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The Travels of our First Webmaster

Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Mother and Mary Jane

By Lois Barton

Posted on Sep 27, 2003

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An old country cabin, photo by Lois Barton

The faint but persistent crunch of tires on gravel wakened me. A car was
coming down the long driveway through the darkness. Rolling toward the
window I raised scratchy eyelids enough to watch the opening in the trees
where the lane made its last turn above the house. As I expected, light from
a moving car splashed across the opening.

"A car coming here at this hour?" I puzzled, fighting the need to drowse
off. "It must be almost midnight. I've been asleep for hours." At fifty, I
slept soundly, and often missed the small noises which used to waken me when the children were younger.

Now the sound of the approaching motor, running smoothly in compression, reached me. I listened as the car passed our door yard, then the end of the graveled driveway. It stopped in front of the old cabin. A car door slammed, then I heard knocking on the cabin door. My half-conscious bewilderment turned to peevish worry. More mysterious visitors in the night, come to see our sons who had moved out of their small upstairs bedroom into the ratty but more spacious old cabin in the barnyard.

Whatever the visitors wanted, I realized, it didn't affect me tonight. Turning over, I curled around my husband's warm, comfortable back and drifted off to sleep again. Sometime later I shifted uneasily in my sleep, disturbed by the sound of the departing car.


"What's going on around here?" Sis asked curiously. She gestured toward the window over the sink where we were washing the breakfast dishes. I plunged my hands into the warm soapy water as my eyes followed her motion.

"Here in the house everything feels the same; familiar, friendly, welcoming.
But beyond the gate out there..." she paused. Pouring rinse water over a
plate she scratched at a small particle of food clinging to it. With another
swish through the sink she gave the plate a final rinse, then deftly stood
it in the drainer.

"Beyond the gate out there," she continued, "it's like another world. It's
like home ended at the gate; - like you don't know there is anything beyond; like you want to deny whatever IS there. What's happening?"

Sis was just temporarily home from the city where she had worked for several months. She was trying to decide what to do next. The boys had moved out of the house during her absence. Their new independence was strange to her.

"I'm not sure what is happening," I told her. "I think the boys are up to
something. They have visitors - a lot of young fellows we don't know - who
come briefly at all hours. Hardly an evening goes by without at least one
carload showing up."

"I thought I heard a car in the night." Sis said.

"It awoke me after I'd been sleep for a good while," I replied.

"Why don't you ask the boys what's happening?" Sis said in her matter-of-fact way.

"But, Honey, I can't go on running their lives forever. Bruce is a man now,
and Curt has finished high school. They know right from wrong. They have
assumed responsibility for themselves."

"But you just said you think they are 'up to something'. They are still living here - eating your food. It's crazy to let your suspicions create a barrier." We stood shoulder-to-shoulder looking at the old cabin through the trees.

"If you don't meet them half way, you deserve to worry," she continued. "Since that cabin is where they spend free time, invite yourself to visit
them. Take a plate of cookies and go talk things over."

I sighed, frowning down at the spatula I scoured.

"This isn't like you, Mother." Sis laid her arm across my shoulders. "Are
you turning into an old fuddy-duddy?"

"But Sis, do you have any idea how uncomfortable I feel in that room? It
reeks of cigarette smoke and is cluttered with beer cans. I don't know how
much our boys indulge, but it is clear that their friends feel free to bring
drugs with them."

"Oh, Mom!" she groaned as she reached for the dishtowel.

I recognized our sons' need for independence, privacy, a place of their own.
Even though the cabin had no running water, no inside bathroom, there were advantages. The distance softened the boisterous noise which so often filled their waking hours. "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," even at ninety
decibels, filtered through the trees with an appealing melancholy. As long
as I couldn't see the clutter of dirty clothing, the unmade beds, I worried
less about their ways. My established habit of supervision over our children
was getting a necessary retraining, but it wasn't easy to release these
young adults, so recently children, to be responsible for themselves.

