Lessons in Wallace, Idaho

Osburn, Idaho

A little girl plays in the back yard of her home. She sprays a garden hose up into the air and realizes that rainbows are circular rather than arched like she’s seen in her kindergarten class. The fir trees covering the mountains like a bristly green blanket make the perfect backdrop to her discovery. So enchanting is this revelation, that she forgets to turn off the garden hose—“lefty loosey, righty tighty”, just like she was taught in school.

“Did you leave this on?” Her father will come to ask later that day, pointing the spray nozzle at her.

He will spray her with the cold water before she has a chance to explain herself.

She’ll cry and run up to her room, ashamed. Her mother will towel her off and apologize in place of her father, while she peels off the soaked sun-dress like a scab or sunburnt skin. The little girl’s father is my father, and I am that little girl.

Silverton, Idaho

Just over two miles and ten years back, a man kneels in his front yard, wrenching the silver wires off of a chain-link fence. His two black labs or maybe just the memory of them play in an open field beside the house. The fence does not need mending. A beer is nestled into the green lawn beside him, sweating along with him in the June Idaho heat.

Wallace, Idaho

That day, the man’s son walks down a long, red and black isle, a new graduate of Wallace High School—he is the boy who will become my father. Dad will tell me that he was “the last one in and the first one out” for the Wallace High School graduation ceremony of 1975. His cap and gown are black and his eyes are hazel beneath fat aviator sunglasses. I know him well enough to imagine a freshly-rolled celebratory joint waiting slyly in the back pocket of his worn bell bottoms as he throws his black cap into the air, turning down the isle to exit the school even while the hats of his classmates come raining down onto the smiling grads. He reaches into his back pocket as soon as he walks out the door.

Thirty years and one block away in a tall red brick building that no longer stands, the man who will come to mend a fence rather than attend his son’s high school graduation slinks into the back seat of a senior English class at Wallace High School.

The teacher sees him slouching in his chair, jaw working defiantly, and speaks: “Robert Cloos, please spit out your chewing gum.”

He does; out the window. And the Italian girl who will come to be my grandmother watches him from the front row with her dark brown eyes. Her classmates are shocked but she’s trying to hide a smile. She plays saxophone for the Wallace High School Band but will never come to be his classmate. With her eyes she traces his strut back out the classroom door—never to return again.

Lessons in Wallace, Idaho


McCall, United States

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