Stranded alone on the farm with grandmother
I will never forget that summer I turned 10 and my mother drove me away in her blue Chevrolet.
For one full week, I was going to say goodbye to all the familiar comforts of my Beaverton suburban life. No more television. No more riding my red Schwinn with my buddies up to Cedar Hills Shopping Center. No more getting chocolate Cokes down at the Tip-Top with my sister. No more KISN radio. No more of those wondrous daily visits from the ice cream vendor man on his three-wheel Cushman motorcycle ringing his well-known telltale bell.
Yep, for seven consecutive days and nights, I was going to be all alone with my grandmother on my uncle's remote farm way up in the Silverton Hills. All those sweet-smelling acres of hay, fescue and grass seed had finally been harvested for the year. The tractors and that big combine harvester had all been silenced and put away. Uncle Maurice (pronounced "Morris"), Aunt Dorothy and my cousin Dean were heading to the Oregon Coast for a well-deserved respite.
When they would be away, the dog and cats would still need to be fed. The garden would still need tending. Every evening, a neighbor would make the long gravel-road drive over to milk the cows. My grandmother, Lora (Porter) DuVal, would be driven up from her home in downtown Silverton to spend that week at the farm; the same multi-generation family farm where she and Grandfather DuVal had raised Maurice and Agnes, my mother.
And Agnes' boy would now be bidding his tennis shoes adieu and replacing them with boots. He was about to transition from the sound of ice cream vendor bells to the ones buckled around the more cantankerous bull's neck.
I couldn't wait. Of course, I had absolutely no idea what I was actually in for. Starry-eyed kids seldom do.
Finally found home
In 1853 my Great, Great, Great Grandfather Edward Porter, his wife Anna, and their three children, John, Oliver, and Olive Amanda set out from Illinois in a covered wagon bound for the Oregon Territory. After six long months, that remarkable 2,000-mile journey in their humble ox-pulled wagon all the way across an ever so wild and young American West, finally landed them in Marion County, Oregon. Here, they homesteaded that original 160-acre land grant farm several miles east of Silverton up in the Silverton Hills.
I can only imagine Edward's emotions that day in the fall of 1853, with his maps beside him, when he first rode his horse-drawn buggy up into the Silverton Hills. When he angled off the main rural road up toward Silver Creek Falls and discovered that more primitive dirt lane that led down into so many congregations of oak and fir, past the hymn of those pure blue creeks with their banks of rich, chocolate-black loam. Then, when he turned and crested that final quiet hill, when he looked down and out across those 160 acres nestled there in the foothills of the Cascade Range, my great, great, great grandfather absolutely knew that he had finally found home.
Each new generation would stay and farm in the Silverton Hills. In 1914, my Grandmother Lora Agnes Porter married my Grandfather Henry Edward DuVal. The DuVals were another longtime pioneering farm family in the Silverton Hills. Together, Lora and Henry inherited and operated that original land grant farm.
When their son, my Uncle Maurice, came home from World War II after serving in the U.S. Navy on the flight deck on the battle-decorated USS Essex aircraft carrier, he helped his father, my Grandfather DuVal, work the farm. After my grandfather's death in 1952, Uncle Maurice took over the family farming operation.
Getting the cows
Initially, I most likely enjoyed the novel adventure of being completely alone there on Edward Porter's original farm with my grandmother. And there's no question that I treasured my solitary duty of hiking over the hill late every afternoon with Trixie, the faithful black Border collie, to get the cows.
Often, those eight Guernseys and their calves would already be heading back for the barn along their fenced cow lane. Trixie and I would follow in behind them, making sure that no one lollygagged. But some days those animals would be scattered out all over the place inside those sloping meadows and stringers of fir way down by the creek on the other side of the hill.
It was pretty heady stuff for a certified suburban kid to shout and yell and wave his stick and see those big animals responding to him. With Trixie's help we would get every cow — even the more stubborn feisty ones — to fall in, group-up, and begin our 30-minute or so trek back over the hill to the barn and their milking stalls.
