Recorded January 4, 2008
Walla Walla, WA
compiled and edited by Phil Carlsen
On the evening of January 4, 2008, I was with Mom and Dad at the house on Fern Court, spending the last night in Walla Walla at the end of a Christmas trip from Maine. A tremendous wind storm that evening had knocked out power to a wide swath of the valley and, as we discovered when we got up the next morning, downed many huge trees all over town. In the darkness, we lit candles and sat around the dining table visiting. I had my digital recorder with me, the batteries were well-charged, and I took the opportunity to record some family history. We talked for at least a couple hours. It started out with just the three of us, then, part way through, Douglas and Mary showed up and joined the conversation. At one point, after Dad had finished a story about his applying to graduate schools for his doctorate, Mom said “Could I interrupt you for just a moment, James? I think it’d be lovely to have a picture of this—just the candlelight and then the shadows of our bodies or faces around the edge.” So I set up my camera and took a few shots.
MARY: Shall I begin? I was born in Salt Lake City, in a Catholic hospital in a Mormon city. I was born Mary Margaret. My parents did not know there was another baby on the way—in ten minutes I was Mary and the baby was Margaret. So, that was the beginning.
My mother was born in South Dakota of Norwegian heritage, second generation Norwegian. Her family name was Bragstad and her grandfather’s name was Bergsaker and he was a member of the Norwegian parliament. And she didn’t ever go to college. She went to normal school in those days and had enough training to teach school.
JAMES: Which was an interesting parallel, because my mother finished eighth grade and then went to normal school for probably a year and a half and taught school. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse. She taught all of the coursework, you know, for children in the first through eighth grade.
MARY: And that’s what my mother did. Same thing. It was a tradition at that time. They usually were pretty sharp women that did it. Your mother was a very sharp woman, and my mother was a sharp woman. When it came time for my mother to find a job she became a schoolteacher in Roundup, Montana, and lived on the main street above the store or the bar or whatever. My father was a student at McCormick seminary in Chicago and he had a job coming out to Montana to ride circuit as a preacher all over the Roundup area. And so these two people met and they courted on horseback, but he had to go back to the seminary every year and she had her job, so their courtship lasted for five years. Finally they were married in Roundup, and I have a clipping where they were married—it was on one of the ranches, and it may have been a Norwegian family.
They went then to Chicago and my mother went to the Moody Bible Institute. She was a very dedicated Christian and very much into helping people, so she took her guitar and her ukulele and would go down on the streets in Chicago to try to win converts. Dad was at McCormick, and I think then when he got his degree, he began doing this thing of the typical “Where do I go now?” I think his first church was in Youngstown, Ohio. Eventually he went out to St. Anthony, Idaho, and Rexburg and Boise. Then I think he went to Salt Lake City, which was interesting because he was a Presbyterian in a Mormon city. He actually had a radio program on KSL, a Mormon radio station. They invited him in to give a program and they liked it, and I’m sure he was careful in how he did it, and then as a kind of payment for him, because it was probably free, they gave him this beautiful Atwater Kent, one of the early cabinet radios.
My parents were 39 when my sister and I were born. In those days, that was lot older, if you look at the faces. I have a birth announcement—it’s very intriguing what they wrote—and a picture of my father with his necktie on and his vest holding his baby, so it was pretty formal, you know. And my mother—I don’t know, it was a different world. I think when you compare 39 now and 39 then, it was really a big difference.
Then my parents went to Oakland, California, where he was pastor of First Presbyterian Church on 23rd and Broadway. In about 1937 or ’38, he was invited to go to the [San Francisco Theological] seminary in San Anselmo. Things began to happen in the family that were not real happy. I think there was some tension between my father and my mother because of his busy life. He was just gone.
And then [my brother] Arthur delivered newspapers on his bicycle, and he was hit by a car when he was 12 and had a fractured skull and a crushed hip, and it was very serious. For a year, he couldn’t go to school, so Dad and Arthur travelled across the United States to give him a chance to recuperate. My little bookends of Abe Lincoln?—my dad was preparing for a lecture series for the church on Abe Lincoln and he bought those bookends when they were on that trip. So they came back and he gave, every Wednesday night, a lecture on Abe Lincoln.
