Western Washington County siblings look back at 90 years together
When June VanderZanden and Jack, Burl and Parnell Jarrell gather in their childhood home, they talk about their younger days in Arkansas' Ozark Mountains, where there were poisonous snakes and they walked miles to town on dirt paths.
They reminisce about moving to Forest Grove when there was one part-time police officer in the city and no stoplights or paved roads. They remember the fruit growing on their 24-acre family plot in the Forest Grove countryside, about three miles from Main Street. And they affectionately tease each other, the way siblings do, with more than 90 years of memories under their belts.
On Jan. 8, the family wished a happy 90th birthday to Parnell, the youngest of the four siblings.
June is 95. Jack is 94. Burl is 92.
"We're all different, but quite a bit alike," Parnell said.
Jack was the "wild one," the "hell-raiser" — Burl, the "curious one," Parnell the "good one" and June the "caretaker."
"We get together whenever we feel like it," said June, who lives in Verboort, not far from her brothers, with one in Cornelius and two near the original Forest Grove family home they built in 1940.
That turns out to be "pretty often."
The last nine decades have brought ups and downs. The siblings lost their parents in the late 1990s after 75 years of marriage, along with their two youngest brothers in the 1950s and '60s. The family lived through World War II, with June waiting for her brothers and husband to return from overseas service.
Whatever life brought, however, the siblings banded together.
"You just keep on living," June said. "We just liked being family."
The early years
The four Jarrells were born in Arkansas in the 1920s, where they rode horses and mules, swam in the creek, ran from snakes and helped out on their family's farm.
Their grandparents owned a post office and store in town.
"That was about the only time we would get candy," June said, so the siblings frequently walked the four miles to the family business.
When their grandfather spent a stint in prison for selling moonshine during Prohibition, their grandmother came up with a different excuse each time the children asked where he was. "He went to town," was one of her go-to statements.
They walked everywhere, Burl said, after the family car broke down.
One time, the siblings tried piling onto the family donkey instead, but the animal laid down in the road and wouldn't get up.
A lot of their time they spent adventuring outside, throwing rocks into their favorite swimming holes and watching the snakes swim away. When Jack got bit by a venomous water moccasin, he didn't think he would withstand a day's journey to the doctor 25 miles away, so his father called the preacher instead.
"Every time my heart beat, I thought my foot would explode," he remembered.
The family elevated his leg and made a poultice out of gunpowder.
"That was the wrong thing to do," said Jack's wife, Bonnie. "It's a miracle he lived."
While the Great Depression raged across the nation and the Dust Bowl ravaged American prairies in the 1930s, the Jarrell family barely saw rain hit the ground on their Southern farm for seven years.
"There was no water," June said.
When the corn got to be hip-high, it all shriveled up, Jack remembered.
"You were lucky if you even got your seed back," Burl said.
The family decided to pack up their things, get on a bus and head toward the rain. As they traveled down the then-unpaved Canyon Road, June remembers her mother wanting to turn around at the sight of homes built on steep Portland hillsides.
But once the family arrived in Forest Grove, they felt at home and built the house the Jarrell children grew up in. Burl's daughter, Joan Overholser, lives there now.
The family sold peaches down by the roadside out of the back of a truck. Jack remembers one time a woman came to buy some peaches with nothing to carry them home in, so she took off her blouse, filled it up and took her fruit away in nothing but an undershirt, he laughed.
And another time when the Jarrells were having trouble selling their crop, Jack's uncle told him to go door-to-door and tell the customers he was selling for the Boy Scouts.
At one point, the family made $8 per day working in strawberry fields.
"We'd never been so rich," said Burl, who would stop by a neighboring farmer's house with Jack for a jug of homemade wine after work in the summer.
For fun, the siblings walked in the woods to explore and gather nuts. They walked to town to see Western "picture shows" starring Gene Autry and Roy Rogers where Theatre in the Grove is currently housed.
As the four look back on their lives, they have some advice.
"If you knew you were going to live this long, you'd take better care of yourself," said Burl.
"Get along," June said. "Life is shorter than you think."
"Always keep active and eat right, and read your Bible everyday," Jack said.
"Always do everything in moderation, except the fun stuff," said Parnell, who added, "I'm just wondering what 91 will look like."
By Stephanie Haugen
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times
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