“The deck hands watched out for us. And we did a lot more fishing than reading,” Mother once admitted. This was probably the beginning of my mother’s lifelong love of fishing—for food and fun. By the time they were in their teens, Phoebe and my mother were also helping out in the galleys, and eventually won cooking jobs of their own. Come the weekends, however, folks could always find them at the popular dances held every Saturday night in Oregon City.
At one of these loud and lively affairs, Phoebe met a tough, hard-drinking railroad cook named George Litteral. Within weeks, they were married. And from the first day out, their marriage was a wild one. It seemed to be one, long, on-going battle of words and wit and pots and pans. Aunt Phoebe had the look and caustic tongue of a Thelma Ritter. Uncle George matched her with his tilted derby, dangling cigarette and a Wallace Berry growl. They were a funny couple.
Initially, they worked the railroads, cooking for the surveying crews. Then, for a good many years after World War I, Phoebe and George worked for the timber companies, cooking in various Oregon logging camps. He played the blustering head chef role to the hilt—in full command of the cook shack. She always played a strong- supporting role as pastry chef. The loggers loved her. And I loved them both.
The marriage lasted about twenty-five years. Uncle George was a constant smoker. He died of lung cancer in his fifties.
Sadly, I know little about my dad’s family. Another regret. What little I do know is this: Willard Mayo, my great-grandfather, served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. For years, one of my most valued mementos was his full-dress sword, presented to me by my dad when I was about twelve years old. I passed it on to Byron Robert some years ago. The blade is straight and heavy. Reminds me of Excalibur.
At the end of the civil war, Willard Mayo drifted from somewhere in the east on out to Kansas, where he met and married a woman named Joan, my great-grandmother. She gave birth to a son, which they
named Adam, my future grandfather. Unfortunately, Joan died shortly after childbirth.