Thursday, January 31, 2013

Oregon my Oregon


You want to talk about Oregon?  I’m glad you asked.
Oh, you didn’t ask.
Well, let me tell you anyway. Oregon, the thirty-ninth state, entered the Union on February 14, 1859, shortly before the start of the Civil War. Remember it was the “Oregon Trail” that drew settlers west to the “Oregon Territory.” And it was the Oregon Territory that grew out of that great American adventure, the journey of Lewis and Clark. And it was the land sought after by both British and American business interests and political forces.*  And it was where, like my father, I was born.
The Oregon of my childhood, in the 50s and 60s, was a wonderful place. Portland was all the city I ever wanted or needed. Growing up in the suburbs, we went downtown to shop until the malls started popping up closer to home. By the time I was a teenager I was familiar with the bus system and could travel almost anywhere in the city. We had baby elephants in our zoo, Buckaroo hockey, Beaver baseball and later, Blazers basketball. There was the Rose Festival and Parade every June. There were amusements parks, the now long-gone Jantzen Beach and the somehow surviving Oaks Park. The county fair was in August and the fair grounds were within a few miles of my house.
The beach was a couple of hours away by car — the coast with more Lewis and Clark sites, historic Astoria, beautiful Cannon Beach and wanna-be-something-else Seaside. And the beach was long stretches of sand, not that rocky, gritty stuff of Washington State, our neighbor to the north. The beach without private ownership. That’s right: it’s all everybody’s.
Rivers and lakes and mountains could be encountered in almost any direction. There were swimming holes and creeks for crawdadding. Dairies, farms and orchards were never far away. The climate was mild and the people friendly, but not nosey.
Oregon was called the state of maverick politics. Governor, then Senator, Mark Hatfield and Governor Tom McCall were two I admired. They were Republicans who didn’t act like Republicans. Hatfield was considered a dove for his early stance against the Vietnam War. We had no sales tax and people were actually employed to pump your gas — both oddities still in effect today. Oregon led the nation in environmental action with the bottle bill in 1971.
There were other unique Oregonians (okay, some were transplants). Abigail Scott Duniway was a women’s advocate who played a crucial role in gaining voting rights for women. Steve Prefontaine may be more myth than reality, but he is still a god to many runners. Dick Fosbury invented the “flop” (look it up). Bill Walton started his pro career in Portland as a Blazer and grew long hair and a beard and got messed up in the Patty Hearst SLA fiasco. And while we’re at it, don’t forget authors ranging from Beverly Clearly to Ken Kesey.  Matt Groening and his mythical Springfield have roots in Oregon.
Somehow, having been born in Oregon, I accepted that it must be the best. Why else would we live there? What I was taught (or chose to learn) only confirmed my prejudices. There was a subtle sibling rivalry with Washington to the north. It was a bridge ride over the Columbia, but why would anybody want to live there? It would be like Moses peering into the Promised Land but never touching it — a tragic existence.
And there was nothing subtle about the disdain for our southern neighbor, California. All you had to do was listen to folks talk about “those people” who visit, or dare to move here with all their money and uppity attitudes.
In my twenty-fifth year, Connie and I moved to Washington State. We settled near the Canadian border, about five hours’ drive from the Portland of our youth. And we have strayed. Kids and now grandkids, careers and more have been part of our story living in this state. We long ago passed the point of living longer in Washington than in our native Oregon. Reality check: we have lived in our current house almost as long as we lived in Oregon.
I began my years in Washington with a blind, near rabid loyalty to all things Oregon. My allegiance was singular, clear and probably too often vocalized.  Even though our sons were born in Washington State, the youngest, a sport fan is loyal to Oregon Duck Football and Portland Trailblazer basketball. I taught them it is okay to be a fan of teams in Seattle, as long as there is no direct Oregon competitor.
My guess is I will live out my days in Washington.
I could spend hours telling you many more great things about Oregon — those I remember from my youth, those I am aware of that still exist or have come into being over the years, and maybe a few that are found primarily in my memory. I love Oregon and believe I always will. But I must admit that my loyalty may say more about me than it does about Oregon. I have a deep need to be connected to place and people. I am fascinated by history and culture. I love trivia, knowing the little things that reveal uniqueness. And because Oregon was where I was born and raised, Oregon is what I experienced and learned.
So I need to be mature, adult and objective (those who know me understand what a stretch this is). Oregon is no better than any other state. It is not better than Washington to the north or California to the south (there I said it; this is starting to feel like a twelve-step program).
I’m thinking it’s a lot like family: Oregon’s the one I know so it’s the one I’m loyal to. But to be honest I can’t imagine being as loyal to any other. 
May God have mercy on us all.
* I would be remiss to not recognize the reality of the push for settlement and the wreckage of native populations and cultures — the legacy of every state in the U.S. I ache for the way that this country was established. 

Originally in catapult magazine VOL 12, NUM 3 :: 2013.02.01 — 2013.02.14: 

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