Diary serves as foundation for novel set in 1930s Walla Walla

Writer Frances Pott's father was a tuberculosis victim who spent 17 months in the Blue Mountain Sanatorium.

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The author's mother, Frances Potts, is shown in this photo.

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Frances Potts' father, Alvin, is pictured at work in one of her old photos.

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Frances "Frankie" Potts is shown as a 3-year-old in this photo.

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Frances Potts

More than 80 years have passed since Oct. 29, 1929, cast a mantle of despondent gloom on the world. On that grim Black Tuesday, the stock market crashed and burned, shattering the lives and livelihoods of millions.

The ensuing Great Depression gripped the world for a solid decade with overwhelming unemployment, home foreclosures, poverty, homelessness and widespread hunger.

Rampant malnutrition caused the spread of diseases, such as virulent, deadly tuberculosis, an infectious bacterial infection mainly involving the lungs.

Into this chaos Frances "Frankie" Potts was born in Walla Walla to young parents Alvin and Frances Potts. Frankie grew up here amid belt-tightening austerity.

Her father contracted debilitating tuberculosis while slogging through rain-soaked trenches on a Works Progress Administration job in the area. The illness required isolation, so he spent an oppressive 17 months in the Blue Mountain Sanatorium. The central structure still stands off Dalles Military Road, just west of Myra Road along the south-facing bluff.

Al's stay there was marked by unceasing, mind-dulling days when he was restricted to complete, enforced bed rest. His shy, young wife, also a new mother, experienced significant changes as she began shouldering family responsibilities as sole income earner in his absence.

While held captive there, Al made short entries in a wine-hued leather-jacketed journal imprinted with "Diary and Daily Reminder" on its cover.

Some days he only noted that Frances and baby visited, how much he weighed and what his temperature was. But from this skeleton outline, Frankie crafted a 665-page novel that teems with observations about life in Walla Walla during the 1930s. She imagined and fleshed out his experiences in an engaging narrative.

Al had to adjust to not supporting his family and to his wife stepping up to work at two jobs to provide a home, food, clothing for herself and the baby.

Al suffered from depression, frustration and aggravation while coping with his caregivers and eccentric fellow patients at this isolated residence.

He had to bear up under crushing loneliness throughout his incarceration. He could only see his devoted, loving wife on visiting days. And despite his anger and lashing out, his wife's support was unceasing. She steadfastly went to see him sometimes twice a day and often walked there from their home near Ninth Avenue for lack of other transportation.

In addition to personable characters, the author added depth to the plot by interjecting news events of the day.

Although separated from the population at large, sanatorium patients kept abreast of current events via the Walla Walla Bulletin and radio. They discussed President Franklin D. Roosevelt's attempts to get the nation through the economic devastation. They talked about the threat of war building in Italy and Japan and in Germany as the Nazis grew in power. The patients ruminated over the food they were served and the less-than-stellar roommates who disrupted the peace they otherwise had.

I was particularly struck by the strong bonds of their extended family and how they supported and provided for one another. It was entertaining to read about social mores and the places they shopped for food and sundry goods.

Frankie Potts presents a substantial slice of life from a time many of us have only heard about at the knees of our parents or grandparents or read in history books. A journalist, she graduated in 1951 from St. Patrick's High School. Now 76, she developed her lifelong writing avocation first as an office clerk for Flint Publishing at The Toppenish Review in Toppenish, Wash. She jumped into every opening and advanced in her career to reporter, editor and then publisher of the award-winning Wapato Independent. She resides in Sunnyside, where she occasionally writes features and book reviews for the Daily Sun News.

She said she has other stories to tell. For more information, and photos, see FrancesPotts.com. "The Diary" is available at the Walla Walla Public Library, and via www.lulu.com as a download and in hard and soft covers.

Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or afternoons at 526-8313.

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