PHILLIP EUGENE HARRIS

AND

VIOLETTE MARIE SPRAGUE

A BIOGRAPHY

by

Phillip E. Harris, Jr.

 

 

PHIL’S EARLY LIFE

 

Born on March 17, 1913 in Shanghai, China, Phillip Eugene Harris was the second of nine children born to Chan and Myrtle Harris who had come to China as medical missionaries.  His brother, Sherm Jr. was born here the year before, on February 21, 1912.  What with a revolution going on and a third child soon expected, the Harris Family was returned to the United States.

 

Shortly after that, his sister, Nina, was born in Sonoma, California on December 31, 1914, then they moved to Glendale, California.  In all probability, Chan was employed as a nurse at the Glendale (SDA) Sanitarium.  Phil’s brother, Shelby, was born here on December 28, 1916.

 

Next, they moved by ship up the coast to Goble, Oregon and moved into a cabin at the Columbia Timber Company Camp, which was located about five miles inland from the Columbia River.  His brother David was born here on Oct. 14, 1918.  Chan’s brother, Adams, was already here.  Floyd and Medley came to help with the logging.  Their parents, Frank and Melissa came over from Carrolls, along with Florence and Ted and moved into a home near the Beaver Homes Grange.  Later, Florence married one of the locals, Fred Anliker and moved into a log home near Fred’s father.  In later years, Phil’s mother would talk endlessly about life in Goble.  Obviously, it was the happiest part of their married life.  It is also likely that this is where the idea of having family reunions started.  Although Phil never mentions it, it is likely that he began his schooling here at the Beaver Homes Elementary.

 

From there, they moved over to Carrolls, Washington.  Phil’s brother, Newton, was born here on July 28, 1920.  It is most likely that they stayed on the old Brookside Farm, in what was then called: Shanghai.  It is now named Rose Valley.  School would have been in town, which is still located on the Old US-99 Highway.

 

Then, it was back to California.  They stayed a short time in Sonoma where Sherm Jr. was sick with scarlet fever.  Their next move was up to Mt. Veeder which is mid-way between Sonoma and Napa.  Being covered with redwoods, Chan was obviously back in the logging trade.

 

Their next move was to Vallejo, where they located next to the Barker Clan and Myrtle’s sister, Dora, on Idora Ave.  Apparently, they were not to far from his mother’s parents farm, because Phil’s few early stories were about milking his grandfather’s cows and driving his truck around town, peddling the milk, cream and butter.  His brother, Richard, was born here on February 13, 1924.

 

They moved to Napa sometime after 1924. They lived on a farm on 4th Ave., which was near his mother’s sister, Nancy.  His brother, Tom was born on June 30, 1926 and his brother, Harry, was born on June 18, 1931.

 

With the coming off the Great Depression,  Phil dropped out of school and left home.  There seems to be several years unaccounted for before he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps.  After that, he joined the Army Air Corps and served at Hamilton Field as an aerial photographer from Aug. 7, 1935 to Aug. 6, 1938.  While in the army, he was also trained in a number of things that had nothing to do with being a photographer.  Namely, they sent him to cook school and trained him in riot and crowd control techniques.  Upon leaving the army, he rejoined his family who were now in Oregon, near Mt. Hood.  His father had, again, returned to the logging trade.

 

 

VIOLETTE’S EARLY LIFE

 

Violette was the fifth of seven children born to James and Ruth Sprague.  Her parents packed their bags and went into Cottage Grove, Oregon for her birth.  The story goes that the doctor wasn’t  ready and her mother was still dressed when Violette came into the world on December 6, 1919.  It so unnerved the doctor, he simply told the nurse to clean up and left.

 

Violette’s grandfather, Isaac Newton Sprague, had his farm nearby and the ranch of Uncle Roswell Tremain Clevenger was also close at had.  Later, what with the death of her father and the coming depression,  living off the land and having family was how they survived.

 

Her early life was spent on a farm outside of Cottage Grove.  Her father worked as a logger to bring in an income.  One early incident involved following her father out to where he was burning an old stump.  It was full of yellow jackets which attacked her in mass.  Her oldest sister, Juanita, fell out of a large fir tree and was nearly killed.  Her sister was never the same after that and spent most of her life in mental institutions.

 

In the summer of 1925, her mother packed up the kids and went to visit her sister, Clara.  They stayed for what was meant to be an extended visit over the Fourth Of July.  Late in the evening of July 2nd, their pastor, Pastor Patterson brought the terrible news that Violette’s father had been killed.  He was felling a tree, working from a springboard, when the wind shifted at just the wrong moment.  The family went to live on the Clevenger Ranch, which was located on the Row River.  At the time this was five miles outside of Cottage Grove.

