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Portland Pondering, by Doug Hawley

Doug is a little old man who lives with musician, editor, nature guide and all-around good person Sharon and the cat Kitzhaber who has his moments.  He escaped actuarial work to spend his time sleeping, hiking, volunteering, and writing. 

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about unimportant and unknowable things, mostly in bed, either late at night or early in the morning. 

There are a couple of things that I can’t tell whether they are memories reconstructed from stories told to me, or things which I really remember. My father asked me if I remembered meeting his father Melvin who died in the late 1940s when I was under seven years old. I seemed to have a very hazy picture of a meeting, but was it based on pictures of him, or something that I was told? His mother Zelda lived long enough that I knew her well. She lived in Gresham which used to be a small town to the east of Portland. Like many other small agricultural towns, it became a small city contiguous with Portland. Gresham is frequently looked down on by Portland residents as backwards politically and otherwise. 

Family legend has it that when I was very young, I fell out of a boat our whole family was in. Someone fished me out of the water while my sister grabbed the fishing rods so they wouldn’t be lost. I picture myself face down in the water with a jacket blossoming about me, something I could not possibly have seen. I recently asked my older sister about it. She has no memory of it. Live or Memorex (old commercial reference)? Locals cherish our rivers – Portland has the mighty Columbia and its tributary the Willamette (sometimes mispronounced “Will-a-met” by outsiders). Outsiders may have trouble pronouncing “Oregon” as well because it is spelled wrong but pronounced right. Most Oregonians live close to the Willamette in the valley between the Coast and Cascade mountains. 

When my sister visited mother and I several years ago, we wondered what happened to a piano that we had. It seems that something as big as removing a piano would be noted, but no one knew what happened to it. Grandmother piano lessons didn’t take with me, which I regret now. 

A dramatic picture of an old coal fired train blowing fiery cinders and smoke at night hung in my parent’s room all the time that I was growing up. Sometime after I left home and my mother moved out, it disappeared. I would spend a lot to get it or a copy of it. My editor has found possible candidates. More research is required. It fascinated me to the extent that “Train Picture” could be my “Rosebud” (Citizen Kane reference). The times they are a changing – as a new house in 1941 in a new neighborhood in unincorporated Northeast Portland – probably purchased because my older sister was born a year before cost around $3,000 and was paid off almost immediately. Zillow, the property information site, now gives it a value of $496,000 after many updates and improvements ($505,000 at the recent peak). My late mother sold the house for $88,000 in 1996. 

“Mode O’ Day” is an example of my scattered mind at work. A few years ago, I started thinking of an isolated store that I walked past during my teen or college years in hills around Goose Hollow of West Portland Oregon. I could have been walking close to the Portland library or wandering around Portland State College. In my mind it is a small isolated dress store. It has no significance or emotional resonance for me, so why think about it? However long it was there, I haven’t been able to find anything about it, and it may have been in the way of I 405 which was partly constructed in the late 1960s. At that time, all the cheap housing around Portland State which I was attending was being torn down for urban renewal, Portland State or I-405 which went through Goose Hollow – named for geese raised in what was then a wetland. “Mode O’ Day” also gets a vote to be my “Rosebud”. 

Goose Hollow is a canyon between downtown Portland and the Tualatin Mountains or the West Hills. It was once the home of indigenous traders and then Chinese growers of vegetables. Other settlers moved in when Tanner Creek which ran through it was filled in. Its best-known feature is the Goose Hollow Bar run by former Portland mayor Bud Clark, famous for his picture “Expose Yourself To Art” in which a dirty old man appears to be exposing himself. 

Until we did some research, I didn’t know that Mode O’ Day was a big national chain that started in 1932 and operated up to eight hundred stores before declining in the 1980s. I couldn’t find anything about “my” Mode O’ Day. 

Weird old stuff is haunting me before I’m taken off to Sunset City (a term that my editor prefers to “God’s Waiting Room”). 

The internet could not answer all my questions. 

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