Heart of the Homeland

July 27, 2009 at 12:32 pm (On the road again..., Waxing Nostalgic)

I’ve been feeling the influence of my father lately. He’s been gone almost thirty years, but I still think about him every day. While I take after mom in lots of ways, (hair color, build) I carry a heaping portion of dad around as well. One of his favorite things to do was to pile everyone into the car and go for a drive.

Saturday I had the opportunity to do just that, and I seized it.

You know how when a friend gets a new car, and they’re all excited about it? “You need milk? I know a place in Scappoose that sells milk. I’ll drive you!” Well, that shine wears off after a while, and then it’s “But that’s forty blocks away. Can’t you take a bus?”

I have a friend with a snazzy car, and she’s not as up for a road trip as she used to be, so when she offered to let me pick a restaurant anywhere I wanted, I tested the boundaries. Cascade Locks? Too far.

“How about Estacada?”

“We could do that.”

Glad I didn’t settle for Beaverton.

I stuffed my backpack into the trunk while she connected the phone/music/GPS/restaurant guide/Twitter feed. We took shady side streets to Foster Road and began winding our way to Damascus. (Oregon, not Syria. Do they still call it Syria? Google…)

The point of the drive was to get away from the city, and it took a while to get that feeling. Once through Damascus, we headed west briefly to Highway 224. While my friend shopped at a roadside farmer’s market, I called cousin Freddie who lived up the road. Having just finished a five-year stint in eastern Oregon, (work, not jail) she wasn’t much help in figuring out which places to patronize or avoid. She wished us luck and asked for updates.

We entered Estacada through the lower level of town, greeted by a street fair. I took the opportunity to walk down the middle of Broadway Street, just because I could. I was saddened to see the movie theater had disappeared. I’d seen JAWS there when it first released. (The theater owner, who also owned the Sandy Cinema, paused the movie and told everyone if they didn’t quit talking he’d stop the showing, no refunds. A dedicated cinephile, he charged sixty-nine cents admission on weekdays.)


When introducing someone to Estacada, it would be criminal not to take them to the Safari Club. It’s been a destination spot since I was a kid, with its stuffed animal museum. We ain’t talking Tickle Me Elmo. Glen Park, original owner and lumber baron, loved going on safari and had his kills stuffed and put on display. To attempt to describe it would not do it justice. You just have to go…

safari stuffed

We snapped a picture of the critters eating each other at the entrance to the bar. What would we find inside at 5:30 on a Saturday evening? I had no idea, but was ready to find out.

The last time I’d been in the place was after my brother-in-law’s funeral, the day of the OJ Simpson-white Bronco car chase. The layout was different than I remembered. Three old men were holding court at the middle of the bar. The bartender gave us a funny look when we came in. “Can I help you?” Guess she wasn’t used to city slickers. I ordered water, and a vodka/tonic for my driver. More than two and I’d become the driver. Ooh ooh ooh!

“Check out the special,” my friend said. $3.25 for Chinese food. Great. If I studied the menu I’d start getting hungry, and I was trying to wait. We still didn’t have a dinner destination, and I didn’t want to be sidetracked just yet. My friend snapped a picture of the menu. Maybe she really wanted Chinese food.

Then I actually read the sign, and had to take my own picture.

I also wanted a picture of the big black buffalo head mounted over the bar. I asked the bartender, “Miss, may I take a picture of your buffalo?” I asked loudly, predicting what would come next.

She smiled for the first time. “Sure, go ahead.”


I went to the bar, next to the old men, and snapped. It was like I’d rang the liberty bell. “Hey, cityboy, who you takin’ pictures of? Some of us don’t like havin’ their picture taken.!”

I was hoping someone would say, “Now Skeeter, he don’t mean no trouble…” Instead, one of the other old men muttered something.

I went back to my seat without saying what I wanted to say: “Don’t worry. When I put this on the intertubes, your face will be more pixielated than an Iraqi’s genitals.”

But then I would have had to fight. An embarrassing old man-smack-you-with-my-catheter-bag cane-dueling donnybrook. It was way too early for that, so I returned to my table while my friend surreptitiously Tweeted pics of the place.

As we rose to go, the bartender came over to turn on the TV, and I saw a glimpse of someone I hadn’t seen in fifteen years. O…M…G!!! The bartender is my cousin’s ex-wife! Oh crap! Holy social faux pas, Batman…

What to do? It explained the funny look I got when we came in. I couldn’t just go up to her on the way out and say “Hey!” If I did announce who I was, and she didn’t remember me in a good way, I may have to fight all those old guys regardless. With my luck we’d all end up in the same rest home together. I couldn’t be sure, so the minute I got outside I called cousin Freddie, and asked if it was possible she’d be working there?

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen her in about two years, could be. Did she recognize you?”

“Hard to say. I’m smaller, and my hair is different. And it’s been fifteen years. It might have helped if I’d looked above her neck once in a while…” My cousin’s ex-wife was a stunner.

Hmm. Now I have to make another trip out there, to find out for sure. Once again the Safari Club will be a destination spot.

As we walked back through the street fair, I took note of the businesses. The Trail’s End Saloon was still there, a bar my older sister lived in for a while. (I suppose she went home, or somewhere, at closing time. She seemed to be there every other hour of the day.) Hi-School Pharmacy had replaced Payless Drug. Now Payless is a shoe store.