The dishes were finished as the greasy water gurgled down the drain. I wiped the ring from the sink. Sis poured scalding water over the milk bucket and strainer. Then she held the teakettle under the faucet to refill it. I looked at my oldest daughter with affection. For twenty years she had been my helper. At two, she ran willingly to retrieve Bruce's dropped toys, and through all the years since then she'd been a second mother to our younger children. It was good to have her home again, even for a few days.

A begonia was blooming on the windowsill above the sink, and Sis caressed
the scarlet blossoms while water ran into the teakettle. Suddenly she turned
to me, laughing. "Why, Mother, I'm surprised at you," she said.

"What did I do?"

"Do you know what this is?" She pushed back the begonia plant to show a
seedling sprouting in the pot.

"It must be a weed. I added some barnyard soil to that pot the other day."

"Are you kidding?" she asked. Then, "You really don't know what kind of
plant this is, do you?"

I looked at it again. the leaves were long and slender and serrated. It
resembled a common weed we call beggar's lice, but I couldn't be sure.

"If you are so certain, what is it?"

"Marijuana." She grinned mischievously. The teakettle was overflowing into
the sink unheeded. "Don't tell me you've gone to pot, too."

"Not me," I assured her. "That seed never came from the barnyard either.
Someone is trying to put something over on me." I reached past her to pull
the seedling, and dropped it in the garbage.

She noticed the water running down the drain, turned off the faucet, emptied surplus water, and set the kettle back on the wood stove. The fire snapped. Water dripping from the teakettle splashed and sizzled on the hot stove.

The boys were gone that Saturday afternoon when a State Police officer came looking for Bruce. A September haze softened the line of the hill behind the uniformed officer as he stepped out of the patrol car. Deeply tanned, hairy arms contrasted sharply with the navy of his short-sleeved summer uniform. His gun belt creaked, holster bumping his thigh as he turned toward the house. A blocky, square-jawed man about my age, he smiled disarmingly at me as I stepped off the porch to see what he wanted.

"Afternoon, Ma'am. Is this where Bruce Cox lives?"

"Yes, but he's not home right now."

"Nice place you have here. Are you his mother?"

Nodding slightly I asked, "Is something wrong?" He rubbed his chin, looking
past me at the '49 Ford parked in front of the boys' cabin. Before he
acknowledged my question - a brief moment that seemed endless to me - his glance covered the surroundings thoroughly, noting and storing away details for future reference.

Finally he said, "No, Ma'am. I just want to ask him a few questions." Thank
God my son wasn't in trouble with the law. "Do you expect him home soon?" he continued.

"He didn't say when he'd be back," I replied. The officer hesitated a moment, then turned back to the car.

"Thank you," he said, stepping into the car and pulling the door closed
after him. As I watched him drive away I felt curious but also apprehensive
about why a State Police officer would want to question Bruce.

Hi, Mom, What's to eat?" was Curt's standard greeting morning, noon or
night. He dropped his battered tin lunch bucket on the kitchen counter and
came to look over my shoulder at dinner bubbling on the wood stove. A cloud of steam billowed over the potatoes as he lifted the lid to see what was cooking.

"I hope you are going to mash these," he grinned. "What's in this one?" He
lifted another lid. Several slices of bacon drizzled smoke-flavored droplets
of fat down through the green beans cooking gently underneath. "Oh, boy,
beans with bacon!" Curt was one of those lanky boys who measured time from meal to meal. After a day of carpentering, the 'hollow-leg syndrome' my grandmother ascribed to all growing boys was especially noticeable in him.

"How'd it go today?" I asked above the clatter of the lid he dropped back
over the beans.

"I only pounded my thumb twice," he retorted, pinching my fanny as he
stepped behind me to get a drink of water at the kitchen sink.

Bruce came in from the porch, a gallon jar under his arm.

"Looks like you got through early today," he greeted his younger brother.
"Did you hear about Art?"

"No. What happened to Art?"

"The NARCs picked him up last night." Bruce unscrewed the cap from his water jar as he spoke. Art was a former classmate of Bruce's. He often spent an evening with the boys in their cabin. I sliced tomatoes unobtrusively,
hoping the conversation might give some clue about the police visitor who had come looking for Bruce.

