I have been criticized, fairly I think, that what I write here is not representative of who I am, that there is much more to me and my experience than gets represented here. This is true, I believe, for a couple of reasons. First, I tend to write when I am bothered by something, or have been wallowing in self pity or despair, or when I am angry about something, or when I have been awash in nostalgia for times long past, untouchable and crystalline. If I’m feeling good, if all is right in my world, I usually am too busy doing cool things or being happy that I don’t sit down to write. The second reason is that I have a hard time making nice equate to interesting. I like nice things, and am often attracted to nice media; I love Winnie the Pooh, for instance, and its non-threatening stories and characters, there is a lot to be said for TV and movies and games of the same stripe; I love Stardew Valley, and Viva Pinata, The Good Place and Parks and Recreation. I can see the appeal, but lack the execution.
“I can’t write nice,” I once cried to my wife. “I’m sorry, I’m not Nicolas Sparks, for crying out loud.” It is easy, of course, to tell us apart; one of us is universally beloved and hugely successful, and the other one is me.
So I find it difficult to write nice, to make it seem interesting to me, and since I write for myself, if I’m boring myself, I assume everyone else will be bored as well, and really since I have to fight for the time to write anyway, it had better be interesting to me or I might just play Rocket League, or watch Archer (again).
I can’t write nice, but I can shoot for sincere, and hope for the best. Here goes.
We recently went on vacation, back to my hometown in northeast Washington state, and it was awesome.
Ione Washington is a very small town about a hundred miles north of Spokane, nestled in the mountains alongside the wide and deep Pend Oreille river. If I recall correctly, it has a population of around five hundred souls.
There is a local summer festival, called Down River Days, that takes place at the end of July, and I hadn’t been to it for thirty years or so.
When I was a kid, we used to live close to the park where all the festivities take place, and I remember waking up and hearing the hydroplanes racing on the river, great loud jetboats whipping around a course marked on the river, and after waiting all summer for Down River Days, it was a fantastic sound to hear; it meant that finally the weekend we had been waiting for had arrived. I would wake up and get dressed and cross the highway (always look both ways, people don’t always slow down like they should), and if I had a quarter I might go swimming at the pool in the park, always cold, always fun. That pool is where I first learned to swim; my mom was a lifeguard there. I used to do flips off the side of the concrete deck into the water. Although it looks slow and lazy, I never, ever swam in the river. My mom said that there was terrible undercurrents there, and I could be pulled out into the deep water, I could be swept away, maybe all the way to Box Canyon Dam, maybe I would get caught in the milfoil, a invasive fresh water seaweed. I could die, so I never, ever swam in the river.
It was the thing. As a kid, Down River Days was the thing. The parade, the street dance, the vendors that would show up in their RVs to sell things that they made, strange knick-knacks and polished rocks. and if you could find one that would sell one to a kid, knives. The prize was a Rambo survival knife, it had a compass in the handle, and fishing line and a needle and thread. The top of it could be used as a saw, and it was BIG. I never got a Rambo knife, though I think my older brother had one for a while, hidden from our mom, who saw, not an excellent tool for woodland survival situations, but trips to the clinic to get stitches from Dr. Hansen.
One summer I woke to a knocking on the door and it was someone from the library. They wanted me to be part of the library bookworm in the parade, under this sort of Chinese dragon thing that they had constructed. I would be there I told them, as soon as I find my pants, which was surprisingly difficult for some reason. I couldn’t find pants, clean or dirty, just no pants, anywhere. I guess I found them, because I was part of the bookworm in the parade and it was amazing. They still do the parade, something that I usually avoid, because parades generally suck, but we went because when you are on the nostalgia tour, you take all the stops, and so we went to the parade and as a veteran of many a parade both participating in, and watching, the Down River Days Parade is a good one.
I left Ione in the beginning of the fifth grade. We moved to Kelso, where I met my best friends and joined a band and fell in love and got my heart broken, where I made stupid mistakes and gained a few scars. I am lucky enough to have two hometowns, two sets of childhood memories, two sets of childhood best friends.
