It was time; the plan was set and I needed to get Suzanne outside away from the crowd and the music. No need to put our coats on because it was barely 30 degrees inside the rec. barn, even with all the stereo equipment and young warm bodies dancing; we were already in our winter gear. I waved at Roger and he took over the DJ duties while I grabbed Suzanne and headed for the door. As we stepped through the door I felt the ice crystals instantly form in my nasal passages. The snow crunched loudly under our feet as we made our way down a path to a quieter spot. The winter night was sparkling with ice crystals and the trees were all dressed in their own parkas of light fluffy snow. I knew Roger would be stopping the music for the countdown. It was New Year’s Eve 1978 and it was colder than anything I had felt up to that point in my life; It was a chilling -10 degrees as the sound of Dire Straights, Sultans of Swing pounded in the crackling night air. The music stopped and I drew in a breath. My lips tingled as ice crystals formed on the tips of my mustache and the edges of my teeth. I looked at Suzanne as she looked back, slightly puzzled and a bit irritated by having to stand in a random frigid storefront doorway. We stood face to face, our foggy breaths dancing together in the sparkling air. I had already gone over all of the prerequisites with her; where we would live, a budget plan, a roadmap for the future with diagrams and ledger sheets, so I was sure I knew what her answer would be. As the countdown began… I realized I was asking her to marry a guy who was partially supporting his way through college as a partner in a mobile disco business; what could go wrong?
The mobile disco, which was known as “Irving Enterprises”, was something my friend Roger had been doing since high school. He started by carting his home stereo from place to place, working out various methods of making home turntables mix out segues between songs. Out of high school Roger decided to follow his girlfriend Cristie to Eugene where she was attending school. Suzanne and I moved down there too, to the University Inn in 1978, to attend the University of Oregon. The UI was a dorm that catered to older and more serious students; Suzanne, who graduated high school with honors, was serious; I guess I was older. Roger lived in an apartment just a couple blocks away. There was just enough room for him, a couch, a table and two “homemade” exponential folding horn speakers; each one the size and weight of a refrigerator. There was also a crazy poster of dogs playing poker which lives in my mind, much like a faint scar.
One particular night Roger, Suzanne and I were having a little party in that little apartment, which involved Micky’s Big Mouths and lots of hand waving story telling; it was awesome. Roger spend a good amount of time telling about his mobile disco business and the intricate physics of his home made speakers, when Suzanne suddenly announced that she had to have a Dilly Bar from the Dairy Queen just up the street. Now Roger and I were not all that experienced at drinking beer but we had tons more experience than Suzanne; she had just finished her 2nd beer. As I recall, there was some discussion that the idea of walking 3 blocks to the Dairy Queen in our current condition was well, just bad! …but Suzanne announced her determination by proclaiming she didn’t need any escorts. She up and walked out the door and left Roger and I looking at each other. After about 2 minutes, being a couple of dorks drinking beer, we cooked up this idea to keep an eye on her, from a distance. We decided to spy on her from a parallel street one block north of her route in order to make sure she was OK; without tipping her off to the fact that we were making sure she was OK; point of clarification: nobody was keeping an eye on us. It didn’t take long to get to the Dairy Queen 3 blocks away. Using a shortcut, we caught up with her and found a spot behind a tree so we could survey the situation without being noticed. Soon we spotted Suzanne pacing up the street. She went to the window and placed her order, constantly giggling as she made Dilly Bar hand gestures. That’s when we noticed a security guard slowly walking up behind her. Now none of us are sure to this day why he took notice of Suzanne but he was definitely on to something. Maybe it was the hand gestures, or maybe it was the two spying, shadowy figures, behind the tree across the street? We just sat there trying not to giggle too loud while being “inconspicuous”.
About the time Suzanne got her Dilly Bar she turned to notice the shadowy man approaching her. She got spooked and immediately started down the street at a fast pace while looking back at the guard. Roger and I could see she was making pretty good time so we dashed back down our “parallel” street. We stopped at the first block and waited, looking down the block for her to cross… where was she?… “crap! she must be ahead of us”… Now in a bit of panic we decided to run to the next block and look down the next street. Just as we got there, we spotted her. She was moving quickly and was nearly back to the apartment. We had to rush in order to get back before she did. Roger and I sprinted across the dark street for an alley that lead back to the apartment. I ran like a gazelle into a dark shadow where a large oak tree blocked the street lights. I bolted behind the dim outline of a parked car toward the sidewalk. That’s when I felt the pain; sharp, tearing and instant, cutting through any benefits a few beers could provide… Then there was nothing. My left foot folded like a cheap card table against the curb and I instinctively tucked my shoulder for a summersault. Just like all those football drills in high school, I neatly rolled and came right back up running. As it turned out, the momentum from the roll caused me to take 3 very painful steps on my left ankle before I wildly hopped to a stop. Roger turned when he heard me squeaking and grunting. “what’s the matter?” he said… “I’ve twisted my ankle”… He grabbed my arm, “We gotta hurry if we’re gonna beat Suzanne to the apartment” he said, while giggling like a school kid playing hooky.
