Leaving Coeur d’Alene behind us, we entered Washington state and the city of Spokane. Spokane is lower in the foothills of the Bitterroot Mountains. There were plenty of pine trees, but the terrain was beginning to flatten out. Highway 2 out of Spokane, lead us to the town of Wilbur. The pine trees and hills were replaced with sagebrush and rock. At Wilbur, we turned unto Highway 174, the last leg of the trip.
The Columbia River was dammed at Grand Coulee. Behind the dam, Lake Roosevelt was formed and extends back 100 miles to Kettle Falls, Washington. The town of Grand Coulee is located on the southern slope above the river. I would guess that the downtown area was vertically about a half mile above the river. Highway 174 was about 700 to 800 feet vertically above the downtown area. Dill Avenue was about 50 feet above Highway 174. Aunt Maggie lived on Dill Ave as well. Her house was on the uphill side of the street with her front door maybe 15 to 20 above the street. I’m not trying to bore you with a series of elevations; I’m just trying to say we lived on the side of a steep hill.
After saying our hellos and resting for a while, we walked down the street to 327 Dill Avenue, which was on the downhill side of the street. We had one and a half lots which sloped downward to an alley way. The alley was vertically about 25 to 30 feet below the street. The house was located to the eastern most part of the lot, leaving about half the area free for a yard. The house was L shaped and appeared to be about 850 square feet. The front door was about 6 or 7 feet below the street level. It was a wood framed house with asphalt shingles on the exterior walls. The outside looked rough, but the house had not been occupied for some time. It was the interior that told the story of this house.
When we opened the front door, we were speechless. Allow me to give you the layout of the floor plan before describing what we saw. It was a two bedroom house. From the front door you entered into the living room. To the left, off the living room, was the first bedroom, which would become Brenda’s room and a storage room. From the living room we passed through a wide opening into the kitchen (open concept) and to the end of the house. The one nice thing about the kitchen was that it had a big picture window that allowed some sunlight and provided a nice view of the alley, the gravel parking lot of a Methodist church, Highway 174, and the town’s funeral home. From the kitchen, we turned left to a short hallway that led to the second bedroom, which became my parent’s room. Between my parents’ bedroom and the kitchen was the bathroom off the hallway.
Now to the description; from the living room, we saw holes in the sheet rock, the ceiling sheet rock was pulled down with insulation lying on top of the sheet rock, the flooring was damaged, “Olympia” beer cans, whiskey bottles, and other things best not listed were scattered across the floor. It appears it was a party house. Well, the first phase was to clean up the interior. After we emptied the truck of our things and put them in a garage, we began the removal of trash from inside the house. The back door of the house was in the kitchen. A set of wooden stairs led to the back yard and to the entrance of the basement. The basement was about half cleared with exposed dirt filling the front part of the house. We placed the truck in line with the back door and start throwing trash into the bed of the truck. There was a small community called Delano which hosted the town dump. We took several loads to the dump to be burned. Eventually, the house was stripped down to the studs and it was time to start rebuilding.
I remember going to the local bank with Dad to get a construction loan. What made me remember the visit was when they called us to see the loan officer, they used his first name. Dad’s full name was James Edward Elkins. Most everyone that knew my Dad, called him Ed or Bud. Most of my relatives called him Bud. No one ever called him James, so when they said, “James Elkins” I was surprised. We got the loan and went to Spokane to buy plywood, sheet rock, wood, and insulation. I have always been a fan of trucks, so when our truck was loaded and we started back to Grand Coulee, my imagination took over and we were not in a Ford 1 ½ ton truck with wooden side boards, but in a Kenworth pulling a flat bed with all of our supplies.
The storage room was to be converted into a bedroom for me. The room had a two foot by two foot window, but did not have a closet. It was about eight feet by eight feet, which is about the same size as a jail cell, so I called it my cell. There were no bars for the door, just a folding accordion door to close off the two foot six inch opening. I had a twin bed, a night stand, and a lamp. The walls were painted blue. Brenda’s bedroom was painted “hot pink”. Man, when the sunlight came through her window, the room glowed. Oh, and in my room was the box to hold the firewood for our wood burning stove. The house was finally in good enough shape to send for Mom and Brenda.
Before leaving for Washington, my parents bought a 1960 Volvo PV544 for Mom to drive up to Washington. It was a two door car with black paint and red interior. Kind of like the 1964 Jaguar XKE, I had longed for in Oklahoma City (see Dream Big), except not quite the same. I remember the day when they finally arrived. The back seat was loaded to the roof and the truck was packed to capacity. I had missed them both intensely. The next event would be to leave Aunt Maggie’s house and move into our new house.
