PHOTO: ME, JAMES AND MY SISTER MARY
James Hartley was a part of our family from the time we first moved to Grass Valley in 1934, when I was five, until my mother took Mary and me and moved to Camp Sherman in 1940. His father was Estoll Hartley who was a mechanic and had a garage on Grass Valley’s main street. Estoll was a mechanical genius; he could fix anything. James’ mother had been Elizabeth Reckman until her marriage to Estoll. She was beautiful, and also truly “lovely in her bones.” (1) She helped Estoll at the garage by being his book keeper and secretary. James and his older brother, Harry were our best friends. Harry was Mary’s age and James was a year younger than I.
James practically lived at our house. At first both boys were there almost every day, but after a few years, Harry lost interest and then it was just James. Or I should say James and Everett Cantrell, Leroy Spore, Billy and Bobby Garrett, Kenny and Pinky Karnes, Stuart Dryden and Wesley Zimmerman.
All our playmates were boys. My sister Mary told me that we had no girl friends because the girl’s mothers would not let them play with us. They said we did things that were “too dangerous.” However, in all our childhood playing with boys, I can never remember any rough play. We may have climbed trees, climbed in and over the barns, galloped our horse, walked under our horse’s belly and slid off her rear end, but we did not fight or rough-house with each other. Perhaps it was an example of Amity=Hazzard+Enmity as in the TERRITORIAL IMPERATIVE, and we had enough hazard that we did not need enmity.
Harry, Wesley, Grace, Mary, me
Leroy and James
James used to come over early every morning and stay all day. My oldest sister, Grace, says he also often spent the night, but I don’t remember that. (2) After he started school in the first grade, he walked back to our house with me after school. And in the summer it was like it had been before; he was at our house all day every day. My mother treated James as if he were her own child. She included him in everything we did. He even went camping with us up in the mountains at Bear Springs for two weeks every year during huckleberry season.
Our house was at the edge of town adjoining our grandparent’s and uncle’s ranch. (3) Together they were the most magical of playgrounds. And play is what we did: we PLAYED–every day, all day long–at our place, all over the ranch, in the three big barns, in the straw shed, in the creek bed, in the watering trough, in the water in the gravel pits, on the lawn at the ranch, everywhere. One of our favorite places to play was in the granary which took up a third of the main floor of the cow barn. This was back when wheat was sacked, and each year at harvest time, the granary was stacked to the rafters with fat gunny sacks full of wheat that had been held back from being sold at the elevator in town. I will never forget the smell of gunny sacks. This home wheat was used to feed the chickens and make “chop” for animal feed. As the stacks diminished throughout the year they became islands. We had found a small tool with which we could pry open holes in the sewn ends of the sacks and extract wheat to eat. Each of us children would claim an island as our own. Then we would stage raids on each other’s islands and steal their wheat. We consumed a lot of raw wheat.
Thanks to James, we also consumed a lot of eggs and milk. Having our own cow and chickens, we always had plenty of those items. When James was still very young, mother showed him how to make eggnog. After that, as soon as he walked in the door in the morning, probably hungry from his long walk across town, he would get out a bowl, the egg beater, milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla, and make eggnogs for us all.
It isn’t a huge jump from eggnog to ice cream! In the summer we had ice cream almost every day. Ice cream was just frozen eggnog after all. Since nuts were too much of a luxury during the depression, Mother put grapenuts in it to give it crunch. James was always there to help turn the freezer. He was always there to help eat the ice cream.
There are two things that James and I did that stand out in my memory as punishable offences. When James was in the first grade and I in the second, Lillian Coon was our teacher. She was a sweet and gentle lady. One day I lied to her and said that my mother wanted to know if we could have a piece of chalk to take home for our own little black board. She obligingly gave me two shiny new whole pieces of chalk. The school house was up on the hill west of town. In front of it, across the street from the entry, was a board walkway that went all the way down the hill. It was part of the route that James and I took when we walked home. But that day, since I had given one of the pieces to James, we each had a piece of chalk. The temptation to write something was too great. We started at the top of the board walk and wrote our names, and as many other words as we could remember, all the way down the hill. I knew more words than James because I was a year older. There were only stubs of chalk left when we got through. Not only did the guilty parties leave their signature, but Mrs. Coon was standing at the window watching us. She did not punish us the next day; she talked to us and told us that was not a good thing to do, and that I had told her a lie.
The other memory is that James and I, along with Harry and Mary and a couple of other children, completely destroyed a hay stack that my Uncle Wallace had built near the sheep barn. Usually all the hay was stored in the barns, but one year there was a surplus so our uncle had made a stack of it outside. That was a novelty! We climbed to the top and slid down until all the hay was just a scattered heap on the ground. When my uncle found this ruin of his labor, he was angry enough to say, “Oh! those KIDS!!!,” but that was all. It is the only time I ever remember him being angry at us. I felt much worse about the haystack than I did about the chalk and the lie I told, because I had made my uncle feel bad. I did not really comprehend how much work he had done, and then had to do all over again.
