by Laurel Cochrane
The Compass, August 2022
subscribe to the print copy- https://square.link/u/8zXudXlR
After spending two days traveling on Greyhound buses from Spokane to Myrtle Creek, Oregon, nine-year-old Laurel and her kid brother Irving were dropped off before dawn on the side of the highway that ran through the small town.
They huddled close as they shivered in the freezing morning air. It was 1944 and their father was a Seabee in the Pacific. Their mother, who had divorced their father, sent them to spend the summer with their paternal grandparents—whom they had never before laid eyes on.
The sun finally began to peek over the eastern horizon, bringing a little light and the hope of warmth. They expected their grandparents would soon arrive to retrieve them, but no one came. They waited… and waited… a long time, alone, frightened, having no idea what to do.
Finally, a man with a horse and flat wagon came by—the milkman on his morning deliveries. He pulled up beside them and asked what they were doing. “Waiting for our grandparents,” they answered. He inquired after their grandparents’ names. No answer—they didn’t know their grandparents’ names.
“Well, what’s your name?” he asked.
“Johnson,” they replied.
He knew a few Johnsons; he told them. They lived in the housing project west of the city.
“Hop up on the flat wagon,” he motioned with a kind smile. “I’m headed there myself. Once we get there, you can go door to door looking for your grandparents.”
With seemingly no other options, they hopped up on the flat wagon, accepting his offer.
Arriving at the housing project, they climbed down from the flat wagon and waved their “thanks” and “goodbyes” to the milkman.
The project had long rows of attached living quarters with a front door for each unit on one side of the row and the back door on the other side of the row. They worked their way from one end of the project to the other, knocking on doors and searching until they got to nearly the last row.
In the middle of that row, they saw a home with a light on inside and they heard rousing violin music playing a jig or a reel or some other jaunty tune. They heard someone inside stamping their foot in time with the music. It was a happy sound to the ears of the two lost children. They knocked on the door.
When it opened, a plump, happy-faced woman greeted them. Behind her was a huge, tall man leaning his chair way back, a violin at his chin and his logger-booted foot stamping in time with the music. A hot, black, pot-bellied stove warmed the small house and the wonderful smell of breakfast wafted from the wood-burning kitchen stove.
“I still remember the warmth from the room covering us like a blanket as we stood on the stoop, the smell of bacon cooking, the sounds of the loud music, my grandfather’s foot rhythmically thumping the floor, and the shocked look on my grandmother’s face when she saw us! The front of my grandfather’s chair hit the floor with a bang and then arms circled around us as we were drawn into the room. They could see that we were scared and shivering from the cold morning air. Amid much clucking and long-forgotten comments, we were tucked into a big bed and covered with blankets as we thawed out.
“This was my first encounter with my paternal grandparents and remains my most vivid memory of them. I grew to love them so much in the months we spent with them. They provided me with a love for family that has stayed with me over all the years and decades since that day.”