Grant Keltner

“My Grandmother” By Grant Keltner

My mother’s mother, my grandmother known as Jerry Furio, was the rock in our family. She is a woman that I admire very much to this day. Coming from a broken home (my parents divorced when I was five), my grandmother looked after me and helped my mother in raise me. My grandmother’s door was always open to her children and grandchildren. My mother had her hands full when I was a child, working full-time. My grandmother often watched after me when she was working.

My grandma lived in Vancouver, Washington near Lincoln Grade School. The home was a large brick ranch that sat on a nice sized corner lot. It had three bedrooms, a couple of bathrooms, and two big fireplaces. It had a huge basement and a nice yard. It was a great place to find comfort and love. Her cats Herkimer and Ralph kept me company most of the time. I could always find something to do at her house. My grandmother loved me very much. I was so glad to have her in my life. She helped so many people throughout her life. My grandmother was active as a child. She played the saxophone, piano, and sang in the church choir.

She was born in Wakoma, Iowa in 1907. My grandmother came from a broken family as well. They lived in a huge three-story home just out of town. She lived with her mother (my great grandmother) on a large forty acre farm. My grandmother’s mother was a tough woman. She didn’t spend much time raising her three children. She was more concerned about men and according to my mother, she spent a good deal of her time chasing after them. She neglected my grandmother as a child. It must have been a difficult childhood for my grandmother. She was religious, involved with music at a young age, and loved sports and animals.

Luckily, she had the love of her grandmother (my great, great grandmother Harris), a strong willed woman that watched after her. My grandmother didn’t receive much love from her mother, so she would spend most of her free time with her grandmother as a child. My great, great grandmother Harris watched after my grandmother, realizing that she needed a more secure home life.

My great, great grandmother Harris decided around 1921 to move to San Diego, California. My grandmother moved back to California with her, escaping the neglect she faced from her mother in Iowa. My grandmother’s mother couldn’t have cared less what my grandmother did. My grandmother attended the local grade school in San Diego and helped her grandmother with chores. She fed my grandmother’s Saint Bernard, took care of her cats, practiced her music, and studied the bible.

Around 1923, my great great grandmother Harris decided to move to Vancouver, Washington. They bought a home off of Main Street in downtown Vancouver. It was a nice home. My grandmother attended Fort Vancouver High School where she practiced her music. She became very talented and played the saxophone in her high school orchestra and the piano at her church.

Around the winter of 1923, my grandmother was walking up around the officer’s row area of Fort Vancouver. Many enlisted men were stationed at Fort Vancouver awaiting deployment during this time. Well, on this particular night she was walking up near the Grant House. She could hear somebody blowing a bugle. It was my grandfather playing taps for his company. My grandmother walked up to him that night. “You play the bugle beautifully!” replied my grandmother. One thing led to another and he fell in love with my grandmother. They soon dated. My great great grandmother Harris always kept a watchful eye on them. My grandfather married my grandmother when she was nineteen. They bought a small home in downtown Vancouver. My grandmother had the love of her grandmother and she helped them get started with their lives.

She soon gave birth to her first child, Shirley Anne Furio, my mother. She was born on April 18th., 1932. A few years later my aunt Mary Delores Furio was born. My grandmother loved her children very much. She watched after them and encouraged them to be involved with school and community and to be independent. A few years later she gave birth to her third daughter, Antoinette.

My grandmother played in an all-girls jazz band from 1920 up until the late 1920’s. They barnstormed through the northwest. They played in Spokane, Yakima, Olympia, Portland and other towns. There must have been close to twenty-five girls in the band. They had saxophone players, trumpet players, and drummers. Crowds would flock to hear the girls play. They played in dance halls, train stations, and school gymnasiums. They were very popular and it kept her busy.

As I said, my grandmother loved sports. She was a huge New York Yankee fan, loved the Oakland Raiders, followed the Portland Trailblazers, and cherished hockey (she had two season tickets for the Portland Buckaroos. She had season tickets to the Portland Beavers baseball team when she was younger, saw Joe DiMaggio play for the San Francisco Seals before he made it big with the New York Yankees, and saw Lou Gehrig play exhibition baseball games in Portland. The Yankees use to play the Beavers at the old Vaughn Street Stadium in northwest Portland once every summer back in the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s.

I remember watching sports with her. We watched Joe Namath win the Super Bowl with the New York Jets in 1969 and the Portland Trailblazers win the world championship in 1977. I watched many World Series on her big R.C.A. color television in the basement. We even watched Portland wrestling on Saturday nights.

During the depression, she helped pass legislation for the first hot lunch program for grade schools in the state of Washington. She lobbied because several children had hardly enough to eat during the day. My grandmother and a group of other concerned citizens sat on the capitol steps in Olympia, Washington for several months. They were finally allowed to address the Washington state legislature. The state of Washington implemented the hot lunch program during the 1930’s. My grandmother was one of the leading pioneers with this program.

My grandmother and grandfather were involved with many local charity organizations in Vancouver. One was the local P.T.A. My grandmother raised her children, became the Music Director of her church, and sat on the board of her local community center. She was involved with The Daughters of the American Revolution and did work with the American Cancer Society.

She was very devoted to her family and close to her relatives. Many of her relatives had pioneered and settled in the state of Washington around 1880 and 1890.  They had farms and homes in Vancouver, Battleground, La Center and Woodland, Washington. As a kid, I can remember her door always being open. The house was always full of people from her church groups, political organizations that she belonged to, and several musician friends. It was great to see so much love and kindness.

She spent hours working in her yard. She had perennials, huge rhododendrons, and Japanese maples planted in her yard along with several rose bushes. Her roses won local awards at the Clark County Fair. She had hanging baskets that covered her backyard. I use to water them each and every night during the summer months. They were beautiful.

She was always baking something. The kitchen always smelled so good. She’d bake cookies, pies, and chicken, and she’d make waffles and pancakes. Nobody ever left her home hungry.

My grandmother had an upright piano in the 1920’s and she would sit in the basement playing for hours. She also had an organ in her dining room. She’d practice playing music for her church services each Sunday. She was always playing the piano and would play taps in the morning to get me up.

My grandfather worked hard. He had the largest janitorial service in southwest Washington during the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s. His business grew through the years. He bought seven or eight commercial buildings in downtown Vancouver along with a small farm out near Dollars Corner, out near Lewisville Park. He loved his family, he loved his children. My grandmother stood by his side.

During the 1950’s, my grandmother was voted “Mother of the Year” twice for the state of Washington. She won her awards in 1954 and 1957. She was given the award because of her involvement with the community and parenting. It was a special award and she received local recognition from the Columbian newspaper and the Oregonian newspaper. Articles were written about her.

My grandmother was very kind; she loved people and always tried to help those less fortunate than her. The home on West Lavina was located off the bluff of the west hills of Vancouver, not too far away from Lake Vancouver and the local train yards.

I can remember homeless men down on their luck, walking up some of the trails along the bluffs that led to the neighborhood my grandmother lived in. They would knock on her back door to ask if she needed a hand with yard work or something repaired. They were drifting through Vancouver, hitching rides on the trains that rolled through the local train yards. “Please ma’am, could you find it in the kindness of your heart to help me out with some work for a day or so in exchange for some lunch or dinner?”

My grandmother would find yard work that needed to be done and wrap them up a lunch. They’d finish their chores and then drift back down to the train yards waiting to jump on the next train bound for Seattle.