My chores back home in Beaverton included mowing the lawn and taking out the garbage. Such mundane duties seemed appropriate inside that more humdrum life of suburbia. But successfully prompting those cows up and over the hill — usually with a piece of straw proudly stuck in the corner of my mouth — down past the farmhouse, through the barnyard, then opening their gate into the back of the barn and shooing them up their ramp, I know I had to be wishing that my back-home buddies — heck, the entire world — could see me now.
Inescapable walls of pure silence
Sometime after those first couple days alone on the farm with my grandmother, skipping rocks on the pond totally lost its appeal. With my cousin Dean we would compete and hoot and holler at each other's finesse and prowess for successfully propelling one's rock across the water's surface. But now there was no one to celebrate with. Whether I liked it or not, I was learning a whole lot about the inescapable walls of pure silence.
After a while, throwing sticks for Trixie also got a little old. As did my climbs up onto Uncle Maurice's big red tractor to plow my own fields above the real smell of diesel and grease. Such fantasy, too, was becoming a bit wearisome.
Lora DuVal's hands and earth savvy knew how to cultivate and nurture a superb garden. Year after year, she tirelessly canned everything from applesauce and strawberry jam to beetroots. At 73, down there in her own Silverton house's kitchen, she also knew how to keep a proper fire going in her wood burning stove. (Today, that same white porcelain stove belongs to me.)
Lora literally had a twinkle in her eye. She liked to smile. She liked to laugh. But she was a woman of few words. Ever since her husband passed away eight years ago, she had lived alone. For this longtime farm woman, the rhythm of silence was normal.
For her grandson, it was not. After all, he had grown up with the ubiquitous noise of the television set. As far back as he could remember, he was always surrounded by family members and friends. The symphony of cars passing by on the street, the shouts and sounds of neighbors' voices, the baritone drone of their lawn mowers, that occasional faraway scream of sirens, all provided him a constant—familiar—undercurrent of humanity.
He loved cheeseburgers. He hated vegetables. Yet, every night for supper, his grandmother would hand him another plate heaped with an assortment of—yecch!—more vegetables and maybe one plain pork chop. He was raised to be polite. Therefore, as much as he might want to, he never complained.
And boy did he miss his mother's desserts. Shoot, he missed his mother. Let's face it. He missed everyone.
Taking a hike together
Looking back today, I'm sure that week alone with my grandmother on the farm, for the first time in my comfortable, cushy life, had to teach me a great deal about perseverance and resilience and patience. As each long hour ticked by, I couldn't wait to see that rooster tail of gravel dust heralding the return of my mother's blue Chevy coming over the hill.
My grandmother was a wise woman. She had to have sensed her 10-year-old's sad state of despair. So she set a goal for us. It was something to look forward to. On the afternoon before my mother was to return for me, she and I would take a hike together.
I was skeptical. I'd never before seen my grandmother outside the boundary of the garden or barnyard.
When we set out that day on our special expedition, I figured we'd walk around toward one of the gates. The barnyard was surrounded by fencing. But off we went, grandmother leading, Trixie barking with glee, heading straight for the barrier wall of that almost five-foot-high cow lane fencing.
With her dress and her clunky black-leather indoor-only "granny" shoes, I watched my 73-year-old grandmother reach up and grab a fence post's top then pull herself up and over like she did this maneuver every day.
She then took me down past the lower pasture and showed me where the first farmhouse had stood. She pointed out where my grandfather had kept his work horses over by the old pump house. She told me about my great grandfather and all those who had proceeded us here in these hills. She told me stories about my mother when she was my age growing up right here on the farm.
That was a walk I will never forget.
Thank you, Edward Porter
Lora DuVal died in 1970. She was 83. I was 20. My mother would leave us forever in 2007. We went to Uncle Maurice's funeral back in 2010. My Aunt Dorothy, at 91, still lives in the farm house today. My cousin Jerry, Dean's younger brother, and his wife now operate the farm.
And over on the other side of the hill, there where I once chased the cows with Trixie, I have inherited four acres of cherished ridgetop ground.
Thank you, Edward Porter, thank you.
Longtime mountain resident and former Sandy Post editor Paul Keller pens his "Beneath Wy'east" column once a month here on the Post's editorial pages.