Pin It I’ve had moments where it seems I’ve not been awake—my life of these past days has had many moments where it seems more I’m watching a movie about it instead of living. I watch the scenes play out before me—more or less reruns of the same part—time and again. The music rises and falls, plays its melancholy strains intertwined into the flickering images.
It never changes.
I got a phone call from my mom in Washington, Kathy. She told me about the Summit Valley School Centennial. It was Summit Valley was where I’d attended first through sixth grades a score of years ago; they were celebrating the building’s 100 years of existence. I found myself reluctant; I said I probably wouldn’t be in attendance. It was too short of notice, plus the fact that I was needed here made it all the more difficult to allow myself to go.
I hung up the phone.
The next morning I awoke to morning sunlight dancing in patterns through my window as well as to the welcoming aroma of sausages and eggs. I stumbled from my makeshift room to find my dad making breakfast, the role I’d been fulfilling many of the days I’d been here. I sat at the kitchen table to a plate of steaming fare, my dad and I ate. As we did, I told him about the phone call from the night before, and the celebration in Summit Valley—which had actually begun about an hour previous to our breakfasting.
Dad laid his fork aside and looked intently at me across the kitchen table. “Go,” he insisted. “The school only has a centennial celebration once every 100 years. You’re not going to be around for the next one.”
“It’ll probably be lame,” I protested, smearing my toast around my plate to gather up the remnants of egg yolk.
Dad was adamant. “So, it’ll be lame around here, too. At least it’ll be a change of scenery—go. In fact, I don’t want you around here today.”
With this aphoristic ‘kicking out’ I found myself driving the distance through the pined Selkirk Mountains. As I drove, a sparklingly fresh wind seemed to catch in my lungs and remind me of a passage from the book, “The Watsons go to Birmingham—1963,” by Christopher Paul Curtis; In the story, Kenny’s father talks about the freshness in the air that the family is unaccustomed to, and talks about how they’ve become ‘tangled up in God’s beard.’
As the road wound up higher and higher, the air became more brisk and bracing, drenched with the aroma of pine. I thought a lot about that passage and wriggled my fingers through the crispness.
It.was.wondrous; Like breathing the air of heaven itself.
Soon I reached the pinnacle of the ridges and mountains, and spilled over them, taking that long fall down the other side; down into a land and a time far distant. Miles passed before me like vacant mailboxes on the roadside of life.
All too soon the rooftops of a little town I’d once known came into view over the trees. I found myself slipping back into another existence, a different place, another person I’d long-since left behind…decades ago where the ghosts of my past came back to haunt me –or rather, I’d come to let them. I could only blame myself.
I drove these strangely-familiar streets I’d once strolled with middle-school friends in a car registered in another state—a whole other life; it felt peculiar.
I picked up my mom and we moved along the memory roads I’d passed over so long ago—and still knew all too well. The familiar curves of the highways, the well-known landmarks, the homes of friends long-since gone.
As we came closer to the school where I’d spent my formative years, I felt a twinge of ‘homesickness’ for lack of a better word. I would not want to return to those days, but a visit for a few hours to a simpler time would have been a welcome reprieve.
I suddenly didn’t want to be here, yet wanted to at the same time. It felt strange.
There were more people there than I thought would be, and most of them I did not recognize.
But a few I did.
There were a few I had not seen since third or fourth grade; but they all still remembered my name.
I looked through the dog-eared photos; listening to the reminiscences of the veteran homesteaders, gathered in small bunches here and there—talking about the ‘good old days’ and times which were long before those which were mine.
As I wandered amongst the strangers gathered—all sharing a common bonding experience—the school, I felt somewhat at home.
It was at this point I noticed that nobody was taking pictures. Well, haphazard shots taken with disposable cameras and point and shoots taking place in random forms.
This would not do.
I remember something my grandfather had said many years ago, something he subscribed to…a motto of sorts. He had the firm belief that if you had a nice camera and walked around a place—just about any place—acting like you owned it and acting as if you were supposed to be there, nobody would challenge you.
He was right.
I took out my camera and let the shutter fly in a burst of rapid-succession clicks. People found this intimidating and moved aside, putting down their cameras when I would do so.
