“You’ll Laugh About This Some Day”

I’ve been fortunate in many regards and aspect of my life. I’ve been generally healthy and often happy. I get to work in a field I enjoy, largely with people that are good people to know and work with. I have and have had wonderful relationships that I enjoy and appreciate, some of which since I was a kid. But, like everyone, I’ve had my share of embarrassing things to deal with, some little, some that seemed catastrophic at the time. This is the story of what seemed one of the most embarrassing events in my life, at least at the time.

I swam from a young age. My mom made sure we all had swim lessons as soon as we could and after that, we found a local pool at the Salvation Army that had a swim team. That meant we always had somewhere to be in the water and burn off energy, but it was also my primary sport until I turned 16 and started working more and didn’t make time to swim any more. But, from the age of about 10 to 16 or so, I was in the Salvation Army Swim Team, led by our coach, Gary Johnson.

Gary was a great coach, always trying to get the most out of us. He was a very dedicated and patient coach, despite the challenges of working with a whole group of kids with an inability to focus and an active desire to not work too hard.

Workouts were usually a combination of warmups followed by distance and sprinting. Often we also worked on technique for starts and turns. Gary was wise enough and experienced enough to also throw in plenty of free time and we would also play games so it wasn’t by any means all work. But, we often went home tired and felt the workout in our arms the next day.

One of the idiosyncrasies of our home pool was that it wasn’t actually built for a swim team. By that I mean it was not a regulation length. Instead of the expected 25 yards (or even meters), our pool was short of that, something like 22 yards or so. One of the side-effects of that was we would learn to swim lengths in that short pool then we would often have a tough time adjusting to a “normal” pool because it was an additional few strokes before the turn. This could really mess up your swim because you would count, whether consciously or not, on a given number of strokes for the distance. This fact cost me an important city-wide race one year in the 100 yard Backstroke. I had the lead in the race and near the end I was thrown off by the longer distance and at the last moment rolled from my back to my front to make the touch for the turn. At that time, that was illegal (the rule has since changed) and I was disqualified despite being the fastest swimmer in that race.

Because we always had the goal to swim as fast as we could and because we swam as a team, every summer we would get the new swim team swim suit, which was a form-fitting racing suit. That particular year, I think we had a maroon and gold speedo. At 14 I was still a very thin and wiry kid with no body hair to speak of, so the speedo was tiny. After a race, you could take it off in the shower to rinse it out, squeeze out the excess water and the thing could easily compress inside a closed fist. I think I may still have that suit in a box somewhere. It’s a tiny suit.

This story took place when I was 14 during the summertime. That’s when we would have meets with other teams. One of the effects of getting older in swim team is that by the time I was 14, there weren’t necessarily a lot of other 14-16 year old boys to swim against because they had started to join other sports, find girls or begin working. As a result, it was entirely possible that for a given event in my age bracket, there might not be a lot of people participating. In fact, on our team, I was often the only boy participating in Backstroke and Freestyle which were my best strokes. I could compete in the IM (individual Medley), but my friend Mike was better at breaststroke and my butterfly was, as described by my coach, more of a “dying moth” than a butterfly. I could keep from drowning and went generally forward, but there was neither art nor skill in my butterfly.

At this particular meet, which took place at an outside pool hosted by another team, it turned out there were not any other boys to swim the 100 yard freestyle, which was my best and fastest event.

As a result, all I had to do to collect my blue ribbon was to swim the race because they wouldn’t just hand it to me. So, just line up, wait for the gun, swim the race and collect the ribbon.

I’ve never been a fan of being the center of attention and that persists to this day. But, this is what had to happen so they could proceed on to other events. Fine.

My brain was entirely focused on trying to tuck my chin in to my chest at the start because I’d been having trouble hitting the dive correctly and would end up flipping my goggles off and flooding my eyes which makes for an irritating and embarrassing race, especially as the only one racing.

I readied myself for the gun (or the horn, I don’t recall) and when it went off I sprung from the block and nailed my dive.

It was at this point that things went badly.

