“Charlie Stump, the driftwood man, would walk along the river bank, and gather up a bundle — of broken limbs and snags.”
— That’s a verse from a song I tried to write way back in the 1970’s. I wasn’t able to finish the song. Sometimes, a song just won’t come together. But I’ve kept alive the memory of the man I was writing about….
Did you know, or have you heard of Yakima, Washington’s Charlie Stump? In addition to being a very kind, gentle soul, he was a gifted artist when it came to creating things out of driftwood. If it could be crafted of driftwood, Charlie probably accomplished it: lamps, furniture, bookends, shelves, planters, sculptures, plaques, clocks, walking sticks and anything else you can conjure up in your imagination.
Charlie was married to a wonderful, saintly woman named Irene. By the time I met them in the mid-1950’s (we went to the same church), when I was just a boy, they were already about sixty years old. They were both born in 1896. Their beautiful little house was filled to almost overflowing with Charlie’s driftwood treasures. Our family, consisting of Al Bowles Jr, Jeannie Bowles, Al Bowles III and myself, spent many afternoons and evenings visiting with the Stumps in their home, admiring Charlie’s crafts, and engaging in hours of conversation. And I can honestly say: not a discouraging word was ever spoken. Charlie and Irene had learned the secret to happiness. I think they found it in three things: faith in their God, simplicity, and togetherness.
“He chose each piece with loving care; he knew what he was looking for. He only took the twisted, gnarled scraps that he’d find there.”
In addition to their home in Yakima, the Stumps had a log cabin in the Eastern Washington woods; it too contained endless numbers of Charlie’s creations. Their wonderful, rustic cabin was located above Rimrock Lake; but it was also near a stream/river whose name I don’t know. Charlie would take leisurely walks along the tree-lined river bank looking for driftwood. And he found it by the truckload! (He may also have collected it at Rimrock.) He carted it home, where he let his imagination and his old, artist’s hands go to work.
“Charlie loved the treasures the river brought to him. He’d cart that driftwood home, and cut and carve and trim.”
Charlie and Irene were very generous folks. They let my family use their cabin, which I think they called “Stump’s Inn”, on several occasions. I remember how happy and relaxed my parents were when we spent a few days at Stump’s Inn. Once again, we would marvel at Charlie’s amazing driftwood creations, and his woodworking ability, which was evident in every corner of the vintage cabin.
My mom was a great Southern cook. (Thanks, Mom, for passing the tradition on to me!) And I must say: her great cooking tasted all that much better when we were dining, seated comfortably around an ancient kitchen table in Stump’s Inn. Everything just smelled, looked and tasted more savory, out there in the woods.
My brother Al and I had the merriest adventures roaming those woods. Sometimes we’d pretend we were pioneers; other times we were trappers; or maybe we were part of Robin Hood’s band…. When we’d walk down to the river, to our favorite spot where it slowed down a bit — where it was calm — we’d see a rock formation in the water that we always thought was a small school of fish. Our imaginations ran wild as we thought of catching those fish. – We didn’t think it odd that we found the “fish” in the exact same formation, in the exact same spot in the river, every single time….
There was a real fancy cabin near the Stump’s. It had “No Trespassing” signs posted all around it. Al and I instinctively gave the place a wide berth. We thought some really mean people must have lived there. And then, on one of our stays, we met one of the occupants. She was the nicest young woman…. She invited us in, and led us on a tour of the beautiful, upscale cabin. She said her signs were not meant to keep out nice little boys like us. She told us to come visiting anytime.
Charlie Stump, a rather tall, thin and bald man, wasn’t the only talented member of the Stump family. Irene took lots of pretty pictures with her camera, which she turned into slides, which she then arranged into very special slide shows. She mainly presented her slide shows at church, or at their home. I remember: every single time we visited Charlie and Irene, my brother and I asked to see a slide show. And we always got one.
Irene made a fantastic slide show which brought to life the popular, heartfelt children’s book, “Barney’s Barrel”, which was a story about a boy who lived in poverty. Irene took some photos of members of one of the families who attended Missionary Bible Church. I think their name was Glaspy or Glasby. They ended up in the slide show, playing the story’s various characters. That was one popular slide show. Irene must have been asked to show it dozens of times.
That show contained our favorite photo from Irene’s collection. — She captured a view of the clouds during a Yakima sunset, and said that, to her, it represented what Heaven would look like. And to this day, when I think of Heaven, I think of that photo. Yes I do.
Irene had the sweetest, most gentle gray cat. It was the first cat I remember meeting. Most of the kids in my neighborhood (South 2nd Avenue) had dogs; so I didn’t see any cats, at least not up close. But at our request, Irene would hold her kitty up to our ears, so we could “hear it talk”, as she put it. The soft, comforting purr was magical to me. Perhaps I was left with a love of cats, and the unique sound they make; for I have rarely been without one in my own home, whether it be a condo, a cute little gingerbread house, or my current crummy apartment in this Seattle senior building, which is under renovation while we try to live in it.
Charlie and Irene were sort of surrogate Aunt and Uncle to a very tall man named Howard Pierce. I think he was in his mid-late thirties back then (circa 1956). Howard had the biggest feet I had ever seen, in my young life. His shoes were nearly circus clown-enormous. I remember sitting across from him at Charlie and Irene’s, when he had his long legs propped up on an ottoman. One of my parents commented on the size of his feet, which were clad in huge black oxfords. He just laughed, and agreed that yes, he had big feet! He went on to say that it was rather hard to find shoes that would fit him. [Well, guess what? Although I’m only 5’9” tall, I wound up with size 14 feet. That’s NBA-size. And yes! Shoes are hard to find. Several major chain stores I frequent don’t carry anything larger than a 13. — By the time I was 11, the shoe salesman at Yakima’s Montgomery Ward was remarking about my “future career in basketball”. Well, I was terrible at basketball! — Years later, my boss at Laners and Scales Law Firm, Simone Scales, would look at me and say, “Mr. Bowles, you are certainly well-planted”…. On that note, I should let this story come to an end, because I always like to wind up on the good foot. — But I can’t! There’s more to the story.]
