Asparagus cutting was a teaching tool


Gene and Betty Carlyle

Back in 1947, when Betty Carlyle was Betty Looney, she had no concept of Sunnyside or the state of Washington.

Today you wouldn’t be able to dislodge her from the Yakima Valley with a pry bar.

Betty was 15 that year, living in Jackson, Miss. The farthest she’d ever traveled was the Gulf of Mexico at Biloxi, Miss.

Now she was excited about the train trip her mother, five siblings and she were about to make to the Pacific Northwest.

Their father, who’d joined the Army on Dec. 7, 1941, right after the Pearl Harbor attack, was still in two years after the war, working as an Army recruiter at the Sunnyside Post Office. The family was going to join him.

The Looney kids, with Betty the oldest, proved they were kids when they made a stopover in Chicago. They ran wild through the famous Marshall Fields department store.

“I think we wore out the escalator,” Betty said.

“We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and (snacks) on the train,” she recalled. “We didn’t have a lot of money. Mom got just $154 a month.”

Things were green as the train went north from Mississippi. After a left turn at Chicago, the terrain became drier and drier. The kids noticed, but they weren’t disappointed.

It was all discovery.

“My brother said, ‘I’ll never get tired of looking out this window’,” Betty said.

The engineer even took time to show the Looney kids the engine and explain why two would be added to tackle the mountains out west.

“We saw the foothills (the Rattlesnakes) and called them mountains. We’d never seen mountains.”

The train went on to Yakima, where Betty, her mom and the other kids had to stay at a hotel for two weeks while a place opened up at the government housing project — Rainier Court — between 13th and 16th streets in Sunnyside.

“We got in because our dad was in the Army,” Betty said.

Just about everything in Sunnyside was strange for a young Mississippian. The good news was the 50 or so kids who lived at Rainier Court quickly became friends.

One difference Betty noticed right away was how differently the northern kids spoke. They noticed too and often asked her to speak southern.

“I thought they were making fun of me,” Betty said. “I’d try real hard to not talk southern.”

Betty was surprised by kids at the project speaking of jobs. She hadn’t worked much in Mississippi.

“We thought that was hot stuff,” she said. “All we ever did in Mississippi was mow lawns.”

Betty hoed sugar beets that summer. That fall, she picked apples. The next spring, she discovered asparagus, not only as a crop but also as something to eat.

“I love asparagus,” she said.

Betty started cutting asparagus for Morris Bogert in the spring of 1948. She did that for 28 years, with time off for pregnancies. The first three years she cut for money to buy new Easter clothes. After that, it was a way to save to fund higher education for her four daughters.

“The main thing was they would get a good work ethic,” she said.

Her husband Gene, whom she married in 1949, was an electrician with Kingman Electric.

“I took my girls out and cut with them until my youngest was a senior,” she said. “I wanted them to get an education after high school. They appreciated it years later and passed that work ethic on to their children and grandchildren. It wasn’t hard for me. I always enjoyed that kind of work, in the fresh air.”

Things changed greatly in 1965 when Betty and Gene bought the Radio Shack franchise from Hobert Bond. She enjoyed the store as a as a part-time activity, but also as a social site. She regularly met new people. She still remembered many after the store years ended in 1998.

In addition to the store, Betty had other jobs. She was a social services coordinator at Hillcrest Nursing Home. She was a volunteer coordinator for Sunnyside schools. And she developed a family learning center for the Mabton schools.

“I was supposed to be there three months. I stayed 10 years,” she said.

Gene retired in 1998, and he became ill in 2008. He underwent open heart surgery but died in 2010.

The year Gene retired, the couple moved to Prosser.

She retired when Gene became ill.

Betty and Gene traveled a lot together. She continued to do that with traveling companions Nita Coleman, Pat Rounds and Willie Walli. She had to slow down last year and canceled last October’s planned excursion.

Thinking back, Betty said that 15-year-old girl in Jackson could not have imagined all the good things to happen in the next 72 years.

“I’ve had a good life,” she said. “I have a loving family and wonderful, caring friends.”


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