She had a pet crow named Pete that used to fly in her yard during the summer months. His nest was in a nearby tree next to her backyard. He would come and chat with her almost every day as she hung out her laundry. She left out bird seed and tiny scraps of food for him. He visited her for almost seven or eight years.

My grandmother loved to visit her relatives and friends. Many of them lived close to her. It was always a ritual. She would take me with her as a kid, kind of showing me off to her friends. I would always get embarrassed and I’d hide behind her. It was fun.

My grandfather died in 1968 of brain cancer. It was hard on the entire family. He was 64 at the time. My grandmother had been the rock in our family. She was a housewife and had never considered running my grandfather’s business. Within a few months, she was running the business in her early sixties. She hired a manager to run the company and she ran the business for close to ten years. She learned a lot about business and worked very hard running it. She had close to twenty employees to manage and she was still involved with church and other charitable organizations.

I loved watching the sunsets that illuminated the skies while looking out my grandmother’s dining room and kitchen that faced to the west hills of Portland towards the coast range. I spent several nights lying on her lawn watching the brilliant colors of orange illuminate the skies. Geese migrating to Canada would honk overhead, flying into Lake Vancouver.

People always knew who my grandmother was. I was amazed by the way they would go out of their way to make sure they said “Hello”. It was so much fun. She was always a positive woman, looking after others, dropping by with a pie to take to someone not feeling well, or visiting a sick friend in the hospital.

She enjoyed traveling in and around Washington and Oregon. She loved to take day drives to Cannon Beach or Long Beach. We’d stop at Moe’s in Lincoln City to grab a bowl of chowder. She’d take me up to Cougar Reservoir to watch the salmon spawn. We once heard a mountain lion roar not too far away from our picnic table.

When I was little, say three or four years old, she took me to the local train yards and we watched the trains. I fell in love with the locomotives and pony engines and absolutely loved the big roundhouse in the local yards. At night, off in the distance, you could always hear the trains. You could hear the gears grinding, steam engines sounding their whistles, and the box cars slamming into other box cars. I had a real love for trains as a kid.

There were fields located not too far away from her house, just a couple blocks to the west. Orchards were along the bluffs going down towards Lake Vancouver. We use to play in the orchards as kids, riding our bikes in the summer and sledding down the hills during the winter. Burnt Bridge Creek was to the north about eight or nine blocks from her house. The creek flowed into a huge reservoir. As kids we would go fishing for trout or bass. It was great fun.

I first caught wind of the embezzlement with my grandfather’s estate back in around 1979. I didn’t realize everything that transpired. I can remember my mother and aunts being called in to talk with lawyers and bank executives. It went on for months. I listened and found out that when my grandfather died in 1968, he left his estate to be handled by his lawyer and with the executives of Seattle First Bank. My grandmother was a trusting woman. She trusted the attorney left in charge to handle the estate. The lawyer told my grandmother that she should sell off most of the commercial buildings. This was around 1977. This lawyer told my grandmother that the buildings should be sold for tax purposes. She was told that if she sold them she wouldn’t be hit so hard financially. Many of the properties were sold at huge discounts. Trusting the lawyer, she gradually sold almost all of the commercial properties, along with most of the homes.

What my grandmother didn’t realize at the time was that the lawyer was selling the homes and commercial properties to executives of Seattle First. It seemed as though they lied to my grandmother about the properties. She held onto one or two commercial buildings up until she passed away in 1983.

A year or two after she died my mother and her sisters hired an attorney to file a lawsuit against Seattle First. Due to the statute of limitations, we were told we didn’t have much of a chance to win the case. We dropped the proceedings and moved on. It was a sad moment for my mother’s family.

My grandmother first found the lump on her breast in 1979. She was diagnosed with cancer. She went through therapy for the cancer in 1980 and then had both breasts removed. It was really sad to watch. I cried at night, praying for her. She battled the cancer with dignity. I can remember how hard she fought to overcome her illness. The last few years she was alive, she spent time with her family and friends. She loved them dearly. I remember the day before she died. I went and visited her that night and you could tell she was fading fast. The cancer had taken over. Her skin was turning yellow; her hair was falling out. I held her hand and tried not to cry. “I love you Grant. You’ve been a fine grandson. I want you to know I’ll see you again”. I left her room and headed down the dark hospital hallway. She died the next day. She was 83. I was around twenty-six at the time. I loved her so much.

I remember what the house was like after she died, dark and lonely. My mother and her sisters decided to sell her home. We sold it about six months after she died. I walked through the house and remembered the times shared with her. I sat in her bedroom, looking out at the cold winter sky. I missed her so much.

She’s buried east of Vancouver, off of Mill Plain with my grandfather and my aunt Mary, who passed away in 2001. I take flowers to the grave every couple of months. My mother goes with me and makes sure the flowers are arranged just right. I always say “hello” to my grandmother, grandfather, and aunt when I place flowers at the gravesite. My mother misses her mother very much, so does all of the family.

I drive by my grandmother’s house from time to time. It’s not the same. It needs work and the house is in need of repair. My father use to eat meals in the dining room with my grandmother. My Aunt Mary use to chase me in the living room and my Aunt Tony Jo taught me how to do the twist in the basement. My grandfather use to work on the workbench in the garage. Most of them are gone now, long since passed on. I remember the laughter, the love. I often have dreams about the home and about my grandmother. I miss her very much.

“Ralph Paterson” By Grant Keltner

I attended Chapman grade school from 1964 – 1972. Tucked up along the base of Forest Park, the school was built in 1928. While attending, there were some great kids, encouraging teachers, and loving families that I met through the years.

In 1965, I was in second grade. Looking back on my childhood, one of the most intriguing and inspirational kids that I knew while in grade school had to have been Ralph Patterson. Ralph was crippled and lived down off of Northwest Thurman. He never would be able to walk like the rest of the kids; he acquired multiple sclerosis at birth. He had special aluminum crutches that would allow him to skip down the halls. Sometimes he wore braces on his legs. He could move as fast as most kids with the use of his crutches. His legs were like twigs, thin, dangling down from his waist. He never let his disability get in the way of what he wanted to accomplish in life. He had a ton of energy for his age.

Due to his disability, Ralph learned to sculpt his upper body into something that resembled a Greek god. His arms were huge, almost the size of most thighs. In his spare time, he taught himself how to do special exercises to make himself stronger. He could do a million sit ups and two million pushups. Ralph used his arms to hold his body up. He learned that he could use his crutches, always strengthening his arms.

Back in sixth grade, Ralph started to perform gymnastic tricks in the gym, out in Wallace Park, and anywhere he could get a crowd to watch his amazing athletic feats.  An exercise consists of swing, strength and hold elements. He was amazing on the high bar. With the help of his friends, they would lift Ralph up off the floor, his crutches falling to the ground. He would grab the bar and swing forward and back. Slowly, his body would build up momentum moving him faster and faster, back and forth, until his momentum would carry him over the bar, repetition following repetition, following repetition. He would continue to perform on the bars until his hands became beet red. He would slow down and his friends would grab him and help him down to the ground. He would grab his crutches while people cheered. Kids would clap him on the back and rub his hair. Ralph would beam from the attention. He had made himself a great athlete.