We took the old highway back to Eagle Creek, cutting through the hills to Sandy, Oregon, my hometown. I pointed to cemeteries, berry fields, spots where folks I’d known had died in auto crashes. The rest home where my mother died had been razed; a housing project had taken its place.

Bummer, Joe’s Donuts had closed for the day. I’d wanted to take some home. We cruised the oval that was the town proper: I pointed to the first place I smoked pot, the spot where I found the pot, and the place I hid it so I “wouldn’t be a dope smuggler.” The bar I used to frequent was now a Goodwill store. Before that, it was a Thriftway. Across the street was Ace Hardware, former home of Piggly Wiggly. Everything had a new name.

We had dinner at the old Sandy Post newspaper office, or was it State Farm Insurance building? Whichever, it’s now called The Elusive Trout Pub. My driver had a watermelon wheat beer, and we had halibut for dinner. Except for the waitress, we were the youngest people there. One gal kept staring at me. She looked kinda familiar, but after the cousin’s wife incident I could be sure of nothing. It’ll come to me someday.

sandy post

We stopped for gas, and I noticed a paper box with the Sandy Post for sale. I had to buy one. We’d subscribed to the weekly when I was young; I hadn’t seen one since the early ’90s. Even though it looked like a rural Portland Tribune, I had to have it.

We drove out past my childhood home. The house had burned down in the early ’90s, the property sold. All the old neighbor’s houses were gone, and an apartment building stood where our property used to be. The apartment wall was tagged. Great.

We took the long way back to town. I marveled that the same junky car had been sitting on a tow trailer for twenty years. The old barns looked the same. The biggest difference I noticed? Farms were growing more Christmas trees than berries these days.

Instead of taking the freeway, we paralleled it on Orient Drive. It was like opening a time capsule. Houses of friends of the family still stood, looking the worse for wear. The house of my sixth grade English teacher, Mister Fox, looked like a prop from a horror movie, with its boarded windows, overgrown yard and rusted clunkers. He’d passed away in the ’80s, and it looked like the house hadn’t been touched since.

As we drove along, I sniffed the air. I said out loud, “Why am I not smelling bullshit right now? Something tells me I should be smelling bullshit.”

My friend rolled her eyes and said, “We probably will, now. You jinxed it.” After about five seconds, “Now I smell it. What the hell?”

“Weird. Why would I remember that?” We went around a bend in the road, and I remembered. There was a barn a hundred yards or so off the road, and it’s been, uh, fragrant as long as I can remember. “When we’d drive past, mom would make us roll up the car windows until we were well beyond. It was like a game to see who could roll their window up faster.”

The smell of bullshit was sweet as roses this hot, sunny afternoon. You don’t smell that in the city proper. At least not literal bullshit…

We past through Kelso, Oregon, population .08. (“She’s not all there.”) Clemmer’s Furniture was still around; at least the building was. My dad always wondered how a furniture store could survive in such a rural location. Onward to the metropolis by comparison, Orient. The town looked ravaged by time and the economy, but the dirt roads had been paved since I’d been there last. We hurried through Gresham, driving into the sunset. In Rockwood, we saw a bunch of ‘bangers waiting at the MAX stop. Later in the evening, we heard on the news there’d been a stabbing at that stop. No surprise there.

My friend’s iPhone is also a music library, and I was amazed by some of the songs playing, stuff the radio doesn’t play. I heard Warren Zevon singing about lawyers, guns and money and being accidentally like a martyr. Choice cuts from Steely Dan’s Royal Scam. It was my favorite album for a long stretch of teendom. I expected to puddle up, and it seemed probable that I would, but it wasn’t that kind of trip.

The last few times I’d taken the trip down memory lane, it left me sad, depressed even. It occurred to me that I hadn’t done this sober. Instead of bumming me out, I felt release. Most landmarks from my childhood home were gone completely; only two houses and a church remained. Photographs and memories are all that’s left of my childhood home. It’s now an apartment complex.

My little town is a clean, safe place. It resembles Beaverton more than the logging town I grew up in, with its octoplex and Fred Meyer store. Call it progress…

As we followed Burnside back to Portland, I showed my friend where the great plane crash of 1978 occurred. My sister had lived a few blocks from there. (Missed her by that much, dammit.) 😉 As we passed 82nd and got closer to downtown, the city seemed flatter, not as ominous. My friend summed it up with a question: “So, did that get the stink off for ya?”

Why yes, yes it did. I would like to publicly thank my buddy and chauffeur for a lovely afternoon and evening. She was kind enough to do the driving so I could gawk and ramble and convey stories of stuff that she had no knowledge of, listening patiently. I unburdened a lot with all those anecdotes and memories; gas money and a couple drinks were money well spent. She’s much cheaper than a psychiatrist!

My next mission in the ongoing ‘Reclaim my State’ tour? The beach. The mighty Pacific Ocean. I haven’t been since August of 1997, or was it ’98? Regardless, it’s been too long.

Brace yourself, ocean. I’m coming to join ya.

1 Comment

  1. bitchgoddessofalcohol said,

    I love it, hon! To anyone out there, reading this, I am the cousin’s ex. And the bartender that day. LMFAO!!! Wow… Ya, I was thinking you looked SOOOOOO familiar! I have this thing about asking tho. I’ve looked like an idiot a few times and will NOT willingly do that again. Come see me again. We’ll party!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: