AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SOPHIE ZEMBAL KLECZYNSKI
as written by Sophie, March 2000 typed/edited by Don Kleczynski (son)
I was born in a little, three room house along one branch of the Wishkah River, May 1, 1913, the 4th of a family of 11 children. Both my parents were from the "old" of Poland, having come to the United States in their teens or early 20's. Neither spoke English. Mother (Victoria Sutor), had come to the United States and was living with relatives in a Minnesota boarding house, and there she met Dad (Michael). Dad migrated to Aberdeen with two other brothers to work in the timber industry, primarily the only jobs available to them. Via mail, Michael asked Mother to come to Aberdeen to be his wife. And so she did. Not knowing the life she would be facing out West, she graciously accepted challenges with a positive attitude. Life in those years was hard, regardless of who you were or what your goals might be.
Women were considered inferior to men and were more accustomed to that role than one in this modern world could imagine. In Poland, as in nearly all foreign countries, a wife was selected for a son by his parents, with little if any input between the soon to be husband and wife. That custom was brought to the "new world" also and continued for a time. Dad worked in the sawmills in Aberdeen, 15 miles away, while Mother stayed home to tend the farm, livestock and a family growing in size. Without cars or even a horse, Dad stayed in town during the week and walked home only on weekends after a 5 ½ day week. He did the shopping in Aberdeen, picking up only the bare necessities for survival before coming home. For extra items he communicated his interests to the store owner with a Sears Roebuck or a Montgomery Wards catalog.
The land of our farm of about 40 acres, consisted of two distinct elevations plus a parcel across the river. The higher elevation with the buildings and some open land for the hay/grain crop, the lower with only a few acres of meadow along the river and where we normally raised our garden. The river seemed quite wide to us as children with some deep spots but enough shallow areas for wading and spearing fish with pitch forks. When Dad wanted to rest he would often send us away from the house. We would take the younger kids along to play in the river on the lower elevation of the farm. One day we were all playing in the river and noticed the youngest, probably a year old, being rolled head over tea-kettle in the swifter part of the river. Grab her and throw her up on the bank.
We continued playing in the river until she got to rolling in the water again. I don‘t know why someone never drowned. I don‘t think any of us ever learned to swim. The river could be treacherous at times when the loggers opened the log dam upriver to float logs to the mills in Aberdeen. When we heard a roaring sound upriver, get everyone to the higher ground as one never knew how far over the banks the water would come. Off from the house, beyond the potato cellar, and a short distance through the woods, was a steel-cable, foot bridge across the river leading to the other acreage of the farm and connected with trails to neighbors. The bridge was scary to walk across as it swayed above the river roaring 15 feet below. Most of the land was in brush or trees but we did have acreage for a garden, pasture for the cows, and land for raising hay and some grain.
Dad borrowed the neighbor’s horse to plow and level the ground for seeding. The hay was mostly volunteer wild grasses. At haying time we went out with hand scythes to cut and stack for the neighbor to bring horse and wagon to haul the hay into the barn. The grain crop also cut by hand, brought to the barn and threshed by stomping the straw on the well-packed, barn floor and winnowing out the seed. The crops were not too productive without the advanced grain varieties now common and of course without fertilizers. Years of sparse rainfall reduced production even further. The grain went mostly to the chickens and pigs with none for the cows, and probably the reason for little milk output. One year Dad bought a cow from the neighbor that was said to be a good milker. It dried up too.
Uncle Ted and family lived across the field and Uncle Ben and family a couple miles closer to town from us. Other neighbors also lived along our long driveway with the split rail fences to keep livestock within. Nearly all people in the out-lying areas were arrivals from the “old country“ and brought with them their superstitions and customs common to the regions of their origin. Hard not to believe in superstitions, hexes, witches when a neighbor gets mad at another and says he hexes your cows to not give milk or your chickens to quit laying eggs. And it comes about! Maybe it was time for the cow to dry up in preparation of a new birth, or the chickens to go into a molt and quit laying for a time. Whatever the reason, we were more inclined to believe it was because of the hex. So, be kind to your neighbor!
As the family increased we kept wondering where all these babies came from. First the answer we got was that they came through the bedroom window. After a while we said that couldn’t be true because the window was nailed shut. The next reason was the babies were found along the river. Well we would scout the river banks looking and looking for those babies to make sure they didn‘t come to our house! Never found any babies along the river but they would still find a way to get in the house. Finally gave up. I was in my 20's before the question about babies was answered.
