Sunday, January 2, 2011

How This All Got Started

A current view from the home dad built in 1968.  Looking south toward the Columbia River and Tri-Cities.

For a little background, here's my story...

Dad and mom moved to the deserted and desolate Columbia Basin in Washington State in 1957 with a thousand dollars, a car and big ideas to farm. They had bushel loads of desire to be make their own way and raise a family in the process. However, the odds were stacked against them.

In the cold winter of 1957 with few tools, no utilities available or neighbors to help, dad started building a home to house his future posterity. We (mom, dad and I) usually did this at night since dad had a day job. My sister Teresa was a baby and a little too young to help with the actual construction.

I was two years old at the time and toddled around the place in freezing weather while the folks built house. I probably wasn’t much help. Dad mixed concrete for the foundation by hand and shovel. They illuminated the worksite with the car headlights. Because the temperatures were freezing, the concrete froze and the foundation flaked off for years after. I guess they felt they had to get the job done and didn’t worry about the finer details.

My future with a capital T for Trouble was mapped out one cold night when I stuck my tongue on the business end of a frozen hammer. The folks got a little concerned when they saw me walking around with a claw hammer hanging out of my mouth.

How to thaw and separate? There was no electricity, heat, or running water. I was screaming and time was of the essence. The only warm substance available was mom’s spit so she started hucking loogies toward my connection point with this foreign object until we finally separated. I would never let her do that today although since I never learn, I would probably still be agreeable to sticking my tongue on a frosty hammer if things got boring.

My earliest memories of life are of living with my poor, dirt-farming parents in a desolate, hot, sandy, sagebrush sprinkled, cheat grass, coyote and snake-infested spot a mile or two north of the Columbia River in southeastern Washington State above the shoreline called Ringold. This place was and still is home. My life has always been centered in this cradle of agriculture and home of “salt of the earth” farmers.

Starting out, it wasn’t a farm. It was blow sand and sagebrush, a pretty much constant dust storm with nary a neighboring farm in sight. The Grand Coulee dam had recently been constructed some eighty miles northwest of us on the Columbia River and a huge canal system had just been constructed. This brought life-giving water to the Basin and allowed energetic people like mom and dad to get a start.

Most were destitute young couples similar to the hard scrabble folk living during the depression and dust bowl eras. The majority of them lived in tents, shacks and other substandard accommodations with high hopes for better times to come. Many stayed for a few months or a year and then gave up, returning to their former and more pleasant locations and livelihoods that they had previously abandoned. Most came with more resources that my parents and yet gave up within the first year or two.
I'm assisting dad laying straw over newly planted grass. The house is unfinished but already lived in.
My folks started out buying 40 acres of barren soil with my dad holding down a job as a county agent, assisting other farmers as they tried to tame the wild ground. He would rise early in the morning to work on his own field, go to work for 8 or 9 hours and then return in the evening to again work on the farm until late each night. He stayed with his job for a year or so and then went full-time as a farmer. I remember watching him through the front window leave for work in a county pickup each morning and crying because I wanted to go with him. I was 2 or 3 at the time.

His job included surveying undeveloped land. He was staking and flagging it so the new farmers could level the uneven ground to grade. This was absolutely necessary before it could be farmed since it allowed the new farmer the ability to get the life-giving water to run down the crop rows to the end of the field.

I remember him taking me with him a time or two, a two-year old trudging through the hot sand, trying to keep up with his surveying and fast-striding father.

Back then, the area had minimal green vegetation. The hot ground was a final destination for the scorching sun as there was nothing but dry cheat grass and an occasional sagebrush providing little cover. In the decades since, this desert has blossomed into wonderfully productive farmland. It's no wonder that the weather for our area has seemed cooler in recent years after all the green farms have been established.

In the early years, dust devils or whirlwinds were a constant sight. Spinning sand, tumbleweeds and other available debris were sucked into the vortex, often rising a half mile into the air. It was always entertaining to watch. Trying to guess which direction the twister would follow and watching its minor destruction was fun for farm boys.

Nowadays, dust devils are a rarity in the irrigated areas of this tamed desert. I assume this is because there is no longer just hot sand to reflect the heat and stir up the twisters. Green crops and mature orchards abound now and keep the temperatures more subdued.

Dad would arise at 4:30 or so each morning and work at a dead run until 9:00 or later in the evening. He continued on this pace from 1957 until around 1985 when he came down with Multiple Sclerosis. He had to spend the next 19 years hobbling around and finally becoming relegated to a wheelchair. The MS years were very hard on him. I wouldn’t have had as hard of a time as he did with this debilitating disease since I don’t mind sitting around and dreaming up new ideas.

