilient thorny branch
tantalizing green sprig
tremble in breezy showers
emerging burgundy brachts
awaken stretch shout
suckle sun’s warmth
anticipate pure joy
Harriet paced the floor. In the living room she searched the horizon for signs. Nothing. Striding into the kitchen she poured a glass of water. Cold from the well, it slid down her throat easing the tension in her gullet. What could be keeping him? Jim was often late - but rarely this late. Why hadn’t he called?
Glancing at the diamond encrusted wristwatch George had given her on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, a tear forced its way onto Harriet’s powdered cheek.
This is absurd. What a fool I am.
When he rang the doorbell no one answered.
It had been one of those days when everything he touched went haywire; spilled the milk at breakfast, dribbled coffee on his tie driving to work - red lights at every cross street - fuel light blinking all the way. Copy machine jammed, computer hung, Jim closed his eyes. Why did I even bother to come in today? All I care about is seeing Harriet tonight.
For a moment time stood still. He saw her gentle blue eyes, fragrant grey hair swinging softly, her casual comely dress.
“That report ready yet?” A voice boomed.
“On your desk by 5:00.” Jim promised.
Son-of-a-bitch goes golfing while I write the report he will sign his name to.
Jim simmered. Handing the completed document to Shelly to be copied and collated, Jim clocked out at 5:20. The fuel light blinked on as he turned the ignition.
Driving out of the lot he turned toward the nearest gas station and took his place in the queue.
Now where the hell did I put my cell phone?
He searched everywhere and finally found it inside the breast pocket of his overcoat. Flipping open the shell, Jim stared at a blank screen.
George had been a loving husband, someone hard to give up, impossible to forget. He died young - well young by today’s standards. He was fifty-five and left Harriet a fifty-two year old widow. She did not want to be a widow. She had other plans for the rest of her life with George and now it was gone - poof - dust to dust. She grieved long and hard.
Harriet came to one day when the Dogwood bloomed and tulips swayed in spring breezes. Where am I now? How long have I been hiding alone on the other side?
She knew Jim from various volunteer organizations and church committees they both had served on. Always a gentleman, she appreciated his honesty but had no reason to pay him any other attention.
A few months after George’s passing, Jim had dropped by with an invitation to join him for coffee.
“Just a little something to perk you up,” Jim offered.
“That would be very nice.” Harriet said. “It’s time I return to the land of the living.”
“Tomorrow then - say 10:00?”
“Thank you, yes, I’ll be there.”
It marked the beginning of a sweet, slow reemergence.
There was no way he would make it to her house on time, but she had accepted his lateness on some other occasions. Jim paid the gas station attendant and navigated out of the strip mall. Traffic moved slower than usual, with snarl-ups at the worst intersections. Weaving his way across town Jim turned onto St. James Boulevard and sped to the Nearhaven exit. Now in open country he set the cruise control ten miles per hour above the speed limit and kept a sharp lookout for cruisers. He arrived at her door forty minutes past the appointed time.
Six months later, they were seeing each other often; shopping at the Farmer’s Market and making dinners together, going to movies they both found interesting, Sunday Brunch at Geraldine’s Cafe Bistro, an occasional glass of wine at the Jazz Bar. Tonight was to be dinner at Tony’s Restaurant with its beautiful view of the sun setting over Deer Lake.
He was already a half hour late when Harriet walked out the back door sipping Cutty Sark on the rocks. Swinging on the wicker loveseat in the corner of the porch, Harriet didn’t hear the bell ring.
Jim rang the bell a second time and rapped on the door. Through the garage side door he saw her car, so she was probably here - somewhere. He walked up to the fence and tried the gate - locked.
“Harriet!” He called. “Are you out back?”
No answer. Returning to the front Jim pressed his nose to the picture window and saw Harriet draped into a corner of the love seat. He banged on the window - she didn’t stir.
“Harriet!” He cried out, “Harriet - I love you!”
A slight smile animated her face as Harriet raised her head and waved.
“Oh Jim, I’m glad you made it. I had given up and decided to calm my nerves with some Scotch. Would you like a shot?”
