A Pacific Northwest Childhood: A conversation with Nita Clothier

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“So many kinds of birds are gone. The fish – there were so many fish - now gone.” Nita Clothier muses while looking out her living room window over Lake Samish. What a view! Lilly pads hugging the shore, a mile of green blue water, with the towering Samish hills beyond - once so majestic but now covered in crazy-quilt patches of very slowly recovering clearcuts.

Nita and Milt (beloved Sehome High School science teacher who died in 1987) built this place with a $20,000 bank loan in 1963 after their first house on this land burned down. Nita designed this home herself, with the advice of an architect, and Milt helped construct it. I admire the warm wood all around us, tall ceilings, tall windows, tall bookshelves, a spacious yet cozy feeling, as I sit down with Nita next to her warm wood stove. Nita is a vibrant, active, and extremely intelligent elder in her eighties but she looks much younger.

“Until age 16 I lived in a logging camp on the Olympic Peninsula about 17 miles above Shelton, WA. My family lived in Simpson Camp 1 and later moved to Camp 3. There were fifty two families in Camp 3 and barracks full of men. The only way there was by train or rutted logging road, and our three room pre-fab houses traveled to camp on railroad cars. They were boxcar shaped houses, but most families built additions. Our groceries were delivered by company truck from the Lumberman's Mercantile Company in Shelton. Mail came by train, and there was an independent engine-car, called a Speeder, that could take us to town.”

“The logging company provided a school for the children?” I ask.

“Yes, through the eighth grade. After that they bussed us down the mountain into Shelton. Our elementary school was a two room schoolhouse. Friends have assumed I had a deprived childhood but we were smart kids with good teachers. We took music lessons and we also learned to be independent and bold, and very sociable. My mother was a teacher before marrying and my father was the president of the union. Many of the lumberjacks read books for entertainment, played bridge and pinochle.”

“What did the kids in the camp do for fun?”

“We'd hike down into the canyon, play all day, hiking back up before sunset. We'd dam a creek and swim. We built cedar bough tepees, we paddled a dug-out canoe my brother made on the lake behind our house, and we put on shows and played games like kick the can and hide and seek. In the winter we roller skated on the frozen logging road and ice skated on the frozen lake. When we grew to be teens we worked for the Camp. My first job was in the mess hall – making sandwiches and packing lunches. Those loggers ate so much food!”

Nita and her family moved into Shelton when Nita was sixteen for her senior year at Shelton High School. There she met Milt, who soon joined the Navy to fight in WW II, serving in Africa and the South Pacific. Nita entered the University of Washington in 1944 and in 1945 she and Milt married. He was still in the service when, in 1947, Nita moved to Bellingham to attend Western Washington College of Education.

“Were you the only young woman from Shelton High School to go to college back in the 1940s? “

“No, lots of us went to college!” Nita says with pride. Nita went on to become a member of Westerns' English and then Liberal Studies faculty. In her last twelve years of teaching, Nita took students to Greece each year to study classical humanities.

“You've seen things no one will ever see again, Nita, like very, very big trees.”

Nita sighs and looks out again over Lake Samish, “The logs we see on logging trucks these days - toothpicks! And the animals and fish! So many gone forever.”

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About Kamalla Rose Kaur

Notifications • Bellingham • Member since Jul 12, 2009