With all my focus on my goggles, making sure they were tightened and seated on my eyes properly, apparently I’d neglected to make sure my suit was secure.

As I entered the water, my suit slipped right off my mid-section and made it’s way to my knees as everyone watched. Now if this were the only issue and if I’d had the presence of mind, it should have just been a momentary pause for me to grab the suit and pull it back up over my nearly non-existent hips and continue. At that point I was three or feet under water and there was probably a cloud of bubbles around me.

Unfortunately for me, that’s not the path my panicked brain took.

For reasons I can’t begin to explain to this day, my brain thought the appropriate thing to do at that moment was to continue to rise up to the surface and, this is where it gets good, roll over on my back to pull up my suit as I breached the surface of the water.

To this day, what I imagine is a scene out of a submarine movie as the sub breaches and the first thing you see is the periscope followed by the main part of the sub. In this case, in my imagination, the very tiny, very terrified periscope.

The suit did come back on but it was only at that point that the critical thinking part of my brain re-engaged to scream in to my ear “What the hell are you doing!!”.

This race should have been four simple lengths of me killing time. Instead I swam to the end but was so embarrassed that I got out of the pool with what felt like my face on fire from the embarrassment and walked with my head bowed to where my team was gathered, grabbed my towel and put it over my head and wished desperately to die right there and then before I had to talk to anyone ever again.

I’m pretty sure there was laughing as I exited the pool. I probably didn’t make that up.

I often imagine if I’d had the confidence and the presence of mind, I would have simply pulled up my suit with or without the belly roll to the surface, completed the race and exited the pool with my head held high not caring what anyone thought. Sadly, that’s not who I was at 14 and I’m not entirely sure I’d do much better as an adult. There really is such a thing as caring too much about what other people think.

I also wish I could look back and see that as a turning point where I chose to stop caring so much about what people think or recognized some other valuable life lesson. But, I can’t. I did a silly thing and I was embarrassed. I didn’t have enough confidence to just own my actions or the outcome so I just hid in a corner until I thought I could face the world once again.

It’s taken over 30 years and at least I’ve accepted it and it’s not something that causes the embarrassment to rise up and make me want to climb in to a dark corner any more, so I guess that’s some progress.

Oh, my god. Why couldn’t I have just not rolled over on my back as I reached the surface. Sigh.




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Summer Camp

Summer camp is one of those things that, if you’ve done it, you probably have great memories, perhaps even friends you made that you are still in contact with or maybe some token you hung on to that you made during craft time that evokes memories of your time at camp. If you didn’t have a summer camp experience, well, none of the experiences I mention will likely resonate at all. Camp could be enabling, it could be freedom and autonomy, it could be self-discovery and exploration, but what I recall most is that it was incredible fun that has stuck with me for all my years.

My own experience with camp was through a summer program that I was part of when I was a kid. It was called SPEAR (Serving People with Education, Arts and Recreation). It was run out of a Lutheran church a few blocks from our house. SPEAR was originally chartered to summer activities and support for children in the area during part of the summer in Spokane. Mostly, I think it was an opportunity for my Mom to get us out of the house for a few hours several days a week during the summer.

When our family discovered it, I was in the oldest group. There were crafts, snacks, games and outside activities and the general sorts of things one would do in a day-camp scenario. It was probably only 2-3 hours a day a few days a week.

The highlight of the summer, though, was the five days we got to go to overnight camp at Camp Lutherhaven on Lake Coeur d’Alene about an hour outside town.

We’d take the yellow school bus from the parking lot of the church would pick up kids from several other SPEAR programs around town and make our way out to camp. There were older people, but still young, probably 17-20, acting as our Counselors.

My initial recollection of camp revolved around the stress of finding out who was in your cabin, because it was a combination of folks you knew and new folks from the other programs. There were lots of activities to keep us out of trouble including archery, frisbee, football, kickball, crafts, swimming and canoeing. The food was served in a large lodge with lots of tables and we ate cafeteria style and each cabin had to clean up it’s own area. At night there was a campfire and there were camp songs and skits. This was a slightly religious program and camp, sponsored by the Lutherans, so there was a bit of religious material, but was the opposite of pushy.

