A History of the Burns Family
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PART SEVEN: Early Years in Seattle (1935-1941)  

Inspiration and Sources

Family at La Veda during Ebba’s summer, 1936 visit

Guy was 51 and Ada was 49 when they arrived in Seattle with their two sons, a Ford truck, and $15. Part Seven chronicles their adaptation to their new circumstances -- which involved pulling themselves up by their bootstraps from literally nothing. Details from this story are taken chiefly from contemporaneous and later correspondence, family photos, memorabilia, and memoirs. But mostly letters, which flowed in a torrent between Ohio and Washington throughout this period. In some cases, the letters or postcards stand alone, and I saw my job as getting out of the way and letting them tell the tale. But more often my view of a particular month or quarter or year was built from an aggregate informed by disparate letters written by different family members. In these cases, the only way to tell a coherent tale was to convey the facts and feelings as I understood them through a particular family member's eyes.

Stories #1 and #2 describe their trip west, which all concerned described as a delightful lark and camping trip. The tale is based on cards and letters sent to Ebba at the time, as well as recollections of family members taken from later correspondence.

Story #3, told from Ada's point of view, details the family's new life as janitors in the Melrose apartments of Capitol Hill in Seattle, and also casts an eye toward the lives of the children remaining in Ohio, Don and Ebba.

In Story #4, the lives of Don, Dave, and Ebba as of 1936 are updated with details filled in from letters and memorabilia.

Story #5 describes from Guy's point of view the legendary accidental discovery of the cleaning solution on which D.A. Burns Rug Cleaning was built.

I was inspired to write Story #6 by the discovery of the early importance of Hansel and Gretel's Fourteen Angels song in the lives of the Burns family. Ada tells this story, and also introduces us to Wilma.

Stories #7 and #8 chronicle Ebba, Don, and Helen's eventful trip west, all told in their own words from post cards and letters sent home.

By 1938, Bobby was coming into his own, and so Story #9 uses his perspective to examine the progress of the fledgling D.A. Burns company, his siblings, as well as himself.

In Story #10, we meet Patty Lou Burns, and see through Guy's eyes the family's prospects brightening as they assume the mantle of managers of the Waverly and LaVeda apartments.

The family's leap into entrepreneurship is covered in Story #11, written from Ada's perspective. They move in 1939 from the relative security of the Waverly into an apartment built into the second floor over a tile shop on Yale North. This became their first real rug cleaning premises.

A letter from Guy describing the November, 1939 earthquake inspired the backdrop to Story #12.

In 1940, Patty Lou's arm was caught in a wringer, causing a terrible injury for which she was hospitalized. Ada, who had been babysitting at the time, never really got over it. Story #13 tells this tale from Ada's point of view.

Story #14 is a fish story, reprinted in its entirety, that Guy told in a letter to Ebba.