“Great job Ralph!” exclaimed Mr. Radcliff the school gym teacher. Ralph would move on to the still rings. Again he would throw down his crutches. His friends would lift him up while he grabbed both of the rings.  Ralph could hold his body straight as could be, performing a maneuver called the iron cross. He would perform tricks that older kids in high school could only imagine trying to do. He dazzled the crowds during lunch and after school. People would gather from all around to watch as he would swing through the air with little to no effort. It was really an amazing sight.

Ralph was about five-foot-six and weighed around one hundred and thirty pounds. His parents were poor and they never acknowledged any of his athletic accomplishments. I doubt if they gave him much support.

I think our P.E. teacher, Mr. Radcliff, encouraged Ralph to pursue his talents. Stan Radcliff wore big thick black glasses. He was in great shape for his age. He wore white pants, white t-shirts and white tennis shoes, kind of like Mr. Clean. He was a disciplinarian, usually was in charge of punishing kids if they got out of hand. He carried a big paddle with small holes that would really sting if you got out of line. Nobody wanted to face the paddle.

Mr. Radcliff watched after Ralph, knew he was underprivileged, and tried to encourage him to participate in gymnastics. Stan would put out gymnastic equipment on the gym floor after school. Ralph took advantage of this kind gesture. He would practice for a couple hours after school, trying to push himself to be the best he could be. He would practice on the high bar, the still rings, and parallel bars. Around 5:00 p.m., Ralph would carry himself back home through the rain and darkness.

In the summer, Ralph would hang out at Wallace Park. Back in the late sixties the park had a high bar. He spent hours practicing in the park. Families and kids would gather to watch him practice. Several kids would try to imitate the routines that Ralph would perform. He slowly became a local legend.

In seventh grade, Ralph moved. I don’t know where he went. He was an inspiration to the kids in the neighborhood and one of the first kids that I knew that overcame adversity from both economic hardship and physical disability. He was one of the first great athletes that I can remember out of Northwest Portland. Needless to say he was an inspiration.

 

 

“A Yarn About a Feud” By Grant Keltner

Through the years while living here in Oregon, I’ve heard of many tales, been told many stories, and have had many fables passed down my way through elders from one generation to the next. Many of the stories have been passed down through local families that settled in Oregon over the last 150 years, tales of pioneers that settled in Oregon, logging folklore, and legends of Native Americans that once lived here.

The following story is a yarn about a feud.

While attending school, friends and their parents passed down local stories to me, stories about families that had settled in Northwest Portland in the neighborhood that I grew up in. I became familiar with old Portland, of the power struggles between families, and how certain families acquired money and land in Portland through the generations.

One of the most famous stories handed down was a tale of a terrible feud between two families that lived in the hills near Forest Park up off of Northwest Skyline. The feud took place in the late 1930’s, back when the land off of Northwest Skyline and Northwest Cornell consisted of mostly rural farms, wide open ranches, large dairies, dense forests, old log cabins, hillbillies, and muddy country roads. It was a famous feud, one that dragged on for over twenty years, covering two generations. Rumors were spread, and locals talked about the feud.

Carl Taggert migrated to Portland from back east in 1931. Taggert and his wife Deb had a son named Zachary who was around three years old at the time. They had just enough money to buy twenty acres near Northwest Skyline. They were farmers from Indiana. Through friends, they had heard about the fertile land and bountiful fishing and hunting.  It was a nice piece of land. It had open meadows that faced to the south, perfect for planting. Fresh streams flowed through the meadows. The land had room for cows to graze and rich soil to plant orchards. They worked the land, watched their investments grow and prospered through the years to follow. They decided to buy more land near Northwest Thompson Road. In this area, it wasn’t uncommon to spot red-tailed hawks and see deer roam the land. It was 1938.

Around this time, Jack Benson and his family lived near Northwest Thompson Road. They owned a small plot of land and barely got by. Wild turkeys roamed his land. The family had very little money. They had an old small cabin and tried to forest the land and raise a few crops. The roof was worn and some of the molding around the windows was loose and dropping off the home. They were very poor.  Three old cars were parked on the land. An old broken-down barn was located next to the cabin was full of car parts. Dogs barked and cats ran wild. The wet and cold windy nights made life hard for this family. Whiskey bottles were thrown on the lawn. One of the windows to the cabin was broken and an old blanket was tacked up over the window. The shrubs near the house were overgrown.

Mr. Benson drank due to the loss of love, the loss of his wife. Jack was famous for drinking. His wife died from cancer in 1933. It was a terrible death. He was left with two small children, Dan age ten and his younger sister Linda age eight. Benson was known for yelling, swearing, cussing out, and beating his kids. Neighbors knew of the problem and kept a watchful eye. The kids weren’t given a proper education. They attended the local school, but had no supervision from their father. They helped tend to the land and roamed from time to time, learning to hunt and fish. The anger brought on by their father was passed down to the children. They learned to hate people. Taggert had a couple of wild dogs. They taught their dogs how to fight. Dog food was scattered on the front porch. The kids were missing teeth and wore dirty clothes most of the time.

As time passed, Carl Taggert came to acquire a taste for a piece of property next to Jack Benson’s property line. He made the purchase on the land, three acres to be exact, to give his livestock more room to graze. He planned to run a barbed wire fence following the property line for about three hundred yards and four feet high, posts put in every ten yards or so. Jim Benson and his children caught wind of the purchase and confronted Taggert and his son as they were walking the property line one day. “Taggert! You and your son, stay away from my land and stay away from my kids!” yelled Jack Benson while slinging down a drink from an old whisky bottle.

“Benson, I have the title to the land right here in my hands,” replied Taggert, flapping the title for him to see. “I’ll damn well do what I want with my land! I’m grazing my livestock on this land. I’m going to run a barbed wire fence following the property line.” Taggert spat on the ground, his son Zachery by his side.

“We’ll see about that,” yelled Benson. They slowly looked each other over and walked back to their homes.

Benson calls his kids into his house. “Dan! Linda! Get in here now!” screamed Benson. The kids ran into the rundown cabin. The door slammed. The dogs barked and some crows in a nearby tree squawked.

Taggert walked back through the rain, through his field that bordered Benson’s property. He headed into his cabin and Zachery followed. “Son, you stay away from his kids. Stay away from Mr. Benson. He’s trouble.”

“Yes sir,” replied Zachery.

In the next few months, Taggert put the barbed wire fence in. It was hard work, but with the help of hired hands, they would get the job done before winter set in. Carl Benson began to get low on money and started to worry. His kids started to go hungry. Late one cold winter night, Carl Benson decided he would walk through woods, wade through his streams, and walk down a small hill that took him to the new fence and the property line. He proceeded to cut some of the barbed wire fence to let some of Taggert’s livestock and chickens roam his land. Jim Benson led one or two of the chickens into his old barn and shot them with an old shot gun. His kids watched.

The next morning, Zachery Taggert and his father found the cut barbed wire fence and followed the tracks to Mr. Benson’s barn. The Bensons dogs barked and they lunged toward Zachery as they got close to the Benson cabin. Carl Benson walked out onto his worn down front porch and looked at Taggert. “Benson, what have you done with my chickens/” exclaimed Taggert.

“Taggert, those are my chickens. Those aren’t your chickens!” screamed Benson. The dogs got closer to Zachery and Mr. Taggert.

“Benson, I’m going to report this to the sheriff!”

The Benson kids screamed at Taggert and his son, “Get back on your land. You’re trespassin’!”

