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Carrot and Potato Peelings

If you got close to Uncle Johnny, he would grab your shirt tail and blow his nose on it.  He really didn’t blow his nose, just pretended he did and made the noise with his mouth.  Great Uncle Johnny, who was 79 years old and our Grandmother’s Brother, could stand on his head for thirty-minutes.  His face would turn beet red.  He walked to Ellisport and then to the golf course every day.  He would sit on his deck, built from beach combed lumber and eat carrot, potato and cucumber peelings from Aunt Mattie’s red ringed wash pan.  “Hey,” cousin Stafford would yell, “Uncle Johnny is eating his garbage,” or so it appeared to us and all us kids would run down to the beach to watch Uncle Johnny eat his peelings.      
He held a number of patents, mostly to devices used in the dairy industry, such as the foot long wooden test tube holder that was spun in a centrifuge to measure the cream content of milk.  At one time, my Great-Grandfather, Niels Mattson, owned five creameries South of Madison, Wisconsin, before coming to Maury Island in 1892.  Uncle Johnny was very concerned with his health and used a black electric belt after lunch to aid digestion.  The belt vibrated with a loud humming sound and scared us kids.  The door to his house was in the back, facing the road with a woodshed in between.  Most beach houses had the front door facing the beach.     When we pressed our noses against the window in the door, Aunt Mattie would tell us to come in to listen to Uncle Johnny’s stories of having been chased by Indians because they knew he carried tobacco from the trading post, but they never got him.  We found the small room stifling with heat from their pot bellied stove, near where Uncle Johnny was lying on his homemade wooden couch with his back propped up and his green eye shade hung on a nail.  The room was divided from Aunt Mattie’s small kitchen with a curtain in the doorway, where you could see the small sink and bucket of well water through the crack.

Uncle Johnny married Mattie O’Neil in 1908 and they both played music at the Burton Dance Hall, during the depression years.   John played the fiddle and Mattie the guitar.  They walked to the hall from Portage where they lived in the house that John built, not 200 yards from the homestead that his father, Niels Mattson had built on the hill above Portage around 1902.  Uncle Johnny built his own house and dug his own well, 25 feet deep with a red hand pump and a glass of water on top of the well cover.  The water was to prime the pump and one had to be careful to refill the glass, lest the next person would not be able to pump water.  The house was built right on the beach with a platform where Uncle Johnny stacked all his beach combed lumber.  John was born in Denmark in 1871 and like many Danes was very quiet and unassuming.  His brother Bill Mattson was a surgeon in Tacoma after having worked at the Mayo Clinic and told our Mother not to buy fresh milk because of the danger of brucellosis and that we should only drink canned milk.  Uncle Billy was the state brucellosis inspector.

One day, Mattie yelled at Uncle Johnny from the kitchen, “Water is coming up through the floorboards and the house is shifting.”  The tide was extremely high and Uncle Johnny’s house was afloat, so he quickly tied it to some trees, so it wouldn’t get away.  He lost all his beach combed lumber from the front deck and gazing toward Portage he saw Mrs. Smith’s house floating out with the tide.  It came to rest some 75 feet from its foundation.  The house has since been moved back to its original location where Mr. and Mrs. Dixon keep a fine garden.

Uncle Johnny raised 4,500 layer chickens at Point Robinson and sold their eggs in Tacoma.  Every Thursday, he rowed from Pt. Robinson to Salmon Beach, south of Point Defiance on the Narrows and back to Point Robinson, a distance of 18 miles.  One of his customers was a prominent Tacoma family who owned Gray’s Lumber.  This information comes from a 97 year old descendant of the Gray’s family as told to my cousin Judy Williams, who is 62 years old.  Johnny had traded some of his property at Portage, plus a financial consideration to his Father, Niels Mattson, for the 12 acres at Point Robinson.

Aunt Mattie, as we called her had a pistol and we wanted to see it, but were afraid to ask.  Even Cousin Jim wouldn’t do it and he grew up to be a lawyer.  One day, Brother Mike, Jim and I decided to try.  “Aunt Mattie,” I asked.  “Could we see your pistol?”  Aunt Mattie blurted out, “Who told you I had a pistol?”  Nobody would tell.  “Never tell anyone,” she said, and went to fetch the pistol from underneath her pillow.  It was silver plated and looked like just the thing to take to the Burton dance hall, where there were fights all the time.  The nose of the 38 revolver was blunt, so it couldn’t shoot very far and the leather holster was old and cracked, like she had worn it strapped to her leg for a long time.