Interview with Lille Belle Munroe Read
and Medora Munroe Copeland
Interviewers: David Andrews and Marj Andrews
Including comments by Lloyd A. Read
October 1, 1983, in the Reads’ kitchen in Turner, Oregon
David: Where have you lived in your lifetime?
Lillie and Dodie: Little Rock, Arkansas; Nampa, Idaho; Marshfield (Coos Bay), Oregon; Portland, Oregon; several cities in California [Dodie]; several cities in Oregon [Lillie]; and Washington State [both].
Lloyd: As I was trying to figure it out yesterday—how many different places we lived—as near as I could figure it’s 54 different houses. But I—we—built 10 of them. We built them ourselves except the last two. We had to get a registered, licensed electrician and plumber. Otherwise, I put in the wiring, plumbing and carpentry work for 10 houses.
Dodie: I’ll tell you one thing; when I was about 7 years old, Dad had moved to Nampa, Idaho. We kids walked most of the way from Nampa, Idaho, to Coos Bay, Oregon, behind a covered wagon.
[Coos Bay was then called Marshfield. Later Dodie told us that John rode a horse and helped break the trail as the track over the Cascades was difficult. She noted that they traveled past Three Sisters in the central Cascades. They traveled over McKenzie Pass into Eugene. Dodie commented that there were “freezing nights” and that they “slept under blankets and a tarp” and sometimes found snow blanketing them in the morning. They traveled in the winter.]
Lillie: We started out with three horses. When we got to Vale—my brother was riding our best horse—the fellows at the blacksmith shop wanted to buy them. We told them they weren’t for sale. We got a little ways from Vale and stopped for the night. Dad would always hobble the horses when we stopped for the night. Dad and John went to a nearby farm house to buy eggs and milk and stuff for our breakfast next morning. We kids had laid a canvas on the ground and we were all lying down there singing near the campfire. Dad came back and said, “Where’s the horses?”
Dodie: They were stolen. They were gone completely. We stayed there about a week looking for them.
[Later conversation revealed that they were able to find only one horse, their worst one, about a mile away. The horses were grazing quite close to the camp. The thieves must have come up in the dark, removed the hobbles, walked and then ridden the horses away.]
Lillie: We looked for them but could never find them. Daddy had to buy another one on the way to Coos Bay.
David: What were the significant reasons for the family moving?
Dodie: Dad had to move to get work. He took what work he could find.
Lillie: When we moved from Little Rock to Idaho, it was because of his work. He was a finisher for the railway coaches for Iron Mountain Railroad. He was a finishing carpenter, that’s what he did. After Mother died, he was never, never settled. Mother died when I was 6½ or 7. He was never settled. One of his cousins lived out here in Oregon. She kept writing to him. He came as far as Idaho and he worked for a year. Then he came on to Oregon and he stayed in Oregon for the rest of his life. He never went back.
David: What did he do when he went to Idaho?
Dodie: Worked on a dam.
David: Which one?
Lillie: Boise—oh, the one at Boise! [Bureau of Reclamation’s Boise Project]
Marj: What did he do in Marshfield?
Dodie: Worked on houses.
Lillie: Built a bridge. Odd jobs, whatever he could get.
Marj: How long were you in Marshfield?
Lillie: Just a year.
Marj: Then where did you go?
Lillie: We were coming on to Oregon—it was 1905, the year of the fair. We lived there [in Marshfield] because he didn’t want to go to Portland because of the World’s Fair. When we did come [to Portland] in 1906, we stayed in a hotel and then we went out and bought the two lots at [place name unintelligible].
[The Fair was the Lewis and Clark Exhibition of 1905 in Portland, Oregon.]
Lloyd: Dora, did you start school in Nampa?
Dodie: No, Little Rock! We started school in Little Rock.
Lloyd: You were 7 years old in Nampa, I thought you said a while ago.
Lillie: No, that’s when our mother died.
Marj: But you were born in '97?
Lillie: I was born in '92.
Dodie: I was born in '95.
Lillie: She was born in '95. I was three years older than she was.