I think it was just a tricky time. My mother was a very fine singer, so she kept studying her voice, and she gave a complete concert in the Oakland auditorium of Norwegian songs. So she kept up her sort of independent spirit. She was a pretty feisty lady, I think. And she started a youth choir in the church, and the women made these gorgeous blue, beautiful blue robes with red lining, and that was her baby; she did that. And she used to go out with bags of groceries to people she knew who didn’t have food, and she would pray with mothers who had drunken sons. She was kind of a minister in her own way. And she kept on doing that all her life.
Margaret was a person who played dolls and had tea parties—which I did too. And we had a glorious attic in our house that covered the whole top of the house. Very high ceilings, and we built a village. We had a dentist’s office and library and a tea house, and all the neighborhood kids would come in and play in our attic and we would play the roles of the village, and that was lots of fun. So I did things with Margaret. It wasn’t like I was purposely being different, but I was leading a different life from her.
One of the treasured parts of my life, actually, was when I was living on the [seminary] campus. I was a tomboy and I loved to go out and dig caves with my boyfriends, and they were the campus kids. There was a whole bunch of kids that ran around. I built treehouses, I dug channels for the water coming down the hill, and I’d build a set of dams, and I was doing all this on my own. It was partly just establishing my independence as a twin. So all of this went on until I was about ten years old. Lots of climbing trees, lots of walking over the hill by myself, and then I went into puberty and everything changed very dramatically. So it was the first ten to twelve years of my life that I did that. But I changed. I became very shy and a reader. Lots of books. I got real high grades in high school, then I went off to Saint Olaf for one year, and then I went to Whitworth and I met James, and that’s where our lives together began.
JAMES: My mother doesn’t have a lineage that she can trace. She used to say that she was duke’s mixture, meaning a little bit of everything. She did have a family background with Snyders from Pennsylvania, and she referred to them as her Pennsylvania Dutch background.
MARY: I’m going to interrupt here, because my family also had Snyders in their family and they were Pennsylvania Dutch, in addition to the Scots.
JAMES: We’re probably third cousins. [laughter] Didn’t even know it. My father and mother met when they were, I think, about 28 or 29 years of age. The story is told that my mother was working in a general store and my father came in and they were—you know how young people can banter—and so the story is told that he was chasing her around the counters and things and was going to give her a kiss. This was in North Dakota. Apparently, he was just a little bit tipsy at the time—probably a Saturday late afternoon. They were married six weeks later. So, their courtship was a very short one, fast and furious.
The migration of my parents, Ted and Eunice Carlsen, from the Midwest to the west coast is an interesting story in itself, with a lot of modifications, I suppose, because of the first world war. They were married in Bismarck, North Dakota, so North Dakota was a point of departure. And that was during the war. He was then inducted into the army. He didn’t have to go overseas, didn’t have to fight in the trenches in France. One of his assignments was to an airfield—Kelly Field in Texas. He was in line to go into the training program to be a pilot but his experience in seeing an airplane—at least one airplane—fall and crash every day during the time he was at Kelly Field, he decided that he didn’t want to. And I asked him one time, well why were so many airplanes crashing? And he said, because in those days you learned to fly by being told what to do and then you got in the airplane by yourself and did it. And some of these people needed to have a little more instruction and just didn’t know what to do, so this is what happened. He didn’t like the hazard part, and probably grandma didn’t like it either—Grandma Eunice.
He requested a transfer and they said, “well the only thing we have available right now for transfers that would take you out of that mainstream to become a pilot would be to the Spruce division, going into the forests, cutting down spruce trees, sending them to lumber processors so that we could make fuselages for planes.” And so he went up to Garibaldi, Oregon, which is over on the coast, and worked in the forest as a lumberjack taking down spruce trees for building planes, because the planes were built out of a spruce tree frame covered with canvas. And he was still in the army that time.
PHIL: So, after Garibaldi, your parents went to Seattle, is that right? [the following conversation from February 2018]
JAMES: No, my parents went to Sunnyside.
PHIL: And what drew them to Sunnyside from Garibaldi?
