In the Time of COVID. Day 40
April 27, 2020
Build Something That looks Like a Trailer From The Road
If you look closely enough, you will find homeless camps popping up in unlikely places. There is a tent and car encampment just a few blocks form our house. With the Shelter in Place directives, the housing challenged population is having it even harder than most others. Over the years, our village has had a small cadre of visible pan-handlers, a dozen or so, in a population of 7000. Many are transient and travel north or south on California Coastal Highway One. Now, they’ve gone to ground, like the rest of us, and their mobility is halted because no one will pick up a hitch hiker these days. Fortunately for our homeless population, the local social services have assisted with sanitation options and food relief. It isn’t a fix, but a bandaid. This situation brings to mind my very first memories.
In the early 50’s my folks owned a sorry little trailer encampment. It was squeezed in between a two lane Highway and the Great Northern rail yards, 80 miles north of Spokane and 30 miles south of Canada. The Town was Kettle Falls, populated by 700 hard-scrabble folk. The town had a green-chain saw mill, producing rough cut fir and pine boards. There was gyppo logging in the Kettle triangle to the north. The highway had frequent logging trucks that dumped loads at the mill. There was a large Apple Warehouse on the west side of our property. It took in Apples from The Okanagan Valley west of Lake Roosevelt on the Columbia River. Trains loaded with timber and apples ran south to the Hillyard Yards in Spokane. There was also transnational train commerce into interior British Columbia.
Our Trailer Park was a workers park, no more than a couple of dozen little caravans. When the men came home from work, they’ed walk across the road to the town’s only bar or they would sit out on their stoops and drink. Country radio drifted on the evening air.
Ours was the only “Cabin” on the property. Mom and dad and four kids, ages from early teen to me, the littlest. The cabin was our house and and the office. The living room had a big table , a wood stove, and an upright Piano. It was cramped quarters, but it was home. Often the cabin shook from the locomotives in the rail yard, from the banging of the boxcar trains being dropped off or built for hauling out of there. The smell of diesel from the idling engines was a constant. Just in back of us were a couple of workers boxcars where the families of the section hands lived.
My folks survived the Great Depression and they were compassionate people. One day, a family rolled to a stop in a big flatbed truck with stake sides. Five kids jumped down out of the back and the man and wife climbed out of the cab. The woman nervously smoothed her dress, her husband was a little runt of a guy with his gray fedora pitched on the back of his head and a toothpick dangling sideways from his lips.
My mom met them at the door and they stood outside talking about renting a space. Mom asked about their trailer. She couldn’t see it. The guy said “ well, we ain’t got a trailer , we got an army tent.” Mom said “Tent, it gets colder than hell here in the winter’ He said “We got a good stove”. That was the Howe Family, Gordon and Mary. They put up a platform and pitched that World War II surplus army tent and lived in it for two years. The stove barely kept them from freezing in the subzero winters. Mary Howe became my mother’s best friend for life. They were the prettiest gals in town. They laughed till they cried. Best friends.
My dad had a country swing band. It did its “wood shedding” in our living room. They played at the bar across the road and at Grange Halls In Stevens and Ferry Counties. A one-eyed sax player named Les Frye joined the band. His glass eye was always weepy and greenish, but man could that guy play. Les was on the run from the Social Services in California due to his wife and kids not being right in the head. He loved his family and saved them from the institution. Dad and Mom told him to build something that looked like a trailer from the road so the authorities wouldn’t come poking around. He did. I remember he kept a chicken named Kringle Toes under the the floor. He made a trapdoor that would let the bird up. I guess it was easier to get her eggs that way. It didn’t seem strange to me that they lived in a chicken coop.
At that time, Mambo was the jazz craze. Les told my dad he knew an excellent Cuban Guitar player in California, that they could get. Jess “Romeo” Morales, slick-backed black hair and movie star pretty, hauled into town a few weeks later. According to my mom, that man was too damn pretty for his own good. He became the lead singer and all the gals swooned over him. The band became A Jazz Mambo Country Swing band and was wildly popular through those remote regions. “Romeo” rented a a cabin the other side of the tracks and it was a love shack, if you know what I mean.