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Jerry Thompson Oral History Interview, October 28, 1993

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STUDENT 1: Today is October 28, 1993.

STUDENT 2: We're here with Jerry Thompson and we're interviewing him about the life of Mrs. Washington. Our first question is, what is your relationship with Mrs. Washington?

JERRY THOMPSON: I'm her adopted son. She was my biological aunt, but when my mother died then she adopted us. I became her adopted son.

STUDENT 1: How did it feel when you lost Mrs. Washington?

JT: Well, it was pretty severe. You feel the pain and the loss and it's kind of, you know I had a biological mother before her, so I've lost two mothers, so it was double pain.


STUDENT 2: Was there any special story she told you?

JT: She told us a lot of stories of her youth and when she was a little girl and when she first moved out here from the south out here to the west coast. I don't know, we have so many stories and I'm trying to think of one possibly that I could share with you. A lot of her stories were of things that they did when they were down in Arkansas, where she came from. She had one story that she used to tell us about this possum. She had my uncle go out and kill this possum and bring it in so they could have it for dinner. Down south they eat possum. They say they're different than the possums we see around here. I don't know. I've only seen the Oregon-type possums. She said they got the possum. She fixed it 00:02:00and they baked it in the oven and they put sweet potatoes around it and everything and then she set it on the table for dinner that night. She said, she looked at it and the possum was smiling at her and by this possum smiling at her, she couldn't eat it. She said it just upset her too much. That was a story that we laughed at all the time.

STUDENT 1: Did she ever tell you anything unusual?

JT: Well, yes, some things that were unusual for us to really grasp because of being children living in here in Oregon and from things that they did and things that happened in the south that we were not aware of and that we never even dreamed of that could happen and the way that they lived would be to us it was all pretty much unusual. I'll just kind of let it go on that.


STUDENT 2: How many children does she have?

JT: She had 2 children of her own, natural children. Both of them died in the very early '50s: '50 and '53. Then she adopted me and I had a brother and a sister. She had a total of 5 kids.

STUDENT 1: What was one of her hobbies?

JT: Well, her greatest hobby she was quite an avid fisherman. She loved to fish and they were bass fisherman, which is a lot different from, say, a lot of fishing that you do. Bass fishing is done out of a boat and it's just done a little differently. They used to go after big bass, not these little guys like this. Big bass [makes hand gesture of fish measurement]. That was one of her hobbies. Then, I suppose her most favorite thing was she was quite a religious woman and she loved and enjoyed church work. She went all over the United States 00:04:00doing different things. She belonged to different church groups and things like that.

STUDENT 2: Do you know where or when she was born?

JT: Yeah, she was born in 1906 in Marshall, Texas. That's just across the border from Arkansas.

STUDENT 1: So, she moved from Arkansas?

JT: Yes, she moved here to Oregon. She came from Arkansas, a place called Roseboro, Arkansas.

STUDENT 2: How old was she when she got married?

JT: I have to do-this is quick. I would guess she was around 25 when she got married, 24, 25, somewhere in there.

STUDENT 1: So, how old was she when she adopted you?

JT: Forty years old, or 47, excuse me. There's a forty year difference between 00:05:00her and me. She was 47.

STUDENT 2: How old was she when she passed away?

JT: She was 86, and she would have been 87 in about 3 weeks.

STUDENT 1: Where in Eugene did she like to go?

JT: Being that she was a fisherman, she liked to go out to Fern Ridge. She had different spots at Fern Ridge Reservoir and some of the creeks that fed the reservoir that she liked to fish a lot. Other than that, she enjoyed going anywhere there was a church and some of the pretty churches that she used to tell us about that she went to visit that no longer exist, they were just little small, one-room little churches that were out in the countryside between Eugene and like going out to Jasper or going the other way west out of Eugene.

STUDENT 1: [unclear]?

JT: No. It'd be going more toward the coast. There were some little churches out 00:06:00in the country going west out of Eugene.

STUDENT 2: Were you adopted here in Eugene?

JT: Yes, I was, in October 1953. My mother passed away in September of 1953. Me and my brother and sister were adopted in October. I don't know the exact date, but it was October 1953.

STUDENT 1: Did you immediately [unclear].

JT: No, we didn't. We lived with my grandfather for, I don't know as a kid it seemed like a long time. In reality, it was only less than a month and then we were adopted and after we were adopted we moved in with her.

STUDENT 1: Was the [unclear] held in your home after you moved?

JT: No, it wasn't. After I moved, I'm sorry, excuse me. I cut you, if you want 00:07:00to do that again, I won't cut you off.


JT: Is that okay? Yeah, well it wasn't held once I was born. But they did hold meetings at the house. I can remember. They also belonged to, she was an Eastern Star. My uncle was a Mason. The Eastern Star is I suppose the female part of the Masons. They held sometimes Mason and Eastern Star meetings at the house. As kids, they would hold the meeting. They'd run us out of the house.

STUDENT 2: Did she ever give you any advice about school work?

JT: Oh yes, she did. She was, it was very important to her that we got our education. That was her main give, you might say, for us kids was that she wanted us to go to school, get an education, so that we would be able to make it 00:08:00once we left home and became adults. She herself, and this was quite a feat when she was going to school, she didn't finish the 12th grade, but she was up into high school when she left school. She had a sister that used to teach school down in Arkansas. Education was really kind of a mainstay with her and she saw to it that we got the message.

STUDENT 2: Willie Mims said that you were the first black graduate from high school here in Eugene. How did-

JT: Me?

STUDENT 2: How did Mrs. Washington feel when you achieved that?

JT: I don't think I was the first one to graduate, but she was really proud of me. She'd always, like I said, pushed it and stressed that we graduate from high 00:09:00school and receive a diploma and go to college. She was very proud of me and I was proud of myself for doing it. It was pretty easy to quit school when I was growing up and go to work. Back at that time Eugene had a sawmill. In the sawmill area there was 100s of them. You could quit school, and if you were a big guy-and I was always a big guy, it was no problem to get a job. You could work at one sawmill today and quit and go to one down the street the next day and go right to work. She was glad, and I did pretty good in school.

STUDENT 1: Did she live with you for [unclear]?

JT: No, she never did. Toward the end of her life she always had maintained her own residence and we, my brother and sister and I, saw to it that she had live-in caregivers to live with her. The last six years or so of her life she 00:10:00always had a live-in person there with her. She did spend, she would stay with us over the holidays and things like that. We would always bring her here and that way we'd give the caregivers time off. She'd just stay here. It was kind of hard for us because we all worked to take care of her, and she needed 24-hour care about the last two, two-and-a-half years of her life.

STUDENT 1: Well, I think that's all for today.

JT: Okay.

STUDENT 2: Thank you for your time.

JT: You're welcome.

STUDENT 1: We'll come back.

JT: Okay, I'll see you when you come back. Maybe my buddy Marcus will be with you [laughs].