The dominant feelings I recall are nervousness to start out with, followed by a great deal of fun, culminating with regret that it was coming to an end too soon and we’d all be going our own ways again.

I stayed with the SPEAR program and continued on to become a “Junior Counselor” and then a Counselor that was paid for my time. I think it was the first job I was paid $100 for my time during the summer. I would have done it for free, it was so much fun. My friend Mike and I were co-counselors of the little kids group and we would come up with activities like paper plane contests and various races to try and burn out their energy.

I recall two boys, fraternal twins, who joined as five year olds. They were very shy and had never been away from their parents for any length of time prior to this experience. Over the summer, Mike and I were able to coax them out of their shells and get them socializing with the other kids and by the summer they were as loud and rambunctious as any of the other kids. I recall taking quite a bit of pride in that. I even ran in to their mother a few years later and she told me they still talked about that summer and how much they enjoyed their time with us.

That last summer we worked as Counselors before we turned 16 and took jobs elsewhere, we also got to be Counselors out at Camp Lutherhaven. We were definitely on the young side but we’d been doing this for a while and we did have a more senior Counselor looking over out shoulders, but we did our job and we got to hang out with the other Counselors after hours when the kids would go down and we were part of the team. One of the evening activities to wind down after a day of dealing with kids involved everyone sitting in a big circle and massaging the shoulders of the person in front of us while the person behind did the same to us. A big daisy-chain massage.

The camp was well maintained and it wasn’t particularly wild, but one time when Mike and I were running across a porch to get somewhere, we leapt off the porch in one direction and a skunk that we’d apparently scared from under the porch raced off in a slightly different direction. Each of us decided it might be for the best if we kept going so it didn’t escalate from there.

Another time Mike got in to a jousting match with a cranky goose. We’d been swimming in the rather large swimming area when a goose came on to shore. It spotted Mike who was on shore at the time and Mike more or less stood his ground as the goose spotted him and leveled its head and spread its wings, clearly disliking the cut of his jib. Then it honked and took a run at him from about six feet away, probably intending to bite him. Mike had his legs spread and as the goose approached, like a combination of leap frog and matador he sort of hopped over the goose as it ran through his legs. This happened another time or two before the goose decided to go elsewhere.

After I grew up and had kids of my own, of course I wanted them to have the camp experience as well. When my son was around seven, we sent him to his first overnight camp at a place called Camp Namanu out in Sandy Oregon. Like me, he was nervous and a bit scared when he went. When he returned he was filled with stories of activities and fun and friends. He was especially proud that he had to take care of himself and shower every day, brush his teeth and keep his area clean. We were impressed because these were things we were struggling to get him to do at home, so he definitely experienced some growth while there!

A few years later, when he was dealing with cancer, there were two or three years where he and and sister went to another camp on the Oregon coast called UKanDo. It was focused on kids with cancer and their siblings, so the activities took the kids situation and limitations in to account, but both kids enjoyed their camp experiences enormously.

As with many things, camp now comes full circle.

My daughter took a summer job working at Camp Namanu as a counselor. It’s not her first experience as a counselor as she had helped with her school’s Outdoor School before, but this will be her first time as an adult counselor. I really enjoyed talking with her about what her camp name would be, because that’s a big deal to her. When she did Outdoor School, they had camp names and she chose Oracle, which she thought sounded cool. Unfortunately, she was a counselor for fifth and sixth graders and they kept hearing “Orca” and she got tired of trying to explain that it was Oracle and what that meant, so she finished camp with a slightly different camp name than she started. She’s bound and determined to not see that happen again.

Camp can be, and was for me, one of those singular and transformative summer activities. It was part of me becoming more independent and social. It was eventually part of me becoming a working person and responsible for my own group of campers. Eventually it had a similar effect on my own kids and I’m thrilled to see my daughter carrying that in to her own adulthood as she begins to influence young lives for herself.



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Happy Father’s Day!

