This is a post about didn’ts. But don’t get the wrong idea. It’s not a negative thing at all. While this trip has been primarily about research for some writing I’m doing, it’s also been about having thinking time away from my normal routines and work. It’s been about reflection, something I think we do too little of, and I’d been feeling the lack, lately. So when I write about the things I didn’t do, or the things that didn’t happen, it’s a way of taking stock of what did happen. And I’m going to work backwards with this post, because I believe things happen, or don’t, for a reason.
I didn’t make it to Bandon before dark, like I’d planned. I’ve been planning to make it to my hotels by dark because I am in the early stages of macular degeneration, and when it gets dark, headlights, streetlights, reflectors down the middle of the road and on the verges, highway signs that reflect my headlights—all this light causes a severe halo effect that is very uncomfortable. Not just uncomfortable, it’s hard to see. My eyes just don’t process all that light when it’s dark. Weird. But I did make it to Bandon before it started to do more than sprinkle, and after I unloaded my car, I was barely even damp. And although I didn’t get to see the ocean on the way in, I heard it. And I expect to sleep well tonight, with that sound an undertone in my sleep.
I didn’t make it to Bandon before dark because I didn’t make it to Tara’s house before dark. I knew when I hit Roseburg at 4 o’clock that I would barely make it to Myrtle Point before dark. Tara’s house is 20 miles down a narrow (but paved) lane that is pretty scary at times when a big old truck is coming around the corner at you halfway over the line on your side, and you’ve got nowhere to go except over the side of the road. But I didn’t go over the side of the road, and I found Tara’s house, even in the dark, because she gives really good directions. It was too bad that I wasn’t able to see her place, because she and her husband, Joel, have big plans for growth that I’m really interested in, and I wanted to see and hear all about it, but it was too dark. I’d planned to get there at two or so in the afternoon, but if I had arrived when I’d hoped to, I’ve have missed meeting Joseph, Tara and Joel’s son. (The other two boys, Aaron and Isaac, weren’t home.) Joseph is a very enterprising and very entertaining young man. He helped carry in a box of home-canned goods I wanted Tara to choose from, and he immediately started investigating the contents of the box. Tara says Joseph is something of gourmand and has the makings of a gourmet cook. So Joseph and I discussed pretty much everything that was in the box, and he chose some things to try. And then he proceeded to fill up the empty spaces in the box with things his mother had canned. Some of them, he’d even helped with.
Because I was so late, Tara ended up feeding me dinner. And boy, am I not sorry about that. It was delicious. She’d roasted Brussel sprouts with almonds, and also roasted some butternut squash (with basil) from the garden, and Joel had grilled some steaks. Oh, did that homemade food taste good after what I’ve been eating in restaurants this past week! And Tara just had a knee replacement about 3 weeks ago. Or was it that long? I would have felt guilty that she’d cooked for me, except that it all tasted so good and I was so full, there wasn’t any room for guilt. I had to leave shortly after dinner, because I still had an hour or so of driving, over the river and mountains and through the woods, in the dark, to get to Bandon. I wish I could have stayed longer. But now to the reason I was late getting to Tara’s house in Dora.
I left Beaverton later than I’d planned because I had to get some new windshield wipers put on my car. (I discovered on I-84 yesterday when I tried to clean the dust off with my windshield washer and wipers, that my wipers were like Lay’s potato chips with ridges. Rain-X wiper blades just don’t hold up in the heat and cold.) So to Napa I went, where a young woman put the blades on for me and told me where to find the road I needed to head out to Scholls. Scholls, if you’ve been following along, is where the farm was where my family lived and worked when I was seven years old.
It was a beautiful drive, only about 15 minutes or so from Beaverton, and as I got out of the suburbs and into agricultural land, I started to get excited. The landscape was looking vaguely familiar. And all of a sudden, there it was. No, not the farm. Here’s another didn’t. I didn’t find the farm, and I’ll tell you why in a minute. I didn’t find the farm, but I found the school I attended during that year we lived in Scholls. It’s called Groner Elementary School, and I recognized it right away, although until I saw it, I couldn’t recall what it looked like. It was in this school, in a second-grade classroom, that I heard the news that President Kennedy had been shot. Someone brought a radio in for the teacher, and we sat at our little desks and listened all day to the news. I remember that my teacher was crying, and when we went outside for recess that day, all the female teachers were crying. I remember feeling very worried, very unsure about what was going to happen to us, to all the children and our families, because our president had been assassinated. I learned a new word that day.
I parked my car at the school and went into the office. I talked to the school secretary (only they don’t call them that any more), and told her my story. She said yes, if I lived in or near Scholls, I’d have gone to Groner Elementary. I said, “The school hasn’t changed much, has it? I recognized it right away.” And she said no, it hadn’t. I took some pictures, and then went on across the new bridge (and I knew it wasn’t the old bridge, which had replaced the original ferry) to Petrich’s store.
