Judi and I will be travelling this weekend and I’d be a pathetic blogger indeed, if I didn’t take advantage of my site’s “Scheduled Publish” feature so I could harass the people of tomorrow, by blogging today.
When I was 7 years old, our family bought and moved into Grandma Mead’s house. She was a kind old lady—my stepdad Al’s maternal grandmother, for those keeping track of family things—who moved into a double-wide on a site a few hundred yards up the hill from us. The home, aside from being blandly rectangular in shape, was set in a forest that made it sparkle like a Kincaide painting, were Kincaide to paint 70-year-old gas pumps and gopher holes into his gingerbread world. Ancient myrtles dotted the landscape, and the pumps, a remnant from when the Oregon Coastal Highway moved past our home, were brocaded in vine roses. The south side of the house featured a sun room, which, despite its beauty, quickly became a utilitarian washroom with dog food, garden tools, and a winter woodpile. This room is also where you peeled of your clothes if you’d been stomping around in the poison oak that day. Grandma Mead had used stone circles to mark gardened areas (mostly trees, hydrangeas and azalea bushes) and we discovered a stone stairway that led to what used to be the filling station privy (we used it as a chicken coop, and the the hens never once complained). Our first few years, we had a small garden planted south of the house, but there was never enough sun to grow a good stand of corn or batch of tomatoes. Acres of mountainous forest rose to the east, and down to the ocean in the west. My sister, Lori, and I spent hours exploring the woods, building forts, and making trails.
We raised the occasional bummer (“orphaned,” for you uncultured, non-Oregon slobs…) lamb and once, a pig, and another time, a cow, but we didn’t have enough pasture to really have much livestock.
Grandma and Grandpa Carpenter lived in the house just south of us, Aunt Joyce in the house south of them, Uncle Rodney and Aunt Vickie across the highway. In another house lived Uncle Rick and Aunt Jan, and higher up the mountain, Uncle Rockey (a devout bachelor, at that point in his life). It was, apart from Marilyn, who owned the family’s old cabin lodges across the street, and she liked to sunbathe naked, and her dog barked all goddamn night, and she let her horses run wild to wreck the shit out of the waterline and punch hoof-sized holes in our yard (I am channeling my Dad’s words here)—a family community. The next closest neighbors were Ernie & Hazel Fritz, a mile north on the Old Highway. They were harmless: he looked like Wilfrid Brimley and talked like Festus from Gunsmoke, and she was Ernest Borgnine as painted by Salvador Dali. They were old folks with tiny smelly dogs, but we helped them out around their place anyhow.
I don’t know that it is better, or worse, or even something to be glorified, to grow up in rural Oregon. If my words tend to romanticize country living, it’s only in 25 years of hindsight; it’s not particularly romantic. It’s different, but for the most part, kids in town are a lot like kids in the country. We didn’t hear sirens of police cars, and the noon whistle at the fire department like they did in Gold Beach, but the log trucks started rolling through early in the morning and you’d hear them all day long. In fact, you could hear a car coming from a mile or so off, and we’d sometimes walk over to the window to see who was bothering to use our road. Feeding the chickens, and getting knocked on your butt by a belligerent male sheep, and saving table scraps to slop the hog (I hate that word, slop) are just part of what happens every day. I coveted Coos Bay because they had a McDonald’s, while we had a freezer full of paper-wrapped beef, deer, elk and bear, and downstairs pantry full of home-canned salmon. I liked going to the park in Gold Beach because they had proper kid equipment: a slide and a merry-go-round and swings; my friend Scott and I took a maul to an abandoned car (Lori and I used the hood of that same car to slide down the mountain at breakneck speeds). We invented a game called “ride your bike as fast as you can while your sibling throws Douglas fir cones at you”; they had Little League in town. Incidentally, the game Lori and I invented? That game can mess you up. If you like broken bones and deep-skin lacerations, I highly recommend it.
Maybe I’d like to revise my opinion. Maybe it was kinda special.