Brautigan > Chronology 1930s-1940s
This node of the American Dust website provides comprehensive information about Richard Brautigan's life during the 1930s and 1940s. During these decades Brautigan was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, moved about the region frequently with his family, and settled in Eugene, Oregon, where he attended junior high school. More information and resources about Brautigan, his life, and work during the 1930s-1940s is provided below.
Monday, 18 July 1927
Lulu Mary Kehoe (1911-2005; commonly called Mary Lou) and Bernard Frederick Brautigan (1908-1994) married in Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington. Their marriage ceremony was performed by Frank A. McGuire, Justice of the Peace, Tacoma, Washington. Witnesses to the marriage were Mrs. William Morisette (Rebecca, Bernard's mother) and Eleanor Morisette (Bernard's step-sister). Their marriage certificate notes Mary Lou's address as 813 East 56th Street, Tacoma, Washington; Bernard's as 314 1/2 East 26th Street, Tacoma, Washington. Both were eighteen. Their first and only child was Richard Gary Brautigan, born 1935. See Biography > Family.
No listing for either Mary Lou of Bernard in Tacoma City Directory
"Lulu and Ben Brautigan" reported living at 1945 Fawcetta [sic] Avenue, Tacoma, Washington (Tacoma City Directory).
Lulu Mary (Kehoe) and Bernard Brautigan reported living at 1945 Fawcet [sic] Avenue, Apartment 6B, Tacoma, Washington (Tacoma City Directory). The 1930 U. S. Census reported Lulu Mary living in Pierce County, Washington.
"Lulu and Benj Braugitan [sic] / Bernard Brautigan" reported living at 813 East 65th Street, Tacoma, Washington (Tacoma City Directory).
"Lulu and Benj F. Brautigan [sic]" reported living at 2830 South L Street, Tacoma, Washington (Tacoma City Directory).
Mary Lou and Bernard Brautigan separated in April 1934, according to divorce papers filed by Bernard in 1938 (see below).
Highlights: Brautigan born . . . Early childhood in Tacoma, Washington.
Brautigan born. Early childhood in Tacoma, Washington.
No listing for Lulu Mary or Bernard Brautigan in the 1935 Tacoma City Directory.
Wednesday, 30 January 1935
Despite the fact that the names of both Mary Lou and Bernard were noted on Brautigan's State of Washington Birth Certificate, there are several accounts contending that Bernard and Mary Lou separated prior to Brautigan's birth, and that Bernard never knew he had a son.
For example, Brautigan's daughter, Ianthe, writes in her memoir about her father, You Can't Catch Death, that Mary Lou and Bernard separated before Brautigan was born, before she knew she was pregnant. Ianthe also reports that Mary Lou said, "I left him [Bernard] with everything I owned in a paper sack. I didn't even know that I was pregnant" (Ianthe Brautigan 160). See Obituaries-Memoirs-Tributes > Memoirs > Ianthe.
Obituaries published at the time of Richard Brautigan's death in 1984 note Bernard saying he never knew Richard was his son, or even that he had a son named Richard Brautigan. For example, in an article, "Bernard Brautigan," in the Detroit Free Press, Bernard denies any knowledge of his son, Richard Brautigan. See Obituaries-Memoirs-Tributes > Obituaries > Bernard.
"Only the proof of birth records and confirmation from his ex-wife convinced him. Said a shaken Brautigan, 'I don't know nothing about him. He's got the same last name, but why would they wait 45 to 50 years to tell me I've got a son.'" (Anonymous 14F). See Obituaries-Memoirs-Tributes > Obituaries > Bernard.
The story comes from a UPI news feed titled "Brautigan" which provides more information about Bernard, Mary Lou, and their son, Richard. See Obituaries-Memoirs-Tributes > Obituaries > Bernard.
Most accounts note that Brautigan never knew his biological father. Some accounts say that he and his father met only twice, briefly. Ianthe Brautigan said, "My father [Richard Brautigan] said he met [his father] only twice. When he was about four, Mary Lou had pushed him into a room with his father. My father watched him shave without saying a word and then his father handed him a dollar. And the second time my father was about six or seven and passed [his father] on a street near the restaurant where his mother was working as a cashier. His father stopped and said hello and gave him fifty cents" (Ianthe Brautigan 196). See Obituaries-Memoirs-Tributes > Memoirs > Ianthe.
