Telling the Stories of our Lives: Barbara Jones

Funded by a generous grant from the Tacoma Arts Commission in partnership with Puget Sound Book Artists, Anthea Karanasos Hubanks and Tacoma Seniors Write launched a series of creative writing workshops titled “Telling the Stories of Our Lives” at three Tacoma Senior Centers. The workshops consisted of a fun medley of classes for Elders interested in telling their stories through memoir, prose, letters, haiku, work collage, travelogues, and prose. In March 2020, as Washington State senior centers closed temporarily in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Anthea restructured the project. In place of the workshops, she conducted a series of phone interviews with five workshop participants — Myrtle Appling, Orv Harrelson, Barbara Jones, Constancio Bolima, and An Gates — and produced the following vignettes from the interviews. This is Barbara Jones’ story.

On a breezy Tuesday in November, I spent a lovely afternoon chatting with Barbara Jones. Barbara shared with me a few of her many stories about the adventures of being a homemaker raising six children.

A lifelong Northwesterner born in Cascade, Idaho, Barbara, her husband Jordon, and their three young children moved north from Portland, Oregon in September of 1958. A union strike motivated the family to move to Tacoma at the encouragement of Barbara’s sister-in-law who already lived in the City of Destiny and believed her brother could find work. Jordon moved north ahead of the family and, as it turned out, Jordon’s sister was right. He soon started a new job in heavy construction. Barbara and the children followed Jordon to Tacoma and Barbara’s sister-in-law helped them purchase their first little house for $200 down. Even though leaving Portland was for practical reasons, Barbara felt that as long as she had food, shelter, and a loving family, it did not matter what city she lived in. And she said it was nice having her sister-in-law close by.

Barbara, Jordon, and the kids settled into their new home on Ferry Street near the end of Sprague Avenue where Highway 16 now overlooks Nalley Valley. Jordon launched his own business as an independent contractor specializing in concrete and the family continued to grow. Barbara gave birth to two more children and the Jones became legal guardians to an orphaned boy who was welcomed as a permanent member of the family. While Jordon focused on earning a living, Barbara stayed busy raising their six children.

Nalley Valley Products Display

Barbara shared that being a stay-at-home mother to six children was the most important work of her life. It took creativity to be a homemaker on a limited budget which meant using practical yet fun skills to stretch their dollars. Although they watched their pennies, the family always had enough. Barbara loved baking the family’s bread, canning fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, pears, peaches, and green beans from their garden, and “putting up lots and lots of jam.” The Jones’ Ferry Street house had a large yard and a huge garden filled with fruit trees. Jordon loved to garden, which he had learned about from his mother while growing up in Idaho. In summertime, the family hopped in the station wagon and drove to Yakima where they loaded up the car with boxes of ripe peaches that Barbara canned. She said they stacked the wagon as full as they could with peach crates.

For Barbara’s bread baking, Jordon brought home sacks of wheat berries to grind into flour. At first they used a hand grinder and eventually invested in an electric mill. Barbara came up with the idea to grind wheat into flour for home baking when she joined a natural foods group in the early 1960s. The group met once a month at the library and members learned about the health benefits of eating unprocessed foods. Barbara explained: “I was young when I got married and I didn’t know much about nutritious foods, where vitamins come from, and what foods contain what. I wanted to learn, so the group meetings helped a lot.” One member shared about the process of fermenting and how to make sauerkraut. She described how she harvested everything that was left in her garden just before the first frost, then fermented it all together. She ate a spoonful or two of this with each meal which helped with her digestion.

Raising a large family and canning food kept Barbara busy, yet she also made time to go on fun, educational day trips with her children. Barbara said she and the kids “loved to do fun and interesting things, to see new places and learn new things.” They took a tour of the Mossyrock Dam when it opened and attended an open house event at the News Tribune Building on State Street where they had a chance to see the newspaper presses. On one occasion, Barbara chaperoned a unique school field trip to a submarine docked at the end of Alexander Avenue in Commencement Bay. The family also looked forward to dressing up to attend every Tacoma Symphony performance during the years when Ed Seferian served as conductor.

