Logging in the Olympic Peninsula is hard, hungry work, and hearty meals provide essential tree-felling fuel. If those meals are cooked by a pretty girl, well, that added inspiration can give a young man something to dream about while he works.
At least that was James Hollandsworth’s experience. He’d taken a job felling trees in 1945 and quickly noticed the camp cook.
He recalled thinking, “There’s a gal that when she gets old enough, I might see if I could entice her to marry me, ’cuz I know she can cook.”
Melba Hollandsworth was just 16 at the time. Born in a log cabin, near Osburn, Idaho, she quit school in the sixth grade, plagued by health issues caused by the nearby smelter.
As the oldest of seven from a large extended family, in addition to cooking at the logging camp, Melba traveled from relative to relative, helping out when a new baby was born or when someone was ill.
James’ family knew hers, and he’d see her occasionally at church in Spokane Valley when she was visiting.
“I probably had eyes for him, too,” she admitted.
It would have been hard to miss him, since he and his brother played guitar and sang special numbers at the church.
“When I found out she’d turned 18, I decided to ask her out,” James said.
He called on her at her Aunt Cora’s home and took her for a drive. However, her aunt was concerned that he wasn’t moving quickly enough.
“Aunt Cora knew I thought a lot of Melba,” recalled James. “She told me, you’d better get serious if you want Melba because she’s going to leave the area.”
Indeed, she moved to Kalispell to help another family member, so James drove to Montana to see her.
“She wasn’t expecting me,” he said, smiling. “You don’t want ’em to know you’re coming.”
Melba liked him well enough to ask him to buy her a guitar.
“I got the guitar, but I had to learn to play it.”
On another visit, James said, “Let’s go look at rings.”
Melba agreed to marry him, but with one stipulation.
“I didn’t want kids right away,” she said. “I wanted time to get more acquainted – we didn’t really have a courtship.”
On Dec. 20, 1947, the two married at a relative’s home in north Spokane. There was a lot of snow that winter and family members from Kalispell had a hard time getting off Tea Kettle Mountain to go to the wedding.
“So, they got a logging truck and put a wooden shack on the back of it and made a makeshift camper,” James said, chuckling.
There was no time for a honeymoon as James was due back at work at Morrison–Knudsen Monday morning, but their first breakfast as husband and wife has never been forgotten.
James took his bride out for hamburgers at a diner in Spokane Valley.
“That was a new wrinkle for me,” Melba said, shaking her head. “I’m used to breakfast. I didn’t know what to order because I wasn’t used to restaurants.”
“She was upset, but we lived through it.”
Soon, they bought their first home on East 12th Avenue in the Perry District. The house cost $5,000, and James earned $1 per hour.
Their home came fully furnished.
“I bought it from a widower who was going to live with his son and said all he wanted to take with him was a suitcase,” James said. “He sold me all the furnishings for $500.”
Melba was thrilled.
“It had everything,” she said. “All we needed were groceries.”
They lived there until they bought their present Spokane Valley home in 1955.
Work kept James busy, and Melba was ready to start a family. She’d wanted to wait to have children but had no way of knowing they’d have to wait 11 long years.
“It was baffling to wait so long,” she said. “We saw doctors, had tests. So many people had babies, but I didn’t.”
Finally, in December 1958, their daughter, Cindy, arrived. The proud parents took her everywhere from bowling leagues to backpacking trips.
James loved nothing more than discovering new lakes and places to fish.
“I took a map and laid out all the lakes north of Sandpoint to the Canadian border,” he said. “I wanted to see the country. Each week we went to a different lake. Lots of times there were no roads or trails, so we just bushwhacked.”
And often his wife and daughter went along.
“I wasn’t a very good hiker, but I liked camping,” Melba said.
She enjoyed fishing and marveled at James’ skill.
“He had a feeling about fish – a special touch,” she said.
The irony was he wouldn’t eat fish – couldn’t even stand the smell of fish on his fingers.
“I got poisoned by canned salmon when I was a kid.”
James worked for Morrison–Knudsen for 20 years and for N.A. Degerstrom for 25, before retiring in 1989.
The first thing they did was buy a motor home and hit the road, crossing the country from Mexico to Alaska. For many years, they traveled thousands of miles, stopping to hike, fish or visit friends and relatives.
Their adventures were curtailed when James, then 85, suffered a heart attack at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. He’d been on the trip with a friend and felt some discomfort but still drove home.
“Melba called the doctor, and the next day I had five bypasses,” he said.
They recently celebrated their 70th anniversary, and Melba, 88, offered this bit of advice to couples: “Learn to go with the flow,” she said. “Learn about each others’ interests.”
For example, when she couldn’t do the hikes James wanted to do, she encouraged his love of photography.
“I enjoyed his pictures when he came back.”
James, 93, said, “She never puts up much of a fuss. She’s got a lot of patience.”
His advice to future husbands?
Grinning at Melba, he said, “Check and see if she cooks.”