Sunday, June 27, 2010

Going home, 30 years on

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."

Modoc Field
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!)

11 comments:

Terry said...

Brought tears to my eyes Dade! I shared some of the same experiences as you and Maty while Dwight showed me around town a bit. Not having ever lived in a relatively smaller town, or in one place any length of time for that matter, I yearn for the ties and closeness you speak of. I'm glad I got to share a small piece of it at the reunion.

Mish said...

Dade,
The work-week before the big reunion date someone at the Chamber of Commerce here in KFalls asked me to write a piece for H&N about "the Heart of the Community" and what that meant to me. Much of what you mentioned in your blog (fabulously written, I might add) was what I wrote about. To me, the "people" of Klamath County are the "Heart of the Community".. loved what you wrote, am proud of what you wrote, and am proud of YOU! Dave D, Terri (Neipp) and I met tonight to square up on all the financial details for the reunion, we chatted about the great time everyone seemed to have. It made us very happy to see the turnout and Dade, the really great thing was... that everyone was treated the same! No clicks, no whispers... we were all just friends! You photos rock, a job well done!

Berta said...

Beautifully written, Dade. This expresses exactly what I feel about my hometown. No matter where in the world I live, or how long I've been away, Klamath Falls will always be the place I call "home".
I truly regret that I wasn't able to be there with all of you!!
Berta (Morehouse) Swenson

Anonymous said...

Dade, I have lived here all of my life and my husband and I knew where we wanted to live for about 15 years. It was a dream. Well our dream came true about 5 years ago when due to unfortunate circumstances in your family, your dad's home came up for sale and we purchased it.
It is our slice of paradise and I know that you had a hand in building it with your father and brothers. This place has a beautiful spirit that I know your family must have felt here too.
If you ever have an opportunity, please stop by.
K.C

Chris said...

Dade,
You know me and although we just catch up here and there I really enjoy your Blog. Your blog of the "Going home, 30 years on" really put it into words so eloquently... thank you....
Chris

Ridwan said...

Excellent post brother Dade. Makes my heart feel light and happy!

Write on. I am just catching up down here.

Peace,
Ridwan

Mish said...

Dade,
The work-week before the big reunion date someone at the Chamber of Commerce here in KFalls asked me to write a piece for H&N about "the Heart of the Community" and what that meant to me. Much of what you mentioned in your blog (fabulously written, I might add) was what I wrote about. To me, the "people" of Klamath County are the "Heart of the Community".. loved what you wrote, am proud of what you wrote, and am proud of YOU! Dave D, Terri (Neipp) and I met tonight to square up on all the financial details for the reunion, we chatted about the great time everyone seemed to have. It made us very happy to see the turnout and Dade, the really great thing was... that everyone was treated the same! No clicks, no whispers... we were all just friends! You photos rock, a job well done!

Berta said...

Beautifully written, Dade. This expresses exactly what I feel about my hometown. No matter where in the world I live, or how long I've been away, Klamath Falls will always be the place I call "home".
I truly regret that I wasn't able to be there with all of you!!
Berta (Morehouse) Swenson

Curt Christian said...

Hello my old friend !! So absolutely fantastic to read of Klamath through your eyes ! Yours is an excellently written blog no matter the topic, but this makes my heart swell ! You've put it in words that many of us couldn't - we that came back and stayed very much appreciate your take and fabulous writing - I believe your work truly "hits it on the head" !! THANK YOU DADE !!

Joanie Lafferty said...

Beautiful, Dade! I think no matter where we have lived after Klamath, we will always be drawn back to Klamath because growing up it was THAT All-American town - sports, parades, water skiing, dragging the gut! Summers were the best in Klamath!

Jo Ann W. said...

Dade-
I agree great memories had by all at the reunion. I was anxious that I would not remember names & faces- but it was like stepping back into time and hanging out with my classmates. Growing up in Klamath Fallls gave me a sound foundation for life- From learning to drive cattle with the good ol' ranchers in Lorella, to morell mushroom hunting in Keno. I too call Klamath my home. Thanks for sharing the story and photos.