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106 years with Verona Naught Reese

By Edna Mae Hinger

Special to Okanogan Living

(Editor's note: This story was written as recorded by Edna Mae Hinger. Verona passed away before it was finalized but left a journal of stories to fill in so most of her story is as she told or wrote in her journal.)

I was born in a little shack at Bickleton, Wash., on Dec. 26, 1913. Bickleton is about 25 miles south of Mabton and 25 miles north of the Columbia River, it's in the southern part of the state.

My parents were Edward and Della Warren Hooker. When I questioned my mother about my birth, she always said she found me in a cabbage patch and that's all she would ever tell me. No doctor attended the birth, but a midwife did, and she had no education except what she had learned herself by trial and error. I went all through school and graduated there; when I was eight years old, I was walking three miles to school can you believe it? I can still see that road.

The Bickleton country is wheat farming country, more like the Palouse, pretty much open country, except to the west where you run into timber. I had one older brother and he rode a horse to school but I never cared for horses. I remember one fall day my dad had bought a pony so we would have a horse to ride. When I got on behind my brother the horse kicked up. I got off that horse and I wouldn't get on a horse again until I was grown so my brother rode, and I ran most of the way so I wouldn't be late for school. At one time my brother had a bicycle we would ride double, but most of the time I walked. In bad weather my mother or dad drove us to school in a buggy or sled all bundled up and wrapped in blankets because we didn't yet own a car.

I remember sleeping on a straw mattress. Pillow ticking (fabric) was sewn together and stuffed with straw. My parents always had a feather bed, which was ticking sewn and stuffed with feathers. Small chicken feathers were used, as well as feathers from ducks and geese. Small feathers or “down” was used.

About 1925 my grandparents (Warren) moved into Bickleton and my grandmother had a hotel and restaurant. She said it was less work than she did on the ranch as she drove horses in the field and I remember her carrying heavy pails of slop quite a ways to the pigs. I must say my grandfather Hooker was LAZY! He was from Georgia and grew up being waited on, as his dad had slaves and at one time owned most of one county. He had a turpentine mill. After my grandparents moved into town I stayed with them in the winter when the weather was bad and went to school. When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, I believe it was the fifth, I spelled the entire school down, classes went through the 8th grade.

After my grandmother died, my grandfather Warren lived with us for many years. He died in his early 70's but I don't remember him ever doing anything. He sat in an old wicker rocking chair always. He didn't even go for a walk. He had a beard and smoked a pipe and ate pears with his knife. He also ate his peas on a knife and my dad poured his coffee from a cup into his saucer and drunk it – mostly slurped it. Many of the older people did this.

In the long winter evenings we read or played cards by a kerosene lamp, and kept warm by a wood stove. My parents were avid readers, I remember my mother reading aloud to the rest of us. We got up in the cold house every morn-ing, grab-bed our clothes and ran to dress by the fire. We had no hot or cold running water, we had an outside privy and the water froze at night in the water bucket. On wash days one carried the water in buckets, filled a copper wash boiler that sat on the stove and stoked up the wood fire. The white clothes were put in a copper boiler on the stove and boiled in soapy water (no Purex in those days) and then taken out and rinsed twice and the last time in Mrs. Stewart's bluing water. My mother's white clothes were white white!

After years of using a glass washboard to scrub her clothes on, my mother had a washing machine that had a stick handle on it and one pulled it back and forth to wash the clothes. It must have been a lot of work as I don't remember her using it much. About 1930 she got her first Maytag washing machine with a gasoline motor which was her pride and joy. About 1940 she gave it to me as I was still washing clothes on the washboard. I used it until we got electricity about 1947 or 1948 when I had an electric motor put on it and used it for years more.

The dirty water left from washing clothes was used to wash the floor and the rest went on the flower beds as not a drop was wasted. In the summer since a fire was going and the oven was hot it was also bread baking day. An everlasting yeast was used; a little of the liquid yeast was saved each time and more water added for the next batch.

My family wheat farmed at that time and a memory I remember well happened when walking to school one day. We walked quite a ways and then at Alder Creek, which was a pretty good sized creek, there was a bridge across, and as we got to the top of the hill we saw a band of gypsies camped down there. We were both terrified as we'd heard so many stories of gypsies stealing children. Well I was about eight years old and my brother was about eleven and I was surprised that he was scared too. We jumped back out of sight and crawled through the barbed wire fence, walked through a field and had to cross a pretty good-sized creek. I got one of my shoes really wet, as we had a hard time finding rocks to cross on. We then climbed up through the weeds to get back onto the road to be ahead of the gypsies. I often think we must have been awfully dirty when we got to school!

