Virgil & Flo Collins
"Oldies but Goodies" by Joni Stewart"

When you hear a 92 year-old woman begin her recollections with the statement, "(I) had quite a tough life," you know you're going to hear something: Creature comforts had yet to be invented.

Flo Collins' earliest memory is of fellow passengers on a train from Missouri to Montana in 1906. She was three. "I can remember the ladies in their heavy dresses with fluffy sleeves and their hair all done up," says Flo, "I was going up and down the aisle and the people were talking to me." She remembers her mom as a kind and patient woman who handled the raising of 11 children with tender loving care. "Mom sewed everybody's clothes. We'd get one bolt of material and all of us kids would be dressed alike," she says.

The family was close and loving despite the poverty. "I was 89 years old when I got my first doll," explains Flo. "I was at Chester's one day admiring a doll with a clerk, and the next thing I know he had found one in need of repair, repaired it, and gave it to me! I was really tickled over that doll."

She and her brothers and sisters rode sticks for horses all over the hills for fun. They never had a ball of any kind. What they would do would be to get an old sock, unravel it and ball it up. They kept very close tabs on it too, as socks were hard to come by.

There house was a log cabin with a sod roof and all 11 kids slept on straw ticking. "I don't know how my mom stood it," says Flo. "All she did was cook, clean, and can."

When Flo was 14 she began washing and ironing clothes for other folks. The washing was done on a washboard and the ironing with a flat iron heated on a stove.

As a young adult she took care of confinement cases. "When a gal would come back from child-birthing, I would cook, clean and take care of the family's other children," Flo remembers. "I saved up for my first store bought coat; it was maroon with a velvet collar, boy, did I treasure that coat."

Flo moved to Coos County, Oregon from Montana by train. "Looking at the beautiful flowers going by and wishing I could pick some, I was tickled to learn later that what I had been admiring was skunk cabbage," she says.

Once at her destination, the Allegheny Logging Camp, she found work as "the lunch girl," and she found destiny. "I married my first husband, Lucille's father, in 1922 in Coquille, "says Flo adding, "after the wedding, they shivareed us. I didn't know what to think. The men all carried me around on their shoulders, there was lots of singing and partying. And I remember they kept George and I apart all day and night."

The Depression years were lean and the family was separated. Flo took Lucille and went to live with her mother. She found work as a laundress. George traveled from town to town selling fish. After the long separation, they divorced. Next, she worked at Bandon and Coquille where she met Clarence O'Brien. The two were married in 1930 and moved to Klamath Falls. (Flo becomes very animated at this point, describing how the two families blended and bonded.) "Clarence had three children: Rex, Berl and Vera, and I've outlived them all. I loved'em all like my own too," Flo says.

As a widow in Klamath Falls in the late '40's, Flo got pretty lonely after Clarence died. She was working at a box factory, had a cat for companionship (she has always had a cat) and lived in a trailer.

She met Virgil Collins in Klamath Falls. "He was a swell fella," she says. "When he was asked to be superintendent of the mill in Izee and I told him I thought he could handle it, and he told Frances Fuller, ok, I'll try it."

But when she wanted to set up camp in her trailer to be with him - he said "Oh, no. I won't have you living in those kinds of conditions." What Virgil didn't know explains Flo is that she was used to camping and roughing it. "Times were tough, but I was tough too," she says.

Nonetheless, she was introduced to bunkhouse living, and eventually settled into a house in Seneca which the company built for them. "We did a lot of hunting up there," she remembers. She was the proud recipient of a 30-30 rifle for Mother's Day one year, and with it killed antelope, deer and elk.

"Belle Fuller and I went to Ukiah to go hunting once. She didn't know much about roughing it and during the whole trip I remember her only paying attention to finding creature comforts. We left camp late every morning. Even with that I got everyone to their stands, and 11 elk were taken." Belle lives in Idaho now, but they still talk on the phone.

In 1956 she and Virgil moved to Long Creek. His health deteriorating, Flo cared for him until his death in 1979.

She had taken up huckleberrying near Mt. Adams upon moving to Long Creek. And she continued yearly for 37 seasons. She and her girlfriends would hitch up the trailer, stack the buckets in the back and hit the road. She finally had to give up the hunt for huckleberries about three years ago. But, she proclaims, "As long as I'm alive, every year I want that trailer to go up." And so, for the past three years her friends come by and go huckleberrying with her trailer.

A birthday party was held for her last month when she turned 92. Ten motor homes came from all over and parked at her place on East Highway. "My friends Nadine Bradley and Ilene Adams brought huckleberry bushes and bouquets so I got to pick some berries. It just made my day," says Flo. And she also had a very special visitor, her only living sibling, Bessie Cleveland.

"I've had a wonderful life here in Grant County. I wouldn't trade it for nothing, you never could meet nicer people than here. I joined the Easter Star and was worthy matron five times," she says. She smiles as the memories flood in and says, "The second half of my life is so much nicer."

1998 Roxann Gess Smith
All Rights Reserved

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