Scratching Memory’s Surface: Reminiscences

“Scratching Memory’s Surface: Reminiscences” by Therese Graf Tanalski


One item in the Benton County Historical Society’s archives collection is an account entitled, “Scratching Memory’s Surface:  Reminiscences” by Therese Graf Tanalski.  Therese was born in 1922 and raised in Corvallis, the daughter of Samuel H. Graf, professor of engineering at what was then Oregon Agricultural College (now OSU).  She wrote these reminiscences at age 80.

She wrote, “ When I was a girl, I walked on some sidewalks of horizontal wood planking. Ten minutes in any direction took one to the outskirts, in country beautiful with crab apples dripping from trees in fall, and Golden Pheasants whirring up from the brush.”

The above photograph shows the type of sidewalk that Therese Graf was remembering. The people in the photograph are not related to her. Unfortunately, the collection does not include any photographs of her. 

She continued, “Mother’s pride and joy…was the fruit room, under the basement stairs, shelves loaded with colorfully-filled Mason jars:  whole peaches, jams, compotes, pickles, even some eggs “put down” in water glass, with racks of home-made Hire’s root beer and Concord grape juice from our backyard arbor…

“Dear Mrs. Jennie Jess came of Tuesdays to help Mother clean, can, wash clothes, sew or whatever.  Laundering involved soaking clothes, and linens in the stone set tubs in the basement overnight, boiling some items in the oblong copper kettle fired by the little wood-stove…

Laundry boiler, now on display at the Philomath Museum

“I wonder if the horse chestnut tree still bursts with bee-laden “candlesticks” in Spring?  Neighborhood kids used the shiny maroon nuts shielded with spiky green outer cover as ammo in out version of gang fights.  I climbed the tree with a book and disregarded Mother’s importing calls until her decibel level informed the whole block of my impertinence.  

“During summer vacation, teens picked hops (My parents never let me join in this—”No daughter of mine…”), swam in Mary’s River, played games till dark in street and alleys. Grownups mainly did bridge, first auction, then contract.  I helped Mother produce impressive bridge luncheons for the women she “owed” with ten or more tables in the living room, dining room, and hall and out on the terrace.  All were set with fancy place cards, the “right” china, goblets, silver, real embroidered cloth napkins, and prizes nicely-wrapped to the highest three and “dummy.”

“Poker was the men’s joy, but they mostly played at the “hell hole,” as Mother called it, in rooms above the Benton County Bank downtown, their only escape from small-town convention. The Ingalls’ “Gazette Times” never reported crimes, suicides, or indiscretions; it was generally understood one went out of town for that. 

“I loved dressing my parents for formal parties, fastening Dad’s outer vest, collar buttons, lacing Mother’s corset,…slipping on her orchid velvet “Mae West” dress with godets in the skirt, putting one her makeup….The  protocol of entertaining in the college community was burdensome.”

Therese also wrote about the construction of their “new” house at 306 South 8th.  That will be in the next story.

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