My mother wasn't much of a gardener, but my grandmother, who lived about a mile and a half down the road raised a huge garden. I do remember getting in the sleigh pulled by horses and going through the snow to grandma's house for Christmas.

At that time my parents didn't even have a car. I spent many days with my grandparents and remember always asking my grandmother to make me a rag doll, which she always did. My grandmother was a big force in my life and a person everyone respected and liked. Her biggest joy was in giving. I remember every time she bought herself new underwear she bought some for my mother also. Women at that time made most of their own clothes and saved every scrap of fabric to make pieced quilts, and when clothes wore out they made rag rugs out of them. Everything you bought in town was wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string and every scrap of string was saved. I remember rugs being made with rags and string, and nearly everyone had a ball of string 3 or 4 inches in diameter.

Our meat in the summer was cured pork. The pigs were butchered in the winter; the hams, shoulders and bacon cured in a smoke house. Sausage was cooked and put in a crock and fat poured over it or sealed in a jar. At one time we had an ice house. Dad cut ice in the winter from the Columbia River, 24 miles away, and put it in this house, well covered with sawdust.

Our telephone was on a party line. My mother nearly always listened when anyone's number was ringing (which I think was a common practice). My parents number rang 3 shorts. There were long rings and short rings and you turned the hand crank longer for the long rings.

My parents wheat farmed and during the war and wheat was a good price; thinking it would last forever they spent money wildly and suddenly WWII ended, the price of wheat went down and dry years came and they lost everything. I remember them having nice rugs, beautiful lamps, a phonograph and and ice box. The iceboxes had a block of ice you put in the top and it slowly melted down the back of the icebox into a drip pan, which had to be emptied every evening. When they lost their farm we moved into an old drafty house on another farm next to my grandparents.

I graduated in 1932, as valedictorian at the height of the Great Depression, which didn't end until the 2nd World War erupted. Six months after graduation, I married Raymond “Bud” Naught. He was three years older than me and also went to school in Bickleton and we dated a couple years and decided we wanted to get married. The first year we dated, Bud asked me to go to a dance, and we had a blizzard, but he rode horseback seven miles into town, losing his hat on the way. His family lived on a farm more towards Mabton and he rode his horse seven miles to go to school, as did his older sister. His sister went on to college at Ellensburg after she graduated and became a teacher.

We were married the 20th of December, a huge mistake as right after that is Christmas and then the day after Christmas is my birthday. (She laughed at that. We did her story as she was going to celebrate her 106th birthday, but she didn't like holidays, so she passed away on Christmas morning, the day before her birthday). We got up to the worst snowstorm that day, and we went to Yakima to get married, and the best man went with us. Bickleton is 3,000-feet high, and the wind always blows and the roads were all drifted shut. My dad had an “open Model T Ford car” and he had to drive me out through the fields, around the snow drifts and met up where Bud was waiting in the middle of the field in his parent's Pontiac car because he couldn't drive in because of all the snow. An “open” car didn't have a top on it so was interesting for winter driving. It was a cold, snowy, and windy day; we couldn't have found a worse day to get married, but my husband worked on their ranch with his Dad, and he had to get the farm work done so we had time to get married.

When we got to the Yakima Valley, they hadn't had any snow, so we talked about staying all night but decided we might not get back home if we didn't go right back. They don't have the winters there like they used to.

Bud's parents had an empty house on another part of their place, and we moved in there, and he worked with his dad for several years. Every time one of the kids got married, they went to live in that house until they were able to get something of their own. It was an old homestead house someone built when they homesteaded there, and there were no “nice” houses at that time. It didn't have water or anything like that, but it was comfortable, I guess. We didn't have money in those times to fix it up other than painting it inside, and that was about it. No one had electricity at that time; a few people like the banker had his own Delco plant, which was a battery-operated plant, electric lights and such could run off from. There wasn't electricity in many areas until after the second World War when the government started putting it in all over the state where it hadn't been before.

About the first week in January 1933 we went to town in the sled and horses as we couldn't get to town in the car, and the first thing we heard was that Roosevelt had closed all the banks in the United States that hadn't closed already because of no money. We were going to take out what little money we had in the bank, which was probably about $50 to last us until spring. I think my husband had probably a couple dollars in his pocket and his dad had about a dollar in his pocket and there wasn't any money, period, only what you had in your pocket. The people were saying there would be a revolution. I don't remember how long they were closed.