That three room house of two bedrooms and nine kids was really full to the edges. When the new house was built, two more kids were added to the family. There never was any toys until most of us were older. Remember Dad buying a doll that the eyes opened and closed, also could say "Ma Ma“. Well, brother Jim being the inquisitive type, promptly took everything apart to see how it worked. That poor doll suffered the same consequence in short order. Needless to say, the eyes no longer opened or closed. It didn‘t cry any longer either! We didn’t go to dentists. If you had a toothache you lay by the kitchen stove and suffered through it. Besides, dentists didn’t fill teeth back then, they just pulled them. Novocain? Pain killers? Not at that time!
A County Health doctor could be summoned in case of life threatening illness. If a contagious disease, he would put up quarantine signs that few could read and fewer yet, heeded. I don‘t remember many instances of flu or colds. Either we were that isolated from the rest of the world or we soon became immune to the few existing strains.
Religion was an important part of our life. I remember Ann (Anna, older sister) making her first communion and Mother explaining to us how important it was to be sorry for our sins. She explained this in Polish and then as we translated it into English it came out "You would have to be boiled of your sins”. Well how are you going to fit a 10 year old into the wash boiler! I worried though about the hot water cooking you. Oh, well it wasn‘t me that was faced with that so I didn‘t dwell on it. Christmas we had to fast all day and then say the rosary before evening meal. With darkness we had the kerosene lamp lit. Superstition had it that if you didn’t see your shadow from the lamp, you would die before the next Christmas. I couldn‘t find mine after I braved looking for it. Crying and scared, I went to Joe for protection, hung on the back of his rocking chair and broke the runner on one side. I was rewarded by a good slap but Joe took me on his lap and rocked my hurt feelings.
Lee was renting a farm near Broadacres in 1933 and in debt, although he did have $20 in cash. I had $30 so I bought the marriage license and a $10 wedding band for myself. We decided a Pre- Nuptial Agreement wouldn’t be necessary! We finished the summer on this farm then moved onto another rental farm in the Concommly area. There were lots of mounds of earth on this land, said to be burial sites of the Concommly Indian tribe once inhabitants of the area. Lee and I went out and dug and dug at these mounds, never to find anything. We didn‘t know what we would have done if we did find something. You know, that was a hard way of working the ground for planting! Darlene was born on that place or I should say while we lived there.
Our next move located us a mile west of Woodburn. This farm had an old house and barn and was down the road (now Parr Road) where I live now. We built a hog shed and had cows, horses, some chickens and sold the eggs to the family that owned the farm. About this time, I was persuaded to bake bread a cheaper way. Instead of buying yeast, you made this yeast-starter-mixture. Each time you used some, you added more water and something else to keep it growing. Well I made the bread, set it to rise, kept an eye on it to make into loaves when it got to the right height. After 3 or 4 hours it didn‘t rise at all! Well I wasn’t going to tell Lee I made a fizzle so I took a shovel, dug a hole in the pig lot where the soil was soft, dumped the whole batch, covered it with soil, and promptly forgot about it. Well my cheating came to light when Lee came home from work and went to feed the pigs. Here was this mound of white stuff, crawling out of the soil. Lee didn’t know what it was, where it came from, or what these pigs uncovered from their rooting. The pigs hunkered in a corner and didn’t try to eat it. I had been found out. Lee tells me I was supposed to put the pan with the bread dough in warm water to rise. Oh!! I decided I was never going to use the cheap yeast method again. This was our third move and young one #number three#, was due June 28th 1940. Marilyn arrived in a "hospital type home” in Hubbard. Farming still done with horses and we had a couple wild ones.
In the fall of 1941 Lee’s Dad wanted us to run his farm. Like fools we thought we could make it work even though a couple of Lee’s brothers tried and gave it up. His Dad did drink and hard to deal with. Mickey was born in August of 1942 after our move there in May of that year. By February 1943 we knew we could never continue working there any longer. All money went to Lee’s Dad. In spite of deep snow, we packed up and moved again, herding our cows down the 6 miles of country roads to a farm north of St. Louis Church. There was a house and a barn on it for us and for the cows originally brought with us when we moved onto the "old man‘s place". Norman Nibler rented the land at this new location, but we rented the house and barn. Lee worked out for other farmers and we made the best of almost no money.
