Sunday, August 10, 2014

As I approached Farewell Bend for the first time

.... in thirty-eight years, my mind’s eye tried to reproduce the erector-set steel girders that once carried US 30 across the Snake River into town. The vacant site of that landmark bridge had disappeared into the weedy landscape north of where a concrete slab speeds Interstate traffic across the river. Likewise gone was the Moore Hotel. With its rooftop red-neon sign, that six-story hotel once defined Farewell Bend’s skyline for travelers approaching from the Idaho bluffs to the east.  Where it stood tall above Oregon Street, a grassy plot of land sat vacant. Three blocks southwest, an empty parking lot took up the land where I visualized the brick printing plant that housed my parents’ newspaper when it was the semi-weekly Argus-Observer. Across the alley, the site of the old City Hall and a one-room cement structure where I once passed cigarettes to the town drunks was also paved over.  Along 4th Avenue, the Toot ‘n Tell drive-in was a forgotten ghost.
A year into the new century, Wal-Mart, Home Depot and a Holiday Inn had thoroughly tapped into Farewell Bend’s lifeblood, moving in along the I-84 corridor that streaks past the  state-line town of ten thousand.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Farewell Bend the Novel

Chapter one continued....

To the west, half way out the eighteen miles of two-lane highway that leads to the rival town of Vale – then as now the county seat – Malheur Butte poked indestructibly into the northern skyline. Created by lava uplift, it rose above the bluff that helps define that end of the Snake River Valley.  The muddy Malheur River wound past the butte’s base, idling through potato, sugar beet and alfalfa fields after flowing down from sagebrush badlands and cattle-dotted valleys to the west, reaching toward its rendezvous with the Snake River and a race to the Columbia. A six-foot diameter metal pipeline  –  in the 1950s a symbol of man’s effort to tame the land – continued to carry reclamation water across the Malheur River at the base of the butte. 
Back in town, some man-made landmarks remained as they were in 1956 when the population was slightly less than half what it is today.  A Quonset-style gym and finger-shaped high school building sat well-worn and fully used at the top of the hill at the end of Idaho Street, a mile west of downtown. Down the slope, the freshly groomed football stadium provided a visual frame for the high school. The field appeared in better condition than the school.
Two water towers still bracketed the residential neighborhoods north and south of downtown, giving Farewell Bend’s cluster of houses and trees the appearance of a thousand small towns across the West.
On the east side of the railroad tracks, north of a dingy underpass that divides the town, a strange name,  Heinz Frozen Foods,  was plastered across the side of a vast frozen food plant. Locals know it as the place where two Mormon brothers started the Ore-Ida potato processing business that put the town on the world map until the brothers moved their headquarters to Boise and then sold to a bigger corporation.
Southeast of the underpass at the juncture of East 3rd Street and Southeast 4th Avenue, the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist temple still served descendents of Japanese Americans who were incarcerated at Minidoka during World War II.
A two-story structure on Oregon Street that held The Farley Hotel, the town’s infamous bawdy house, looked much the same as it did half a decade ago. Minus its tiny marquee and the wooden stairway that led up to the second story hotel’s back door.
On that sun-baked July morning in 2001, the structure’s front, second-story windows stood open, curtains blown in and a small air conditioner sitting idle. A buffed and polished army recruiter in starched fatigues emerged from the Spuds and Suds Tavern & Café below the Farley flat. He whipped out a key and let himself in the door that opens at the foot of the staircase leading to the rooms above.
Six blocks away on 2nd Street, a green, L-shaped frame house with a redwood deck off its living room shimmered in the summer sun. The color and configuration of the house appeared as I remembered, but it looked smaller, boxier.  Asked inside, I discovered it crowded with the debris of its current tenant. It was the house that I knew, and yet it was not.
Saturday evening, behind the green and yellow façade of Farewell Bend’s Holiday Inn, the words “Pardon Our Mess  –  Remodeling in Progress” greeted my classmates as we all gathered for our forty-fifth high school reunion banquet. The relentless July sun was beginning to disappear behind the low-lying Eastern Oregon foothills. Struggling to step lively towards the motel’s main entrance, we cast long shadows across the parking lot.