Another thing we did, and this on a regular basis, is that we “stole” and ate the green peas from my mother’s garden. Raw green peas, like raw wheat, were like candy to us, and as soon as we got out the door in the morning, we would go down the rows and pick all that were ripe and take them down to the end of the garden, hide under the elderberry bush, and eat them while I told stories that I had made up. I later realized that my mother must have known that we were eating her peas and just made sure she planted enough of them for all of us.
Our mother had been a teacher in Sherman County, and then Sherman County School Superintendent. When she got married she quit working, but when I was eleven, she started teaching again and we moved to Camp Sherman and then to Shaniko. We were gone for three years. At first James and I wrote to each other. He even sent me a little steamboat he had carved out of pine wood. During the summers of those three years, we returned to Grass Valley, but we girls worked on ranches, and I can’t remember seeing James during that time.
Then my mother was able to get a job teaching in Grass Valley and we moved back home. I was in the eighth grade. Everything had changed from when we left. James was no longer my best friend. He had a new best friend. By coincidence, in the one room schools where my mother had taught, the only students close to Mary’s and my age were girls, both in Camp Sherman and Shaniko, so I had been used to playing only with girls for the last three years. In general, girls are milder than boys. Also, we were responsible for, and helped to teach, the younger children, so we had matured a little. Back in Grass Valley, I didn’t know how to hold my own with boys my age at school and join in their rougher play. James and I no longer knew how to relate to each other. I was embarrassed. I felt sad and alone. James’ best friend was a new boy who had moved to Grass Valley from Portland and who used four letter words–words I had never heard before. He was loud and cocky. After a certain incident on the play ground that involved smearing each other’s faces with hard boiled eggs, and James smearing mine, I retreated into seclusion, this sadly being my life-long way of dealing with problems. I stopped going out to recess and avoided James for the rest of the year–and all through high school. I only heard of him from others after that.
James went on to college, got a good job in management at the U S Bank in Portland, got married, and had a son. He started going to law school at night. Then he had a severe nervous breakdown and was ultimately the victim of shock treatments–“victim” because in those days it was a devastating treatment. It almost wiped out his mind. He was divorced and came back home to his parents, who by then owned a ranch south of town.
That is where he lived out his life. He was able to drive a car, carry on a conversation, read and write, but he was not able to remember his former life. His childhood was lost to him, or at least most of it. When asked, he said that he could remember our playing on a raft in the water in the old rock quarry on the ranch, but that is all. I sent him Christmas cards and got one from him every year signed simply “James Hartley.”
Elizabeth and Estoll died. Their ranch property was leased, but James went on living in the house. He was a good house keeper and gardener. The lawn was always green and mowed. The flower beds were weeded.
Harry now lives in Condon where he taught school for many years. He travels a lot. James’ only friend is the brash kid that was his friend in the eighth grade. No longer an aficionado of offensive language, this friend has turned out to be a personable and successful adult. He has always cared about James, but lives on the other side of Portland–too far away to be of much help. He has called me from time to time and given me information about James’ life. He has told me repeatedly how intelligent James was, how well he did in college, how fast he advanced up the corporate ladder in his job at the bank, and what a good lawyer he would have been.
About two years ago, that friend of James’ brought him to Madras where another childhood friend and I met them for lunch. James greeted me like an old friend and hugged me when we said goodbye. I don’t know if he actually remembered me, but it made me extraordinarily happy.
After that, James got very thin. He was alone. He stopped taking his medication. He still kept up his house, drove his car into town and to The Dalles, despite his drivers license having expired. Then he was in the hospital for awhile, then with Harry, and then with his son, Alan, in Portland.
On Saturday, the 27th of April, 2013, James Hartley died. He was 82.
May God and all the angels bless you, James. Thank you for being such a dear friend, and such an important part of my childhood. I know you will be one of the first people I see at my Cast Party. (4)
1 Theodore Roethke (I Knew a Woman Lovely in Her Bones)
2 After she read this, my sister Grace Busse, added the following: “I am going to add my memories about James being at our house overnight. Often his mother would come after him when her day’s work was done, and she and our mother would have the same conversation each time. First he would say he did not want to go home but would rather stay all night. Mother would say he was welcome to stay, and Elizabeth would say it was an imposition for Mother to look after him. But they would finally agree to let him stay. Then he and Jean would happily eat supper and Mother would pile blankets on the floor by Jean’s bed and there he would peacefully sleep until morning. It was harder for him to get his way during school time because he had to go home for a bath and clean clothes for school the next day, but since Elizabeth and Estoll worked Saturdays, Friday night usually found James sleeping quietly on the pile of blankets. Mother knew he and Jean would be all right as long as they were together, and she just let them “run with the dogs,” so to speak. Their little brains were always buzzing about all the things they could do with so many exciting places to play.
3 The May Ranch in Grass Valley
4 “All the world’s a stage and all the people merely players.” Shakespeare. When a play is over there is always a cast party.