Tommy and Irene Garretson Nelson lived just south of the Oysterville Church when I was a youngster. They were about the age of my grandparents and I remember being quite fond of Tommy but just a little bit in awe of Irene. She was part Indian and seemed proud and quiet and not too approachable by a little girl.
Behind their house was their cannery where they produced the best smoked oysters of any on the whole Peninsula. Everyone said so. They smoked them with crabapple and used their own recipe for the oil. You’d never find a gill in any of their cans — just plump, tasty oysters. The best!
Irene and Tommy didn’t have any kids or grandkids — maybe that’s why Irene seemed a bit standoffish. Maybe kids seemed too much for her. But I’ll never forget the time she showed me her “proudest possession.” It was her mother’s little wooden trunk — “a chest” she called it — she told me it had belonged to her mother when she was a little girl way before Irene or her sister or brother had been born. As I remember it, the chest had been a gift to his only daughter from Irene’s grandfather, John Douglas, a seafaring man. He had brought it to her from San Francisco where he had been on one of his voyages.
It was small, I think, though to a little girl it seemed just the right size. And it was decorated with brass nailheads (which I remember as being dimpled, but maybe not.) It was the trunk Irene’s mother Mary had taken clear across Shoalwater Bay to Bay Center when she was a little girl — way before she had met and married Frank Garrettson, Irene’s father. Back in the “olden days.” Her father took her over there to stay with the only doctor in all of Pacific County. Because she was blind.
She’d had the measles some years before and, afterwards, could no longer see. I remembered how hard it was when I’d had the measles to stay in a darkened room. My mother said it was to protect my eyes but I don’t remember that she used the ‘B’ word. Of course, I was only four or five, so I don’t think “blind” would have resonated, anyway.