I hobbled up the stairs behind Roger and collapsed on the little couch between the two huge exponential horns. Seconds later Suzanne came bursting through the door holding her hands over her face. Sensing something was wrong we got up to help pull her hands down; Roger blurted, “Holy crap, that’s gonna be a huge black eye.” Suzanne started to cry and began her halting explanation… “I saw this security guard and he was following me.” She sobbed… “I ran… and I looked back to see if he was still following…” she paused for a halted breath… “and then when I turned to look where I was going… I ran into a sign post” she let out her breath in a string of sobs… “Do you really think it’s going to be a black eye?” she asked… I nodded my head as I turned to sit back down, but I had to hop a couple of times in order to do so. “What’s the matter with you?” Suzanne asks. “I twisted my ankle” I admitted. She looked at us both, like all smart folks do, when they’ve figured out they are in the presence of dumb asses. “We sort of followed you to the Dairy Queen” I admitted… with that there was no choice but to come clean. I detailed our stupid little plan to keep an eye on her without her knowing and she did her best to avoid blaming all the injuries on us; which was good because there was little we could do to defend ourselves. So there we sat, Roger looking at the two of us, youthfully inebriated and injured as a result. Roger suddenly starts pulling on his beard with his thumb and forefinger as if tugging for a smile; His eyes lit up. “You know, this was a lot of fun; do you want to be a partner in a mobile disco?”
That was how the mobile disco became part of our young lives. I would develop marketing materials while Roger would schedule bookings; then we drive to the venue, set up sound and lights, DJ the party, tear it all down and drive back. Suzanne came along but often would get bored watching everyone else having fun. There was however, one party we ALL enjoyed. Two to three times a year the Black Butte Ranch Recreation Department hosted youth dances in their rec. barn. They would put us up in the Rec. Room for the night, with pool tables and video games. We would also be treated to a dinner at the Black Butte Restaurant. It was a great time that included playing in the snow, and skiing at Hoo Doo Ski Bowl.
Suzanne and I had been dating for nearly 3 years which seems like a lifetime for people so young. But I knew in my heart that she was the one; and I was pretty sure she felt the same for me. I just needed the perfect setting. A snow covered setting on New Years Eve seemed perfect and a booking for Black Butte provided the perfect opportunity; I went shopping for a ring.
December 30th, 1978 the snow began to fall in Lebanon and as I mentioned before, I had a plan; I reached in my pocket to make sure it was still there. The snow was the light and fluffy kind that swirls, “oh so innocently” on the ground… which meant it was friggen cold. We needed a rig to haul our gear over the pass so we stopped by my folks place and borrowed my dad’s old 1971 yellow, two wheel drive Chevy pickup. We loaded the exponential horns and any other gear that could stand the cold under a tarp. My dad, Roy, was a very strong man that day. I could see the worry on his face as Roger, Suzanne and I piled into the front seat of that old truck; just as the ground was turning white. We were headed up highway 20, over the pass to Black Butte Ranch; Into the jaws of winter we were treading in stupid youthful abandon. This could have easily been the kind of thing you read in newspapers a couple of days later. With the heater on full, we moved steadily through the city of Sweet Home and beyond Foster Reservoir. The snow was coming down quite hard. Hard enough that we had to slow down so the windshield wipers could keep up. Just a few miles out of Sweet Home we began the slow steady climb up the pass. We made it about 5 miles past Sweet Home when we decided we needed to chain up in about 6 inches of powder snow. There was no other traffic, and we had 60 miles and 3900 feet in elevation to the pass.
