Growing up up north
Stores were busy on the day George and Audrey Clunie arrived at their new home in the United States. But strangely, some services were closed that Friday, Nov. 24, 1950. There was a holiday atmosphere, even a parade.
“My gosh, the shoppers!” Audrey said to her husband of almost five years. “What’s going on?”
The Clunies didn’t realize it was the day after Thanksgiving. After all, in their native Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated in October.
Of course, Audrey said, back then the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving was nothing like today’s “Black Friday,” when stores are crowded with bargain hunters. But still, it was enough to surprise the couple that had just arrived from British Columbia.
Undoubtedly, they were still talking about it as they settled in Portland with their three daughters — a son would come along soon, the only U.S.-born member of the family. And they probably made note of the differences between Canada and the U.S. as they celebrated their fifth anniversary that Nov. 28.
Both born in 1917 in Shellbrook, a small rural community near the midpoint of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, George and Audrey Clunie have known each other all their lives.
They were in the same grade at the town’s big brick schoolhouse, right across from George’s home; she walked or rode a horse to classes. They were friendly as young adults, as well — he worked in the bank and she taught music lessons.
When he joined the Canadian Army to fight in World War II, she wrote letters to him on the tissue-thin paper standard for military mail. But she wrote to other soldiers, too; it was something the folks back home could do for the Canadian men serving alongside British and American troops in Europe.
After the war ended in 1945, she knew he had returned to Shellbrook but was hospitalized with a ruptured appendix. He blamed the affliction on the rich food served on the Queen Mary, which was converted to a troop ship and used for bringing the troops home. After living on war rations for six years, the meals were too much for his system, he said.
It was only after he left the hospital that September that George and Audrey had their first official date. But it didn’t take long for them to decide to get married.
“I knew him pretty well,” Audrey said, explaining how she was sure he was the one.
George, joking, countered: “She picked me because nobody else was around.”
He was due to be transferred from Shellbrook to a bank in Alberta in December. So they wed on Nov. 28. “That was the quickest we could get married,” she said.
The newlyweds drove to British Columbia for their honeymoon. They stayed at the Empress Hotel in Victoria and she photographed him on the steps of the Parliament building — both things they would repeat on their 50th anniversary in 1995.
The Clunies spent their first years of marriage in Lethbridge, Alberta, where he had a job with the bank. She worked there, as well, until their first daughter, Barbara, was born.
Another daughter, Carol, followed. Their third, Sandra, was born after they relocated to Prince George, far north of Vancouver in B.C., for another bank job.
The Clunies didn’t like the climate in Prince George. Their sawdust-burning furnace didn’t do much to ward off the bitter cold. “One winter there was enough,” Audrey said.
The next summer, they took a vacation trip to Oregon. George put in his application at the U.S. Bank in downtown Portland. Not long after they returned to Prince George, the American bank called, offering him a position.
George worked as a clerk, then on the inspection staff in Portland. He was transferred to Eugene to manage a branch there. Their children — including son Paul, born in Portland — went to high school in Eugene. The Clunies were active in PTA, Girl and Boy Scouts, and other school and civic activities.
And, as with anywhere they lived, they were active in church. George was an elder, and both he and Audrey taught Sunday school. Later, when they lived in Yamhill County, she played the organ at the Willamina Lutheran Church for more than 20 years until a wrist injury forced her to stop.
From Eugene, the Clunies returned to Portland, where George retired from a 25-year career with U.S. Bank. But instead of taking up a hobby or traveling, the new retiree took a job managing the Lincoln Bank in Willamina. “I liked to work,” he explained.
He fully retired in 1983, and he and Audrey moved to McMinnville. They spent winters in Arizona and summers in Oregon.
As they grew older, they decided to move to Hillside Manor, where they don’t have to worry about taking care of a yard or house. Still, it was tough moving from a big home into a smaller space.
All in all, though, they said they feel extremely fortunate for the life they’ve had together. “We had a lot of good years after we retired,” Audrey said. “Our family is all fine. We have each other.”
She does miss cooking, though. “I loved to cook and bake, anything,” she said.
She learned to cook at her mother’s side.
They had no electricity when she was growing up, so her mother did all her cooking on a wood-burning stove. She was adept at keeping the oven the right temperature for canning or for baking cakes, bread and other items. Once in a while, Audrey said, controversy arose when someone else added an extra log to the fire — sending the temperature soaring.
For Thanksgiving, the second Monday each October, her mother cooked a turkey with dressing and made pies — apple, pumpkin, raisin and berry, using cranberries, blueberries and gooseberries that had been picked in season.
Years later, Audrey would continue that tradition with her own children, even though their U.S. neighbors weren’t even thinking of Thanksgiving in October. “My kids got two Thanksgivings,” she said.
As children, Audrey, George and other Shellbrook youngsters spent the holidays at home or with their grandparents who lived nearby. “Transportation was not great then,” she said, recalling that what visiting they did was on foot or by horse.
They didn’t really need to go anywhere to find fun. With snow on the ground all winter and ponds frozen over, there were plenty of places to go ice skating or to engage in hockey or curling.
During the long, dark evenings, they played indoor games — checkers, Flinch or various card games. Audrey recalled how much fun the family had playing games together. Today’s kids, who play individual games on computers, are missing out, she said.
“We never worried about having something to do,” said Audrey, a tomboy who had four brothers to play with.
All the kids had chores, too. She delivered milk from their dairy, riding her horse to customers’ houses.
“I always remember the sun shining as I drove the horse and cutter through the snow,” Audrey said. She also recalls going for family rides in a wagon with sledges, like wide skis. She and the others would sit in the box, toasty warm under blankets, as their dad drove the horses.
She still misses the snow. “I don’t like the rain too much,” she said.
At Christmastime, her family would cut down a tree from their farm. They decorated it with real candles, thick ones that dripped wax onto the branches. The tree would stay up until Twelfth Night, she said.
They always hung up Christmas stockings, too. They would find them filled with special treats, such as oranges and apples.
Christmas was a religious holiday for Audrey’s family and most other Shellbrook residents. But the children looked forward to presents, too — her mother, a dressmaker, usually made clothing for Audrey and her brothers.
As the only girl in the family, Audrey might receive dolls or doll clothes, too. “I was not too crazy about them. I’d rather have my brothers’ toys,” she said.
Christmas dinner always included turkey, lutefisk and lefse, nods to her parents’ Scandanavian background. And there were Christmas cakes, “real fruitcake, really good,” Audrey said.
She liked her mother’s fruitcake so well, in fact, that she chose it as the cake for her Nov. 28 wedding. Relatives and close friends also gathered for a turkey dinner and homemade ice cream after the church ceremony.
Audrey and George spent their first Christmas together with friends in Lethridge. They were new in town, of course, and knew no one except their coworkers at the bank.
By their second Christmas together, they were parents. Their first daughter was born on Nov. 25, and Audrey was still in the hospital on their first anniversary. She and the baby were home in plenty of time for Christmas, of course, and her parents joined them for a double celebration of the holiday and the new child.
Today, the Clunies have 11 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren, in addition to their four kids. The family usually has a reunion in July, coinciding with George’s birthday.
Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or email@example.com.