Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Day the Stacks Fell in Kellogg

The stacks fell on May 27, 1996.

It was Memorial Day.

The falling of the stacks provides Julie Whitesel Weston's book The Good Times Are All Gone Now with its framework. She sees the stacks falling as securing, once and for all, the death of the Bunker Hill Company and the end of a century old way of work and life in Kellogg.

Julie Whitesel Weston came back to Kellogg that weekend. She had been interviewing citizens in Kellogg for several years, had toured the nearly defunct Bunker Hill mine, and had been gathering her thoughts and memories. As reflected in her book, she was ready, that day, to see the falling of the stacks in a broad historical and cultural context. For her, the stacks falling was symbolic.

But, for Julie Whitesel Weston, the stacks falling was not an event just to be intellectually interpreted.

She wept. She felt loss. He felt tied to the history of her hometown. She grieved the end of the Kellogg she had grown up in and known so well.

I, too, was in Kellogg that day. I had taken a leave without pay from my job at Lane Community College and drove from Eugene to Kellogg on May 11th.

In our household, an era was also ending.

Liver cancer was killing my father.

When I arrived home on Saturday evening, May 11th, Dad was still up and around. His face was drawn. His hair seemed whiter. He had shrunk since I'd last seen him in December. But, when I arrived he was in his chair, stood up and hugged me, asked me what I thought of the Ducks' basketball season, and thanked me for coming home.

Mom had called me about a week and a half earlier to tell me that Dad had been diagnosed with liver cancer. It was inoperable and untreatable. He had a month to live.

In the two weeks that passed between arriving in Kellogg and the falling of the stacks, Dad grew more and more ill. Not long after my arrival, Dad requested a last trip up the North Fork and then to Prichard for a last hamburger at the Prichard Tavern, washed down with some cold Heidelberg beer, his last drink.

Dad ate his last Prichard meal with Don Rinaldi and Leo Reyes, fellow members of the KHS Class of '48. Don and Leo's wives were there along with our family.

As May wore on, Dad faded into pain, medication, and convulsive twitching. He was often lucid. Mostly he was tired. He slept. I became his night guardian, coming to his bedside if he called out, helping him relieve himself in the bathroom, medicating him, and trying to help him pass the nights peacefully. Some nights were more peaceful than others.

By May 27th, the day the stacks fell, Dad was bound to his bed. He knew the stacks were being felled. Had he been able to put his head where his feet were, he could have looked out the west window of his bedroom and seen them go.

He just didn't have it. Our living room's picture window framed the day's drama. Scores of people parked along Cameron Avenue and positioned themselves to see the stacks fall out to the west.

I watched them fall through the window.

I checked up on Dad.

"They gone?"

"They're gone."

Dad's chest rattled a sigh.

Dad died a few days later, on Saturday, June 1.

For me, his descent into death dwarfed the importance of the stacks falling. I neither cheered nor mourned their fall.

Now, however, with the help of Julie Whitesel Weston, who invites her readers to see the stacks fall through her eyes and feel it through her heart, I can feel the loss of the stacks, can mourn what their fall stands for. I can grieve. A bit.

It's taken fourteen years.

1 comment:

inlandempiregirl said...

... and to think that for many it was another reason in Kellogg to crack open about twelve beers and get drunk. Remember some of those people along the road and that group gathered between the church and the nursing home. So classic Kellogg.