Carl Taggert and his son stepped back onto the other side of the fence running along the property line. The dogs barked and the rain pounded down on the group of people gathered. Old oak trees swayed in the breeze as a barn owl hooted in the night. Jim Benson clenched his fist and waved it at Taggert. “Ehhhhhh. I’ll get you Taggert!” Zachery followed his father back into the house. The rain kept falling through the night.

The scene with the chickens started a bitter feud that raged on for nearly twenty years between these two families. The Bensons and Taggerts watched each other like hawks for the next few years. Jim Benson was always yelling at his kids. You could hear him swear through the woods, over the property line, and into Taggert’s cabin.

The Benson cabin sat back about fifty yards from the property line and the fence. A large thatch of trees stood next to the cabin. Deep streams wound their way through the property. A small hill led you down to the fence line. The Bensons’ dogs would come up close to the fence and bark. Jim Benson and his kids would throw bottles and garbage over the fence on to the Taggert property for the next year. They didn’t care what the Taggerts thought of them.

The Taggert home stood about a hundred yards from the fence and the property line. They had a side yard to their home. It was fenced, containing chickens and geese. A small herd of cows roamed along the new fence and the property line.

One day, Zachery was along the fence picking up old whiskey bottles thrown by Jim Benson. It was a fall day in 1938. The Benson kids, Dan and Linda, walked up to the fence and started to talk back to Zachery.

“Hey you chicken shit bastard, are you and your parents going to do anything about those chickens of ours?” asked Dan Benson. His sister Linda stood behind Dan, sticking her tongue out at Zachery.

Zachery bent down and grabbed a dirt clod. He threw it at Dan and his sister. The piece of dirt hit Dan in the head and he fell to the ground and started to cry. Linda started to scream. The dogs started to bark. Jack Benson heard the commotion and ran up to the fence line to see his son lying on the ground holding his head. “Daddy! Daddy! Zachery hit Dan in the head with a dirt clod!” screamed Linda.

“Why you dumb kid! I’ll get you for hurtin’ my boy!” replies Benson. “I’ll get you one day!” Zachery ran home to his mother and father. The years passed and the feud continued.

Around 1948, Zachery Taggert, Daniel Benson, and Linda Benson started to approach their senior years in high school. Dan Benson became involved with hot rods, some of the first ones ever built. He fell in love with cars. Working with parts from old cars that scattered his yard, Dan built a hot rod. He had a few buddies that hung out and tinkered with his car. Dan’s car was loud and he made sure the Taggerts heard the engine. Linda was attending high school that year. She had a few friends, stayed to her chores, and around this time she began to fall in love with Zachery Taggert.

Zachery helped his father with the farm and saved money to buy an old Chevrolet 1921 roadster. He drove the car to high school and back home and made deliveries in the afternoon for his dad.

Mr. Benson had a few contracts with his timber through the years. His drinking continued and his anger over Taggert got stronger. He always encouraged his son to fight Zachery and to cause trouble for the Taggerts.

One cold Friday night around 1948, the Benson kids and Zachery Taggert were out near the parking lot of the local high school gym. Dan was driving in his old hot rod, cruising with his buddies. Zachery was parked in his old Chevrolet. A basketball game had just been played and the parking lot was full. Several kids were excited to see the local team win.

“Hey, let’s go up to Northwest Thompson Road and race our cars!” yelled a kid. Many people living in the area had heard about the racing on Northwest Thompson. Several kids had been killed through the years while driving fast on the road. The kids decided to meet around 9:30 that night.

It was cold, wet, raining and the night was dark. Leaves filled the air as the wind rushed by. A group of about thirty kids and eight cars had gathered. Beer bottles were thrown and broken. Kids started to rev their engines. Car lights shined in the air illuminating the night. Some kids smoked cigarettes. A crowd had gathered to watch. The cars lined up and raced down Thompson Road, one at a time. Some of the cars approached 80 miles per hour down the mile and a half stretch of road.

Dan Benson saw that Zachery Taggert had driven his car up to Thompson Road that night. He saw an opportunity to beat Zachery, an opportunity to get even with him. Dan had been drinking that night, hadn’t eaten, and was bitter than ever over his lot in life. He could hear his father in back of his mind.  He challenged Zachery to a race. “Zachery, we can race to the end of Thompson!” screamed Dan.

“O.K. You’re on!” replied Zachery. The kids cheered. Dan lined his car up facing west. Zachery lined his car right next to Dan and his hot rod. Kids screamed, the engines roared like thunder. A kid with a checkered scarf waved it in the air and the cars took off, back wheels burning tire rubber as they darted out onto the pavement. The cars started to reach 80 miles per hour. Dan and his hot rod were being pushed to the limits and his car started to shake from the speed. He hit a dip in the road and his car flew off the road, flying into a tree and throwing Dan through the windshield. He died instantly. The crowd raced to see the wreck. Linda fainted as Zachery ran to her side. Dan had died. The police arrived and the story was told about how the wreck occurred.

That night, Zachery took Linda back to her cabin, back to her father. She was in terrible shape, distraught over her brother’s death. Her father was drunk when they got to the house. “What do you want Zachery?” mumbled Benson.

“Mr. Benson, Dan is dead. He died in a car wreck. Some of the kids went up to Thompson road and we were racing cars. Dan’s car flew off the road!”

“What, Daniel dead? No, no, he can’t be dead!” cried Benson. Mr. Benson grew madder and madder as he realized what had happened to his son. He started to yell at Linda and slapped her. She was knocked down and hit her head on a chair and passed out.

A fight broke out between Zachery and her father. Zachery ran for the door. Mr. Benson ran over to an old desk in the living room and pulled out a revolver. He fired a shot at Zachery just missing him as he ran out the front door. The dogs chased after Zachery. Mr. Benson tried to run after him. Zachery ran, zig zagged through the woods, through the streams, and jumped over the fence line, tearing his jeans as he raced through the field up to his house. Mr. Benson tried to run after him. He ran through the woods and started to wade through one of the streams. He slipped on a rock and fell into a deep section of the stream, hitting his head on a rock. The dogs barked as Benson slowly started to drown. “Help, help I can’t swim!” yelled Benson.

Zachery reached his home and told his father what happened that night, while Benson drowned in the stream. Nobody was there to help Benson. The sheriff arrived and fished Benson out of the stream the next morning.

Next year in 1949, Zachery and Linda got married. They partitioned the Benson land with the land owned by Carl and Deb Taggert. They went on to have a boy named Luke. The years rolled on.

In 1963, a developer offered to buy some of the land that Zachery Taggert and his wife owned. The developer wanted to open up and sell land off Northwest Skyline.  A bitter land war broke out. The streams that ran through Taggerts land were valuable to the developer to help supply water to other areas with development. Since Taggert told the developer that he wasn’t interested in selling his land, the developer hired thugs to go up into the Taggerts’ land to break sewer lines, bust water pipes, and redirect streams. The family reported the problems to the local authorities without much luck. They were hassled with phone calls in the middle of the night and followed while they drove home at night. This continued for about a year or so.

Luke Taggert was around seventeen years old when he started dating a local girl by the name of Sarah Collins. Her family owned land not too far away from the Taggerts. Her father was a rancher in the area. Luke borrowed the family car one Friday night and drove to McLeay Park off Northwest Cornell Road. There was a popular spot in the park that young couples would stop, look at the harvest moons at night, and make out. They stopped their car in McLeay Park that night. It was a dark night. A few people reported seeing them there around ten o’clock.