Keith Abbott's recollections were different, yet very similar. Abbott said Brautigan "claimed that he had only met his father twice. The first time was in a hotel where, 'I was pushed into this room and a man there gave me a silver dollar to go see a movie.' The second time he saw his father he was in a barbershop. 'He had shaving cream all over his face and I said who I was and he gave me some money to see a movie that time, too'" (Abbott 100). See Obituaries-Memoirs-Tributes > Memoirs > Abbott.
Surrounding these accounts is the notion of bad feelings between Brautigan's parents. Mary Lou and Bernard seem to have had little, if any, contact following their separation, or during Brautigan's life, a period of nearly fifty years. An article by Mark Barabak in the San Francisco Chronicle, five days after Brautigan's body was discovered, titled "Brautigan's Suicide Rekindles Bad Feelings" quotes Bernard, Mary Lou, and her sister, Evelyn (Keho) Fjetland, regarding who knew what and when. All parties seek to place blame and conflict arises anew. See Obituaries-Memoirs-Tributes > Obituaries > Barabak.
No listing for Lulu Mary in Tacoma City Directory. "Bernard F. Brautigan" reported living at 713 South 17th Street (Tacoma City Directory).
Bernard Brautigan noted but no address provided in Tacoma City Directory.
"Mrs. Lulu Brautigan" reported living at 1346 Fawcette [sic] Avenue, Tacoma, Washington (Tacoma City Directory). Assumably, her son, Richard, was with her.
Friday, 21 October 1938
Bernard Frederick Brautigan filed a Summons and Complaint with the Pierce County Court seeking divorce from Lulu Mary on the grounds of abandonment. Bernard, plaintiff alleges that Lulu Brautigan, defendent, abandoned him in Tacoma, Washington in April 1934, "and has ever since said date of abandonment lived separate and apart from the plaintiff and still lives so."
Bernard also alleged that "No children have been born as issue of such union," his marriage with Mary Lou.
Mary Lou failed to respond to the court summons and so an order of default was granted Bernard on 25 November 1938. The final divorce decree was issued 17 January 1940.
Later, when he enlisted in the U. S. Army, 4 May 1942, Bernard noted his marital status as "divorced, without dependents."
Allegedly, Mary Lou and Brautigan moved quite a bit during this time, living with relatives or alone. Ianthe Brautigan reports they lived above a candy factory in Tacoma, Washington and that Brautigan spent the first eight years of his life in Tacoma, growing up in bleak poverty, neglect, and abuse (Ianthe Brautigan 160, 195, 196). See Obituaries-Memoirs-Tributes > Memoirs > Ianthe.
"Bernard F. Brautigan" reported living at 1513 1/2 South Tacoma Avenue (Tacoma City Directory).
"Lulu and Arth M. Titland" [sic] reported living at 1004 1/2 South 11th, Apartment 3, Tacoma, Washington (Tacoma City Directory).
Monday, 1 May 1939
Brautigan's sister, Barbara Jo Titland born. Her birth certificate notes Arthur Martin Titland (1901?-1969) as father; Lulu Mary Kehoe as mother. Their address was 1004 1/2 South 11th, Tacoma, Washington. Arthur Titland was employed as a truck driver; Lulu Kehoe was a housewife. Barbara Jo was noted as Lulu Mary's second child (Richard Brautigan was her first). There is no record that Lulu Mary Kehoe (Brautigan) and Arthur Martin Titland ever married, a fact confirmed by Barbara Jo who said she met her father only twice in her life (Interview with John F. Barber, 17 March 2012).
As noted above, Mary Lou and Bernard Brautigan separated in April 1934, their divorce was granted 25 November 1938, and was finalized 17 January 1940. So, Barbara was born before Mary Lou was divorced from Bernard Brautigan.
Titland, born in Tacoma, was reported living there in 1920 with his mother Cecelia (age 52), his father Robert O. Titland (age 56), and younger brother Russell R. Titland (age 11) (1920 U.S. Census). In 1930, at age 29, Titland worked as a machinist aboard the SS Tourist, a ship owned and operated by Puget Sound Navigation Company, Seattle, Washington. His address was noted as 915 South Sheridan Ave., Tacoma, Washington (U.S. Census). See Biography > Family.
Brautigan enrolled in first grade at Central Avenue Grade School, Tacoma, Washington. Childhood in Tacoma.
