Always Listen to Grandma
For awhile now, I’ve wanted to interview my Grandma about her life. Over the years, I had heard bits and pieces of stories she has told, but now was my chance to hear them in full and record them for my grandchildren.
It’s hard to believe but WWII to my children, will be as far removed as the Spanish American War was to me at the time of my birth. It’s comforting to know that my children, (who will hopefully be able to meet their great-grandmother because she still runs circles around all of us) will have her words recorded, because she is a great lady with an abundance of wisdom we can all learn from.
So sitting in the front parlor of my Grandma’s house I began the interview.
Marie: Can you state your name?
Murlene: My name is Murlene Dubay
Marie: When and where were you born?
Murlene: Albany Oregon. October 31, 1935.
Marie: How did you get your name?
Murlene: My father’s name is Myrle, M-Y-R-L-E, and he named me Murlene.
Marie: What are some of your childhood memories?
Murlene: Childhood memories, well we had a good time in a little town, and we played with our wagons, and we made walks on top of the fence and pretended we were acrobats, and we did all sorts of creative things. We didn’t have television, but we had radio then.
Marie: What kind of home entertainment was there?
Murlene: Well we had the radio, and you could read stories, and you could ride your bicycles and a lot of physical things, and you could read books. I had a pile in my closet.
Marie: Can you describe what Shedd, Oregon was like when you were growing up?
Murlene: It was a delightful little town and most of its gone now. But I had a wonderful trip to the grocery store. I could stop and see the neighbors next door and they had honeysuckle vines and they had bleeding heart plants. And then the next house had roses in the front. Around the corner the Johnson girls had Canterbury Bells, and over behind the grocery store Mr. what’s-his-name, anyway, he had sweet peas and all sorts of nasturtiums. I loved the flowers on the way to the grocery store!
Marie: You were born during the Great Depression. Do you have any memories of what life was like during that time?
Murlene: We were very careful with everything. We didn’t waste anything, and we shared things. Like we took our newspaper and folded it up the way it came then passed it on to a relative. So you were careful with everything that you had, and you raised a lot of your own fruits and vegetables. My grandfather had a cow and he raised grass-fed beef and chickens and all these things. We had a lot of good food but it was all home raise and we just bought things you couldn’t raise at the grocery store.
Marie: Did you have any “waste not want not” philosophies instilled in you that carry over to this day?
Murlene: Oh definitely. When you’re brought up that way you live that way and I have friends my age or even older that were having difficulty adjusting to the wasteful way that people have. And I read in the paper just recently most people waste was 1,400, most families waste that much food every year because they don’t plan ahead and they don’t economize and all those things, so we really used everything.
Marie: What was Christmas like for you when you were growing up?
Murlene: It was very exciting because we went to our grandmother’s house. First we went to Grandmother Thompson and then we went to grandmother McKinleys. And everybody gave us such exciting things, like clothing. We were thrilled to get new clothes and we got some toys too. And I remember, I got a doll, and my little brother and sister were too rough on the doll and I had to keep the doll at my neighbors house and go visit so it would stay in one piece
Marie: Did you go to church growing up?
Murlene: First there were two churches in town, and then the Presbyterians closed so we had the Methodist Church. And we had quite a few people and we had a Methodist Youth Fellowship and we went to skating parties and picnic and we had activities that we enjoyed, nothing like you do now, but it was exciting. That was the main social event, was church.
Marie: Did your whole family attend?
Murlene: Yes we all attended church.
Marie: Your mother died when you were nine. How did that impact your life?
Murlene: It was a terrible impact because I was the oldest and my dad said “you’re in charge” and I thought oh my gosh I’m nine years old and I have a five year old sister and a three and a half year old brother, and I don’t know if I did a good job, but I did the best I could. And then he hired a lot of house keepers and many of them didn’t stay very long. I don’t know how good or bad we were.
Marie: Did that bring you closer to your grandmother or other relatives?
