Today’s post is not about places as much as it is about the people I talked to in those places. I left Pendleton today about noonish and drove along the Columbia Gorge on I-84 toward Portland. It was dusty, terribly windy (gusts expected up to 70 mph, I heard), and dramatically beautiful once the dust cleared (the wind did not abate). My friend, Vivian, called the Columbia, “The Mighty Mother River,” and she is indeed. She is majestic, and today, for the first twenty miles the interstate traveled along her banks, I couldn’t see her, the dust was so thick. When I finally did see her, she was covered in white-caps. It made me think of goose-pimples.
But before I left Pendleton, I visited the Pendleton Woolen Mill and Store, and I strolled around on Main Street, Pendleton. The mill and store is beautiful, so many lovely things, but I couldn’t afford most of them. I did find a washable pure wool blanket, a second, with a small stain that I am sure I can get out, for 40% off. I bought it for the guest room, which is always cold. It’s a creamy natural wool, and I’m so pleased with my purchase.
I struck up a conversation with the clerk who helped me pick out the blanket. (If you followed this blog during the trip to Great Britain, you know I like talking to people.)
Lacie grew up in Pendleton, left, and came back. She told me a story about her grandmother and grandfather’s farm, how it was left to the wrong side of the family, and now is not being utilized as Lacie would like, if it had come to her. She told me about the way her grandmother and grandfather grew up, and where they went to school, and where her father went to school. I asked a lot of questions, and she answered every single one as best she could. She was utterly charming and helpful, and I enjoyed meeting her so very much. She also sent me down to the Heritage Center Museum to see the Byrd school. This was the school her grandmother attended out near Pilot Rock. The building has been moved to the Heritage Center and set up with chalkboard, teacher’s desk, wood stove, and pupils’ desks as is would have been when it was in use. I loved seeing it. The interior picture was shot through the grimy glass of the door’s window; that’s why it’s so blurry. Thanks to Lacie for being so patient with me and all my questions.
From the Heritage Center, I walked down Main Street. In the first block, I saw an older gentleman leaning against a post in front of a small store front. “Good morning,” he said, and I stopped and said hello. We exchanged pleasantries, and he ended up leading me into his store, called George’s Handmade Boots and Shoe Repair, and showing me his workshop. George Ziermann is an old-school craftsman. He makes hand-made-to-measure boots and shoes. Every boot and shoe is made on a last, and when George measures your feet, he measures them both, finds the last closest to your measurements, and then alters the last to fit your feet. Thus, your boots or shoes will fit you perfectly. George told me that his shop used to be in Baker City, Oregon, but when the bootmaker in Pendleton died, George bought out his stock and continued making a Pendleton boot on the pattern that had been used in that area for many, many years. When the Chamber of Commerce found out that George was still making the Pendleton boot, only in Baker City, they asked him to move to Pendleton. He did, and has been making boots in Pendleton for three years. George doesn’t own a computer, but he let me take his picture at his work bench, and holding a pair of boots he’s working on that are partially made of basketball leather.
George is ready to retire. He does a lot of work for veterans, and he’d like to see his shop made into a workshop where he could train disabled veterans to make boots. He’s got more work than he can handle. He told me he’s so behind, he could train several apprentices at once. But what he really wants is to see the workshop somehow funded by the V.A. and self-sustaining, and turning out bootmakers who know how to make boots the way he does.
I asked George if there was a diner in town that had been there for a long time. I need one for my story. He looked at me a little oddly and said that he hardly got out of the shop enough to know what was where, but there was a little diner just down Main Street that had been there for a long time. I couldn’t miss it, he said. There was a statue of Betty Boop outside on the sidewalk.
I left George with the promise that I would talk to a grant writer friend of mine and see what I could find out about his dream of a bootmaking training workshop for veterans, and headed down to the Main Street Diner. There was Betty, and inside was a sweet young waitress named Osa. Osa told me a little bit about her life while I had an early lunch. She’d moved away to Tacoma to go to college, and ended up coming back home afterwards to get her bearings. I asked her if she’d stay in Pendleton, and she said she didn’t think she’d live out her life there, but it was a good place, with family there, to regroup. When I mentioned that George had sent me there, she said, “Oh, we love George.” George was wrong, by the way, about how long the diner had been there. But that was okay, it was perfect for my needs. Osa said that lots of locals, the old men, come in for coffee in the morning. She knows them all. That was the kind of place I was looking for.
