Lately, due to medical chases around town and other schedule variations, this has been a weekly blog rather than a Thursday morning blog. Thank you for staying with me anyway.
This one is longer than most, so will be broken into three parts. It’s about a significant, short time in my childhood that affects who I am and how I see the world to this day.
For a pre-teen boy, the Southwick days were idyllic.
Time flowed leisurely
Fields and mountains perfectly
Balanced, slowing pulse
As I saw and heard later in more detail, the adults (my parents) in the equation didn’t have quite the halcyon life I remember. They remain, though, three of the most pleasant and heart-warming years of my sojourn.
Have you heard of compressed time? That’s what those 36 months were: what seemed like a decade of living packed into that span.
Southwick has been much in my mind since we left in 1962, but more in the past couple of years. Why would this matter? Even though God has formed me for 69 years, much of His groundwork was laid there, so much that 56 years after leaving, the effects have life.
Recently my friend Eldon Fry wrote a book about growing up there. (His younger brother, Warren, who is gone now, and I were great friends; Eldon is older so our contact wasn’t as strong.) Eldon wanted family and friends to know what’s largely been lost from that time and place. Since I share three of those years I tore through his book. It spurred me to recall my own slice of Southwick days.
For us, it began with the arrival, in 1959 in Colorado Springs, of an old black farm stake truck driven by Henry Davis. My Dad had just finished Bible College – two degrees in five years, working full time. He had accepted a call to shepherd a small community church in Southwick, Idaho. Never heard of it, but to the distant land we headed.
We were supposed to load our belongings into that old truck and head into the unknown. So we did. Our 1949 Chevy sedan followed that truck over hill and dale, bound for the Wild West.
The belongings of a household of four (two grade-school kids and their parents) filled the truck above the top of the rails. Maybe we got rid of some of it. I think there was a canvas cover to hold it all down. We drove in tandem: the truck and our Chevy sedan.
In 1959, that was an extensive trek. Hill and dale were real in those days. We heard rumors of scary Whitebird Hill as we approached our destination state. Hairpins abounded, but we navigated safely.
I remember seeing my first Grange Hall on at the top of Whitebird Hill, and thought it was some kind of unique Northwest thing. To me, it was all new.
In Idaho, we climbed Kendrick Grade, passed farmlands, arrived at the parsonage, and loaded in. Such friendly people! Most of the church showed up, had food for us, and got us feeling at home.
I learned about the simple, heartfelt love of God’s people.
Speaking of home.
Two floors. Wood stove in the living room for warmth, a big grate in the ceiling so heat could migrate to the two bedrooms upstairs. One bathroom, as far as possible away from the two upstairs bedrooms.
An old wood-fired range in the kitchen. Mom didn’t cook with it, as there was an electric too, but it was nice for extra heat in the winter. Off the kitchen was that bathroom, and a spare room that became a sewing room and my trumpet practice room.
The most interesting feature was the wooden crank telephone on the kitchen wall. Being a party line, whenever the two short parsonage rings sounded, you could hear clicks as listeners dropped in to hear the latest and greatest straight to and from the preacher’s house. Every click-in dropped the quality and volume of the sound.
I learned that yearnings for gossip reside in the finest people, and that community was a big deal.
Southwick was one of the last towns in the United States to get dial phones, so I experienced what would have been typical for the generation before mine.
Out back resided an old outhouse and a wood shed in which my dad spent hours splitting our fuel source for heat. Sometimes I tried to help.
A little creek – a rivulet, more accurately, flowed between that property and the church grounds. My brother and I spent hours catching frogs, not treating them the best, really.
A big project was to build a dam out of boards: one to span the “river”, and one shorter on either end, at right angles, to be forced into the bank to provide stability. For some indecipherable reason I painted it light blue, with white on top.
I sawed out a little spillway, but finding it unsatisfactory I also drilled holes across the face of the dam to more equalize the flow.