In our youthful oblivion there was no panic, but there was an intense amount of concentration. The plows were not keeping up and soon our only guides were the snow markers along the road. I actually thought for just a moment, this crazy thought… “if we die up here my dad is going to kill me”. The good news and the bad news was, it was cold and the snow was light and dry. As deep as it was the snow kept blowing aside as we drove through it. It was slow going but we did keep going… all the way to Black Butte Ranch. Rather than sleep in the Rec. Room we hooked up with our friend Steve, at his girlfriend’s parent’s condo; they looked plenty surprised to see us. I guess considering how late it was, how cold it was, and the amount of snow coming down, they figured nobody in their right mind would drive up there that night. The underestimation of the ignorance of young people should have doomed mankind long ago. But hey, there we stood in that doorway grinning like it was no big deal; the headlines would have to find other examples of Darwin’s theory.
The next day Black Butte woke up under the cover of several feet of snow and a temperature reading that was so low single digits would’ve been describing it as bit warmer than it was. After a quick breakfast, Roger, Steve and I drove over to the Rec. Barn and started unloading equipment inside. It was cold in that barn but at least there was no wind chill. Roger was concerned about condensation in his equipment as it warmed up but there wasn’t much we could do about it. All the lights were strung up and the sound system was checked and rechecked. The kids started showing up and the show was on.
And so there Suzanne and I were moments before the stroke of midnight, looking into each other’s eyes. The countdown commenced and I took her gently into my arms. At midnight, this young man who could hardly know at that time, the magnitude of what he was doing, gave his love a very long kiss. The ice crystals glistened on our skin but that kiss was so warm and unencumbered of worries. As I pulled back, I smiled and wished her a Happy New Year. Then I bent down on my knee… sort of; it was too cold to put my knee all the way down OK? I reached in my pocket for the little box and held it up to her. “Will you marry me?” I asked. She smiled down at me and helped me up from the frozen ground. “Yes” she said, “I will marry you”. We kissed again for a long while in that doorway as the music and the celebrations released a rain of ice sparkles into the chilled air all around us.
As I think back on that night, I realize my luck in that particular pivot of my life. I suppose many couples can look back and say they were crazy in their youth, let alone in love. Many would say we were just kids and didn’t know any better; much of that is true. But I would tell you to this day that I cannot discount our feelings back then any more than I can now; and we did sit down and plan together beforehand; discovering we were compatible in the process. The secret to love is not based on magic spells or magical places; although if you pay attention you may see a little magic along the way if you choose to do so. The partnership that Roger and I struck up to run a crazy little mobile disco eventually faded into the past but it provided for one of the most magical settings of my life. When Suzanne and I look back on that crazy journey, we shake our heads and laugh. We were so young and so in love. No one can tell you for sure that if you pop that question, live your life and do your best, that you’ll remain partners for life. All I can tell you for sure is that on that very cold New Year, two teenagers braved a mobile disco adventure and made a bargain in the cold brisk air of a sparkling snowscape; I am still so very thankful, that in the midst of cheers for the New Year, she said yes.
Copyright 2014 Darrel Boyd db
For 3 years now, I’ve been posting a JibJab® video with my head pasted on the body of a character who, pretty much, axe murders a Christmas tree. It’s funny, and irreverent and all of that but it never occurred to me that I would have a reason for the least bit of guilt over it. Maybe that was just me. But this year I found myself wondering if I had finally crossed a line that demanded payback; from poor defenseless Christmas trees.
This year I had the responsibility to acquire two trees; one for our home and one for the office. I actually made a bit of a “big deal” out of the whole thing, making sure everyone saw the Christmas tree axe murder video. Instead of avoiding the U-cut farms and paying the extra dollars as I have done for so many years now, I decided to change tactics when I spotted a cute little tree farm near my home with hundreds of perfect trees dotting the slopes.
Grabbing one of the our handy little trailers from my business, I headed up the hill near my house on the Chehalem Mountains. The weather had been very damp for the past week but this day was a bit dryer, with the sun occasionally poking out from slow grey clouds. As I pulled up in front of the big farm house I was greeted by two dogs. One was a big old golden lab who took one sniff of me, licked my hand, and then went back to his favorite spot to lay down. The other was a smaller black and white terrier I think; at least mostly a terrier. He ran around primarily on three legs, occasionally putting a leg he favored down every so often. He was also wearing a bright orange vest which lead me to some conclusions as to why he had a gimpy leg and therefore an orange safety vest. I would call him “safety dog”.
There was a big sign that said “Honk”, which I was about to do, but a nice older gentleman appeared at the front door and said “Howdy”. I explained that I was looking for two nice noble trees to which he responded “I’ve got nobles up here and I’ve got nobles down there”. After that he explained the rates and asked me if I needed a saw; “You want the big saw or the little saw?”… “Why I’ll take the big saw” I replied. He then explained that after I cut my trees I could then drive them around his big circular drive to the barn where someone will help me shake the tree out. I looked across the drive and up the hill at all the perfect little noble trees and thought “this will be a piece of cake”. The old man disappeared behind his front door, never to be seen again.
