Once Upon A Time – The Life Of Betty (Potter) Willson #1

96th Birthday – 2016

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.


Once upon a time many long years ago in the year 1920 a baby girl was born in the Scott Valley town of Fort Jones, Siskiyou County California.  Her mother, Olive Annie (Kuder) Potter, age 37,  her father Robert (Bill) William Potter was a versatile cement contractor builder welcoming the beautiful baby addition.  She had four siblings; Samuel age 19 attending college in Long Beach;  Della who was taking teaching exams at a school in Chico, the following year to be renamed Chico State Teachers College; Charles Millard age 15 ½ attending high school and 7 year old sister Alice Minerva going the grammar school.


It was a time of the “roaring 20’s and the worst flu epidemic the world had ever known and was also the first time women could vote in an election.  It was also the start of prohibition, women dresses that showed their knees, cutting their hair and a time when everyone thought they couldn’t live without cars, electricity, inside plumbing, radio, washing machines, refrigeration, silent movies and the beginning of airmail and air travel.  At the end of the twenties came a down fall, the stock market crashed in October 1929 and the start of the big depression.

“Thus, a baby girl born July 22, 1920, Betty Irene Potter was conveyed into a world of change and promises.”                                                                                                               This is her life.




I have only a few memories of fort Jones.  One of falling out of the smoke house and breaking my nose, my Grandfather Kuder picking me up and holding me with great love.  My sister Alice and her friend Norma, with me between them the three of us running from a drunken Indian.  I remember being in a car stuck in Chee-Chee Lane when my sister Della got it stuck in the ditch.  I also remember a huge barn fire and mother moving all our treasures because she thought our house would burn and then the time playing barber with a boy and he cut off all my beautiful curls.


We moved to Yreka into the Joe Miller’s house in 1923, my brother Sam having returned home after working with Uncle Denim and going to Architectural school in Los Angeles.  Dad was building the Yreka Laundry, several houses , the Ford Garage and had to moved the Call house while they were still living in it so he could build their new house.  I use to go to the Circus in Montague with the Call’s every year.   Our cousins, the Busby’s visited on their way to Alaska and Aunt Olive also came to visit.  While visiting,  Eddie Peabody (the banjo King) stopped to see her.  They played the banjo and guitar on the front porch to the neighbors delight, Aunt Olive having accompanied him on the stage until she married Uncle Cory Dohans.


Mrs. Short give me a Toy Spitz puppy, he was my pride and joy.  One day mother started the old gas washing machine and so startled my puppy that he leaped off the back porch and hit the root cellar door and broke his neck. I was heartbroken and grandpa Kuder help me give him a grand funeral.  When I was four and a half mother took me to a tea in honor of Mrs. Patsy Reed who was with the Donner Party.  My brother Pete told me she ate people and when I was introduced to her I was so frightened I screamed “don’t eat me.”  Poor mother was so embarrassed I was sent home as punishment but Pete got a lecture.


I had a lot of friends, Josephine Member, Mary Allen, Beatrice Parrott, and Gladys Gott.  It was playing house with Gladys’s that I broke all of my sister Alice’s dishes.  I had been forbidden to play with them as they were a complete set of china dishes only in miniature.  I accidentally tipped over the board we were using as a table.  I really deserved that punishment.  We always had a large garden, when Alice and I wanted something special to buy we would pick a vegetable to sell, and Alice was often upset because I always could sell mine to her customers before her.    The worst memory when we lived in the Joe Miller house was getting a ham bone for Christmas.  I had a bad habit of biting Alice, it was my defense.  My mother kept telling me “only dogs bit people” When Christmas came I got a ham-bone, no other presents till the next morning.  Never again did I bite anyone.


A very fond memory was that it was always my father who took care of us when we were sick.  We had all the childhood sickness’s, Croup, Measles, Chicken Pox, even Scarlet Fever.  I remember when I was six my grandfather Kuder who always lived with us died of a heart attack, having that very morning put up a swing for me.  He was on the front porch when he suffered the attack.  Della ran out in the road and flagged down a car with a couple of young men in it, they carried him into the house, but he died before the doctor could get there.   Some of dad’s crew lived and boarded with us, my brother Sam’s wife Bernice’s brother Charley Werth, Bobby Gray who became head of Sontag Drug Stores, Jack Lyons who was a great big man so tall that when he held me up I could reach our ceiling of twelve feet.