"Lulu and Arth M. Titland" [sic] reported living at 721 Fawcett, Tacoma, Washington (Tacoma City Directory). This is the last listing for Lulu Mary Brautigan (Titland) (Porterfield) (Folston) in the Tacoma City Directory.
Brautigan receives a tonsillectomy. He contracts mumps, whooping cough, and chicken pox.
Mary Lou moved herself and her children around Tacoma frequently, from one low-rent accommodation to another. Barbara Jo said, "It seemed like whenever things got difficult, my mother would move, rather than deal with the problem" (Interview with John F. Barber, 17 March 2012 and William Hjortsberg 33; See References > Biographies > Hjortsberg). Once the family lived in an apartment below the Lynn Mortuary, a point Brautigan incorporated in So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away, the last novel published in his lifetime.
Brautigan, growing up in Tacoma, 1940-1943, was surrounded by World War II. Fort Lewis was located nearby, and Tacoma itself was a major staging point for aircraft headed into the Pacific Theater. In one of his notebooks, dated 1976, Brautigan recounts the intersection of his childhood and the war effort.
"I was raised on war newsreels. Films taken of bombs falling on Germany . . . of battleships shelling islands in the South Pacific. I was raised on war."
In another notebook, dated 1975, Brautigan remembers "the first time I saw a Flying Fortress."
In the short story "The Ghost Children of Tacoma," collected in Revenge of the Lawn, Brautigan wrote, "The children of Tacoma, Washington, went to war in December 1941. It seemed like the thing to do, following in the footsteps of their parents and other grown-ups who acted as if they knew what was happening. . . . Children can kill imaginary enemies just as well as adults can kill real enemies. It went on for years" (73).
Brautigan recounted, in his story, killing imaginary enemies and playing airplane in the house with his sister, Barbara.
Wednesday, 20 January 1943
Lulu Mary married Robert Geoffrey "Tex" Porterfield (1904-1969) in a Lutheran ceremony conducted by Pastor Barton W. Smith in Tacoma, Washington. See Biography > Family.
Porterfield, born in Deadwood, South Dakota, was a cook at Laughlin's Cafe, on Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, Washington. Mary Lou worked there also, as a cashier (William Hjortsberg 36; See References Biographies). Both Brautigan and his sister, Barbara, neither of whom knew their real fathers, used Porterfield's surname. Brautigan changed his surname to "Brautigan" just before his high school graduation in 1953. This marriage marked the beginning of a difficult and unpleasant childhood period for Brautigan. Robert Creeley described some details in his obituary, "The Gentle on the Mind Number" written for Brautigan. See Obituaries-Memoirs-Tributes > Tributes > Creeley.
17 March 1943
Arthur M. Titland begins service in the United States Navy.
Mary Lou and Porterfield separated. He traveled to Great Falls, Montana, for a job as a fry cook. She, and her children, remained in Tacoma, Washington, but were persuaded by Porterfield to visit him in Montana.
14 February 1944
Mary Lou and her children, Brautigan and Barbara, traveled by train to Great Falls, Montana, for a Valentine's Day reunion with Porterfield, who worked there as a cook. After two weeks, put off by Porterfield's drinking and carousing, Mary Lou returned to Tacoma, leaving Brautigan and Barbara in a rooming house with Porterfield (William Hjortsberg 37). See References > Biographies.
Barbara, Brautigan's sister, does not remember Porterfield, or being left by her mother. She does remember meeting the passenger trains at the depot and waiting for the porters to throw them small pieces of wrapped candy. She also remembers sliding on frozen ponds or puddles of water in their shoes, "It was shoe skating because we did not own ice skates" (interview with John F. Barber, 17 March 2012).
Porterfield returned to Tacoma the following spring or summer, with Barbara and Brautigan (see below).
Brautigan related stories about being left in Great Falls, Montana, with Porterfield. "My mother left me in Great Falls alone with one of my stepfathers, who was a fry cook. I would eat meals at his place and lived in a hotel room by myself. I was seven years old" (Ianthe Brautigan 89). See Obituaries-Memoirs-Tributes > Memoirs > Ianthe.
