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WHAT'S IN A NAME
By Don Donaldson AuthorHouse Copyright © 2006 Don Donaldson
All right reserved.
Chapter One Choosing A Name
There flows not upon the sea of life any wreck of humanity so utterly shattered and crippled that its signals of distress should not challenge attention and command assistance. -Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe
When Mildred Hay was a little girl about five, residing in the small town of Sprague, Washington, 40 miles west of Spokane, her sisters used to tease her about the future, asking if she had a husband. "No," said the little girl, "but someday I am going to marry Jack Jackson." And pointing a finger toward the rising sun, she would say, "He lives over there in Spokane."
Actually, her husband-to-be did reside in Spokane at the time and his name Don Donaldson was euphorically similar to Jack Jackson. Call it intuition if you will, but Don Donaldson was only seven months older than Mildred. He was born on June 7, 1911. She was born on January 27, 1912.
He lived in a big eleven-room new house in the northeast section of what was frequently called in those days Sunny Old Spokane. Located on three city lots, the place had a lush lawn, big garden and several tall fruit trees.
Don's father was Otto Donaldson, a veteran locomotive engineer with the Great Northern Railroad. Don's mother Lucy was half the age of Otto and there was a two-year-old baby brother frail in health. The Donaldsons were well off financially when compared with their neighbors, mostly Italian immigrants recently from the Old Country.
Freedom of childhood ended right after Labor Day, 1917 when Don had to assume the responsibility of going to school. Early that morning his mother, after putting clean clothes on him, said, "Paul, I have waited a long time to let you do this. Now, right here before you start school, you must decide the name you want people to call you. We have always called you Paul, but your baptized name is really Donald. So tell me, what do you want it to be, Paul or Donald?"
The boy straightened up and said, "I don't like either name. I want to be called Don-just plain Don Donaldson!"
The newly named six-year-old traipsed off to the Cooper Public School, running and skipping carefree like the other young children. Trouble lay ahead.
As soon as he reached the play field, big boys grabbed him and another boy his age, pushed them into the center of the ring they had formed. "Fight, fight, hit 'em!" they shouted. But before the two kids took action, the ring broke and the big boys scattered as the principal appeared.
He was a burly man with an angry look. He grabbed Don and his opponent, marched the two little fellows into the building, up a flight of stairs to a small office, addressing them in a harsh voice. "I am Mr. Heatman, the principal and I do not allow boys to fight here at Cooper School." He reached into his desk and pulled out a wooden paddle. "See this? If I ever catch you fighting, I will spank you good and hard." He then marched the frightened youngsters to their classroom, telling the class of startled beginners: "As the principal I will not tolerate any fighting at school." The children froze.
To Don, his first grade teacher seemed as mean as Mr. Heatman. Every morning she inspected the hands of her pupils at their desks. If she found dirty hands, she would strike with a ruler. Once, for a minor offense, she made Don and another boy sit most of the day in front of the room on high stools, wearing dunce hats. She had on her desk a coil of soft rope about six feet in length which she used at times to tie a jittery child to his or her seat.
Playing one day at the home of a neighbor, Don found a box of dynamite caps buried in sawdust. The caps were small, made of copper and opened on one end, of a size that could easily fit over the top of a lead pencil. Innocent as a babe and totally unsuspecting the presence of danger, he loaded his pockets with caps and ran off to play baseball with friends. Curiosity got the better of him, so he withdrew from the game and looked carefully at the dynamite cap he held, hoping to extract a small wad of paper in the end. First he tried to dislodge it with a nail, which didn't work. Then he lit a match snatched from home and shoved it down the channel. A tremendous explosion ensued. Don's world turned topsy-turvy and blackness quickly enveloped him. He couldn't see!
The children nearby screamed. A lady came running with a wet towel, swished it over Don's face and said quietly, "Everything's going to be okay." Two men appeared, positioning themselves on either side and literally carried the frightened boy upright across a field. His mother came rushing from the family home, hardly believing what she saw-her son's face and hand profusely bleeding from powder burns over his skin and clothes. Her first task was to get her son ready for the trip to the hospital. Emotionally distraught, she rubbed a damp cloth over his hands and face and hastily picked out a few pieces of shrapnel still embedded in his flesh; then jerked off his shirt and pants and impulsively, violently threw the garments across the room, not aware there were some 50 dynamite caps still in the pants pockets. Had they exploded the Donaldson home and everything in it would have blown asunder. Indeed, it was fortunate that dynamite caps require heat and not physical force to explode. The seven year old was now dressed in clean clothes and taken to the Sacred Heart Hospital in downtown Spokane to stay two weeks for medical treatment on his eyes and hand. After his bandages were removed he assumed a cocky attitude and boasted like a war veteran that, "I was shot." He had much fun pillow fighting with his roommate, a little girl his age. Three of his fingers on the left hand were mangled and had to be amputated and most of his eyesight was gone. While he was still recovering in the hospital, his mother and father brought him the sad news that his baby brother Delano had died.