Now would be the time to see what would become of us. From a spiritual point of view, all references to church or serving the Lord stopped. For a short time after we were there, I would hear Mom praying in her bedroom (see Prayer Warrior), but that ended too soon. As I look back, I don’t think my parents’ marriage was ever the same as before my Dad’s affair. I think the hurt was too deep for my mother. The effort to restore was never enough for my father. Health issues were also a factor in the three and a half years we were in Grand Coulee. My father was in the early stages of Emphysema (COPD). He also was drunk every weekend. My mother was entering menopause. We were three satellites which were in orbit around 327 Dill Avenue.
My dad worked out of town for all the time we were in Grand Coulee. He worked in Seattle and Ellensburg. He would come home every two weeks and he was drunk for the entire weekend. He would share his beer with my cousin and tried to share with Brenda and our teenage neighbor, Susan, but he never offered it to me. I can only imagine his state of mind. He had started smoking cigarettes when he was nine years old. He had developed Emphysema as a result. His wife was distant and not able to forgive him of his cheating. So, he did what he had done for years, he drank. I remember so many times the glassy eyed stare from him, of walking into his bedroom as he slept, to smell the strong odor of alcohol coming from his breath. I’m sure he was lonely and felt isolated. I don’t think he knew how to communicate with us in order to help him. I regret that I didn’t know how to communicate with him, which would have been helpful to each of us.
My mother was the second satellite. She began work as a nurse’s aide at the local hospital, and eventually worked picking apples in Omak and Wenatchee. When she was a nurse’s aide, she was home every night. When she was picking apples, she was only home for the weekends. PMS hit her hard. Her mood swings were difficult, not only for her, but for me and Brenda. Mom was at the beginning of a decade of being away from God. I think she had lost hope and lost her love for her husband, and lost her faith. I had to re-establish my credibility with her, since she thought I had not been loyal to her concerning the Yamaha (see End Of A Time). She had grown to be more distant and harder in her expressions. Did she even want to be in Washington? Would she have preferred California, Texas or Oklahoma, where she would have had relatives closer to her? At some point toward the end of our Grand Coulee time, she began to go to bars and clubs, where she met a man who showed her some interest and bought her things. They apparently had an affair after I had left.
Brenda and I was the third satellite. We both went to school and were home all the time. We would see our parents on the weekend. It was stressful because of the distance emotionally that had developed. Mom would bring home a carton of water core apples. As the name implies, the area around the apples core was fluid, instead of air. You could eat much of the apple, but you would want to avoid the fruit closer to the core. Apples were a big part of our diet. The second item was Kraft macaroni and cheese. I did not know how to cook anything and Brenda did know how to cook mac and cheese and it was cheap. The local drive-in hang out was a place called “Rapid Roberts”. It was a typical Tasty Freeze-looking place with block walls and a glass front with two order windows. It also had a small dining room with a single pinball machine. You could play three games for a quarter on the machine. The local tradition was if Rapid Robert wanted to play on your game, you let him. Sometimes you would win an additional game or if it was your last game, he would open the front of the machine and add some games for you. He knew how to keep the teenagers interested in his restaurant. They served hamburgers and curly fries and drinks. On occasion, he would let us peel potatoes in exchange for a burger. It sure was a nice change from the mac and cheese.
Brenda and I got along well with one another, except for the occasional argument. She had the ability to crave me up with her tongue, because she had a better command of the language. I have to have a little time to process what I want to say, so when she bettered me in the argument, I hit her in the stomach to make her stop talking. I quickly learned that was not the right thing to do and I never hit another female again. Brenda learned to stop talking before I went over the edge. I am so thankful to the Lord exchanged my rage for peace, but that would be about eight years later.
Perhaps this last exchange tells how things where in our home. We were all home on a weekend. Dad and I got into an argument over something. I wanted to leave the house, because I was extremely angry. The argument moved outside to the alley. Dad and I were face to face, with Mom and Brenda at our sides. He said something to me, which caused me to raise my fist to hit him, but something internal stopped me. I was ashamed of myself. I turned and walked away until I could calm down. Dad didn’t say anything to me about that incident afterwards, I’m sure it must have hurt him. I think this event was the one thing that I have regretted the most in my life.
In my next story, I will tell about life at Grand Coulee High. Go Tigers! Right!
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