After parking my SUV and trailer I started walking up the hill. I needed a 6 foot tree for my house and a 7 to 8 foot tree for the office. That hillside seemed to have hundreds of trees that fit the bill. As I started up the hill I noticed the mud. As I walked I was quickly lead to the realization of my “first” strategic error; I was not dressed for this; not even close. I slipped a few times as I climbed the hill, sizing up the trees. Mud was caking up on my shoes. I realized then, that I needed to stop being so picky and get on with the job. So I looked over to my left and picked the first 7 footer I saw. This one seemed good for the house.
I knew it was going to be a bit challenging to bend over, without putting a knee in the mud to cut this tree down, but that’s what I attempted to do. This brought me to my second strategic error; I did not bring my own saw. The saw that was given to me was big; and dull! So dull that after about 10 strokes of the saw I realized that I may be having a stroke myself. It gummed up and would not slide; when it did, it didn’t seem to remotely cut anything. I put a knee of my good slacks into the mud. Bending over to look under the impossibly low branches I found I couldn’t even see the trunk, let alone how far the saw was into it. Then just as I started on a second round of cutting, the gimpy little “safety dog” suddenly appeared and started licking my face. I pushed him back gently and gave him a scratch on the head. He responded by laying down and licking himself and his vest. Well at least he wasn’t licking me but he could have had the courtesy to move a little further from where my head needed to be to see the saw. So there I was with one knee of my good pants in the muck, my head caking up with needles, my hands black with mud and pitch and a “safety dog” porn show going on right next to my head. It took me 20 minutes to cut the first tree down.
As I pull the tree down to the drive, I realized I was destroying my good coat. My hands were covered in mud and pitch so I went over to my car to try and clean them up. That’s when I discovered my “third” strategic error; I did not bring a towel or wash cloth. So with sticky, muddy fingers I removed my coat thoroughly soiling the insides of the sleeves. By this time I was sweating and my heart was pounding like a jack hammer. My back is not good and during the course of mucking that saw back and forth, so low to the ground, I managed to pull a muscle down the right side my lower back. So far it wasn’t my sciatic nerve but I still had another tree to go. I chose one right next to the road.
It was about 7’ tall and plump; very plump. I reached in with the big dull saw and started… well sawing… and about 10 strokes in it seized up and apparently decided to become “one” with the tree. I could hardly move it; in any direction what so ever! It was at this moment I put both knees of my nice pants into the mud, so I could get a look at the trunk. Upon viewing the trunk I realized it was quite possible this little tree was older than me. The size of this trunk seemed to indicate it could be 20 feet taller than it was. Maybe that was why it was so plump?… Crap!… I seriously thought about abandoning that tree for another but I’m just too dang honest. I had already started cutting this tree so this would be the one I would take; if it didn’t kill me first. By the time I got this tree down, I was covered in mud and pitch, my pants and shoes caked in mud and my face was wet and sticky because of several visits from the “safety dog”. It took a full 45 minutes to cut this tree. The “forth” strategic error was that I failed to bring a bottle of oxygen with me.
By the time I dragged that tree to the drive I was drenched in sweat, mud and pitch; I had needles in my hat and my hair and my face looked and smelled like a doggy play toy. I pulled the car and trailer up so I could load them. I felt the muscles in my back pinch as I tipped and rolled the first tree in. Both trees were virtually the same height but the second tree with the thick trunk weighed a good 30 pounds more. I could hardly get the top up on the trailer edge; when I tried to roll the bottom over and in, my back proclaimed, in no uncertain terms, “you will so regret this tomorrow”.
