Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Memoir Writers: Don't Ignore The Ticking Clock

 By Mary Jane Honegger

Brother Mike Graham (right) on 5th Birthday
1953 Victory Village, Moses Lake, WA
I’ve long contemplated writing a memoir about the neighborhood in which I grew up. Although I’ve talked about, planned, researched, and outlined the project, I’ve procrastinated for one reason and another. The problem is, while I've muddled around, ignoring the ticking clock, many of the voices I planned to include in the memoir have been lost.
In an airport, sports stadium, or mall surrounded by tens of thousands of nameless people, you might think that you are just one of a crowd. So it’s natural to wonder “why should anyone read about my life?” And that’s the best reason to write it. As you tease out the details of your actual path, and look for what makes your journey worth reading, you will incidentally also reveal what makes it worth living. - Memoir Author Jerry Waxler

Victory Village: A Moment in Time

Growth Comes to the Columbia Basin
On July 27, 1933 the Public Works Administration allocated $63 million to start work on Grand Coulee Dam. Work began in 1934, bringing as many as 7,000 workers to the area. With the dam completed, in 1943 thousands of additional workers disbursed throughout the area to begin building the irrigation distribution system for the Columbia Basin. During the same period, the U.S. Government chose Moses Lake, a small town in the Columbia Basin, as the location for an air force base, causing additional demands on housing.

Victory Village
Buildings line the lake shore to the left of the photo
Government Housing 
In response, government housing projects in Moses Lake and nearby Ephrata, O'Sullivan Dam, and Larson Air Force Base were created to provide temporary housing facilities. For a couple of years small trailers and then barracks-style buildings eased the shortage. But following World War II, work on the canals in the Columbia Basin began in earnest. Turning thousands of acres of barren land into fertile farmland with irrigation water from the Grand Coulee Dam required hundreds of miles of canals. As word spread, an army of men and their families moved to the area, increasing the population of Moses Lake by 700-percent in less than ten years.

Our home 1950 - 1955
208 Victory Village
Victory Village - Moses Lake
In 1943 the Housing Authority of Moses Lake began construction of Victory Village. This temporary housing project eventually grew to include 42 buildings (172 units) scattered along the shores of Moses Lake on 31 bare acres behind the high school. The development looked more like barracks on a military base than civilian housing; in fact a few of the buildings were relocated to Moses Lake from the Farragut Naval Station after its deactivation in 1950. With housing, not amenities being the goal, the plain one-story wooden buildings held little charm. 

Our Family - 1953 - Victory Village
Mike, Mary Jane, Keith, Debby & Jane
My family moved there in the spring of 1950 after having waited just a few months to get in.  We were given preference because my father was a veteran, having served in the Army Air Force during WWII.  Within two years, three of my father's siblings and their families followed us to the Columbia Basin from Boise, Idaho, attracted by the promise of good paying jobs.  Some of them joined us in Victory Village.

We bought our own home and moved out of the place we affectionately called "the housing" in August of 1955. With its dirt roads, scraggly grass, and few trees, Victory Village was a hot and dusty place to live. But during those halcyon years following the war, we all thought it was the best place in the world … and fighting the tumbleweeds made us all strong.

Keith and Jane Graham with Mary Jane (in ruffled dress)
Uncle Kenny & Aunt Jean Graham with cousin Kathy
Victory Village - 1951
The years we lived in the housing was the happiest time of my life. - Jean Graham 

Gone But Not Forgotten
Today, Victory Village is nothing but a memory. The dilapidated buildings disappeared one by one as the town grew. New housing developments popped up and families moved away. By the early 70s, the last of the buildings were removed. Today those same 31 acres are in the center of town and home to a tree-filled park, swimming pool, and water park. The area is still in the heart of the community, but no evidence remains of the first home of many early Moses Lake residents and the happy place of my early childhood.

The Ticking Clock
In the past few years I’ve lost my mother, an aunt, and several former neighbors who lived in Victory Village. My mother was excited about the project. She did some research for me, and worked on her own memories. However, I guess we both dropped the ball. Much to my dismay, she never finished her own story. I would ask her once in awhile and she would assure me she was “coming along.” Well, “coming along,” meant the file I found on her computer, entitled “My Life,” ended when she was still a teenager.

Debby, Mary Jane and Mike Graham
Ready for Grant County Fair & Rodeo - 1954

I haven’t been even that successful with my dad. He is a wealth of knowledge. Being a retired CPA, he is a numbers guy and knows the facts and figures about everything and everyone in Moses Lake. First I purchased a cool journal for him to write in, but no action. Then a few years ago, my mom provided him with a typewriter when he complained of the writing. A couple of weeks ago I asked him how it was coming along.

“I’m up to age 14,” he replied with a challenging glint in his eye. My father is 84 years old. He has lived in Moses Lake for 70 of those years – that means his story ends the year he moved to town. Crikey!

I dropped the ball .. but no more. No more procrastination. No more losses.

My advice … if you are thinking of writing a memoir, write it now.


Anonymous said...

I lived in Moses Lake one summer after high school and always wondered about the abandoned base.

I just finished a memoir about my experience as a paperboy in the mid-60s. It's a story I have always wanted to tell and I'm happy I took the time to do so. All I need now is an editor, cover design and publisher!


Mary Jane Honegger said...

Thanks for telling about your project, Terry. It sounds like a fun read. I used to help my brother with his route in the 60s, so I know a few stories too. Remember when a stick of gum left out for you was a welcomed treat! I plan on starting a blog on my project soon. Hope you'll stay in touch and best of luck on your project.

Elizabeth S. Brinton said...

I can't wait to read the book.