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Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Mom - Wanda Spence

                                                                                       Wanda Kautz..., senior class picture

The email address was just identified as “Debbie”…, and the subject line was blank. So I was a little leery of opening it, even though there was no attachment.  After some bad experiences I had learned to screen my emails through my service providers email program before I let them through to my computers email program, so I opened it.  It was from “Debbie Wisell” and she said her father was “Blan. Lawler” and we were related through my mother somehow.  She asked me to call her.  I thought it was a bit unusual for a phishing email…, and there was something about the Lawler name that had what few remaining, live brain cells I have, running a few laps in my head.  I didn’t have to ponder the problem long.  A day or so later there was a message on the phone machine that explained things a little better…, and I called Debbie back.

My mother was born Wanda L. Kautz on January 29, 1932 in Boise, Idaho.  When Mom was not yet two and one half years old, her mother Effie L. Lawler Kautz, passed away at the age of 20.  Since Mom really never got to know her own mother, there wasn’t much talk about her or any of her family.  Debbie was the first contact I had with anyone in my maternal grandmother’s family.  Debbie said that Effie and her father had been twin children, so he would have been Mom’s uncle and Debbie and Mom would have been cousins.  Debbie was excited to talk to me and wanted to know if I had any pictures or stories I could share with her.  This is my attempt…, and thanks for asking Debbie.
                                                                Effie Lawler Kautz - Lester Kautz
                                                                  Wanda Kautz 

I don’t know a lot about Mom’s early years in Boise after her mother died.  She spent a lot of time with her “Aunt Ollie”, from the Kautz side of the family, and who was more like a mother than an aunt.  I am not sure how much a presence her father, Les Kautz, was during that time?  Les and his brothers Al and A.J. were always into some sort of business venture or other and it took them all over the northwest.  I believe they were partners in a lumber mill in Weippe, Idaho for a time, had a gold mining claim in Sandy, Oregon, and Les and Al were owners of the Elk Horn Bar in Weippe.  Anyway, Mom came to Weippe on the bus about the time she entered high school and lived in a room above the barroom where she could hear all the songs on the juke box.  One of the stories she told was that she knew the words to the songs better than her friends, but her feelings were hurt when one of them commented that she “couldn’t sing a lick!”  I know the feeling.  I love the lyrics, but I don’t have a clue how to make music out of them. Mom always joked around that the only reason Dad married her was because he thought he would inherit the Elk Horn!