JAMES: Aunt Jean’s birth. Because there they had a second cousin or something who lived in Sunnyside. We actually drove by that house on several occasions when you kids were growing up. You may not remember it because we didn’t go in the house. We just said that was the house where Aunt Jean was born. They didn’t have a hospital. In those days all births—I would say all births were at the hands of a midwife.
PHIL: So the war was over at that point, so what was your father doing?
JAMES: He was working in the produce warehouse with the Dorseys. They belonged to the First Christian Church and he had this produce warehouse and so my father got a job in the produce warehouse and maintained that connection.
PHIL: Tell me about Corrine. Wasn’t she a cousin of yours?
JAMES: She was. She was my father’s brother’s daughter.
PHIL: Which brother was that?
JAMES: Oswald. Uncle Oswald married Olive Marr.
PHIL: And why did Corrine come to live with you?
JAMES: Her mother sent her to the movies one Saturday with a neighbor, another girl who was probably twelve or thirteen years of age, and when they came back from the movie, there was a note in the house where they were living, that said “I’m leaving and you’re to go to Aunt Eunice’s, and she’ll take care of you.”
PHIL: Wow. And did you ever see Olive again?
JAMES: Oh, yuh. [pause] Not to have a friendly conversation—
PHIL: I don’t imagine.
JAMES: But anyway, she was with us for probably five or six years, and her father was a carpenter as well as a road builder driving Caterpillar tractors and that sort of thing, so Uncle Oswald spent a lot of time in Montana for all of the need for building roads in that area.
PHIL: Your parents put great importance on music lessons and took money that could have been used for another purpose and—
JAMES: Well, you’ve described it pretty well yourself just then. It was the Depression and we didn’t have money. [They actually paid for lessons with milk from the cow.] Having money meant having a job that got paid, and those were not always readily available. We had friends, and he was a produce producer, and the produce that my father was most active in, and that ultimately that I was trained for, was potatoes, sorting potatoes.
If the conveyor was bringing in very good potatoes for the sorters to sort, then they were getting a lot of number ones put into sacks, and at the end of the conveyor belt were these holders that you could put the gunny sack on, and then pull on the edges of it and they would spread then and create an open gunnysack bag, and my job as a sack sewer then would be assigned to one of those output places. I would throw a hitch or a string, you know, over one of those ears [at the edge of each sack], create a loop, pull it taut, and sew two stitches in there, and throw a knot in that string to hold it, and then jerk the needle, and the needle had a sharpened edge on the inside that would cut the string if you pulled on it too tight, and of course when you finished sewing the sack, that’s what you wanted to have happen. Then when you got done with it, here was a sack of potatoes that weighed a hundred pounds.
Well, it didn’t take long when I first started doing this to learn that it was hard work. And I’d get up in the morning and my hands would be like this and I couldn’t open them, and I’d have to spread them, you know. I thought, why am I doing this? I won’t be able to play violin. But I’d already used that excuse when I was saying to my dad that milking the cows, you know, it’s going to be hard to play my violin, and he says “It’ll strengthen your fingers.” [chuckle] The sympathy ended.
PHIL: How old were you when you started violin?
JAMES: I was eight or nine.
PHIL: And did you play in church, as well?
JAMES: Uh, later on, yes. I would be called upon to play with the pianist, the hymns and so forth. And I was a pretty good sight-reader. As a matter of fact, Mr. Whelon, one of the things that he did during the lesson, at some point during the lesson for maybe five or ten minutes, he would say, “Well, take the second violin part and I’ll take the first violin part, and we’d sight-read.”
PHIL: What great training.
JAMES: Wasn’t it, though? And that was always a part of every lesson. The lessons were probably half to three-quarters of an hour in length, you know, so you could get a lot of notes under your fingers in that length of time.
PHIL: You had no interest in going to college, am I right?
JAMES: No. Why would I go to college? None of the guys in the potato sorting shed had gone to college and they were doing all right. Some of them were getting a dollar and ten cents an hour. You could live pretty well off a dollar-ten an hour. The kind of farming that we were doing was farming that I didn’t find attractive. I was good at doing the chores of farming such as ditching between the rows so we had a place for the water to run down and irrigate. Weeding was chore, but had to be done.