Dodie: And we came from Nampa to Coos Bay in 1906.
Dodie: It was the winter time.
Lillie: She [Dodie] was 10.
Lloyd: You were 10 years old in 1905.
Lillie: We came to Portland from Coos Bay in 1906 on a big ship.
Marj: Up the coast and up the Columbia River—that must have been fun.
Lillie: That was my only ocean trip. And I tell you—we came near to feeling dead until we came to Astoria. The captain asked Dad, “Where are the girls?” and when he found out we were sick he said, “You go down to the kitchen and tell the chef you want some quinadine [?]. Take it to them. It will help them settle their stomachs.” And it did; it worked.
David: When you got to Portland, what happened at that point? What did you do there?
[Unintelligible for several lines; something about Dodie getting sick and Lillie nursing her.]
Dodie: You were working at Meier and Frank’s [to Lillie]. You took care of me and went back to work at Meier and Frank’s.
Lillie: That’s where I missed my calling. I had three different doctors say I’d missed my calling. I should have been a nurse. When I was 16 . . .
Marj: You should have had a degree, because you were a nurse anyway.
Lillie: Well, this one doctor, when Pauline was born, he told me when Pauline was born, I was May’s nurse then. She had been close to [unintelligible]. There was one doctor and one midwife in the town. Well, the Baptist preacher’s wife had a baby the same night and her husband went for the midwife and Paul [May’s husband] went for the doctor. So we had the doctor and they got the midwife. So when the baby was born, the doctor said, “Can you dress this baby?” I said, “I guess I can.” I never did it before, but I did dress it. [Laughter] When the nurse came I said, “What did I do wrong?” She said, “You didn’t do anything wrong.” She says, “Who taught you how?” I said, “I never dressed one before.” I did put the slip on her. She says, “I wouldn’t have put the slip on her, the only thing I wouldn’t have done that you did.” When May got up and I went to go back to work at Meier and Frank’s, the doctor said, “If you’ll go to [a nursing school name?] and train for a nurse, I’ll put you through.” I said, “I can’t do it. I didn’t do well in high school and I can’t read Latin and stuff like that.” He said, “You’re a natural nurse and if you’ll go, I’ll put you through.” Well, I didn’t have anybody to advise me, so I went back to Meier and Frank’s and went to work.
Soon after that I took care of John. He had lumbar pneumonia—both lungs. Nine days I took care of him—night and day. Carl was a baby  and was crawling on the floor. The doctor took care of John until—he was unconscious for eight days. When he came to, he called for the doctor. The doctor said, “Don’t thank me. If you hadn’t had that nurse, you’d have never come through. So you thank your sister; she’s the one to thank. The doctor can give her orders, but if they’re not carried through,” he said, “it’s no good.” He said, “You’ve missed your calling.” I had three doctors tell me that.
I never had my kids in the hospital except for tonsillitis. If they got burned, I’d take care of them. If they had pneumonia, I’d take care of them. Going back to about two years old, Herbie [something] that morning [unintelligible—something about Marlene being very sick.] They didn’t bring that baby over 'til late in the afternoon. I said, “Thelma, why didn’t you bring her before?” Thelma replied, “Well, I thought she’d be all right.” I fixed that baby a bed when I took two of the dining room chairs and put them together. She was breathing so hard she shook those chairs. That evening Thelma said, “Well, I’m going to call the doctor.” I said, “You don’t need to call the doctor now. It’s broke [the fever].” I said, “She’ll be all right.” But she called the doctor and he come out. He said, “If she isn’t better by morning then you call me.” I said, “Okay.” The next evening at 6 o’clock, he and his nurse came to the door and he said, “Where’s that baby?” I said, “She’s sitting in the high chair eating her supper.” He said, “I thought we had a case of pneumonia on our hands.” I said, “You did, but I cured it before you got here.” [Laughter.]
