Moving to Yelm in 1944 By Edgar Prescott
Introduction: In his unpublished autobiography Prescott recounted moving to Yelm
At last we were in Washington, land of big trees. They stood sky-high along the road between the towns—Vancouver, Kalama, Kelso. The highway ran right down the main streets, like in Colorado. Back then freeways hadn’t been invented.
Now and then, to our left, we could see a shine of water through the trees, and looking at our map we discovered that the Columbia River had turned west at about the point we did and was following along beside us—until just before we got to Kelso. Then it turned west again and was gone.
We marveled at the big double trucks lumbering past, loaded with logs, a lot of them six to eight feet in diameter, one with a single log, wider than the truck bed and it towered most of a man’s height above the cab.
Alice spelled out the names of places she saw on the map—Wahkiakum, Skamokawa, Puyallup, Kapowsin, Enumclaw—and tried to pronounce them. (What came out was nowhere near the way Washingtonians said them) She looked at the names of the towns up ahead—Napavine, Chehalis, Centralia. From Centralia it was only a jump on to Yelm. And when we got there, we decided it would be wise for us to stay the night, so that tomorrow we’d have a whole day to get settled.
A sign to the right of the road—It was only a two lane road—said: “Entering Yelm —Population 498”. Maybe a hundred yards farther on we paused at a stop sign and looked to the right and left down the town’s main street
It wasn’t a very impressive sight. In a beauty contest of small towns I’m certain that both Ault and Platteville would have come out ahead.
To our left stood a dilapidated theater with posters in front of cowboys and horses. Ahead, H. L. Wolf and Company, a large one-story stucco building, advertised groceries and general merchandise.
The street, when I close my eyes and number them off on my fingers, boasted four taverns, a barber shop, a beauty parlor, a post office, a drug store a jewelry shop, a meat market, several garages and filling stations and the Yelm Community Methodist Church.
A lot of the businesses were in individual wooden buildings, most of them needing paint, and the spaces between them were grown up with weeds and cluttered with rocks.
And the farm buildings, the ones we saw, were run-down. We should have guessed that the farmers, along with most of the other town-folk, had postponed whatever they were used to doing and were gone to Tacoma to work in a shipyard.
Mrs. Hughes, when she came to the door, reminded me of one of those actresses a director usually picks out to overplay the role of somebody’s grandmother. She greeted us like we were dear old friends who had been gone for a long, long time. . . .
The house she was holding for us turned out to be a duplex. It sat across the railroad tracks from the depot, under the spreading branches of a big maple tree. From the look of it might very well have been the first house ever built in Yelm.
“Hoary” was the adjective I thought of when I looked at it—like the way Longfellow described those primeval trees he tells about in his poem Evangeline—the ones that sighed disconsolately and were bearded with moss. The house wasn’t doing any sighing right then—It did though when the wind blew—but it surely was bearded with moss. The roof was grown over with the stuff, and it hung down in strands from the eaves.
Mrs. Hughes creaked open a wooden gate—it was hanging by a rusty hinge—and led us across the lawn—Anyway it had been a lawn. Now it was a yardful of foot- long grass, too matted even for dandelions to grow up through—and onto a shaky wooden stoop.
She unlocked the door on the left with a big key, and shoved it open. . . It wasn’t exactly like entering King Tutankhamen’s tomb. There wasn’t anything as exciting as a mummy inside, waiting to be discovered, or any treasure of gold or jewels to uncover. The mouldy air that hit us in the face was probably a lot more humid than the dry imprisoned air in an Egyptian burial chamber, and there were cracks of light coming in from around the green window blinds.
Not until the blinds were rolled up and the window sashes forced open (Out goes the bad air; in comes the good) did we survey the interior of our house. It contained a living room, a big bedroom, a kitchen and a bathroom, and like Mr. Montgomery had told us, it was partly furnished.
There was a dresser in the bedroom and a bed with a mattress on it. In the kitchen was a wood-burning range, and some shelves along the walls with curtains across their fronts. And there was a rectangular table and four straight backed chairs.
The bathroom had all the necessary equipment. None of it was working though because the water was turned off. In a corner was a hot water tank standing on end, just a plain metal tank with lines of rust running down from a couple of holes that had been patched with rivets.
The water was heated, I discovered, . . . by running it through a gadget over the grate in the kitchen range.
The living room was stark naked except for a heating stove, which was no more than a fifty gallon oil drum standing on legs. It had a hinged door on the top to put in the fuel, and a slit of a door; near the bottom to rake out the ashes.