It was while living at the Joe Miller’s house that I nearly lost my leg.  A ditch ran in back of Joe’s house and in front of ours.  He used it as a septic tank and we sometimes waded in it.  A cut on my ankle became infected and gangrene started.  The doctor said he would amputate my leg just below the knee.  Della was teaching school in Quartz Valley when one of her student’s grandmother who was Indian saw her crying and asked what the matter was.  Della told her about me and she gave Della some salve to put on my leg.  Mother put it on, I still remember the pain, but it got rid of all the infection and saved my leg.  My brother Sam used it on his boils and they would come to a head in hours.


Ruth Brown would spend her summers in Yreka staying across the street, she was blind.  She was about 13 years old when I first meant her and she would read to me from her blind book for hours.  My sister Della during the winter months would read to us every night, the Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Moby Dick, Ann of Green Gables, Peter Pan, Alice In Wonderland and the Swiss Family Robinson.  She also bought My Book House Collection and read from it.  When I was seven Della had a baby,  my cousin Peg was born in the upstairs bedroom.  What a treat, I was allowed to hold her, not like my brother Sam and Bernice’s baby Jerry who was born six months earlier and I didn’t get to see her until Christmas although she was only two blocks away.


I was spoiled:  When my sister Alice was watching me, which was most of the time and I didn’t get my way I would throw myself on the ground crying and screaming.  That ended when I was about five.  One day when I did it in front of Mrs. Churchill’s house she came out, stood over me, telling me  to get up and never do that again and learn to be a proper lady. (bye the way – she was old and look to me like a witch)  Later when I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church she was my sponsor and stood up for me.

The Big House under construction winter of 28



In late 1927 we moved to the old Call house that dad had moved across the road from Russell’s gas station.  The Perkins farm was next to the Russell’s, my dad buying it, moving their bunk house and main house to the back of the Main St. lot, then building our five bedroom home of cement block, which we called ‘the big house’,  where the Perkins house once stood.  He worked on it in the winter of 1928 and into 29 while building two blocks of stores in Klamath Falls and the downtown area of Chiloquin Oregon for the Indians.   The memories of living in the Call house are great.  I walked to school with Bea Parrott, Alden James, Muggy Cloyd, Bob and Mary Allen.  Sometimes we roller skated up Third St., crossing Miner St. and up fourth St. to school. In the summer we all played outside till dark.


The first black person I ever saw was an old ex-servant of the Glovers.  He was a retired slave who fought alongside Mr. Glover in the civil war for the south.  He lived in a small shack at the corner of Butte St. and Broadway,  I passed his house on the way to school.  When I was in the first grade I was so scared of him that I generally ran past his house but mother found out and took me to meet him.  She called him Mr. Cotton, he was gentle and so interesting that I would often stop to talk to him on my way home from school.


My sister Alice had me fooled.  She use to say she had magic powers.  I believed her since one day while we were watching the smoke from a forest fire on the other side of Humbug Mountain she said that when the five o’clock laundry whistle blew the fire would come over the hill.  Sure enough just as the whistle blew we saw the first tree on top of the mountain begin to burn.  From then on I was a sucker, she would go into a trance while doing dishes and stop and I would end up doing all the work.  Never climb a chokecherry tree, they are very slender and the least bit of movement makes them bend and shake.  I know that for a fact after spending a long afternoon in one.  My sister Alice and her friend Irene Allen took Mary, Irene’s sister and I chokecherry picking.  I being the smallest climbed the tree while they held it steady and then they left me stuck in the tree while Alice and Irene went to the show and Mary went home.  It was near supper time when mother asked Alice where I was, sending her to get me,  Alice threatening my life if I told mother what had happened.


All of us kids played in a big open field behind Parrott’s and the Russell house.  There were two ditches and Greenhorn Creek that ran through it, the ditches once carried water to the mines at Hawkinsville.  On the west side was a small knoll with several large oaks.  That flat area became our battle field, war against the Indians, a baseball or stickball field, a fort with trenches, castles made of rocks and even Robin Hood was in a forest of trees on the knoll.  Saturday movie matinees were played out and the rest of the week we built forts, made rubber band guns, bows and arrows, even rocket projectors. In the winter we had snowball fights and sledding down the knoll. We put on plays, sold lemonade on hot days.  We played outside all summer long, ‘run sheep run’, dodgeball, ‘sheep in my pen’, ‘hide n’ seek’ and ‘kick the can’.  Our mother’s would keep watch and corrected every one of us but we soon learned with each mother  what we could get away with.