In the early 1970s as Tacoma continued to grow, Barbara’s family sold their little house on Ferry Street with the lovely garden full of fruit trees. The Washington State Highway Department bought the property to build Highway 16. Truth be told, Barbara’s family had outgrown the house, so they bought a larger one on North State Street. Barbara described a fortuitous opportunity that came their way not long after. The house right next door to them went on the market for a very reasonable price. It was much roomier, with four bedrooms and more bathrooms, so the Jones family moved one more time. Barbara still lives in the house she and Jordon bought in the mid-1970s.

When Barbara became widowed 28 years ago at the age of 59, she discovered new interests. She joined the University of Puget Sound’s Women’s League and in 1993 she began taking square dancing lessons at Clover Park College. Barbara had a wonderful time as a member of the Sundancers and even though she decided to stay single, Barbara said there was always someone to dance with. She loved it and she said dancing two to three times a week was excellent exercise. After 25 years with the Sundancers, Barbara had to stop dancing two years ago due to a knee problem. The Sundancers continued to dance together at the Collins Grange in Tacoma until Covid-19 precautions caused the Grange to close temporarily. Before the closure, Barbara still visited the group and occasionally had lunch with her dancing friends at Elmer’s Restaurant. Now during the pandemic, Barbara stays safe by sheltering at home and still chats on the phone with a good friend who is the Sundancers’ queuer — or caller — to keep up with what’s happening with everyone.

Photo courtesy Letricia Hatch.
New Year’s Eve dance at Collins Grange in Tacoma on December 30th, 2017.  The dance was sponsored by the Rainier Council. The callers were the Hatch Brothers (Joshua, Christian and Caleb), of Federal Way, WA and the cuer was Sue Weber of Tacoma.

With her dancing years behind her, Barbara now spends time on other activities. She still reads the newspaper every day, but after several eye surgeries she had to give up reading novels. Before Covid-19 closures, Barbara met friends for lunch regularly at the Beacon Senior Center and would occasionally catch a film at The Grand. She would also visit the Buckley Senior Center about once a week where her granddaughter is the activity director. Hobbies she still loves but does less often include baking, crocheting, embroidery, and putting together picture puzzles. Barbara shared that she used to do 20 or more puzzles a year which was quite a lot of fun. Barbara still drives, so on weekdays she looks forward to picking up her friend, Carol Ann, who lives alone and does not drive. The two women swing by the Beacon Senior Center where they pick up their lunches curbside now that the Center is closed. Barbara said that she really looks forward to this short outing with Carol Ann.

Washington State Square Dance Festival

When asked how she is holding up emotionally during this time of sheltering at home, Barbara shared that she feels a little down now and then, and believes she might be feeling a bit depressed. Barbara said she is grateful for the telephone, which makes staying home a lot easier. “Without the telephone, life would be very lonely, and I am grateful that one of my sons is living with me.” Barbara mostly uses her landline and occasionally has a video call with a healthcare provider. She is considering trying out video calls with her friends, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She said, “I have nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, so a group video call might be fun!” When asked what she most looks forward to doing when it is safe to mingle again, Barbara replied: “It will feel so good just to know I have the freedom to do what I want. Like go to Ivar’s for the fish I love. And I’ll go with my daughter to her favorite thrift store to shop. And I’ll go to square dance meet-ups and see my Sundancer friends again.” Barbara’s enthusiasm for life and her bright outlook shines through in an anecdote she shared near the end of our chat: “We always had company over after church on Sunday. While washing the stacks of dirty dishes, I read a little poem I’d posted above my sink over and over,” at which point Barbara recited the lines to me: “Thank God for dirty dishes. They have a tale to tell. While some folks go hungry, we’re eating very well. With home and health and happiness, we shouldn’t want to fuss. For by this stack of evidence, God’s been very good to us!!”

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