The experience also found its way into Brautigan's fiction. In 1956, Brautigan hand-wrote the manuscript for There's Always Somebody Who Is Enchanted, a collection of nine short stories. One story was "trite story," later collected in The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings, about spending a winter in Butte, Montana, after his mother "had run off with a man named Frank, or Jack." Brautigan described his father, Robert Porterfield, as a cook whom he seldom saw "except when I ate my meals, because he was living with a whore named Virginia." Virginia did not like Brautigan, and so he had his own hotel room (Edna Webster Collection 68). Of note, the winter was actually spent in Great Falls, Montana, but in the original manuscript, Brautigan scratched out Great Falls and replaced it with Butte.
Rip Torn provided this variation on the story. "Legend has it that Richard's mother was a barmaid, a good-hearted woman with lots of boyfriends. She had a baby boy and an older girl [actually, Richard was older than his sister, Barbara] and sometimes abandoned them for long periods to run and throw a fling. Richard told me that, at about age four, his mother took his sister and left him in the care of a boyfriend, a fry-cook who lived in a corner room of an old hotel and worked in the kitchen below. The fry-cook, having no funds for a baby-sitter, tied Richard to the bedpost. Richard remembered this man with affection. "He gave me enough slack so I could get to the can and, more important, I could get to the corner and look out the window." (Rip Torn 134). See Obituaries-Memoirs-Tributes > Memoirs > Torn.
Lawrence Wright reported yet another version, saying both Brautigan and his sister, Barbara, were abandoned in a hotel room in Great Falls, Montana by their mother. Brautigan, age nine, was expected to take care of Barbara, age four. In the mornings, Mr. Porterfield [Brautigan's stepfather], a cook, made breakfast for Brautigan in the hotel restaurant and gave him a dollar. Brautigan and Barbara played in the railroad yards, waving at passengers in passing trains, and skating in their shoes on a frozen pond. Eventually, their mother reclaimed them and took them home to Tacoma, Washington. Soon afterwards they moved to Eugene, Oregon (Lawrence Wright 40). See Obituaries-Memoirs-Tributes > Memoirs > Wright.
Keith Abbott related the abandonment story, second hand, in his memoir Downstream from Trout Fishing in America. He writes of being told by Ianthe Brautigan, who said she was told by Brautigan, that both Brautigan and his sister were abandoned in a Great Falls hotel. Brautigan was expected to be the sole support for his sister. They were fed by a sympathetic cook in the hotel. She said her father told her he could not sleep at night, that he stayed awake waiting for his mother to return, and that he suffered from insomnia ever since (Keith Abbott 43). See Obituaries-Memoirs-Tributes > Memoirs > Abbott.
Porterfield returned, with Brautigan and sister, Barbara, to Tacoma. Their reunion did not last. In the summer, Mary Lou and the children moved to Salem, Oregon, allegedly without Porterfield (William Hjortsberg 37). They lived in Salem for fourteen months, changing addresses three or four times. Both Brautigan and Barbara were boarded out with other families as their mother, Mary Lou, prepared for the birth of her child by Porterfield. See References > Biographies > Hjortsberg.
Sunday, 1 April 1945
Stepsister Sandra Jean Porterfield was born at Salem General Hospital, Salem, Oregon. Her birth certificate notes Robert Porterfield as her father.
Brautigan received an appendectomy, to remove a burst appendix at Salem General Hospital.
"Robert G. Porterfield and Lulu," apparently reunited again, are reported living at 2235 Hazel Avenue, Salem, Oregon. Porterfield noted as a cook at The Quelle (Salem City Directory. Mary Lou's obituary notes that prior to moving to Eugene, the family lived in Salem, Oregon.
This was the last attempt at reconciliation between Mary Lou and Porterfield, following in the national euphoria from the end of World War II, 14 August 1945. It did not work. Mary Lou left with her children and moved to Eugene, Oregon (William Hjortsberg 38). See References > Biographies > Hjortsberg.
Brautigan attended Grade 5 at Lincoln Elementary School in Eugene, Oregon.
Brautigan and his family lived at Seal's Motel, 1600 Sixth Avenue, Eugene, Oregon, a place he remembered in So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away as two room cabin with a kitchenette and bath (William Hjortsberg 39). This was one of many accommodations Brautigan and his family lived in provided through public assistance. In the same novel, Brautigan recounts the poverty of his childhood and how this made him a social outcast at school (Hjortsberg 93). See References > Biographies > Hjortsberg.
According to a "Family Questionnaire" she completed when Brautigan was committed to the Oregon State Hospital on 24 December 1955, Mary Lou Folston noted that Brautigan underwent surgery on a gland in his neck. The physician was Dr. Campbell, of the Eugene Hospital and Clinic. In the same document Mary Lou noted that Brautigan's spinal scoliosis developed in 1947.
