I’m continuing to write some family history for my cousin Karen.
As you know, your grandfather Bart and my grandfather Frank worked for the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads. While they didn’t work on any of the same projects, according to my dad, they were sometimes working in the same region on different projects. This was true in the early 1930s, when they were both working in extreme Northern California on what is now Highway 299, which runs from the Nevada border west to the Pacific Ocean at Arcata.
Frank and Gert were living on the Hoopa Reservation, and Bart, whom they hadn’t yet met, was single and working further inland in tiny Salyer. Salyer was probably just a wide spot in the road with a dance hall, and probably some sort of outpost where people could get gasoline, provisions and their mail. Just a guess as it isn’t much different than that now.
But in the summer that your grandmother Patricia was 17 or 18, after she had graduated from high school in Chico, she joined her sister Gert for a stay at their cabin home in Hoopa. They all went to a dance in nearby Salyer, where Patricia met Bart, who soon asked her to marry him.
The cabin in Hoopa was no luxury vacation; there was no indoor running water. There was an outhouse, probably shared with other cabins, and a water source outside, at which they filled up basins or pots for dishes, laundry, or cooking. The women had it rough. Plus, even though it is in a beautiful mountainous region along the Trinity River, the Hoopa Valley gets nearly as hot as the Central Valley in the summer. This was a challenging place and time to live.
I don’t think Gert had any children yet because I think this was maybe 1931. But very soon afterwards her first child, Ann, was born on the Hoopa Reservation. There were complications with the birth and apparently Ann had needed medical care that wasn’t available. Ann has the distinction of being the last caucasian baby allowed to be born on the reservation. In 1934, when my father David was born, Frank had to drive Gert over the mountain and down to Eureka to the hospital, which was over 60 miles on 1930s Depression-era mountain roads. At least it was in June instead of January!
The only thing I remember my grandmother telling me about that time was that Grandpa had made her a wooden sink of sorts for the inside of the cabin. I suppose it must have had a drain to the outside but she didn’t elaborate. She was the envy of the camp because she could haul water inside, heat it on the stove and have a sink for washing INDOORS. I plan not to complain about anything today.
What is the last sound a chicken makes before dawn in the last seconds of her last day on Earth?
It is an age-old question that, sadly, I think I can answer.
She was our last surviving chicken, the others having succumbed to either old age or illness or idiocy or foxes. She may be the only animal in Fooleryland never to have been given a name, so for now let’s call her Chicken Dinner. Through the haze of a deep slumber and a vivid dream I became aware of Chicken Dinner's frantic squawks. In my fitful pre-dawn sleep I finally broke through the surface of the dream with a start and couldn’t decide what was real and what was in my head (this happens constantly). Was the hen in my dream, scratching in the sand at the feet of a character from the TV show “Magnum P.I.,” or was she awake long before daybreak, looking for bugs under my bedroom window?
Eyes open, seeing nothing in the darkness, I listened: nothing. Had I imagined it? I checked the clock - 5:37 a.m. I must have imagined it, because chickens don’t get up that early, do they? Not that I would know; I don’t get up that early either. She must have gotten an early start and run into the fox, right under my bedroom window. Not a feather to be found in the yard, and no one around Fooleryland has seen Chicken Dinner since. Sigh.
Still, it could have been a dream. It makes perfect sense to me that the stuffy futzy character Higgins might demand over and over, with increasing insistency, over the cackling of a deranged hen, “WHAT ABOUT THE HUCKLEBERRIES?”