By a few minutes after eight, most of one hundred twelve diners, representing half the graduating class and their spouses, gave up on their tough steaks. We launched into the usual round of self-congratulatory speeches. Eight classmates took the opportunity to revisit that still unforgotten senior football game with archrival Vale.  Some of the women tried to change the subject. But when former players spoke of dropped balls and missed plays, they drew choked guffaws and peals of male laughter. Even those of us who never saw a moment of action  –   especially some us  –  knew we would take the game to our graves.
After dinner, Coach Ed Glover, a shell of the man who had tormented me  –  mostly by ignoring me  –  shuffled up. He held out his hand and said how happy he was that I had finally returned for a reunion. I tried to think of what to say, but before I could come up with anything, he wandered off.
Vernon Anderson stood off to the edge of one of the chattering circles, still bending his long legs as if he were too tall for the rest of us. I wandered over and with minimal prompting, he launched into an explanation of how it was no problem for him to work as a public relations consultant for Livermore Laboratories from a home 400 miles south, atop the beach at San Juan Capistrano. He was sipping a beer, making it clear he’d never returned to the Mormon fold.
            “How is your mother? Where is she?” Vernon asked.
            “She died. Heart attack at 67. ”
            “That’s young.”
            “She’d had rheumatic fever as a child. Doctors said that weakened her heart. At the end, she was living close to me in Southern California,” I said.
            “Too bad. I really liked her. She taught me to dance,” Vernon said.
            “I remember.”
            “You must miss her. When I came home from college, I used to go into the paper to talk with her. She understood things my parents had no idea about.”
            “I didn’t know about that,” I confessed. She had never mentioned it.
            “Dad remarried, twice in fact, and died last year,” I went on. “They said it was a viral infection that killed him, but I think it was an angioplasty they gave him when he collapsed from taking too many drugs.”
            I wanted to talk about what a reprobate he’d become, always a girlfriend on the side that he liked to take me to visit, bragging about his sex life in the final months before his death. But Vernon wasn’t interested. He nodded and turned toward a group that had begun singing the old Farewell Bend High fight song.
            I had thought Vernon might ask about Kevin, who was living at home when Vernon visited our mother at the Argus office. There could be a little competition working there, given Kevin’s job as an academic dean at a prestigious small college in the East.  Still, I was happy not to be called upon to brag about my younger brother. I never got the tone quite right, and Kevin had no interest in hearing from anyone connected with Farewell Bend.
It bothered me that no one brought up Pete Sanger. Classmates who still lived in town might know more than I did about what happened to him. Of course, he was a class ahead of us. I decided they didn’t recall how close Pete and I had been. I wasn’t going to be the one who started talk about how he disappeared. 
A half hour later, I sat drinking at the bar with William Osaki, who was about to retire from his job as a psychiatrist at a New York teaching hospital. Out of nowhere, during a casual discussion of wives and careers, he volunteered that he had accepted an internment reparations payment even though he did not need the money. The government had been guilty and should be punished legally, he said. For him, the payments did that, and they brought a kind of closure.
I tried to understand why he thought that solved anything. Then Big Carter, a local contractor, carried his glass of whiskey from three stools over to tell us how much he hated California women, in particular his ex-wife.
 As quickly as I could, I headed for my room, fighting off a combination of nausea and exhaustion. This reunion trip, my wife had stayed home in California.   Talking with old classmates, those I thought I had known well and those I could barely remember, proved both tiring and exhilarating.  A lot had happened in the intervening years. We couldn’t know the World Trade Center disaster was about to blow up our world. But we had lived through the Kennedy Assassinations. And Martin Luther King. While no one talked of them, Vietnam came up. One classmate had been there as an officer. He liked to mention that duty in the jungle as part of his world tours in the military. None of our classmates died in Vietnam, but kids we knew, who came along right after us, lost their lives in the fighting. One simply disappeared.
I realized there was no way I could make right small, old slights and missteps, or the new ones I was adding when a face or a name triggered a blank. The best I could do was go to bed and get rested.
On this trip, the reunion was secondary. The promise of a Sunday drive to the mountains and a chance to revisit important memories let me drift off to sleep. I skipped the getaway breakfast and pointed my rental car toward Emmett on the road to Horseshoe Bend, where I picked up Idaho Route 55 and turned  north through the Little Payette River gorge toward Cascade Reservoir where Pete had disappeared thirty-seven years earlier.
Nothing was as I remembered it. When I reached the reservoir, a huge expanse of water stretched north and west from the earthen dam on the edge of the town of Cascade. Campgrounds and day-use parks occupied a half dozen locations along the shoreline. A huge, green mountain meadow provided gently sloping banks on each side of the water. I strolled to the water’s edge, trying to imagine where Pete might have gone skin diving in thirty feet of water.
