Adventures of an Idaho transplant from Brooklyn who blogs her way through guiding whitewater rafts, rodeos, hiking, exploring some of the strangest things, meeting some of the most amazing people and sampling some (okay, let's get real, lots) of the state's excellent cuisine.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Lake Lowell: The Friendly Neighbors Club
The Friendly Neighbors Club
A Rural Idaho Women’s
as seen in IDAHO Magazine
By Amy Larson
“Would you like to go to lunch with
me sometime?” said Jean, a senior lady I’d just met. She was short, and her
sparkling eyes, crisp voice, and white hair reminded me of an elf. It was 2001,
and we’d just moved out to the rural Lakeshore Drive
area near Lake Lowell.
Each home in the neighborhood had at least an acre or two, and I was out
exploring. Jean walked to her mailbox at the same time I trudged up the steep
gravel road, and our chat led to a lunch invitation. Initially worried that I’d
be lonely living the rural life, I said, “Sure.” She was a spitfire, and I had
plans to be that way at her age. I was ready to watch and learn.
A few days later, Jean picked me up in her
sports car. I got inside and simply held on, certain she was a Nascar fan. We
stopped to pick up Thelma, who lived nearby. Thelma laughed a lot, and told
great stories. Three seemed like a good number for a get-to-know-you lunch, but
at the restaurant, I was surprised to find nine others waiting there. They
called themselves the Friendly Neighbors Club, comprising women who lived
around Lake Lowell.
They needed new blood . . . and that was me.
I can’t say I minded. Each had a
tale that would familiarize me with area names, farms, and who was who. I got a
crash course in rural Idaho by
attending a two-hour, once-a-month luncheon. These ladies were really funny,
and their club was an entertaining diversion from doing our business’s
paperwork and our house’s housework.
I continued to ride to meetings
with Jean and Thelma, who amused me with their Abbott and Costello act.Sometimes Thelma would pass along a recipe
she’d clipped from a magazine, knowing I had a family to cook for.When I walked or drove up the hill, I’d
either wave or honk at Jean. She became “Grandma Jean” to my children, who
visited her every now and then. During morning workouts, when I rode my bike
past Thelma’s little house down the road from mine, I’d wave at the big picture
window I couldn’t see into, just in case she was nearby. She often spotted me.
Phyllis, another member, was a
published writer, educated and well-spoken, who gave great devotional readings.
Ruth made me laugh so hard I’d have to gasp for air, and she regularly invited
the kids and I over for lunch and a dip in the pool. Charlotte,
both smart and funny, was an artist who knew how to create just about anything.
Midge, under five feet tall, shocked me at many a luncheon by ordering a big,
juicy hamburger, and then eating it all. Soft-spoken Idella and her husband
lived on our road, too, and year after year I took the kids trick or treating
or Christmas caroling there.
Peggy, who claimed never to have
had a toothache, earache, or headache, had supervised a corn topping crew in
her forties, even during pregnancy. She never sat still, canned hundreds of
quarts of this or that, crocheted blankets or anything else possible to
crochet, and bowled with her league, who named their team Peggy’s Pickles in
honor of her famous pickle recipe. “The secret’s in the water,” she told me.
“It’s my special well water, and no one else can duplicate it. Many have
Our entire family went yearly to
the July potluck picnics held on Peggy’s front lawn under her huge shade trees
on Walker Lake Drive.
Because of these ladies, I never felt lonely living at the Lake
Shore house. They took in my family
and I. Nor was I the only one who felt that way about the club. Several of the
members shared how they’d been transplants from other states, had needed friends,
and the club had been there, making them feel that they had a place. The ladies
were there for each other with a comforting sort of steadiness. Together, they
mourned losses and celebrated gains. Their children were practically like
One summer, I developed a bike
route past the houses of Thelma, Peggy, Idella, and Charlotte, which I rode
almost every morning. The hunting dog of Peggy’s son followed me down the road
one day and was struck by a speeding delivery truck. The dog didn’t survive,
and I was heartbroken. A family came out of their home to help with the dog
while I wondered how on earth I’d tell my friend. I rode back to Peggy’s and
knocked on her door, but got no answer. At home, heavy-hearted, I called Peggy,
and when she finally answered, I told her what had happened.
After a long pause, she said, “I
just lost my son two weeks ago to an accident. He loved that dog, and now his
favorite dog is with him in heaven. It’s okay, Amy.”
I cried a little, not having heard
the sad news yet. Peggy, in her strong,
corn-topping-while-she’s-eight-months-pregnant-way, consoled me, and after a
moment said simply, “I sure miss him.”
I’d been a member of the club for
five years before I had the good fortune to be entrusted with “the box.” One of
the secretaries asked me to keep it for her. The cardboard box was clean,
white, and carefully tied up with a thin turquoise string. At home, I went
through it like a hungry child. It turned out to be filled with journals,
minutes, old black-and-white photographs. What I learned filled me with a deep
reverence for the club and the women who’d been a part of it all of this time.
I learned from its contents that
the Friendly Neighbors Club had been formed on April 5, 1928, by farmers’ wives and mothers of school-age
children. The first meetings were held twice monthly in a small building that
became the district’s first schoolhouse. The club wasn’t unique. Many of the
surrounding farming areas had such groups, and their heads would gather every
so often to find out who was doing what within the communities, and sometimes
coordinate their activities.
