It’s time to make like H.G. Wells and warm up the local model of the way-back machine. Please be advised, however, that this is no flight of fancy conjured up by the scrambled synapses of a would-be sci-fi/fantasy writer.
This here, by golly, is the real thing straight from the horse’s — I mean pioneer’s — mouth. The only one you need trust to tell the truth is Willamina’s own homegrown historian, Charlene Brown.
The reason? Most of what you read here has been extracted and extrapolated from two ordinary but enlighteningly tomes compiled in 2010 by Brown from a series she wrote over several years.
They’re titled “Ma and Pa’s Memories and Other Recollections from History,” Volumes I and II. Ma and Pa are fictional characters representing regular folks living in small-town Oregon back in the day.
Willamina serves as surrogate for those towns and, though the stories may be specific to the place now known as Timbertown USA, they contain elements of a shared reality applicable to all.
The way-back machine stops first at the time when the second generation began to hold sway. These were the sons and daughters of the first settlers, who grew to adulthood in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Their parents were, as Brown puts it, the “doers, dreamers and risk takers who came to the Oregon country to start a new, independent life.”
Some of their offspring may have shared the dreams and even helped make them come true, but, for the most part, they were born into frontier life and tried to make the best of it using what had been passed along to them, in both tangible and intangible ways.
That’s where Ma and Pa enter the picture. The chapters describing all things Willamina are presented in a straightforward, third-person manner, whereas those devoted to the exploits of this down-to earth couple sprinkled throughout the books are punctuated by Pa’s first-person narrative.
Had they been real people, it appears their lives would have begun somewhere in the last couple of decades of the 19th century and spanned the first half of the 20th century.
The entire scenario springs from the creative mind of Brown, who, without exaggeration, knows as much about Willamina as anyone around. She was born there and has made a life’s work of researching and chronicling the West Valley town’s history.
She has written 10 books covering various aspects of the community: people, places, business and industry, everyday occurrences and important events. That’s not to mention murders and murder quilts.
With her husband, Bob, and close friend April Wooden, Brown helped found the Willamina Museum of Local History. The first Out & About story describing this admirably edifying entity appeared Nov. 8, 2005.
Though modest about her accomplishments, she will, if sufficiently cajoled, own up to feeling a sense of pride in having achieved them. She will tell you that her history endeavors have always been a labor of love.
The two books provide the reader with dozens of short stories about Willamina’s past. They are filled with personal tidbits and little-known, local factoids that animate and entertain while also elucidate and educate.
As for Ma and Pa, following are a few of Pa’s homespun musings, always mentioning his thankfulness for having found Ma, a good ol’ gal he realized right away he better hang onto and has been trying to keep happy ever since.
Pa had his own way of commenting on things large and small. The following was one of the larger things. For perspective, Willamina wasn’t formalized as a city until 1903; whereas McMinnville incorporated in 1876.
“Well, the big shots in town, they all got to thinkin’. They figgered the best way to take care of all the gripin’ and get all the things they needed done was to incorporate.
“That way, laws could be passed and they could lay a tax on people to pay for all the stuff that needed doin’. Thing was it weren’t that easy to convince all those folks they ought to incorporate.
“See, nobody wanted to pay taxes in those days. Well, I reckon nobody wants to do that anytime. So what they had to do was put the question up for election. Decide just how many folks would put their money where their mouth is.
“I recollect that on that-there Election Day we had us a high ol’ time. The incorporation passed and Willamina got to be a real town, and me and the boys helped ‘em celebrate quite a mite down at P.A. Flynn’s saloon.”
Other stories cover everything from holiday celebrations to church going, minor crimes and misdemeanors to logging camps and forest service adventures, circuit riders to catalog houses. The roster includes dial phones, city fires, time shifting, the Tillamook Burn, politicians, Sheridan Days, The Big Blow of 1933, city namesake Willamina Maley and stoic mother Tina Miller.
“Growing up in Willamina” is not a Ma and Pa story. I expect it’s more than likely a Charlene Brown story. It ends like this: “Then came high school and cars and ball games and dates. As our activities changed, so did the town.
“The streets were paved, the sidewalks were made of concrete, businesses changed hands, and we grew up. We still enjoy the simple pleasures of sharing an old-fashioned ice cream cone, now with our children and grandchildren.
“Only nowadays, more often than not, before the treat is gone, we get all nostalgic and bore them with how Willamina was in the good old days.”
Let’s have just one more comment from Pa about him and Ma before we sign off on all this nostalgia. It’s about a hot-house Pa built so Ma could grow some flowers.
Pa ended up sitting out there a lot next to the stove, reading and avoiding work. But he accidentally started a fire and the smoke killed all her plants.
“I ain’t been spendin’ much time of late out in my hidey-hole. Fact is, I’ve been downright contrite like and doing most everything she has a mind for me to do.
“I set out her new plants, and next time I went to town I bought one of the little boxes of chocolates wrapped up all fancy in celluloid. She liked them just fine. She’s a good ‘ol gal and I aim to keep her happy.”
If’n ya wanna buy one of these here Ma and Pa books or any of Charlene Brown’s other writings, come on out and visit the Oregon Heritage Excellence Award-winning Willamina Museum of Local History.
The museum is at 188 D Street, just off Main by the railroad track. It occupies an 1887 Victorian that served as Willamina’s first church.
The museum is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, or during the week by appointment — call 503-876-7853 or 503-876-4664.
There is no set admission charge, but donations are gratefully accepted. Self-guided tours deliver new discoveries of the old at every turn.
And that’s what I found out while OUT and ABOUT — havin’ one heck of a historic trek as the way-back machine ushered me through the decades in the West Valley town of Willamina.
Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 503-687-1227.