Grant Keltner

The Stick Fight

The stick fight

In 1964, I just moved with my mother into an apartment up above Chapman Grade School.  It was built at the dead-end of NW Pettygrove.  It had views that looked out to the north towards Montgomery Park and as far north to Vancouver.  Back then the apartment sat right in the middle of a green space.  Raccoons and deer used to come up to the back porch and beg for food.  It was a great wildlife area.

Next to the apartment, directly west, sat a large vacant lot.  It had two huge alders that reached nearly two hundred feet into the air.  The lot was wedged between our apartment and the last home on the dead-end street.  This home belonged to a prominent, very well-known doctor by the name of Dr. Ralph Pinecrest.  His home sat at the very end of Pettygrove, tucked up against the hill, built in the late 1940’s.  The vacant lot gave Ralph his own private meadow that included old growth trees that provided him shade in the summer and secluded him from the rest of neighborhood.  The doctor had a son about two years older than me.  He was around ten or so and he was noted for being what was called a “rough neck.”  Like most kids growing up in that area of the neighborhood, we use to run after each other, tackle, push, throw dirt clods, wrestle, and run through yards.  The Pinecrest kid always left me alone, but I was guarded against him.  His name was Doug Pinecrest.  We use to play in the vacant lot.  We played army, yelled and screamed, and caused all kinds of mischief.

I found out by talking with neighbors and friends that lived in the neighborhood that this vacant lot use to be one of the locations for one of the old turn around stations for the original Portland city cable cars.  The cars wound through the West Hills and stopped at the dead end of Pettygrove.  Old pieces of cement and rebar were wound around dark green patches of ivy and lush blackberry bushes.  The city left the large pieces of cement after city workers took most of the turnaround down in the mid 1940’s.  An old trail cut along the west side of the vacant lot and allowed us kids to explore other areas that ran along the west hills, leading us to hidden creeks and streams that wound through Willamette Heights.

I remember waking up on a Saturday morning back when I was around eight or so.  It was a dark cold fall day and my mother was rushing me out the door to attend a Bear Scout meeting at Friendly House.  Back then, I was involved with the Boy Scouts, as were most kids my age.  On the way back home from our den meeting, I ran into some friends that wanted to play touch football.  We played for about an hour in the soaking dirty mud at Wallace Park.  I headed home to get a scolding from my mother.  “Look at you!  You look like a dirt clod!” chirped my mother, “In the tub you go this minute!”

She filled up the tub.  I scrubbed and scrubbed at the dirt that had stuck to my hair, arms, and legs.  I finished my bath and ran into my bedroom and threw on some clothes.  I looked outside and could hear kids screaming out in front of our place.  It sounded like they were playing in the vacant lot.  The fall breeze painted a flash of red and orange as leaves rushed through the trees.  I ran outside and noticed Dr. Pinecrest’s kid playing in the lot next door.  The other kids playing in the lot with Doug were the Macalister kids.  Jerry and his older brother Greg were busy swinging sticks in what seemed to be a very serious fencing contest.

The Macalister’s lived down on NW Pettygrove in the big brick house that sat in the middle of the street.  Mr. and Mrs. Macalister were active in the neighborhood.  Mr. Macalister coached us in little league baseball and his kids attended Cathedral Grade School.  I played with the Macalister kids every once in a while, usually goofing around after school and while playing baseball.  Jerry was my age.

I ran over to the lot and tried to see what all the excitement was about.  Kids were screaming and jabbing each other with their sticks.  Then, all of a sudden I heard a terrible scream.  Everything seemed to stop in time.  The vacant lot became deathly quiet.  Greg put his hands to his face and started to run down the street, zig zagging his way towards his house.  I felt awful.  Jerry looked at me and started to run after his brother.  Doug turned beet red as his parents opened their front door.  “My eye!  My Eye!” screamed Greg as he rushed by me, crying, and sobbing through his pain.  I started to weep.

I stood speechless and looked up towards Dr. Pinecrest’s house where the doctor and his wife were yelling at their son.  “Get inside now!”