PHIL: So you didn’t feel a real pull to be a farmer?
JAMES: No, as a matter of fact, I felt a real pull not to be a farmer. Now that I think back on it, I think, you know, “James, I don’t think you’re stupid, but where did you overcome your stupidity?”
PHIL: You probably didn’t want to have a career as a box maker.
JAMES: Oh no. I mean it was hard work. And your hands paid the price of it. I imagine that was where my carpal tunnel began. I did that in my first years of college at Whitworth when I going to school on the GI Bill. I was a boxmaker.
PHIL: So tell me about Mona.
JAMES: Oh, I don’t want to tell you about Mona.
PHIL: Except you said that she was the one who encouraged you to go college.
JAMES: Yeah, she was. She was going to Whitworth, and she said this would be a good place to go to college. And with the GI Bill, I could afford to go to Whitworth. So I decided to do that. Besides which, then I’d be going to college with my girlfriend. But by the time I got to the place where the college opened and everything, we’d broken up.
PHIL: Had you started thinking about college when you were still in the army?
JAMES: Yeah, because she had written me letters saying, you know, with your GI Bill, you’ll be able to afford to go to college, pay the tuition, buy the books and that sort of thing. But, I also went to college on probation.
PHIL: Really? Why was that?
JAMES: Because my grades were so bad before. I had been so lazy. The registrar at Whitworth—when I went in, with my papers filled out and everything and my transcript—she looked at that and says, “I don’t think that we can admit you this quarter. You’re going to have to do X, Y, and Z and give us some evidence that you’ll be a quality student.” Well, I understand that now. [laughter] At that time, I thought I was—you know, I filled out the papers and here’s my money, and—it wasn’t quite that easy.
Well, she said “Let me call Carroll Hull,” who was one of the members of the board at Whitworth. It was at his church that Mona was a member, and so I got acquainted with him. She contacted him and he says, “You know, I think he’ll do a good job. I think we should take a chance.” So I did, and the first quarter I was there, my papers said “on probation first quarter.” You know, in all of my life as a college professor afterwards, I’d never heard of anybody entering college on probation. I’d heard of people being—
PHIL: Put on probation after a first semester or something.
JAMES: That’s right. [big laugh] But your father has the honor of being one of the only one that he’s ever heard of that got on probation and hadn’t cracked a book.
PHIL: So was there something that kind of turned you around?
JAMES: What happened was I had a lieutenant in the army—well, two different lieutenants, actually, that knew how to motivate a person without a switch. In our typing pool [James’s assignment in Japan during the Occupation was administrative work] we’d set up Coca Cola for the break, and whoever was low on the totem pole would be the one that had to buy. It got to the place where our group was so good that the challenge was to type without making a mistake, and if you made a mistake, you had to buy the setup of Coke, and it got to the place where we would go a week or a week and a half and nobody made a typing error. So we were putting out material and helping some of the other divisions with their typing and the lieutenant noticed this and would reinforce me with his own verbiage, you know.
I found that I was enjoying the fact that I could type and not have to go in and do erasures. Because the rule was that only one erasure per page was the maximum. So if you made two mistakes and you had to erase twice, you had already used up all of your erasures for that particular item that was being typed. It was an interesting thing. I can’t say that lieutenant’s name—oh yes, I think I can. No, I’m thinking of another fellow in there. His name was Michael Hemelvich. He was just another GI like I was. The only difference was he was better at negotiations than I. He wasn’t a smartass. He was smart.
PHIL: You were more of a hothead.
JAMES: I let people know what I thought. Sometimes it’s better not to have thoughts if you’re going to play that kind of game.
PHIL: Yeah, it’s true.
JAMES: When I went to Whitworth my first quarter I was taking Invertebrate Zoology. I hadn’t taken Vertebrate Zoology the quarter before which would have given me kind of a head start. But I got a B in it. That pleased me, you know. It got to the place where the two highest grades for the academic period of that first year, quarter and so forth, were one hundredth of a grade point difference—your mom got one of them and I got the other.
So, I was on probation and I maintained a good average and I got a high grade. I said that Mom was sharing it—that was for the entire four years. And so, of the students who were majors in music, we were one one-hundredths of a grade point apart and they wouldn’t tell us who was the one of top, because by that point we were married.