The next day the Taggerts were alarmed by not seeing Luke at the breakfast table. They called Sarah Collins parents. They hadn’t seen any sign of them. They called the police. The police searched and searched for the Taggerts car and the young couple. A few weeks went by and the police found the Taggert car in a gully down off of Old Germantown Road. Nobody was in the car. The bodies were never found.

Several people suspected foul play, thought that one of the thugs hired by the developer had followed the couple that night and killed them. Stories about the disappearance were handed down through the years.  As a kid growing up in the area the folk lore continued. Nobody ever knew for sure what happened. It remains a mystery to this day.

 



“Rick Sanders” By Grant Keltner

As a kid, I was always fascinated with the history of the local legends that came out of the neighborhood. I loved athletics and played sports in grade school and while attending Lincoln High.

I was named to the Oregon All State high school soccer team in 1975 and went back to coach at Lincoln for six years. I’ve been proud to be a part of some great teams and to have played with some great athletes. I’ve won seven city championships in the high school ranks while playing and coaching soccer, played in two state final four high school championships, coached in another, and played soccer for the University of Oregon.

There are several sports legends that came out of Northwest Portland. Johnny Pesky grew up in the area and played for the Boston Red Sox. The right field foul pole in Fenway Park is named after him. I played at Wallace Park as a kid. Frank Lolich ran the park for many years. His son Mickey Lolich was a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. Mickey won three games and was named the M.V.P. of the 1968 World Series.

You can argue about the most famous athlete to come out of Northwest Portland. In my mind the most famous athlete out of the area, or for that matter the state of Oregon, was the Olympic wrestler Rick Sanders.

Rick Sanders lived in an older run down part of Northwest Portland, in an area located off of Vaughn Street. The family struggled to keep food on the table, literally not knowing from day to day where the next meal would come from. He had a reputation of being very quick for his size, very strong for his age, and not very tall. He didn’t weigh much as a kid. Legend has it, he was an all-around natural athlete.

Out of grade school, Rick attended Lincoln High School. He was encouraged to try out for the wrestling team. It was the start of a magical ride with the sport of wrestling for Rick. He went 80 and 1 in the four years that he wrestled in high school. Rick won three Oregon state championships wrestling for Lincoln High School.

According to Wikipedia, after graduating, he received a scholarship to attend Portland State University. When Rick arrived at Portland State University, he quickly led his team to national prominence. As a freshman, he highlighted an undefeated season by winning the 1965 NAIA National Championships at 115 pounds and earning the Outstanding Wrestler Award.

As a sophomore, Rick lost the first match of his career when he moved up to the 123 pound class and placed third in the NCAA College Division Nationals. Two weeks later, he dropped down to the 115 pound class and won the 1966 NCAA University Division National Championship.

As a junior, Rick had a perfect season going undefeated and winning both the 1967 NCAA College and University Division National Championships at 115 pounds. He was selected as the Outstanding Wrestler in both meets.

As a senior, Rick moved up to the 123 pound class and went undefeated during the regular season. He won his second NCAA College Division National Championship and was again selected as the Outstanding Wrestler. Two weeks later at the NCAA University Division Nationals, Rick lost for only the second time in his collegiate career when he placed second. His total collegiate record was 103-2. He led his Portland State team to a first place finish in the 1967 NCAA College Division Nationals, a second place finish in 1968, and a third place finish in 1967. The same three years Portland State also finished fifth, sixth, and eighth in the NCAA University Division Nationals. Rick is the only collegiate wrestler to win National Championships in the NAIA, NCAA College Division, and the NCAA University Division, and to be Outstanding Wrestler in each.

Sanders’ trademark was his ability to shock everyone, from coaches to foes to the fans, with unorthodox training and unorthodox moves on the mat. He loved to find himself in a predicament and then work his way out of it. Surprise delighted Sanders.

“He learned not to just squirm out of trouble, but to turn it into stunning reversals of fortune. He concocted imaginative, improvable theories.” Don Behm, later one of Sanders’s fiercest rivals but closest friends, remembers in particular Sanders “Contraction and Expansion Theory,” a belief that his hips worked in tandem through a countervailing tendency to shrink and enlarge.”

As early as his freshman year in college, in 1965, Rick won his first of five national freestyle championships and made the U.S. World Team. In 1966 he placed third in the World Championships. In 1967, he placed second in the World, and won the Pan American Games.

In 1968, Rick won an Olympic Silver Medal for the USA. A year later, at 114.5 pounds, Rick became the first American ever to win a World Championship. He returned to the Olympics in 1972 and captured another Silver Medal. Of the eleven bouts, he won two Olympics medals, nine bouts were won by fall.

Through all his success, Sanders was considered a maverick of the first order. He was an athlete who always seemed on or near the edge. He wore his hair long before it was fashionable and sported a beard. He liked to pose for photos with beads around his neck. Stories of his escapades are legendary. He once boarded a 747 jet and proceeded to run up and down the aisle in his sweat clothes, trying to cut weight.

However, there was also another side to Sanders. He loved to talk wrestling and often gave free clinics for youth, anywhere he could find them assembled. Wrestling was his life. It was, his older sister explained once, “in his soul.” He recognized that he was marching to the beat of a different drummer than the rest, and reveled in it.

“Sure, our lifestyles are different, and so are our wrestling styles,” he said about comparisons between himself and Dan Gable at the Munich Olympics. “Most Americans don’t have style. Me, I’m a cosmopolite. I can wrestle like a Japanese, a Rumanian, or a Russian. I used to work hard all the time. But as you get older, you don’t work as hard.” Rick was the only man to ever shut out the famous Dan Gable in a match.

On October 18th, after competing in the 1972 Olympics, Rick Sanders was killed in an automobile accident in Yugoslavia while touring Europe. It was such a shock to those that followed him.

According to his sister, “His life was like a meteor. He burned brightly through his life.”

“The Columbus Day Storm” By Grant Keltner

It was Thursday October 11, 1962. I was four years old. It was an exciting time for Portland, Oregon. The annual football game between University of Oregon and University of Washington was scheduled to be played at Portland’s Civic Stadium. My mother was an alumnus of University of Washington and had planned on going to the game with friends from Seattle. Kick off was Saturday afternoon.

Mom got off work that night. She decided to pick me up at the Montessori school that I attended and drive me over to her parents’ house in Vancouver. I was going to spend the night and the weekend with my grandparents. My mother had a 1962 Volkswagen back then. It was a great car and it got her around to almost every place she needed to go.

We arrived at my grandparents’. Mom dropped me off and headed back to Portland. She often would leave me with my grandparents. I loved the attention they gave me. The next day was Friday October 12, 1962, Columbus Day. It was fairly clear, a typical fall day. Nothing indicated that we were heading for anything unusual with the weather. Mom worked with Pan American airlines at the time.

That afternoon my mother’s office phone started to ring. The first call came in from Medford, Oregon. “There’s a terrible storm going through Medford. It’s headed your way Shirley!” shouted my mother’s friend over the phone. My mother didn’t pay much attention to his call. She thought he was joking.

When she received the second phone call from a friend in Roseburg, she began to worry. “Shirley we’re in the middle of a terrible storm!” exclaimed the voice at the other end of the phone.

