Helen Krinke, 96, in her much-utilized root cellar. Photo by Marcy Stamper

Helen Krinke, 96, in her much-utilized root cellar. Photo by Marcy Stamper

Living simply, as always

Interview by Marcy Stamper

June 2009


Helen Krinke has spent almost all of her 96 years in the Methow, 61 of them at her place near Alder Creek. She still preserves many of the old ways of doing things, content to do without modern conveniences that many have come to take for granted.


You’re tucked away back here.

It’s nice and quiet – that’s what I like about it.


How long have you been here?

Since ’48. We lost everything in the flood at Carlton. My husband was working at the lumber mill, so we came up here and built this. We stretched a tarp between two big pines and slept under that for the summer. We borrowed a pallet and some bedding. We lived in this room for several years and then, as we could afford it, we added on to it.


Did you grow up in the Methow?

I was born in Canada – my folks came back to the Methow when I was 3. Except for about four, six years when my husband and I went from job to job, I’ve been here – between 80 and 85 years.


So you’ve certainly seen the valley go through many phases.

Yes, I’ve seen a lot of changes; some are good and some are bad. I like having electricity. When I was a girl we didn’t have a telephone. People today can’t imagine being without a telephone. We either walked or went horseback if we wanted to talk to someone.


Did you grow up in the Carlton area?

No. My parents were both pioneers here in the valley. Mother was born in Texas and Dad was born in Nebraska. When they were married they took a trip to Canada, horseback, with a pack outfit. They liked it up there and stayed for six years. My mother didn’t much approve of the Canadian schools at that time, so we came back to the Methow, and I’ve been stuck here most of the time since.


Is that how it feels – “stuck”?

Well, sometimes, yes. But it’s a nice place.


Which school did you go to?

Beaver Creek. When we came back we lived at my grandfather’s farm, which is now the Tice Ranch. He bought five homesteads to make his ranch, and that was somewhere between 1903 and ’05. They moved to Upper Beaver Creek in 1926.


Was your husband from here, too?

No. My husband was an ironworker. He had been working at Chelan and he came up to Pateros for a weekend. One of our neighbors wanted someone to drive a truck to Twisp with a load of horses, so Bill drove to Twisp and ended up staying with some neighbors on Beaver Creek, and that’s where I met him.


When you got married you first moved to Carlton?

He was working at Coulee Dam. When he was finished over there he got a job building the first set of six concrete bridges up the valley. Whichever bridge he was working on, we moved the trailer house from one place to another. Then we bought the place at Carlton.


You said you’ve seen some good and bad changes. What changes are disappointing?

My biggest gripe – I guess you could call it a gripe – people are moving too close to the river. We lost our home because we lived too close to the river. Our house was about 30 feet back away from the riverbank, but it took off the whole corner of the farm.


That must have been devastating – you just saw the whole thing go?

I’ve had too many nightmares to talk about it.


But you weren’t in your house at the time?

No, but when you know your house is going to go down the river, you get what you can. I was carrying things out from the kitchen across the garden, and Bill was trying to gather up some of his tools. He stepped out the front door with his hands full of tools and the house just tipped over in the river behind him. If that doesn’t give you cold chills and nightmares, I’d like to know what does.


It’s terrible that you lost everything, but you were lucky that you were safe.

I had 100 baby chicks and about two-dozen older chicks – that all went down the river. The river changes channel when it gets really high. We miscalculated, and a lot of other people are doing the same thing we did – that worries me; it bothers me.


What other things stand out as you’ve watched them change?

Well, it’s gotten awful dry up here on the hill. Our well went dry – it’s only half full this spring. I had additional problems when a cloudburst up the canyon broke the dam at the Alder Mill. The slurry pond – it just washed most of that right down the canyon. That stuff is poisonous; nobody can tell me otherwise. For several years, the water from our well was just unusable. I couldn’t even grow a garden with it. The plants would come up and the peas would turn yellow.


Has it been cleaned up?

It’s diluted now. It still isn’t any good. I finally got some big tanks and haul water from town. Potatoes are about the only thing I can grow.


Have you had the water tested?

Yes. I’ve spent thousands of dollars trying to solve the water problem here. I know, absolutely, it contributed to my husband’s death. I couldn’t prove it. What I think of the mining industry and the way they do business, it isn’t fit for print. They’re still operating off an 1872 law. They don’t have to clean up the messes they make; it’s an outrage.


Do you go to town much?

Not anymore. I don’t drive anymore. I learned to drive a Model T Ford when I was 13. The biggest disappointment of my life was when I had to stop driving – it just limits your independence.


I like the design of your furniture, and it’s in beautiful condition.

My husband built all of it; drew his own patterns. I helped him saw it – we worked together making it. I’m proud of it. Most of the wood, except the large pieces, was headed for the burner down at the mill. It’s scrap lumber. We built all the furniture in here except the TV set.


Did you do any work outside the house?

I did housework and for three winters, I cleaned offices – the only job I ever worked on where they paid Social Security.

I typed manuscripts for years – every kind of writing there is, from all over the world. I was fascinated by the manuscripts I typed. I got awful tired, but I never got tired of what I was doing. I didn’t have a college education, but I did love English.


You probably read a lot more books than many people.

I have books all over the place – I’ve read all of them, sometimes several times. I still read as much as my eyes will let me.


I understand you do crocheting and embroidery.

I’ve crocheted since I was about 6 or 7 years old. I like to garden, but there’s no use trying to garden here with the water problem. In Carlton, I had a big garden – I raised peanuts there. I keep busy, puttering around.


What other kinds of things do you do?

I’m not able to do a lot of the things that I used to do. What bothers me more than anything else is that I can’t go out and build fence anymore. Climbing hills isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anymore.


I understand you have an old-fashioned washing machine.

It really isn’t old-fashioned – it’s just a Maytag wringer-washer. I have a well-used washboard out there that I know how to use, yet.


When did you get electricity here? 

I think we’d been here for four or five years before we had electricity. I have a gas lantern if I need it. I have a wood stove to cook on anyway. Except when it’s hot weather, I use the wood stove.

I’m saving waste fat – I’m going to make some soap. I do it about once every other year. I grate it for laundry soap. It’s very good soap – I follow my mother’s recipe. I grew up without electricity, and I just know how to do without a lot of modern things.


Some people are glad to leave all that behind.

I think some people are just a little bit lazy. It takes planning and a little basic knowledge of how to do things like that. A lot of it is hard work.


Do you can food?

I couldn’t do without my cellar. I can a lot of things. I buy extra meat and corn it. I like canned chicken – it’s the handiest thing when you want a meal. Now you see why I can live economically.