After Doumecq: My Story
By Zenna Higgins
In a previous Chronicle article I told of our life on Doumecq.
Our parents whom none of their offspring have been able to equal in
number of progeny or how to teach them to live.
I was excited and eager to go to school at Lewiston with the
older girls and Inez. All four of us were there for a year. Mary got
a teaching credential after my first year. We all worked for our
board and room but were able to take piano lessons. Omie gave them
up almost immediately. I progressed far enough to play the organ for
Sunday School. Inez is the only one who kept it up and now plays her
own pipe organ. Mrs. Payne, for whom I worked the second year, made
me a beautiful dress to wear when I played in a student recital.
After my third year Mary and Omie were both teaching and Inez was
at home so I would be the only one at Lewiston Normal. I wanted to
go to college. The Wrights, where I was working, suggested Whitman
to my parents. The teaching siblings were generous. The tuition was
not what it is today, but neither were wages. There were some
scholarships for needy students.
At Whitman, I was without doubt the most unsophisticated freshman
who ever went to college, desperately homesick, praying for letters
or a familiar face. I worked for Professor Bratton whose wife was an
inspired cook. This apprenticeship later stood me in good stead. Had
I been a little more mature I would have enjoyed Whitman, for it was
a friendly, small school. As I wasn’t, I felt inferior, studied
hard, was graduated with honors but failed to make many friends,
acquire any social graces, or learn how to teach.
I taught several years in Washington, the last two years at
Farmington. Since I was the oldest teacher, except the
Superintendent, my name was on the stationary as Principal. Both
years the flu, epidemic killed many people. Schools were closed. The
last year the Home Ec. teacher and I batched.
A paper was being published for all the small towns in Palouse
Country, edited I think in Spokane, with a page of local
advertisements and news for the particular town. Ours was the
Farmington Weekly. Ruth Kauffman and I were asked to be the local
editors, sending in a few items every week. I occasionally wrote a
column called "Nose it All". A few years ago Edith
(Erickson) sent me a pamphlet listing women who had been editors in
Washington State. Ruth and I were included.
When Omie came home from teaching in Montana, she wanted to teach
in Alaska and got a school in Haines, a small town near Fort Seward.
I was a wretched and unhappy teacher and wanted to quit forever so
went with her. On the ship going up, we met Luella, one of Omie’s
former pupils, and her husband Delmar, also going to Haines to
teach. The four of us rented a store front with living quarters in
the rear. With much hilarity and deep thought we named the little
candy and bake shop I was to have the LUDELZENO SWEET SHOP,
combining the first letters of each of our names. Financially, it
was not a great success but it was a wonderful meeting place for
high school students to wait for Omie to come and spark their
entertainment. One of them fell madly in love with Omie to the great
consternation of his mother who said unkind things about that
"wicked teacher". I have never seen anything so smooth as
the way Omie kept the boy’s friendship and transferred his
affection to the new girl who had just come up from Seattle.
Omie managed to pay the bills. We played endless bridge and
exchanged dinners during the long winters. In the summer we hiked
through fantastically beautiful forests and along the beach. Once,
someone shot a grouse which we cooked over a campfire.
The second spring we were there Luella’s mother was very ill
and she went home. As we were leaving at the end of the school year
I closed shop and finished her term earning enough money to pay my
passage and enjoy a shopping spree in Seattle. I had become engaged
to a very fine Sergeant at Fort Seward. He was a Mormon with two
teen age children. Nothing was said about a divorce. I am sure he
was not surprised when I sent back his ring after I was back in the
states a few months. Five of us had some wonderful time chugging
around Lynn Canal in his motor boat.
We had written that we were coming home on the Princess Louise.
There was one train a day from Seattle to Hover. Someone met the
train each day for three days. We came home on the fourth on the
hottest day of June, having visited friends, shopped, and enjoyed
cool Seattle greatly. Omie was proudly wearing her red fox fur and I
was dressed to match. There was no station at Hover, no phone, no
nearby house. We could not leave our luggage by the railroad tracks,
so we sweated our way up the hot dusty mile carrying our bags.
Omie had decided to teach next year in California. We arranged to
meet Claribel Ingle in Berkeley where Omie was to attend summer
school. We found an apartment, picked out an ideal program for Omie
and prepared to enjoy California where none of us had been before.
