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Just Another Point of View: Maybe peeking at the world through a keyhole really isn't all that bad

If you had grown up on the Oregon coast in the 1950s — like I did — chances are you would have gotten your information about the outside world in tiny, confusing pieces.

Oh, sure, we had our public education, the newspapers our parents read every day and an unbroken stream of books that flowed even through the Alsea Valley, but the rest of the options were sketchy at best, offering a view very much like peeking through a keyhole.

Cable television didn’t exist yet, so only a handful of folks with the wherewithal to run lines up a mountain (which they usually owned) to giant antennas they installed themselves were able to pull into their homes such wondrous diversions as “Gunsmoke” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.” And because these reception sites were so rare, it was a special occasion to gather after dinner (when invited, of course) and bathe in the glow of their high-tech campfire.

Radio contact with civilization was not much better. In the morning, we could get the Barney Keep show on KEX, but in the evenings, the best we could do was KGO in San Francisco, which offered nonstop chatter from someplace called The Hungry Eye — an acquired taste tolerated only by us kids when we were camping in the backyard with a transistor radio. Otherwise, we had to settle for “the 5,000-watt voice of the Oregon coast,” KNPT in Newport, which specialized in those days in boring music for old people.

My brother Pat, who was born deaf, went away to school in Salem, at the Oregon State School for the Deaf. When he came back home the first time, he informed us that the sign language we had invented ourselves was no longer necessary (or appropriate) because the rest of the country already had this thing called American Sign Language. Who knew?

The reason I bring up all this humble-beginning stuff, of course, is not to illicit sympathy or to suggest my world was any more challenging than it is today (because it wasn’t), but to offer some explanation for why I’m so, you know, mentally and spiritually undeveloped.

I’m telling you, one does not spend all those years putting together jigsaw puzzles with his family while his dad plays old country records on the phonograph next to his armchair and wind up even remotely normal. Personally, I blame the rural upbringing. And I have developed an odd kind of radar that recognizes this idiosyncrasy in others.

My friend Jim, a photographer with whom I worked at several newspapers, grew up far, far outside of Barstow, California. He knows what I’m talking about. So does my friend Malcolm, who comes from the boondocks north of the Columbia River. And there are plenty of other people I consider brothers and sisters under the skin. Carolyn and Tiffaney and Lance and Myra are just a few who began their life journeys in places I like to call “nowhere,” or at least close to it.

In fact, I attribute this early deprivation with giving all of us an immense appetite and appreciation for going to new places, eating and drinking good things and simply enjoying life to the utmost.

As a matter of fact, this also applies to the other person who lives at our house. She came from the same backwoods hollar I did, and it has always served as a kind of glue in our relationship. There’s no way we would be approaching our 49th wedding anniversary without that unspoken understanding. Both of us know exactly where the other came from, and we don’t have to even talk about the things we did without before escaping to civilization.

At this point, I’m not at all sure coming from a place with such limited opportunities and sketchy information about the world is the only reason I’m enjoying this stage of my life as much as I am, but I’m pretty sure it hasn’t hurt one bit. And for that I’m more than a little bit thankful.

Mikel Kelly rode the heady, exciting world of newspapers from utter obscurity to fame and fortune (sort of). He is now retired and languishing in the woods of Southwest Portland.