"How come? Curt asked.

"Someone reported the pot he was growing, I heard." was Bruce's answer.

"Oh! oh! Bad luck for Art. You warned him about planting in that open
field," Curt pointed out.

Turning to Bruce, I asked "Do you suppose that officer who came here wanted to talk to you about Art?"

"How should I know?" Bruce responded defensively. "You talked to him. I didn't." Then he teased, "What's the matter Mom? Afraid your boy's in trouble?" His black eyes searched mine for some sign of mistrust.

I looked up at him, half a head taller than I, broad-shouldered and
slender-hipped, with his generous mouth. This son never quite played by the rules. Not openly rebellious, but not always willing to conform for the sake of keeping peace in the family, he was unpredictable. While he set little store in possessions for the sake of ownership, only the best was good
enough for him, whether it was stereo equipment, clothing or food. Still he
couldn't be bothered to take care of his things. He would give anything he
owned to a friend whose need appeared to be greater than his own.

"I'm not worried if you're not," I said, smiling. "Sometimes I wonder a
little about the company you keep, though. None of my friends have been
picked up lately by the Narcotics Squad!"

"Did the NARCs harvest his crop?" Curt asked.

Bruce didn't know. Approaching the sink he scuffled briefly with Curt who had finished his drink and was propped there as close as he could get to food, waiting for the supper call. Not bothering with verbal explanations, Bruce tried to shove him aside to make room for filling the jug with water. Curt, who was an inch taller. but several pounds lighter than Bruce, good-naturedly resisted displacement as a matter of principle.

"Come on, you fellows. Clear out," I said. "How can I put supper on the

"Yes, Mother, we're going," they chorused with mock docility as they moved
into the other room.


Supper was over and the boys were headed for their cabin. Bruce turned back before he crossed the porch.

"Oops! Forgot my jar of water," he said.

"I thought you took a gallon with you last evening," I said.

"I did," he replied. "These warm nights we get pretty thirsty. I'd sure hate
to have to come clear back here in the dark just for a drink of water." He
lifted the full jug and took off after Curt. It occurred to me that two boys
could scarcely drink a gallon of water every evening, but I decided maybe
they liked to have it fresh and colder than it would be after sitting at
room temperature all day. Our spring water ran cold and sweet from the
faucet, and we were all spoiled when it came to a good drink.

We had just settled to the television news when a car passed the house
enroute to the cabin. Before the news was over, three more had come down the hill, and two had gone out.

"What's all the traffic tonight?" my husband asked. I told him what Bruce
had said about Art being picked up.

"The law is really cracking down on these drug pushers," he said. "Did you
notice the item in the paper about the Federal grant for enforcement of
narcotics regulations? A local interagency narcotics team has paid informers
working this area. They call it the LINT program. We can expect more arrests soon, if they do their stuff."

As he talked my thoughts chewed at a half-formed suspicion in my mind. Was there some connection between Art's arrest and the traffic to our boys'
cabin? Why had Bruce's story popped into my head as an answer to the

"You can hardly call marijuana growers drug pushers." Sis looked up from her knitting as she spoke to study her father's face. "Pot's no worse, probably not as bad as alcohol."

"It's illegal, isn't it? Dad countered. "That's proof enough for me."

"So's beer, for minors. I've seen more kids messed up from too much beer
than I ever saw them from pot. And believe me, there was plenty of both in
the city."

Dad turned back to his newspaper. Another car revved its motor as it started up the grade past the house.

"Is that the last one?" I asked, leaning over the fern stand to look out the
window. Daylight was fading, and I couldn't see whether there was still an
extra car in front of the cabin. "I've got that plate of cookies ready, Sis.
Want to go calling with me?"

"Why not?" she agreed laying aside her knitting. I pulled my old sweater
around my shoulders as we left the kitchen. Oregon evenings are always cool, even in summer.

Sis carried the cookies. As we approached the cabin we could see that the
last visitor's car HAD gone up the hill. The door was open, expanding the
lighted room to include the porch.