The last person I took care of was my husband and I could have shot him. He was determined to go to Salt Lake to a convention. This was three or four years ago. He had just gotten pneumonia first before that convention. He said, “I'm all right.” I said, “You’re not all right.” So we went. And I’ll tell you, he wasn’t well. I wasn’t sure what to do if he did pass out. The last night we were there he said, “If anything happens to me while we’re here take my body home.” I was so provoked.
Marj: He was half dead when they got off the bus. They’d taken the bus home.
Lillie: He was sick. I kept giving him this medicine and putting stuff on him. [?] carry a plastic bag. Well, we ran out of kleenex, so I bought a Big Mac and took the paper napkins that come with it and cut it up in quarters.
David: What events best illustrates the character of family members?
[The first few lines were unintelligible.]
Dodie: [Referring to Lillie] She’s an angel! She’s the best one in the whole family. She’s always helped anyone that would come; give them the shirt off her back. She took care of me when I was sick, for quite a while. She wouldn’t let anybody in or out. She stayed with me all the time. I was about 11; she was 13. I missed the rest of the year in school.
Lillie: David, just sum it all up; that’s what God wanted me to do and that’s what I’m doing. That’s all there is to it, and I don’t think there’s anything more.
Dodie: [?] It shows [something] she had a baby.
David: What’s a good example of what your sisters are like?
Lillie: Oh, I don’t know. [Unintelligible—they were talking about the lots they lived on in Portland while their dad was away working.] . . . we were in tents. Daddy didn’t have a house built [yet]. I don’t know, maybe we’d been onery to May or something; I don’t know what it was. Anyway, she said she’s going up to visit these friends of ours up there, up the hill. Well, we waited for her to come home. And waited and waited and waited and she didn’t come home all that night. So the next day we walked up to see where she was. She was up there with Amanda, a friend of hers. She was about May’s age, 17. May said, well, if we weren’t so onery to her she wouldn’t do this!
Marj: Where was Grandpa and John?
Lillie: Daddy worked. John also worked [away from home].
Dodie: When Daddy come home on weekends then he’d take off again to San Diego.
[Apparently he worked in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and San Diego, California whenever he could find work there and then would come home to Oregon.]
Lillie: He went where he could get work. He come home on weekends. We had credit at the grocery store on [? Street]. It was one big grocery store.
Marj: Oh, that’s where you met Alice.
Lillie: That’s where I met Uncle Carl and Alice. She’s still alive. She came out this year. She came to see me at the Home. She came out with the Central Christian Church.
Marj: Yes, I remember you telling me.
Lillie: I’ve known her since 1907. She told them, the group organizers, “There’s Lillie Read there and I want to go see her.” They told her she could.
Marj: I never knew Uncle John very well. He wasn’t around when I was little. What was he like when he was little?
Lillie: When we were still in Little Rock, he was blind for a while, you know.
Marj: No, I didn’t know.
Dodie: He could barely get around.
Lillie: He got the red sore eye. He was blind. He went to the blind school in [Little Rock?]. That’s where he got his education. But he got so he could see again. His eyes were never perfect, but he did have sight in both eyes. When we left Little Rock from our [?] . . . Agnes had got married. She was on the sixth [something]. Daddy had a pass from working at the railroad so long. They gave him a pass to bring himself and the children out to Idaho. So Agnes and Bill came home just before we were ready to leave. So they wanted to come, too. The only thing Daddy could do would be to take John’s pass and give it to Agnes. Bill said, “That’s all right. John and I can come out on the rails.” Daddy didn’t like that very well but he finally had to give in.
Marj: Riding the rails was underneath the cars.
Lillie: Just out of Denver, John fell. He got all banged up. That’s why his hand was crippled. His hand was kind of crippled. [See endnote.]
Marj: I didn’t know that. I can only remember going to Uncle John and Aunt Margaret’s house once.
Lillie: Oh. We used to go to dinner often.
Marj: I can remember being there and seeing his big fish pond. But I don’t remember him very well.
Dodie: Back in Denver the Salvation Army picked him up and took care of him.
[Their father traveled back to Denver and brought John to Nampa, Idaho.]
David: What happened to Bill?
