Discover Beautiful Camano tells stories of the people and places that make Camano the beautiful island it is: her farmers and their farms, entrepreneurs and their stores, gardeners and their gardens, artists and their studios, pastors and their churches. In the first article, I shared about my grandfather, Doc Dodgson’s farm. In this article I tell about neighbors who lived nextdoor: The McGraths.
The McGraths moved into Bill Smith’s old farmhouse in 1960. They left Bellevue because Jon, the youngest of the two McGrath boys, was struck by a dump truck. He wasn’t hurt, but his dad John, nicknamed “Tinny,” said, “We’re out of here.” John didn’t like how rapidly Bellevue was growing and wanted his and Dorothy’s kids Jim, Sally, Jon and Jane to be raised in a rural setting.
The farm was an enchanting playground for the McGrath kids. Jim, the oldest, remembers watching Robert milk the cows. Before finishing Robert would squirt milk into the cat’s mouth. Jane, the youngest, who was born in 1958, says she and her sister Sally had a fascination with the Dodgson farm. Doc and Sayre weren’t living at the farm then. But Jane and Sally would watch for Doc to visit the farm, usually in the morning, to do farm chores. They’d run and hide in the lay loft and pretend they were chickens. “Doc Dodgson would play along,” she says. Jane and Sally had “pet cows” that they befriended. Jane had a pet steer she named “Blacky” and Sally a pet cow named “Susy.” They would brush them and sit on them when they were laying down. For Jane the farm and the woods surrounding it was and enchanting playground. A place where they explored and rode their horses.
The McGrath’s didn’t raise chickens. They raised horses. They turned the chicken coop into the barn where the hay and horses were kept. John allowed his girls to get Shetlands; then, when they got older, a couple of two-year-old horses. They trained their horses, joined 4-H and rode in the Stanwood parade with fellow 4-H members. They explored the Dodgson fields. Once Jane and Sally were riding in the back field. They got off their horses and soaked their new cowboy boots in the swampy southeast corner of that field. Sometimes they took the logging trail through the woods to our home.
During the summer Jane and Sally would leave in the morning and not come back to the late afternoon. They rode to Mabana Beach, Tyee Beach, and Elger Bay. “One time we rode to Tillicum Beach to see if we could see J.P. Patches because he had a summer house there.” Another time they rode all the way to the State Park to see Jane’s friend Kathy Emerson (now Kathy Shoop) whose father was the park ranger. “Sally and I rode so much in the summer that we made trails along the side of the road,” Jane recalls.
Sometimes Jane and her best friend, Meg Noren, who lived in Seattle but spent the summer on Camano, rode to Tyee Grocery, which everyone called “Snowdens” because it was run by Ted and Ellen Snowden. They tied their horses up to the hitching post at the store and bought candy and sunflower seeds. “We were addicted to eating sunflower seeds on our horses,” Jane recalls. Wendy Snowden, who was Sally’s age, and her sister Robin, who was Jane’s age, had horses too. Wendy’s horse was named Smokey and Robin’s horses were named Hungry and Ajax. On summer afternoons, when the tide was high and the water warm, the girls’ loved to ride bareback to Mabana Beach. They waded into the water until the horses and girls were swimming, then grabbed their mane or tale and were pulled along by the swimming horse.
Bound By Many Threads
In those days, the lives of Camano neighbors were bound by many threads. Doc was the McGrath’s family doctor. One time he sewed up Jane’s leg after Jim ran into her with a bike. The cut was so bad, about two inches one way and two inches the other, with the flesh hanging open that Jon said, “don’t look, don’t look.” Off they went to Doc Dodgson’s office in Stanwood. He sewed Jane up. All she has to show of it is a little scar. “Doc Dodgson was always making you laugh,” Jane remembers. He was so laid back. Everything was going to be ok. He had a great way with people.”
After the Dodgson family moved to Stanwood, Jane and Jon delivered the mail to Sayre’s mother, Fanny Y. Cory, who they knew by the family nickname Meetsy, walking down the long driveway just south of their home. “She was always so cheerful to see us. She’d always give us candy so we were always excited to get the mail. You were going to someone who wants to see you,” Jane remembers. She also remembers how my mom was her favorite Sunday School teacher at Mabana Sunday School. Jane was upset when she graduated from her class to Eva Dallman, the Sunday School Superintendent’s, class. Eva had her students read a verse from the Bible and then explain that verse to the class. “Usually, I didn’t know what they are talking about. But your mom always made Sunday School delightful. I keep a lot of beliefs and perspectives from what she taught,” Jane says. Later I will tell how Tinny supported Dad during a crisis at Mabana Sunday School. Many south end neighbors were poor and struggled and all of the families were flawed to some degree or other. But in the midst of that brokenness there was beauty, there was neighborliness.
The McGrath’s had their struggles. Tinny’s excavation, rock crushing and paving business worked on big projects: the State Park, Onamac, Lost Lake, and Camaloch. He was working constantly, but wasn’t always paid. Money was tight. Stress was high. In 1976 the McGrath’s had to sell their beloved farm. Thankfully Jane worked through her childhood trauma. One Christmas, about a decade ago, Jane and her dad talked about their past. She forgave him. He died six weeks later.
For Jane, Camano Island was the best place to grow up, fishing, playing on the sandy beaches, picking wild blackberries. It was a dream to have a farm, to have a beach, and to have horses. But nothing lasts forever. And no one lives forever. Jane and her mom were close, like best friends. Jane was twenty-two years old, a student at the University of Washington, when her mom died suddenly of an aneurysm. Her story is a reminder to love the people and enjoy the places where God plants you.