You’ve heard me speak about the Young Life Quartet? It was a group—the pianist was Jerry Christianson, the first tenor was Calvin Moxley, who then later on went and graduated from Whitworth himself, and the second tenor was Phil Reeves, and the baritone was Tex Huerot, and I should have been the baritone, but they needed a bass, so I got the bass and had to fake a lot of stuff. But we sang all over at the Young Life meetings. We were okay. Fortunately we didn’t have recorders in those days.
PHIL: It would have been fun to hear, though.
JAMES: It would have been. We did a lot of Stamps Baxter quartets. For example, one of the songs that we did was [clears throat and sings]:
As you travel along on the Jericho Road Does the world seem all wrong and a heavier load Just bring it to Christ, your sins all confess On the Jericho Road your heart he will bless.
On the Jericho Road, there’s room for just two, No more or no less, just Jesus and you. Each burden he’ll bear, each sorrow he’ll share, There’s never a care, if Jesus is there.
PHIL: That’s fantastic.
JAMES: I can’t say singing is in my repertoire anymore.
PHIL: I haven’t heard you sing much recently.
JAMES: I should stick with sewing sacks.
PHIL: Well, you may not quite have the bass notes that you did, but the upper notes sound pretty good still. So, was this quartet—the Young Life Quartet—were you then still singing in college?
JAMES: No, that ended when we graduated from high school. One of the things that we did is we formed the Gutbucket Four. You’ve heard us talk about that.
PHIL: I’ve heard it, yeah. Was that a college group?
JAMES: It was a—just a group, and didn’t have any associations with anybody other than ourselves. We did our own booking, principally in churches. The Brethren Church, because Phil Reeves and Cal Moxley and Tex Huerot were all members of the Brethren Church, and so our efforts to get singing jobs were through them. And it was basically kind of a missionary effort on our part, trying to get high school kids away from—well, in those days, beer and smoking. Later on it changed over to drugs—and get them off of drugs. Good effort, you know. It’s just that as a musical group we were not high in the rankings.
[What follows returns to the original conversation from January 2008]
JAMES: Our first date for our wedding was August twenty-first in 1949. I don’t know why we picked that date.
MARY: I think it was partly in memory of the family tradition. [Ted and Eunice’s anniversary was also August 21.]
JAMES: Anyway, that’s another story, but we decided, hey, why wait. And so Mary—your mother—had enough credits that she could still graduate in 1950 and not take any classes in the spring of 1949. So we got married and she didn’t go to school that quarter. I did because—
MARY: Actually, I’m going to correct you, because I do believe I took something, honey, I wasn’t just utterly stay-at-home. Because you remember we got in that big fight about whether you were to help out at home or not?
JAMES: Actually that was that winter a little later on when you were back in school, we were both in school then in our senior year, and I was little bit less helpful than I should have been.
MARY: We were in the student housing on campus—what they called Ball and Chain Lane—old army barracks. So one day I decided I had to say something. It was one of those early things. We really were fighting. And he was getting later and later for a class where he was the research assistant. But we got it pretty well resolved. And when his mother came to visit later, we told her about that, and she said “Well, I think Mary was right.” [much laughter]
JAMES: It was a one-bedroom apartment. These were the units for the officers. We had four of these buildings on this Ball and Chain Lane. Each building had four of these one-bedroom apartments. Maybe some of them had two bedrooms, I’m not sure.
MARY: They had a little living room and a little kitchen and a bath, and they had no oil heat. They had wood stoves. And one time it was 30 below zero in Spokane, and under our bed—it would melt from the roof and come down and it created an ice skating rink under our bed. But we were the lucky ones. We had an oil stove that your parents gave us, so we were able to keep warm whereas the other students had to set their alarm clocks and get up every hour on the hour to stoke the wood stove.
JAMES: They didn’t have any insulation. Nothing above, below, or in the sides. And so when this ice backed up, you know, the heat would come through with no insulation and it would melt it and then, because it was backed up, it would begin to leak down the inside wall. And here was our bedroom—you could just see the ice flow coming down the wall, you know, the water’s coming down there and building up ice and it would go under the bed, as she said, and we had this puddle of water that would freeze because there was no insulation in the floor.