 

By 1926, her mother had met Lincoln Medly Harris and they were dating regular.  On November 22, 1927, Ruth and Medly were married and they moved to a farm 14 miles out from Eugene.  They had two children; Lincoln Medley Harris, Jr. and Donna Elaine Harris.  Lincoln Jr., working with his father in Alaska, was killed in another logging accident, in1955.

 

By 1930, the depression came, and her step-dad lost the farm.  They moved to Kelso, Washington, which is near where Medley was born and raised.  Things didn’t work out and they returned south, to the Clevenger Ranch.  From there, they moved to a series of farms located between Cottage Grove and Eugene.  The one they stayed on the longest was called the Stump Ranch.  It was during this period that Juanita had been going to Spiritual Meetings, seeking “her (real) dad”.  She thought Violette, was the Devil, and was attempting to choke her until Medley came to the rescue.  Juanita was placed in mental hospital in Salem.

 

In the summer of 1938, she rebelled against her step-father and left home to live with her Aunt Mildred, in Portland.  She took up house-keeping.  From Mrs. Bishop, she learned the use of all the modern appliances, none of which were available at her parents home.  Later that summer, she went to Camp Meeting and met her future husband, Phillip E. Harris.

 

 

 

 

MARRIGE AND A GROWING FAMILY

 

They had a whorl-wind courtship and three months later they were married in Portland on September 30, 1939.  They lived in Gresham at first with Phil working in a bakery, but that didn’t last.  They moved in with Phil’s folks in Gresham and he went to work in the woods.  After that they decided to go back to school at the Lauralwood Academy in Gaston, Oregon.  Part way through the school year, Violette became pregnant and they dropped out of school.  They moved to the ranch of  Fred and Florence Anliker.  Phil couldn’t find work, so they decided to hitch-hike to California.  They took off right after Christmas of 1940 with not much more than a sack of sandwiches and the clothes on their backs.

 

Upon arrival in Vallejo, Vi found found work as a housekeeper at Saddy Hawkin’s Boarding House and they lived in a tent, on a vacant lot next to the Barker’s.  Phil couldn’t find work, in part, due to not having a birth certificate, so Vi contacted authorities in China and was able to get an official copy just before World War II started in the Pacific.

 

Their first child, Phil Jr. was born on July 4, 1941 at the Solono County Hospital in Fairfield, California.  Due to complications with an infected bladder, Vi stayed in the hospital for 17 days.  Phil found temporary work at the hospital, cooking.  Next, Phil found a milking job at a dairy in Livermore for a few months.  Then, they moved to San Francisco and were there at the start of World War II.  It appears that they were here for about 1 ½ years.  Phil would never confirm or deny, but Vi claims he was working undercover as a government agent and helped suppress the Longshoreman dock strikes.

 

In 1943, they stayed with Phil’s folks, at Angwin, for a short stay and then moved to Napa.  They had a cabin in a prune orchard located at 2131 West Pueblo Ave.  Their second child, Sherman William, was born at Parks Victory Hospital on Sept. 16, 1943.  On the same day, and in the same hospital, another “Mrs. Phil Harris” had a baby daughter.  The local newspaper never did understand that there could be two mothers with the same name.

 

By the end of 1943, they were living in St. Helena at 620 McCorkle Ave.  Phil opened a photographer’s studio,  and was a staff sports photographer for the St. Helena Star.  Apparently, the photography only lasted for about a year because during 1944 and 1945, he had joined the Merchant Marine as Ship’s Cook and was gone much of the time.  Nina Marie was born at the Sanitarium on Dec. 11, 1944.  When he was away, mother would take me to the park in St. Helena and show me the sign that listed all the local servicemen.  If there was star beside a name, that meant that the person had been killed in action.  Always, when playing in the park, I would first check to make sure dad didn’t have a star beside his name.  While at sea, Phil stated that he only went up on deck once.  He saw a torpedo pre-maturely explode on an empty floating drum, that was headed for his ship.  After that, he never went top-side.  He once commented that he had very little regard for Gen. McArther, because the General had their ship re-routed to some Pacific Hell Hole and sit there for several months for his own personal whim.

 

At the close of World War II, he purchased a Buick wooden station wagon that had the wooden body missing due to a car fire.  He re-built the body with 2x2’s and canvas but couldn’t get a replacement for the missing windshield.  Vi wanted to go back to Oregon, so he packed up, put us kids as far back as possible under a pile of blankets and away we went, up US-99, through the Siskiyou Mountains and a blinding snow storm.