The last time I saw this place, dead trees poked out of the water where it lapped against steep banks close to the highway. Back then, the reservoir had been full for less than a decade. Now, in 2001, water covered the old highway in many places.
Back in my car, I headed on north through New Meadows thinking of the last time I had seen Pete, in 1963  –  seven years after his marriage, six months after my first daughter was born, a year before my divorce.
That summer of ’63 I had driven alone to Boise to visit my mother and talk about my failing marriage. She had sold the paper the year before and was then into peddling mutual funds. Pete and his family had just moved from Baker to Nampa, where Pete hired on for more money as assistant advertising manager of the Nampa Free Press.  I made arrangements with Pete to drive him to Hazard Creek for a day of stream fishing at a spot where I’d fished as a kid with my father, a spot I remembered for its cascading waters and deep pools home to a few 12-inch trout. I didn’t get to visit with his wife and three sons. I figured Estie was still mad at me about that visit to the Farley.
Pete and I left for the mountains well before daylight. It was still cool when we found ourselves walking through the dappled mid-morning forest toward a fishing hole I remembered as the place where the big ones hung out. The pool we came upon was about twenty-five feet across at the bottom of a stair-step of short waterfalls. We found it easy to cast all the way across it from the rocks on the near side.
 When we reached the stream, yellow-white sunlight had already begun to streak down the sides of the canyon and through the trees to glance off the water. We quickly baited up  –  neither of us grew up as fly fisherman  –  and threw our spinner-and-worm rigs into the stream where the waterfall hit with a roar and churned up the surface into a rippling white spray of water.
A near trophy rainbow must have been lurking near the surface for it took Pete’s bait immediately, grabbing the hook hard.
“Give it line, but don’t lose it,” I shouted needlessly; Pete was better at hauling them in than I was. A long three or four minutes later, he swung the fish well out and up the  bank, clapping both hands around it as he moved well back into the  brush where the trout could not leap back into the stream during the unhooking operation.
“God, it’s a beauty. Probably fourteen inches,” he said.
“The biggest you’ve caught?”
“Stream trout, yeah. For sure.”
  Over the next two and a half hours, I caught six keepers, ranging from six and a half to eleven inches, with three at the larger end. Pete plucked out another seven by working the creek hard upstream. By late morning, it was too warm for the trout to be in any mood to feed. We found a rock, where we both could stretch out near the big hole, and unpacked our sandwiches. Each of us had lugged in two cans of beer, stashed in a backwater under a rock so they would be cold at lunchtime. Our conversation that day revolved around Pete’s desire to start his own weekly newspaper, a farm-oriented publication he dreamed of situating in Caldwell, near Boise and Nampa in the heart of the Boise Valley farmland. I decided then that Pete would always find a way to take a new risk. He was incurable. 
A year later, my mother clipped the story of Pete’s disappearance and mailed it to me.  The clipping came from a July 1964 edition of The Argus-Observer, obviously a deadline story reported and edited in a few hours:
Peter Sanger, a 1955 graduate of Farewell Bend High School employed as an advertising salesman for The Nampa Free Press, was reported missing and apparently drowned Monday by sheriff’s deputies in Cascade Idaho.
Sanger was believed drowned when he failed to surface after skin diving in Cascade reservoir Sunday afternoon. He had been down for more than an hour without surfacing when his companions became alarmed and started an underwater search.
The Valley County sheriff’s office was notified at 5:30. The search had to be called off because of darkness but was resumed early this morning.
Deputy Sheriff Jim Sims told The Argus-Observer that 10 skin divers were still searching for the body at 2 p.m. on Monday afternoon. Sims said that it was still believed to be in the area where Sanger was known to have dived.
The deputy said that the water was so murky because of algae that the divers had difficulty in seeing more than four feet in front of them. They were diving in about 30 feet of water.
A fin and swim trunks were found and were identified as belonging to Sanger.  The deputy said that divers told him that the weight of the empty oxygen tank and the weighted belt would not allow the body to float to the surface.
Sanger was 29 years old. He was assistant advertising manager of the Free Press and secretary-elect of the Nampa Chamber of Commerce. He graduated from Farewell Bend High School in 1955, where he played three years of football and was very involved in student activities. He was an active member of the Nampa Buffalo Club.