Their son put his stick down on the vacant lot and looked at me.  He ran inside and the front door slammed.  I could hear Dr. Pinecrest yelling at his son.  I stood in the vacant lot and looked at the stick lying on the ground.  A crowd had gathered down in front of the Macalister’s home.  Soon the sound of an ambulance’s siren could be heard coming up Pettygrove.  I ran down to the Macalister house as fast as I could.  Concerned neighbors watched as Greg was put into the ambulance.  “His eye!  Greg lost his eye!” shouted a neighbor.

I looked at the faces that had gathered.  Mrs. Macalister was crying and held by her husband.  Kids that new Greg and Jerry gathered around in the yard.  My mother came out in the middle of the street and started to call me in.  The darkness of the fall night set in.  I remembered walking back home in the dark, thinking about Greg.

The next day at school everyone was curious as to what had happened to Greg.  Word soon spread that he indeed had lost his eye.  He was going to be given a replacement.  I found out that the boys were playing in the vacant lot and started to pretend they were pirates or Robin Hood.  They began to use their sticks as swords, hitting each other on the arms, then the chest and then the head.  Dr. Pincrest’s boy got mad and stuck Greg Macalister right in Greg’s right eye.  He hit him so hard that the eye dislodged from its socket.

A few days later, I saw Dr. Pincrest and his son huddled down in the family car.  I soon found out that the good doctor had enrolled his son into a private school back east.  It seemed that his son had pushed his father to the brink.  Word spread of a lawsuit filed against the doctor and his family.  Dr. Pinecrest started to drink.  He usually made his way home through the Radio Cab Company.  I never saw Doug Pinecrest again.

In the next few years, I stayed good friends with Greg and Jim Macalister.  We attended high school together and both of the brothers studied drafting and took shop classes offered through Lincoln High School.  After graduation, they applied for their contractor’s license with construction.  They helped their family build homes through the following years.

In the mid 1980’s I found out that all of the land that lied on the north side of Pettygrove, including the land that went up directly behind Chapman and up the hill ending where Quimby and 28th intersect, was once a farm that was owned by the Macalister family back through 1900.  I was told that the farm had been in their family for years and that they subdivided it in the 1940’s.  I was also told that Dr. Pinecrest bought his lot for his home from the Macalister family.  The vacant lot where the stick fight occurred was handed down through the years in the Macalister family.  The vacant lot sat there for years.  The two old alders grew, and the old growth trees formed a small little forest on the lot.  I often saw hawk and an occasional owl perch on one of the broad limbs.

Around 1988, I was heading out the door at night and I heard chainsaws roaring.  I looked over at the vacant lot.  Here were Greg and Jerry cutting down the huge alders and old growth.  Birds flew in the air.  Crows shrieked in displeasure.  I found out that the Macalister’s were going to subdivide the lot and build two three-story condominiums on the land.  They would be disturbing the secluded sanctuary that Dr. Pinecrest had outside his door for nearly fifty years.  I felt bad.  I had remembered how I liked the lot and how much I liked the trees.  I got mad and barked at Greg.  “You can’t cut those trees down!”

He looked at me and seemed to be staring right at me.  He had a cold look on his face.  It seemed that Greg went back in time that very instant, to the stick fight.  I could see the pain and anger on his face.  “I should be able to do with my land what I like; don’t you think?” said Greg.

I thought about his remark.  I thought about Doug Pinecrest, his father, the issues with his drinking, and about how much I loved that vacant lot.

I went back inside and shut the door.  What had seemed like a lifelong reminder of what the neighborhood was once like vanished in a matter of days.  In the next few months, flatbed trucks and all kinds of construction equipment went through the lot.  Greg and Jerry worked on their condos, banging their hammers.  As they finished the project, I noticed that the entire lot was filled up by the condominiums.  They blocked any kind of view that the doctor and his family had.  Dr. Pinecrest died shortly afterwards.  His wife gradually got old and went into a care facility.  The home was put on the market in the late 1990’s.  I never saw the Pinecrest family again.

Greg and Jerry Macalister went on to build on property in and around the Willamette Heights area that was owned by their family.  Greg still lives in the neighborhood, is married, and has kids of his own.

I’ll never forget the stick fight.

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