I was planning to leave town right after lunch, but I had to find a restroom first. It turned out that I’d parked right in front of the Chamber of Commerce, and there were restrooms there. I ended up chatting with Pat Beard, Event Recruiter, about Susanville Frenches and Oregon Frenches. He told me some stories about Pete French, who built a round barn at Frenchglen, Oregon. There’s a hotel there now, Pat said, and showed me the place on the map. Pat had to go to a meeting, and just about that time, in walked the Executive Director, Gail Nelson, a charming, pretty woman who seemed happy to answer all my questions about farming in the area. She and her husband recently started growing organic wheat, after cleansing the land for three years by growing organic alfalfa on it. They also partner with the university’s ag department in growing experimental crops like quinoa. Gail was a wealth of knowledge, and I really appreciated her time.
I enjoyed my time in Pendleton very much, and I’m so glad to have met all the people I talked to during my day and a half there.
When I finally got on the road, I could see the dust cloud up ahead, and I knew it was going to be ugly driving. It was. The Columbia almost made up for the nasty driving conditions. I had decided to stop at Maryhill Museum, on the other side of the river, and to see the Stonehenge War and Peace memorial, but when I got that far along, I was so tired from holding the car on the road, and worried about it getting dark before I got to my hotel in Beaverton, that I had to forego the museum. I did, however, visit the Stonehenge memorial. I couldn’t pass that up, having been to Stonehenge itself in July.
The memorial is impressive. It was built by a man who had more money than he knew what to do with, so he collected art and displaced royals and built things like this monument to soldiers and sailors who had sacrificed their lives in war for the cause of peace.
I got a real thrill crossing the Columbia on this bridge, twice.
While I was on the north side of the river, I stopped at Maryhill State Park to find a restroom. It was so cold and windy, even the geese were grounded.
After hours of fighting the wind and dust, the glare of the setting sun on a dirty, smeared windshield, and Portland rush hour traffic, I finally made it to my hotel in Beaverton. It’s by the far the least nice of those I’ve stayed in on this trip, but at least I did not have to drive anywhere for dinner after I got settled into a room. There is a Black Bear Diner just a parking lot away from this Comfort Inn. I headed over there for dinner, and the place was so crowded, I ended up taking a seat at the counter next to an older gentleman who had placed a cap on the counter in front of him that said Korean War Veteran. The woman on his other side, about my age, greeted me, and of course we fell into conversation. Their names were Stu Edmonds and his daughter, Becky. Becky and Stu had gone out for dinner on Veteran’s Day to the Black Bear because they were running a special for veterans.
At one point, when Becky had asked me what I was doing in Pendleton, and I’d told her I was doing research for a story about a daughter and her farmer father who was getting older and not doing very well, Stu said, “Have you ever lived on a farm in Pendleton?”
And I said, “No, but when I was a little girl, I lived on a farm just a few miles south of here, in Scholls, and tomorrow I’m going there to try to find the farm.”
Stu and Becky chuckled. Becky said, “We know about Scholls. Dad’s cousin, Tom, owns the store there, Petrich’s store.”
I couldn’t believe it. Of all the people I could have sat next to, I ended up beside these friendly folks who just happen to be related to the person I’m seeking out tomorrow to hopefully tell me where the farm is. I’d plan to stop at the store and see if I could find someone who might be able to help me find the farm. “Small world,” Becky said.
“Tell Tom hello for me,” Stu said. “I haven’t seen him in a long while. But if he’s at the store, he’ll know where your farm was.”
Stu and Becky got up to leave before I was finished with my dinner. We said our goodbyes, and Stu put a hand on my shoulder. “I hope you have a good trip out to Scholls tomorrow,” he said. “It sure was nice to meet you.”
It sure was nice to meet you, Stu and Becky. You were certainly a Godsend. You lifted my spirits at the end of a very long and tiring day. God bless, and good night.