Saturday, July 21, 2007

harrison, idaho

This isn't so much about Harrison, Idaho as much as it's about a particular fragment of a childhood. Harrison is a little tiny town on the shores of Lake Coeur d'Alene in the Idaho Panhandle, with a year-round population of approximately 215 people. When I was a kid, I always kept an eye out for the "Now Entering Harrison, Pop. ___" sign on our first trip into town each summer to see how many people had moved in, moved away, or died that winter. The sign seemed to change slightly every year, though always somewhere in the vicinity of 215.

Our cabin is about five miles outside of town, on the other side of the lake, but we went in to town most days. We either had to go drop off garbage at the dump, or get more hotdog buns and Shasta Root Beer or Strawberry Soda at the grocery store, or refill our 1-gallon water bottles at the faucet in the town park because our cabin tap-water was too iron-laden to drink, though okay for washing. Sometimes we'd stop by the Jewel Box Gem Shop, where we could buy little tiny ziplock bags of head-of-a-pin-sized garnets for 25 cents, or miniature turtles and frogs and horses carved from various cheap gemstones. Or maybe we'd have to do laundry at the laundromat and then go to Rose's Cafe for a butterhorn and a hot chocolate and read the Spokesman Review while we waited for the clothes to dry. But our very favorite thing of all, of course, was to stop by the Sweet Dreams Ice Cream Shop, co-owned by Connie & Janet.

I can't quite remember when exactly Connie & Janet opened the ice cream shop, or even if it was there before and they merely took over the business. They have long since left Harrison, and the ice cream shop has been run by someone else for years now, but in my mind it will always belong to those two wonderful women, and will be full of us McNeils, and various members of the extensive Snyder clan who lived down the road from us, and the wonderful artists and musicians that congregated in the tiny space of a Friday evening to play and sing and share stories. Some part of me will always be a ten-year-old girl besotted with the idea of being part of this loving, talented group of people on the edge of this beautiful lake, staking out a claim in what now sometimes seems to be a dying ghost town. I wonder if part of the reason I have not been particularly good about visiting the family cabin in Idaho is that it will never seem quite as magical as it did when I was a child. I am not a person easy with change, sometimes even good change, and it has been difficult for me to be in Idaho much, now that so many of the people I knew and loved there have gone their separate ways.

Which brings me, in my roundabout way, to David Hoffman. Of all of this wonderful group of Harrison folk, Dave Hoffman was the one who became something like family. We met Dave through the ice cream shop ladies and soon started going to the Friday night jam sessions to hear him play. And he soon started driving on over to our side of the lake to join us around the campfire, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows and singing old folk songs or making up new ditties. Dave always seemed special to me, one of the most unpretentious, kindest, sweetest people I have ever known, soft-spoken yet filled with beautiful ideas, interested in learning the places and people around him, and having a special knack for taking children seriously, making them feel full of knowledge and beauty, all of the best parts of what we imagined it meant to be all grown up. Yet somehow, over the years, what with me going off to college here in New York, and Dave leaving Harrison for Whidbey Island, and Mom getting remarried, and all of the normal and natural distances that come between people, it's been probably about ten years since the last time I'd seen Dave.

Until last Sunday, that is. Mom had invited a few friends over for brunch last Sunday morning and on a lark had sent Dave an email inviting him to join us. She hadn't heard back, and assumed that he would not be coming up from Whidbey, but then the phone rang Saturday night and lo and behold, wonder of wonders, it was Dave, calling to confirm that the brunch was still on.

And it felt a little like old times, this catching up with someone who had once been so integral to my notions of the world, of how people are, or should be, in the world. Dave has spent the last decade or so visiting elementary schools and retirement homes, playing music and bringing instruments for the children and old folks to play with. And this seems just right and real to me, what he would of course be doing. He has been recording some of his own music, and was kind enough to bring a couple CDs with him, from Jubalsun, which I listened to quite a bit my last couple of days in Washington, but which I have not quite been able to bring myself to listen to yet back here in Manhattan. I'm not quite sure why that is, though perhaps am feeling just a little bit anxious about the collision of worlds. Silly, I know, and something I'm sure I'll get over soon.

I gave Dave my violin, the one that was given to me in 1991 by Mr. Ephthimion, our high school orchestra conductor, after having been abandoned in the band room by some graduating senior years before. This would be the one that I never played because it would have cost more to have the bow rehaired than it did to just rent a school violin for four years; the one that has been collecting dust now for sixteen years, following Mom across the country and then from house to house around the town of Anacortes. I hope with all my heart that it will play sweetly for him, and that those wee school kids will get a kick out of holding a full-sized grown-up violin under their dimpled little chins, and take pleasure in sawing away at it.


Saxtor said...

"First it’s Monday, then Tuesday comes along
And then it’s Wednesday, then it’s Thursday before long
Well then it’s Friday, then it’s Saturday and then it’s Sunday
The day before Monday"

Having never met Dave (although I believe Dave B and Uncle Mike did...), I did manage to learn the Days of the Week song by way of them and Nathan and started singing it to myself while reading this post. I was definitely excited to see that there's a version recorded by Dave himself posted on his webpage! Awesome!

Chiung-Yin said...

I'm glad your violin is going to be translated into smiles on children's faces

Eric Latham said...

Harrison does have a mystique of sorts and will always have a place in my heart. Thinking about it I have been going there for almost 30 years - yikes!

In my mind's eye I see the gap in the mountains as I look to across the lake. How the light changes through the day - the bridge not visible in the morning gradually appears and then fades.

While my experience of Harrison and the lake are naturally different from yours- I never got to experience the wonder of the Friday night jam, but there are wonderful similarities - ice cream certainly among them. In a couple of weeks I will make my annual pilgrimage with my kids, both of whom have gone to the lake every year of their lives - Maggie's 11th, and Jack's 8th trip this year!

Now the wonderment is different for me, and somehow sweeter, watching my kids as they build their memories...Sweet Dreams here we come!