I finally started the drive around the little farm to the barn, where I was hoping to find some strong young men to help me. What I found as I pulled up to the front of the barn was a very tall, very nice, blonde headed Scandinavian lady with a very thick accent. My head dropped as I realized I was not going to let this nice lady, as capable as she may have looked, lug these trees by herself. My back stabbed me in protest as we lifted the “thick trunked tree” out of the trailer. “Ooofff… oh my” she said. I agreed with a squeaky high pitched “it’s heavy”… followed by a suck of air and a whimper. We hauled the tree to a green machine with a cone shaped slot for the trunk to sit in. She set the tree trunk in the pocket and instructed me to tip the tree up. I spit needles out of my mouth as I up-righted the tree onto the machine. “Now just hold da tree right there”. She walked around to the end of the machine. That’s right, she just left me standing there balancing this tree on a small pocket platform. I could barely keep my own balance; I spread my legs apart to brace myself while the tree seemed to look for ways to escape. “Okayeee, this is going to goooo, up and down” she yelled… and then she turned it on. The world instantly started shaking up and down and my vision blurred. The rain of needles, mud and spider nests was quite frankly… RELENTLESS! A stream of tears from my eyes were diverted unnaturally by needles sticking to my face; where “safety dog” had licked me earlier. When the nice Scandinavian lady finally switched it off the world went quiet except, for the sound of a few needles yet to hit the ground… and my spitting. The second tree was lighter and therefore a bit easier to tip up on the machine but again, the nice Scandinavian lady left me there holding the tree… “Ready?”. I hung my head down whimpered softly… “Okayeeee”.
After finally getting the two trees measured and loaded back into the trailer I gave the nice Scandinavian lady her money and she gave me two tree bags. They looked a lot like body bags and by this time I was highly tempted to climb into one so the nice Scandinavian lady could properly dispose of me. I finally began my drive home. My quick trip to the tree farm took nearly two hours and 10 years off my life. My wife will most likely burn my cloths and I’m certain my back may cost me a doctor visit or two. It occurred to me that revenge is none too sweet for the likes of a gloating Christmas tree axe murderer like me.
© 2014, Darrel Boyd
Hello Co-op Friends and Family!
Saturday November 8 is our day to “Put the Garden to Bed,” and we invite everyone who has a little time to slog through the rain and mud to come for the final garden day for the year. Soup served at noon or 1; bring pot luck dishes if you’d like. Start time will be 9am. We will be pulling up vines, composting, pulling weeds, covering humps with burlap, trimming out the marionberries, and in general making the whole wet earth cozy for the winter.
Sometimes it’s kind of fun in a weird sort of way. Leave your dress shoes behind!!
Hope you had a fun Halloween celebration – we did!
Hello fellow fearless farmers!
Thanks to all who showed up Saturday to help weed the jungle! Tracey, Clare, Dave, Ray, Becki, Carla, Teresa, Allen, Christian – It is beautiful now, and bountiful with lots of tomatoes, cukes, peppers, herbs galore. The tomatoes are ripening and will be ready in a few days again, so feel free to come pick this weekend! This month will continue to see tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, herbs, chard, kale, zucchini, some leeks, dill, lavendar, basil, thyme… The plums should be ready soon – give them until the weekend, and the pears as well. Remember, pears need to sit in the fridge for a week or two, and then bring them out on the counter to ripen completely for another couple of days. The red pears are looking pretty good. If the little tiny spots are brown – the pear is ready. Apples won’t be ready in the orchard for a few more weeks, even some into late October.
Happy harvest! Next official work party won’t be until we put the “baby to bed” in November. Brrrrr….
Hello Co-op family and friends!
I was out in our garden-jungle yesterday, and made a startling discovery; oh my we are swamped with a row of cucumbers! If you’d like some for pickling or eating – they are ready right now! Some are large and very good for spears, salads, pickles, yum! The smaller ones are delicious. We also have:
- Plums – yellow!
- Herbs – lavendar, BASIL!, DILL! cilantro, thyme, parsley,
- Peppers -
- Tomatoes! are getting there – a few are turning.
- KALE! Kale, kale… I boil it in salt water for 2 minutes, drain, cool and use with a variety of salad ingredients & olive oil, balsamic vinegar– delicious!
- carrots, beets, onions,
- Look for beans in the pumpkin patch – it may suck you in, as they rate of growth is stunning in the middle of the patch! It’s ALIVE!
Have Fun looking.
I’ll be at the house tomorrow until 2pm. If you come to the house, and we’re not here, please make sure you are aware of Bell the Black Beast and keep all gates closed so she doesn’t wander away.
See you soon!
So here I was, in my upstairs office, typing away at my computer with the window open; the chatter of the sprinklers outside syncing nicely with clatter of my keyboard. A cool breeze was slowly clearing the thick warm summer air from inside the house.
That’s when I heard the dog barking and making a general ruckus to go outside. Then I heard Suzanne, pulling the sliding screen door open, followed by Bell’s big ol paws scrambling across the deck. “Oh Shit!” she cried out as Bell raced across our property, barking and growling like a crazed bear.
