Life on Occidental Avenue in Garden Home in the 1930’s as remembered by Vlasta Becvar Barber in the year 2010.
Life on Occidental Avenue, now identified as 76th Avenue, was interesting and mostly full of happy events. Our Becvar family lived there for about five years.
Beginning on Garden Home Road and proceeding northward on the east side of Occidental, the family names, as I remember them, were Elk, Becvar, Grant, Dale, Blaker and Replogle. On the west side of Occidental, the first name is forgotten in the mists of time, the second may have been Johnson, next was the Lindley family, then Billups and another family whose name has escaped me.
Only a tiny minority of families had a car, and since the houses had been built without garages that worked out well. Buses ran fairly regularly, and stopped at the intersection of Oleson Road and Garden Home Road for those going to or from Portland or going on to Metzger. The fare was about three trips for a quarter.
Elk: this family had a young boy about ten years of age, perhaps a couple of years older than I was. He was quite good-looking, in my estimation, especially when he wore a snap-brim hat. The house was a two-story and the property may have been an acre in size. They usually raised several long rows of strawberries, and sold them to neighbors at three pint boxes for a quarter.
Becvar: our family moved into this one-story house probably during the summer of 1934. How our furniture was moved from Maplewood is a mystery to me. We had a large, old upright piano which Daddy had purchased second-hand just after he married Mama, and an almost equally large leather sofa that made into a bed. We certainly could not afford a professional mover, so it must have been Daddy and his friends. The property abutted the lower west border of Garden Home Grade School, so my twin sisters Sharka and Zora and I easily walked to our back chicken yard and directly on to school grounds.
The house had a dirt cellar which flooded one foot deep every winter. But attached to it was a wood shed and a well house. The latter was where we cooled our milk and butter. Towards the back of the property was a huge barn with a hay loft and a chicken house. Two pie cherry trees, an English walnut tree, a seedling black cherry tree and a very old flower garden which Daddy tended during his “spare time.”
Our sister, Millie, had finished high school at Lincoln, and spent part of her time taking care of Mrs. Julia Fishburn who lived just back of Lindley’s.
Grant: Mr. and Mrs. Grant had a son who attended college either at Willamette or another private college. When I acquired a summer job in 1942 at Willamette Iron and Steel Company on Swan Island, I was offered a ride to WISCO by Mr. Grant. Their son Robert was the proud owner of all the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. Being a book worm, I was delighted that Mrs. Grant lent me each of them and the Wizard, Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Lion became a delightful part of my life.
Dale: Mr. Alan Dale was born in England, how long he had been in the U.S. we didn’t know. He lived by himself and raised a fantastic garden on property that must have covered at least two acres. Beside the normal vegetables, he raised eggplants, black caps, currants, grapes, and in his front yard had a quince tree. Our mother made the most exciting preserves from the quinces Mr. Dale gave her. I was privileged to call him Uncle Alan, and as such I could borrow his books including one called “Talking Drums.” Sometime in the past he had had a wife and an adopted son. Neither was around when we lived in the neighborhood. His son was a stamp collector, and since he had left his collection with Uncle Alan, who had no use for it, I was lucky enough to inherit it. At Halloween, his house was the only house we went to.
When Tom and I married in 1949, Uncle Alan sent us a Sheffield carving set which he had brought from England. We still have the set.
Blaker: Mrs. Blaker had a very strong faith in Christian Science. When I managed to become the owner of a really bad case of acne, she talked to me about it, and after a couple of years, my complexion did clear up. Her faith may have also saved her life, for she talked about often eating puffball mushrooms. She had started eating them when she as a young girl living in Alaska with her family. Mrs. Blaker said that Powell Blvd. was named after her father.
At times Mrs. Blaker’s sister lived with her. Neither lady had any money to speak of and in cold weather they slept with newspapers between their thin blankets to help keep themselves warm. They were very proud and would accept no help, so our parents would buy eggs from Mrs. Blaker, though we raised chickens ourselves.
Replogle: David Replogle attended Garden Home Grade School during the entire five years that I did. He and I were friends though we did not agree on everything. One time in eighth grade, we were the debaters on the subject “which is better – leather or rubber?” He chose rubber, and I was left with leather. It’s doubtful that either of us persuaded anyone else. He was the object of envy, though for an absurd reason. He suffered from asthma, and smoked what we thought were cigarettes to relieve it. His obituary appeared in the Oregonian a few years ago, listing asthma the main cause of his demise.
Of our grade school graduating class of 13 in 1939, David was the only one who went on to Beaverton High School. At that time, many of us were of the opinion that only rich kids went to Beaverton, and the rest of us went to Tigard or some other school.
Unnamed: first house on the west side. We knew very little about this couple, though we heard gossip that they had a mild rivalry with Mr. and Mrs. Grant as to who had the better house.
Johnson (?): the lady of the house was very kind, allowing several kids to play “statue” in her yard. In this game one person would swing several other kids around, let them go and they were to remain in the position in which they fell. The one that remained in that exact fallen position longest was the next one who did the swinging.
Lindley: Mr. and Mrs. Lindley had a son Howard and daughter Marian. Howard joined the marines during WWII, and when he came home after boot camp wearing his dress uniform, all of us were very proud of him.
The Fishburn residence was directly west of the Lindley property. Because our older sister Millie helped take care of Mrs. Fishburn at times, we used the Lindley property as a short cut instead of walking down to Garden Home Road and then up what is now probably 77th avenue.
Empty lot (?): if there was a house just north of Lindley’s house, I don’t remember it.
Billups: Mr. & Mrs. Billups lived alone. We understood that Mr. Billups died soon after we moved into the neighborhood. We heard that their house had a finished cellar, somewhat a singularity compared to most of the houses on our street.
Unnamed: it is truly sad that I can’t remember the last name of the people that lived in the last house on the west side of Occidental Avenue. A son was named Robert, and unfortunately he had tuberculosis.
Robert’s mother was a sweet lady who took me to Portland to see “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” when I was about nine. This was really quite an adventure. Though we visited downtown Portland several times a year because Daddy had a tailor shop there, our movies were usually seen in Multnomah where the fee was about 10 cents. To see a first-run picture in the big city was big indeed.
Vlasta and Tom Barber were married in the 1949. She went on to work for the Internal Revenue Service for 30 years, retiring as the Disclosure Officer for the State of Oregon, IRS.
[Editor’s note: in 2018, Vlasta Becvar was featured in a display of Oregon Voices at the Washington County Museum.]