"Any body home?" I knocked lightly as we paused outside the door.


"Hi, Mom. Come on in," Curt invited. "You, too, Sis," he added, as he looked
up from the record he was carefully putting back into its case. The soft
click of the stereo changer signaled the beginning of a new record, and Curt
turned down the volume as he invited us to sit down.

"Here, Mom," he gestured, moving a book and a pair of dirty jeans from the
seat of the big chair by the stove. As I sat down he spotted the plate of
cookies Sis carried.

"Oh, boy, are those to eat?" He reached for a hand full.

Sis playfully held the plate out of reach while she teased, "Oh, no! We just brought them to look at."

"I never look at cookies without eating some," Curt insisted. "Come on.
Gimme!" His long fingers easily closed over two at once.

"Where's Bruce?" I asked.

"He went for a walk," Curt said. "He should be back in a minute, it's about
dark." We heard his step on the porch then.

"Looks like we got company," Bruce said as he came in the door, empty water jug under his arm.

"The best kind. They brought goodies," Curt waved his hand toward the cookie plate beside him on the bed. "You better get one before I finish them off."

"Don't mind if I do," Bruce agreed, helping himself to a handful. He stood
quizzically, back to the stove, munching cookies. Then he said, "What's up?"

"I had to see your new pad," Sis explained. "You seem to be pretty popular
people, judging by all the company you have. We couldn't stand to be left
out." She brought the cookie plate and offered me one before she sat down on the bed beside Curt, placing the plate within his reach again.

"Oh, a social call," Bruce said. "We are honored."

"You can come any time you bring something to eat. How do you like my new record?" Curt asked.

"The Moody Blues?" Sis speculated.

"I never can tell one of those groups from another," I confessed. "Except
the Beatles. Finally I think I recognize them almost any time."

"Poor ignorant Mom," Curt teased.

"The trouble is, you just don't listen," Bruce added.

"I like music with a regular rhythm, something I can understand," I
explained. "There is so much discord in this modern stuff, and the lyrics
don't make sense to me most of the time. Besides, they don't sing, they

"Aren't you glad we moved out so you won't have to suffer through so much
'bad' music, Mom?" Curt's comment brought our conversation back to the new living arrangement.

"Does all your company bring goodies?" Sis asked.

"Toby brought some beer tonight," Bruce said, "Can I get you a beer?" He
grinned encouragingly at me, his black eyes challenging.

I felt shocked and embarrassed, even though I knew Bruce sometimes joined his friends in drinking a beer. "You know I never touch the stuff" I said.

"Sis?" Bruce questioned.

"No, thanks," she answered. The three of them were watching me
speculatively. I squirmed, painfully aware that I could destroy all hope of
continued friendly conversation by pressing my 'teetotaler' conditioning on
them in this situation.

"How about some water to wash my cookie down?" I suggested.

"Too bad. The jug is empty." Bruce went to sit on his bed. Kicking off his
ragged sneakers, he leaned over on an elbow. Then he yawned and stretched his legs out across the bed.

"Toby didn't stay long," I observed. "Anyone else we know here tonight?"

"I don't think so. Kids out riding around. They have to have some place to
go - got an excuse to crank up the wheels. Mostly what they want is to be
driving." Bruce explained.

"Dad was asking about all the traffic," I said. "While we were talking, he
mentioned something about a LINT squad. Narcotics investigators. What do you know about them?"

"Bunch of pigs," Bruce grunted.

"Some fuzz grows a beard and gets in good with some kids. then he turns them in when he catches them with pot. Sometimes he poses as a pusher, selling speed and stuff. Then when somebody buys from him, he reports them." This was Curt's fuller explanation.

The record finished and the player switched itself off. Without the background music we heard an approaching car.

"Sounds like more company," Curt said. "Wonder who it is this time?" A car
door closed. Steps sounded on the porch and a young man paused in the
doorway, a questioning look on his face,

"I see you have company," he said.

"Hello, Deke," Bruce greeted. "Come on in. This is my Mom, my Sis."