Suddenly one of her fellow employees yelled, “Look out the window!” The clouds were a dark mustard color and they were moving fast! The manager at her office ordered everyone to leave as quickly as possible. She ran down the street to her car; glass was flying everywhere. She got home as soon as she could. By that time, the wind had reached one hundred miles an hour.

I had been playing in my grandmother’s yard most of the day. My grandma was listening to the local weather forecast over the radio when the wind started to pick up, my grandma looked concerned. “Grant, get in the house. Time for dinner!” demanded my grandmother.

I came running in. It was close to 5:00 p.m. About halfway through dinner, the neighbor kids from across the street tried to walk up the sidewalk along the west side of my grandparent’s house. The wind was blowing from the north. They were walking with great difficulty just trying to get up the street; their bodies leaned into the wind as they plodded through the storm. They waved at us as we sat at the kitchen table. We waved back and laughed.

“This looks like a bad storm!” my grandma exclaimed. Within a few minutes shingles started to fly through the air and dirt whipped up forming small clouds along the street. Leaves rushed by the kitchen window.

My grandpa got up from the table. “I’m going to close the garage door and make sure everything is locked tight. This looks like it’s going to be rough.” He went out the back door, down the path that led to the garage door. His hat flew off his head and he ran through the yard trying to snatch it up. He rushed into the garage to make sure everything was turned off and shut tight. He hustled back inside.

My grandma turned on her radio and located the local news. “Storm warnings for the Portland and Vancouver area. Heavy winds expected throughout the night!” reported the newscaster. You could hear the alarm in his voice.

I ran to the couch in the living room. It had a picture perfect view of the north side of the house. Tree limbs started to fly through the air; debris bounced off the windows. The sky was getting darker by the minute.

“I’m going to call your mother Grant!” exclaimed my grandma. I could tell she was worried. Thankfully, we reached my mother over the phone. She had made it home to her apartment in Northwest Portland.

“A car rolled over in front of me on the Morrison Bridge!” exclaimed my mother. It was luck that my mother had dropped me off at my grandparents the night before.

All of a sudden, the lights in the house went out and the street lights went black. I couldn’t see the neighbor’s kitchen lights, the winds really started to gust and we lost radio reception. We could hear tree limbs breaking. Loud crashing of metal and glass filled the air. Transformers popped and crackled as the fuses blew out. The sounds outside reminded me of big kettle drums throbbing in the night.

My grandma looked at my grandpa. “Let’s get downstairs!” I could tell she was concerned. Grandma was from Iowa, raised on a farm. She had experienced tornados as a little girl. She knew that in a storm like this, it was best to head for the basement or storm cellar. My grandparents had a huge basement with a brick fireplace. There was a big upright piano along with a large couch, chairs, tables and plenty of room to sleep through the storm.

By this time, it was close to 8:00 p.m. We had lost all power, lost reception with the radio and had no hot water. My grandpa had plenty of flashlights and a lot of candles. We built a fire in the fireplace. You could hear the wind make eerie sounds as it traveled down the chimney. It took longer than usual to light the fire in the fireplace.

I was scared, started to cry, and grandma calmed me down. She made sure we would have everything we needed to make it through the night. The wind raged outside. We knew we were in for a long night. The house was rocking in the wind.

My grandma made a good spot for me on the couch, covered me up with a blanket and started to sing lullabies as I started to drift off to sleep. “Sha la la…sha la la la…Sha la la la…la la la…,” her voice soothed my worry.

My grandma’s cat, Herkimer, found a good spot alongside me to warm himself. It was almost 10:00 p.m. The storm didn’t sound like it was going to end anytime soon and I fell asleep. Grandpa stayed up most of the night. Grandma dozed off and on. I can remember waking up once or twice listening as the wind shook the house, rattling the windows, tugging at the roof. The fire in the fireplace glowed and illuminated my grandpa as he sat next to the fireplace trying to read a newspaper. I fell back asleep. The storm carried on through the night. It didn’t stop until well into the next morning.

I woke up around 6:00 a.m. Grandma was up in the kitchen, I rushed off the couch and ran upstairs to see what kind of damage the storm had left behind. My grandpa was out in front of the house, talking with neighbors. He waved to me as I looked out the living room window.

It was a beautiful morning, clear as could be. The sun was bright, dew was on the lawn and debris was everywhere. The house across the street had a tree that had flown through the roof. Tree limbs were in our yard and power lines were down in the backyard. A car parked across the street had its windows blown out. Shrubs were huddled up against the north side of my grandpa’s house. The neighborhood was in shambles.

“You stay inside!” ordered grandma. We didn’t have power, phone service, hot water, or a newspaper. We couldn’t receive radio broadcasts and the television was out. The only way we could get news was through word of mouth through our neighbors. Reports started to trickle in. Winds had been reported at close to one hundred and ten miles an hour. Wide spread damage had occurred to most of the Portland/Vancouver area. Power outages were reported and phone service was going to take days to repair. The Governors of both Washington and Oregon had declared state of emergency.

Many families lost everything. Roofs flew off homes, windows shattered, telephone poles crashed through homes. My grandpa tried to assess the damage to his home. Shingles were lost, drain pipes had disconnected off the sides of his house, gutters were torn from the roof line, and a few shrubs were uprooted. A downed power line had fallen and draped itself over the hedge in the back yard.

Grandma started to pull eggs, bacon and butter from the refrigerator. She grabbed a big black frying pan out of the kitchen cabinet and headed downstairs. My grandpa followed her with Herkimer at his side. Grandpa added wood to the fire; the fire had been burning all night long. We were going to cook breakfast in the fireplace…just like real cowboys!

She melted the butter in the pan, holding it over the fire. She threw bacon in and it started to sizzle. It smelled so good! She turned the bacon over a few times and soon it was well on its way to being crispy brown. Next she tossed in the eggs, cooking them over easy, not taking too long to cook in the bacon grease.

We sat by the fire and talked about the storm. “I figure it will take close to three or four weeks to get things back to normal,” my grandpa said. ”The roads are blocked. Electrical lines are down. I’ve never seen such a storm!” he added. “We need to stay put and just ride this out.” You could see the worry on his face.

We finished breakfast and went back upstairs. Several neighbors started to show up, some of them looked in disbelief as they wound their way through the damage. A large group of people congregated on the street corner. My grandpa went out to discuss the situation. “Does anybody need help?” asked a neighbor. “We need help, we don’t have a roof, we don’t have food!” cried one poor soul.

Everybody pitched in to help those hit hardest by the storm. It was a true community undertaking. Flashlights were exchanged, candles passed out and blankets found their way to those that needed them. Food was rounded up. Groups of men were organized to help cut through the destruction.

I stayed inside and watched as my grandma tried to get the radio to work. No luck. My grandpa came back inside the house. “Two roofs are gone down the street. Power lines are down on at least three or four streets,” he said.

My grandpa went outside and started to clean up the yard, raking shingles off the lawn and reattaching gutters. The awnings on the west side of the house had been blown off, some of them ripped apart. A truck started to make its way up the street, weaving through yards, trying to get through the maze of destruction. You could hear chain saws as they cut through the trees that had fallen. It was going to take weeks to repair the damage.

That night we cooked dinner over the fire in the fireplace. Grandma was cooking hot dogs and beans. We ate like kings. She played the upright piano, singing songs as we ate. Candles glowed on the table. I remember wishing that we could always eat over a fire. I went to bed that night feeling comforted knowing the storm had passed.

