The Wednesday Witch at Stump Lake
I could almost believe a whiff of certain smells, caught just right, has the power to physically transport me to another time or place. Sourdough can be like that for me. This summer it was the mint in my garden. Mmm, Oregon cow pasture! Most recently, though, I experienced this transport not with a smell, but with a book.
My sister Kathy is three years older than I. We have both loved books for as long as we can remember, and we loved getting books from the Scholastic Book Club in grade school whenever we had a quarter or two. I would read all of my books and as many of Kathy’s as I was able. She had a good headstart on me. One of her books that I read and loved was The Wednesday Witch by Ruth Chew.
For years, I had no reference points to help me remember how old I was when I read the book, but now it’s easy to find that it was published in 1969. I assume, then, that it was the summer either before or after the second grade. I had no recollection of plot. I remembered that there is a witch (the title helps tremendously), that the witch’s cat gets left with a little girl, that the witch rides a vacuum cleaner instead of a broom, and that the girl feeds the cat canned tuna fish. I don’t know why the tuna stuck with me for over 45 years.
Kathy is an incredible giver. She will use a special occasion as an excuse to give gifts if she needs to, but she doesn’t depend on them. Last time we were together, she handed me a box of things she had collected for me. In the bottom, I discovered a copy of The Wednesday Witch. I almost went to Stump Lake and 1969.
Details of The Wednesday Witch don’t matter nearly as much as where I was when I read it. I grew up in Oregon. My Grandpa and my Dad were loggers. Since the trees there like to get together as forests and the forests are in the mountains and the mountains are often far from home and work starts early in the morning, sometimes it makes sense for loggers to temporarily live closer to the job. Stump Lake is about 60 miles from where we lived. Sixty swervy, curvy (“If you’d sit up and look at the scenery you wouldn’t get sick!”) miles that seem to follow every bend in the Umpqua River. The most beautiful drive in the world. From the Buckhorn Road, past Colliding Rivers, Idleyld Park, Eagle Rock, Watson Falls, Whitehorse Falls, Clearwater Falls, dogwood and water and rhododendrons and trees and water. At that time, it was obvious where the name Stump Lake came from. A logged area had filled with water, but not enough to cover the stumps. It was a fun landmark on our way to Diamond Lake or Crater Lake. I’ve looked for recent pictures of it and seen the satellite photos. The stumps have rotted away.
Grandpa and Grandma were staying in a camper trailer at the lake on weekdays so Grandpa could be closer to work. They came home on weekends to get groceries, do laundry, and tend to household chores. One week they took Kathy and me to the lake with them! I remember almost no details about that week. But I remember the smell of the propane stove and lights in the confines of the trailer. At the end of the day, Grandpa would bring in the smell of sawdust and chainsaw oil. We would get in bed when it got dark, but we could have light for a while so we could read. The book I had was The Wednesday Witch. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a good book or not. Just seeing the cover takes me back to that cozy bed next to my sister, dark forest outside, Grandma and Grandpa inside, witches won’t hurt me, vacuum cleaners might fly.