Lopez Island Community Radio – KLOI 102.9 FM and www.kloi.org – has a new show called Once Upon an Island: Tales From Lopez. It is hosted by Alie Smaalders and Lorrie Harrison and is broadcast on the last Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. with a rebroadcast the following Sunday at 4 p.m.
Lopez Library’s director, Lou Pray, is working on putting these interviews on the library’s Washington Rural Heritage web page at http://washingtonruralheritage.org/lopez/.
The Washington Rural Heritage Project is a collaboration between the Lopez Island Historical Society, the Lopez Island Library, and the Washington State Library.
Alie Smaalders says, “the show will be about the way things were 100, 50, and even 25 years ago. Many newcomers have never heard any of these tales and it would be too bad if the stories got lost. Our idea is to have a different guest every time. Maybe the same guest if they have a lot to share. You will hear stories about the way things have changed on Lopez.”
The following is an excerpt of the interview with Mary McLeod Harris that aired in October and will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Dec. 7 at 4 p.m.
Lorrie: When did your mom and dad get here?
Mary: My mother was raised at Richardson as Mary Higgins. My dad came from Scotland in 1913. However, he went to the First World War and when he came back he purchased the farm, the first farm south of the modern school in 1919. We were raised on an 80-acre farm in the center of the island. There were four of us children and we walked to Center School.
Lorrie: When you say Center School, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Where was that?
Mary: Center School is Center School. Pretty much the middle of the island. It is now the Grange Hall. It was a two-room school with all eight grades. And everybody that could walk, that’s where they went. Of course you have to remember that there were other schools on the island. Mud Bay had an eight grade school, Lopez had eight grades and Port Stanley had eight grades. And if you were close enough to walk that’s where you went. Until they consolidated in 1937.
Lorrie: When you say a two-room school house, I think of “Little House on the Prairie” and “Anne of Green Gables.” Can you give us some details about what it was like? Did you have electricity?
Mary: Of course there was no electricity. There was no electricity on Lopez Island! If we had light it was a lamp. We didn’t go to activities at the school at night. There was a wood stove and the boys had to stoke the fires. There were two teachers and two rooms. Four grades in each room. As far as activities there were no sports. What were we going to play? We only had two dozen kids. We didn’t play other schools. We didn’t know what teams were. We had a volleyball net once. It was very simple.
Lorrie: Earlier you were telling me that there wasn’t a lot of travel back and forth from the north end to the south end of the island. You might not have known the kids at the other schools.
Mary: You are right. We did not mix with the other schools. If we saw them it was probably the Fourth of July at Odlin Park or something going on at Woodmen Hall. There were no inter-school activities.
Lorrie: You described it to me as there being three separate communities on Lopez and that the easiest way to get from north to south wasn’t necessarily by road. Did you ride your pony? What can you tell us about that?
Mary: I can remember horse and buggies but I wasn’t really a part of that. There were a few cars on the island. Very few. Probably a dozen. That’s the way you went. Otherwise you walked. You walked to everything. Or hitched a ride. There were separate communities. Richardson was a village in itself. And Lopez was one, Port Stanley was one, and the South End that was another part.
Alie: Were the two rooms in the school separated or could you listen in to the other room? My dad used to say that he was always listening to the other room. Did you have that opportunity?
Mary: No. They had good walls and doors between the classrooms. However, I do think we were distracted by what was going on in the other class and that’s why we didn’t get as much education as we should. That’s true. It really is quite disruptive to hear what the teacher is teaching in the fourth grade when you’re really still in the first grade.
Lorrie: So you lived on an 80-acre farm. I’m wondering what that experience was like. We talk a lot today about locally grown and eating local. I guess that was a part of your normal life. What was it like living on the farm?
Mary: We didn’t know any different. But true, an 80-acre farm. We had cows, pigs, chickens, gardens, fruit trees. We were more or less self-sufficient. What was there that you didn’t have? There were a few things we’d go to Richardson or Lopez to buy. We raised all the grain and hay for the cows. We probably had 25 milking cows. In those days my dad milked them by hand and shipped the cream to the San Juan County Dairymen’s Association in Friday Harbor to make sour cream butter. We had thrashing crews that came in and the haying crew came in and put the hay in the barn for the next winter for the cows. At one time there was a Pea Growing Association that shipped peas to Seattle. Everything was shipped out by a big freight boat out of Richardson.
Hear the rest of this interview on 102.9 FM or on www.kloi.org on Sunday, Dec. 7 at 4 p.m.
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