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Grain Elevator, Condon, Oregon

" … the gods of geneology will decide."

It's probably always been the case that none of us really control our fate. With my family's history all spread out, I can see what eventually came about. I cannot imagine very many outcomes resulting from consciously deliberate choice. Sure, we each make decisions, mostly modest and a few monumental, but none seem to reasonably sum to produce any fate. Insignificant increments might conspire to finally sum up to something that might have been aspired to but couldn't really have been. Historians might ascribe to some specific decision whatever outcome ultimately resulted, but this world works more insidiously than that. Contrary to popular mythology, not one of us was ever really self-made. We were probably more crafted by ten thousand hands, most of which never imagined they were leaving a fingerprint or any sort of mark. We might manifest by less obvious means, and we likely create our explanatory stories to satisfy something other than reality. In reality, stuff happens, and however we come to pass rightfully remains mysterious.

That said, my father, Robert Clancy Schmaltz, an unwitting thirty-sixth great-grandson of Charlemagne, decided to move to Condon, Oregon, to help his dad.
Long estranged and living with his mother, the promise of steady work and the notion that his father might finally really need him was enough to attract him halfway across the state. His brother Dan and he journeyed into the predictably cold and foggy rimrock country. Nick, by then, had taken up with a widow boardinghouse keeper and needed help satisfying some painting and roofing contracts he'd secured in far away Condon. The promise of steady work could move mountains during The Great Depression. Dan didn't stay. He decided he'd be much better off joining the Civilian Conservation Corps, so he left to learn how to become a mechanic. My dad remained.

As he might have expected but didn't, the work his dad promised didn't quite turn out as described. Good old reliable Bob would end up doing the bulk of the work while his father engaged in strategic managerial conferences at the local tavern. Their planned splitting of the take also fell through after certain overheads became known. Why Nick insisted upon buying only the most expensive China bristle brushes confused my dad. It made him mad when he thought about it too much, and my dad had always had a remarkably long fuse. It might have been the contract to repair the roof on the local grain elevator that ultimately soured their deal. He'd gritted his teeth through the work on that treacherous church roof, but the grain elevator job, one which he was curiously tasked to perform alone up on that roof, crossed beyond the pale. He was never one to feel all that comfortable with heights.

Bob took a job with the county road crew, driving trucks and shoveling gravel. That provided a more reliable paycheck and distanced him from his dad. Bob joined the town baseball team and became a familiar face. He tried to join the Marines when the war came but washed out of basic training because of that poorly healed broken foot, thank heavens. He returned to Condon after he mustered out and began attending the dances. I'll never understand the particular strange attraction that connected my parents, Bonnie and Bob, and led to their marriage. Other than being young and extremely good-looking, their backgrounds wouldn't have led anyone to conclude that they belonged together. Bonnie refused to join Bob's Catholic church, earning a stern rebuke from the local priest, who forbade any practicing Catholic from attending their nuptials or associating with them afterward. This solidified the rift between Bob and his dad, who had once been disowned for behaving in ways that offended his father and his priest. History continually repeats itself.

Bob took a job with the US Postal Service after successfully passing his civil service exam despite never finishing his high school education. He would later, after I, his third-born, arrived, leave Condon and move his family away from the controversy to Walla Walla, where I would grow up like a native. They eventually bought an almost ramshackle place on Pleasant Street, a house surrounded by nearly an acre of once orchard, their Eden At The End Of Their Oregon Trail. I grew up in a Walt Disney Movie on Pleasant Street in Walla Walla, Washington, in "the valley they liked so well, they named it twice." Despite his earlier struggles, Bob became a patriarch, providing for a family with five children and a beautiful, headstrong wife. They possessed some sort of covenant, or a covenant possessed them, for they were inseparable. The better or worse clause of their original marriage contract got more of a workout than anyone could have reasonably expected, yet they were true to each other and to the world they created together. They were and remain a hard act to follow.

And that's the denouement of this story. Oh, I have some fillers and embellishments to follow, but with this installment, I believe that I've successfully described the primary spokes and threads that led up to my being born on that otherwise forlorn kitchen table in Condon in 1951. I'm teetering on the edge of grandfatherhood now, once a spare and unpromising youth. I've been blessed as well as cursed to unbalanced degrees, with the deciding factors inexplicably leaning toward the positive outcomes so far. Nobody ever leaves their story unblemished, though, and everybody carries at least some of the blame. This, this series, has reminded me, was never a game. There couldn't possibly be any losing or any persistent winning. Time will inevitably shake out whatever I manage to scratch on this giant Etch-A-Sketch. The epitaph will most certainly be some story I will not get to choose, one that the gods of genealogy will decide. It's never been any different.

©2024 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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