TOP O' THE MORN: The 1920s roared all over us

The Roaring Twenties is a time to look back on, mostly in amazement. It was a time in history when women cut their hair — had it shingled in the back — wore short skirts and silk stockings, painted their faces with rouge and lipstick and became an embarrassment to their predecessors. Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle were favorite moving picture stars, along with Mary Pickford.

The little town of Mount Vernon on the Skagit River boasted as having the outstanding rural high school in the nation, and we graduated in 1927 along with 99 others. The Class of 1927, with 100 students, was the largest in the school’s history.

We became aware of family history at that time, when Mount Vernon celebrated its origins with a pow wow parade downtown and our grandfather, William Harris, was honored as the oldest member of the Civil War in Mount Vernon. Grandpa was a Yankee and fortunately was kept from knowing that his daughter (our mother) had married the son of a Rebel from that same war.

From then on, we began to pick up little pieces of history, including that of Grandma Harris, who lost her mother at age three and went to live with a neighboring family, the Gates. She grew up in their home, and when she married and had children of her own, the Gates family moved from Missouri to Mount Vernon. Gates since has become known as the father of Mount Vernon.

Finding the Skagit Valley town a pleasant place to live, they sent for the Harris family which included three boys and six girls.

Grandpa Harris bought a two-story house about two blocks from the top of the steep hill. It was 1902 when they arrived.

My mother and dad came all the way from Mesa, Ariz., to make their home in Mount Vernon in 1910. And I knew nothing more than Mount Vernon and a big island out there in Puget Sound where Dad was determined to live. The year was 1926 and we have lived on Whidbey ever since. Is there any other place as wonderful to make your home?

Back to the Roaring Twenties when we were the new girl in the junior class. The high school took up the lower floor of a big square wooden building that also housed part of the grade school. The gymnasium was a long log building erected by local builders with materials donated by loggers. The basketball floor was shiny and slick but the dressing rooms had dirt floors. Lor’ love a duck.

At one end was a stage built for programs and graduation day. Coming to Oak Harbor High School in mid-term, we found the school had no second year algebra and no second year Latin. We weren’t sure what we would end up with when a teacher offered to hear me read “Caesar” through to get my credits.

“Allia Gallia est divisos in tres partes!”

(Hope we got it right.)

But we loved Oak Harbor High School — there is nothing like a small town high school. On Thanksgiving Day, the football teams of Oak Harbor and Coupeville played and one can only imagine the excitement.

One boy in the junior class had a car, a small topless mixture of noise and speed. The girls in high school had bobbed hair, but knew nothing of the Charleston.

There was no movie in Oak Harbor and dances were held once a month in the Odd Fellows Hall, with a band imported from Everett or Anacortes. There were four churches and the picnic at Cranberry Lake was the event of the summer. Coupeville and Oak Harbor continued to play football at Thanksgiving and the Roaring Twenties rolled on.

Dorothy Neil has recorded Whidbey Island history for more than 50 years. Her books chronicle local life and times.

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