Mom was just as much of a worker. I am awed by their accomplishments, love and example. It has been a great blessing to have been raised in their home.

My folks, Bill and Joan Casper

We had very few neighbors. Most lived miles away. I remember as a three-year-old sitting on my tricycle outside our house and watching a truck coming down the gravel road with a big army barracks loaded on the back. A man stood on the roof with a board and lifted each power line up and over the house on wheels as the truck pulled it past.

(Here I am in the drivers seat hauling around dead weight in the form of my sister Teresa who is 11 months younger than I. Many people have commented that there's enough difference in our personalities that they can't believe we came out of the same womb. I am also of that opinion. By some weird twist and without any familial connection, we married people who were classmates from Springville, UT., some 600+ miles away. How weird is that? We also live next door to each other. Almost daily I just shake my head. (Usually with a NO! motion) 

We finally had some neighbors and they were only a quarter of a mile away! The Cooks happened to be members of the LDS Church (Mormon) as were we. They had a boy my age which created an inseparable duo for double trouble for the next decade or so. Brian and I grew up together and were best pals for many years. We also managed to squeeze in an amazing amount of extracurricular activities for two farm boys whose fathers kept the work piled on. Household luxuries were scarce. We didn’t have running water for 2 or 3 years.

Mom would hook up a trailer to the back of our tractor every week and drive to the nearest neighboring farmhouse that had running water. The water was used for washing, drinking, cooking and other essentials. My sisters and I rode on the flatbed trailer carrying the water tank.

Saturday nights were bath night. Several pots of water were heated on the stove and then dumped into a tin tub in the front room. My sisters were bathed and then I. Next, mom crawled in and dad finally finished the cleaning process in the dirty bathwater. We were ready to go to church the next day.

We had to walk several hundred feet to a homemade outhouse every time we needed “do our business.” I remember the sometimes freezing seat and always smelly atmosphere this job entailed.

The Cooks also had an outhouse. Since we were their closest neighbors and were a good quarter of a mile away from their outhouse, Brian’s mom Donna had no problem leaving their privy door open that by chance faced our home. She found this greatly diminished the distinctive outhouse smell factor. Her open-door policy remained in effect until the day she found out that my dad had purchased a new pair of binoculars.

Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s was an adventure, at least in the neck of woods that I was raised in. Actually, the only woods that were around my growing up years consisted of sagebrush sprinkled in with a few willow branches and lathes from the woodshed, often used on my backside. I was raised in a home full of love, hard work and good examples although there was a touch too much touch when it came to corporeal attitude adjustments.

When my folks started their parenting years, one of my grandfathers advised them not to spare the rod or the child would be spoiled. This was a mistake with my free spirit. The physical efforts at corrective maneuvers just made me want to be a little freer. I was the first of nine kids and therefore was the prototypical experimental model. I started out at a very early age developing an attitude that if my dad wanted me to do one thing, I would do just the opposite. I struggle with this Johnny Reb thinking process to this very day.

Maybe that's why I ended up inventing. I want to find a better and different way. However, I have realized that even though my way is different, it's not always better.

This narrative is my life. Of those who read, most will express righteous, and at times, self-righteous indignation. A few saintly souls honestly will be offended and ashamed that they know me, the rest of the readership have probably had a few of the same struggles, albeit not near the volume, frequency, quality or quantity. A few will laugh. Some will even relate. If this narrative provides help or other positive perspectives for readers, I will be happy--my work and life are not a total waste.

Most will read and think “You wouldn’t catch me doing that!”, “What an idiot!” or “His poor wife!” A few will muse “When is he going to die?” One or two will say “Been there, done that.”

Liability concerns require me at this point to warn the reader that they are not to attempt the stunts listed hereafter at home.They were performed by a quasi-semi professional (albeit recovering) knot-head.
The only reason I write this stuff is to make this one hot, interesting, and cool Mormon blog and to document stuff that really happened yet is impossible to duplicate.
Or, I could make it a Catholic blog if the right investor came along.

1 comment:

abird said...

Thanks for a good laugh. Your Gorge Story made me feel like my bumbling ordeals weren't so bad. :)

I enjoyed the story of your family starting out in the Columbia Basin. Our family was starting out about the same time not too far from there. Those were tough times, but a lot of good memories.

Alan Bird