Once Upon A Time – The Life Of Betty (Potter) Willson #3



The following is a transcription of over a hundred handwritten pages of my mother’s remembrances journaled in a notebook over a span of years after reaching the age of 88. The words and sentence structure for the most part remain as originally written vividly projecting her personality, the flavor of the landscape and her view of the times.


The day I meant Bob was the day after ‘The Mercury Theatre On the Air’ Sunday night, October 30, 1938 broadcast of Orson Wells War of the Worlds on the radio.  I came to work at my child watching house cleaning job and found everything packed, they were responding to the broadcast and fleeing to the Marble Mountains.  The lady apparently realized it was a broadcast deciding to go to work telling me to unpack the boxes.  Her husband decided he wanted to play with my boobs, I quit and walked out.


I went to Roe Smith’s, she was waiting for her boyfriend, the person who brought him by in the CCC truck was named Bob, offering and then driving me home.  Several weeks later Bob came to the house and ask if I wanted to do something.  I suggested we pull back the rugs and dance, he didn’t dance so we made taffy instead.  Every couple of weeks he would come by, sometimes driving my friend Henrietta’s car with her and a group of CCC boys.  We would all go out to the Moonlight Oaks, put full beer bottles in a square and then play spin the bottle, whichever the bottle it pointed to got to drink it,  Bob always did the driving.


Just after Christmas Bob showed up with a Chevy Coupe, we went to Etna and Greenview visiting my brother Sam, Bernice and the family.  We started going steady, but because he had started driving ambulance in December he could only show up on weekends.  In May he asked me to marry and we got a license, he deciding to get out of the CCC’s and went to work with Barney cutting fencer post.  We, Della, Barney, Bud and Johnny were working and camping up on Moffett Creek in Scott Valley.  On the night of June 4th I was sleeping in the car while Bob slept in the tent with Della and Barney and the kids.  Around midnight a mountain lion came through the camp giving out a scream and the dogs started to bark.  Barney came rushing out of the tent with a gun.  He tried to track it but had no luck.  Della the next day decided to go to Yreka where little Johnny would be safe.  I went with her, Bob and Barney came Sunday and we all went back to camp.  I didn’t want to continue sleeping in the car so Bob said let’s get married.


I had made plans to be married on the 12th in front of the fireplace,  Mother having already planned a wedding shower for the 10th.   , So much for the wedding at home, I didn’t want to sleep in a car so then I best get married now.  On June 6th. we went to the Catholic Church my Dad had built in fort Jones but the Priest was in Happy Camp, so his housekeeper told us where Fred Wayne, the Justice of the peace lived.  We went to the Estella Dawson ranch and got Elna and James Dawson to be maid of honor and best man.  Then we went to the Justice of the Peace house and were married at nine o’clock at night.  We were the second couple he had ever married.  He had palsy and the bible shook so bad he could not read it unless his wife held it.  We ended up laughing when my ring wouldn’t go on.  Bob tried to give him our last $5.00 but he wouldn’t take it.  We bought Elna and James some beer and took them home.  When we got back to camp I told Della we were married and Bob and I slept on an army cot.  A Week later we moved to Della’s house, having returned home still worried about the Mountain Lion, we still slept in a room with five others.  July 2nd Barney delivered the post and gave Bob thirty dollars and we left for Oakland.  By the way I did get a lovely wedding shower on the 10th, Bob took me home for it.  With our $30 and a 1935 Chevy coupe we went to Oakland to try to find work, gas was 25 cents a gallon .  Our first night alone was in a $2 per night motel in San Pablo, we had been married 27 days.


The next day we went to see Mrs. Peduzzi, she raised Bob until he was 16, then kicked him out. We stayed with Mrs. Peduzzi for three days, our car was robbed and they took a small cedar chest that held my jewelry and our marriage license.  Then went to see Grace, Bob’s sister in San Jose.  Her husband was a dispatcher for the teamsters and was running for President of the Teamsters Union.  He would not help Bob find a job, didn’t want it said he patronized a nonunion person.  We stayed a week and then went back to Oakland where Bob found a job in a restaurant for 23 cent per hour plus meals, I couldn’t find any work having no skills. The first two months we rented a one room 10 x 10 apartment with a bed, dresser, hot plate chair and bathroom sink bath for $12.50 a month,  what a come down for me from the big house at home.  You make the bed you lay in….and I was to proud to let my parents know, writing glowing letters home, a pack of lies.


The first of September Bob got on with the WPA, (Works Project Administration)  building Oak Knoll Golf Course for $56 a month.  I let my pride rule me and never asked my parents for money or ever let them know Bob was working for the WPA.  My oldest brother Pete was water commissioner for Yreka and hated Roosevelt’s policies, another kept secret, my brother  always called the WPA welfare. With Bob making $56 a month we moved, the same building but to a 2 room apartment, still sharing the bath room with five others.  Our so- called living room had a Murphy Bed, ( a vertically hinged wall stored bed) the kitchen had a gas stove, sink, cupboard, table and 2 chairs.  We were coming up in the world.  I could even wash our clothes by hand and hang them on a line.  We would go to the 6th St. market on Saturday and buy what little we needed.  Our first Thanksgiving I cried most of the Day, it fell at the end of the month and we didn’t have much to eat.  The gentleman who lived in the basement said he would share his can of Bully Beef if I would cook dinner.  It was a deal, Bully Beef, corn meal with hot sauce, canned string beans and my last package of Jell-O.  The table was set beautifully, my wedding shower dishes, fedora crystal glasses, silver, linen table cloth and napkins even candles .