Lillie: He came on to Idaho with us. When we came on to Portland, they [Agnes and Bill] stayed in Nampa. Agnes, she came out [to Portland] in 1907.
David: What family traditions can you remember? For example, where did your dad and mom come from?
Lillie: Daddy came from Michigan.
[While they were looking at pictures, Lillie identified her grandfather William Orlando Munroe as an old time preacher: “He’s got his Bible in his lap.” Two more pictures elicited these comments: “This is what we looked like two years after we got married.” And: “This is a picture of us five girls.”]
David: Grammy, do you remember any history of your mom and dad? Where they came from?
Lillie: We don’t know too much.
Dodie: Dad came from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Mother came from Tennessee, I believe.
Lillie: We were living in Arkansas when she died.
Dodie: No, I said she was born in Tennessee.
Lillie: Yes, she was born in Tennessee.
Dodie: I don’t know what town.
Lillie: You see, Mama had been married before and her husband died. She had two little children.
David: Was that a Mr. Johnson?
Lillie: Yes, Mr. Johnson.
David: Do you know his first name?
Lillie: No, the only thing Daddy has in the genealogy was where he married Mary Jane Johnson and where she died. [Her first husband was Barney S. Johnson.]
David: And she had two children?
Lillie: Yes, two children, a girl and a boy. [Actually Annie and another girl who died young.] That’s who I go back to see in Arkansas, is her children [Annie’s]. They’re both there. She’s dead now, she died in 1957. Our Mama died in 1899. I wanted to go back there this year, but we didn’t. We got a wedding invitation to one of our great nieces in Kentucky. So when we got there I said we should see if we can change these plane tickets to go to Little Rock. They said we’d have no trouble. They wanted another $200 to do that and I said, “Nothing doing! I’m not going to do it.” So we didn’t go to Little Rock this year. It would have cost us $500 extra just to go down there, so that’s why I didn’t go to Little Rock this year. Maybe I’ll go next year.
David: Do you remember anything more about your mom? Where she was born other than Tennessee? Anything about her parents?
[Several lines unintelligible.]
Dodie: . . . where she grew up . . .
Lillie: . . . Luther Pond . . .
David: Run that by me again, Grammy. Pond? Luther Pond? What was he or where is he?
Lillie: He was a cousin.
David: Cousin of your mom?
Lillie: No. Cousin to me. He was Mother’s sister’s boy. He took this picture. He was a photographer.
[They were looking at a picture of the family Lillie visits in Arkansas. Mr. George D. Pond married her mother’s sister Frances. He was from England, Arkansas and was the photographer, not Luther.]
David: Is he still living?
Lillie: Don’t know!G
David: Do you know where he is?
Lillie: No, don’t have any idea. We never kept up after we kids left and grew up. The last time we saw him or heard of him was when we left Little Rock. [Luther died in the 1918 flu epidemic.]
David: When was that, 1907?
Lillie: No, that was in 1903. 1904 we were in Idaho. 1905 in Coos Bay. 1906 came on to Portland. He was just a kid but his father was a photographer. He was a little older than me. Three years older than me and I was 7, he was 10.
Lillie: During the year the family lived in Nampa, we were very poor. We girls received a few pennies for our allowance. May and I concocted a scheme and took all the pennies and covered them with mercury so they looked like dimes. We then gave them to Jessie and Dodie and sent them to the store to spend them. Our father found out what we had done and tanned our hides.
Dodie: Once Lillie and Jessie were horseback riding bareback. The horse trotted along and they bounced up and down. Lillie, she also bounced backward until she fell off the horse over its tail and landed on the hard ground.
|Dodie and Lillie|
Note: The story told about Bill and John riding the rails when the family moved from Little Rock to Idaho is probably based in fact, but it couldn’t have happened during that move, since Bill Allen and Agnes met in Idaho and were married in December 1904, when Agnes was just under 17 and Bill was 22, and just before the rest of the family moved on to Oregon. Agnes and Bill followed to Oregon not long after her family moved. It is more probable that the accident happened when John and Bill were traveling around the West, getting work where they could and trying to get home on the weekends.