4

My father, Chilton, died in December of 2004. I can remember the exact date because he made it easy: 12/3/4. As he lay dying, my brothers and I took care of his “estate” by cleaning the trailer in which he lived, gathering up his few possessions, arranging for his cremation, returning his library books, and making arrangements with the post office to have his mail forwarded to me. He asked that we stay around long enough to get his affairs in order but that we leave after we were finished. “No death watch,” he told us.

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So we scrubbed and cleaned the trailer, talked to the undertaker, met with the bank officers, and welcomed fond farewells from the postmistress and the local librarian, both of whom said that they would miss him. We gathered his things, said our goodbyes, and went home, leaving him in the hands of the caring nursing staff at North Valley Hospital in Tonasket. He died there a day or two later. I boxed up most of the things that I brought home in a large shoebox and then put them on a shelf in the basement.

Today, almost nine years after he died, I opened that shoebox. I found interesting things—his honorable discharge papers, his birth certificate, my grandfather’s will, the receipts from his payments to the State for back child support, and an envelope that holds the documents he used to calculate his lifetime earnings and to decide when he should take his Social Security benefit. And I found the records he kept of the last years of his life.

My grandfather, Roger, was a meticulous record keeper. He carefully tracked medication, noting the time and dosage and also kept a running tally of Kismet games so that he could tell you how many games he or my grandmother, Mildred, won any given year. Mildred once joked that she thought he “may have kept track of every time he took me to bed.”

Chilton lived in squalor (he said he lived “like a bachelor”) but, like his father, he kept meticulous records. For the last ten years or so of his life, he lived in a trailer on an orchard on route 97 between Tonasket and Oroville. He worked as the “regular guy” on the orchard, doing chores, helping out, and keeping track of things. His records, rolled up into tubes and labeled by year, keep track of his work and the details of his days and weeks in the orchard.

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The small roll labeled 1990 is Chilton’s pay receipts for the year and his W-2 showing a total income of $1,535. That was the last year he worked seasonally instead of year round.

In March of 1991, Chilton started working at Van Woert Orchard in Tonasket but his pay receipts for the first part of the year list an address of General Delivery, Oroville. He must have moved to the orchard in June of that year because his address changes to P.O. Box 354, Tonasket and his pay receipts continue through the end of the year, indicating that he was no longer doing seasonal work. This is the first year that includes detailed accounting of the hours that he worked, descriptions of the weather conditions, and notations about what he did that day, such as “Finished Bosc,” “Rain A.M.” and “Tractor.” He made $4.50 an hour, but the regular work meant a pretty big jump in his income for the year. His W-2 shows a total income of $6,494 and the Money Order receipt for his payment to the IRS suggests that he paid $35 in addition to the $169 that his employers withheld.

The roll labeled 1992 includes the worksheet that Chilton used to complete his 1040A form and shows a total income of $8,245, which meant he had to send an additional $171 to the IRS. After the first pay period in January, Van Woert Orchard moved to a computerized payroll system so this roll includes only a single handwritten pay receipt. The receipts show that Chilton was paid $10 an hour for picking and $4.50 an hour for “Misc orchard work.” His handwritten notes for 1992 show that he worked long hours most weeks—48 hours, 51 hours—but took it easy at some points, working 26 hours or so. In December, when Greg and I got married, his records show that he took five days off to come to Seattle and then didn’t work for the rest of the year due to “Snow.”

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Chilton appears to have been very honest in his accounting. He tracked his time in small increments, and noted when he worked down to the minute: “1:25-5:35.” The first week of March in 1992 he worked 42 hours, then noted that he was “Paid for 43 hours,” so he wrote at the beginning of the following week “I owe Duane one hour.” On March 9th, he “broke loppers,” and on Saturday, October 3, he went to the “Barter Fair.”

Looking through his records reminds me that I miss him most when I’m trying to recall the details of an event or where we were living at this time or that. He remembered everything.

Offering: Detailed records of Chilton’s work and earnings for the years 1990-2003.

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