“Bell NO!… Bell come… NO… Bell… Leave IT… Bell Come…” and well you get the idea.
Now one thing about Suzanne is that she rarely cusses… ever. So I figured she must be fairly concerned; about something. But being the “Mr. Greenjeans” type as I’ve been called; instead of jumping up to see what was the matter I surmised that the problem was this… Suzanne threw the ball for Bell and suddenly remembered the sprinkler was on. I figured the ball headed straight down the hill and Bell was going to get all muddy and wet. You see, my wife spent the better part of the day getting the house all clean and pretty. That usually means Bell and I are brow beat for 3 days, just for doing the things we like to do… without cleaning our feet first.
I smiled in satisfaction at the mental vision of my deductions…
When Suzanne finally got Bell back to the house she praised her for coming when she called. She had to call like a crazy wacked out 50 times but the dog did finally come to her.
That’s when she yelled at me from down stairs… “Honey, get down here now”. Ok, now I wasn’t so pleased with myself. I looked at my feet; my shoes weren’t on; Ok that’s good”. I rushed down the stairs and followed her as she tried to keep one hand on Bell’s collar. “What’s going on?” I asked… Suzanne pointed down the hill where our sprinkler was running. It was twilight so it was a little are to see… “SKUNKS” she said pointing… “Like 30 of ‘em”… The dog barked in apparent agreement.
As I stepped out onto the deck I could see the outline of critters seemingly frolicking in the sprinkler. They weren’t doing the lumbering, sneaky, this way, that way motions of a skunk. They were darting and dashing like kittens… bunnies… puppies! They were skunk kits. There wasn’t 30 of them but there was at least 8 of the little “Le Pews”; and they were as cute as could be as they scampered back to mom; who was hiding in the blackberry vines ready to take out a big goofy dog at a moment’s notice.
Problem is, as cute as they are, they all have those anal arsenals that pop out their butts like those guns on the “Death Star”; they can point them in any direction and shoot their foul juices in a focused beam (like any good laser) or take out very large and/or multiple targets with a wide ranging cloud of stinking funk; I know this; I watched Nature channel.
So as I was typing this story, Suzanne looks at me like I should do something. I know, I know, I’m concerned too. The thought of scrubbing Bell for hours in peroxide and baking soda is NOT appealing to me what so ever. When we first moved to this beautiful place, I was no gopher trapper either but I figured that out. But then a cool breeze gently pressed the blinds inward, replacing the thick warm air with a cool tinge of skunk funk.
I look up from my keyboard… “Nope!… I don’t do skunks.”
Our good friend and Bozo Brother, Tom Largy produced this video in tribute to our little farm. It’s a wonderful thing.
You could hardly see him in time; that old man with his hands grasped behind his back; head down, concentrating on that center line of the road; A belly full of beer and whiskey blurring his failing eyesight. The road from his favorite bar in Toledo to his float house was pretty straight after that first quarter mile of curves and sliding hillsides. But there were no curb lines to follow on the skinny gravel shoulder; there was only the centerline. Sometimes he would see headlights well in advance and get to the side of the road. Other times he would be as startled as the driver swerving to avoid his shabby outline in the night. Most drivers from the area knew to watch for him but over the years he was grazed by more than a few cars. Nearly every day he would slowly plod for 2 miles each way, in his shabby dark jacket and “newsboy” hat. As a little boy I had occasionally passed him on the road. He would look at me with those deep, tired eyes, in refuge behind wooly grey eyebrows. His grey frizzy beard extending down to his belly would hide any facial expressions; but sometimes I thought I could see a smile. I was shy and unsure what to do; looking up I would meekly smile and say “hi” before continuing on my way.
Pete lived in a “float house” across the road from my grandparent’s place. It was essentially a single room shack built on a platform above two very large logs on the edge of the river. Most of the time it rested on the grassy tide flat but every now and then, a high tide would come in and float it; a rickety walkway from the road to his front door would always creak in protest. The little paint there was had long since rotted away and some boards were hanging precariously by a nail or two. The house was weather beaten and mysteriously shabby, like the man who occupied it.
Life on the Yaquina involved a lot of walking for me too. My grandparents lived just down the road from us and I was often sent back and forth to fetch various things. Pretty much from the time I was 7, I was allowed to make the walk along Yaquina Bay Road. I was expected to be careful and for the most part I was. Then, when I was about 8, the neighbor’s house between our place and my grandparents caught fire and burned to the ground. Soon after, Jack the owner, put the place up for sale and my folks bought it. Now grandpa and grandma were truly our neighbors. This also provided a route to my grandparents’ house that did not involve the road; we were encouraged to use it.