It made me smile.
I took photos of the room I’d spent 3 years of my childhood in; I took photos of complete strangers, listening as my childhood friend’s father was honored by having the new ball field named after him for his commitment to sports, and helping so many youth to achieve throughout the years. I took photos of childhood friends now grown.
Quite simply—I captured moments.
Nobody stopped me.
I gave the photos—all of them—to the technology guru at the school so as to have them shared with whoever would like them.
The pinnacle event was the ringing voices of those present singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to the old schoolhouse, and then the balloons being launched to the heavens; the resounding voices of those present floated on the winds and carried through the valley, rising and with just as much buoyancy as the colorful helium orbs to the clouds.
However, the moment which was most moving of all to me was when they rang the old schoolbell, the bell that had called me in for recess—the one which had hung in the belfry year after year. I remembered ringing that bell myself, too; the force of the backswing able to yank some of the kids off the ground as they clutched to the well-worn rope.
Words cannot describe what it felt like. A whole lifetime of memories rushed into me. Secret rendezvous with friends, early-morning snowball fights, knapweed forts and games of childhood all rushed into me like a gust of fresh air after being submerged.
I reconnected with a few old friends, I was…home.
My mom and I drove the familiar road to the Columbia River to Cloverleaf Beach where we had traveled to so many times and swam summer after summer. As I drove, I fumbled with my iPod, and soon the sounds of Kenny Loggins flooded through the speakers and out the open windows, just like he had so many years ago. The road had not changed, only I had. I was a little bit older, that was all.
I stood at the water’s edge and listened. The years seemed to compress and stretch until this moment and the moment I’d been here as a child seemed to meld together. Echoes seemed to play in the recesses of my mind—laughter which was faded and worn like a much-loved pair of shoes.
We drove to the ferry and rode across to Inchelium, passing through the Indian graveyard there and riding the long stretches of highway where the crystalline blue waters sparkled iridescently in the sunlight.
We stopped and had a late lunch at Barney’s Junction up near Kettle Falls, and saw the small performing theatre where I’d starred in a number of smalltown plays a lifetime ago. Ice creams were in order, so we stopped off at Sandy’s where I immediately noted a few spelling mistakes on the menu sign—my class would most certainly have fun finding the errors in that come this August.
As we drove nearer to Colville, a marquee rose up on the right hand side of the road I’d long since forgotten about—the old drive-in theatre. At this point, I turned the car around. I had to see the place again. I remember going here with my family and seeing movies. I’d gone here with my friends.
It was just as old and nasty as I remembered.
The ground was littered with gopher holes and the screen was peeled and dilapidated—in pitiable need of repair.
I had to get out and walk around.
It wasn’t much to look at, but nestled amongst the rolling hills of the Great Northwest, it was more than enough.
As we drove into Colville, we passed the fabric store—oh, an entire blog post could be written on this hellacious place of child torture—and one day will; therefore, I will forbear at this time to write anything further of it. Just know…
However, next door the business had burned down. I don’t remember what used to be there. This remains unimportant. Nevertheless, the building was gone.
An alley had been created with its absence, and there was a cracked mural on one of the brick walls.
However, without a model—something to draw your eye—it wasn’t nearly as impressive as it could be for a photograph. Nevertheless, while taking a few shots, I noticed a local Hispanic boy from the Mexican restaurant next door; he was milling about and soon approached me, wanting to know what I was doing. Why was I taking pictures of a wall?
I explained that I was a photographer and I asked if he’d like to be in a few photos. I’d then be willing to give these photos to his parents—for free. He readily agreed and the following images were born.
Mom and I had a wonderful conversation throughout our little adventure of which I’ll not expound as this post as already reached epic proportions. In fact, while typing this I see that I have now reached page 5 in Microsoft Word. This tells me that it is time to close.
With the sun beginning to dip beyond the distant westerly hills it was time for me to be returning to Sandpoint. I began the ascending climb back to the home of my dad and my ‘other mother’ for the remainder of the day; I made my way yet again through God’s beard. This time, when I reached the breath of heaven summit, the Great Northwest smiled at me—and I smiled back.