Tom Petrich wasn’t there, but I talked to Pat and Linda, who were working in the store. They both did their best to help me with suggestions of where I might look for the farm (the store is at a crossroads, so there were three possible directions to start with), and Pat even walked out with me to the parking lot and pointed out some likely places. We decided I should head down the Scholls Ferry-Sherwood road, and he told me about a dirt road on the third curve that might lead to where the farm might have been.
I headed off down the road to Sherwood, and as soon as I hit that first curve, I knew where I was. I knew that land, the curve of the road, the way it straightened out and then curved again a little farther down.
But the only drive that led up to the left where the old farm house should have sat was paved, not gravel, and there was no sign of the house.
The land has all been planted in fir trees to provide privacy for the homes that have been built in the fifty years since I lived there. I have no evidence other than memory and my gut to tell me that was the place, but both of them shouted “Yes!” as soon as I saw it. And while I drove around for another hour, looking for other possible sites, none of them said “This is it,” like SW Scholls Drive did. I drove back by it again, and took more pictures. And I think that was the place, although back then, the road up to the farm had no name.
I went back to the store, and Tom Petrich was there. I talked to him for a while, and he couldn’t remember how long the homes and the seed and feed business on SW Scholls Drive had been there. It’s been 51 years since I lived there, and 50 years since his family bought the store. At lot can change in 50 years in the Pacific Northwest. Fir trees grow fast, as do alders and brush. The fields that were planted in green beans back then are planted in berry bushes and fruit trees now. But what doesn’t change is the curve of the road and river and the slope and lay of the land. So while I didn’t find the farm itself, I’m pretty sure I found the place where it once was. And I think I found the church we attended with Mama when we lived there.
I found something else, too. I found out why finding the farm was so important to me. I found the reason in telling other people about what I was doing and why. I realized that one of the reasons I loved the farm so much was that my dad was happy there. My father was a sawmill worker and logger, but he was a farmer and rancher at heart. I think the farm was a chance for him to do something he really knew and loved. It was bad luck that sent us back to California dead broke after a year, not his skill as a farmer. I remember him plowing the fields with the tractor, taking us kids up with him, and planting the seeds. I remember him telling us how deep they had to be planted. His green beans grew up tall and strong, pole beans that had to be strung on twine fences. The vines bore beans we had to hire a crew to pick. And Dad was in charge. It wasn’t his land, but it was given into his charge, and he loved working it.
Not everything went well the year we lived on the farm. I remember overhearing my parents arguing about money, often. They were living on my mom’s savings, waiting for the profits from the crop to come in. When there weren’t any, my dad had no choice. We packed up and went back to California, where he could get work in the mills and the woods. It was the end of his dream. And with the cushion of the savings gone, life got a lot tougher for our family. Debt was a specter that haunted my parents for the next 20 years, and as the eldest child in the family, I felt all the insecurity they wouldn’t talk about in front of us.
That year on the farm, when Daddy was happy, and Mama could grow so many gigantic tomatoes in the garden that my brother and sister and I could eat all we wanted without asking, and we could raise chicks, and play in the barn, and splash in the cement fish pond as our swimming pool in the hot summers, and climb the fir tree on the corner of the lawn above the road, and rake up all the leaves from the maple trees in the yard into a pile and then throw ourselves into it to hear them crackle, and pick strawberries in our own U-pick field and apples and filberts in the orchard, when we could coast the go-cart down the driveway and the little hill, making sure to slide into the ditch at the bottom instead of the road, when we could ride with Daddy on the tractor and in the truck that hauled the pickers to and from the fields to the barn, when we could row an old leaky boat up the Tualitin River and float back down, fishing both ways, after a picnic on the river bank on Sundays after church . . . well, what kid wouldn’t love that life and remember it fondly?
But there was another reason I wanted to find the farm. I believe I thought that if I found the farm, and could take pictures of it, I could please my father. It’s been a long time since I let myself care that much about my father’s happiness. Alcoholism has sharp claws and lots of them, plenty to dig into the person who drinks and plenty left over to tear at those who have to live with it. My dad’s been burying himself in a bottle for a long time. I thought if I found the farm, it would be a way to connect again with the father I remember, the one who was happy. The one I loved.
I can’t show my dad pictures of the farm. I can show him the pictures I’ve taken, and he’ll probably just shake his head and say, “I don’t know. No, that’s not it.” Or, “You’ll never know, Jean.” And maybe that’s true, as far as it goes. I’ll never be able to prove I found the farm. But I know. And maybe that’s enough.