By Ron Richardson
Special to West Seattle Blog
(Emma, left, with Betty Allen)
The Tuesday group at the Original Bakery in Fauntleroy celebrated Emma Harman’s 97th birthday today, May 5, Cinco de Mayo. The Bakery is a place where, over time, folks become acquaintances, then friends. This is how I got to know Emma. Readers probably have such a place in their corner of West Seattle.
These informal groups drop in on a regular basis, share experiences, vent frustrations, gossip, tackle the problems of the world and celebrate things like folks’ birthdays. Books and articles are shared and talked about. Emma and her friends meet every Tuesday and sometimes Thursday as well.
Bernie Alonzo, owner and baker at the Original Bakery, prepared a cake for our remarkable neighbor, Emma.
Emma Taylor (her maiden name) was raised in the Eastside mining town of Newcastle. When she was a young girl, her family experienced a harsh mining strike. That experience produced in Emma a keen sense of right and wrong and launched her into the struggle for social and economic justice for the underdogs. These were the Depression years, and she was determined to enter into the struggle to create solutions.
By the late 1930s, Emma was elected to the Washington State House of Representatives.
During her time in the Legislature, Emma championed such issues as pensions, the right of labor to organize, medical care for all, civil rights for minorities and support of public schools: Positions that today we would call progressive. In the 1941 House of Representatives, Emma was one of only four women out of a total of ninety-nine members. She was ahead of her time.
Emma represented the 34th District until the early years of World War II, when she and her husband left for San Diego, where they spent the war years. In the late 1940s, they moved back to West Seattle where she and her husband built the house that has been her Henderson Street home to this day. Her two children grew up in West Seattle. Her son lives in Mullen, Idaho, where he monitors air-quality control and is a serious student of history. Her daughter is a teacher in the Los Angeles school system.
Emma, a widow for several years, had a recent bout of dehydration. Last week her doctor gave her a clean bill of health. Emma’s prescription to longevity and good health is “donuts at The Original Bakery, regularly.“ The walk to the bakery from her home, and the companionship she finds there are, no doubt, a partial explanation for reaching age 97.
At The Original Bakery, Emma is part of a cast of folks that each brings to the table their own history, experiences, humor and views on life. These folks come from England, India, Germany, Montana, Kansas, the mill town of Shelton, Chicago, Manhattan, and Canada.
Several, of course, are from West Seattle. Some of these never left West Seattle. Others, like myself, left, only to return. Talking with such folks across generations and from various backgrounds can help sharpen one’s sense of history as well as develop an understanding and appreciation for other folks. Places like The Original Bakery provide a place where people share, care and are willing to help by offering advice, whether it is workable or not. Places like The Original Bakery are where communities come together. When times get tough, we build a sense that we are all in this thing together. When politicians and commentators talk about ‘grass roots,’ this is where the roots can be found.
On other days of the week, other groups meet at the Original Bakery. There are many such gathering places in West Seattle that serve the same purpose. Drop in, listen, and join in. Everyone has a story and one is richer for listening and sharing with each other.
It must be said that West Seattle Blog and the White Center Now blog serve much the same purpose, another meeting place where Southwest Seattle folks can share opinions and experiences. These are also places that give opportunity and voice to the ‘grass roots.’
This past week, Emma planted her vegetable garden. Happy Birthday, Emma.
Ron Richardson lives in Fauntleroy.
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