Why Momma cried
Conversations with Morey Skaret
This is the fourth in a series of articles on 96-year-old Morey Skaret, who emigrated from the family homestead in Endiang, Canada to West Seattle in 1923. Having survived the hardships of the prairie—and the sorrow of leaving a brother behind—Morey would thrive and blossom as a vigorous transplant in his new land.
“Three times the harvest failed and we went broke,” recalls Morey Skaret, reflecting on his family’s final years on their homestead farm. “We didn’t have enough money to buy seed grain. So Dad just had to pick up and take his family somewhere else; they were foreclosing on us. We owed money for seed grain from the year before.
“We left in a lumber wagon, and we put our stove in there,” Morey says. “We were going to a little town called Hanna. We knew the mounted policeman there. He kinda knew my dad, ’cause they were both Norwegians. He got a shack for us for seven dollars a month, and got my dad a job on the railroad greasing the wheels.
“When we left Endiang, my mother was crying, really crying. So I thought, ‘What’s the matter here?’ I was maybe seven years old. This was a great adventure to me. I was driving. Two head of horses, Jess and Colby.
“About ten years later, I got thinking about it, and I wrote in my memoirs, ‘Now I know why mother cried.’ I didn’t know then. She had raised a whole family there. She had six children. Five of ’em were alive, and she was leaving one baby. Buried there. See. So that’s why she cried.
“I didn’t realize that. It was just, ‘Whoa, boy: we’re goin’ to Hanna, and Dad’s got a job on the railroad!’ Big adventure. But now I know, I said when I got older, now I know why Momma cried. . . .”
The Skarets eventually moved to West Seattle, where Morey’s father, with the help of a fellow Norwegian, found work building Mt. St. Vincent’s. The family lived at 4808 49th S.W., in a house that stands today. Morey enrolled in Jefferson Elementary School, where his prairie education would serve him well.
“I could talk a little American then, see, because I’d gone to that school in Canada to the fourth grade,” he recalls. “I was ten when I came down here, so I didn’t have that language problem. But I had a brogue, you know; everybody’d laugh at me. I’d say, ‘Ver vas you today?’ Then they’d all laugh; the kids would tease me, you know.
“We definitely felt that we were different when we came off the prairie. You know, we hadn’t spoken the English language till we were six or seven, like my brother when we were ready to go to school. And we talked kind of broken, and all the kids made fun of us: ‘. . . diss iss a skuwarehead; he don’t talk good English. . . .’ You know, they called us squareheads and everything. And then we got in a fight, once in awhile. If we got taunted too much, then we’d fight, maybe. And it wouldn’t last too long.”
But Morey would soon make the most of the economic and social opportunities offered by his new land. He became a newsboy for the Seattle Star, tromping all over West Seattle on his paper route. Later he became “owner/operator” of a newsstand in the Junction. Morey continued selling newspapers through high school, the first of many successful careers spanning the next eight decades.
“I had a good-paying job as far as paper routes are concerned,” he says. “I packed the paper route, and I sold papers at the corner of California and Alaska, in front of the Campbell Building. A man named Campbell built that building in 1918. He started the first bank in West Seattle, called West Seattle Bank. The building, on the north and east corner of the Junction, still stands.
“That was a paper corner there, and it was a good place because the Number 3 Car came up and went up to upper West Seattle, and the Fauntleroy went down. I would sell papers when the streetcars stopped, while they were junctioned. That’s why they call it The Junction, because the cars junctioned there. One rail went north and one went south, and the other one came from the east.
“You had to buy the paper corners,” Morey recalls, “and all you got was a tin box with a roof on it and two or three shelves where you kept your Star or your Times and the Union Record. And my paper cry, standing on the corner, was: ‘Star, Times and the Union Recorrrrrrrrrrd.’
“The streetcars would stop—and I knew damn well when they came up from the steel mills—and the longshoremen, I’d sell a lot of the Union Record. The Union Record was quite popular at one time. They’d say, ‘Hey, kid!’ And I’d notice another thing: I’d run over and the bottom window would open on the streetcars. And they’d give me a nickel—the paper was three cents. And they waited for their change. I can’t remember one guy ever saying, ‘Keep the change.’
“It was two cents. They always waited till I dug in my little pockets here, and I’d get the two cents. ‘Thank you.’ Yeah. But I made good money there. And Mr. Orlob—I remember his name—he was a dentist. He was right across the street. The building is still there; that light-colored building on the north and east corner, second storey. And he saw me running around there, hustling with my papers.
“So he came down one time to buy a paper. Something happened. Jack Dempsey fought Gene Tunney or something. I remember I sold a lot of papers when that happened. He came down and said, ‘Oh, young man, I’m the dentist here. Do you take care of your teeth?’ You know, he was just being a fatherly guy.
“‘No,’ I said. ‘We’ve got six children. And we live down at the bottom of the hill, right below the Junction. We don’t have money for that.’ We were poor; we were really, really poor. And we wore patches on our clothing and all that. ‘I got two or three cavities. Bad ones,’ I said. And he said, ‘Well, listen: you come up to my office, when you’re through here with your corner. And I’ll look at your teeth.’
“He said, ‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll take care of your teeth as long as you want to come to me. And as long as you’re working here—a merchant with us on the Junction—I’ll charge you one dollar a filling. Whatever it is—a big filling. And he did. He saved my teeth. I got my teeth now. I got all my teeth. And I’m ninety-six years old. Thanks to Dr. Orlob.
“And then I went to school—West Seattle High School—and I met his daughter. I forget her name. Nancy, I think it was. Orlob. He told Nancy, ‘That Morey Skaret, I think he’s a nice man.’ He didn’t tell her that he was fixing my teeth for almost nothing.
“I earned about three dollars a night selling papers. So I could well afford that. So I had all my teeth—I got some of the big fillings still in my teeth, that he put in.”
“He just went to the dentist today,” says Elsie, his longtime neighbor and daily luncheon companion. “Had his teeth cleaned. That’s all it was.”
“Then I got a Star paper route,” Morey continues, “from Alaska Street to Brandon Street, from California to the beach. That’s a long old route, with quite a few shags. That’s why the guy wanted to get rid of it. A shag is where you have to go two blocks to deliver one paper. The Star was fifty cents a month. So I made eight, ten dollars a month. But you could buy a lot for that. I had my teeth taken care of; and with the rest of the money I could buy my clothes, take the load off my parents.”
We rise from our chairs. Morey is eager to show me the many mementos, each a story in itself, adorning his walls and tables. I notice a photo of Morey and Elsie Freeland, Guests of Honor in the 2009 West Seattle Grand Parade. Morey waves from the convertible, gliding past the same corner where he sold newspapers eighty years ago.
“They gave me a memorial cup,” he says.
‘For Outstanding Service to the Community,’ the inscription reads. Every community should be so lucky to have shining stars like Elsie and Morey.
But Morey is already off to another room, where more walls, bookcases and trunks laden with treasure await. I tag along quietly, trying to take it all in, careful not to disturb the memories.
Next week: Good for 20,000 miles!