Sanger’s wife and his mother, a retired legal secretary who still lives in Farewell Bend, went to Cascade Sunday after hearing of the tragedy. Both were hospitalized for shock at a Cascade hospital Sunday night. On Monday they were still under a doctor’s care.
A note that my mother included with the story said that she had talked with the editor of The Argus-Observer and Pete’s body had still not been located. The editor told her he planned a brief follow-up story, but that was it, because Sanger was no longer a local man.  I could still visualize the last line of my mother’s scribbled note: “I don’t think he drowned. Not Pete. It just doesn’t add up.” 
The hum of the tires of the rental car speeding through the mountain meadow north of New Meadows came close to hypnotizing me. Memories of my parents and of Pete began tugging at my mind like fragments of dreams that come to me at night when I am trying to go back to sleep and can’t.


District Attorney Plans
Abatement of Houses
            Abatement proceedings will be instituted against Farewell Bend’s houses of prostitution, District Attorney E. Otis Smith said this morning.
            “I’m going to do all I can to abate these places,” he said. “I want to close them up. The girls may be out of town by now, and I don’t know what effect that will have on the evidence. But I think we’ve got good evidence.”
            This official reaction followed raids early Friday evening on Farewell Bend’s historic bawdy house, the Farley hotel, and the Snake River Hotel on the East Side.
            The raids were conducted by Sheriff John Elfering with the assistance of Farewell Bend city police who helped in booking the girls and the operators of the establishments.
            Two special investigators from Portland were brought to Malheur County by Sheriff Elfering to obtain the actual evidence for the arrests. They were officers from the force of Terry Schrunk, sheriff of Multnomah County.
            Posing as hunters, they entered the hotels and secured the evidence needed, then made the arrests for the Malheur sheriff’s office.
            Helen Guyer, proprietor of the Farley hotel, was charged with “keeping a bawdy house,” as was Sue Morgan, operator of the East Side establishment.
            The maid at the Farley was also arrested and charged with vagrancy. Five girls from the Snake River Hotel, allegedly prostitutes, were arrested on a charge of vagrancy. The girls were booked on “Jane Doe” warrants and did not themselves appear in court.
            The two proprietors posted $150 bail each and the girls posted $100 bail each, for a total of $900 of bail money posted in the justice court of Judge Thos. Jones.
            Mayor Frank Popper said this morning that he was “shocked” to learn that houses of prostitution have been operating in Farewell Bend. He went on to add that prostitution has been a recurrent problem.
            His reaction sketched the nature of the task that faces District Attorney Smith. Farewell Bend was widely known as a center of prostitution before World War II. During the war the illicit industry was closed for a time. In the decade since the war, there has been intermittent operation except for one year when organized, commercial prostitution was stamped out by abatement proceedings.
            Such proceedings are brought against the property instead of individuals, making it possible to padlock the property, taking it out of use for a year.
            In former years, this has been the only effective method of restricting prostitution here.
                                                       –—From The Argus-Observer Oct. 17, 1954

            “You didn’t tell me about closing down the Farley,” I yelled from the couch where I was reading that day’s issue of The Argus-Observer.  I spoke as my father headed out the door for his usual Monday night turn at the office, preparing fresh layouts to take to the street on Tuesday to sell for Thursday’s publication.
Dad would not want to talk about the Farley Hotel with my mother listening, but I wanted to see how he would respond.
            The bounce in his step slowed for a moment as he turned his rounded shoulders in my direction and made his dark brown eyes look vague behind rimless glasses.
            I did not understand why women liked him as much as they did. He could be a great listener, but his looks were ordinary middle-aged except that his right cheek was slimmer than the left, from a bout of polio he had as a child.  He’d been skinny as a young man and now carried what he called a “small tire” around his middle. His best feature was a full head of black wavy hair that, at forty, was lightly sprinkled with grey.
            From a half-open front door, with the cold night air rushing in, he stared over my head.
            “Not now, Jack,” he said. “Have you checked the stoker to be sure there’s enough coal? It’s getting real cold these nights.”  He tried to smile, though it came out looking like a grimace.
“You really ought to be doing the dishes. You can read about the Farley later,” he said. 
            “How late are you going to be, James?” my mother yelled from the kitchen.
            “The usual. Nine or nine-thirty.”
Dad quickly closed the door, slamming it to get on his way.