Thursday, February 4, 2010
In memory of my old pal Mr. Hinshaw, I took a drive this morning past the Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Zena. Founded in 1858, Zena, Oregon, is considered a ghost town. The church, built the following year and said to be haunted, is one of the community’s few known remaining landmarks; its scenic cemetery is home to around a hundred graves.
The trip out was fantastic. It was only the second time since Mr. Hinshaw’s death that I’d crossed the bridge into West Salem. The first was to pick up papers at the West Side office — a mission fraught with emotional peril that somehow caught me off guard, the hills and houses and river country all seemingly aware of his absence. At the bridge’s uppermost arc, I said to the invisible passenger beside me the only thing I could at the moment: I said, “Oh... you rascal....” and I shook my head just as if I were my own grandmother.
The second time across, I was much better prepared. In fact, for the past several days, I’d been thinking about retracing some of our steps in West Salem and beyond. Zena was high on the list. I even thought to take a camera. Of course, it started to rain. And I was thankful for it, because only a few minutes into my journey I realized photographs could never do justice to the images stored and still undergoing change in my head.
One thought I had early on: a good half of the taverns we used to frequent in our alleged newspaper days are now closed, gone, or completely demolished. The same can be said for one of our favorite corner stores, which sold the coldest beer in town and was the perfect place to stop on our way to an afternoon by the river. Many of the mom-and-pop businesses we dealt with are also gone — the barbers, mechanics, and nurserymen, the carpet stores and appliance repair shops, the purveyors of thin air and the sellers of trinkets and beads.
About this time, I arrived in the little almost-town of Lincoln, anchored to the good earth and given meaning by yet another corner store once and perhaps still run by a woman named Rachel, who also advertised in the paper. And wouldn’t you know it, as I made the turn and headed west toward Zena, I saw an exact replica of Mr. Hinshaw’s 1995 Ford Explorer snuggled up to the building. Its presence meant nothing, of course; on the other hand, it didn’t have to be there, either. It was so beautiful, I had to laugh.
From there on, the road was a smile of mossy barns, ancient houses defiantly out of code, and small flocks of sheep grazing in the rain. It was the same road we used to take beyond Zena to the neighboring town of Amity to watch Mr. Hinshaw’s son play baseball, and visit a corner store called Dad’s, and a nameless bar up the street across from a vacant building that was there when one of my father’s old California farm neighbors passed through town in the 1930s....
After having a look at the church, I continued on a few miles, then turned south onto Highway 99W. The fields now are all a lush green. The bare oaks have fuzzy limbs. Picking up speed, I thought about memory and how it arrives, and felt almost as if I could choose where I had been.