Butter Rum Cartoon

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Monday, October 17, 2011

THE STREETS OF BLAINE

I’d be up in the treehouse next to our barn in the middle of Blaine, Washington, behind our parsonage and across the yard from Dad’s church on the corner of 4th and H Streets. These were the days, through the 1950’s, when McKinney’s Funeral Home was still across the street, and Interstate 5 hadn’t yet cut through town, chopping off Martin Street, the dirt road leading straight to my school on Mitchell Avenue. I used to walk those four blocks to school each day. In my treehouse, I’d be thinking about our next water war with the neighborhood kids, and how next time I wouldn’t give anyone the chance to hit me on the side of my head with a water balloon while I was up in a tree and didn’t see it coming. I’d be thinking about when I saved a woman’s life right there on H Street. I’d be grumbling about the Cowens taking away my slingshot. I’d wish that Wynn Hawes, the mayor’s son, wouldn’t be such a homebody and would come over to play. I’d be hoping that someone would find my brother Paul’s model plane lost in the woods somewhere in Lincoln Park. I’d be dreaming of different stories to write in the Butter Rum Cartoon when I’m 62. And in the midst of my thoughts, I would hear a distant sound, and suddenly I couldn’t get down from that treehouse fast enough!

“C’mon, Lassie!” I would shout with joy as I ran for my bike. Starting off at a run, I would hop onto my one-speed bicycle with its balloon tires and zoom out onto the empty streets toward the sound, with my small, faithful, black-and-white dog running beside me. South on 4th Street, blocks ahead, I’d see other kids running and riding their bikes toward the school. On Boblett Street is where we all saw it, coming our way, and we kids were happy! I was more than that, I was ecstatic! It was the Borderites marching band, the high school band practicing for parades! But they were the parade! I’d be hard-pressed to remember a joy better than riding my bike down the sidewalks alongside the marching band, waking up the quiet town with its horns and drums. Even Lassie had a smile on her face as she trotted beside me. To the band members, we kids were merely objects in their peripheral vision as they studied the music notes fastened to their instruments. They had no idea how wonderful they were to us, unless they had experienced the joy themselves several years before. I would follow them until they returned to the school and the music stopped, then ride home in an uplifted and renewed world.

Aerial View of Blaine WA in the 1950's.

The streets of Blaine were quiet then, in the Fifties. And sometimes I wanted them to be, like after my sister Linda and I went to a movie at the theatre, about four blocks away, and walked home in the dark. The two of us would walk down the middle of the street. That way, if someone did jump out of the bushes at us, we would already be halfway across the street. And unless that happened, we knew well not to run home. Linda explained to me how, when you run, you scare yourself, imagining that someone is chasing you. Instead, we walked quietly and spoke softly, down the middle of the street.

H Street hill was the awesome giant of coasting hills. Probably nowadays, there are more places for cars to pull out onto H Street on the way down, but then there was nothing. It was a straight shot, from top all the long way down to the bottom. No turns. Paved. Long. A bike-rider’s dream. I walked all the way to the top and coasted down H Street hill many times, but one time gave me one of the worst scares of my life. Zooming down H Street hill is not the safest way to find out that the front wheel of your bicycle is out of balance. After accelerating to some unknown but amazing speed, my bike began to shake! The front wheel was wobbling frantically and getting worse. It was all I could do to keep upright, and I laid on my coaster brake, but it was going too fast to stop. Finally I did manage to slow down enough to stop the shaking. It was the last time that bicycle descended H Street hill. But it wasn’t the last time the bike went down Devil’s Dive.

Devil’s Dive was a no-no. It was an insane thought in the minds of bored children. At the foot of H Street hill is the entrance to Lincoln Park. And somewhere at the back of Lincoln Park, across the road that went to the gravel pit, was Devil’s Dive. It was a bumpy, dirt “path” that you wouldn’t know whether to call a hill or a wall. The Omak Stampede in eastern Washington State comes to mind, but this would be on bicycles, not horses. At the top, Bill Beckett, David Chapman and I sat astride our bikes and gazed over the edge, daring each other. If we were to make it in one piece to the bottom, there was a large puddle we would have to maneuver around. We studied the bumps and dips of the insane idea, trying to figure out how we could avoid them and keep control.