We went to Yreka for Christmas, it was Bob’s first Christmas, when he lived with the Peduzzi’s he didn’t get any presents.  It was hell to be 21 before you got your first Christmas present.  I bought our Christmas with my saved S&G stamps and made some of gifts with linen I got at my shower and painted some bottle to look like vases, oh the things you can come up with when you have no money.  My parent gave me a dress for Christmas and Bob a shirt, just before heading home my dad bought gas to get back to Oakland and gave us $30.  (We were rich).


Della a wrote mother was sick so I took the bus home.  She was alright when I got there so I only only spent a few days.  Siskiyou County State Senator Randolph  Collier was going to San Francisco so he gave me a ride back, 90 mile per hour all the way.  When I got back Bob said Henrietta had visited and stayed the night.  She was working at a dime and dance place on San Pablo Ave.  She showed up the next day but didn’t stay long and never came back, I wonder why??Bob started driving dump truck, getting a raise to $97 a month, working at Oak Knoll Golf Club.  We moved to a three room furnished apartment on 26th St just off San Pablo.  Living room bedroom, kitchen and our own bath, (God Sent),  mother coming for a visit on her way south to see her aunts


Our first New Year was spent with Ann and Vernon, we went to the T&D theatre.  It had the original Trapp family singing, plus a group of harmonica players and the movie South of the Border.  Before going to the T&D we stopped off a bar, tending the bar was one of Bob’s buddy’s.  He gave Bob a water glass full of gin.  By the time we got to the T&D, Bob was drunk.  I had never seen him drunk before.  He kept shouting “I see Gene Autry, but which one is singing”.  Everyone else thought it was funny but I moved to a different seat.


You could only be on WPA for nine months, so June 1st 1940 we packed up and went to see Bob’s sister Grace and Kelly Edwards for a couple of weeks then home to Yreka.   While we were at Graces I got pregnant.  When I was home the prior January I looked up when to get pregnant and have a baby on born on Bob’s birthday.  Mothers medical book had told me when in June to conceive, it was while we were at Graces.   I wouldn’t let it be said that Bob and I lived off mother and Dad, Bob was working for Pete and Dad.  We stayed a couple of weeks at my brother Pete and Ann’s house while they were visiting Minnesota. Then I made the downstairs back bedroom at mothers into a kitchen dinning, sitting area and the north bedroom upstairs for sleeping, giving Mother $ 25 per month for it.


Pete was always belittling Bob, but my Dad really liked him, Bob was working on the Montague and Terrigar ranch with Dad.  Between Christmas and New Year’s Grace called Bob saying that Kelly would get Bob in the Teamster Union and find him a job.  It was unexpected but we packed up and left for San Jose.  Bob went to work at Camp Roberts.  I stayed with Grace about a week then joined Bob in a one room motel with a bath along the railroad tracks.  It had a hot plate for cooking.  (Hmm…going backwards).



The first of March Bob took me back to Yreka and on the 18th of March Gary Michael was born.  My water broke about 10 a.m. on the 17th, Harry took me to the hospital.  Mike was born at 12 a.m. the next day.  He had a cut on his forehead from the instruments and a paralyzed jaw, I had 14 stitches inside, 16 outside.  Doctor Charles Pius had to be sobered up to deliver Gary, the nurse refused to deliver him because I was so small and my sister Alice had lost a baby a couple of years earlier.  They wouldn’t let me push until the doctor got there, poor little Mike.  I came home and on the tenth day lost my afterbirth, Ann came and cleaned me up.  The day Mike was born Bob drove all that night to get there, then turning around having to return to Camp Roberts.


The doctor didn’t think Mike would live as he couldn’t move his jaws.  They pumped my breast while in the hospital and gave my milk to the Walker baby, Bernice’s sister who had died giving birth about two weeks earlier, the baby had difficulty digesting regular milk.  Once at home mother pumped my breast and fed Mike with an eye dropper.  My father spent his time massaging baby Mikes jaws so he could learn to nurse.  It worked and by the end of ten days he was nursing.  I stayed about three weeks at home.  Dad would give Mike a little warm whiskey and hot water when he had colic.


Ted Member gave me a ride to the San Pablo Hotel in Oakland where Bob meant us.  We went back to Santa Margarita, this time on the other side of the road, same motel but not next to the railroad tracks.  After a couple of week we found an apartment in Atascadero.  Three rooms in the crotch of an huge Oak tree.  The limbs divided the three room, it even had a bathroom.  When the wind blew the apartment would rock.  Mother came for a visit and we took her to L.A..  In L.A. we bought a different car, and when we got back to our apartment we found out Bob was fired for not showing up in time.  We went to Graces and stayed in a small house in Cupertino.  Bob’s Brother Joe came to see us.


Bob couldn’t find work so went back to Yreka to our old rooms at home. Bob worked for Dad and we paid rent.  We stayed in Yreka in the apartment for about a month and a half,  paying our way more than any sister ever did when they came home,  even though Della always worked when she was there.  Dad died of a broken intestine in August.  He was only sick one day and was holding my hand when he took his last breath.  Pete telling mother she would have  to sell the big house and we should move.  My father having the largest funeral Siskiyou County ever had.


One Response to “Once Upon A Time – The Life Of Betty (Potter) Willson #3”

  1. Tricia Kilfoil Says:

    I want more now…..

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