Here’s a thing I didn’t know: Father’s Day was first celebrated in 1910 in my hometown of Spokane, Washington! Of course, it followed the inauguration of Mother’s Day back in 1908, but I can’t help thinking that’s the right order. Turns out a young lady named Sonora Smart Dodd heard a sermon about Mother’s Day in 1909 and managed to get enough support to get it celebrated first on June 19, 1910. That’s roughly 113 years of barbecues, coffee mugs that say “World’s Greatest Dad!”, ugly ties and homemade cards. So, to all the fathers I know out there, be they two father homes, step-fathers, fathers with kids at home or kids out and about living their lives, let me wish you all a hearty Happy Father’s Day!

We celebrated, at least as far as I’m concerned, Father’s Day yesterday. Years ago a friend and mentor told me about a grange up outside Portland called the Dixie Mountain Grange. Every year on Father’s Day weekend they host a Strawberry Shortcake Festival. He talked about how his family would drive up there and eat strawberry shortcake on Father’s Day weekend as part of his celebration.

This combines two things of which I’m a big fan:

  1. Strawberries (Oregon has some of the best in the WORLD)
  2. Shortcake – because, really, who doesn’t like shortcake

That doesn’t even touch on the other part of it which is pretty great and that’s the homemade whipped cream piled on top.

Oh, yeah, and the part where we spend time together as a family. But, did I mention the Strawberry Shortcake!

We’ve done this probably four times in the last 10 years and I’ve enjoyed it every time.

This year both my son and daughter were available which is a rare combination as my son has been working many weekends and my daughter has been out of town going to school. So, I definitely wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to get some time with them.

As they get older (they’re 21 and 24 now) I know they’re going to be more focused on their own lives – as they should – so I try to appreciate the opportunities to be together with them when I can.

The four of us (me, Christina, Brian and Laurel) made the drive and I enjoyed the conversation on the way up. Laurel is just graduating with her Psychology degree and Brian has just completed a speech class, Philosophy class and Chemistry class at the local community college so the conversational topics wandered all over the place and it was wonderful to talk to them and be able to see the changes in them as they continue to grow while still seeing the connections back the kids they were when they were younger.

When we got there we wandered around outside the Grange for a little while checking out the booths with handcrafts and handmade soaps and pottery for sale. Christina got a beautiful fused glass pendant that’s a bright blue and looks great on her. Laurel got her face painted for $2. She was shooting for a duck wearing a graduation cap to celebrate her upcoming graduation from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!). Something was either lost in translation or execution because when we saw her again later it looked more like a white goose wearing a green beret.

Brian and I wandered around and just looked at the various things. One of my favorites was a couple selling hand made soap with various scents like licorice and sandalwood and Monkey Farts. Yes, Monkey Farts. Well, with a name like that, you have to at least smell it. It was very fruity smelling so then I had to ask the obvious question: “Why Monkey Farts?” The man smiled and explained that it was a mixture of tropical fruit smells so they decided that if a monkey ate all those fruits and farted, this is what it would smell like! I passed on the Monkey Farts soap, but I appreciated the name!

And then came my favorite part of the trip. We bought a family portion which is enormous but we did our best to destroy it. They give you the choice of either a biscuit or a shortcake for the bottom so I chose half and half because I know Christina likes the biscuit. I was behind a man in line who was arguing fairly convincingly that a biscuit was blasphemous because it’s called “Strawberry Shortcake”, not “Strawberry Biscuits!”

Nevertheless, we got our family portion and did our level best to destroy what we could of it. In the end, though, the dessert got the best of us and we were forced to stop while there were still strawberries in the dish.

Afterwards, we went back home and were joined by Zach and Zoe, my step-kids for a late lunch/early dinner. I was very happy because all the kids are busy, so getting them together at one time is no small feat and it had been some time since we had all been together in one place.

Zoe is very busy with school and all her activities and her boyfriend and Zach is only home for a couple of months from West Point, so I was very appreciative that they made the time to come over and share the meal with us.