My husband and his dad put some steers in the barn and fed them until they got them fat and sold them in the spring for 3.5 cents-a-pound. They had to have money for spring and summer to put in the crops and you did whatever you had to do.”

They had two children, Verne was born in 1934 and Carole was borne in 1936. (Verona couldn't have asked for a more dedicated daughter than Carole. They had a very special mother/daughter relationship, and she also had very dedicated grandchildren that visited her often at Apple Springs.) “When Verne was ready for hard soled shoes we had $1.30 left after buying his shoes and didn't know when we'd have any more income. The only income we had was from our cows, and Bud worked on his parent’s farm for the winter feed for our cows.

His mother and dad both died during the first five years we were married, and his younger brothers rented the place, so we had looked for 'someplace to land' and didn't know exactly what to do. We made a trip through the Okanogan Valley and Curlew area with friends, as we were both looking for someplace to settle and looked around and we decided to stop in Omak and get out and walk around to rest our legs as we had been riding all morning; the Gadeburgs had moved up here just the year before, and walking down the street we met Mae (Gadeburg), and they lived just this side of Desautel at the time, and she insisted that we go out as we had gone to school with Maurice. So, we went out, and since we had camping supplies with us, we camped there with them for two or three days. So, it's their fault we landed here. I think they were homesick for someone they knew from home.

Vern was four when we moved, and Carole would be two the first of July.

Maurice took Bud over to the Indian Agency at Nespelem to see what was available. The friends that were with us ended up in Curlew, but because of the Gadeburgs, we ended up here. We rented a place for a few years, and it was a terrible house. It was built from rough lumber and none of the houses were insulated in those days; you could sit by the stove and you would be warm in front and cold behind but you didn't have much money, in fact hardly any during the depression so we couldn't fix it up to be comfortable. We had $2000.00, a dozen cows and a few horses, also our two children. At that time no one relied on the government for anything. You were expected to stand on your own two feet and some way we managed.

We lived several years in the rental. Mr. Bruckler had a place, and the war broke out so he rented his place out and went to the tri-cities and went to work for the government. He wasn't making a go of his ranching and decided to put the place up for sale. When my husband's parents died, we got money from their estate and just put that money away with money we had received from selling property we had owned with Bud's dad and we didn’t touch it so we could buy something of our own when we found what we wanted. Therefore, we were able to buy Mr. Bruckler's place. It was located on Omak Creek, on Haley Road (named after the first man that had a ranch there). We managed to keep our bills paid, adding on some more land and increasing our cattle herd. We slowly added to the ranch as the agency kept putting the reservation land up for sale in parcels of 80 or 160 acres and no one but us bid on it so we ended up with around 1500 acres. It turned out to be a really nice ranch.”

I just had a small garden at the place we rented as we didn't have the water to support it, but after we bought our place I had a huge garden. (Carole said her Mom had vegetables and berries in her garden and she walked down to the creek and caught fish, and sewed most of Carole's clothes besides helping work the ranch. She said every Friday night when she got home, they had white beans and hot bread for dinner and Carole loved it.)

“We raised cattle and farmed some to feed the cattle but eventually bought our hay from the basin. Our income tax man told us we were making more money by buying our hay than if we had all the money tied up in equipment. My husband's health failed when he was pretty young so he wasn't able to do the farming needed to raise hay. About the same time Bud's health started to fail the government started paying the farmers not to farm so we made money by that change.

I remember one horrible spring when we had snow in March and Bud had to have surgery about the first of March. Jim Glover had graduated from high school the year before and the cows were starting to calve, so Jim would come out in the morning about 8 o'clock, but I was up at daylight and I had gone to Carol and Lawrence's and borrowed the girls little hand sled and I'd be out at daylight picking the baby calves that were just born up off the ground because it was so slick and cold and the little things couldn't stand up so I would put them on the sled and bring them to the house and rub them dry and put an egg or warm milk down them and when Jim came to feed he would come to the house and take them back to their mothers. Otherwise the poor little things would have died. I remember Vesta Sackman had to do the same thing that spring as her husband was sick.

Bud bought a pretty gray horse named Lady for me; she looked like a race horse. I rode her when riding with Bud for the cows. The Berney's, Roland and Marge lived below us where Aggie Moomaw lives now and Berneys ran their cows with ours at that time and so they would come up and all four of us would ride.

