In the early 1800’s, the Willamette River Valley of northwestern Oregon was publicized as a “promised land of flowing milk and honey”, but for me it’s just where I grew up. Though a place of grand beauty stretched out between the Cascade mountains and the Coast range, to my mind and heart it’s more a place of childhood memories that have become tangled up like necklaces stored together in a little box for a long time.
I lived there with my mom for about five years – a long time considering how much we moved around. Though a cheerful kid with a farmer’s tan and freckles splashed across my face, there were many things I hated about my life during that time.
Rivaling for first place in the hate category are the McKenzie brothers. Three sons of a farmer and his wife, the McKenzie brothers came to Oregon from Indiana when their parents decided to move there and purchase a piece of property with an extensive apple orchard on it. They lived down the road from the three-classroom school we all went to, and I rode my bike past their house to and from school each day. I rode past fields, farms, a Mennonite church, railroad tracks. But I came to dread riding past the McKenzie house. A couple times I stopped to watch, mouth hanging open, as they shoved firecrackers into the mouth and ass of a dead animal. When parts of the corpse exploded, so too did the McKenzie boys explode – with laughter and glee. I mean, they were always doing something that was just awful. They would lash one another with switches cut from the trees of their daddy’s orchard. I mean, take their shirts off and really lash. And they were always shooting each other with BB guns, and their mom would pick the BB’s out. There I would be, streaking past on my bike, pedaling madly, hoping not to get shot. Their idea of a game was making their stream of pee touch an electric fence and see who could last the longest.