So, I grilled some sausages and Christina made her award-winning baked beans – they are at least first place in my heart – and stomach! Add in some macaroni salad, some chips and soda and we had a great meal.

My favorite part was just getting to listen to all the kids talk about what was going on in their lives and the other kids listening and asking questions of each other. Just the general sound of them being, at least for a little while, a part of each other’s lives.

I’m a father and a step-father and they’re both very tough jobs. I wanted to be a father and it’s a job I really enjoy. Being a step-father is tough and I have a tremendous amount of respect for those who do it well because there are a huge numbers of land mines to be navigated in that job.

Being a father, whether step- or other, is probably one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever taken on. We enter in to it with no manual and sometimes just the most bare notion of what we’re getting ourselves in to. Our training for the position is likely limited to what we saw modeled by our own parents. We take part in helping to form and guide the life of someone who is actively trying to find their own place in the world and that’s a terrific and terrifying prospect. I know my Dad tried his best with me and I continue to try to do my best by my own kids and I hope that if they grow up and choose to become parents, they’ll be able to look back at our time together and find more things to choose to emulate than things they choose to do differently. In either case, I will support them and I will help when I can and I will thank them for being good kids and remind them they have the capacity to be amazing parents.

Bill Cosby famously tells of a “curse” his mother put on him: “I hope, when you get married, you have some children who act exactly the same way that you act.” He said it was a curse that all mothers put on their children. It’s a funny bit, but here’s the thing: I also wish that my kids have children who act like they acted because for all the headaches my kids gave me and sometimes still give me (and I’m talking about ALL my kids), they’re great kids and if they should be so lucky as to have kids like that, they’ll have the opportunity to be wonderful parents.


In a little less than a week my daughter will be graduating from the University of Oregon and I will be in the crowd snapping pictures and screaming and clapping for her when her name is called.  It’s going to be a wonderful day for me personally and for me as a parent.  College is important to me and seeing my daughter complete that will be a wonderful thing!

I was the first in my family to graduate from college.  Neither of my folks went to college.  My mom took a few community college classes, but mostly for work-related skills.  I think she was more interested and probably would have done well had she had the opportunity, but instead she chose to focus on starting and raising a family.  My dad entered the Air Force out of school and was, at best, a disinterested party with respect to school.

I always knew I was going to go to college.  From my earliest recollection I knew that was going to be one of my goals.  Not that it came easy, at least from a financial perspective.  I graduated school with a nice GPA but I didn’t have a load of extra curricular activities or sports.  I worked at a grocery store from the time I was 16 for 20+ hours a week to put gas in my car and pay for my insurance and have some money left over for fun.  So, by the time I graduated I did get a couple of small grants but that was about it.  I didn’t really have any guidance about applying for schools or applying for scholarships.  I didn’t really know what to do and really would have benefited from someone helping to guide me through that process.

But, in the end, I did get accepted to a few schools, including the one that I wanted to go to: The University of Portland.  From my perspective it was perfect because it offered an early program for Computer Engineering which was a rough cross between a budding Computer Science degree and an Electrical Engineering degree.  Additionally, it was a small school so I figured there’d be a good student to teacher ratio and, finally, it was almost 400 miles away from Spokane.  And it was in Portland which was, from my perspective, The Big City.  So, far enough away to be a fresh start, but near enough that I could take a train or catch a ride home.

I went there for two and a half years before my finances caused me to have to re-evaluate my plan.  Which is short-hand to say I ran out of money and my parents couldn’t help out as much as they had been working hard to help me for the prior years.  So, I was forced to take a semester sabbatical back home in Spokane.

During my sabbatical I was still fixated on writing software so I wrote my own assembly language compiler in BASIC running on, I think, a Commodore-64.  I had a great time fixating on the compiler and the programs I was writing and debugging because it kept my mind off the fact that I was not in college as I really wanted to be.

The result of this fixation, this hyper-focus, was that I spent inordinate amounts of time in my room behind a keyboard, staring at a monitor or, more likely for the time, television screen from 18 inches away.

