Small town principlesMy dad had an interesting set of ethics. He wasn't above cheating on his taxes by claiming me as a dependent while paying negligible child support, but he could be scrupulously honest about other things-like the peavey.
Cy Robinson told us the story not long after my husband and I moved to Ilwaco.
"I remember your dad," he said. "I remember the time your dad found a peavey on the beach." When Cy said "on the beach," he was most likely referring to the beach right here in Ilwaco, when sand and driftwood rimmed the town at the river's edge and a long pier ran out to deeper water. Fishing boats anchored here and there in the harbor the way they still do down in Port Orford, Ore.
That beach was the source of many treasures. Even a whale came to rest there. I have one of its teeth, found and wrested from the leviathan's jaw by my teenage father ... I mean my father when he was a teenager. He and his buddies buried the rest of the jaw in sand hoping to come back later to retrieve the loosened teeth-but like so much buried treasure, its exact location eluded them.
Firewood supplies, however, lay innocently on the surface, there for the taking, and one day my dad found a peavey left behind from someone's wood-making efforts. (For those who don't live with a person who lists "making wood" as a favorite pastime, a peavey is a wooden pole with a metal point and a hinged hook near the end, used for moving logs around.)
Cy completed the story in his characteristic gravelly voice: "Your dad took it 'round to lots of people asking whose it was. It was my peavey, and I'd forgotten it on the beach. I came home later and found it impaled in the front yard." Cy chuckled. "That's the kind of guy your dad was."
It may be that that's the way the whole town was and still is, on occasion, like the time we were out of town for weeks and a windstorm blew open our old garage doors. Young Larry lived a couple houses away, stopped by, secured the garage, kept an eye on it 'til we got home, then told us that our locking mechanism was unreliable. More recently, Ubaldo Jr. pitched in, without being asked, to help my husband stack firewood when it arrived one spring evening.
My dad's sense of proper neighborliness extended to picking up someone else's household garbage dumped at the end of a dead-end street near a slash pile - an experience I shared with him not long before he died - and loaning his lawnmower to a neighbor for months at a time. He was the kind of landlord who had the same renter for 18 years and seldom if ever raised the rent. Of course, he didn't do much to improve the place either, just a new water heater or a re-roof when they were needed ... or in response to his English teacher tenant's rightful demands for repairs.
When it came to his own dwelling, however, he could be remarkably slack, like not fixing the back porch steps or not insisting on getting the lawn mower back. These behaviors didn't suit his wives, who found his logic exasperating when it came to the immediate household.
He applied his ideas about integrity to others, sometimes without giving them a chance to exonerate themselves. We couldn't get him to buy anything from one of the two lumberyards on the Peninsula because sometime before 1960 the former owners had, in my dad's opinion, cheated him. He had bought a new wood stove and discovered on assembly that one of the interior parts was missing, but the store owner wouldn't replace it. In the late 1980's, my dad still held a grudge against the store, even though new owners had long since taken it over.
But I like to stay focused on the peavey story - not so much to gloss over my dad's faults or idiosyncrasies, but to hold on to an ideal for how the world once was and could still be - a world where people leave doors unlocked and keys in the car, dogs run free and don't bother to growl because the whole neighborhood is theirs anyway, where kids play ball in the street, and where most of the time you can count on your neighbor to return your tools if you forget them.
Victoria Stoppiello is a free-lance writer from Ilwaco, where teenagers often belie our stereotypes.