You would think that a young boy with this much independence would be scrappy and adventurous; the opposite was true. My father was not an easy man to live with; he was not a drinker but his temper was unpredictable and fierce. He believed in old school punishment and as it turned out, he wasn’t very good at administering it. Lessons are lost at a certain threshold of pain, fear or indignity. When my folks split up my grandfather and uncles stepped in as male role models. This transition was rough and utter confusion was my constant companion. My world of grownups was busy taking sides, spouting expectations and layering disapproval on me with their indignant expressions.
One particular stormy night in February I was sitting in my grandparent’s living room watching TV. I was oblivious to the adult conversation but my ears perked up when I heard the phrase “…send Darrel for it”. I have no memory of what I was supposed to fetch that night. All I can recall is that my mom gave me my coat, a flashlight and told me to be careful. My grandpa and my uncles were all in the living room giving me the “you’re not scared are ya boy?” look. I sucked up my fragile 9 year old courage, headed out the door and down the stairs.
The wind whipping the trees was all I could hear. The rain was heavy yet the wind was blowing it sideways like shooting stars across the beam of my flashlight. I proceeded carefully down the wet steps and through the front gate. My hoody raincoat kept me dry until the occasional wind gust would flip off the hood; I could feel the rain soaking into my collar and down my shirt underneath. Flipping my hood back on I tightened the chin string in an effort to keep it on. I wouldn’t be taking the path through our property under the bending trees; not in this windy weather. I elected to walk the road, away from the potential falling tree limbs. If a car should come I will have plenty of warning from the headlights to get well off the road. I pointed my head down and started walking.
The wind was driving water in a relentless stampede, pressing the incoming tide up the Yaquina river as I approached the weathered, grappling outline of ol’ Pete’s float house. I could see the house was floating; straining and smacking against the moorings as the wind and tide tried to push everything up river. The walkway squeaked and groaned against its anchor posts on the roadway. I could hear the waves breaking against the shoreline and the bottom of the float house but I couldn’t see much beyond the rain in the flashlight beam. Loose boards were clattering like the bones of the dead and I began to feel a growing sense of trepidation. Quickly, I pointed my flashlight up the road, put my head back down and continued walking.
That’s when I heard it. It was a low, quiet, groan that was barely, just barely, perceptible over the clatter in the storm. I stopped and waved my flashlight back and forth. All I could see was rain. I wanted to run but something was telling me to wait; and listen. A wild gust of wind popped my hood off and the rain commenced soaking my head and shirt again. As I reached to pull it back on, I heard it again; a moan swirling within the rain. But this time it was much clearer because my hood was off; the noise was coming from behind me. I moved back down the road across from the float house, the beam of my light flailing about, seeking something but drowning in the effort. Another slow but louder groan yanked my flashlight toward our field just off the road across from the float house. I could barely make out the blackberry bushes that covered the fence just 20 feet away. The wind pelted the rain against the side of my face as I strained to see what was there. My heart was racing and every bone in my body was telling me to get out of there, but I didn’t; for some reason I could not run. A final groan tugged at my light and I snapped it downward where a creek from our property met up with the storm ditch along the road. My heart jumped in my throat. Down the steep bank below, in that convergence of water, blackberry vines and tall grass was Ol’ Pete. Even though I heard the groans he looked like he should be dead. He was lying flat on his back in shallow water, his beard floating haphazardly round his pale white face; he was so frightened; just a few inches more water and he would drown.