MARY: Back to my mother—she raised fifty thousand dollars to build a dormitory for women on campus. And she used to wash the quilts of the students in her washing machine, because it was so dirty in that seminary, because it had gone through the earthquake in 1906, and a lot of things were still damaged, and it was 1938 when we came.
She’d had a surgery that repaired a lot of the damage that had been done when we were born, and the sad thing was that she was 61 when she had the surgery. And her heart was just beautiful through the surgery, and it helped her. So six months after the surgery and—you know, she was living life and doing gardening—and she was out driving and she began to feel not so good, so she stopped, and then she was okay, so she drove home. We had an elevator in the house for her so that she got out of the car down in the basement and then rode the elevator up to the living room. And she began to be very, very sick. The maid was there with her and called the doctor and the doctor came and said “I need to go back to my office to get a piece of equipment to find out for sure what’s going on.”
And then while he was gone, she passed away. They called it a coronary occlusion, which is a pretty—I think is a pretty global term. I’m not sure what it means in today’s world. Anyway she died, and that was it. My father was over in San Francisco giving a talk somewhere and he heard about it, so he drove home alone across the bridge and came home. She died with the maid there, but none of the family or anything.
PHIL: And where were you at that point?
MARY: We were in Almira—
JAMES: And you—four months pregnant with you.
MARY: So we got the message and so you drove me to Spokane early in the morning and I got aboard the train, rode to California, and was there. I never knew her really well as a—you know how you grow up and you begin to know your parents as you grow into maturity and you begin to, hopefully, understand each other a little better. So, my mother, I never really had the opportunity to get to know her very well. So that was one of my regrets.
But anyway, I was pregnant with you. And then when you were born in Coulee Dam, my father and Margaret came to be with us, so we had a little family gathering.
JAMES: One little sidelight on this. The salaries for teachers in those days was not terribly high and we didn’t have money enough to buy a ticket for her to go roundtrip on the train. So I went down that same day to the bank and I told them what the situation was, and I said “We only need this money until, oh, a couple weeks or so, or whatever, when I get my check and I can pay it back.” And they say, “Oh, no problem at all.” So they wrote it out and they gave us the money and we went and bought the ticket and everything. Well, she came back and I got my money and went down to the bank to pay them back, and I think it was three hundred dollars, or something like that, and they said—so I went in with three hundred dollars that I’d borrowed, and they said, “Well, actually, that will be three hundred and eight dollars.” And I says, “What’s the eight dollars for?” “That’s the interest.” “Well, I only had this for two weeks. I just needed a temporary loan.” “Well,” he says, “This is a bank.” And I got some education.
MARY: Yeah, you found out a few things about life. I think one of the good stories in our life is when I was pregnant with Kris in Spokane, and that meant that I couldn’t play organ for awhile. I was earning three hundred dollars a month playing organ. We didn’t know how we were going to survive, but lo and behold, in our mail came a check for three hundred dollars, an anonymous payment to us. We kind of think it might have been my doctor, because he was on the board of trustees of Whitworth College. But that was incredible. They made up the difference.
I think the doctor was very fussy about me. He wouldn’t let me go back for, what, six weeks. And he made me sit in the hospital for six days. It was one of the worst six days—it was awful. But he thought I shouldn’t go home and take care of all of these kids. But anyway, a lot of people from Millwood came over and brought meals, and then there were a husband and wife who came and stayed in the house all day just to support me and—it was very nice.
JAMES: Um, this doctor one time was talking to Mary, and there was a lot of stress and everything, and so he asked her, he says, “Uh, how often do you and your husband get away by yourselves?” [chuckles all around] What does that mean, you know? And so she told him, “Well, we really don’t.”
Soon after that, I don’t know the circumstances, but he and I got into a conversation, and he said, “You know, I’m going to recommend that you take your wife and rent a room in a hotel once a month for a weekend or for a couple nights and just get away.” And I said, “Dr. Fraser, there’s no way we could do that on my salary.” I says, “I’m working as a choir director in a church, she’s teaching piano lessons, she’s working as an organist in a church, and then the salary from Whitworth College, and that’s just not enough.” And he said, “Well”—and he was on the board of the college—"what is your salary?” And I says, “A little over three thousand dollars.” He says, “That’s absurd. You should be making at least ten thousand dollars.” And I said, “Well, I agree with you, but that’s not what’s happening.” Well, guess what?
