©South County News/The Daily News, reprinted with permission
Write Your Life Story students learn from each other, and I was on hand November 7 in Woodland when Lower Columbia College English students learned from them as well. Carmen Webb leads the group of 19 writing students, who meet from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesdays in the basement of the Presbyterian Church. Webb, a part of the group since 1998, has been its leader four years.
I was a member of this enjoyable writing class a couple years ago, and I recognized many familiar faces. Before the college students arrived, the class progressed as usual, starting promptly at 1:00. After deciding who would bring snacks to the next two gatherings, Carmen Webb asked classmates to read their work. Students had been prompted to write memories of stores and shopping, or a subject of their choice. Each, in turn, read one or two poems or essays. Margaret Hepola, age 90, read about learning to face the public by working in a store. “I was bashful when I was young,” she said. Living eight miles from Woodland in the country, she said she was too far from school to participate in extracurricular activities. When she started working, she worked at the bulb farm. “At age 19,” she said, “I worked at a Finnish store located where Classy Hair is today.”
She described how her shyness made it difficult to communicate with Finnish customers who spoke little English. Her workday was from 7:30 AM to 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. most days, but she worked from 7:30 a.m. to 11 PM on Saturdays. When she started work, she made $30 a month, and when she left, she made $120. Hepola told of not having much money, and living on potato soup, which she still likes today. Customer service was important in those days, and she told of sometimes working with a customer one or two hours.
When Margaret Hepola married a Finnish man who owned a thriving country store, he joked that he married her because she knew how to run a store.
Sherri Schievelbein told the class she keeps paper and a light-up pen by her bed to record writing ideas that come to her during the night. “I hate the computer,” said Schievelbein.
Jewell Ellila, a long-time class member, commented that a story runs around in her head five or six days and then it just flows out.
Maxine Rodman, another longtime member of the group, read an earlier writing about the mercantile where she shopped as a child, and the ice man who would leave ice at her house and who would give the children slivers of ice on hot days.
Maxine Lester read a humorous piece about family sayings. She remembers that when someone would ask her dad, “How do you feel?” he would reply, “With my fingers.” Several people nodded and grinned, recognizing the familiar sayings.
One man read about his memories of the old Red & White Store in Battle Ground, Wash.
“I always wondered how they got the big stalk of bananas to hang from the ceiling,” he read. He remarked in his story that during the Depression, clothing was purchased for durability, not style.
Dolly Bottemiller’s story was about remembrances of shopping in the 1940s for loafers, saddle shoes, anklets, pleated skirts, and dark red lipstick and nail polish. “Later”, she said, “I worked at Meier and Frank, where elevators were run by women who called out the floor numbers and told what was located on each floor.”
Asked what they get out of the Write Your Life story class, Molly Cowlisajaw replied “friendship and inspiration,” and Sherry Schievelbein said it keeps her writing; Jewel Ellila jokingly said she’s there for the snacks.
Maxine Rodman likes hearing about the varied life experiences from different age groups. For Margaret Hepola, “it’s like therapy. You can put your thoughts and problems on paper.”
When Maxine Lester lost her husband, she said it gave her a way to write away her grief. Sherri Schievelbein, who moved here from Wisconsin, said the class helps her learn the area’s history, to which Margaret Hepola replied, “today is history.”
At about 2:45, the Lower Columbia College students arrived. Aralie Niemi and Elias Warndahl interviewed Maxine Rodman about the flood of 1996. Rodman remembered President Clinton’s visit to the area, and remembered how sad she felt for people whose homes were affected.
Kahli Gillis interviewed Jewel Ellila about the possibility of a Wal-Mart in Woodland, and another college student asked about Harry Truman, remembered for refusing to leave his Spirit Lake Lodge when Mt. St. Helens erupted.
Tia Simpson asked Maxine Lester about forms of entertainment in the area from 1930 to 1970. Lester said most of the entertainment was dancing, and that some of the popular dances were the polka, schottische, waltz, and square dances.
Senior Danielle Rusk interviewed Carmen Webb and Dolly Bottemiller regarding the FFA Nursery Landscape program through the high school. The women were unfamiliar with the program, but learned that it is a contest between schools. Students identify plants, draw a landscape, answer questions, do a team activity, and brainstorm as part of the competition. The program runs November to May. Rusk was proud to say Woodland went to nationals in October, 2006.
Write Your Life Story students and young college students learned from each other during the interviews, just as the writing students learn from each other each week. For more information on the Write Your Life Story Class, phone Lower Columbia College/Woodland Center at (360) 225-4768.