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Community Days Pioneer Hazel Cameron still tends 78 orchid plants.
The oldest is 58 years old. Cameron has lived all of her 94 years (except one) in Selah. Martha Goudey photo.
Mr. Peacock’s Garden
Hazel Cameron knows the meaning of Pioneer
By MARTHA GOUDEY
Even among Selah’s old timers, Hazel Cameron may break the record for the oldest living full-time resident of Selah.
Hazel Bennett Cameron was born in the Wenas Valley June 4, 1913 to Kenneth and Della Bennett. Saturday she will represent Selah as the Selah Community Days Pioneer in the Grand Parade.
Cameron was raised in a home just below the old Grange (now a family home) with five sisters, two of whom are still living, Ethel, 90, and Betty, about 85. Helen and Ruth and Virginia are deceased.
“People are still living in the home where I grew up,” Cameron said. “The home was built by my grandmother, Amanda Bennett, and her second husband, Hugh Purdin, in 1899.”
Cameron’s earliest memory of living in the Wenas Valley was riding with her father and sister, Ruth, in a horse drawn buggy.
“I couldn’t have been more than three years old,” she said.
That was the year her father bought a car.
“My dad was a mechanic, and he had to have one of the first cars,” she said.
The roads were not much more than trails, she said, but by the time she went to high school, they had been paved. As for traffic, Hazel said, “There wasn’t so much.”
There was no electricity yet in the valley and kerosene lanterns were still in use. On cold winter nights, Cameron’s mother would warm flatirons and wrap them in towels and put them in their beds.
As a child the snow was so deep that she could walk over the fences.
“It would be hard and crusty,” she said. “When you were little you could walk over it. It’s not that way now.”
Before school, Cameron would help her father feed the cattle.
“My dad had a big sled he would put hay on,” she said. “I would go out and drive the horses. They (the horses) could have probably done it, but I liked doing it.”
As a child, Cameron attended the David Longmire School, a one-room schoolhouse in the Grange building. She went to 7th and 8th grade at the Central School in Selah and then attended high school for almost four years. Her last year of school, Cameron was quarantined with scarlet fever and had to quit school.
“That’s when I went out on my own,” she said. “It was the beginning of the Depression, so I went to work.”
Cameron lived a year in Spokane with her sister, Ruth, before returning to the Wenas Valley.
“I wanted to come home,” she said. “I liked farm life, I grew up on a farm, and I married a farmer.”
She married Glen Cameron in 1934 and moved to the Cameron homestead, where she still lives. The couple lived in the house for the 52 years of their marriage. Glen died in 1986 at age 80.
Shortly after the Camerons were married, neighbors gave them a “chivaree.”
“That’s when all the neighbors come and surprise you and beat on tin cans,” she said. “Glen’s father bought peanuts in the hulls. At least 100 people came. When they left there were six inches of peanut shells on the kitchen floor.”
They also took up the rugs to dance to the music of Lela Erickson, who played the piano.
“I still have two or three paper plates that everyone wrote on that night.”
“But no one is still here. Pearl and Guy. Mary and David lived down the road. Now I don’t know who lives there,” she said.
Cameron said she never regretted her life as a farmer’s wife. Besides housekeeping, Cameron also irrigated, ran tractors, and grew half-acre gardens each year.
“We also raised 2,000 turkeys each year, hatched our own eggs from 500 hens, and raised cattle and pigs and sheep,” she said.
She raised 22 head of sheep by herself.
“But mainly we raised turkeys,” she said. “At Thanksgiving and Christmas we’d pick a truckload of turkeys. We’d put them in bags and take them to Seattle. We’d have them sold in two hours down by the waterfront.
“Boy, you couldn’t do that now. Times have changed.”
The cattle and pigs kept them in meat through the winter––and through the Great Depression.
“One spring (during the Depression), we killed five pigs and dressed them for bacon and ham and smoked some. We gave it to friends and relatives.”
Cameron and her husband raised four daughters; Jane, who lives with her mother along with husband, Bob Hutchison, Arlene, of Castle Rock, Roberta, of Bellevue, and Mary, of Yakima.
Cameron said her husband never lamented not having boys to help out on the farm.
“He told me that the girls were much better workers than the boys,” she said.
Jane used to show the boys who came to work how to haul hay.
“I could outhaul the boys any day,” she said.
Some mornings the family would be out at 4 a.m. before the heat of the day.
“It was cool then,” Jane said. “Baling hay…I’d be out there helping him. It was wonderful.”
Although Cameron said life didn’t seem hard to her, she did recall a “few” hard days.
Like the days she cooked for the threshing crews. Up to 28 men dined at her table in shifts. She would prepare potatoes and gravy, vegetables, hot biscuits, homemade preserves, pie, and cakes. All home raised and home cooked.
And every year she canned 300 cans of vegetables and fruits over a cookstove in 100-degree heat.
One day, however, stood out from all of the others.
“Roberta was three weeks old and I had eight men to cook for and it was 111,” she said. “Both hills on either side of the ranch were on fire, and I had to cook on the old cookstove.”
“That was the only night I walked out and left the dishes in my kitchen unwashed.”
Cameron’s pioneer days in the Wenas Valley may appear to be over, but she still keeps busy.
During the winter Cameron does needlepoint pictures and acrylic painting she took up at age 90. She nurtures 78 orchid plants that sit on two large light tables that her husband built for her years ago. One of the orchids is 58 years old. She also regularly attends Open Heart Baptist Church.
Summertime, Cameron still gets outside to garden.
“I just planted peas, some carrots, and onions, and I’m going to plant beans in the next day or two, Cameron said. “I also planted a tomato plant. I have to get some more.
“My daughter worked up the garden for me. It’s just a small one, though.”
Small to Hazel Cameron, however, is 30 feet wide and 40 feet long.
“I’ll be out in the yard the rest of the summer,” she said. “I can’t do a lot any more. But I try.”
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