When Omie and Claribel went sight seeing, I went to her classes.
When she and I went, Claribel attended class. Omie did not pass with
distinction but creditably. After she got a school in Woodland she
found she could not teach in California without a course in State
Constitution. She got a school in Nevada. Inez and Mary were in
Nome. They sent a telegram saying there was an unexpected vacancy in
the school at Nome if Omie wanted it. Life was dust and ashes if she
could not have it. I took the Nevada job, 8 grades possibly and a
lone high school freshman.
We had spent most of our money. Claribel had lost her travelers
checks. The landlady wanted us to move so she could rent the
apartment to students. We moved to Piedmont and I got a job cooking
in a sorority house. When Omie took the job at Nome, I had to go to
the Nevada job immediately, so she took over my job until the girls
could find another cook.
Romano, Nevada, was out in the country in a friendly and sociable
neighborhood. I rode a horse to school early to build a fire and
clean the schoolroom. There were eight pleasant and well behaved
pupils. When winter came, the snow was so deep and the road so hard
to follow we went to parties early and came home just after
Before I stopped teaching forever I taught two years in
California. Just before I went home for Christmas the last year I
had a letter from Omie who was still in Nome. She and Bert had
quarreled She hoped never to see him again. Next year she would get
a job in Timbuctu. Mary and Inez were at Hover, The Mc Coy children
were there. Ruth and Grover with baby, Leo, were across the road. We
were having a fine Christmas when Omie’s telegram came. She and
Bert had been married Christmas Eve. She was deliriously happy, etc.
It was shattering news. We were completely deflated. I married Hig
the next year and Inez and Mary were married soon after.
Albert E. Higgins and I were married in the Trinity Episcopal
Church in San Francisco January 1, 1926. He had rented a cottage in
Watsonville when he was working in a planning mill and where we
lived for four years. I got a job in a department store keeping
books. We bought a new Ford coupe for $400. The salesman taught both
of us to drive. I never took a driver’s test until I was 70. Then
I failed it. The next day I hired a professional to give me an hour’s
driving lesson. The day was hot. Sweat rolled down my face and back
as well as his. When the hour was up he told me to go at once and
take the test before I forgot anything. I passed and have taken the
test several times since successfully.
After four years we were discussing adopting a child. Hig wanted
a girl. I did not care. When I became pregnant it was obvious it
would be an oversized boy. We called it Albert
but instead it was
most beautiful and charming baby girl we had ever seen. Life does
have its high spots.
We had saved $600 and bought a small acreage on the edge of town,
borrowed to build a little house where we lived for about 2 years. I
went back recently to see if it was still there and found it had
been in the path of the present four lane highway.
When the depression came along there was no work for carpenters
or teachers. We weren’t the only people having a bad time. Father
wrote suggesting that I come with the baby and live with them.
Sidney and Frances as well as Clark and the Mc Coy children were
with him. On his small truck farm living was good. Clark was working
and paid the grocery bills but there was no opportunity for jobs at
I wrote Professor Eels from college days now teaching at
Stanford, asking if he could find me a job. He answered that there
were no clerical jobs available. He knew that I worked for my board
when at Whitman and said that his doctor needed a cook. He had five
children of his own and would not object to a child. I took the job
with Dr. Lee. Eileen went to school with the children, kindergarten
through first grade.
In 1938 Omie was coming out from Nome primarily to show off her
two beautiful children as well as to visit all of us. I was to meet
everyone on Doumecq at Ethel’s. The afternoon I arrived Walt had
run in front of a mower which cut his ankle to the bone. The nearest
hospital was in Cottonwood. Omie took him out and a few days later I
followed with Eileen. Paul and Eileen started to school there before
we were able to move Walt. Omie had to take the last boat back to
Nome to be there when school started. When we decided we should take
Walt to California, I rented an old house from Dr. Lee. Inez and
Earling drove us down and helped us get settled. Inez taught me how
to care for Walt’s wound and Paul and Eileen took up their
education. Walt was very soon able to go to school with them on
I rented a few rooms to Stanford students and stayed on for three
years. The depression was easing. I got a job keeping books for
Brown’s Paint store at $18 per week, (10 hours a day for five and
one half days). Eventually I got a job with the American
Physiotherapy Association in the office at $125 per month. When the
office was moved to New York, Miss Worthington, the executive
secretary to the APA and also an Assistant Professor at Stanford,
got me a job as department secretary at the Department of Physical
Education at Stanford where I worked for the next 20 years.
