Today I made krumkake, a Norwegian goodie of butter and sugar and flour and milk. Years and years ago Grandma would send a Christmas box of Norwegian goodies — krumkake and lefse and fatiman, and Judy would bake her own specialties in her kitchen back of the Bookloft, and during the season we often kept the store open late and we’d have a bottle of brandy close-by to lace the tea and coffee. And I’d run down the street in the snow to pick up a present and drink a Tom and Jerry at the Homan’s version of Harold’s Women’s Apparel.
We’d pray for snow and bad roads to keep shoppers home. But once, in Christmas season, I had Patrick McManus for a book signing, and it did snow. It was white and blowing and there was a line of people out the door clutching well-worn copies of “Never Sniff a Gift Fish” and “They Shoot Canoes.” When they — and people from La Grande and Pendleton drove through the snow to see their favorite author — finally got to the signing table, laid out their old books and picked up a new one or two, all to be signed by the famous author, they’d have their own story of a wayward camping trip or a special hunting dog, and take their time telling it. MacManus wasn’t surprised. He’d gone to Toots Shore’s famous New York restaurant and listened to the owner’s Florida fishing tales.
Jack McClaran would come in Christmas Eve or the day before and pick his way through the gift books — but want more to talk about an author he’d read years before, or the reasons that men do the mean things we do to each other. I can still see him and so many others in my mind’s eye, glowing finding the right book for the right person.
I miss Jack this time of year — and so many others. Darlene Turner always came in to buy a book for Dave: “He’s the reader in the family,” she’d say, and then want me to pick out a couple of good books for the girls, and tell me I was responsible for making sure they were “good” books.
And the special Christmas shows at the Skylight Gallery, then a partnership of Eve Slinker, Gary Wishart, Dave Jensen and Ted Juve. Eve’s gone, and Gary’s moved away, but Dave and Ted are still here, and you can still buy a new Olaf mug or a Dave Jensen photo.
Thoughts of the old Bookloft link to the old ski run — and Cressie Green, Grace Bartlett, Dan Deboie, Sr., Kirk Hays, Tom Butterfield, Harold Klages, and Gardner Locke, the folks from the old run where I learned to ski. Most of them skied with me into Fergi; they’re gone, but Fergi’s still here, with Charlie Kissinger the bridge between then and now, them and a new group of parents and kids scrambling in the snow.
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The year just past has been a hard one, and not only for the local people we’ve lost. My “second country,” the Turkey I learned to love as a Peace Corps Volunteer over 50 years ago, is going through hard times. I’m at a loss to understand how little our leaders understand of Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or anyplace in the Middle East. The messes we are in seem to grow and grow — the Iraq adventure that was to be over in a year and cost not much is still going on. Ditto Afghanistan, where we helped kick the Russians out to mire down ourselves.
And the fires and floods, droughts and the millions of refugees running from it all and overwhelming the places still hanging on against rising waters, fire, and storm. The President would have us fear gangs and gangsters and people trying to make Fords in Mexico, ignoring the global forces that will shape the future as Jack McClaran’s understanding of life and my own young years were laid out for me by World War II.
When it comes time to give thanks this year, I’ll thank these old mentors, and especially Jack’s good friend, Alvin Josephy. It’s Alvin who mentored me about Indians, introduced me to the Nez Perce, and left a library and those Indian connections to guide my work.
And what I’ve learned from them: bad presidents — you want to start with Jackson? And you know that our favorite is Richard Nixon, who tried to treat Indians right and make air and water clean against all odds and his own dark nature.
My hopes for the New Year: Listen to the Indians, who know the work of fire, water, and fish in sustaining us, and know how to survive against the vagaries of the day and the tyrants, fame-seekers, and clowns that now lead us and a world seemed bent on its own destruction.