MARY CLEVELAND: Got a raise?
JAMES: I didn’t get a raise. [outburst of laughter all around] He had no power to do it.
Well, along those lines, you remember Gus Schlough? Lived over on Madison? Just a block on the other side of us?
DOUGLAS: The pink lady? If you crossed to her street, she lived on Madison. If you crossed the street and went two doors down. That’s Gus’s house.
PHIL: I have no idea how you remember all of those names and where their houses were.
DOUGLAS:...and he lived right next to Debby Tate.
JAMES: And he looked like Santa Claus, his face was just—anyway, Gus Schlough was a sociology professor.
MARY CLEVELAND: But you can’t remember lyrics. [more laughter]
JAMES: Gus Schlough was a sociology professor at Whitworth, had been the president of a very small church college in Spokane that was kind of consumed by Whitworth when Whitworth moved there, and he then was brought onto the faculty to teach sociology. Much loved professor. Well, we went to a faculty retreat before school started one fall, and Frank Warren, who was the president of Whitworth College, was giving us a pep talk to the faculty, and he says, “I know that you would like to be paid more, and you really should be paid more, but the one thing you must understand is that this is a Christian college and what you are doing is making a contribution as a part of your Christian ethic, and you love what you’re doing, and because you love what you’re doing, you’re willing to do this, and we’re all grateful.” That was the end of his talk.
Gus Schlough was sort of the emcee for this, and Gus stood up and he said, “Before I introduce the next person, I want to just make a comment. I live next door to a captain for United Airlines. This captain makes twenty-five thousand dollars a year and works fifteen days a month [well-timed pause] and loves his job. [much laughter] He said, “Now, our next speaker—” [even more laughter, especially from James] and the faculty just broke up, and so did Frank Warren to some extent after he got through with the bluster and fuster. So that was Gus Schlough.
MARY: He thought we were betraying Whitworth when we took your job at Connecticut, and he was giving us lectures all over the place.
PHIL: Who was this, Frank Warren?
JAMES: Yeah. As a matter of fact, he called me into his office after I’d announced I was taking this job, and he called me into the office, and he said, “Well, Jim, you know this is perhaps going to be good for you, but I’m afraid that if I had known that you were going to take this leave of absence and then turn around and leave us, I might not have approved it.” I don’t know what I said to him, but we talked about it afterwards, and that leave of absence happened to be without pay.
MARY: Well he talked with me, too, and I finally just said, “You know, this is—we have an opportunity to go and do something where his skills can be used in new ways,” I said, “This is the right thing for right now” and he finally quit talking.
MARY: He knew my father really well. When I had mononucleosis and was in the hospital for ten days, I came and stayed at their home, I don’t know how long.
JAMES: Oh, I think a week or two.
MARY: His wife was a nurse, and so she took care of me and nursed me back and—they were nice people, but he had a—what do you say—a bee in his bonnet about what it meant to be a Christian. [pause]
PHIL: Well, a vivid memory for me is of driving out across the farmlands of North Dakota late at night and seeing nothing but this sort of waving grass in the moonlight, and then stopping at some farmhouse in the middle of the night and knocking on the door and asking directions—
JAMES: That was the one at Fort Clark. It was at their place that one of you kids fell down the basement stairs. I think it was Douglas. They were playing, you know, with their kids, and so forth, and slipped and fell and kind of rolled down the—
MARY: Yeah, I remember that. And do you remember the wheat elevator and the moon and it was creaking and groaning, and I thought that was the most eerie, surrealistic landscape I’d ever experienced.
JAMES: Yeah, and it was in the middle of the night in Fort Clark.
MARY: About one o’clock, wasn’t it, in the morning?
JAMES: Oh, I think one or two and I’d been driving and I was just worn out and we were trying to make it to—you know, you get delayed.
PHIL: Were we on our way to Evanston at that point?