Finally we lost our heads completely and did the impossible. Bill dropped over the edge first. I hesitated a moment, then followed. And behind me came David. I was grateful that my bike rolled along with me, not collapsing into some rut and throwing me headlong to my death. Bill actually made it! He even managed to miss the puddle. And with him as a guide, I did the same, and the two of us finally came to a gentle stop, shouting out our exultation at still being alive! Very alive! I looked back to see how David was doing, and there he lay. His bike was on its side in the dirt, and David was unconscious with his face in the puddle. Bill and I ran to him and pulled him out of the muddy water, and David came to. He coughed and sputtered and stood up, as alive as we were. Devil’s Dive. We are the only three I’ve known to have coasted down it.

Blaine had several gullies right in the town, and still does, but there were more then. And each of these gullies was my personal jungle. I knew them well, did much of my most profound thinking in them, pushed Danny DeMent into a sewer ditch in one, threw a rock and knocked out Quentin’s front tooth in another, and in yet another killed a snake that was killing a mouse. The mouse died anyway. Across H Street, just east, past Moffatt’s house, was a haunted house, and just passed it was a gully. I say haunted house, because it was a tall, narrow, two-story, brown house needing a paint job, and deserted. That, to a kid, is obviously a haunted house. But there was more convincing evidence. Rumor had it that a school teacher used to live there, and that one day she went out and crawled halfway across the fat, drain pipe that spanned the gully, tied a rope around it, tied the other end around her neck, and jumped off, hanging herself. Yes, it was a haunted house, and a haunted gully, for that matter.

Life would have no meaning if there were to be a haunted house without a boy to sneak into it, and so one day a brave friend and I went over and studied the house, finally finding an openable window on the gully side. I shoved the window open, and the two of us slithered in. The house, in the daylight, wasn’t as scary as I had expected or hoped it to be. It was entirely empty, but it was fun to sneak through the place and climb the stairs and explore the upstairs rooms. From an east room, I gazed out a window at the view of the gully, and at the big pipe bridging its way across it. When my friend joined me in the room, I said, “I’m going to go across on that pipe.”

“You’re nuts,” he said.

Downstairs, just before leaving, I saw something lying on the floor--a wooden coin--and picked it up. On it was imprinted, “Wooden Nickel.” I had never heard of a wooden nickel, nor had I ever heard the warning, “Don’t take any wooden nickels.” I stuck it in my pocket.

Moments later, we stood at one end of the big, black pipe. It went straight across the top of the gully, and the center was a good twenty feet off the ground. I straddled the pipe, and began the long trek across, leaving my friend at the gully’s edge. When I finally made it halfway across, I stopped. Here a woman killed herself. She tied a rope right here, and around her neck, and dropped, and died. Right below me she hung. I have her wooden nickel. I looked around at the green jungle below. Behind me I saw the large old house, and my friend, waiting and worried. I could hear a car passing by on its way toward H Street hill. Birds were singing all around me from the trees and underbrush. And then, I heard a distant sound, a happy sound, and a booming of a base drum. The Borderite band was on the march. We were missing a parade. I made my way forward, hurrying to reach the other side. And all along the way, I wondered what would make anyone want to die when there are such wonderful things as a marching band!

What we look like now:

P.S.  On February 23, 2013, I got a Facebook message from Dan DeMent, the kid, now grown up, whom I pushed into a sewer ditch in a Blaine gully.  He writes:
"Hi Dale,
Wow you've got a great memory and you're a great story teller. I don't remember you pushing me but I do remember ending up in the ditch many times of my own accord. So don't give a second thought to that. I also think I understand a little more these days what it must have been like for you to be a PK [preacher's kid] back then. I get a chance to pray with some pastor friends weekly, so get to see and hear some of the challenges they and their families face. It seems like you have a fruitful and interesting life. If you ever travel this way again, I'll treat you to a coffee and a chat.
Blessings,
Dan"

_____
If you liked this post, you may also enjoy the following:
The Barn
Indians in a Small World
To see the complete contents of the Butter Rum Cartoon, click here.


3 comments:

  1. Did you ever run into any of the little green men that reportedly lived in the gully? I did, but they were pretty quick, and as soon as I was up the tree they were gone.

    ReplyDelete
  2. And the gully was our favorite smoking place. Can you imagine an 8 year old kid, green from smoking cigars all day?

    Dan Fayette

    ReplyDelete
  3. I want to be a kid again!!!

    ReplyDelete