Murlene: Very definitely because the house keepers would have the weekend off, so either we went to another relatives home or some of the older aunties that were maybe teens or early 20’s would come stay in our house. So it was a constant shuffling around. And my grandmothers didn’t drive you know. In those days a lot of women didn’t. But every year our grandmother Thompson would go with us to the beach and we’d stay at a cabin at the beach and she would plan a special event for each day for us, which was very nice of her.
Marie: Do you have any sweet memories of your Mom?
Murlene: I think the one I remember the most is we had a really scary thunderstorm and in Oregon you don’t get many of those and she held me tight on the couch while the storm passed and I was very comforted. She was a very kind and generous women. She had nurse experience so she helped a lot of neighbors giving them shots or whatever they needed. And we miss her to this day, but we were blessed to have had her for as long as we did.
Marie: What was life like growing up with two younger siblings?
Murlene: Well it was a problem. I loved them very much and my little brother was so cute and he had dimples and my sister was a very active young women or child. And we really enjoyed one another, and we also fought just like most children do. And since I was supposed to be in charge of them supposedly, they teased me a lot and tormented me and I wasn’t old enough and wise enough to handle that as well as I should. That’s true confession.
Marie: Did you ever speak German or hear German being spoken by your grandparents?
Murlene: I checked with my older auntie that’s 95 and she said they never spoke German in the home, and I don’t remember hearing any. We had Fred Osenbrink, was a man from Germany that lived at the mill house. He worked our maintenance of machinery and he was very good at that and he had an accent but he didn’t speak German.
Marie: Can you tell me about Eunice and Dorothy and your relationship with them growing up?
Murlene: Well growing up they seemed quite a bit older then I was, you know. They were in high school and in college. So they were my older aunties, although they’re 7 and 14 years older than I am. But later we became quite close and shared a lot of things. They would always share their clothing that they had finished using or outgrown, they would share that with me. When you went to a neighbors or another relatives house you would take bags of clothing of things you had outgrown. You would share them with other family members or other people.
Marie: Did you spend a lot of time helping with the family business?
Murlene: I didn’t work at the flouring mill. I worked in my dad’s feed and seed warehouse. In the summertime when the farmers would come in with truckloads of grain to sell, I got to weight the trucks then tell them how many pounds of grain they had and so forth then record that in the ledger. I would answer the phone and take orders of feed and seed that we sold. But it was kind of a dusty place and no air-conditioning either when it did get warm. They didn’t even know about it back then. So it was kind of hot dusty job but I enjoyed the people very much and I knew all the farmers that came in and their families.
Marie: Did you spend a lot of time at the mill?
Murlene: Oh we loved to go to the mill. That was where my grandparents and my aunties lived and so forth. We would go there to swim in the mill race. We would ride our bicycles out to there to do that. And Grandma would always let us have some homemade bread after we swam. That was so exciting because she baked everything. They used what they made. They baked a lot because they cooked for a lot of people.
Marie: What is one of your favorite memories of the mill?
Murlene: Oh my, well I think it’s… one of the favorite things when we were younger is when they would bring the grain that had been spilled, it was more like shaft, it wasn’t the best grain, they would bring it out and then we could feed it to the ducks in the mill race. They were very pretty ducks and we were so excited when they went “Quack! Quack! Quack!” and they would all want to get the grain at the same time and make a lot of splashing. I think when I was little that was really exciting.
Marie: Do you have any memories from World War II?
Murlene: A lot of memories of World War II. We had a lot of drives and I would take my little red wagon and go from house to house and pick up the cans that people had squished so they could recycle the metal. We went around and collected newspapers for recycling. See this was on the west coast. We had air raid drills. We practiced them at school. We practiced them at home. We had blackouts where you pulled all the shades in the house so if a plane was going over they couldn’t see that there was life down there. I remember the adults would take turns, it seemed as though they had a flashlight, a bucket and a shovel, I don’t know all that you were supposed to do with it but in case there was a problem they were prepared and they would patrol the neighborhoods and see that everyone was secure and had their house dark and so forth. I remember that quite vividly. And there were some incidents that weren’t widely published but some people I know lost their lives by bombs on the beach. This women had picked it up and it exploded, and it was from another country and here on the east coast I read that a lot more things went on than what they released or told people about because when you’re down on the beach you hear about all these U-boats and what not that were off of the Atlantic coast. So that affected us and our programs at school were very patriotic and we knew all the songs of all the different branches of the service and that sort of thing.
