Ralph Little built his wife a log cabin in Days Creek.
But Freda Little betrayed her husband, running off with a childhood sweetheart, and he pined over her for nearly 30 years before finally winning her back.
Then, six months after their remarriage, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
These are among the stories of Ralph Little’s life told in a biography written by his nephew, Jim Little, a Navy veteran who lives in Roseburg and is the former president of the Douglas County Veterans Forum.
“Sweet and Sour Uncle” was recently published in both paperback and hardcover by Book Locker.
“I call it ‘Sweet and Sour Uncle’ because we did have sweet and sour times with him,” said Jim Little, who along with his wife Carmen Little, cared for Ralph Little as he disappeared into dementia after his wife’s death.
Ralph Little was born in 1908 and grew up on a cattle ranch in Kansas. He was the oldest boy in the family and became the man of the house after his own father left the family.
After the family lost the ranch, he moved to California and then to Douglas County, where he fell in love with a Days Creek schoolteacher named Freda White.
Freda White had traveled to Oregon at the turn of the century in a covered wagon.
As a condition of their marriage, Ralph promised he would build a house on her father Fred White’s homestead on Days Creek Cutoff Road.
In 1941, Freda and Ralph were married. At the time, World War II had started. Ralph Little wasn’t drafted due to a hernia, but the couple moved to Vancouver, Washington, where he worked in the shipyards throughout the war.
After the war, they returned to Days Creek. Ralph built that house he’d promised, a log cabin with beautiful knotty pine interiors, without a single power tool. The logs were pulled out of the wood by horses, and Fred White and Ralph Little built the house by hand.
It still stands on the property today, and pictures of it are in “Sweet and Sour Uncle.”
Ralph was one of the founders of Umpqua Bank. Along with fellow members of the Masons, he put $50 into a hat to start a bank above the Masons building in Canyonville. They were tired of going all the way to Myrtle Creek to bank, Jim Little said. Today it’s a multi-state bank.
In the early 1950s, Freda fell in love with an old childhood sweetheart. The Littles divorced and she married the other man.
Ralph pined for her for the next three decades.
“He could think of nothing but getting her back,” Jim Little said.
Ralph started a hamburger joint called Ralph’s Cafe in Days Creek. Jim Little thinks he mainly did that so he could see his ex-wife walking to work each day at the one-room Days Creek school.
Once, Ralph got into a fistfight with Freda’s husband, who is not named in the book.
The police were called.
When they went before the judge, he told Ralph he was going to fine him $25. Ralph said if he’d known that was all, he’d “have got more of my money’s worth,” Jim Little said.
Freda’s second marriage ended badly.
“What goes around comes around and Aunt Freda’s husband cheated on her,” Jim Little said. “So then they were divorced and immediately Uncle Ralph began courting her.”
Finally, after 30 years apart, the pair remarried. Ralph was 73 years old and Freda was 76.
“No more than about six months after they were married, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease,” Jim Little said.
“Very rapidly she went from using a cane to a walker to a wheelchair to completely bedridden,” he said.
So in that log house he’d built for her, Ralph Little cared for his bride for 13 more years before she died.
During that time, Jim Little, who had retired from a long Navy career, moved to Coos Bay.
After Freda died, Jim and Carmen Little began taking care of Ralph, who was sliding into dementia and had never had children.
The book describes that long, dark journey, too.
Before he developed Alzheimer’s disease, Ralph Little had been an exceptional member of the family and one who Jim Little admired.
That’s why he wrote the book, he said.
“I admired him for his honesty, his hard-working ethic. When he said something, you could count on it being true,” Little said.
As Ralph’s condition deteriorated, he began becoming a different person, Jim Little said.
One of the biggest challenges involved his insistence on driving. He had lost his license due to macular degeneration but continued to drive despite the visual impairment.
He began carrying a rifle in his car and became hostile about it.
“He said, ‘If a police officer stops me, I know how to shoot.’ That horrified me,” Jim Little said.
He would accuse family members of robbing him one day and seem normal the next.
“We dreaded hearing the phone ring because we didn’t know if it would be our happy, cheerful uncle or the rantings and ravings of a madman,” Little said.
“It’s a sad, sad, long goodbye,” he said.