A week ago, I was exposed to COVID-19. It was my grandson, who had been in Portland with his mother and two younger brothers. Someone had brought COVID to their house. But he was then quarantined and mom and the two brothers tested negative. They couldn’t seem to get Trey tested, but he was healthy and we would test him right away here.
I picked him up near Pendleton, and we drove, masked, through the snow home on Sunday, Nov. 8. Another grandson is now living with me, so we all masked up, ate dinner and went to bed. The next morning Trey had a fever and tested positive.
Friends ripped into action. My house has only two bathrooms, so they thought I was at too much risk, and quicker than you can say Wallowa Lake, I was in a summer rental cabin owned by another friend. I should say right now that one week after contact I am completely without symptoms. The “long test” results will be back soon.
So here I am, in a winter wonderland at Wallowa Lake. It’s so quiet I can hear the snow fall, and after a few days have settled down to read and write without interruption or feeling guilty. And today, walking up Powerhouse Road, it occurred to me how privileged I am.
Privileged because I have friends and family members who care about me and were ready to jump in at this moment. Privileged because our local health care system was able to do quick testing and affect quarantine.
I am privileged because, although I’m past the normal age of retirement, I have a really good job at the Josephy Center, and I love it. I can work at it here in the cabin — yesterday I wrote and formulated initial plans for a summer exhibit on Nez Perce treaties, and I traded emails with several over a project that will bring geologists and tribal elders together to trace the stories and traditional usages of our lakes, rivers, canyons and valleys. I wrote a book review on a new memoir about the experiences of an American Indian Peace Corps Volunteer in Bolivia. And I am writing this Chieftain column now.
I’ve been privileged to write this column for over 30 years. To say what I think about local and world matters in a public forum, to live in a county and a country where I can do that without fear of incarceration or reprisal.
I’m privileged to live in Wallowa County — all of us who live here are — where the air and waters are clean. We could have been born or landed in Flint, Michigan, with its lead-filled water, in Calcutta, India, with its filthy air, or on the wrong side of a thousand U.S. and foreign cities where clean air and water — and safety — cannot be taken for granted
We — all of us in Wallowa County — are privileged to have a new and well-equipped hospital, good doctors and health professionals. And I am privileged — lucky — to have made it to Medicare age without major health problems and to be able to use that coverage to have two good bionic hips. My friend Dr. Stephens reminds me that only a few decades ago I would have been awkwardly swinging a leg and a fused hip — remember Festus on “Gunsmoke” — as I walked, and drinking whiskey for the pain.
I’ve never feared a strange man, or called a domestic violence hotline over someone I know, as many, mostly women, have had to do. Yes, even here, in idyllic Wallowa County.
I’m privileged to be a white man in America. I’ve never had to pay a poll tax or answer constitutional questions to cast my vote, never had a fan or opposing player call me the N-word, a storekeeper throw me out — or even follow me around while I shopped, looking for something untoward. I’ve never worried about police breaking down my door or stopping me on the street because I look Black or brown and threatening.
I’ve never been stopped on a DWB. (I once drove Ted Kulongoski on the Hurricane Creek Highway from his motel in Enterprise to the rodeo in Joseph when he first ran for governor. We passed a police car as it pulled someone over. Kulongoski, the attorney general at the time, looked closely as we passed, and announced it was a DWB, “Driving While Brown.”)
I can trace privilege back to an easy childhood, a free public education, a Peace Corps adventure and 50 years of good work and friends in Wallowa County. But I have seen up close the lives and struggles of those not so privileged, and will spend my remaining years, and some of these Chieftain columns, telling you what I see.