Marie: Did you ever have soldier come through on the railroad?
Murlene: Oh I was telling about that the other day! You know Norcross is on the main railroad line and we were talking about how the children like to watch the train go by. Well the troop trains went right down southern pacific mainline in front of our house and of course we would stand on the porch and wave at all the soldiers and then sometimes we tried to do our tricks you know handstands and all sorts of things on the front lawn. Then they would clap and it entertained them anyway. We entertained the soldiers.
Marie: Where did you go to Elementary school?
Murlene: Shedd Elementary School. One end of the building was the grade school and the other end was the high school. So you had everyone in one building. Then there was no middle school. But by the time I had gone through 8th grade they had built a new high school just to the west of the original school and that’s where I went through four years of high school.
Marie: Where did you go to College?
Murlene: Oregon State University, it wasn’t that then, it was Oregon State College. And it was about 15 miles from home, which was a long ways in those days. Anyway, but I graduated there.
Marie: Was it unusual that you attended college?
Murlene: No a lot of people in my class, which was a very small class, out of maybe 12 I think 8 went on to college or nurses training and did a wide verity of things. I think we had a good staff at our high school that encouraged people to go ahead and broaden their horizon and become whatever they might so desire.
Marie: Were you the first in your family to attend college?
Murlene: No, I might have been the first of my mother’s side of the family to graduate from college, but I had about four first cousins to graduate and they’re all teachers but on the other side Aunt Dorothy graduated, she graduated from the University of Oregon.
Marie: How did you decide to become a dietician?
Murlene: Well my home economics teacher was very encouraging and that was something that was acceptable for women to do in those days. There weren’t a whole lot of things available. Like being a teacher, a nurse, or a dietitian was good for women. I couldn’t have been an engineer anyway, I wasn’t interested, but I liked to cook and I liked to be with people so being a dietician was a good fit I think.
Marie: Where did you work as a dietician?
Murlene: Well I graduated from my dietician internship at XC. Meffitt Hospital in San Francisco, it was part of the University of California. And then my first job was at the University of Oregon Hospital in Portland and then I worked in Saint Helens, Oregon at Columbia District Hospital and I was active in the Portland and the Oregon dietetic association for about 25 years.
Marie: I know you don’t talk about it much, but can you tell me about your first marriage?
Murlene: Well I looked up some paper clipping, and I married my college sweetheart. He was a civil engineer for southern pacific railway. He had a fatal accident on his job when we had been married about a year and a half. That was a tremendous shock, but I think my faith in the Lord and the fact that we believe in eternal life just carried me through. I was able to comfort the people who were with him when he lost his life. He was electrocuted, and that was a tremendous shock to the men that were with him as well as to his family.
Marie: How did you learn to make pies?
Murlene: Well in home ec class we started and then pies were a very popular thing back in those days. Now there are so many different types of foods and different types of things available and many different desserts, but homemade pie and particularly cherry pie, which featured cherries grown, well all over the United State, but particularly in Oregon. They’re small red cherries that aren’t sweet. You really wouldn’t want to eat them just for fun but they’re a pie cherry. So there was a contest and every year someone from our school entered into the contest. I practiced and I made a lot of pies and got to go to Chicago to be entered into the national contest. (She won the Oregon State competition!). I didn’t win, but I had a great time and a long train trip all the way from Oregon to Chicago and back again. It was a real experience.
Marie: How did you meet Granddad?
Murlene: Oh on a blind date! A girlfriend of mine from college and her fiancé, they hadn’t married yet, we went out on was it Valentine’s day? We went bowling. I had never bowled before, and I made a strike! Then we went to dinner with her family, and to I think a banjo concert or something. It was a wonderful time and we just enjoyed one another. I think it was about the time he was really busy with taxes, he was a tax accountant, so we didn’t see much of him until the taxes were due, but then we started dating regularly. I thought maybe he didn’t like me, but he did come around.
