Thursday, February 4, 2010

Zena


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.


2.4.2010 #2
2.4.2010 #1


11 comments:

ALeks said...

Another beautiful journey with you and Mr.Hinshaw's spirit,good that you are going on and exploring the timeless.Lovely how you describe the presence of that Ford Explorer,it is a beautiful moment!
In Serbo-Croat we say Zena for a Woman! I love this story,thank you for sharing,good day to you and your family,Aleksandra

William Michaelian said...

Thank you, Aleksandra, as always, and our good wishes to you. I’m glad you liked this little daydream-remembrance.

vazambam said...

Lovely......and poignant--takes me back to another time, another place--say Raymond, Washington in the late 40s, early 50s. Not much left of what once used to be a brawling loggers' town except the memories. And they too are slowly dying together with the people who once cherished them. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

I love that you can speak to your nonexistent passenger as if you are your grand,mother.

This is lovely, William. Memory has such a wonderful way of surprising us all.

William Michaelian said...

Vassilis: much appreciated. And ain’t it the truth. The same can be said for the childhood version of my hometown, a “place” I visit often. And of course the current version will be viewed this way later on. A shame about the landmarks, though. On the other hand, awhile back, after visiting our hometown, a friend of my brother wrote and said, “Most of the old landmarks are still there, but no one knows what they mean.” Life = unfinished business.

Elisabeth, I agree. I’m sure you’ve gathered by now that I am of a less-than-scientific bent. Sometimes I think of memory as a sea we navigate with our bodies as ships. And often I am content to drift.

awyn said...

Wonderful piece, William. You saw a replica of your friend's car that "just happened" to be there. When a close friend of many years with whom I'd lost contact died of cancer a few years ago, for days afterward, too often not to have been a coincidence, a song that had special meaning that I associated with this friend, played over and over and over again on the radio--for three days. It was uncanny. The little town sounds so very familiar. Towns die ... the memories don't. Thanks for enabling us to tag along, albeit vicariously, on your little trip to Zena with you.

William Michaelian said...

Annie, I’m delighted that you enjoyed the ride. It’s always a pleasure to hear what thoughts and memories might have been stirred. So far, all of us here have been around long enough to have experienced many times over the kind of “coincidence” you mention. Rather than seek an explanation, I welcome each as they come along.

Paul L. Martin said...

William, this is great writing here. So evocative and haunting and beautiful. Thank you for sharing it with us.

William Michaelian said...

Paul, thanks for reading. And thanks for your wonderfully kind words.

-K- said...

This is so good, I'll be back to read it again tomorrow.

William Michaelian said...

Thanks, Kevin. I feel the same way about your comment. Oops — I just looked at the time. It is tomorrow....