The next day the local power companies showed up and tried to repair downed power lines. Insurance agents started knocking on the door, asking about damage, taking pictures and writing notes.

My grandpa decided that I could take a look at the damage that occurred in the neighborhood. Grandma threw a jacket on me and pulled a stocking cap over my head. I grabbed my grandpa’s hand and we walked out the back door. We crossed the street, stepping over and around the path of destruction the storm had caused. Trees were uprooted, limbs had punched holes in windows, and shingles were everywhere. As we headed a few blocks down the street our mouths dropped as we looked at a house that didn’t have its roof attached. The roof was lying out on the street. Workers tried to saw through the roof, salvaging anything they could.

We reached the end of the street. The worst of the damage was a tree that had fallen through a home located at the end of West Lavina. A huge oak had caved in the entire second story of the home. I couldn’t believe the severity and intensity of the storm.

We made our way back to my grandpa’s house. My grandma was in the living room playing with her portable radio. It was working! We started to receive news about the storm, the damage done; and the lives that had been lost. It had been a deadly storm.

Grandpa went back out in the yard. Neighbors lent him a helping hand with the heavier chores. My grandma made dinner by the fireplace, my grandpa assisted with the cooking. A few neighbors that were low on food had dinner with us that night. Plans were made to help those less fortunate.

The next day power and hot water was restored. Grandpa’s hired hands showed up, many helping other neighbors with chores. My grandma made sandwiches and coffee for everybody that helped. It was a real team effort.

It finally took close to three weeks to clean up the neighborhood. Some of the more severe damage took months to repair. Several homes had to be rebuilt. It was one of the most intense storms I’ve ever experienced. Several families lost everything they had.

The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 (otherwise known as the Big Blow, which began as Typhoon Freda) was an extra tropical cyclone that ranked among the most intense to strike the United States. It roared through the Pacific Northwest, killing 38 people and causing damage estimated close to 200 million dollars.

The quintessential wind storm became the standard against which all other statewide disasters are now measured. Wind gusts reached 116 M.P.H. in downtown Portland, and 90 mph in Salem. Cities in Oregon and Washington lost power for two to three weeks and over 50,000 homes were damaged. On a larger scale, the Columbus Day Storm of 1962 is a contender for the title of most powerful extra tropical cyclone recorded in the U.S. in the 20th century.

I admired my grandparents for their pioneering spirit during the storm and the unity they displayed with neighbors. The community rallied to help those in need. It was one of the most memorable times in my life. I’ll never forget the Columbus Day Storm of 1962.

 

 

“Tough Tony Borne” By Grant Keltner

One of the funnier times I had growing up in Northwest Portland was when a very famous local wrestler by the name of Tony Borne visited my family one night.

Tony Borne was a famous local celebrity, a professional wrestler in Portland. Every Saturday night Tony would grapple with the likes of Lonnie Main, Dutch Savage, Shag Thomas and many other local wrestlers out of the Pacific Northwest. The matches were televised live every Saturday night. Growing up as a kid, it was the best show on television. I would watch the show with my friends, sometimes with my grandma. We loved it. My friends and I would wrestle in the living room, the bedroom, and out in the yard. Atomic drops, full nelsons and head butts were landed. Many a night I would go to bed with bumps and bruises.

Now and then, my mom use to dine at the Ringside restaurant. It’s located on Northwest Burnside and is famous for its steaks.  Local sport celebrities use to stop in and have a bite at the Ringside.

One night Mom was dining with her friends. It was raining and she brought her rain coat, she handed it to the head waiter when she arrived, he hung it up on the coat rack for her, and she went on to enjoy her meal. It just so happens that Tony Borne was eating at the Ringside that night. About half way through her meal, Tony Borne finished his dinner and walked over to the coat rack to get his rain coat. He had a rain coat very similar to my mother’s. They handed him my mother’s coat and he walked out the door.

When finished with her meal, my mother went to the coat rack and asked for her coat. When they returned they hadn’t found it. Mom left her phone number and asked that they call her when they located it.

The next day, she received a phone call from the Ringside. “Mrs. Keltner, we’ve found your rain coat.” It was the waiter from the Ringside.

“Where is it?” inquired my mother.

“Well Mrs. Keltner, Tony Borne was given your rain coat by mistake. He would like to stop by your place and return it.”

Tony Borne use to eat drinking glasses on television, hit guys in the head with chairs, and looked like a bloody mess half the time he wrestled. I think he was missing a few teeth. Now, he was going to stop in and give my mom her rain coat. Would he want to wrestle her for the coat, I thought to myself.

He called my mother that night and it was decided he would stop in the next day, around dinner time. “Hello Mrs. Keltner this is Tough Tony Borne. I’ll be stoppin’ by tomorrow night to drop off your rain coat,” said Tony on the other end of the phone.

“Well Mr. Borne that will be fine,” replied my mother. I didn’t know what to think. I told everybody at school about Tony Borne stopping in to visit.

The next day, about twenty kids met me after school to make sure they could see Tony. Around dinner time all the kids gathered out in the front of my mother’s place. A car pulled up and Tony Borne got out. All of my friends went nuts; they screamed, yelled, and hyperventilated just to get a glimpse of Tough Tony. They ran over to his car and begged him for his autograph. It was wild! He talked with the kids and walked up to the front door and knocked. One of my friends was actually hanging from his coat sleeve. My mother answered the door. “Mrs. Keltner, I’m Tony Bourne!” He exclaimed.

“Well Mr. Bourne, it’s very nice to meet you!” said my mother. I hid behind my mother trying to get a glimpse of this amazing icon. He was fairly short, maybe 5’6″, and wide as a Mack truck. His arms were huge and his face looked like a worn catcher’s mitt.

“I guess I grabbed da wrong coat,” said Tony.

“Well yes, it appears that you did,” said my mother.

He handed my mother her coat and smiled. “Well, I need to go. Tanks!” replied Tony. He got in his car and drove off, with all of my friends running after his car.

My mom could have run for mayor and won in a landslide that night. All of my friends treated her like a queen; it was great. She served ice cream to all of them. I had new friends that never gave me the time of day, up until being invited to see this amazing wrestler. I have his autograph tucked away in a box of memories. It was one of the best nights in my life.

 

“The Kite” By Grant Keltner

My grandfather died of brain cancer when I was ten. He loved me very much. I was born in 1958 and was the son that he never had. He spoiled me as a kid. Coming from a broken home at a young age, he made sure I was given most of the things that other kids had. He gave me bikes, trains, and a BB gun; he was very kind to me. I spent some memorable moments with him.

One of the most amazing moments that I had with him was when I was eight years old. It was 1966, a breezy March day. My grandpa used to take me along with him to visit places that he did business. He owned commercial buildings in Vancouver, Washington and a small farm located north of town. It was really fun meeting people that leased his buildings and tended to his land.

He had made most of his rounds that day, collecting rents and checking to see what condition his property was in. One of the last stops was at a local general store. He had to get tools for a project that he was working on. We walked into the store, found his supplies and started to head out the door. Just before we walked out the door, I noticed a big kite on the wall.  It was a heavy-duty kite, not made of paper or cloth. It was made of heavy plastic, lime green. It looked like it could handle almost any kind of wind. It was a great kite.

“Grandpa, can I have a kite?” I asked. He looked at me a minute, looked outside and he smiled.