Brautigan attended Grade 6 at Lincoln Elementary School, West 10th and Monroe, in Eugene, Oregon.
During the school year, Brautigan served as member of Junior Safety Patrol. Brautigan's Junior Safety Patrol Citation listed his name as "Richard Porterfield."
Brautigan and his family moved from Seal's Motel to a rental house owned by Francis Shields, 1765 West 13th Avenue, Eugene, Oregon. Nearby was an abandoned wrecking yard where Brautigan and his sister, Barbara, played. This may have provided inspiration for The Forgotten Works in Brautigan's novel, In Watermelon Sugar. Also nearby were abandoned warehouses engulfed in blackberry vines. Inside a thick patch, Brautigan and Barbara discovered the carcass of a Ford Model A automobile. Brautigan climbed down into the blackberry bramble and sat in the driver's seat of the abandoned automobile. This experience provided the genesis for his short story, "Blackberry Motorist." During the summer, they picked fruit and vegetables, using the money they earned to buy clothes for school in the fall. Brautigan and his friends, Gary Stewart, Melvin Corbin, and the Hiebert twins, Donald and Ronald, played and fished and hatched elaborate practical jokes together. Johnnie Hiebert, younger brother to Donald and Ronald, suffered from a hernia and loved to drink Kool-Aid. Brautigan immortalized Johnnie in his novel Trout Fishing in America as "The Kool-Aid Wino" (William Hjortsberg 41-42, 44, 45). See References > Biographies > Hjortsberg.
Attended Grade 7 at Woodrow Wilson Junior High School in Eugene, Oregon, 12th and Madison. Received a certificate for attending the Junior High Week Day Church School in Eugene, Oregon. Brautigan's certificate of attendance was signed by his teacher, Mrs. Paden, who filled in his name as "Richard Porterfield."
Willliam Hjortsberg says that Brautigan played played center for the Woodrow Wilson Junior High school basketball team in the fall of 1947. But, after only one year, Brautigan switched to the First Baptist church team who played against other Eugene, Oregon, denominational teams in a YMCA-organized league. Brautigan and the First Baptist team won the league championship but lost any further opportunity at the regional finals in Walla Walla, Washington (William Hjortsberg 46). See References > Biographies > Hjortsberg.
Brautigan's mother Mary Lou met William Folston (1917-1976), who lived with his father at 1287 Hayes Street. Folston, half Nez Percé, born in Wheeler, Oregon, had recently been discharged from military service. He joined the Army Air Corps at Fort Lewis, Washington, in 1941. Mary Lou, Brautigan, and his sister, Barbara, soon moved in with Folston.
Attended Grade 8 at Woodrow Wilson Junior High School in Eugene, Oregon, 12th and Madison, school year 1948-1949.
Attended Grade 9 at Woodrow Wilson Junior High School in Eugene, Oregon, 12th and Madison. His courses there included Speech and Language, General Mathematics, Science, Physical Education, Health, and Fine Arts, school year 1949-1950.
Tuesday, 29 March 1949
Donald Husband, Brautigan's ninth-grade classmate, was killed in a shooting accident involving a .22 rifle while hunting pheasants in an old apple orchard on Bailey Hill in Eugene, Oregon. The memory of this accident stuck with Brautigan and became one of the central themes in his novel So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away.
Although not married, Brautigan's mother, Mary Lou, and William Folston were living together. In fact, Mary Lou suffered a miscarriage this year. As with his other stepfathers, Brautigan suffered abuse and neglect. One example was when Folston and his brothers took Brautigan deer hunting in Eastern Oregon. Jennifer Foote quoted Mary Lou Folston, Brautigan's mother, saying, "I don't think he was very fond of my husband. They went hunting once, and there was a rift." Young Brautigan came back from the trip and told his mother that Uncle Larry, her husband's brother, had poured cold water in his ear as he lay in his sleeping bag and then killed a deer and rubbed the blood all over him. "Richard was shocked," she said. "After that there was cold dead silence" (Foote D8). See Obituaries-Memoirs-Tributes > Memoirs > Foote. William Hjortsberg recounts this same story in his Brautigan biography, Jubilee Hitchhiker (Hjortsberg 54). See References > Biographies > Hjortsberg.