Jerry's View: Why I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day
I was fishing with my brother Russell in the Columbia River Slough one summer day in 1928. I was eight, he was ten.
The murky, slow moving river had lots of crappies, perch, catfish, carp and chubs and hundreds of logs next to a shingle mill. There were some abandoned house boats scattered along the shoreline or half submerged in the slough.
Russell could swim and was fishing off the logs. I was inside one of the half-sunk houseboats and fishing out of a glassless window because I could not swim.
Inside there was a three foot square hole in the floor where a coal chute might have been. It was full of water.
I knew the river was dangerous because one of my chums had fallen off the logs and drowned the year before.
I was lucky and hooked a small fish right away but my willow branch fishing pole had no reel so I just backed up and kerplunk!; I fell into the water-filled hole in the floor. My bare feet just hit mud and by holding my chin high I could holler like mad for help. Russell heard me and dove into the river to swim to my aid. He climbed through the open window and grabbed me by the hair. With one hand he pulled me to safety. I was lucky.
I was still holding my willow tree rod as I stood on the wood floor, soaking wet. I lifted the line. The fish was there. I had caught my first fish. I walked home feeling like a wet mop. I showed my silvery prized scrap fish to my mom. She had some words of praise before getting back to preparing dinner. I was so excited. My mouth watered with the idea of dining in style. When we only had macaroni and cheese that night I wondered why. I did not ask. Later that Spring I noticed the flowers along the house seemed unusually colorful.
How do you explain the accident on Portland’s Columbia Boulevard; as busy a road then as Highway 99 is today. Russell and I were taking our steel wheeled cart down to the Humane Society at dusk, facing traffic.
Back then it was managed out of a private residence. I had a school buddy in the 5th grade whose dad was manager of the Society. In the backyard they had a cow and Clair told me that if I brought an empty milk bottle down to his house his dad would fill it with milk for free. We liked milk so we pushed and rode our cart there as often as permitted.
That night Russell was pushing and I was steering. A was car coming towards us. The driver carelessly swerved onto the shoulder and hit us. Pow! He clipped our front wheel knocking us sideways. It was a miracle. Neither of us got a scratch.
We Irish boys were very lucky!
The axle of our cart, not so much. It got a small bend but the steel wheel still turned.
We went to the barn and got our bottle filled. Clair’s dad even pointed one of the cow's teats at me, said "open your mouth and shut your eyes, I will give you something to make you wise." Then he squirted me a mouthful of what he called "Jersey Juice”. As luck would have it I enjoy milk to this day but I’m not all that wise.
One summer weekend I was climbing Mt Hood with some high school buddies. We had never climbed a mountain before but had been warned not to make any noise as the voice vibrates and could set loose boulders on the mountain side.
We parked on the precarious north side by the Cloud Cap Inn to began our start up Cooper spur at about one in the morning on a cloudless August day. We were as quiet as teenagers can be. After several tedious hours we were trudging quietly up the steep snowfield when we spotted a soccer ball sized rock bounding our way like a crazed jackrabbit. I was second in line and we all waited, paralyzed, to see which direction the huge rock would take.
It was on us and speeding directly toward my frozen head when my pal and leader, Clay Abraham threw his leg up, diverting the speeding boulder over my head to allow it to go bouncing on down harmlessly.
Clay's upper leg had a huge gash which was bleeding badly. He took off his belt and made a tourniquet that seemed to work. I was in favor of going back to the car but my hero would not turn back and we decided to keep on going.
At this point I remembered a poem from my Dad. "He climbs highest who has dared to keep on climbing when most scared." I was pretty scared.
Clay’s brother Dan kept poking me in the butt all the way to the top.
At the top was a wobbly little windswept shack with a notebook and pencil where we could record our names. I proudly signed the book and announced that I was going back down to drive the Model A Ford around to Timberline Lodge where we could get dinner. Clay, bloody leg and all, vetoed that idea and insisted on making the trek by himself and took off while the rest of us descended the gentler south side without peril. St. Patrick must have been watching. Clay made it safely to the car and met us at the lodge. I was so lucky Clay had stuck his leg out to save my life.
Several years later he lost his own life when the B-26 plane he was flying was shot down over Frankfurt, Germany. Hit by anti-aircraft. Clay kept his plane in control till his crew managed to parachute to safety. He went to the earth and heaven.
My Irish heritage is not the only reason I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. For Russell, Clair and Clay I was lucky to have them in my life.