 

Dad found work at a mill, outside of Cottage Grove, Oregon and we moved into one of the mill cabins.  The following spring, we moved to a better cabin, located on the McKenzie River.  It was a beautiful location with fishing right outside our back door.  The road crossed the river with a covered bridge, a short distance from our home.  It was here, in the summer of 1946, that Nina got her arm caught in the clothes ringer.  We were to far out of town for me to start school but we had a neighbor woman who was a brand new first grade teacher.  She would practice her lessons on me, so I was getting educated anyway.  I stayed with her when it was time for mother to go into Cottage Grove, for the birth of our sister, Jean.  Shermy and Nina had already gone to stay with Grandmother Ruth.  Violet Jeanne was born on Feb. 9, 1947.  Shortly after that, we moved to Camas Valley, where Dad was working as a logger.  This is where the pictures were taken of us standing on a tree stump.  One day, I decided to have lunch with Dad, so I took off towards the sound of falling trees.  I must have made it five or six miles before mother caught up with me.  She seemed to think her five-year-old wasn’t ready for falling trees.

 

In May or June of 1947, we moved to Oroville, California and moved into a large home on the banks of the Feather River.  I came down with impetigo for the second time.  The time before I had it, my scabs were cut off and I was bathed in kerosene.  It was such a horrible experience, my parents had a hard time keeping from running away from home, until they proved to me the new salve was painless.  This is also the time when Shermy started showing signs of being seriously ill.  Several times, I saw mother wedge a spoon into his mouth and stop him from choking by pulling his tongue out.  At the time, I thought I had caused his illness because I had given him squares of dried dirt and told him it was chocolate candy.  He ate it and said it was good.  It was many years before I found out that eating dirt doesn’t cause leukemia.  Grandmother Myrtle came and got Shermy.  She first took him to the St. Helena Sanitarium where it was confirmed that he was seriously ill.  He was then transferred to the Children’s Hospital in San Francisco.  By this time, we had moved onto the Leon Johnson Ranch and I had my sixth birthday.  The county fairgrounds held a Fourth of July Barbecue and I thought it was all special for me.  By the end of summer, we moved to Angwin and moved in with Aunt Betty and our grandparents.

 

Dad got a job driving taxi in St. Helena, so we moved into a small apartment on Pope St., next to the Ogalltree Machine Shop, in St. Helena.  The owner couldn’t seem to keep me out of his shop, so he put a hood on me and let me watch the welding.  I knew from that moment on that this was the kind of work I wanted to do.  Shermy died on Nov. 18, 1947.  Right after that, both mother and dad were hospitalized for a serious illness, so Grandmother Myrtle took in my sisters and I was placed in a foster home.  The idea was that I wouldn’t have to change schools if I stayed in town with foster parents.  It didn’t work out well and grandmother claimed me also.  As soon as mother was released and sent home, I returned and became her “little nurse”.  Being six years old and of a very confident frame of minded, I was able to cook, do house chores, look after mother, do home work, and go to school.

 

Dad returned and he was into a new venture.  This was in the spring of 1948.  He was owner and operator of a lath mill.  At first, it was located in the hills just north of St. Helena, in an area that later became Bothe-Napa Valley State Park.  By mid-summer, he had moved the mill up on Mt. St. Helena next to the Mountain Millhouse Pond.  Our home was nothing more than a surplus army tent.  Mother attempted to teach me to swim in the pond by putting me on her shoulders and walking into the pond.  When she dropped underwater, my legs clamped tight around her neck and we both nearly drowned.  She lost interest in teaching me to swim.  The mill went bankrupt and dad went to north to Lake County looking for work.  We had a cougar that prowled around our tent every night.  My sisters and I would gather around mother in her bed and she would hold up a big butcher knife and say she would defend us to the death.  Very scary stuff.  We had been totally out of food for about a week when Grandmother and Aunt Betty showed up with a car full of food.  She said an angel told her there was trouble and to bring the food.

 

By the end of August, 1948, we were living at Chonsey’s Mill located on Elk Mountain, just north of Upper Lake, California.  Mother managed to put out two different fires that would have burnt the mill down.  I saw her do it both times.  At first, dad worked in the woods, but he soon became camp cook.  Dad acquired a Model-A pickup and our job was to make the town run for supplies.  There was no tailgate, so I became the human tailgate, hold things in as we went up the mountain.  One Sabbath, mother decided we were going to go to church.  A driver was hauling a load of fresh lumber to the Planing Mill in Upper Lake, so Mother, my sister and I hitched a ride.  At the crest of the mountain, the truck lost its breaks.  The driver put the truck on its side and saved all our lives.  We all ended up on top of him and the lumber went straight down the mountain for about a thousand feet.  We really did make it to church that day and there sure was a lot of thanks and praises offered to the Lord.

