Off beat: On Officers Row, an enlisted man was her Prince Charming

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When we recently asked readers to share their Vancouver Barracks memories, we didn’t expect a Cinderella story.

But that was how Louise Van Brocklin described her stint working as a maid on Officers Row in 1937 and 1939.

Her husband was an Army private making $21 a month, and “There were very few jobs available for young unskilled women just out of high school,” she wrote.

But wives of enlisted men could get live-in jobs in officers’ homes. She went to work for a lieutenant colonel in his 60s and his 30-year-old wife.

While Van Brocklin assured them that she was an experienced housekeeper, “It soon became quite evident that my chores on the farm where I grew up had not prepared me for upkeep of the colonel’s home on Officers Row,” she wrote.

Later, in a conversation at her daughter’s Vancouver Heights home, she recalled going from the farm to Officers Row.

At home, “A broom was about it,” she said. “We didn’t have carpets. I had never used a vacuum cleaner.”

The colonel’s wife wasn’t reluctant about scolding the young maid, which occasionally left Van Brocklin in tears.

Van Brocklin helped cook dinner, served the family in the dining room, and then sat down in the kitchen to her own meal. But the colonel’s wife had a buzzer at her feet to summon the maid during dinner.

“I never really got a decent meal because she always had her foot on that buzzer,” Van Brocklin, 93, said.

The job had fringe benefits, however.

“I began to appreciate this magnificent old home with its high ceilings, highly polished oak floors and dark woodwork that required endless dusting,” she wrote. “I had never seen such beautiful old furniture and lovely oriental carpets. I loved working to the sounds of reveille and soldiers marching.”

Belle of the ball

Best of all was the lady of the house’s walk-in closet: “You never saw so many gowns in your life!”

When the couple left town each weekend, Van Brocklin picked out a gown. Then she and her husband went to the dance at the enlisted men’s club.

“I was certain I was the most elegantly dressed girl on the floor,” she wrote. “My husband was an excellent dancer and I felt wonderful and beautiful as I whirled around the dance floor — rather like Cinderella.”

A pink gown with a full skirt was her favorite, Van Brocklin said a few days ago.

“On the dance floor, I’d whirl and whirl,” she said with a smile. “My mind would wander. I wasn’t a maid any more.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.