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Summer vacation jostles pioneer memories

I recently spent 10 days of my ninetieth year in my daughter’s Lake of the Woods cabin. It has electricity but no running water, no toilet, none of the luxuries that everyone in America enjoys.

I was pretending I was my great grandmother, Mariah McCornack, who raised nine (some say 12) children by herself on a land claim in Eugene, near where the Fred Meyer’s store is now. She was known for being the first settler to have a washing machine, probably foot-pedaled, as there was no electricity.

Mariah came to America by herself, met her wonderful Scot, Andrew McCornack, and came with him over the Oregon Trail. Mariah and some of her many children were with Andrew when his horse, frightened by a cat, ran until the wagon overturned. Andrew was killed and Mariah injured, but she carried on for the sake of her kids who, as the story goes, all graduated from college.

Oddly, for the first three days of my adventurous 10-day stay in the Lake of the Woods cabin, I was totally alone just as Mariah must have been without her husband. Not a light from any of the nearby cabins, not a sound from the lake, nothing but the dark. That was very strange for this time of year and probably is the result of the economy of Southern Oregon right now. Farmers are losing their irrigation rights and the lumber mills are closed. In the early days, the men could afford to send their women and children to the lake for the summer.

This summer is the 88th summer I have gone to the lake. My childhood friends who still come up for the whole summer had not arrived yet. After my days of solitude in the wilderness, my friends started arriving, bringing food, wine and lots of wonderful conversation about the early days of the lake and the much earlier days of our great grandparents.

One of the guests who now lives in Ashland, brought wonderful stories that I had never heard regarding our common grandmother Mariah. I was so inspired by those stories about Mariah that I am planning to invite all of her descendants to my home here in Lake Oswego. If any of you have stories about your Oregon pioneer ancestors I’d love to hear them.

Phyll Kerns is a member of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.




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