We ran Herefords for years and had some Angus and some Durhams, but they didn't have all the different breeds like they do now. We had mostly Herefords as most folks did at that time. We were members of the Cattlemen and the Cowbelles and that was about it as my husband wasn't a joiner and I wasn't either. We had neighborhood get togethers in homes that were big enough to dance in; the Beamers had get togethers, they lived around the hill from our place, and the Brucklers (the place we later bought) held dances. Everyone took food for a late snack and everyone took their children. When they got sleepy we put them down to sleep. We went to a movie once in awhile and also went on picnics and fished in Omak Creek. The fishing was good in the creek. We also had good times with the Berneys and the Gadeburgs, as the both Marge Berney and Mae Gadeburg (they were sisters, maiden name Harlan) came from the Bickleton area.

We lived without electricity and had the outhouse in back, but we didn't lock our doors and didn't lock the car in town. We could leave it on the street and sometimes left the keys in it. I kept my groceries at $12 a month, as that was all I had to buy groceries with, but we had our own milk, meat and eggs and things like that.

We had a lot of bad things happen, but we had a lot of good things happen along the way. My husband was farming with horses when the war broke out. Hank and Howard got one tractor in and that's all there was. The government had a 'War Board' of three men that decided what farmers could do and what they could get and my husband was lucky enough that they gave him a tractor. We had to pay for it, but they gave him the right to buy it. It was the only tractor I knew that came in after the war started so that really helped us out.

(Carol said her mother was very brave as a lot of their hired help came mostly from jail as the sheriff wanted them to work off their board, so she couldn't wear shorts and she couldn't eat at the table with them. Verona belonged to the Desautel Hobby Club for years and did a lot of China Painting, making Carole a set of Christmas dishes and tea pots and such for the grandchildren. They even had members that came from Elmway and Omak to join them. Her Mother also did a lot of quilting and crocheting.)

We sold the ranch in 1973 to two young men from the coast who wanted to buy it and develop it, breaking it up into pieces so folks could buy a quarter-of-an-acre or 20 acres if they wanted, and we moved to Omak. I happened to know the lady that owned the house I wanted, Ella Hampton, so I contacted her daughter and that was how we got the house. I'd been in it before and knew I liked it, and it didn't have steps, which was important as Bud was on crutches and we had to find something I wasn't going to have to put new siding on and it was what we needed at the time.” (Carol now lives there)

After living all her life in the country, moving to town was a total change for Verona, having close neighbors and having time to do things she wanted to do. “Bud passed away in 1976 and we had the services for him the day after Thanksgiving.”

(Verona joined the Omak Senior Citizens and became very active; she served as President and for a time and in 1995 she and her good friend, Mildred Wilburn were the Senior Center Royalty and lead the Omak Christmas Parade. Their picture was on the the front page of the Chronicle and it stated she was 82 and walked 2 miles a day. Verona played pinochle at the Center and took several ladies to lunch often. She along with three other 100 year old ladies rode in the Centennial Parade (in my 94 Lincoln). They all thoroughly enjoyed riding and waving at everyone along the way.

In 1980 Verona married Dale Reese, a longtime friend and they enjoyed their life together, driving a motor home to Yuma for 12 years, where they had a park model, danced several times a week, and enjoyed the many activities, as well as the warm weather. After they bought the park model they traded the motor home for a van, and they took turns driving. They even tried Texas one winter, but didn't feel they were comfortable there like they were in Yuma. It was a total change for Verona as Dale was very active in the Omak Elks and the Masons, so she joined the Lady Elks and the Eastern Star, even holding an office at one time. Dale passed away July 23, 1992 so Verona didn't go south after that but kept very active with her lady friends, going to dinner and enjoying their activities.

In October 2015, Verona fell and broke her hip, and because Carole was taking care of her husband, Lawrence Weitman full time, Verona moved to Apple Springs, where she spent the rest of her days. Using her walker, she walked from her room to the dining hall for each meal right up to the time she passed away. I interviewed and visited with her on Sunday and Monday and decided not to go on the day before Christmas. She told Carole she would be leaving this earth on Christmas Day, and as she planned it, with Carole by her side she left us the day before her 106th birthday. I felt fortunate to use her words in most of this story and have the availability of the journal she kept to fill in what she hadn't told of her growing up days and life on the ranch. I was looking forward to her telling me of her time with Dale, as know they had a good life together, but that wasn't to be.

She certainly lived life to the fullest, both her years on the ranch and then enjoying her later years when she could do the fun things she wanted to do. She definitely “did it her way.)


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