Harriet ushered Jim into the living room and out to the porch. Sitting across from her on a matching wicker chair, Jim explained his day and apologized over and again for having inconvenienced Harriet.
“Maybe it was meant to happen.” Harriet said, reaching out to touch his hand. “It’s too late to go to Tony’s now. How about ordering a pizza and watching a movie here? I have many to choose from.”
“That sounds wonderful.” Jim said, settling back into the cushions and loosening his tie. “You are such a sweetheart Harriet, I was so afraid...”
“How about a little refresh on that Scotch?”
Harriet took their glasses into the kitchen and returned carrying a pizza menu and phone. Jim took another sip and sighed deeply.
“What a lovely evening this is turning into.” He realized this was the first time he had smiled today. “Perfect weather, lovely view, beautiful woman and comfort food on order. Now that’s the life!”
Offering his glass in a toast they clinked “cheers” and laughed.
She wanted to be a ballet dancer, to stand on her toes and spin into the arms of a strong. muscled man who would fly her gently through the air and land her with a graceful touch. In her dreams she pirouetted in a pale pink tutu, her black curls pulled into a French twist, a princess’ tiara on her brow. Flinging her arms out she would leap into the air and sail beyond the confines of her drab, impoverished existence. She could spin, swoop, soar and when she awoke, feel as powerful as the eagles perched above the lake.
By mid November the lake would be frozen hard enough she could skate the edges. Biting the blades into the ice, she sped forward. Lifting her arms she turned to skate backward and raising one leg, jumped into a half spin and landed going forward on her other leg. There were technical names for these moves; the rich girls in town learned them from their private coaches. She didn’t care, just feeling the cold air on her face and the sun on her back gave her courage. Another circle - loop - spin all free of charge and hers to own.
During Christmas vacation friends gathered at her parent’s country home for a skating party. Sharon and her brother Robert were sure to be there, and Shirley with her cousins Henry and Dorothy always brought fresh apple cider and corn to pop. June’s brothers Charles and Frank brought their latest girlfriends, and she would have the pleasure of being with John all day and into the night. Strong and athletic, he could keep up with her on the ice. Though he never mastered the moves she knew, he was right beside her, arm extended, whenever she reached for him.
After all the skating and a warm supper, the youngsters sorted themselves out and made their way back home. Charles and Frank drove their girls into town and dropped off anyone else who needed a ride. John would spend the night at her home in the guest bedroom. In the morning he helped her father clean up the ice house, and in the afternoon they cut wood for the stoves. She helped her mother with cooking and cleaning, and whenever she could, took refreshments to her father and John. Their friendship was maturing and soon would become a true courtship.
October 3, marks my first anniversary on the WordPress blog. The first thing I posted was a simple headline: Jumping into the future with both feet; ready, set, go! It has been a treat to have this fantastic site to showcase my creative efforts and to connect with other fine artists.
When I retired I made the conscious decision not to get involved in volunteering or taking classes. The one activity I committed myself to was a monthly writer’s circle which also began last October. Much as my writing has evolved, so has the group; just keeps getting better!
George had been a loving husband, someone hard to give up, impossible to forget. She remembered the first time they met on that warm June afternoon at Shelly’s end of school year barbecue. Shelly, a gregarious extravert, had been Harriet’s master teacher while she completed her education credentials. George was Shelly’s neighbor and she insisted everyone around attend her galas. It was a way of insuring there were plenty of people to eat all the food, and it added to the harmony in the neighborhood. Besides, being invited made it impolite for anyone to complain about noise.
“Harriet, you must meet George.” Shelly fluttered up with George in tow.
“Harriet - George, George - Harriet. He’s almost finished with his DMD, isn’t that right George?”
“Just have to take and pass the Boards.” George smiled as he and Harriet finished shaking hands.
“How exciting for you.” Harriet said, as she took the measure of this good looking young man.
“Don’t know about exciting - but certainly a relief to have the end of schooling in sight.”
“Me too,” Harriet nodded. “Now with my student teaching complete I will get my credentials and can start applying for jobs.”
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