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Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Valley According to Gramma…

Gramma Snow

This post is a long time coming. No blog about the Tualco Valley would be complete without a visit to the Valley matriarch, Joan Snow. If you’ve been out in the Valley, you’re certain to have seen her gadding about in her black Mercury, heading to town or the opposite way to the Frohning Farm. “Gramma,” we call her because she’s the Grandma of Jessica, my daughter Marika’s friend and has pretty much been a Gramma to both our families since the girls’ friendship began years ago.

The Ripple has been around for almost a year now, and there are things about the Valley I have yet to learn, questions no one has been able to answer for me yet. “Gramma would probably know,” I’d think and let it go at that. Well, wonder no more because I called Gramma last night and asked if I could stop by for a visit, that I had a few questions to ask her about the Valley. “10:00 in the morning would be fine,” Gramma says. “Come for coffee.”

So this morning I gather up my notepad, questions, and camera and at ten o’clock on the dot I’m dodging some pretty impressive chuckholes in her driveway. I jostle to a stop in front of her garage and unload. It is a cheerful Gramma who meets me at the front door. Her sidekick Charlie, a substantial springer spaniel, seems likewise glad to see me. We exchange “Good mornings” and I give Gramma her hostess gift, a half dozen assorted donuts fresh from Safeway’s display case. While she puts the coffee on, I review a few questions I jotted down the night before.

Soon Gramma has the coffee pot groaning away, and she sits down for our chat. I give her a short history of The Ripple, what it’s about, and read her the very first post so she’ll have some idea of what she’s up against. Soon I’m scribbling away while she talks. Gramma shares the history of her place which has been in the family for generations (six, now, with the grandchildren). Originally obtained through a Federal Land Grant (The Homestead Act of 1862), ownership of the property dates to 1877 and the original grant document was signed by our 19th President Rutherford B. Hayes.

“So how long have you lived in the Valley?” I ask. Gramma proceeds to explain her history with the property. After clambering around on a few branches of her Family Tree, I learn Gramma’s great-grandfather Arial Foye was the original Grantee. Her, father, a Smith, married into the Foye line and brought his family to the Valley in 1934 shortly after Gramma was born.

At the time the property was an abandoned dairy farm. The Smith family lived in a farmhouse east of the curve above Swiss Hall on the site of the current home that belonged to our old neighbors the Magees. (In later years the old home was destroyed by fire.) In 1942 the house in which Gramma now resides was built. The Matriarch's  House Her father moved the household goods by horse team and wagon from the old homestead to the new location. While the first and second stories were being built, the family lived in the basement. Because the dairy infrastructure was still in place, it seemed logical to resume dairy operations and a few dairy cows later the farm once again became a dairy. (Gramma still remembers the big metal milk cans.)

I shinny down the Family tree and help myself to a donut while Gramma pours coffee into a lumberjack-size mug—and it is lumberjack strong, too. She helps herself to a donut and between bites, continues.

Those were Depression years and the dairy business suffered. “My father,” Gramma says,” had some experience raising strawberries before he moved to the Valley.” And as was often necessary during the Depression years, farmers had to diversify to eke out a living. Mr. Smith planted a patch of strawberries on a three-quarter acre parcel west of the corner above Swiss Hall and discovered not only that Valley soil was excellent for growing berries, but that the berry business was much better at growing wealth than operating a dairy. And so berry cropping  joined milk production in Valley commerce.

Gramma lived in Tualco until 1954 when she left the Valley for fourteen years to follow her husband Ron Snow to several locations on the West Coast. On a Friday 13, Ron, who was working in California at the time, was notified his job had been phased out and he no longer had a paycheck. He moved his family back to Washington State where he found employment. In 1968 in order to keep the farm in the family, he and Joan bought the old land grant property. Gramma has lived in the Valley ever since.

Now that family history is history, we move on to Valley history and the question that tops my list. “So, ‘Tualco?’” I ask. I learn the original place name was “Qualco,” a native American (the Tulalip tribe, perhaps?) place name but whether it was because of  a“forked tongue,” or what, the white man corrupted the word into “Tualco.” “Qualco” means “meeting of two rivers,” the rivers being the Snoqualmie and the Skykomish which merge west of the Valley and form the Snohomish. Ah, Ha! And I think of the digester project—“Qualco Energy Corp.” An apt bit of atavism to credit the old days and “The Old Ways.”

