|Klamath Union High School|
July of the year 2009 was a significant milestone. In that month, my term of residency in Portland reached 21 years: longer than I had lived anywhere else. Portland surpassed Klamath Falls by one year. So, technically, I could no longer call Klamath Falls my home; it was no longer where I was "from."
Further, since my father passed in 2001, and his widow, Tami, left in 2004, I had had no occasion to go back to the town that had been my home for two decades. Six years had passed since last I'd been to that tough, old town built on timber, cattle, potatoes and alfalfa. Six years since I'd been to hard-bitten Klamath Falls on the western edge of the high desert, nestled up to the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains, twenty-some miles from the state line with California.
But this year, Klamath Falls sent out her beacon, calling her children back. "Come back from Portland! Come back from Louisiana! Come back from California, and from Bend, and from Medford!" Thirty years had passed since the Class of 1980 for Klamath Union and Mazama High Schools had graduated. There was to be a reunion.
|Salt Creek Falls|
On Friday, Maty and I took a day off from our respective jobs so we could make the ~300 mile drive at a leisurely pace. We stopped to admire Salt Creek Falls along the way. As we drove, my mind roamed out in front of us, to our destination. I wondered how the town would be different. I wondered about my old classmates.
|It always was about the water, wasn't it?|
We got to town in the early afternoon and checked in to the Quality Inn on Main Street. Right off the bat, that disoriented me, because what is now called the Quality Inn had been called Molatore's Motel in all the years that I had lived in Klamath Falls. As we drove around town, later in the afternoon, I was taken aback by some other changes: Motorcycle Hill, just off the Alameda Bypass now has buildings on it! What had once been sagebrush hillsides on the approach to OIT from Biehn Street are now business parks and fast food joints. Idella's Market, at the tee of Alameda Bypass and South Sixth Street is gone. The Tower Theater is long gone. Jeanne Carnini's Dance Studio, that Dad, my brother and I built from the ground up is now a dentist's office.
|Shasta Elementary School|
But, then, as we cruised through town, memories arose, like rainbow trout silently breaching the surface of Klamath Lake. "See, honey? This is where I went to elementary school."
|Front entrance of Mazama High School|
And, "This is Mazama, where I went to middle school." And, "This is where Kevin Scott and I swam across the canal after football practice." And, "This is where my friends and I drank a keg of beer in honor of my 19th birthday."
Or, "This is where we played football." Or: "That building used to be a tropical fish store, but it's shut down now." Or, "There's the House of Shoes. It's been there since the 60s." Or, "There's Wong's Chinese Restaurant" and "Moore Park" and "Summers Lane."
And with each spoken thought, came a roster of names: people I had known for 40 years or more. Mike Lestch, Bob Waters, Greg Blaisedale, Steve Lee.
Some of the memories were sweet, some were bittersweet, and some were not at all sweet. Together they wove the tapestry of a life in a small mountain town in southern Oregon.
Later that evening, my old friend Rick Means came to the motel room and together we went to Mia and Pia's Pizzeria (formerly Summers Lane Market) to see our classmates.
|Rick Means, moi, et Dave Stratton|
It was a joyous surprise to walk onto that patio at dusk and to see people I hadn't seen in 30 years, and to recognize them instantly. I told Dave Stratton: "Man, I don't care if we were in Oslo, Norway. If I saw you in a crowd of people, I'd walk right up to you and say, 'Dave Stratton! How are you, old friend?'"
Same with Brian Purnell, Juanita Nelson, Teri Webber, Larry Vaughn, Todd Hyatt, Leslie Bennett, Heidi Bruner, Dave Powell, Ray Holliday, Karen Childers, and forty other people I could name. And even though I hadn't seen these folks in decades, I felt right at home. To know a person as a scion of one's hometown is to see past any veil.
|Hog's Back Mountain|
There have been times, I'll admit, when I might have smirked when I told someone that I was from Klamath Falls. I may even have maligned her in my thoughts or my words. But never again. Not after this visit. I went home and found that I loved that old gal, Klamath Falls; that I will always love her.
In recent years, whenever anyone would ask me if I'd been back, I had fallen into the habit of answering, almost as if by rote: "None of my family is there anymore. I have no reason to go back."
Well, I have gone back, now. And now I realize how superficial and ignorant and just plain wrong are those words.
How could there be no reason to go back to Klamath Falls?
Where I've got a story for every street and every corner? Where, thirty years on, I could still walk through town blind-folded and never lose my way? Where folks never had any pretensions to be anything other than what we are?
Which is to say: good people.
Which is to say: humble and proud.
Which is to say: family.
Yes, that's it! Family... Klamath Falls... family.
(All my love, classmates!)