D. E. Larsen, DVM
My mother was born on August 14, 1913, as Dolores Lorrene Davenport. She was born on the family farm on Catching Creek, out of Myrtle Point, Oregon.
The fifth child in a family of ten, she learned how to work at an early age. But by today’s standards, her childhood was idyllic. There was hard work, shared by many hands, and many lessons learned that served her for a lifetime.
There was no electricity on Catching Creek until the late 1930s, and the family had a three-hole outhouse. My mother never lived in a house with indoor plumbing until 1950. They installed an indoor bathroom in their house at Broadbent that summer. She was thirty-seven years old.
She went to elementary school at Twin Oaks School. At this one-room school, her family accounted for a large portion of the attendance. Then she went on to high school in Myrtle Point.
She met my father in high school, and they were married a couple of years later. Graduating in 1932 in the depth of the depression, Mom worked at several jobs until she married Frank Larsen in September of 1934. Dad attended OSU that fall and winter before running out of money. They hitchhiked from Corvallis to Myrtle Point. Mom was pregnant with my sister by then. Some 13 months after my sister was born, my oldest brother came along.
Dad went to work in the woods, and they lived in logging camps in Coos County for a time. One shack they lived in, they purchased for forty dollars. It had a dirt floor, no water, no plumbing, no electricity. They couldn’t sell it when they were leaving, so they just left it.
In those years, one car was luxury, two cars were unheard of for most people. Once, when they lived out of Allegany on the Coos River, my sister was whittling on a door frame, dropped the knife, and it stuck in her eye. Dad was at work with the car. Mom had no phone, no car, no close neighbors, and my oldest brother was too young to run for help. Mom held my sister on her lap with a washcloth over the knife until Dad got home from work. They took my sister to the doctor then. The injury looked far worse than it was, but imagine the stress of that situation.
My second brother was born in 1941, and I followed in 1945. Shortly after I was born, we moved from the Coos River back to Catching Creek. And then, they purchased a small ranch above Broadbent in December of 1949.
Things like a telephone and electricity were commonplace by the late 1940s. And most houses had running water by then, gravity fed from a spring on the hill in our case, both on Catching Creek and at Broadbent. The telephone hung on the wall, and you cranked the handle to contact the operator who would connect you to who you were calling. Party lines only, and that meant 10 or 12 parties on the line. Don’t plan on making a call on Saturday morning, and don’t think anything you say is private.
To make a go of it on the ranch, Dad continued to work in the woods as a Donkey Puncher. Mom milked the cows in the morning with the boys’ help, and then she did her housework. Dad would be off work in the afternoon, and he did the evening milking. Mom and the kids did all the other chores. The included changing irrigation all summer long.
A full dinner just seemed to happen, every night. Everybody was at the dinner table, and that was what you had to eat for the night. If you didn’t like something for dinner, that was fine, but there was nothing else to eat until breakfast.
With the labor of a bunch of uncles, the folks installed a bathroom in the house at Broadbent in the summer of 1950. No more late-night trips to the outhouse and no more weekly baths in the washtub. Mom was 37 years old at the time.
In 1950, my brother cut his hand badly. We had no car, and an ambulance did not exist. Mom was able to call a neighbor, and she had a car. She drove Mom and my two brothers to the doctor. Larry was in the back seat tending to Gary’s lacerated hand.
That laceration required several surgeries, most of them in Portland. Mom and Gary would catch the Greyhound Bus at two in the morning in Myrtle Point, change buses in Coos Bay and arrive in Portland about 10:00 in the morning. They would do the doctor visit, eat lunch, and maybe go to a movie before catching the afternoon bus back to Coos Bay. Dad would pick them up when they arrived at about midnight. I have never heard how they got around in Portland, from the bus to the doctor and back. I could not imagine them using a taxi.
I have no memory of eating at a restaurant as a family. A couple of times, I remember eating at a restaurant when we were traveling and visiting, but those events were rare. When my sister got married, we went to LA. We went to a Chinese restaurant with an aunt and uncle. Even when we traveled long distances, we would eat a packed lunch in a park somewhere.
