Some Memories of my Uncle Doug

from Gretchen Vadnais; daughter of Dorianne Engelbart

My sister Dee and I met some people at an event a couple of years ago who knew Doug, Dave, and Dorianne Engelbart when they were young. These were all kids together and we got some stories from them about how things were back then. They were all in and out of each other’s houses and all the families knew each other.

This was the first time I really understood how hard it was for our grandmother Gladys… from the stories we heard, the Engelbarts were the family of concern for the neighborhood. These folks weren’t so aware of the Leaches across the street on Johnson Creek; who were the people we heard about the most as we were growing up. Whatever the circumstances, you never heard anything about poverty from Doug, Dave, or Dori. Their stories made their years on Johnson Creek sound like paradise; playing in the creek, milking the cow, Grandpa Mathew Munson, doing odd jobs for Mr. Leach. One thing I get from their stories is that Gladys, who could be pretty formidable, seemed blissfully unaware of danger; stories about being caught under logs in the creek for instance, or canoeing over the Willamette Falls.

They also grew up without a father. My mother was, I think, 10 years old when Carl Engelbart died… Doug and Dave were several years younger. Mr. Leach and the grandfather must have been wonderful influences. It is hard to imagine how all three children went to college but they seem to have gone as a matter of course. Gladys and Carl were both educated; so the kids weren’t, as was true of many families then, the first generation to go to college.

Here is a famous story that I heard many times: Gladys, Matthew Munson, and Dorianne slept in the house. The two boys slept in a room over the garage. One day the two brothers argued about who was the fastest at whatever came up. They decided to put an alarm clock in the middle of their bedroom and set it for an early morning hour, like, say, 2:00 am. Whoever got to the alarm clock first would be declared the fastest for all time. Dorianne overheard this plan, snuck in their room when they were asleep, took the alarm clock and set it up in the garage ceiling under the bedroom. When it went off the two boys were crashing around in the dark, trying to find the alarm clock.

When I was pretty young…maybe 6 or so, Doug and Ballard would come to visit Gladys and we would all congregate in her living room. Then, for a really big treat, Uncle Doug would show us movies of his revolutionary work. These “movies” were full screen images of text (this is what I remember) with a blinking cursor. Then the cursor would move, some text would disappear, and then wow! it would move somewhere else on the screen. Now I know, of course, that this was pretty historical, but the unutterable boredom of this to a 6 year old!

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