So, back to Howard Pierce: Howard was a pleasant, easy-going guy. He was often present when our family went visiting at the Stump’s home. Although we were just boys, my brother and I enjoyed listening to the five adults chat about any number of things. And Howard’s contributions to the conversations were always interesting and thoughtful. — We boys got along great with him.
However, our pastor at Missionary Bible, who I recall was Rev. Wally Roseberg, either retired or moved on, and our congregation needed a new shepherd. Howard Pierce was chose for the position. I was very surprised. Because, even though I knew him well, I didn’t know Howard was a preacher. But he soon took over the Missionary Bible pulpit. And right away, I noticed that he underwent a change in personality. As “Rev. Pierce”, our friend Howard became a lot more strict and stern. His relaxed ways went. He became a perfectionist. That is, he expected everyone around him to behave perfectly. He apparently thought that any deviation from this perfect behavior he demanded would reflect upon his pastoral dignity.
Well, my brother Al III was a rebel his entire life. — Even at the age of 11. And during a church Christmas pageant, sometime around 1958, where Al was assigned the task of reading verses aloud, from a huge bible on a big, old, wooden lectern, a shocked congregation looked on with alarm, as the lectern and bible slowly tipped over and fell to the floor, where they landed with a very loud thud, totally wrecking the mood of the Christmas pageant. This happened right as Al finished the reading. The look on his face was priceless: he looked so innocent, helpless and surprised to see the huge book stand do its best Leaning Tower of Pizza impression, while taking things a step farther by actually toppling over. I know Al did it on purpose. He gave it just a little push in order to throw a monkey wrench into Howard’s perfect Christmas pageant. Howard was livid. He castigated my brother in front of the congregation. My brother just stood there, looking all innocent….
Howard eventually married a very nice woman from out of state. I can’t remember her name (it was something like Marni, or Marti); but I remember how much nicer than Howard she was. She had a special thing she would do to get all the church kids laughing. She would bark like a little, angry yap-yap dog. We’d ask her over and over again to bark for us; and she always did.
“The years began to wear him down, like water would a fallen limb. And one day, Charlie Stump went home. He heard the river call him.”
According to information I found on the internet, Charlie Stump lived until the year 1973. He was about 77 when he died. Irene passed away in 1977 at the age of eighty. By then, I’d moved to Seattle, and Irene and I were no longer in touch. But I remember her calling me in 1973, when I was still living in Yakima. — She found me in the phone book. She called and said, “Well, Randy, I lost my Charlie. He’s gone to Heaven”. Then, she asked me if I still loved the Lord. I answered, “Of course I do! And I love you, Irene.”
While writing the first of many drafts of this story, I asked the question: could any of Charlie’s driftwood creations have survived? — My internet search had turned up nothing. But, his work was so beautiful that I was sure someone would save something. So I made a post on a great Facebook page, “Growing up in Yakima WA”. I asked folks for any info/photos/stories they could share. And I heard back from the person who supplied the photos for this story: Glenda Green Isom. Charlie and Irene gave her family the table, chair and lamp pictured here. I’d like to offer my thanks to Glenda for the photos, because they absolutely made the story. And my day. My week. – I actually cried tears of joy when I heard from her. (Glenda also generously supplied information regarding where Stump’s Inn was situated, plus other pieces of info and insight, including the fact that the Silver Beach Resort near White Pass has more of his work in their restaurant and motel.) It’s good to know that Charlie’s work made it into the hands of at least several good people, and that it lives on, to this day!
I recall that, during this same time period, we had the most talented organist at Missionary Bible Church. I believe his name was David Palmer. I’m pretty sure about the Palmer part, anyway. He had a beautiful wife and child, whom the whole congregation loved. For several years, he graced many a church service with his organ music. We all thought he was the best there was. In spite of all his talent, he was such a humble, kind young man. Well, David Palmer developed leukemia, at a time when it was pretty much incurable. Over the course of about a year, we, his friends and admirers, watched him begin a slow, painful decline. He had to give up his position to another organ player, because he no longer had the strength or stamina to play for our services. However, I recall one Sunday: we all had our eyes closed, as we prayed silently while the new organist played. The music stopped for a moment, and when it started back up it sounded a little different. When the song was over, and everyone opened their eyes, we saw that David Palmer was once again sitting behind the keys and pedals of our beautiful church organ. He addressed the congregation: “I asked the Lord to let me play for you one more time, in order to show my love and gratitude for all that you’ve done for me and my family”. The young father and husband passed away not long after that amazing Sunday. — Many years later, I dedicated nine years of my working life to having a career at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, where I am proud to say, tremendous progress was made in developing treatment protocols for leukemia, and many other cancers.
(BTW: my Randy’s Ramblin’s stories are dedicated to the late, great Yakima newspaper columnist Sam Churchill, who wrote his “Sam’s Valley” column for the Yakima-Herald Republic. He was my mom’s favorite writer.)
Thanks also go out to Alan J. Benny for his helpful comments on my Facebook post, which aided me in putting this story together.