“Any stories about the Grange?” My next question. Swiss Hall, Gramma says, used to be the Tualco Valley Grange. The current Tualco Valley Grange was a two room schoolhouse, Tualco School, grades 1-8. I knew that part of its history from a fellow I would see at the Grange pancake breakfasts twice a year. Somehow he always ended up beside me and would say, “I used to go to school here, you know.” And so did Gramma. “The steps faced the road, not where they are now. And you entered on the road side of the building,” she said. “I was five years old when I started. Too young, they said, a year too early.” She laughs and continues. “A special session of the school board was called to see what to do with me. The teacher said I was doing just fine so they let me stay.” I learn that the building had large partitions so the one big room could become two classrooms. The teacher went back and forth from one room to the other. The class sizes, as Gramma remembers, were small: five to six students per classroom. Students came from the Valley and also the High Bridge area. Because of low enrollment and the Depression, the school was closed and Valley children went to Central Elementary in Monroe. The High Bridge students were transferred to Duvall.

Sometimes one’s early schooldays prompt strange memories and this morning Gramma shares one of hers. During recess children were assigned the task of noting which way the flag waved and when they returned from play, they were called upon to tell from which compass direction the wind blew. “I have no idea why,” she laughs. “But I remember being assigned the chore and not knowing anything about directions, so I would just make up something.” (Hey, I’ve done that myself many a time—one time too often in fact, but we shall not visit that incident in this post.) Gramma remembers roller skating at school. “Must have been sidewalks,” she muses. She also remembers wanting to skate to school, but that her parents would not allow, so Gramma would carry her skates until she was out of sight. And we all know what she did then, don’t we!

(I reach for a second donut and encourage her to do the same. I’m disappointed when she chooses a cinnamon twist. I was hoping she’d select a chocolate covered one. I know Gramma loves chocolate and made sure my six pack included one pastry with a thick glaze of that sweet darkness. But no, she munches on the twist instead.)

“So the road was paved back then?” a question that dovetailed nicely with another I’ve often pondered: “Why is Tualco Road so curvy? In a Valley with a considerable expanse of flat land, why snake it all over the place?” Gramma sets me straight. “When they laid out the road, the engineers had to make sure it touched every farmer’s property,” she says, “so every Valley landowner had access to the public road.” Apparently the County had to do some fancy gerrymandering to accommodate the randomness of Valley property lines. Thus the weird sharp curves above Swiss Hall. And Tualco Road? Gramma says it used to be “Road 15 B” and remembers a sign that stated that fact printed beneath the grim face of George Washington.

“Gramma,” I ask, “anything special you’d like folks to know about the Valley?” She thinks for a moment, smiles, and says, “It really hasn’t changed very much, you know. And since most of it has been designated ‘farmland,’I don’t think it will either.” And that’s a good thing, a point on which we both agree.

I look at the clock. 12 noon. Two hours gone by just like that. Two hours, in a flash. In between my questions, Gramma and I chat about our families, other Valley happenings, other Valley news. She tells me she remembers the World War II blackouts, how the Valley turned dark after sundown. I tell her I remember a Thanksgiving storm and how the Valley experienced a power outage and was blacked out for a week. We trade stories back and forth.“We live in such a beautiful place,” she says. “When I drive through the Valley, I see the mountains, heaped with snow.” As she speaks, I look out and see a male northern harrier. Its white underside gleams in the light, white as newly fallen snow; such a beautiful bird; its graceful glide, the delicate wingtips…a splendid hawk aloft in a beautiful Valley. Yes, Gramma, it’s a beautiful place to live…. No doubt about that!Our Valley

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  1. Awe, great post. It really makes me miss the valley...and Gramma Snow (great picture!). :) Learned some interesting things I didn't know about the history of the valley and experienced a bit of disappointment when I read about the 'twist'. Rats. ;)

  2. I had family on that road for many years.

    I'm trying to find out more about the original residents-the Tualco/Qualco people. I've heard that it was a seasonal camp, but would like to know a lot more. I wonder if they ever did anything but hunt up in the hills east of town where my Mother's family homesteaded starting in 1910.

    Nice story, I picked those strawberries as a kid.