To make matters worse, Lee came down with a bad case of arthritis. His mother was bedridden with it. They read about a doctor in Wheeler on the Oregon coast that had wonderful luck treating it. So Lee, his mother and sister Margaret, drove over there. They came back in a week and his left elbow and arm was much improved, his mother walking. That was in the spring of the year. Late summer/fall and hop picking came around. So Lee, Don, and Darlene went hop picking. When I wasn’t baking and washing clothes I would go and Darlene would take care of the 3 younger kids.
Yeah. Another move and another baby. This time it was Ken born Sept. 22, 1944, so he was almost 1 year old. An awful lot of responsibility for Darlene but she did it. In one month’s time, we all made $1000, a lot of money in those days. So we go farm hunting again. Found and bought this 60 acre farm just 3 miles away --- two heirs of the Miller family that owned it. I think we paid $5000 for it with the $1000 as down payment. There was no house on it so we bought a 4 room house in Concommly and had it moved for $300. The farm had a large old barn on it some 1000 feet from the highway and the house. There was another old barn on the other heir’s piece so we moved that up by the house and it was used as a wood shed and chicken coop. Dad and Don herded the cows from the place at St. Louis to our new farm. We added a lean-to porch on the house and enclosed part of one end for another bedroom. There was a long window between this bedroom and the inside bedroom. Made it handy for the kids to jump through when I get after them for something. They would be out to that porch bedroom and out the house before I could catch them. The last house had inside plumbing, our first, but now again we have the outside restroom. I called it a restroom because when supper dish washing time came around, the dish washer that evening found it convenient to be out there for the longest time. Resting?
Things were going along OK with us on our new farm, but Dad decided to get a job with the County to add to the income. That meant getting up early so Don once again had to help in a great way with morning chores and also evening ones. Everything was going smoothly and settled into a good routine. In 1953 Don was to graduate from high school. Darlene was working for the State of Oregon in Salem. On this particular weekend in May, 1953 Don was at the Coast with his class on the annual Senior Class outing. Darlene and I had gone shopping and when we came home from Portland, Mickey had become awfully sick. The Doctor figured he had appendicitis so Lee and I rushed him to the hospital in Salem. Emergency operation. Things didn’t go well and he never came out of the operation.
Middle of the night another operation to see what was happening. He hemorrhaged all that time and at 5 a.m. he died. Mickey was 11 years old.
What a blessing, what a thrill, what enjoyment to have running water, bathroom, shower, lots of floor space, large kitchen, counters tops and cabinets in abundance, three actual bedrooms. Large windows to see outside! It was to have a furnace but that never got put in. Darlene married in the fall of 1954 and lived in the one finished bedroom for awhile before the newly weds found a place of their own. Donny is in the Navy, Marilyn is in college. Ken and Pat the only family left at home, toiling with school, chores and summer crop harvests. Rest and relaxation!
But wait! This is a different house! Surely not! No! These sure seem to be the same morning sickness symptoms I‘ve experienced before!! Couldn‘t be! Don’t even think about it! Every time during our married life a change of houses resulted in a new baby. Lordy, I’m in my 40's, our oldest daughter is expecting a new born, our youngest is 10. Doctor! Doctor! How can I tell my daughter that I’m expecting, how can I tell my son coming home from the Navy, how can I tell the other kids? But most importantly, how do I tell Lee in his 50's that he is going to become a father again? Mary is born June 22, 1957.
Dad retired from the County Road crew in 1965 at 62 years of age, but continued farming and raising his usual amount of livestock. We sold the farm in 1976 as Dad was getting older (73), and bought a home in Woodburn. Really hard for Lee to move from the farm to the city with nothing to keep him busy. In Sept.1978 he was operated on for lung cancer and still in the hospital on Mary’s wedding day. He died that December. So here I am living in this home we purchased with high hopes we would have many years together here.
Life has been good to me. My family is one any mother and father would be proud to have. We have great get-togethers and we are all a close-knit family. Enjoy all the grandchildren and great grandchildren and thank God each day for all my Blessings. They all have beautiful spouses and families and I hope God blesses them much.
If something needs doing, my sons or my son-in-laws are ready and willing to take over the task if it’s men’s work, or there are the girls to lend a hand in other situations. Then too my dog comes in handy if I feel the need to holler at somebody or something. The dog doesn’t talk back -- so far -- although she sometimes will get mad for me leaving her home alone, and tears a few things apart if left in the house, or mopes awhile if I’ve been gone too long and she has to be outside. Still it is good to have some living creature around to stave off loneliness and have family around to give the feeling of still being needed.
Sophie Zembal-Kleczynski (4th child of Michal and Victoria (Sutor) Zembal … named Sophia)