                                                            The Elk Horn Bar

Mom may not have been bestowed the gift of musical ability, but she had the gift of intellect.  She was valedictorian of her 1950 graduating class, though I never heard her tell anyone that.  She didn’t tell me, I discovered it by seeing it in her high school annual.  She was also voted Most Likely to Succeed, Best Sport, and Most Willing to Help.  For some strange reason I didn’t inherit those traits from her…, and a high powered criminal defense attorney let me know it one time.  My lawyer was one of those guys who had been around so long and seen and heard every pitch from every bullshit artist there was, he could size people up in two minutes or less.  And be spot on about it.  I learned a lot from him about making honest, fact based assessments of people and not relying on emotional bias.  That has served me well throughout my life, and that day he made me feel like a fool for not realizing just how smart my Mom was.  I don’t remember exactly what I said, but he stopped me cold and let me know that if I didn’t realize how intelligent, capable, talented and resourceful my mother was, I didn’t have much of a clue about anything at all.  Well…, he was right about me then…, and probably now, if I was willing to admit it.  I will admit that I never played pinochle with anyone over the years who was any better at keeping track of every card in the deck during a hand than Mom…, or anyone who knew how to get more out of a poor hand than her.  I will refrain from mentioning her competitive spirit, as that might necessitate other admissions on my part regarding the won/lost history.
                                                1950 Weippe High School Annual
I may not have inherited her intelligence..., but there is no doubt that I got my love of sports from my Mom.  She was involved in baseball and basketball all through high school.  Her and some of her friends got caught smoking cigarettes in the restroom one time.  Their punishment was to write a many thousand word theme before they would be allowed to participate in a ballgame…, and there was one the next day.  Mom said she was up all night writing that theme because she wanted to play in that game so bad.  Later in life, there were no men in the community willing to coach a little league baseball team when my brother Larry turned old enough to play…, Mom stepped up and coached the team.  My senior year we got a new football coach and he had two a day practices.  I envisioned a battle of epic proportions with my Dad over the few weeks of working for him that I would miss because of that.  There isn’t much doubt in my mind that the one and only thing that stood between him and I and prevented that battle…, was my Mom.  He never said a word about it to me…, and he never saw me play football.  My Mom did though.
I am pretty sure that Mom attended a semester of college in Lewiston, ID at North Idaho College of Education (now Lewis-Clark State College) on a scholarship courtesy of her valedictory status in high school.  And I believe that she gave up that scholarship to another gal who could not afford to go without the scholarship.  Mom intended to marry Dad anyway, and she did that on July 7, 1951 in San Luis Obispo,  CA.  Dad had been drafted into the Army and was stationed nearby at the time.  I entered the scene at Camp Cooke,  CA on April 19, 1952.  After Dad got out of the service, we moved back to Weippe and my brother Larry made his appearance and completed our family on February 7, 1954.
                                             Scott R. Spence          Larry Spence
                                             Wanda Spence     Alexander R. Spence
Weippe was a small town of just 705 people when we were growing up and it lacked many of the amenities of more populated towns…, like a swimming pool.  The nearest one was 25 miles away in Orofino, so Mom and a few other mothers in Weippe organized summer “swimming lessons” of the kids in the area.  Once again, Mom had to step up and drive one of the school buses that got us to Orofino and back for a month or so every summer for many years.  The sight of a woman driving a school bus may be common today…, but in the early 60’s it was anything but common.  A few years later she hired on as a real, full-time school bus driver, and it was still many years later before you began to regularly see women in that line of work.  When the Jaype Plywood Plant began hiring women in the late 60’s, Mom was in the first group hired.  She didn’t work there a full 30 years, though my Dad thought she should.  Mom could read the figurative writing on the wall that the company was getting ready to close the plant down before she would reach that 30 year mark…, and she took an “early” retirement, with 20 some years tallied, when it was offered.  As always…, she made the right call.
It seems to me that whatever she did, it was in support of one of us.  Never for herself.  Whether it was coaching a baseball team so my brother could play, or driving a school bus down the Greer Grade (that spooked well-seasoned truck drivers) with 50 screaming kids at her back, so they could enjoy some safe summer swimming as well as learn a skill that could save a life along the many waterways that we frequently fished.  She was right there beside my Dad in helping found and support the Weippe Rodeo Association for many years.  She participated in the Parent-Teacher Association and 4-H when we were active, helped get the Weippe Wranglers Saddle Club organized, and helped out with the Hilltop Motorcycle Club.  Working full-time curtailed some of those activities…, and by that time we were getting to the age where a mother’s presence was more of an embarrassment than an advantage anyway.
                                     TL - Mom at work              TR - Dad, Mom & Me
                            BL -Keith, A.J., Mom & Dad      BR - Surprise Birthday Party
My brother Larry provided her with some grandkids during the 80’s and I know they brought a lot of joy to her life, but I never had any kids and moved to Forks, WA in 1987.  I didn’t get to see a lot of Mom after that.  Even the visits for Christmas or other holidays became ever less frequent as her health was deteriorating through the 90’s.  She had a couple of heart surgeries, and after the last one she unequivocally said that she would not go through that again.  In the 00’s a lot of folks believed that she was joking when she would talk about wishing there was a “click-out pill” that she could take and end it all.  She couldn’t even play cards any longer because the Alzheimer’s was taking such a toll and she was on so much medication that she just never felt good.  She was determined that she was not going to die in a hospital or a nursing home and made my Dad promise her that.  Close to the end I made it to Weippe for a few days and when the time came to tell her I had to get back home to Forks, she said, “I think I’ll just stay here.”  I must have given her a funny look, because she asked, “Where are we?”  I told her we were at The Ranch in Weippe.  She laughed and said, “Shoot…, I thought we were in Hawaii.”  I like to think that the Alzheimer’s made her forget what I told her…, and she stayed in Hawaii.


  1. Great Tribute to a wonderful neighbor and same as "family member". Mike Smolinski

    1. Make that "next door" neighbors Mike. Still not sure why we had a fence between our properties?

    2. spent many nights pushing sheet through the dryer at potlatch with your mom. she was a classy lady. it was nice to know her.

    3. Thanks for your comment..., we may have worked together out at Jaype too. I spent more than a couple of different tours of duty there. Wish you would have included your name so I would know who I was thanking !!!!

  2. I remember how jovial she was, even when driving the swim bus to Orofino with 50 screaming kids! My mom rode along too everyday!

    1. Well..., Betty Durant is the one I remember most. Vickie ? Thank you..., even if I am wrong !!!!

  3. Nice tribute to your mom, Scott -- and I enjoyed seeing the picture of the Elkhorn, where I'd sometimes stop for a beer after a day of pulling greenchain at Hutchins mill (first two summers of college).

    1. Thanks for the comment James..., and I stopped off at The Horn for a few beers many a time myself..., especially after summertime softball games.

  4. Loved it Scott, your mother would of to. She was a grand person.

    Leslie Kingen

  5. You have done such a beautiful job giving a loving tribute to your mother. I remember her as a hard working lady with a smile on her face.