"How do, Ma'am," the youth acknowledged the introduction, but hung back,
looking at the car parked outside as if undecided whether to go or stay.

I turned to Sis. She stood up, saying, "We were just leaving." She picked up
the empty cookie plate and came to stand in front of me. Offering a hand to
help me out of the low chair, she smiled at Deke in the doorway. His
uncertainty vanished as he stepped inside to make room for us to get through the doorway.

"Well, do you know any more than you did?" Sis asked me as we walked back to the house.

"Not really. That kid seemed disconcerted to find us there. I don't think he
would have come in if we had stayed."

"I got that impression too."


I was the only one on the place the next day after lunch. It seemed a good
time to check out an idea which kept recurring. On the hill behind the boy's
cabin, I found a much used path into the grove of trees beyond. There must be a reason why it was used so often.

It led down through a draw and up into another grove of trees on the next
hill. Where it wound among several young cedars and ended in an open space. I was only half surprised to see that the open space had been spaded up, even though I found nothing growing in it except a few blades of grass. I circled the spaded area and then noticed that the path continued on up the hill. Ducking limbs I followed the trail, and fifty feet away came across
another well enclosed spaded plot. Three or four short stalks, now brown and dead, appeared to be the remains of some plants which had been cultivated there earlier in the season. The path continued up the hill, and following it I came to a third cultivated plot. Five waist-high marijuana plants grew there. They had been clipped back several times but were putting out new branches again. So! That 'drinking' water had been irrigating a crop! Well, I knew what to do about that. I pulled the plants out of the ground.

My first impulse was to throw them into the bushes at the side of the plot.
Then I realized they would be usable, and probably used, as they dried. I
would have to get rid of them completely. I thought of taking them to the
house and burning them in the wood stove. Would this release enough fumes to make me high? I knew so little about marijuana I was afraid to risk it. Well, if I didn't burn it, and couldn't leave it there, what should I do
with it?

The plants would have to be hid where the boys wouldn't find them until they had decayed. I started out through the brush with them under my arm. This woodland area had been unpastured wilderness for several years, and heavy growth covered most of it. Several hundred feet from the 'garden' plot I left the first plant under a clump of ferns that grew over a fallen tree.
Only one went there, because if the boys, in scouting around, happened to
find one I didn't want the whole lot to be discovered. Tramping on through
that five acre wilderness, I hid another next to the trunk of a thick, bushy
cedar whose branches grew down to the ground. A third went into a bramble patch. When all five were concealed I went back to the house feeling pleased. I would not say a word to anyone about what I'd found or what I did. Let the boys worry! Serve them right for potentially incriminating us with their 'gardening' on our land.


A week passed. Only an occasional, familiar car came to the cabin.

Coming in from the garden with carrots and a head of cabbage for supper, I
recognized Bruce's voice in the kitchen.

"I know the deer didn't get those plants. They would have left the stalks at
least, like they did those others," he said.

"They couldn't just disappear. I know they couldn't," Curt said. "Someone
had to take them away."

"You can't make me believe Toby would help himself to the whole lot," Bruce insisted.

The conversation stopped as I pushed open the screen door and walked into the kitchen with my armload of vegetables.

"I couldn't help overhearing," I said. "You are wondering about those
marijuana plants."

Both boys expressions changed from confusion, to surprise, to guilt, and to
relief as I said, "I found them."

Copyright 2003 by Lois Barton

Now Available on Compact Disk:

Stories from The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte

Three and a half years of years Lois Barton's stories–so you can read them without going online!

Lois Barton's Selected Works
Volume I, Chanticleer's Tales

Send $10, plus postage of $1.50
84889 Harry Taylor Rd.
Eugene, OR 97405

Writer and historian
Lois Barton
Lois Barton is an 85 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.

Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

Visit the Sunnyside of Spencer Butte Section in our new format for more of Lois' stories. See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By online magazine's archives:

Visit the Heron Rookery

Sauerkraut and All That

Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?

The Midwife - The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.

The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.

Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

© Copyright 2000-2004 by West By

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