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Our Homestead

The Mattson farm.  That’s my grandmother Ada, on the left.
The Mattson farm. That’s my grandmother Ada, on the left.

Our great-grandparents came from Denmark in 1892 and moved from Wisconsin to Portage in 1906 where Nels Mattson bought 300 acres that extended from the Portage store to the towers at KIRO and down to Luana beach.  Over the years this property has shrunk to a couple of lots and a house on the beach.  

Two of his sons, John and Jim had chicken farms on the property, a third son, Dr. Bill Mattson was a top flight surgeon in Tacoma and operated a tuberculosis sanitarium at Portage, which later became Holy Names Villa and grandma Ada wouldn’t allow us kids to watch the nuns bathing, it wasn’t really bathing because they didn’t swim around much, only cavorted in the water and splashed  each other.  I know, because we were watching from the bushes.  They all wore white bathing caps and swam in black wool bathing suits because the water could be frigid.  

Nels Mattson was a farmer, faith healer and fundamentalist preacher. His wife Christine could neither read nor write, spoke only Danish and signed her name with an “x”.  

Aunt Pat remembered the black horsehair recliner that he kept for his patients in the big white house on the hill.  
Mrs Smith was an early school teacher and Nels built her a house which is still standing at the “Y” at Portage.
Nels and Christine had eleven children and our Grandma Ada had five children and 23 grandchildren making Portage prolific with Mattsons, Malones and Carahers.  In 1950, there were 50 relatives living at Portage.

We called our Grandfather, Papa Jim.  He built a beach cabin in 1920 or thereabouts, which has become our homestead.
 It’s on a rock bulkhead right above the tide, where one feels quite close to the waves and the tide times out your day.  The  original cabin remains, so it’s easy to realize “Papa Jim” showing us how to make a quarter stick to the ceiling.  Cousin Jim said: “There is a tack glued to the backside of the quarter which kept it stuck to the ceiling.”  Well, that took the mystery out of the trick.

Papa Jim spent years teaching  his grandchildren how to box, sometimes even the girls.  For 70 years he was writing a book that was never published: “The Manly Art of Self Defense.” The sub-title read: “Mothers of America, protect your sons from unscrupulous men who would do them harm.”  

As kids, we didn’t always give a lot of “heed” to  Papa Jim’s teaching.  We were   always laughing and cutting up, so he would have us do push-ups for punishment.  He would demonstrate a one handed push up where the weight of his upper body would be supported on the extended fingers of one hand; then he would switch hands in the air, clapping as he did it and do it to the other side.

We practiced boxing with 16 ounce gloves so nobody  would get hurt; we made fun of them, calling them pillows, the pro gloves were half their size.  None of us went on to box professionally like he had, but it taught us coordination and how to keep our balance while waiting for the next blow of a glove.   Papa Jim said he won the middle weight west coast championship in the early part of the 20th century.  It could have been and was probably true.

His colors were red and green.  Though his house was grey, all the trim was red and the string of lights across the front yard to the tent was red and green; hence his colors.

The tent was a tar paper shack, though I don’t know why we called it a “tent.”  The light could be seen coming through the cracks between the hand-split shakes.  It was a miracle when it rained and the roof didn’t leak.

A scary white cow skull hung above the door.  It had two light bulbs for eyes, one red one green, Papa Jim’s colors.  The tent was mostly used for naps for the youngest because it was quieter.