Lavona Jeanette Long
Mom, the second eldest of six siblings, was born in 1927 on a 160 acre farm in Hayden Lake, a suburb of Couer d'Alene, Idaho. She remembers helping weed a huge garden when she was five years old. A few years later she fed the horses, milked cows, and gathered eggs. Her fond memories go back to the fresh taste of well water, caring for "Lady" -- her first horse (a gentle, strawberry roan), and raising a pet calf named "Cherry" who became a source of fresh milk that was churned into tangy buttermilk and creamy butter and then sold to buy groceries. Every day was bright and new. Blossoms scenting the air added splashes of color to the landscape. Promising apple and peach trees loaded a small orchard. Fruit and vegetables were canned and stored. Potatoes were dug and corn was harvested each fall. Lovely, handmade, light blue dresses designed by her mother for Mom and her older sister added to the love of one of her favorite Christmas seasons. Mom reminisces about the days of swinging from the barn rope, sledding down snowy hills, and riding with her dad on the "go-devil" (logging sled) to gather wood to keep the house warm during the icy cold winters. She rode in the fold down "rumble seat" of his Model A when he took the family into town to shop and take care of business. It was an entire way of life that seemed to her would endure forever, but how quickly life can change.
Unfortunately, Mom was only twelve years old when she lost her parents and a younger brother, due to smoke inhalation as a result of the stove catching fire and burning down their house. That shivering, February night, she and her older sister jumped over the flames and escaped through the front door. With only their pajamas on, she and her sister, who carried their ten-month-old baby brother in her arms, fled to their neighbor's house through four feet of snow. Those in the community brought bags of second-hand clothing to the house the following day. Weeks later, she and her siblings were placed in an orphanage, still known today as the Hutton Settlement, operating on more than 300 beautiful acres in Spokane Valley, Washington. To go with an outdoor pool, the buildings on the site included the administration building, an auditorium, the infirmary, and four cottages that housed up to sixty children. A cottage, equipped with luxuries such as electricity, a kitchen with a porcelain sink, a cozy living room, a flushing toilet and a tiny library. Come rain or shine they walked three miles to public school. They attended Millwood Presbyterian church. Today, she still jokes about the trouble she and her sister would have faced had they been caught eating the watermelon the nearby boys brought them as a midnight treat and how they hid the evidence (rinds) in the bushes. Her high school memories also go back to the night her and her sister "snuck out" to see the latest movie. They made it to the theater and were half way through the movie when their guilty conscious crept in. To avoid washing the many tiny, leaded windows at the dining hall in the administrative building as punishment, they snuck back home. A few days later they felt it was best to tell their housemother, Mother French, (Mother Austin?) who not only found their misdoings most amusing but were happily surprised when she reassured them that their misconduct would remain a secret, kept between the three of them. She valued their honesty and didn't make them pay the consequences. Mom, 17 years old, and her older sister, Evelyn, 18, graduated in the same class at West Valley High School in 1944, in Spokane, Washington.
Shoved into adulthood, Mom and her sister were inseparable. They lived together, supporting each other, when not many women did because economic despair hovered over the land like a plaque. They walked with their backs straight and their heads high, and learned to accept a future that played out one day at a time. Work weeks were an exhausting ten hours per day, five days per week. Her sister was first hired as a secretary doing payroll and later at a doctor's office doing X-rays. Mom held a job as a bookkeeper at the Kaiser Alco Aluminum Plant. As a way to save gas and rubber, she "car-pooled" with a fellow worker to get to work and jokes about how she lost sleep when she could not account for every penny spent.