I saw it as hyper-focus and fixation.  I suspect my father saw it as unhealthy.  Late nights, sleeping in, total focus on the task in front of me.  In the end, he gave me a month or two but after that it was made clear that it was time for me to get a job.  And, to be fair, I was 20 years old and living in my parents house and not working.  So the boot out the door was pretty reasonable given the circumstances.

I got a job at K-Mart.  Land of the Blue Light Special.  I can still call a Blue Light Special in my sleep.  For those who haven’t experienced the joy of the Blue Light Special, let me elucidate.  Imagine a rolling cart with a six foot pole on it with a blue light on the top.  When turned on, this light would revolve like the red light at the top of a classic cop car.  This box was rolled around to different parts of the store on roughly an hourly schedule.  It would move from department to department.  I worked in Sporting Goods and Automotive, two areas that I was singularly unprepared to give good advice on but that didn’t stop me from giving it.  So, if I sold you the wrong oil or recommended a reel or pole or lures that didn’t work, well, I’m sorry about that.  I probably got the advice from another customer and passed it along as my own.  But, back to the Blue Light Specials.  During a Blue Light Special, there was a fifteen minute period where some selected items would be on sale.  These were always preceded by an announcement on the overhead saying what the deal was and where it was.  They went something like this:

“Attention, K-Mark Shoppers!  Back in the Sporting Goods Department today we’ve got an amazing selection of fishing poles and reels on sale right now.  If you join us back in Sporting Goods, we’ll take an additional 15% off this incredible selection for the next 15 minutes only.  Again, that’s 15% off select rods and reels back in Sporting Goods for the next 15 minutes.  Thank you and thanks for shopping at K-Mart!”

The first time I tried to do one of these, because everyone was expected to take their turn, my voice locked up and I was absolutely incapable of completing what I was supposed to say.  The next time I tried writing the entire thing out and that helped.  But, as with all things, practice leads to comfort and after a while I didn’t need anything, I could just wing it.  And, here’s the dirty secret: I enjoyed them!  In fact, I enjoyed working at K-Mart.  The work was easy, it was fun to talk with customers and selling Sporting Goods and auto parts was sort of interesting.  This was where I figured out that I actually could talk with strangers and not be so terrified by nerves that I couldn’t function.

I worked at this job for about two and a half years, even after I returned to school six months later.  I worked there an average of 32 hours a week even while a full time student.  It helped pay for things.

I was able to get back in to school that fall, albeit at a new school.  I finished out at Gonzaga University in Spokane because they had an Electrical Engineering program and almost all of my credits would transfer and I could save money by living at home.  I effectively lost a semester and didn’t attend a semester so my four year degree ended up taking me five (calendar) years and nine semesters instead of eight, but I got there.

I also graduated with a non-trivial load of student debt, but I was prepared for that if it got me the degree I wanted which, I was convinced, would enable me to get the jobs that I wanted.

I didn’t really give much thought to getting any additional education which, for me, would have been a Masters.  There was no evidence at the time that it would dramatically increase my earning potential and, additionally, I was ready to be done with school after 18 years of school (including kindergarden, of course!)

As I mentioned in the beginning, my daughter will be graduating from the University of Oregon.  She’ll have a Bachelor’s in Psychology.  I don’t think she knows yet what her focus post graduation will be but she has plenty of time to figure that out.  She’s got options.  And options have always been what college is all about for me.

My belief has always been that college doesn’t make you happy and, in fact, it’s hard and expensive and requires focus.  It’s a short term cost for a long term gain at a time when most young people are all about the short term instead of the long term.  It broadens your scope and, hopefully, teaches you how to think rigorously and more broadly and more deeply.  I always knew it was the right thing for me and I’ve always believed it to be something important for my kids and I hope that I’ve helped to pass along that belief to all of my kids.  I’m very happy and not a little proud that it looks like all of my kids are on a path to go to college.  It’s often said that as parents we want more for our kids than we had and I understand that.  I’m not naive enough to believe that college is inherently the right answer for everyone but I am realistic enough to believe that the difference in terms of options available to someone who goes to college versus someone who doesn’t is immense.  For me, it’s always been about making sure my kids have options.  Not that options mean happiness, but options DO mean choice and choice is an important ingredient for a happy life and what more could I wish for my kids than happiness?