“Okay Grant, I’ll buy you a kite,” said my grandpa. I was so excited. I never had a kite before, and had never tried to fly one. He pulled one of the kites off the shelf and handed it to the clerk. “We need string…we need lots of string,” he replied.

My grandfather and I went down one of the aisles and found close to 1500 feet of heavy duty string. He intended to make sure this kite touched the clouds.

We paid the clerk and went out to his truck and we drove home. First thing we did was run into his shop located in the garage. We put the kite together and even made a great tail that we attached to the end of the kite. It looked perfect. He pulled the string out and wound it around a wooden dowel. It took several minutes before he had the entire string in place. He attached the string to the back of the kite. Everything was ready to go.

My grandpa’s home was located on a corner lot. His side yard was big, big enough to run into the wind and launch the kite. He held onto the spool that contained the string. He handed me the kite and pointed toward the end of the yard. “Take the kite and run into the wind,” ordered my grandfather. ”Let go of the kite near the end of the yard. I’ll hold onto the spool!” I was so excited! I could hear my heart beat; it was great! The wind was perfect, the sky was clear, it was a great day to fly a kite.

I started to run as fast as I could with the kite. I ran into the wind. I could hear it making noise, rustling as I ran. I kept running until I reached the end of the yard, let go of the kite, and off it flew. It twirled in the air, took a dip or two and shot up like a rocket. The wind carried it straight up…twenty feet, thirty feet, forty feet, and one hundred feet. The string kept flying off the handle. It started to climb higher and higher in the sky.

I couldn’t believe how the kite handled. My grandpa was like a little kid, he was laughing so hard. The next door neighbor came running across the street to lend a hand. I ran around my grandfather screaming and laughing at the sight.

The string kept going out, carrying the kite towards the sky. Eventually the string stopped. We had reached the end of the string, 1500 feet. My grandfather couldn’t believe the kite had specked out. It was a tiny dot in the sky. You couldn’t even see it.

Cars began to stop in the street to watch. Neighbors stood on their lawns to watch the kite. It was wonderful.

My grandpa’s home was close to the flight paths that most small planes would take to land at Pearson Air field in Vancouver. A small plane appeared near the small speck in the sky. It started to circle around the kite! We looked at each other in amazement.

Shortly after the plane appeared, a police car pulled up. The officer got out of his car looked at my grandfather and asked, “What are you doing?”

“We’re flying a kite!” exclaimed my grandfather. Everybody laughed. The plane kept circling the kite. My grandma came running out of the house. She was beside herself.

“Pearson Air field is on the phone!” she screamed. “They want you to bring the kite down this minute! They’re worried that the kite could cause problems to the planes!”

The officer in charge received a call over the car radio. “Tell that gentleman that we need to have him take his kite down this instant!” Grandpa started to reel in the kite. It took close to forty-five minutes for it to make it down to the small crowd that had gathered. Everybody cheered; people laughed. My grandmother stood on the porch and smiled.

It was great. My grandpa had always gone out of his way to make me happy. The kite hung in the garage, over the work bench. It stayed there for years. I don’t think we ever flew it again, but it always reminded the family of the day we touched the clouds with our hands.

 

 

 

 

“The House of Blue Lights” By Grant Keltner

My grandfather started to display his Christmas lights back in 1962. They illuminated his home located in Vancouver, Washington like a beacon in the night; the entire neighborhood was ablaze with blue sparkles of light. He gave people a chance to see a visual extravaganza: over 3,000 outdoor lights, covering almost every inch of his home.

The lights were placed on all of the bushes, shrubs and trees on his property. They smothered the roof. The windows were framed with the lights and the walkways up to the house sparkled a bright path leading you up to the front door. The sidewalks that bordered the lot had long rows of blue that traced the outline of the front and side yards of his property.

My grandfather was a businessman in the area and originally had decided to display the lights as a promotion for the Oregonian for his company. He bought his home back in 1952, a large brick ranch on a corner lot located in the west section of Vancouver, Washington.

I first remember the lights as a four year old back in 1962. By that time award after award had been given to my grandfather through state and local organizations for his light show. The Oregonian and the Columbian newspapers had written articles about “The House of Blue Lights”. Most organizations finally asked my grandfather to stop competing, knowing he would win the events.

Cars lined up to see the lights, at times six blocks long. Police had parked on the corner of Lincoln and West 43rd and on the corner of Lavina and West 43rd, helping to direct the traffic. It was a sight to see, lights all the same hue of midnight blue. The cars would crawl to a standstill. People would get out of their cars and stand in amazement.

A big star illuminated the center of the home. The lights inside the house had to be turned off at 5:00 p.m. sharp every night. Nothing was to interfere with the lights outside; he wanted the inside of the house to be pitch black. My grandfather had to have everything look perfect.

Electric candelabras glowed in every window inside of the house, with blue lights screwed into the sockets. Christmas hymns blared over loud speakers strategically set in the rhododendrons. The songs could be heard from blocks away. Classical Christmas tunes drifted through the air…the music could be heard through the night.

A choir of angels was placed in the yard, accented by outdoor flood lights strapped to the trees surrounding them. A huge flocked Noble Fir stood in the front room. It was the center piece of the show. Spot lights placed on the floor projected shades of blue on the tree. It lit up the entire living room. Blue decorations were scattered on the tree and blue bulbs were placed in specific locations, along with strings of blue lights that wrapped themselves around the branches.

This undertaking took my grandfather’s hired hands close to two weeks to complete. I remember them spending hour upon hour each day stringing out the long electric cords, checking the lights, making sure they all worked. Spare lights, electrical wiring, and decorations were jammed into the garage.

“We’ll eat dinner in the basement!” exclaimed my grandfather. “That way we won’t have any indoor light interfere with the blue lights!” I learned to eat dinner next to the fireplace located downstairs.

People would walk up and down the sidewalks surrounding the house, taking photographs of the sparkling lights. Families would come up to the front door and ring the doorbell to ask questions about the display.

Two nuns traveling from Sacramento, California to Vancouver, British Columbia knocked on my grandparents’ door at 11:30 p.m. one cold winter night. They had heard about “The house of blue lights” and wanted to know if my grandfather could turn the lights on for them. He gladly turned the switches on letting the power flow into each bulb. He even played the music over the loud speakers. The nuns were amazed at the spectacle as my grandmother made them cinnamon toast and cocoa in the kitchen.

My favorite memory of his light show was the night snow fell in the winter of 1965. Close to eight inches fell that night. The lights beamed through the snow, illuminating the flakes and casting long abstract distorted shapes and shadows through the snow. It was surreal.

On Christmas Eve family and friends would come over to celebrate. My grandmother would play Christmas music on the piano, food was served, and kids ran through the house excited to see what presents were awaiting them under the tree. My grandmother’s cat would disappear for days due to the frenzy.

The police would stop in to say “Hello”. My grandmother would serve them coffee and cookies; it had to be the safest place in the neighborhood. The home was under a microscope for nearly three weeks each year. Local radio and television crews would report the event.

This ritual continued for several years to follow…this celebration of life, love, Christmas and community. It was an amazing spectacle. I have never seen anything close to this kind of outdoor display with lights and doubt if I will ever see anything close to it in my lifetime.

My grandfather died of brain cancer when I was ten years old, the last year of the lights. To this day I drive to his home, long since sold. I drift back to a time that will always be ingrained in my memory. Even though it’s been over forty years since the lights were burning bright, families still tell me of the special memories they had with “The House of Blue Lights”.