Sticking with Tahoe
Sitting in the middle of her living room, with Catholic figures looking over her, Sarah Catherine “Katie” Morris, 95, struggled to tell her more than 60-year history on the South Shore.
She sat, hunched forward, next to a table where several pill bottles, packaged syringes and a glass of strawberry milk were. She struggled with her words, repeatedly stopped to remember what she was trying to say and, once she got going, her words were uttered slowly and it took a while to deliver her message.
When she finally said what she wanted to say, it was usually clever and, for the most part, focused.
Among the rapid and disorienting nature of the interview, trying to keep up with the conversation and battling pain and her desire to get some rest, her sense of humor never faded.
“I’m not bragging,” she said with a timid laugh, “but I’m a likeable person.”
Among the flashes of wit, moments of razor sharp memory and a tiring battle with several health issues, also lives the story of a woman who has lived in the area even before South Lake Tahoe was a concept.
With the help of her son Bruce Morris, Katie remembered a story that dates back to 1952, when she was in her early 30s.
Katie, her husband and their four children moved to Tahoe and bought a home for $13,000 where was then the unincorporated town of Al Tahoe, on Sonoma Avenue. It would be roughly another 13 years before South Lake Tahoe would become a city.
The area was split into five different towns and only about 300 people lived here permanently, Bruce said.
Katie worked at the then one-story Harvey’s Resort Hotel, where, she remembers, she regularly carried several pounds of coins in an apron.
It was there where one of her most memorable days in Tahoe took shape. One day, in the middle of her shift, she met performer Wayne Newton and his brother Jerry Newton. Wayne was about 16 years old at the time.
“I was happy to meet them and be that close to them,” Katie said. “I thought they were nice boys.”
Katie cooked a roast with potatoes and carrots. Part of the condition to receive the meal, Katie said, was that they bring their guitars. After they finished their meal, Wayne, Jerry and Katie grabbed their guitars and played a few songs sitting around the fireplace.
“It was real nice and friendly,” she said.
During those early-Tahoe days, and loyal to her faith, she remembers attending the Saint Theresa Church by the lake in the area of Park Avenue.
“It wasn’t a church,” Bruce said. “They had four poles, and they had canvas over the polls and benches, and that’s where you sat when Father Grace gave services.”
Katie also remembered attending Father Henry’s services.
Katie and the family also experienced some of the toughest snowstorms in the past half-century.
In 1960 there was a series of snowstorms that completely covered their home, Bruce said.
In the aftermath of the storms, Bruce remembers, his father, Bill Morris, tied a rope around his and his brother’s waists and helped them climb up to the roof, where helicopters would fly by and drop food and supplies.
“You couldn’t get out of your house,” Bruce said.
“Winters are weird (now) because we don’t have any snow. Back then we had more snow than we wanted,” he said.
Added to the sprinkles of good humor in the conversation, Katie spoke about one of the effects of living in Tahoe that most Tahoe residents have encountered, hosting family and friends from out of town.
“One morning – it was on a weekend, that’s when people came up here – I made breakfast for 31 people!” she said. “Now, by then, I was beginning to dislike people.”
Still, as she has seen South Lake Tahoe grow around her mobile home in the area of lake Tahoe Boulevard and Lodi Avenue – where she has lived for since 1970 – into what, in some parts of town resembles a city, she said the evolution has been positive.
“You don’t think there’s too many people here now?” Bruce asked Katie.
“Only when I get on the highway,” she laughed.
Katie took a pause and thought a little about her home.
“I fell in love with the place,” she said.
“It makes me feel, in here,” she put her hand on her chest, “like I made the best choice.”
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