Since this was during the Second World War when female workers rarely earned more than fifty percent of male workers and steady work was hard to come by, she learned to economize and budget carefully, well aware that if her budget didn't allow money for something it simply meant doing without. Those were dark times. Gas as well as food was rationed and ration coupons were needed to buy meat, sugar, coffee, and butter. Fabrics were also rationed. Mom recalls how women put cream on their legs to give the impression they were wearing stockings, because nylons were needed in manufacturing parachutes. Individuals were urged to buy U.S. war bonds to help pay for the high cost of armed conflict. As part of the war effort, children were encouraged to collect tin cans to add to the neighborhood scrap drive since metal was recycled to build military equipment and make bombs. Steel and zinc pennies were struck in 1943 so the copper could be used on shell castings. Tires were a luxury. Engine grease was saved and recycled to make ammunition. Families were encouraged to grow "victory gardens and can their own vegetables to save commercially canned goods for the troops.
Big Band music was popular back then and boosted the morale on U.S. military bases, Mom and Dad met at a dance held in the "Flying Squadron" at Geiger Field (a training base) in Spokane, Washington. He knew by the way they danced together that she was the woman he wanted to marry. I would have loved to have seen the two of them dancing the night away across that dusty, wood floor. Dad was in the prime of his life. His eyes were filled with adventure and vibrancy. He wanted nothing but the best for mom.
Mom, a beautiful, warm, and caring woman loved Dad more than anything in the world. After he was discharged in 1947 he accepted a job offer from the Federal Government to teach auto mechanics back at Geiger Field. He proposed one evening with ring in hand at a dance -- and they were married three years later at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in Spokane, Washington. Mom reminisces about how everyone shared what little they had. It is heart-warming to know how people willingly put forth their own ration coupons to buy sugar for their wedding cake. Shortly after they married, Dad's job was transferred to the Frances E. Warren Airbase in Cheyenne, Wyoming. While living paycheck to paycheck in various apartments over the next five years, they bought property in 1949 and built a three bedroom house where we lived over the next ten years. Mom kept a huge summer garden on the acre lot on the backside of our house. She canned rhubarb, watermelon pickles, pickled beets, and spiced crab apples. She made strawberry jam, banana bread, and her delicious huckleberry pies were a family favorite. When we moved to Denver in 1959, she joined Sunburn and Blisters, a garden club. Her candy pink roses, her favorite color, to go with the sweet peas climbing the huge trellis in the backyard were the sight of pure paradise. Aside of that was a plentiful vegetable garden which consisted of rows of green beans, fresh carrots, tasty acorn squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes. A giant silver leaf maple sheltered the porch and whispered a song to the wind. The many irises planted on the east side of our house, bursting in violets, yellows, peach and sky blues, were visible from my bedroom window. Mom also volunteered in the Denver Assistance League, a philanthropic organization which touched the lives of children, seniors, families and others in need.
By 1961 Mom was a devoted mother of three children. Her loving attention and encouragement were immeasurable. Her smile was genuine and the warmth about her was impossible to miss. She kept an immaculate house, always making it comfortable and inviting. All of us had clean clothes to wear. Mom could iron a perfect shirt. A can of bacon grease was never far away from the stove. Early breakfast with bacon and eggs was a time she treasured with Dad. He was a meat and potatoes man and every weekday she had dinner waiting to be served when he came home from work. Nothing was better than a tasty barbequed steak, cooked rare, or Mom's hearty plate of fried chicken. In my eyes, her mouthwatering spaghetti was the best! We each had places at the table. We were taught to mind our manners. Don't talk with your mouth full; keep your elbows off the table; use your napkin; remember to say please; always say thank you, clean up your plate; and never leave the table without asking to be excused. Mom was adamant when she said, “No slouching allowed!" or "Don't cry over spilt milk." To an outsider we appeared to be a fortunate family. No doubt, we were blessed. Her giving nature showed. Each year at Christmas time I'd take a package of Mom's special, homemade fudge to my favorite teachers at school. I felt so proud when friends would tell me, "I sure wish I had a mom and dad like yours."
Mom and Dad were married for 60 years. She was 93 when she passed on. The world was a better place because she was here.
Copyright 2020, by Debbie Hommas (daughter)
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