JAMES: Yes. That was in 1960. I was so tired and I said I’m going to have to rest awhile, so we pulled over by this grain elevator, and the wind was blowing, and you know how they’ll have a sign, a metal sign that creaks around. They came and met us because it would be kind of difficult to give us directions. We were in a ’49 Buick that had, uh—well, we had all four of you kids with us then, and my mother, so there were seven of us in the car traveling from Spokane to Chicago, Illinois.
MARY: It was one of our harder moves. We didn’t have the money to carry very much furniture or anything. Back to basics.
JAMES: Up on top of the car was that stereo set, remember that?
MARY: That our choir gave us. We didn’t have a stereo. And we got to Evanston and all we had were sleeping bags for the floor and a kettle for cooking and eating, and I remember I had never felt so disoriented, so—like that—like I couldn’t do anything. But then we went out to a Fourth of July parade and I got talking to people next to me, and she was a flutist and a teacher, and he was a cellist. And then they found out what we were doing and they took us home and they fed us dinner and they sent us a couch and a TV and a chair.
PHIL: Did we stay at Phil and Fran’s when we first got there?
JAMES: Um-hm, for two weeks.
MARY CLEVELAND: Because you had to find an apartment then and everything.
MARY: Well, we were with Phil and Fran and I think we were wearing our welcome out, and I was out hunting every day, and I came on this one neighborhood, and I really liked the neighborhood, so I walked around the back and I saw a janitor and I said, “Is there any—are there any apartments available?’ and he says, “Well, as a matter of fact, there’s this apartment,” and so he showed it to me. I called the real estate people and they said, “Four children! No, I don’t think we’ll let you have the apartment with four children.” I said, “These are well-mannered kids.” So I talked him into it and they did give us the apartment.
PHIL: So on the trip from Spokane out to Evanston, was it basically staying with people along the way, or—
MARY: Yeah, the family in North Dakota, we were dependent on them to get a—
PHIL: What did you do on the way to North Dakota, though?
JAMES: Well, uh, I don’t know. Stay in motels.
PHIL: Montana’s a big state.
MARY: We stayed in Buffalo Bill campground, didn’t we?
JAMES: Not on that trip. That was on another trip.
MARY: On one of the trips we camped they had these funny little huts, you know, open to the world, but a little hut, with a little hollowed-out place in the dirt, so you’d put your sleeping bag in the dirt, crawl into them— [laughter]
JAMES: Well, actually, honey, they had shelves you could put your sleeping bags on.
MARY: I don’t know. It was the most primitive—
JAMES: It was crazy.
MARY: And then we got to New York and—no, that was another trip. We had several of these wild trips across the country.
JAMES: Well, you were wondering about how we got from Spokane to Evanston. First of all, we went to Wisconsin. Well, first of all we went through North Dakota and stopped and visited the Nelsons, which was my aunt on my father’s side, and then from North Dakota we went to Wisconsin and my mother stayed with Aunt Jean and Uncle Clyde.
MARY: Yeah, we left her there.
JAMES: And, uh, then we came on down to Illinois and stayed with Uncle Phil and Aunt Fran.
MARY: Can I back up a little bit? Ollie and Wilma Mitchell [in Millwood, just outside of Spokane] had us—we couldn’t get that crazy thing to stay up there. Everything was wobbling. So we went to Wilma and Ollie’s house in the middle of the night, and the men then worked very hard, and he was very clever and he helped us get it stabilized. But I remember with the kids, we were in there and probably sleeping a little while.
JAMES: Yeah, it was one of those temporary car carriers, you know, that kind of hook on to the top of the door frame with that water channel, and then you cinch it down.
MARY CLEVELAND: Did you think about applying to go to school somewhere closer? [laughter]
JAMES: About that time, I was wondering—
MARY CLEVELAND: You could have been driving to California in the sunshine.
JAMES: Well, actually I’d been admitted to three schools. One of them was USC in conducting, another one was the University of Illinois, and I had had—they had to have a tape of performance, so I had recorded myself singing. I hadn’t had lessons. Anyway, I made this recording singing and I sent that to them and they wrote back, and said “tentative admission [pause], perhaps in violin.” [uproarious laughter]