Interview With Elinor Wright

From the interview with Elinor Wright of Andover, MA conducted by Patience Rogge by phone from the Fort Worden History Center on April 1, 2004.  Mrs. Wright was the daughter of Colonel Lawrence L. Clayton, sr. who was stationed at Fort Worden from 1938 until 1942.  Her she tells of life on Officers Row in the days before World War II:

“Our family lived first in a duplex in the middle of Officers Row, later we moved to the large duplex next door to the Commanding Officer’s house.  The house was grand.  The rooms were big and we had a room for sewing  and a music room.  It was very Victorian . It was a beautiful place to live.  From our house you could look out and see snow capped mountains and Puget Sound.  It was breathtaking scenery, I had never seen anything like the scenery in the Northwest.  The house had a large dining room, because Army families had to entertain quite a lot.  There was a button in the middle of the floor that the hostess was supposed to push to summon the servants from the back in case they had to clear or whatever.  We had a butler’s pantry the size of most people’s kitchens. When my mother was planning a dinner, there was a certain protocol that had to be followed.  She would have to seat the officers and their wives according to rank.  She would have to get out the Army register to see who ranked who so she’d know where they should sit.  It was quite a formal occasion.  The servants were people from Port Townsend.  It was a very big house so Mother had help with the cleaning.  When she had a dinner party, she would have help with the cooking and someone to serve.  She had to show them how to serve from the left and all those formalities. It was pretty disruptive for the whole family.  We kids had to just disappear.  They’d send us to the post restaurant for supper.   As an officer’s child, there were certain rules to follow but I didn’t feel restrained at all.  We had Recall every evening at  five o’clock when they took the flag down.  It was a big ceremony and we always had to stop whatever we were doing and stand at attention.  Sunday afternoons were the time when the other officers came calling.  I wasn’t allowed to mingle socially with children of non-commissioned officers as long as we were on the post, but it didn’t matter in town. We had a post  movie theater. Officers’ families had to sit in a special place, we were segregated from the enlisted people.  On the post, we had a bowling alley, a roller skating rink, and tennis courts. Once a month we would go into Seattle and go shopping because there wasn’t much in the way of shopping in Port Townsend.  All the families would get on this mine sweeper and take a four hour boat ride to Seattle.  My girlfriend and I would go to the department stores and just have a wonderful time shopping. Then we’d spend four hours on the boat getting back to Fort Worden.  In the summer in nice weather, we would go down the long flight of stairs off the Commanding Officer’s Quarters to the beach.  We mostly sat on the beach because the water was too cold for swimming.  If we wanted to swim, we went to Discovery Bay.  We had a couple of friends from Port Townsend who had summer homes there. The water was about 62 degrees in Discovery Bay and we had a lot of fun.  To maintain the home, we had enlisted men from the post.  One was the furnace person. He’d come in and shovel the coal and take out the ashes.  Someone else would come around and cut the grass, and they would pick up the garbage.  We had a back porch with an ice box.  Someone would deliver the ice every day. The family wasn’t involved in any of the maintenance chores, we had all those little things taken care of by the Army.  My parents whole social life revolved around Fort Worden.  Because Port Townsend was such a small town in those days, and it was isolated—you had to take two ferries to get to Seattle—they were a long way from anything like a museum or concert or live theater.  I think they missed that sort of thing.  They did attend dances at the Officers Club on Saturday nights.    As a kid, I didn’t mind so much because I had my high school friends.  I had a good time and some good memories.”

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