I struggled to get control of my breathing and I started down into the ditch, but as I slipped down toward the water I realized I needed to get help. “I’ll be back Pete” I yelled as I scratched my way back up to the road. Now I would run; back through the gate and up the muddy steps to my grandpa’s house. As I burst into the living room all the adults looked pretty startled when I began shouting; there was just the briefest moment of silence as they tried to process the message; the image of a soaked and frightened little boy shouting “quick, Ol’ Pete’s in a ditch and I think he’s gonna drown”. Grandpa quickly directed my uncle Roy and LeRoy to “get down there” with me. Grandpa was still a strong man but he needed a bit more time to get his gear on. As my uncles followed me out the door and down the steps I kept going on about how I heard the groans and how Ol’ Pete looked like he was dead; my heart now pounding louder than the clattering boards and lashing trees in the wind. I lead them to the spot and flashed my light into the ditch where Pete was; he groaned in response to the light but the rain pelted his old face, forcing him to close his eyes again. My uncles cursed at the steepness of the ditch as they scooted down toward him. They each grabbed a shoulder and began to lift him out. Pete was stiff as a board and pushing him up the embankment was near impossible as he could not bring himself to lean forward into the slope. As they got him close to the top my grandpa hurried up the road to grab him by the shirt collar. I grabbed his soaking wet coat and pulled too. Finally we all crested the ditch onto the side of the road. Pete mumbled something but nobody could tell what he was trying to say. We guided his cold, wet, old body across the road to his creaking old walkway and to his front door. He kept trying to talk but there was no understanding him. Grandpa just shook his head. “He’s too f&%ken cold and drunk! He must have got a ride home and fell backward into the ditch when he was dropped off”. Grandpa reached around one of the old boards next to the door and found the key. We lead him into his house, got his wet clothes off and into bed. “Is he gonna be alright grandpa?” I chirped… Grandpa put his hand on my shoulder and gave me a smile.. “He’ll be fine” he said, “He’s awful lucky you found him” With that grandpa took his big hand and roughed up my hair as he turned to put on some coffee. As my uncles and I walked back to my grandparent’s house, they laughed and joked about how hard it was to push Ol’ Pete up the bank with his back all stiff like it was. They were also looking at me and talking to me in a different way.
It was weeks later before I saw Pete on the road again. I was really glad to see he was Ok. As we approached each other I looked up at his old face. This time his eyes were wide open and he had an obvious smile on his face. He stopped and turned to me on the road; he took one of his old, soft, wrinkled hands from behind his back and placed it gently on my head, looking me in the eye. “You feeling better Pete?”… Pete just smiled and chuckled a little. He patted my head, turned and continued walking. That was the last time I ever saw him.
Years later I would wonder if we should have taken him to the hospital to check him for hypothermia, but my grandpa and uncles were from an older school and must have thought he would be fine. But grandpa did go down several times over a couple days to check on him. Over time, when this story would come up, my mom would often say I probably saved Ol’ Pete’s life that night. It’s funny how I’ve never really thought of it that way. I was as frightened as a little boy could be and I didn’t feel much like a hero. But it is strange to think about how many things had to happen in order for me to find him down there. Like the item that suddenly needed fetching from my folks house; my decision to take the road instead of the trail; what caused me to resist the urge to run when I was frightened beyond belief; the wind blowing my hood off at the right moment so I could hear where the sounds were coming from. I don’t think I was the hero in this instance; there were other forces at work.
I think Ol’ Pete finally passed away just a few years later after my mom moved us out to the Willamette valley in 1971. I often wondered; if I really did save his life that night, was it the life of a lonely alcoholic leading an existence of little meaning or purpose; or a life that was like a self-imposed march through purgatory for past sins and indiscretions? I didn’t realize how much I needed to try and understand. But then one day, nearly 40 years later, my mom was showing me some old newspaper clippings from Toledo when I happened upon a story about a war veteran. I realized it was about Ol’ Pete. It outlined how he served with distinction in WWI and was well known in the town of Toledo. He also took part in a mob that ran Japanese families out of Toledo in 1925 but reportedly worked later to make amends. It didn’t say much about how he ended up alone in a float house on the Yaquina bay, dedicated to his daily trip by foot, but it was clear he lived a life much deeper and complex than any of us realized. Maybe my grandpa knew; which might explain why he continued to look after Pete despite his loathing of anyone who drank to excess. Life is unpredictable and complicated; our perceptions about people, or judgments of their past, is often, narrowly defined by our own experiences.
As for me, it took 40 years to learn the lesson of that night. When I think of Pete now I prefer to imagine there was always a smile beneath that beard during those greetings. He wanted to live alone, making that walk nearly every day. His reasons for this life were his own and when he patted my head that day, it was clear he was happy for the chance to continue living it for just a bit longer. As for me, it would be convenient to say the experience of that stormy night helped me discover the secret to being a man but in truth, it was just one small step in my own complex journey. Such is life; a series of steps defined by the steps you took before and often, we don’t get to choose the path; many times we make bad choices; and we seem doomed to not fully understand events until enough distance is put between them; if we are to ever understand them at all. How we choose to deal with that is a personal thing. Pete was determined to dedicate his life to that daily walk and he was clearly happy with that. And during his walks, hands clasp behind his back, he would occasionally see a little boy and smile; and the little boy would smile back.
Copyright © 2014 Darrel Boyd
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