In 1941 the war made jobs for everyone and Hig was building Fort
Ord. We saved $1500 for the down payment on a $4000 house. Our
payments were $25 a month, interest five and one half percent with
the privilege of paying off the loan whenever we were able. We were
very prosperous and soon paid off the mortgage.
The two Mc Coy boys, John and Bob; Marion Shinn and Paul Mc
Carthy were on active duty in the war, all but Bob overseas. Bill
Wortman and Dale Campbell had trained at Fort Ord. Marion’s
submarine came up periodically at San Francisco. When it did, he
always brought us treats like candy and bacon which we could not
buy. Occasionally Bob would be sent out here. Bill, when in Fort Ord,
came often, usually bringing fresh artichokes. He had to pass trough
artichoke country. We all looked forward to these visits.
In 1947 Walt came out from Nome to attend Purdue University. He
spent his summers and Christmas vacations with us. Eileen was going
to San Jose State and Paul to Pullman one memorable Christmas when
they were all here.
After graduation Walt was a pilot with Weems Air Line in Alaska.
He sent me a telegram asking that I send him a Collier’s Magazine
that he had left in the paper rack in the hall. The next time I
heard from him he was calling me from the San Francisco airport. He
was on his way to a job with Chinese Air Transport in Taiwan.
After Eileen graduated she got a job in Chicago. She lived with
one of her sorority sisters and four other girls who were airline
hostesses. Four of them later moved to Denver when Eileen got a job
in the office of United Air Lines. This entitled her parents to free
air fare. Hig was not well and did not like to fly but I had several
wonderful trips to Denver. Eileen and I had planned a trip to
Washington, D.C. the summer of 1956 when she had her vacation.
Instead, she and I drove her car to Pensacola, Florida, where John
Lancaster was working. They were married March 31, 1956. I enjoyed
the flights provided by Eileen to Lafayette, Louisiana, much more
than the free ride United gave me.
By this time I was 68. Stanford firmly said that I must retire. I
dreaded it for I remembered the dull old ladies I had known 50 years
earlier. The quality of the aged has improved or else my point of
view. Before retirement, I had belonged to two social organizations:
the Distaff Club consisting of Stanford secretaries meeting once a
month for lunch and the Evening Branch of the Women’s Auxiliary of
All Saints Episcopal Church, a group of 10 or 12 argumentative,
disagreeable, working women. Retirement gave me 40 empty hours to
fill each week. I did not want to sit in a rocking chair and read
all day, so I joined every club and organization to which I was
eligible. I met such delightful old retired people I kept on
joining, wishing for more hours.
At sometime during these 19 years since retirement I have been
affiliated with the Lucy Stern Senior Club, The Mitchell Park Senior
Club, the Down Town Seniors, the Half Century Club, The Mayfield
Seniors the Palo Ato Women’s Club, the Toyon Chapter of Chaparrel
Poets, the Friends of LaComeda, the Senior Coordinating Council the
Senior Center, Friendly Visitors, the Palo Alto Historical
Association, AAUW, AARP, YWCA, RSVP, Friends of the Palo Alto
Library, the Drop-In Center and the Guzzlers
now defunct. That
was an exclusive group of four sober, dull old ladies who had dinner
together on Saturday nights and listened to Lawrence Welk. I have
enjoyed them all.
I like being 87, a very old woman with no ambition or
responsibilities, no longer needing to try to accomplish the many
remarkable feats I felt capable of performing
if only I would
work at them. I enjoy the respect and consideration given to my gray
hairs, doors are opened, chairs are offered, food is served to us
older people first. I appreciate the affection of Eileen and her
handsome and entertaining husband, my three beautiful and talented
grandchildren, my two clever sisters and brother, and their
extremely brilliant offspring.
Zenna Elizabeth Higgins, May 13, 1896 –- May 17, 1994
Reprinted from Cochran Chronicles