I use to go with my mother to visit her aunts in southern California.  We would go by train leaving from Montague and mothers cousin Clarence would pick us up in Los angles,  I must have gone at least four times.   I remember the first time staying with my Aunt Annie, she was married to a Pinney, heir to Pinney Copper and Iron (*DBA – as the Los Angeles Iron Works).  She had a beautiful home opposite Mary Pickford’s.  The last time I saw her she was 98 and lived to be over 100.  All of mother’s aunts lived to be in their nineties except her mother who died giving birth to twin (born dead) in 1905 and Aunt Clara, the oldest who died in 1932 in Medford Oregon.    Some summers I was able to spend with my Grandmother Potter and Aunt Lily Creason in Ashland.  I was allowed to do most anything, go to the park, to the teachers memorial will grandma’s boarders, as long as I was home before dark and told them wear I was going.  I even did the same when they moved to Dunsmuir in 1928.



I remember the Herbert Hoover, Al Smith 1928 election.  One day while I was staying with Aunt Lilly and grandma in Dunsmuir the Hoover train stopped.  He was running for president and had two of his body guards with him, on his way to fish on the Klamath River, deciding to visit his cousin, my grandmother.  He knocked and grandmother opened the door.  He asked if she knew who he was, she said “yes, you’re Herbert our stealing cousin and shut the door.  Poor Aunt Lilly was so upset she cried all day, all grandma would say is he took all the inheritance and put himself through Stanford.

The entrance to the Big House

When we first moved into our big house Alice had me so frightened at night that I would tie my big Teddy Bear to the bed with a large doll and sleep between them.  She said Grampa Kuder who had died in 1927 would come at night and put his coat in our closet.  My dad put a stop to her scaring me but one black and windy night in October she locked me out on the back porch and told me goblins and witches were coming to get me.  The wind blowing between the house and garage would make a moaning sound.  I was scared as I believed she had special powers, so scarred I passed out and my Dad found me.  I was a tattle tale that time.


Every summer we would go to Ashland for the fourth of July.  I have yet to see any fireworks that matched the ones at Lithia Park.  We always brought home from Uncle Andrews’s orchard,  apples, pears, apricots peaches and plums, enough fruit to can for the year.  During the summer of 1929 mother’s cousin Clearance and his bride came to visit, they were on their way to Europe and had a brand new Cord.  Uncle Pinney committed suicide when the stock market crashed and  Aunt Annie lost millions but moved to Pasadena, then to Baldwin Park where she bought a store and three houses, Aunt Olive living in one houses.  Uncle Cory was an alcoholic, I remember Aunt Olive being so happy he quit drinking, instead he was taking two bottle of medicinal tonic a day, 60% alcohol, he later died of TB.


I joined the  Girl Scouts and we would go to Ashland for a week every year.  As a girl scout I climbed Black Butte, also as high as Thumb rock on Mt. Shasta but when I was eleven I didn’t get to go, all the money I had saved for the trip went to buy Alice a wedding dress. That year I learned how and where babies came from.  Mother gave me her medical book that showed all the female and male parts, telling me to read it.  The pictures alone were education, what an education.  Bea Parrott, Alice Larson and Jerry Saxton were soon educated by me, my good friends were well informed.


As soon as I was old enough I had to watch my nieces and nephews, Jerry was six, Peggy six and half, Bobby five and half and Bud 8 years, younger than I.  The only time my father ever threaten to spank me was when I was watching them.  He had a big long work table, standing about three feet off the ground and I had built a playhouse on it using a latter to get up on it.  I wouldn’t let them play in my playhouse, I was afraid they might fall and they went crying to my dad.  He sent me inside promising to spank me for being selfish and I locked myself in my bedroom and when he found out why I wouldn’t let the little ones in my playhouse he came to the door to apologized, but l didn’t stop crying.  After he brought me some ice cream I accepted his apology.  It was a real hurt to think that he thought I was selfish, for to me my father was everything.


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