Special Editions Customized Biographies
Writing Samples
This is not only a sample of my writing style, it also demonstrates the power of images for restoring memories. When writing memoirs, study old photos and other memorabilia, you will be amazed how forgotten details gain new life.

Special Editions Customized Biographies

Fred and Agnes Bartelheimer Farm, circa 1930

Seventy years ago—a lifetime by today’s standards—this magnificent farm stood overlooking the Snohomish valley. My aunt Clara painted it from memory, capturing a moment in history when it bustled with activity.

Grandpa cleared the land and built the house and barns for Grandma and their eleven children. She gave birth to seven of those children in that house—built just in time for the arrival of baby Lydia in 1913.

Last year Aunt Freda described the house when it was newly built and the excitement it caused in their sleepy little community. It included all the modern conveniences and drew attention from miles around—the Bartelheimer family’s little “Street of Dreams” with their solitary state-of-the-art farmhouse.

Of course indoor plumbing demonstrated the greatest innovation. Water ran through pipes into the kitchen and an indoor bathroom—then referred to as a water closet. Inside the high-ceiling, closet-like room stood this amazing toilet with a tank high above our heads and a pull-cord flushing mechanism. We loved to flush the toilet at Grandma’s house. We stood on our tip toes and reached for that wooden knob on the end of a brass chain. It made a whoosh and gurgling sound, then a glop, glop, glop and a whining-like sound as fresh water filled that shiny porcelain caldron. We would have loved to flush it again and again, but Grandma’s stern and disapproving face quickly made us find other forms of entertainment.

In the summer, spring and fall when the weather turned nice, the bathroom became a guests-only facility—grandkids excluded. But we didn’t mind, because the rough wooden outhouse held its own mystique. Of course it seemed a bit scary as a small child, because the hole looked so big and so very deep. It conjured up some rather nightmarish images of falling in. But when it proved safe, it provided an entertaining way to spend time while Mom and Grandma visited. Listening to them talk endlessly made it hard to sit still. The outhouse provided a great escape.

We often went to the bathroom, even when there wasn’t an urgent need. In the summer heat, the outhouse’s location on the west side of the farmhouse produced a cool respite. A gentle breeze blew through the openings in the wall and you could sit there, truly enjoying nature—maybe just as God had intended. Frogs chirped and croaked in the distant stream, birds sung sweet melodies and lazy bumblebees made a deep humming sound as they roamed from flower to flower, just outside the crescent-mooned door.

Besides feeling a kinship with nature, Grandma’s wonderful supply of Sears and Roebuck catalogs provided the most intriguing part of the outhouse experience—she reserved toilet paper for the guest bathroom. Perhaps tender little bottoms had a more comfortable experience with plain ol’ toilet tissue, but the catalogs added a new form of entertainment. Grandma didn’t have just ordinary catalogs. They were old—vintage catalogs, showing archaic-looking farm equipment, ladies’ corsets, and funny clothes from another era. In the mid 1950’s, Grandma apparently didn’t view old catalogs as valuable keepsakes, or else Grandma’s practical side deemed them to be more valuable as money-saving substitutes. But we didn’t mind. Studying these amazing books provided the ultimate outhouse reward. Today, I long to have just one of those old catalogs in my hands—far too precious for an outhouse hole, it would be a real treasure.

The Other Outbuildings

If you study Aunt Clarie’s painting, you will see an amazing number of buildings. Besides the farmhouse, the infamous outhouse and the huge red barn, other little buildings dotted the landscape. Big and small, each provided a unique purpose. The compound included sheds for farm animals, like the horse barn and the chicken coup. A grain shed, wood shed and even a shed to house Grandma’s canning jars positioned themselves in convenient proximity to their intended purpose. The canning shed assumed and important role because Grandma needed a lot of jars to hold the carefully prepared foods from her vegetable garden and vast orchard—enough food to sustain a family of 13 over the long winter months.

A garage-like shed stood at the bottom of the steep hill, where it provided a home for the family car. A very old car occupied that space during my childhood. At one time, a grand vehicle—it looked as if it had traversed that steep hill too many times. The garage assumed the role of its grave-like resting place.

At the end of a long walkway, a funny, little doll-like house perched next to a platform. Grandpa placed his milk cans there to await the milk truck on its daily run to market. In the 50’s this little building still hugged the banks of the old highway, but it showed its age with missing boards and grass sprouting from its decaying rooftop.

Today all of these buildings are gone. Where once you found remnants of buildings, they are now covered by blackberry brambles and displaced earth from the construction of  a new highway. The Route 2, Snohohmish to Monroe Road used to be a charming, little scenic drive in front of Grandma and Grandpa’s farm. Later a newer route moved traffic lower on the hillside. The old highway still wound its way to Grandpa’s, becoming a private driveway while all the heavy  traffic traversed the flatter, straighter highway. Completed around 1948, it was labeled State Road 2. Years later, the highway changed again, gobbling up more of Grandpa’s land. Now with the changed landscape, it’s hard to determine where the house once stood. I believe it is buried under the mound of earth that has become a connecting ramp, bridging the 1948-built road to a newer highway that now completely bypasses Snohomish.

Perhaps if one dug deeply through the layers of brambles and weeds, a chunk of concrete might indicate that a man-made structure once stood there. But all its fine virgin lumber either burned in the fire that destroyed the house or succumbed to the ravages of time. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. What is not devoured by the state highway department is reclaimed by mother nature. It is a confirmation that our lives are so very fleeting. We struggle to build and create, but in less than a lifetime, there may be no evidence of all that hard work.

As cars whiz past this section of highway, their passengers have no concept of the significance of that patch of earth. This once thriving, complex vaporized. It is now only an image, memorialized in Aunt Claire’s painting and in the fleeting memories of those of us who witnessed its grandeur.

            – Paula Slavens, January 11, 2002

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