Horton, David & Maybelle
by interview with Marsha (Horton) Ramsey
My dad was David A. Horton, Sr., born June 20, 1910, in Seattle and raised there. My mother was Maybelle Bernice Horton, born June 28, 1915, in Chicago, Illinois. My father traveled by freight train to Chicago and they met and were married there. Dad was an automobile mechanic and also flew and worked on airplanes. He was working in a mechanic shop about two blocks from the Valentine Day massacre when it took place. My oldest brother, Gary, was born in Chicago in 1936. They moved back to the Seattle area driving across country. Marsha, Veronica, Jacqueline and David were all born in Seattle.
Dad was in an Army Reserve horseback battalion during the War. After World War II, he flipped a coin to decide whether to go to Hawaii or Alaska and it came up Alaska, and that is the way we ended here. He knew a couple by the name of Winters, here in Juneau, so we packed up and headed to Alaska in May of 1946, on the Princess Louise. We stayed with the Winters until July and then rented the DeHart’s cabin at Auke Bay. It was two stories, with one room on each floor and stood behind the present Auke Bay Bible Church. The five of us children slept on the second floor side-by-side, as it was a small cabin, and our parents slept downstairs where the kitchen table was located. We had no electricity or running water, so we used kerosene lanterns and an outdoor facility. Later, we moved to another store that DeHarts had, which we ended up buying. It had a house attached to the back. This was located where what was the Squire’s Rest stood. The store was a one room log cabin, and the house was on pilings driven into the muskeg, which caused it to shift about 90 degrees when the ground froze and thawed. There again, we did not have power or running water, but dad had a hole dug in the muskeg where we collected water and piped it into the house. Mom heated water on our oil stove and we later had a washing machine that was gas-run and started like an outboard motor. If it went out during the day, that was the end of the wash. My brothers had the job of emptying the “honey buckets” into the outdoor outhouse and bringing in the oil in five gallon cans. Later on we got a light plant, but we still had the same problem with the wash, because if the light plant went out, mom had to wait for dad to come home to start it. The house was attached to the store by a porch. Out back were mink pens and we would go out there and sit on top of them and look for bears. One summer there was a bear that our dog, King, would chase back and forth until dad shot it. Mom canned the meat for King, and every time he ate it he would have nightmares. He would fall asleep and start growling.
In that first store, mom put in a counter with three or four stools and served meals to the crews that worked on the highway. The rest of the store was crammed full of basic hardware items. Dad worked as a mechanic at Cowling Motors and Klinkhammers during the day and mom ran the store. Dad would be there at night and on weekends. When dad got involved with Glacier Highway Electric, we eventually got electricity. He had started digging out by hand a foundation for another building across the street. It ended up that the road department came along and took that property, so he made a deal with the Territory to lease the property across the street in return for the property they had taken. He acquired an old road equipment building and we spent a summer pounding all the nails out of the boards. (I think that we had to do a hundred boards a day in order to go swimming, which my mother and all of us enjoyed.) He used those boards for the forms to pour the foundation for the new building. Friends from the Coast Guard helped him and mom would make chili and potato salad for them. I remember that the chili was too hot for us kids, but they loved it. That Thanksgiving we made a makeshift area at the new building, where we had a big Thanksgiving celebration, after which we took all the dishes back across the road to wash them. That night the oil stove in the cabin exploded and there was soot everywhere. That was when mom said we were moving and we moved into the basement, which was done.
In the new building, we eventually got enough finished to have bedroom areas for all of us, and in 1954, we got our first bathtub. Before that, we would sit on the edge of the sink with our feet in it, and mom would say, Wash up as far as possible and wash down as far as possible, then wash ‘possible’.” It was really different to have a bathtub where you could sit and get fully wet. I was in 4-H at the time and one of my projects was to tile the floors in two of the bedrooms and bathroom.
When we moved into the new building, my mom started a library as there was no library in the Auke Bay area. Mom was sort of a catalyst for a lot of social activity, and she started hosting dances for the youngsters in the area, serving refreshments using glacier ice. There were a lot of those dances, and dad would stand downstairs and check to make sure no one had been drinking while mom and Betty Spaulding would chaperon upstairs.
I remember mom playing Santa Claus at Christmas, not only in the store, but also out in the neighborhood, taking Little Golden Books to the children, even into the hospital. One time she flew in on a helicopter as Santa Claus. She had found a paper-mache Easter bunny head and dressed up as the Easter bunny, and at Halloween she would dress up as a very realistic witch and really scare the little kids. She would wear these same costumes and go in to the hospital or to children’s parties. She also decorated cakes for people, including Governor Egan.
She was involved in the Homemakers, the support of the St. Paul Singers, the American Legion and the Catholic Church. There was no church out at Auke Bay except at the Shrine, so she would take us out to the Shrine on Sundays, or there were also Masses held in people’s homes. She was very supportive of all activities, such as bazaars, and always made things for them. So many rosettes were fried in our kitchen that I can still smell them cooking. She and several other ladies made period costumes and wore them to meet the cruise ships downtown as a welcoming committee. There was a group called the Auke Bay Community Kids with which she helped. One year we made sugar eggs and decorated them to sell to raise money for eggs to boil and decorate for our neighborhood Easter egg hunt. I remember going around dropping the eggs in the snow to hide them. We used to have a community Christmas tree at the Y by DeHart’s Store. Mom would play Santa Claus, arriving with a sleigh, and we would sing carols and have treats. As the mother of six children, and all of the activities of the store, she was the public relations person, as my father was a pretty “hard-nosed” businessman.
In the store, dad had all kinds of hardware, guns and ammunition and fishing gear. If you stayed around you learned to do whatever was needed in the store, as my mother and all of us kids did. We had a big warehouse out from the building, and then dad got a small business loan and was able to build a larger new store which is now used as a student activity center by the University of Alaska Southeast. He was one of the first people to keep a store open on Sundays and at night, and people would drive out from town to find what they needed. Mother had one side of the store, where she had household goods; the other side was hardware and everything dad stocked. As large as the store was, and as much as he had in there and in the warehouse, he knew exactly where to find whatever someone wanted. For a couple of years, we also had a store on the waterfront in Sitka. There was also the Squire’s Rest and some motel units adjacent to the store.
Mother was a diabetic and ended up going down to Spokane near where my sister lived. She went to the Lilac Foundation for the Blind to learn Braille and to cook and live by herself. She died down there at about 62 after suffering a hemorrhage. My dad lived to be 85, dying in 1995.
Four of us, Gary, David, Jr., Veronica and myself, remain in Juneau. My sister, Jacqueline, lives in Spokane and my sister, Adrian died in the late 1980’s. Most of our children live in Juneau or other parts of Alaska, though some are down south.