In a valley dense with riches, our greatest treasure is, perhaps, our elders. Our elders offer us their perspective, wisdom, diplomacy, and tolerance. They also gift us with their memories of life in the Methow Valley. Tipped off by the Shafer Museum, I recently had the opportunity to hear a few such recollections from the memory of Frankie Waller.
The first thing you should know is that Frankie is a woman, and Frankie is her real name. She was apparently supposed to be a boy, to be named Frank Jr., after her father, Frank Morse. When Frankie surprised everyone by being a girl, her grandmother had the idea to just add and “ie.” It’s not a nickname, she’s not Frances, she’s Frankie.
Frankie’s grandmother helped her mother, Bertha, deliver Frankie at home, at what is now Moccasin Lake Ranch. Frankie says “They had called the doctor, but he lived all the way down in Twisp and in those days it took a while to get from Twisp to the ranch. So by the time he got there, I was already born. The doctor walked in and said to my mother, ‘good job.’”
Frankie’s family raised alfalfa, grain, cattle, and, later, sheep on the ranch. “The cattle were a cash crop,” she says. “We didn’t eat beef, we ate venison. Everyone else in the valley ate venison as well. Deer were never shot just for fun, it was always for the purpose of feeding the family.”
Frankie says that her great-grandmother Bridget came to the United States at age 16, alone and pregnant. In those days it was not uncommon for a young man from an affluent Irish family to get involved with a young woman of lesser means, and, when the romance resulted in a pregnancy, for the man to arrange a marriage for the young woman in America. “My great-grandmother couldn’t stay unwed and pregnant by a Protestant in her Catholic community in Ireland,” Frankie says. “Her parents put her on a boat knowing they’d never see her again.” Bridget married David Morse and had 10 children with him, and three generations later, along came Frankie.
Frankie’s Methow Valley memories could (and may one day) fill a book. But one story has particular relevance, in light of the Vintage Wheels event that just took place in Winthrop. On Frankie’s birthday in April 1957, she entered a contest and won a Chevrolet Bel Air Coupe. The day after she and her late husband, Paul, picked up the car, Frankie delivered her fifth child.
Some of Frankie’s stories are available online (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sx9PX28nh9I), recorded by Byron Odion in partnership with Methow at Home and journalist Marcy Stamper. Others can be accessed through the Shafer Museum, which “preserves and shares the history, culture and sense of place in the Methow Valley to inspire human connection and learning.” To learn more about the Museum’s history and projects, visit www.shafermuseum.org.