In 1958, we moved from Broadbent back to Catching Creek, where the folks leased the Lundy Place, and Dad quit the woods and milked cows only. Mom did not have to milk cows there, but she kept plenty busy with a massive garden, canning, and housekeeping.
There was silo filling twice a year and hay hauling once or twice a year. Lunches for the crew of uncles and friends and maybe a hired hand or two were something akin to a holiday dinner. The women worked as a crew in the kitchen, similar to the crew in the fields.
I was the last to leave home, college in 1963 to 1965, where I was home and gone from time to time. Then I joined the Army in 1965. In 1967, the folks sold the dairy cows and moved back to Broadbent and ran beef cows. Dad worked at the feed store for a time, and then he tended greens at the golf course. Mom went to work at Meyers Department store in town.
They fully retired in 1978. Dad had contracted brown lung disease from the silo and got to the point that he could no go to the barn. Mom had to do all the feeding, so they decided to sell the cows.
When they were loading the cows to go down the road, Mom started to cry. Dad asked her what was wrong.
“I wanted to keep that little heifer,” Mom said.
So, of course, they kept the heifer. And in so doing, they learned that feeding one cow is just a hard as feeding twenty cows in the winter. The following spring they sold the heifer. And Mom was without cows for the first time in her life.
My mother was loved by everyone. She was a favorite aunt, commonly called be Auntie Deacon. I think there were other names. Deacon, also used by my father and her brothers, was a name given to her by a childhood friend, Connie Felcher.
My mother seldom said a cross word. We were always instructed, “If you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all.”
As I grew older, I could read her body language better. When she was bothered by somebody’s comments or the event of the moment, she might wring her hands. It would be rare indeed to hear her speak in unfavorable terms.
Maybe the most consistent way to get her to comment would be to say something was the mother’s fault. “The kid was bad because it was the mother’s fault.”
Then Mom would say, “That makes me so mad, for them to always blame the mother.”
Mom struggled with my father’s death. Dad had wanted to die at home. When the doctor in Eugene told him that there nothing more they do for him, he immediately said, “I want to go home.”
Mom could not allow nature to take its course with Dad. Every episode where Dad would approach death, she would call the ambulance, and it was back to the hospital. Each trip left him weaker and frailer, and it did nothing but buy a few more days or another week. Finally, Dad died in a care center.
Mom’s family was long-lived. Although, her mother had died at 84 after suffering a stroke. Her father lived to be 94. Six of the 10 kids lived into their 90s. Mom was the longest-lived, at 98.
We had to move her into the care center in Myrtle Point for the last few years of her life because we could not find competent in-home care in the area. The last year she was home, she was in and out of the hospital with digestive issues every few weeks. The caretakers could not boil water.
Initially, in the care center, the converted Mast Hospital, she had a room upstairs where the full nursing care was located.
“David, I think this is the room we were in when you were born,” Mom said to me on my initial visit. In those years, birthing mothers were often kept in the hospital for an entire week or more.
Later, when a room came available, we moved Mom downstairs to the assisted living portion of the center. She was happier there, but she would have preferred to be home.
At one point, two of her sisters were in the care center with her. Lila and Audrey were both there. Of the three, Mom was the oldest, and she took personal responsibility for the care of her sisters.
Once, she said, “I would like to escape this place, but I can’t leave Lila here by herself.”
Mom became somewhat bitter as she recognized her approaching death. She had enjoyed many years where she was the matriarch of the large extended Davenport and Larsen families. She said to me during one visit, “People are just going to have to learn to get along without me.”
“Mom,” I said. “Your example will guide many people for the rest of their lives.” I am not sure that helped her cope with her pending death much.
The care centers tend to eat through a person’s assets quickly. We were very close to the point of going to state and placing her on Medicaid. She was down to her last few dollars when she had a stroke. She was in the hospital for almost a week following that stroke and then returned to the care center in Myrtle Point, where she died a few days later. On my last visit with her in the care center, she was able to sit up and stand with assistance, but she did not acknowledge anyone. And she never spoke.
She lived 98 years, 6 months, and 11 days. She left four kids, 13 grandchildren, and 27 great-grandchildren.