My Mother’s Gift

Maye Ellen and Earl Eighme, circa 1919.
written by Velda R. Wilson

I had never seen the two liquor boxes before, sealed with duct tape so old the edges had become brittle, browned and cracked. More duct tape covered the suitcase I recognized as belonging to my grandmother. I had found them buried deep in the back of my mother’s closet as I packed up her tiny apartment after she lost her battle with cancer in 2009.

She had always hinted she had some “family stuff,” just a few old photos, and a couple of things that had belonged to her grandmother, Maye. What was in those dusty old liquor boxes and that faded green suitcase from the ’60s took my breath away. Hundreds of sepia-toned photographs of men, women and children. They were holding babies, logging and farming, working and eating lunch in the apple orchards of Wenatchee. Huge groups of people all standing in front of churches, schools and farmhouses. A lot of these photographs bore the same handwriting, notating names, places, and dates as early as 1908. There were journals stamped with years dating back to the 1930s, some still with glints of gold embossing on their covers.

A newspaper clipping told of how Mrs. Laura Bolyard, the first “Hello” girl in the Lake Chelan area, had moved to Monroe to be closer to her daughter, Mrs. Maye Eighme, my great-grandmother. The article told of how Laura had come in 1900 as Henry’s bride and “operated the first switchboard after her husband established the first phone service, a line from Chelan Landing to Chelan that was later extended to Union Valley, and included twenty customers.” I read further and found it was Henry who had “named Union Valley, was instrumental in getting the first post office, Hobson, and later worked as a contractor and mason.” Suffering the loss of their 21/2-year-old daughter, Thirsa, on May 26, 1907, they still managed to have twelve children survive them, with Henry passing first in 1952 and Laura in 1968, shortly before I was born.

Henry’s mother and father, Holtsberry and Anne Bolyard, formerly of West Virginia, had been among the first homesteaders the year after Washington gained statehood. Listing his death as December 24, 1932, the obituary on for “Holtsberry Creed Bolyard, pioneer” stated, “The pall bearers, all pioneers of this section were. Thom. Pattison, Elmer Boyd, C. C. Campbell, Don C. Mathers, R. N. Smith and A. S. Province.”

When I opened those old boxes and that green suitcase from the ’60s, I sat back on my heels in amazement. Her final gift had not only made sure to give me all the clues I needed to find more family so I wouldn’t be alone after her death, but gave me the project of a lifetime organizing the 20 or so pounds of family history that, as it turns out, was also a part of Washington’s history, too.

Thanks, Mama, for the best gift ever.

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