I went to Down River Days on vacation, this time with my family, my wife and two sons. I didn’t know what to expect. When I was a kid, Down River Days was an event, it was awesome. But for someone who had accidentally got caught up in Chicago’s St Patrick’s celebration insanity, green river and all, would it hold up? Things looked different to me as an adult; the houses are smaller, the streets shorter, emptier, the bridge we jump off at the lake is closer to the water than I remember. I went with my family because I wanted to share a small part of myself with them; they could see where I came from, meet the people that raised me, that cared for me, they could swim at Box Canyon, jump off the bridge at Sullivan Lake, they could go golfing with Cathy Enyeart, hit the shot off of the fourth tee, the steep downhill one that always seemed so cool to hit. They could get a sense of who I am and how I came to be me. Maybe, they could hear ten year old me screaming cannonball as I jumped off the bridge.
One night while we were camping at Sullivan Lake, I sat around the fire with my brother, two grown men on the nostalgia tour with our families, older and slower, and just maybe more content. We talked about legacy, about what remains when we leave this world, and there are so many people that I saw that helped me along, that made my life better, that had a lasting positive impact on my life, that made me who I am, or saved me from what I might become.
I love you Cathy Enyeart. You took me to see Dick Tracy for my birthday when I was a kid. You had a black Yamaha motorcycle, and you took me for rides on it, I remember being small enough to sit in front, on the gas tank and riding those twisty roads. We would ride to Colville in your Dodge Colt, listening to Mike Warnke on cassette, we went golfing at the course up by the lake, the nine hole wonder with the sand greens and the bugs, and the fourth hole that could make you look like an all-star if you got a good hit. You took me to the lake to swim, you showed up for my birthdays, and you made sure that I always felt special, you always made sure that I felt loved. You didn’t want to hear it in person, when I was on the nostalgia tour, but your legacy includes me, a better person than I had any right to become, and it includes my wife, because I am a better husband because of you, and it includes my kids, because I am a better father because of your love. I thank you, and my wife and kids thank you. You have left an indelible mark on our lives. And its not just me, there’s a whole generation of kids that would pile in your van and go to football games and basketball games; Andy and Randy and Sonny and Dusty and Donnie and Ryan and Juice, and a hundred others, they all owe you a debt of gratitude. I love you Cathy. You have a legacy of kindness and generosity and love that will continue to resonate, and spread and ripple.
I got to swim in Sullivan Lake with my best friend Zack Parker. We hung out, and our families swam together in the lake I used to swim when I was a kid, clear and cool. He gave me honey, and I sent him a signed book when I got home. I haven’t seen or heard from him in decades, but hell, he was my best friend. Thanks, my man. I’ll keep in touch, I promise.
There’s too much, and I cannot seem to express my gratitude and love in a way that will capture it. Frank and Lois Beatty, you mean so much to me. I grew up in your house, literally; there were marks in your kitchen on the door jam that tracked it. Too much to list properly, and my heart is too full. I love you.
They don’t do the hydroplane races anymore. The pool that I learned to swim in is filled with concrete. The house I grew up in is completely gone, now a dusty vacant lot. The ancient apple tree in the backyard, the plum tree, the garage, the birch tree that was the center of our whiffle ball field, the sandbox that we used to play in are all gone. The nostalgia tour has to end, right? We can’t live on vacation. We drove home, and life piles on, and we have appointments, and flag football and violin practice, and I have got to finish this stupid book that I am working on if I want to stay on schedule. We have trash to take out and emails to answer, and lawns to mow. But I want to hold on to it, that feeling. I want to remember the connectedness, the heart. I want to hold onto that feeling when I woke up and I could feel the sun streaming through my window and I could hear the hydroplanes racing on the river, and Down River Days was finally here.
The usual postscript: on Twitter @RDPullins, on Facebook, email me at dissent.within at gmail.com. Comment here if you like, or send me a carrier pigeon, or try telepathy. Try to be kind to one another, people, can you? Peace.