Pine Nuts: Getting to know your grandfather when he was young |

Pine Nuts: Getting to know your grandfather when he was young

The day for which I had been longing finally arrived, a snowy day with no work pressing. This was the day I could finally immerse myself in grandfather Pop Layne’s memoirs of a century ago, a world that would beget us Layne cousins. So I wrapped myself up as in a cocoon, eager to find out what his life was like and how we got here.

Right off, he limbered up my images when referring to my grandmother Mimi as his “girlfriend.” I had never pictured her as a young girl. From there his brilliant mind and steady hand went to work warming my heart and augmenting my awareness. From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., without interruption, I feasted upon the benighted days of Layne yesteryears.

I was proud to learn that Aunt Betts, Elizabeth Virginia Layne, “was named for Good Queen Bess, who started the Layne’s to America, and for old Virginia, the great state they helped to build there.”

Pop’s offhanded descriptions of acquaintances delighted me: “He was a top-lofty individual” or “Goodwin was the finest example of a polished, entertaining and benign liar that I ever met.”

His description of 1917 Portland was downright Twainian. “The first downpour was gentle, but all pervading. The natives called it, ‘Oregon Mist,’ but it was very wet,” he wrote. “They liked it and lined the sidewalks in thousands to witness the numerous patriotic parades while the gentle rain ran down their backs and soaked their feet.”

In 1908 Pop established an electric company in the small California town of Sebastopol, population 1,500. One day in 1909 a lady walked into the office and asked to have electricity connected to a dilapidated old two-story red house just outside the city limits in a grass-grown pasture. She paid for this expensive outlay in gold coin.

Within days of an electrical connection, a path was worn across the field to the red house. It was a prospering brothel. When Pop went out to investigate and read the meter, he was attacked by two dogs, which he fended off with his umbrella, damaging the umbrella.

The madam, Molly Taylor, apologized and offered to have Pop’s umbrella repaired, an offer he accepted, as the umbrella had his name inscribed on the handle.

“Imagine my discomfiture when the town loafer dropped in at the pool hall and announced to all and sundry that he carried Mr. Layne’s umbrella,” he wrote, “having picked it up at the Red House!”

Pop was a doer like perhaps no Layne before or since. He will be a model for those who come after us to emulate. I am personally inspired to do more myself by reading his memoirs, and I have my favorite cousins, Bonnie and Judy, to thank, for they are the ones responsible for preserving and typing up Pop’s handwritten chronology.

I guess that’s why Pop always helped the girls to climb up onto a pedestal, while calling us boys “Clabberheads.”

I thank my loving cousins for keeping Pop’s memory green and I encourage the gentle reader of this fine journal to begin writing your memoir today. It will be so very much appreciated in the year 2115.

In closing, I might like to mention that, like Pop Layne, I want to go to heaven but prefer for now to remain where I am better acquainted.

To learn more about McAvoy Layne, visit

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