Winthrop resident Cristy Quaale Carlson has published a memoir that invites readers into her experience growing up in the years following the Great Depression and World War II. Although she was raised on a farm near Madras, Oregon, her memories “touch on the universals of small-town ranching,” a press release said.
Some of the stories Cristy shares are personal experiences with the kinds of things we expect to hear about rural childhoods in the American West: no indoor plumbing, clothes from Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs, flour sack dish towels, driving combines, welcoming soldier relatives home from the war, heating water on wood stoves to scrub laundry on a washboard.
But despite the many universal experiences that link her to others familiar with post-war rural existences, Cristy doesn’t shy away from the elements of her own childhood that are unique, most notably the death of her mother. When Cristy’s mother, Betty, went into labor with Cristy in July 1941, the labor and delivery quickly became complicated. After three days, the man who would become Cristy’s godfather went out into the streets of Bend seeking volunteer blood donors for a transfusion.
Cristy was born via C-section in an attempt to save either mother or child. Her mother’s last words were “Whatever happens, it will be okay.”
And, eventually, it was okay. After a period of stunned grief, Cristy’s father bucked conventional wisdom that would have allowed Cristy to be adopted by relatives; he raised her himself, and father and daughter remained devoted to each other throughout her childhood. “He was a big man (6 feet, 2 inches) with a nurturing heart,” Cristy says. “He got a lot from my mother that he used in raising me. He was my support, keeping me safe and protected. I never knew my mother so I didn’t have any emotions about that — it was all about the present for me.”
A bit of a spitfire, Cristy was all energy and boundless curiosity. Following a blood-drawing dog bite when she was two, she had to wear a harness with a leash when they went into town, to stop her from petting stray dogs.
Cristy also addresses the challenges of puberty, girl friendships, and the other trappings of adolescent existence. Without a mother to guide her, Cristy had to rely on others to teach her, or she untangled the mysteries herself. She even shares the story of her first date meeting her father (“What are your intentions, young man?” “I just want to take her to the movies!”) and her first kiss.
Cristy’s memoir, “East of the Cascades,” began as a series of personal notes, composed to give her two daughters, Penny and Melinda (to whom the book is dedicated), a sense of their mother’s life. In 2017 Cristy was going through some old photos of her childhood and realized that her kids didn’t know much about it. She typed up her notes and created 30-page binders of photos and stories and gave her girls the books for Christmas. That was the end of that, she thought.
But a couple of Cristy’s girlfriends and their husbands saw the binders and said, “You should write a book.” Greg Wright of Methow Press said the same thing. A year or two went by and then one day Greg ran into Cristy at Hank’s and asked, “Have you decided to write the book?”
“Why would anyone want to read this?” Cristy wondered. “Because it’s from another era,” her husband, Don, said. (“Gee whiz, how old does that make me?!” Cristy thought.)
Greg helped Cristy assemble the notes into a narrative that paints a picture of a life that is both unique and commonplace for a particular time — truly another era.
Intrigued? Trail’s End Bookstore carries the memoir, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting Winthrop Kiwanis. You can also hear Cristy read from her book at the Winthrop Library at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 2.