Love Lou, Verene, & Mickie

Grandma lived on Johnson Point, a little peninsula of land north of Olympia. All the waterfront houses sat on a bank high above a rocky beach, with about 5 acres or so of woods behind them. It was a beautiful community of cute older hand-built houses, gardens, apple orchards, forest and beach. And when I say hand-built I do mean that. Grandpa (who I never met; he died in 1948) built the house. Mom has photos of the construction! In fact, they built the house around the wardrobe in the upstairs attic room! It was too big to fit through the door.

Lou and Verene, two outrageously sharp and funny older ladies, lived two houses away from Grandma, with their Sheltie dog, Mickie. I absolutely adored Lou and Verene, and for a while in the mid-1980s Lou and I wrote letters back and forth when I was in Texas during the school year (this was the Dark Ages, kids; no such thing as e-mail yet).

I found a stack of these letters in a box in my attic a few nights ago. I didn’t even realize I had them. I am sure there were more; maybe they’re at my mom’s house in a box somewhere.

I’m going to post bits and pieces from several of them. For reference, Fran lived between Grandma and Lou & Verene, and was Grandma’s best friend. Echo was Fran’s huge slobbery basset hound. Alicia was the woman who bought Grandma’s house after Grandma died in 1984. She was known as “Alicia the Awful” to the neighborhood, and completely changed the atmosphere of this wonderful little community of neighbors and friends by being nasty, cutting down trees and putting up fences and such. A lot of what Lou wrote me had to do with “the latest” on Alicia’s antics. Lou’s letters helped me feel like a part of me was still there with everyone, when I had to live 3000 miles away for most of the year.

For the life of me, I can’t remember a whole lot about them, but I think that Lou might have been a writer. It sure seems like it from these letters. I wonder if she saw some spark of writing talent in me and maybe wanted to encourage that.


Dear Katie,
     Yesterday it was in the high 80’s, and it hasn’t rained for a month. I guess you know – – – Alicia the Awful had a rip-roaring fire going down where the treehouse used to be. Fran is climbing the walls. One of these days I’m going to write you a fable – even worse than those I write to Molly. I’ll call it ALICIA IN BLUNDERLAND.
     We spent most of yesterday balancing Verene’s bank account. She spent 13 years of her life teaching college math, but month after month her bank balance is a big, fat mess. I try to help her with my old Comptometer. To give you an idea how old it is, it came with the job when I first started working for the State in 1928! They gave it to me when I retired. It doesn’t subtract directly, but it gets the same thing done by adding a gizmo called a reciprocal. A reciprocal is the number you want to subtract, subtracted from an imaginary string of “0’s.” You try it – – – 675 minus 373 is 302. 675 plus 999999999999999627 is 302. Of course you end up with a “1” way out in infinity. Infinity is half way between Johnson Point and Mars. If you don’t believe me, ask your dad.
     We had Verene’s revolting boyfriend out for dinner Saturday. He’s tighter than the bark on a tree. We’ve been having him out almost every week for supper and send him home with a C A R E package for the next day. The only time he has ever taken her out for dinner they went Dutch — she paid for hers! There was ham left over, plus potato salad, so we had Fran over last night to eat leftovers. She gets tired of fish and chicken, the only things on Stu’s diet, so she lapped up ham like it was going out of style. Stu was in Tacoma playing bridge.
     Well, old bean, it’s time to go watch a favorite program on TV.
     Hope you had a good trip home and enjoyed the redwoods.
     Lotsa luv –
     L V & M


     …The latest development in Alicia’s war on the neighborhood is a six-foot-high solid redwood fence between her place and the Pilgrims’. She’s completely cut of Betty’s and Earl’s view to the north. And to think of the stink she’s raised ever since she moved in about Fran’s laurel hedge. We were talking just yesterday about the development of our little colony. As each of us moved in we put in sidewalks and paths between the houses. She puts up a spite fence! When Fran and Betty want to get together they have to walk clear out to the county road and back or drive over.
     Somehow Echo and Mickie got over to the other side. Betty watched all this and told us about it. Mickie (sissy!) squeezed around the bayside end and ran home. Not so Echo. She lives by the principle that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. When she collided with the fence she sat down and scratched her head for a while. Betty said you could almost hear the wheels going around. Then she calmly dug a hole under it and went on her merry way.
     I made a copy of the onion story to show to your dad [Lou typed out a story on half-sheets, illustrated it, and bound it with staples]. He might be under the impression that his daughter is carrying on a correspondence with someone who has all her marbles, and we wouldn’t want to give him that crazy idea.
     Got a kick out of your mom’s experiences at the Wharf. And then reading about your almost going into the ditch we could just read the headline: POLICE RUN DOWN NOTORIOUS T-SHIRT THIEF AFTER WILD CHASE.
     Hello to everybody. Gotta go now and watch Wheel of Fortune.
     L V & M


     …Not much to add to the saga of Alicia the Awful except the chapter of the tree. A gnarled madrona tree had fallen down in Betty’s Back 40, so she decided she’d cash in on it and work it into her landscaping scheme. There’s that little on-and-off stream that runs through the back of all of our lots, so she and Earl had put in rock work around the mouth of the culvert to make it look pretty as well as useful. With the tree arched across the stream it looked like a Japanese garden. In fact she’d shown it to Alicia who agreed it looked nice. A few hours later Betty heard sounds down that way. Lo and behold, Alicia had her crew buzzing up the tree for firewood! We don’t know what goes on in that gal’s noggin. Ever since the night she and her guests danced and howled at the stars we’ve sort of given her a wide berth. Even Echo doesn’t steal her onions any more.


     ….So you like school. I just hope you chloroform those poor little worms before you make small pieces out of them. Mickie cried a lot when we read about it to him.
     When I was in high school my current boyfriend had visions of studying to be a doctor, so the frog-carving department was right up his alley. Instead he married the daughter of the owner of a match factory in Tacoma, worked in the factory and hated every minute of it, never got to be a doctor, and inherited a few million when Daddy-O died. So if you don’t want to be a doctor and don’t want to inherit a few million just keep on cutting up frogs, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.


     ….Moving was the hardest thing we ever did. Fran, Marilyn, and Betty Pilgrim were angels. They lugged load after load of stuff over here and to the dump. They even fed us for the last few days. When we said goodbye nobody choked up, but the tears that fell inside almost drowned us. We’ll just never find such wonderful neighbors again. This may be a place to stay, but it’ll never be home as it was out on the point.

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