Excerpts from I WAS A CANTANKEROUS LITTLE CUSS
by Grace Johnson Tompkins
Recorded, transcribed, compiled and edited by Frances
FRANCES: Tim is lucky to have a grandmother like you.
GRACIE: Tim is lucky to have a wife like you.
F: I was with my gramma a lot when I was a child. I stayed with her every weekend and all summer long when school was out. I went there whenever I could.
G: Oh isn’t that a nice memory. Have you written a sort of little autograph about it?
F: I’ve been doing it, yes. I remember things that I thought I’d forgotten. It’s so funny, it seems like it all happened to somebody else.
G: Me too. Well do you have children of any kind?
G: Well my word. Wouldn’t they be delighted to have a, what is it, some kind of auto… Autobiography.
G: Wouldn’t it be wonderful to – don’t tell them that you’re doing it – and when it’s done and sent in an envelope or some way or other… Oh wouldn’t that be something!
Little Grace Johnson, with neighbor, Billy Tyne, her momma’s right-hand man
Gracie with her adopted mother, Helen Delight Johnson
Grace and her son Jim (Tim’s father) visiting her old home in Stratton, Colorado, 1942, following Jim’s graduation from college
Grace, Herb, little Lois and Jim Tompkins, about 1921
GRACIE: Can changing your name change your life? Why sure. I think my life was made more lovely when I changed mine, when I got married. I was about seventeen, eighteen, around in there. Yep, dear old Herbert. He was a fine partner, a fine partner. He spoiled me.
FRANCES: Tell me about it.
G: Well I had an old piano that I pounded on for a while, but I got tired of it because I couldn’t play it. So Herbert bought me a player piano. It came into the house one day and I thought it was borrowed. When I found out it was ours, I didn’t get through kissin’ that boy for a week!
F: That story should be spread around, it’s such good news.
G: Yep. But who’d want to listen to an old lady’s stories, they got other things they’d prefer to do.
F: Well I for one want to listen, and I bet lots of people would just love to hear something like that. You’re a great story teller.
G: If I got somebody like you to listen.
FOOD SERVICE MEMORIES
Grace in front of Mr. Foss the boss, among Multnomah Hotel staff in Portland, Oregon
GRACIE: (picture in hand) Here we all are! You can see the kind of work we were in. Food. Yup, that’s our crowd. That was one of my happiest times. And that’s our boss. Oooh he was so grand to everybody, so happy. Never had to be, you know, harsh with any of us. He was just lovely! This girl, oh she was kind of an old blahhh. Well that’s okay, we don’t worry, let her be her blaaa… That was at the Multnomah Hotel in Portland. I don’t know what year it was. (Turns the picture over) Well why not, why not find out more about it! Maybe it doesn’t have anything to say. Mr. Foss. He was our boss. Foss our boss. Don was our chef. And here’s Otilla, she was one of my girlfriends. Yeah, we had quite a nice group. And they afforded us our linens, you know, our caps and aprons. So we always could have a fresh apron if any little thing happened to spill, running around with our trays. They were always taking care of us.
Grace serving at Multnomah Hotel, Portland, Oregon