May 4, 2014

Pine Cones

I’ve just arrived from Berkeley, California; it’s my first day in an Oregon school, and the teacher is finding a desk for me near the back. So far, so good. Everyone turns around to look at me, but they don’t smile or say, “Hello,” and the teacher doesn’t introduce me. Okay. She hands out a test booklet from The Oregon Green Guard, (whatever that is), and we all start in on it.
Question number one: “What is your state?” An interesting question; do they mean mental or physical? Mmm . . . it must be a geography test. “California.”  After a few more leading questions I realized that I should have written, “Oregon,” but I was too far along to erase everything and start over, so I just kept going with my California answers. I actually thought it was pretty clever. Who knows, the teacher might even praise me for a good grasp of western geography, but . . .“Off with his head!” She is ridiculing me publicly for going down the wrong path, and everyone is looking at me and laughing. Welcome to Oregon, land of the pine cone people!
Oregon brought differences: we were living in an apartment, not a house – it was confining; the climate was hot in summer, snowy in winter, and light rain the rest of the time – there were new kinds of clothes to wear; neighborhoods were spread out, not compact – it took some time to get around; street and city names had an Indian origin, not Spanish – there was a new way of talking; and finally, blackberries grew wild everywhere – there were new sweets to eat.
Living nearby in a big ranch house were Bob and Patty Fleming, old friends of my mom and dad and the only people in town we knew. Once, after a big snow, the Flemings called up and invited us sledding, the four adults, their two children, Steve and Geri, and me, seven in all. Bob always drove a new car, since he worked at a Chevrolet agency. This was the plan: we would all sled down the long steep hill, and then he would hitch up the sleds to the bumper of his car, we would all pile into the car, and then he would drive us back up the hill to start again. Like a ski lift, it was a sled lift. I think Bob considered this very helpful and friendly, but in fact, his labor-saving idea clearly ruined the joy of the sport. It was overly extravagant, and the other sledders on that hill didn’t exactly appreciate his idea, nohow! It was thoughtless – and the Flemings were oblivious. This difference between our families didn’t escape me. Unfortunately, mom only had her good friend Patty to socialize with in Oregon, but the Flemings lived in a different world, a higher social echelon. They still laughed and scratched like sisters from the lodge, just like they used to when they were all poor, but the wealth difference now was an obvious gulf. Years later when he was struggling, my dad was willing to jump across that gulf and Patty became his second wife.
Visitors were welcome at our apartment. Linda (Linnis) and Gordon were studying at Reed College, and they brought their friends, the conversation always ending up at Ouspensky. One afternoon Wilf and Ruth Bennett dropped by on their vacation to California. Helen, Wendy and Jennifer, their three vivacious daughters made a lasting impression on me. I never understood who they were or how they fit in to the family, but many years later, their short visit would become the key memory that recovered the Duff family tree and introduced me to my new-found Canadian relatives, Isobel, Lesli, Morris, Mervyn and all. (Ruth’s step mother was Nana’s sister, Isabella). But overall the social life in Oregon was lacking. To compensate for this, mom took to painting little watercolors, creating traditional Ukranian Easter eggs, and practicing Japanese brush painting, which she discovered back on KQED-TV, San Francisco. I built model airplanes and discovered the joy of Lewis Carroll and baseball cards.  
There were a couple of big bullies in our huge, brick apartment complex, and I always tried to avoid them. They shouted at me from a distance that they were going to push snow down my collar. I went to my dad with this, and he suggested going along with them, even helping them by saying, “Go ahead – push more snow down,” letting them know they weren’t hurting me at all, defusing their interest in bothering me. Not too long after, the two bullies caught up with me and began shoving handfuls of snow down my back. “Go ahead – push more snow down,” says I, waiting for the assault to stop. Contrariwise, it only encouraged them to push more snow down. I went to my dad with this, “I followed your advice, but it didn’t work.”  He was nonplussed. So right there I made up my mind that next time I would come out swinging. The funny thing is – they never bothered me again.
In about a year my dad’s job had us moving again – this time back to Berkeley. I was happy. California seemed like home. Thinking back on those days so long ago, I still can’t understand why I didn’t make friends in Oregon – I’m a friendly enough person . . . but hold on a second, I just remembered . . . Aunt Ethel moved to Oregon after she retired . . . and she used to complain how long it took (ten years!) to break into the local society up there.
Well, what do you know? All this time - it wasn’t ME all along . . . it was THEM! Pine cone people! I guess my state was California after all.

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