At various times I lived in a big, old house at the edge of a pioneer cemetery; in a small more modern house near the University of Oregon Campus; and, in the summers in a rustic lodge in the mountains above Oakridge, Oregon.
My parents, Mary and Arthur McAlister, my three brothers, my one sister and myself lived in the more modern house. We also lived in a small house on Walnut Street before my younger sister and brother were born.
I washed dishes for my family from the time I was four. When I was six, I began learning to cook. I could read by then from listening when my mother was teaching my older brother. My first experiment with cooking was rather discouraging. I could read, but I misunderstood the directions and added the milk to the dry ingredients while they were in the flour sifter. That made a very sticky mess. I also dusted furniture and helped take care of my little brother and sister.
At my grandmother's place in the mountains (near Oakridge, Oregon, later named Kitson's Hot Mineral Springs) I learned to iron with flat irons, which were heated on the big wood burning range. I also helped my grandmother with the dishes. At first she had a wooden sink, and a range that had a water reservoir at one end. The cold water was piped into the sink from a spring on the hills above the lodge. Sometimes we children polished the windows for grandmother.
When we were at grandmothers we often ate venison and sometimes bear meat. Since there was no ice or refrigeration the meat had to be canned. Grandmother raised ducks, chickens, goats, and bees. Also she kept a cow and sometimes we churn the butter. Grandmother made her own bread and stacks of sugar cookies. In the winter one could not go to the store, which was eight miles away, so grandmother had to keep a good supply of canned goods and staples on hand.
When we were in Eugene, we could walk to the grocery store so we weren't obliged to stock up so heavily. She also kept a cow and my father used to cut up rutabagas to mix with bran for the cow. He fed her out of a large wooden bowl. There were no super markets then. The stores were all quite small and not many of the streets were paved. Instead of cement walks there were wooden walks. One time my brother stepped into a hole in a board walk and was stung by the bees who lived there. We usually had oatmeal for breakfast and on Sunday nights we had bread and milk for supper.
Women were wearing quite long dresses then. I thought some of mother's clothes were quite beautiful. She had a natural fiber dress from the Philippines with open work embroidery in a vivid blue. I remember another of her dresses that was a narrow-striped pink and white silk material. After she had quit wearing it, I once got to wear it to a costume party. The boys of the family at one period wore knickers and striped blazers. When they were quite small, mother made them sailor suits with blue or red trim. She made dresses for me and my sister, too. I liked the dresses but I hated wearing long black cotton stockings with them. My little sister wore high button shoes which I remember very well as she once tried to sew a button back on by herself and stuck the needle into her finger.
We played hide and go seek, marbles, blind mans bluff, and anti-over, which was throwing the ball over the roof of a play house and if those on the other side caught it, they tried to run around the building fast enough to hit one of the opposite side with the ball. We also played at fencing with stick swords. My sister and I had dolls and doll buggies. One of my dear aunts made me a complete layette for one of my baby dolls-even crocheted bootees and sweaters.
Our dad sometimes took us canoeing on the millrace. When we were in the mountains, he took us fishing. In town we went to the movies very seldom. We learned to swim at the first men's pool on the campus of University of Oregon. My older brother also made fudge for us sometimes or took us for hikes. Mother read to us almost every evening until we were all old enough to read to ourselves.
There were very few cars in Eugene in the early days. There used to be trolley cars and the track went right in front of our house. When the boys were old enough to have paper routes they had bicycles. We all had roller skates. We once traveled to the mountains in a house drawn wagon. Sometimes we rode in an old coal burning train. One could get cinders in the eye from opening the window. The conductor had to light the lamps in the passenger cars when the train went through the long tunnel.
The houses around us had large yards and quite a few trees. We had some nice apple trees in our own yard. We liked to climb in one of them. There were not many other children in our neighborhood.
Our first grade teacher was a young, agreeable person but the school was not too welcoming looking. There were rather steep steps up the front of the building, of cement and other steep steps of wood inside. The principal was reputed to keep a piece of rubber hose or a strap handy. One had to sit quietly most of the time.
Down town Eugene had a livery stable when I was small. They rented horses and buggies to people who had none of their own. There were no quick food places. I was in the fourth grade before I had my first ice cream soda.
Helen McAlister Huntington, 1977
(written at the request of her grandson Ross for a school project when he was in grade school and she was 70 years old)