 

We spent the Winter of 1948-49 in Upper Lake and lived in a home located behind the Feed Mill.  While on a wood-cutting trip, mother and I found this old oak tree with vines, 4 and 5 inches thick growing all over it.  We climbing into the tree for lunch only to find out later that this was an ancient poison oak bush.  We were both several weeks recovering.  Mother became super-sensitive and I became immune.  Late summer and fall of 1949, we were caretakers of a farm just outside of Nice.  By the end of 1949, we had moved to Lakeport, where dad was building a house.  He never got it past the one-room stage.  It had cold running (city) water but no other plumbing.  We stayed there for two years.  Dad was the graveyard groundskeeper at the Lake County Fairgrounds.  This is where we were living when Jean fell out of the car on a trip down to Kelsyville.  Nina had a “lazy” eye and mother took her to the hospital in San Francisco, for several operations.

 

In 1951, Aunt Betty asked dad to move back to Angwin and help her look after Granddad.  We found a home located at 364 Diogenes Drive.  This was part of a farm that included twenty acres of grapes.  We stayed here for two years and dad found work at the  Supply Dept. of Mare Island Naval Shipyard.  Granddad died on July 29, 1952.  In 1953, we moved to Vallejo, so dad could be closer to his work.  In 1954, dad quit his job at the shipyard and we moved onto 5 acres outside of Vacaville.  This was across the road from Uncle Tom.  For the summer, we lived in another army tent.  For the winter, dad put up a tarpaper and sheetmetal shack.  The western side was built out of windows that came from a chicken house.  With a good fire going, the place smelled like chicken droppings all winter.  Dad was doing various kinds of farm work such as pruning trees and building rice grain silos.

 

In 1955, Aunt Betty had seen enough.  As mad as I have ever witnessed, she cornered dad and told him to get a real job and live in a real house.  Dad got a job at the Napa State Hospital and we moved to Napa.  Dad bought a house on Seminary St., next to the Berhrens St. Bridge.  Because of the bridge and a 180 degree loop in the creek, our home flooded every winter.  In 1960, I graduated from high school and joined the Marine Corps.  Mother and Dad stayed here another threes years, making this the longest they were ever in one place.

 

In 1963, dad sold the Seminary Place and moved mother and my sisters to Hollister, California with the hair-brained idea of opening a rock shop in a farm town.  While there, Nina graduated from high school and it wasn’t to much longer after that, that she and Don Vough got married.  Dad moved back to Napa in 1964 and rented a place located at 2229 Trancas Ave.  Trancas Ave. became part of Soscal Ave., years later.  Dad’s final job was as a beekeeper, working for George Homan.  On March 23, 1965, he died of a heart attack while hauling a load of empty bee hives.  I had breakfast with him that morning and everything seemed fine.

 

 

 

LIFE GOES ON FOR VIOLETTE

 

 

After dad’s death, I sent mother to spend a month with her mother.  After that, she got a job making clothes at Rough Riders.  We, that is, Jean, mother and I, moved to 409 3rd St., so mother could be within walking distance of work.  Things seemed to settled down for mother, so Jan and I got married on Aug. 28, 1966 and moved into a mobile out on the Sonoma Hwy.

 

Emotionally, mother wasn’t doing to good.  She took up drinking and eventually, turned herself into the Napa State Hospital for treatment.  There, she met John Cover, and turn her life around for the better.  Her best friend, Micky Domiguez, was Catholic, so she decided becoming a Catholic would be a good thing to do.  This was quite a change from being a Seventh Day Adventist.  Mother and John were married in St. John’s Catholic Church, in Napa, on May 7, 1967.  John was a cook at the Veteran’s Home so they moved to a nice little bungalow  outside of Yountville.

 

In 1971, mother was having health problems and the doctor said she needed to move to the  desert.  Jean lived in Las Vegas, so mom and John took a trip down there to see what it was like.  They liked it, John was hired on the spot at one of the Hotels and they made the move.  The local Mormons were very helpful and she like how they lived, so she switched from being a Catholic to being a good Mormon.

 

While living in Las Vegas, they traveled extensively by car, visiting family and historical sights throughout the West and Mid-West.  John Cover died on May 18, 1988.  Mother sold her mobile home and flew to Washington State on Aug. 2, 1988.  My daughter, Ruth, was living with her at this time.  Ruth rented a Rider truck and we hauled mother’s possessions up to Bremerton.

 

She lived in several different apartments in Bremerton.  Shortly after moving here, she had her bladder removed, but was otherwise able to take care of herself.  She never really adjusted to living by herself and convinced her sister, Winona, to let her move in with her in Mollala, Oregon.  There was trouble there, where Winona lost her home, so mother decided to moved to California and live with her daughter, Nina.

 

At first, she lived with Don and Nina up at Lake Berryessa.  Then, she was located in an assisted living center for a year or so in Napa.  After that, she moved back with Don and Nina.  In May of 1999, Don, Nina and mother moved to Puckett, Mississippi.

 

On Sept. 13, 2002, Nina was no longer able to take care of Mother’s health needs and she was placed in a nursing home.  About a year later, on Sept. 3, 2003, mother died at the Baptist Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi.