Friday, August 23, 2013

Two Miles High, Part VII: You can check out any time you like...

The worst years of my childhood were spent in Emmett, Idaho. They were my middle school years, difficult for any young person: hormones, uneven growth spurts, voice changes, mood swings, and acne work together to make this the most awkward and least attractive phase in human development. I had all those problems, and more: I was the Methodist preacher’s kid in a Mormon town; I was an utterly un-athletic nerd; I wore thick glasses; I was overweight; and I was an introvert. It was as if my genes had conspired with my circumstances to paint a bright red target on my forehead, and filled my glands with a pheromone uniquely appealing—and enraging—to bullies. I was tormented mercilessly. And I hated it. Moving to Oregon and beginning high school anywhere that wasn’t Emmett was a gift from God.

And yet, for all that misery, Emmett was a watershed. I experienced my first adolescent crush in Emmett, to a girl who led me on then cruelly dashed my hopes, laughing at my misery. I discovered science fiction in Emmett, both as literary escape and as subject matter for my first attempts at writing stories. I began playing the trumpet in Emmett, setting me up for my future career in music education. I grew into Scouting in Emmett, becoming a leader in one of the best-run troops I ever encountered either as a Scout or as an adult leader. I set aside toys in Emmett, using the $5 my grandfather sent me for Christmas when I was 12 to buy a GI Joe, then realizing when I got home that I had simply lost interest in playing with action figures.
Altogether, Emmett was the place that most shaped who I was to become. The Scouting hikes and camping trips in the high desert put the smells of juniper and sage in my nose so that, twenty years later when I traveled to Kah-Nee-Tah for a pastor’s school retreat, it felt like I was coming home; and the desert of Central Oregon, Idaho, and Utah has continued to be a place of pilgrimage and renewal for me. If it were not for Emmett, I would not be the man I am today. 

This is, I am sure, why I booked us into the Frozen Dog Digs for our post-hike recovery night. Originally, we were supposed to be coming from Pettit Lake, about a three-hour drive from Emmett. We would’ve had so much time to spare that we planned to stop in Sweet, a village with a church that had been yoked to Emmett during my father’s ministry there, and have dinner at a Basque restaurant. Driggs to Emmett was a much longer haul, however, especially with lunch and dinner stops, and it was dark and late when we finally arrived.
frozen dog digs
Our host at the Frozen Dog Digs was Jon, a man in his 60s who’d led an adventurous life, living and working around the world, but had never married, and, in 1979, has returned to Emmett to build this house with his father. His father, now 91, still lives on the property. Originally, the plan had been to build a house for some hypothetical wife who never materialized; when it became clear she never would, Jon started making bold decorating decisions, creating a sports room, a rock memorabilia room, spiral staircases, a racquetball court, a wet bar with beer taps. At some point, he and his father realized they were building a huge house for just the two of them—one, really, for his father was living in a separate building. Then came the decision to turn it into a bed and breakfast.

The house is a wayside attraction, an eccentric museum of kitsch with large empty bedrooms and not enough bathrooms to really make it as a B&B—and, of course, there is the location. There simply is no reason for people to visit Emmett on vacation. Boise is 45 minutes away, and has plenty of inns and hotels for the discerning traveler. The house itself has to be the destination, and it is a work in progress.

I was charmed by the place. Amy was spooked by it. The whimsy appealed to me. Our host was, perhaps, a bit too attentive. Neither of us slept well, with the loud room air conditioner and the long trek down the spiral stairs to the bathroom being the primary culprits. I certainly did not enjoy having “Fox and Friends” on the TV while we ate breakfast, confirming every suspicion I’ve ever had about Fox News. And the way he rushed out to the car as we were pulling away to share one last DVD title with us that we simply must watch was spooky. But mostly, I empathized with Jon, thinking that, but for my good fortune in meeting Amy, I might well have turned out like him, looking back on a full but solitary life, turning my home (possibly my grandmother's/now my parents' house in McMinnville) into a museum and inn, a shrine celebrating my many passions, that far too few would visit and appreciate.

We left the inn and quickly tooled through town, visiting the places that had meant the most to me during my three years in Emmett. The small house with the big yard:

The building that had housed Parkview Middle School, now repurposed as the county courthouse and (very appropriately, in my mind) jail:
And the library where I had spent my happiest hours in Emmett, immersed in books, friends who would never torment me, never tease me, never follow me home spitting on me, never steal my glasses, never brand me with epithets it would take me years to erase from my identity:
 And then we were fully on our way, across the Snake and into Oregon, speeding along I-84 through mountains, forests, and fields, down into the Gorge, across Portland, and finally to Bethany, where we unloaded, packed away, laundered, and crashed, home for less than 48 hours before we launched our next adventure: Southern Oregon.

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