His blindness wasn't total. His vision was so low, however, that what he saw was shrouded in a heavy fog with details absent and colors greatly faded. His visual acuity was rated at three percent. He saw well enough only to identify the large "E" on the chart in the doctor's office, count fingers at arm's length and avoid stepping into mud puddles on a bright day. He could take the arm of a companion when walking or follow after his friend within the limitations of his visual field.
That was an historic time. Shortly after Don returned home and was getting a "feel" of things, a newspaper boy came down the street shouting, "It's over, it's over, the end of World War I!" The date was November 11, 1918.
This meant that Don's favorite uncle, who was in a military hospital in France, suffering from shell shock caused by mustard gas, would be returned to his home in Minnesota. Sadly, he would remain in poor health the rest of his life.
Although people didn't seem to realize it, the date also meant the end of the Flu Epidemic of 1918. Thus ended a ghastly fear of a disease which, in a few months, brought death to more humans than died in World War I and wars that followed. This viral infection, which took its toll in only three days, is now considered the worst epidemic ever to plague mankind. It killed an estimated total of 6,675 Americans and worldwide about 20 million people. Young as he was, Don was happy that he would no longer have to wear a protective gauze mask over his mouth and nose when he was downtown among the public; Don had been out of school for half a year.
Now he was back in class and happy to be there with friends. No longer was he a participant. His public school teachers simply didn't know what to do with this partially blind child. He sat quietly while classmates did their reading, writing and arithmetic. Seldom did a classmate read to him. Don was a good citizen at Cooper School and gave his second, third and fourth grade teachers no disciplinary problems, but he can't recall any of them trying to meet his special needs.
There was one exception-a substitute teacher who was put in charge of the third grade class for a few days. She did not isolate Don but included him with the class to work on a story project. It was Don, and Don alone, who suggested the story's title be: The Merry Winds of March. He also contributed other imaginary scenes for the story. That substitute teacher communicated with Mrs. Donaldson, enough to tell her that her son was a bright boy.
When report cards were issued, they always carried the words, "Passed on condition." However, his final card for fourth grade carried these additional words, "Transferred in the fall to the Opportunity Class in downtown Spokane." That class was for children who couldn't learn. Don's mother was furious. She cried, "He's not a dummy!"
Not only that, but Don's father had died from a heart attack a year after the accident. Just the two of them now, and no income. Not having any special training, his mother supported them by cleaning homes of the wealthy. Their own lovely house was eventually sold. Then, mother and boy in the summer of 1922 moved to Anacortes, Washington, where she and a widow lady from Spokane became partners in owning and managing a small hotel.
Chapter Two Finding A Pal
I've been working on the railroad, all the livelong day. -The origins of the tune are unknown
Moving to Anacortes brought many new adventures. His mother's partner had an eight-year-old daughter named Evelyn DeRush, who provided good, clear substitute eyesight for Don, and she became a constant companion. She was described as being pretty, with dark brown hair and brown eyes.
With their mothers so busy at the hotel, they had plenty of time to explore the environs of little Anacortes. What they especially enjoyed was to go down to the dock at the end of their street. There were so many interesting things all around. First, were the anchored fishing boats, new and old, big and small, whose crew members exchanged friendly greetings and kidded them with anything that popped into their heads. They were a busy lot unloading fish, straightening and repairing nets and getting ready to depart for another catch. Always present was the clammy smell of the sea and the piercing screech of sea gulls. Watching the tide come in and out was fascinating.
Their path led them around the seashore. There were shells and rocks to toss into the water, logs and broken tree branches to crawl over, all kinds of debris to be examined. Soon they came to a railroad track. From where did these tracks come? And where were they going? Did they belong to the Great Northern Railway? Don and Evelyn were too young to ask such questions. However, had they directed their conversation that way, undoubtedly, Evelyn and Don would have thought of their dear fathers so recently departed by death.
These men were close friends, both locomotive engineers on the Great Northern Spokane Division. Don's daddy, Otto Donaldson, came from Minnesota in the 1890's, was first a section hand, then an oil wiper, then a fireman and, finally, a locomotive engineer. Evelyn's father, Billy DeRush, was of the same rugged stock; and he, too, by dint of hard work and dependability, climbed to the same lofty position. The pay was excellent, as well it should be, because driving a steam locomotive carried great responsibility and was grueling and very dangerous work. Their fathers had similar schedules, namely, running their trains daily from Spokane to Leavenworth, Washington, and back to Spokane the next day-a distance of 202 miles each way. Through every kind of weather the train sped. In summer, a blistering sun scorched the land; sometimes through blinding rain and other times through drifting snow, even through floods and over broken track, causing derailments. Some winters the weather was so severe in the upper elevations of the Cascades that trains were buried in snow drifts so deep they could no longer move. Special rescue crews and heavy equipment had to be brought up from Spokane and Wenatchee. When blizzards were most violent, it took days and even weeks before travel could be resumed.