We had overflowing banks every spring when the frozen pond in the pasture behind our house melted. Hands-on training in fluid dynamics occurred in the mud and seepage.
When time neared for us to leave Southwick, we pulled the dam to see first hand our own flood disaster from our broken dam, as the wave swelled down the channel, under the little footbridge between us and church property, to play itself out in the culvert under the highway.
Dad worked hard at caring for people and providing for us. How and when he studied I have no idea. Sermons were banged out on an old typewriter off the living room.
Dad worked to help local farmers with harvest, and worked one season at nights on a rock crusher making gravel for improvements on the Orofino grade.
One time when we went to visit his “office” where he ran the crusher, my young mind began to grasp the difficult life Dad had, caring for people and earning a living. I believe the dust he inhaled standing on that crusher affected his hay fever and asthma the rest of his life. I could tell he was proud of his job. He wanted us to see what he did.
I learned about hard self-sacrifice as an expression of love.
On the other hand, mom kept the home fires burning, literally. Those two stoves needed to be fed in the cold months.
Then there was the food challenge.
Everybody was poor. I guess. Much of the giving to the support of the pastor came in the form of produce and meat from local farmers. Sometimes the meat was still alive. At least once a year there would be a “pounding” for the pastor. No, it wasn’t the gruesome picture that word brings to your mind. The people would load a table with pounds of food gifts. I would wonder if the table would fail under the weight.
Palpable in memory is the sight of Mom slaughtering fresh chickens. I don’t remember how they were corralled after some kind person delivered them. I just remember the process.
- Take a big stump from our firewood.
- Pound two 16 penny nails close together in the center.
- Apprehend the first protesting chicken.
- Insert neck between the nails.
- Pull the bundle of flying feathers and kicking feet so the neck stretched.
- Grab the hatchet and separate the body from the head.
- Toss the head aside and let the body slowly quit twitching.
- Repeat the process numerous times.
- Heat a huge kettle of water to boiling.
- Toss in a chicken body, let the hot water soften everything, then pull out the feathers, clump by noxious, odorous saturated clump.
All that by my gentle-spirited Mom. But, I have to remember she grew up in Moscow ID a few miles away, in a rural setting, so was already familiar with North Idaho ways.
Do you see any significant contrast between this process and a quick run to Costco to pick up a roast chicken? One thing you can know, they were free range and had no hormone injections.
We knew the value of fresh food. Snapping beans, shucking corn, and canning fruit and vegetables until the kitchen walls were weeping with condensation consumed days. Other occasions we’d head down the Kendrick grade to river bottom land near Julietta to fight huge thorns, picking Himalayan berries. We canned and froze huckleberries and Himalayan berries, neither of which I had heard when we lived in Iowa and Colorado.
I learned food was hard work, and exquisitely delicious in its natural form.
Logging trucks drove within feet of the house, as the road was steps from our front door. Our game was to identify them by the sound of the laboring diesels, before we could see them, as the trucks crawled up the last hill before heading through our pastoral hamlet. We got good at it.
Pete Ware’s hand built red beast appealed to me much more then the yellow collection of Macks operated by a logging company, the name of the brothers who ran it escaping me now. (It might have been the Farrington Brothers?) That powerful red truck snarled down the road appealing to my sense of power and the desire for independent adventure.
An empty lot bumped against the parsonage lawn on the side opposite the church property. I had an old Tonka army truck and a red wagon. My brother Keith and I dug dirt from the bank of the road, piled it into the wagon and built a road winding through the dry weeds. The weeds served as forest, and my logging truck plied that road day upon lazy summer day.
With fired imagination, I knew I wanted to drive a logging truck, especially when we would traverse the forest logging roads on huckleberry picking excursions.
The West was different! The locals gave us a clue on arrival when they referred to us Coloradans as “Easterners”. That would probably be an insult to a Coloradan, who would think of himself as living in a western state.
I got early glimpses of parochialism.
Tune in next week for the next installment. I hope you enjoyed this one with me.