“You’re not gonna put my name in there, are you?”
“Why, grandma? You plannin’ on running for president?”
I was born Jan. 25, 1920, in Ravensdale, Wash. I was the 13th of 14 children. Rozalja, my momma, and Stanislaw Kaminksi, or Stanley, were born in Poland.
I don’t know why they came here. We never communicated very good with our father, and he never told us too much about anything. If he were alive, my brother Vince could tell you about it. Everyone wanted to come here, to America. They weren’t as strict as they are now.
Somehow they got here from Ellis Island. My poor mother, she couldn’t speak English, write English, read English. It was really sad, but we didn’t think about that when we were growing up. She spoke Polish and understood Polish and that was about it, her whole life. She was too busy having babies and taking care of them, one every year, and then some. We all spoke fluent Polish, and I’m so sorry that I forgot it all.
My momma never left home. She never went anywhere, but she didn’t know any better. She had her home, she cooked with the barest of food. She didn’t have any friends, just us.
My dad was a coal miner, and he was a smart man, but he didn’t know much about raising a family. He knew how to produce them! But he was just . . . there.
When he bought the 40 acres in Buckley where most of us grew up, I said, “How did poppa get the 40 acres?” My brother Vince told me he bought it from a fella in Carbonado for 75 dollars, and that’s all I know.
It was 40 acres of trees, nothin’ on it but a shack — our house. A two-bedroom house that all us kids were raised in, until my brother Vince built a house on top of the hill which also had two bedrooms, but it was two floors.
Everyone moved from the old shack into the new house. We all took a bath in the same tub, behind the stove, where it was nice and warm. We didn’t know any better, just a bunch of young poor kids runnin’ around.
That was in the days of the WPA, when Roosevelt was president. I don’t know where our clothes came from. I know we used to get a catalog, and I remember going to school one time and I had a dress with a peplum, a little fluffy piece around the middle, and I just loved it!
In grade school we used to wear men’s old boots. Sometimes Pa would bring home shoes for us, and I don’t know what got into him one time but he brought me home a pair of slippers with heels on them. They weren’t shoe shoes, they were sandals, but I wouldn’t let him take them back! Hell or high water I would wear those shoes, and that’s how I got bunions. I would never give them up.
For fun we used to go out in the field and smoke ferns. You had to get a solid fern that was dry and no cracks. And then you just lit it, and smoked it. You know, my mother sniffed snuff sometimes. I don’t know why she did that. I guess she had 14 kids, she deserved to sniff a little something!
We used to hang a rope between two poles and jump over them. We made our own stilts with a long piece of board and wedges, and we’d go walkin’ down the road in them. We made a great big circle and shot marbles; that was fun. We played in the hay in the barn. We’d pick pears and bury them so they’d ripen fast. We improvised an awful lot. We manufactured our own fun.
We milked cows, too. You have to pull the teats just right, start at the top and squeeze down to the bottom. I didn’t think that was fun. It was just something you did.
You know, when you don’t have luxuries, you don’t miss them.
“What a life,” she laughs. “What a life.”
To be continued.Melissa Frink is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on these pages. She lives in North Tacoma with her feline daughter, Moxie Moo Frink. She has no human children at this time. Email her at melissa.frink@ gmail.com.