Country Roads

I was born in the Northwest and live there to this day.  I like it here and have said before that it’s a great place to live and raise a family.  I suppose I could have lived other places and I have lived other places briefly, but I keep coming back to the Northwest.

When I was seven, my Dad put us all in the family car as he drove the moving truck and we moved back east to live near his family.  He is from Ohio and West Virginia, specifically Steubenville, Ohio and Wheeling, West Virginia.  For all I knew, we might never return.

I’ve never heard the story of what got all this started.  I don’t know if it was simply that my Dad missed his family or was tired of living in Spokane or if there was some other reason.  All I knew at the time was that suddenly there was parental discussion about us moving away.  A long way away.

I’m the eldest of three kids, so my sister was five and my little brother was only about two, so it’s not like we were really involved in the conversation at all.  I never got a chance to ask what my mom thought of moving away from where she was born and had grown up, surrounded by her brothers and sisters and family.

As is often the case in remembering things from that long ago, it’s really more a series of vignettes than it is a continuous memory of that time.

One vivid audio memory is that John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” seemed to be playing constantly on the way there.  Looking it up, it turns out that while it came out in 1971 on his album “Poems, Prayers and Promises”, by the summer of 1972 when this took place, it was huge, reaching #2 in the US.

If you’ve indulge me, the lyrics are still stuck in my heads for parts of it and I suspect they were at least peripherally related to the trip there.

Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver, Taffy Nivert, and Bill Danoff

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, Mountain Mama
Take me home, country roads

That damn chorus will be in my head for the rest of my life because of that trip.  I probably couldn’t tell you another John Denver song or sing lyrics, but that one … That one is stuck in my head forever.

We hadn’t traveled far from Spokane at that point in my life.  Short trips to nearby lakes was about it.  This trip, however, was across the Rockies.  I don’t recall the car but I do recall feeling like we were crawling up twisty roads where at any moment we could plummet down the steep sides of the roads and that made the trip feel like it was dangerous and exciting.

As I said, my Dad was driving the moving truck so that meant we kids were in the car with my Mom.  I don’t remember this vividly, but I really don’t think she enjoyed the drive.

The trip took us something like three days but I really only recall the daytime trip over the Rockies.  The Rockies, if you haven’t been there, are an amazing range of mountains whether approaching from the East or the West.  Highly recommended if you get the chance.  I bet the roads are significantly better than when we crossed them back in the early 70s.

Another visual that stuck with me was when I saw my first oil pump.  At that age I recall that they looked like giant ants constantly bobbing and pecking at the ground.  I imagined giant, prehistoric animals as we saw them.  We saw dozens of these on the trip and they became a favorite thing to spot and another image that I associate with the trip.

Oil Pump 500x500

When we arrived we met with lots of my Dad’s family.  I recall cousins I’d never known of – though now I know they were second cousins or more removed than that.  I had cousins named after months.  May or June.  My Dad had aunts that were named Aunt Zube and Aunt Zelm.  Old as the hills, but sweet.  My Dad had a cousin named Dwayne who was was born deaf and never learned American Sign Language but had developed a very successful way of communicating through signs and vocalizations.  No one had any trouble understanding him though I suspect he’d be hard pressed to make himself understood outside that immediate area or to folks outside his immediate circles.

I recall visiting family that lived in a house with no inside bathrooms.  An old home that obviously had been built up on expanded over the years.  I had previously thought this could not be a real thing because if you lived in Spokane you had plumbing, so the idea that someone had an actual outhouse was about the coolest thing I could imagine.  I remember they had actual toilet paper out there and I was disappointed that there wasn’t a Sears catalog.  My Dad said that was just in case of emergencies and only in the winter.  I never knew if was kidding with me or not.

