Wesley Hoskins remembers walking to a one-room schoolhouse, where slate blackboard covered the walls and the map of the U.S. had 48 states on it. The year he started first grade, he was so eager to learn that he eavesdropped on older students’ recitations and picked up enough to skip the second grade.
Eventually, Hoskins would graduate from Dayton High School, finish medical school, serve in the Korean War and set up his own family practice.
But he credits humble beginnings at Columbia County’s Whetstone Grade School for many of his successes — so much so that it inspired him to write a book.
“An Organic Childhood” is Hoskins’ recently completed memoir, which details two decades worth of memories from Depression-era Columbia County. It mixes personal anecdotes with detailed descriptions of farm and school life, all from an era when the entire neighborhood shared a single phone line.
“I really want it to be part of the history of this area,” he said. “It’s a fascinating area.”
Hoskins, now retired and living in Eugene, said he was inspired to write after learning that Columbia County’s sole surviving one-room schoolhouse was being moved into Dayton and restored. Hearing about the Smith Hollow schoolhouse jogged his memory, and he set to work on his memoir, which took the 90 year-old almost a year to complete.
In addition to stories, Hoskins has included a number of his own drawings, diagramming the layout of typical farms and his schoolhouse.
The Columbia County Hoskins remembers looks much the same as it does now, although when he was growing up, there were more families spread throughout the wheat fields.
He recalled a debate sponsored by the school, where he teamed up with a schoolmate to argue that horses were more useful for farming than tractors. Now, wheat farms require so much capital to work that the average size has grown substantially.
“The individual farms have disappeared, and with them, all the fences have disappeared,” Hoskins said.
While his family didn’t suffer terribly during the Great Depression, Hoskins remembers the anxieties sweeping the country in the wake of the stock market crash in 1929. Wheat prices in the county fell from $1.50 a bushel to 25 cents only a few years later, and “Can we afford it?” became a mantra for his family for the decade following the crash.
Still, looking back, he can see that rural farming families were in many ways luckier than their city counterparts, as most were reasonably self-sufficient and could produce their own food.
“The grounding that you get growing up on a farm ... that gives you the kind of training about being a responsible citizen that comes through,” he said.
Though he no longer lives in Columbia County, Hoskins makes trips back frequently, and said he will always consider this area his home.
“Looking at the hills with those crops, it’s just heartbreakingly beautiful,” he said. “When I die, I want my ashes spread over this valley, because that’s where I’m from.”
Hoskins is in the process of contacting bookstores and locations in Walla Walla and Dayton to ask them to stock “An Organic Childhood,” which sells for $10.
Copies are available in Dayton at The Railroad Depot Museum, Village Shoppes, the Weinhard Hotel and Dingles Hardware. In Walla Walla, Hoskins has received requests from the Fort Walla Walla Museum gift store, Book and Game, and the Whitman College bookstore, and anticipates having books there later this week.
Copies can also be ordered via the author’s website.