Marie: When did you know that you were going to marry him?
Murlene: When he proposed I guess, I thought he might. It was right about Christmas time.
Marie: What was it like raising kids during the baby boom?
Murlene: Well I didn’t realize it was a baby boom. It was very busy. We had 3 children, each about 22 months apart so that was a very active family.
Marie: Do you have any good stories about my mom when she was a kid?
Murlene: So she was always a perfect little darling. She was cute though. I can remember when she would run under the sprinkler, oh that was so funny, because she didn’t want to get wet, but she really wanted to, so she’d shake and shimmy then she’d get wet.
Marie: What is one of your favorite memories of your dad?
Murlene: Well the most favorite thing I can remember is Sunday Morning he would get the comics and we would all pile in bed and he would read us the comics, then if you got on his knees and he collapsed his knees, you would fall down or something you know, those are good memories.
Marie: How did you end up in Georgia?
Murlene: After my husband had been with the company for over 25 years they decided to move their headquarters from Portland, Oregon back to Atlanta. It was Georgia Pacific, so they came back home to Georgia and built a new building. And with 25 year into one company, we decided that we would go with the company since they offered us the opportunity. So he finished his 35 years with the company and retired here.
Marie: Did you ever think you would leave Oregon?
Murlene: Well not until that happened. The rest of the family is all in Oregon and I’m sure I’ve made about 40 trips back to Oregon, flying.
Marie: Where do you consider home?
Murlene: Well my family is here. And the ones in Oregon are all getting really older like I am. So I’m just thankful that I’m here.
Marie: What led you to volunteer at the Norcross Co-op?
Murlene: My husband and I volunteered there when it first opened, and we felt that we could serve people in the community here and not have to travel to some foreign country and utilize what we could give constantly instead of a week now and then. So we did that.
Marie: How has your faith impacted your life?
Murlene: Well without my faith, I don’t know where I’d be now. but I’m in a very good position I think because I love the Lord and I’m still serving him as much as I can and encouraging others and serving others and I think that’s the main thing, to show God’s love to everybody. Okay.
Follow Up Questions for Me
- How does your tradition-bearer’s story relate to your community in both the present and the past? How does it relate to you?
My family’s mill has become a state heritage site. The story of my ancestors has been preserved by the state for present and future generations to learn from. My family helped shape the town of Shedd Oregon by providing the service of their mill to the farmers in the surrounding areas. Their lives have also had a significant impact on mine, and made me who I am today. Just the fact that my grandparents moved to Georgia meant that my mom could meet my dad and I could be born then 19 years later attend the University of Georgia.
- How did your perception of community history change, from before the interview to now?
I never knew how much of an impact my community had on my life and my family history. It is a quiet yet powerful influencer. The history of our community becomes our history. It shapes us as individuals. Listening to my Grandma talk about her childhood in a small town, and the people she grew up with, made me realize this even more.
- How did this project inspire you to learn more about your family and community?
I have always had a deep love for history and this project has given me an excuse to dive into my family history even more. I had been meaning to interview my Grandma for some time, but this project finally made me make time to do so. It also gave me a reason to dig through hundreds if not thousands of old family photos in my Grandma’s basement. It was something I needed to do with her, so we could identify all the people in the photos. My mom and my Grandma are now talking about undertaking the project of putting all the photos into albums.
- What were some of the challenges you faced during this project? What could you do differently in your next oral history interview?
So far, I think everything has gone really well, and I’m not sure if I would do anything differently. I think I would just like to do more. I know my Grandma is full of wisdom that she has gained through her life experiences I know I didn’t capture it all in one interview.
- If the roles were reversed and you became the tradition-bearer, what stories would you like to tell?
I would show my grandchild this project. I would tell them about their ancestor Martin Thompson, how he fled Germany and came to the United States. I would take them to the mill, field trip! I would tell them the stories of how their Great Grandparents met, their Grandparents met, and how their parents met. I would impart any wisdom I’ve hopefully gained or acquired by then. I would tell them about what I’m passionate about. I would tell them about my work and what living in the early 2000’s was like.