The Friendly Neighbors saw many
needs to meet, one of which was proper school lunches. Long before a lunch
program was instituted in the schools, the FNC made sure students had a good midday meal. Within the club, there were
committees for just about everything, among them: flowers (weddings, funerals,
illness), programs, membership, school, press and publicity, helping hand
projects, ways and means, amusements, showers, books, decorations, the Marsing
Auction, a scrapbook, and welcoming.
From about 1930 on, meticulous club
meeting minutes were kept, which had the incidental effect of capturing the
members’ cleverness. For example, each roll call featured a theme, as a way for
people to get to know each other better. Here are some of them: “Name a Current
Event,” “Name a Woman Writer,” “Yes or No: Does the Modern Girl Make a Better
Homemaker Than Her Grandmother?,” “What I’d Do with a 25th Hour,”
“My Secret Ambition,” and “What I Do When I Do What I Please.”
The minutes also provided evidence
of stunts, riddles, card playing, games and contests, book and movie reviews,
gift exchanges, spelling bees, and jokes played on husbands. Once, the members
even held a “little kid party,” for which they all dressed as children.
The meetings often included the
Pledge of Allegiance, readings of part of the Constitution or Gettysburg
Address, and prayers. The “club collect” or motto, written by Mary Stewart,
was: “Keep us, O God, from pettiness; let us be large in thought, in word, in
deed.” Activities changed with the seasons: a family picnic in July, spook
stories in October, family Christmas dinners and parties in December, Irish
jokes in March. In the spring there was an early bulb and seed exchange, and
the anniversary luncheon in April was always a big, fancy affair.
Within the box, I also found tiny,
handmade booklets titled, “In Memoriam.” One for each year contained the names
of lost members, frequently with the same quote beneath each name, “As if a
rose had climbed the garden wall and blossomed on the other side.” It was
evident that as the list got longer of original members who’d passed on, the
ladies found ways to celebrate their lives. Instead of a regular monthly
meeting, candle ceremonies were held and memories shared of the friend lost.
The women were conscientious,
determined to make their contribution to society, and the minutes showed their
specific concerns: Public Welfare, What the Community Hall Needs, Winter Care
of Poultry, Favorite Breed of Chickens and Why, What Can I Do for My Community,
Ways to Conserve Sugar, What I Can Do to Help Win the War, Suggestions for Club
Work for the Coming Year, Putting Something Christmassy on Helen Johnson’s
Nursing Home Door.
School attended by their children
was their pet project. They oversaw last-day-of-school picnics, teachers’
receptions, tokens of appreciation for cooks and custodians, presents for the
teachers, blankets for emergency use, and assisted with the repair and/or
purchase of the furnace. I believe they even helped to purchase a piano one
them were mothers, and children were welcome at club meetings. After a fire at
the schoolhouse in 1967, students were bussed to different schools, but the
tight-knit farming community and the club helped them to stay in touch.
If a farmer decided to sell or went
bankrupt, club entrepreneurs discovered a way to make money. A crowd of people
would descend upon those farms on the day of the auction, which many times
continued during lunchtime. The Friendly Neighbors set up shop, selling
home-made goodies to hungry buyers and bystanders. The money they made went
right back into the FNC fund, which was often used to help each other or
Turning the pages of minutes and
journals, I was amazed at the many ways these women had made their mark. It
seemed they’d been everywhere in their heyday, lendinghelping hands and making donations to the
Salvation Army, Red Cross, American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Marsing
Disaster Fund, Children’s Home, Lizzard Butte Easter Association, Hope House,
Mercy House, Youth Ranch, and Polio Fund. They donated turkeys during the
holidays, granted modest scholarships, baked cakes for receptions, sent cards to
anyone they knew going through a loss or a hardship, sent money to heart
transplant recipients, and bought get-well gifts. They even “adopted” a
resident of the state school to give birthday and Christmas gifts.
It wasn’t all work, though. The
minutes revealed pranks played on members’ husbands, who often did the heavy
lifting for events and fundraisers, in exchange for a hearty and tasty meal or
two. The members were famous for their cooking. By way of pranks, one year the
husbands got a little good-natured revenge during a club meeting. When the
ladies went to their appointed luncheon at Lakey’s on Highway 20/26, they were
told reservations had not been made, and that the restaurant had not been
expecting them. Not sure what to do, the women sweated it out for a few minutes
before a back room was suddenly opened with tables neatly set up for lunch and
their smirking husbands inside, who were no doubt proud of themselves for
finally getting even with their prank-playing wives.
time, membership had climbed to fifty or more. The club was quite the social
event at its height, with mothers, daughters, in-laws and sometimes
grandmothers on the roster. Longtime FNC member Mabel Farner created a book
called Yesteryears in Lakeview,
documenting memories of the area before there was a lake, the farming life and
other histories, and of course, the club. Mabel had passed away before I’d
moved to the country, so we’d missed each other.
In 2006, when the Friendly
Neighbors Club held its eighty-third anniversary luncheon, I was made an
“honorary” member. I laughed, thinking I’d been a member all along, yet the
main criteria for being in the club had been that the women were from the Lake
Lowell area (what was once called
Lakeview), and by then, I had moved back to the suburbs. Perhaps this was their
way of letting me know that I still belonged, no matter where I lived. They
were, after all, friendly neighbors.
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