Watching the world change

July 1, 2011

By Emily Baer

Centenarian Harriet Clark reminisces as her 100th birthday approaches

Harriet Clark will celebrate her 100th birthday Aug. 9.

Newcastle resident Harriet Clark, who turns 100 on Aug. 9, shares memories from her long life.

Newcastle resident Harriet Clark, who turns 100 on Aug. 9, shares memories from her long life. Contributed

The Newcastle resident, who lives with her daughter Eileen Clark and grandchildren Alexis and Max Clark, can still see, hear and walk. She has feathery white hair, an aura of warmth and kindness, and a sharp memory, despite what she says.

“My memory is bad,” she said, after taking a moment to remember the number of years she worked as a secretary. Minutes later, she recalled the story of her brother’s birth. That was 94 years ago.

Youth

During her lifetime, Harriet watched the world change. She lived through formative events in our nation’s history — World War I, the invention of the automobile and telephone, the Roaring 1920s, the Great Depression, World War II, space travel, the Cold War, Vietnam, the explosion of computer technology.

While each of those events was certainly affective, they were not what shaped Harriet’s life. The memories Harriet has held onto are the ones of her family, the places she lived, the things she loved and the way she lived.

Harriet’s family will convene at her daughter’s home for a festive party to celebrate her 100-year milestone.

Reflecting on her centurylong life, she recounted some of her fondest memories.

Harriet was born on the Yakama Indian Reservation on a hay farm that her dad Barnard DeVries was leasing from the Yakama Indians.

“My first visitors were Indians,” she said. “My mother said they saw the diapers on the line so they came in to see the new baby.”

 

Homestead

When Harriet was 3, her father heard about the availability of homesteads in Montana. The Homestead Act of 1862 gave United States citizens the opportunity to lay claim to a 160-acre plot of surveyed land free of charge. In order to do so, the prospective owner had to live on the land, construct a 12-by-14 building and grow crops. Barnard built a house for his family and began raising grain.

However, after five years of failed crops due to extreme hail and drought, the DeVries left for Wapato.

While still in Montana, Harriet’s mother Josephine went into labor with neither a midwife nor her husband near. She decided that she would have to have the baby boy by herself. She told Harriet to hold a blanket up to the fire so she would have something warm to wrap the newborn in and she proceeded to deliver the baby on her own. Harriet sat quietly in a chair that is now sitting in Eileen’s living room.

After graduating from high school in Yakima — the DeVries had left Wapato — Harriet attended the Yakima Business School and then took a job as a secretary. She made $10 per week for 40 hours of work. For a while during the Great Depression, her family lived off of her small salary.

 

Birthing children, sheep

Harriet married a man three years younger than her when she was 36 years old. His name was Bob Clark and he was from Zillah. He worked as a bookkeeper for several companies including the Del Monte cannery, the railroad in Toppenish and the Yakima Book Keepers Association.

Bob and Harriet had three children, the last when she was 49 years old. Dennis, Terry and Eileen were born in 1951, 1954 and 1959, respectively. What was it like to go against the grain — to marry late and have children later in life?

“It didn’t seem any different from other people,” she said. “Everybody was kind of awed that I was that old and had children. But you can have children till you’re 50.”

Bob made a baby backpack carrier out of a car seat so the family could hike and travel together. They often visited Bowdish Cabin, built by Harriet’s uncle, on Chinook Pass.

Harriet became a 4-H leader in Zillah and helped her children raise sheep to enter in 4-H shows.

“She wore dresses down to the sheep barn — she’d just put her boots on with her dress,” Eileen said. “I never remember my mom ever wearing pants. She always wore a dress.”

Harriet even helped with the birthing of the sheep.

“I called up the vet and I saw what he did,” she said. “I thought, “Well, gee, I can do that, too.”

 

Looking forward

In 1977, when Eileen was a senior in high school and Harriet was 66, her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Nine months after receiving the devastating diagnosis, he died. He was 63.

“I took care of him until he died,” Harriet said. “He could have stayed in the hospital, but he said he wanted to come home, so I took him home.”

Three years later, she moved to Yakima and then in 1990 moved to Bellevue to live with her children.

Harriet has kept several photo albums filled with pictures of herself in her youth with her smiling parents, brother, relatives and friends. She has photos of her husband and their children and the beautiful Northwest spots that they enjoyed visiting.

When asked how she feels about turning 100, Harriet replied, “I wonder what’s going to happen next.”

Emily Baer: 392-6434, or emilybaer@comcast.net.

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Comments

One Response to “Watching the world change”

  1. Ryan on July 19th, 2011 8:18 am

    Really happy for my Great Aunt! It is really weird though reading about your grandfather’s birth like this though.

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