At another family’s home I got to go out and bring home the cow at dinnertime.  I don’t recall exactly how that worked but I do recall having a small plastic dart gun and somehow thinking that that would make a difference if the cow gave me any trouble.  I didn’t have a lot of experience with farm animals at that time (nor a great deal more now), but I do recall being just a bit terrified at the size of the cow and how unlikely it was I was going to be able to persuade the cow to do anything the cow didn’t want to do.  I think I had a handful of corn or food, though, and once the cow figured that out, she followed me home with no trouble.

That same family had a pen filled with small yellow chicks.  In my memory there were probably 20-30 of them, but it might have been half that.  I asked if I could go in the pen with them and my Dad said I could.  In fact, he said, if you can catch one of the chicks, you can have it!  I recall trying for probably 15 minutes to catch a chick, the entire time my Dad was laughing as hard as I’d ever seen him while I tried to catch a chick to no avail.  It was like they were greased lighting.  If I laid a hand on one, they’d shoot out of my hand like a watermelon seed from between your fingers.  Of course, I didn’t want to hurt them, so I was being careful which meant the advantage was decidedly on the side of the chicks.

That summer was also the only summer in my life where I got experience fireflies.  Some call them lighting bugs.  They use bioluminescence to attract mates.  Their butts light up and go out. They’re very active as dusk on a summer evening in some parts of the country.  I recall trying to catch them which was made more difficult because their read-ends would light up and you’d chase after and often before you got to them they’d go out again.

We’d try and catch them and put them in jars with grass to have a little lantern.  But, we were always supposed to let them go before we went inside so they could go on about their business.  I really wish we had lighting bugs in the northwest.  That might be, more than anything, the thing I miss most about living back east for that time.

Eventually the school year rolled around in early September and I started the second grade.  I don’t recall much about that but I do recall that it wasn’t very hard.  I was reading actively at that time and it seemed the rest of the class was still working out the basics.  It was the same with Math.

I heard, years later, that my teacher had my Mom in for conferences about half way through the year and as I recall the story, the teacher told my Mom “You have to get him out of here.  We just don’t have the resources to challenge Darrin the way he needs to be challenged.”  I just recall thinking school was pretty easy that year.

I recall my sister Judy and I trying to make bird’s nests out of grass and mud.  I don’t know why, but it was a fine idea at the time.  We were both pretty disappointed when the birds were not interested in the homes we had made for them.

While we were there, we shared a house with my Aunt Matt (Madelaine) and her daughter.  I don’t recall much about the house other than it was large, white and rambling.  It had a large wrap-around covered porch that was great to play on and under.

I got my mouth washed out with soap the one and only time when we lived back East.  As I recall I was watching Mr. Magoo (Google it kids) on television after school with my four years older cousin who had been tasked with babysitting we three kids.  In this particular cartoon, Mr. Magoo was bumbling around and bumped in to a wall that had a donkey’s head mounted on it (for reasons).  When he bumped in to the wall, the mounted head fell off an on to Mr. Magoo who proceeded to bumble around even more hilariously.  I swear that in the cartoon, Mr. Magoo said something along the lines of “I feel like such an ass.”  I remember laughing and saying that he looked like an ass, too.  Boom!  I got my mouth washed out with soap.  She didn’t even check with my parents!  I found this to be terribly unfair because if there’s one rule a kid should be able to count on, it’s that you can say the same things that people say in cartoons!

Eventually, whether because my Dad found the reality of being back home different than he’d expected or perhaps the job prospects were less than he’d hoped or maybe my Mom told him what the teacher had said, the decision was made that we were returning to Spokane in March of that next year.

That trip constituted the longest period of time I’ve lived away from the Northwest.  I’ve also spent a few months in northern Florida, just enough to figure out it wasn’t for me.  So, I suspect, I’ll never have my Dad’s experience of feeling a need drawing me back to where I come from.  There will be no John Denver song, no lyrics tugging me back.  And that’s okay because I’ve been able to live here and be happy here, raise a family and enjoy this area and visit other areas and come home back here.  It’s a good base to come home to.





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