The most dangerous area in the mountains was Horseshoe Curve, where there were frequent rock and snow slides. Don's daddy's face was disfigured with a hole in his jawbone where a rock ricocheted through the cab window, knocking him to the floor unconscious. He saved the train and perhaps the lives of the passengers by pulling the throttle to "stop" as he fell. In the excitement, his fireman made the situation worse by accidentally stepping on his daddy's nose and breaking it.
Many trainmen from Spokane lost their lives in terrible accidents. Billy DeRush was one of the unfortunate. When Evelyn was only three years old, he was scalded to death in a wreck on that dangerous Horseshoe Curve. Billy died a hero, for he pushed his fireman out of the cab to safety just as boiling steam engulfed the cab.
Yes, those early days of railroading were truly rough on the men who drove the "Iron Horse"; rough on the wives who were widowed, like Mrs. DeRush and Lucy Donaldson; and rough on the children orphaned, like Evelyn and Don. Otto Donaldson died about two years before the move to Anacortes. He came home that day totally exhausted upon completing his 202 mile run, had dinner, then dropped dead from a heart attack. At only 59, he, too, was victim of the railroad in the hardship and risk it imposed on its men.
Proceeding Billy's death, there occurred at least another terrible accident in the Cascades-the fatal scalding of George Kuntz. Don remembers engineer Kuntz as a big, jolly man, who, without children of his own, took time to play with kids. Remembered, also, was Mamie Kuntz, the widow, because she had a shiny, new Dodge touring car and very kindly drove Mrs. DeRush and three year-old Evelyn to Billy's funeral service at the Smith Funeral Parlor in downtown Spokane, and did the same kindness for Mrs. Donaldson when Otto died. Only there was an accident during the second trip. Widow Kuntz hit and severely injured a horse en route to the cemetery and the sudden stop caused Don's face to be bruised, as he smashed against the windshield.
These dangerous travel conditions that once prevailed in the Cascade Mountains no longer exist. Horseshoe Curve was straightened and protective snowsheds and tunnels now provide safety for all trains, regardless of weather conditions.
Continuing their walk along the railroad track, the two kids happily skipped and jumped over the partially embedded ties. Soon they came to a high trestle. Should they, or should they not, dare to cross it? What if a speeding train should come? They took a chance and ran across the trestle as swiftly as their legs could carry them. No whistle, no charging locomotive. They crossed safely!
Now they felt a need to rest and catch their breath; then they dropped down from the embankment onto a nearby dirt road paralleling the track-this, in turn, to be followed. That took them past a fruit orchard, whose blossoms saturated the air with a sweet aroma. Near the orchard was a grove of tall fir trees. They were tempted to enter it to partake of the cool shade on this warm day. However, there was something frightening and sinister about the long, dark shadows. So they chose not to go into the forest. Then a frightening thought flashed into their minds. They might be in bear country! Quickly they traced their way back to the hotel, again, running across the trestle in dire fear for their lives. Upon reaching the hotel they were almost too tired to climb the stairs.
Every Sunday morning folks from the Salvation Army gathered on the corner below the room occupied by Don and his mother. They came nicely dressed in uniform with their brass band of five or six musicians. The leader conducted service. His prayers and words of devotion could hardly be heard from where mother and son were sitting in their room with the window open. But the band music and the singing of hymns could be easily heard. Oh, how very much Don enjoyed the soprano! Her voice was sweet and clear as a bell. To him, she sounded as great as Madam Galacurchi, a golden voice opera star featured on his Red Seal Colombia phonograph records. So thrilled was he by her beautiful singing, he had his mother go down one Sunday and convey his appreciation to her. Of course, his mom had to tell the lady proudly-much to his embarrassment-that he was her blind boy sitting up there at the window.
The automobile agency on the street corner below the hotel had a display of shiny new automobiles. The salesmen stood around all day waiting for business. They reminded Don of wooden toy soldiers with nothing ever to do. One day a water pipe in the hotel kitchen broke and a flood of water came pouring through the floor down upon the new cars. What a mess for their mothers and those "wooden soldiers" until a plumber arrived!
Excerpted from WHAT'S IN A NAME by Don Donaldson Copyright © 2006 by Don Donaldson. Excerpted by permission.
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