Small Town Boy — White Salmon — Guaranteed not to Turn Pink in the Can

I spent my youngest years living in the very small towns of White Salmon and Klickitat, Washington. My mother’s side of the family was LDS, though somewhat inactive. My uncle was the branch president, and his father, my grandfather, who immigrated with his family from Sweden to Utah to join the church, sat up on the stand every week. We were only 20 or so members, meeting in a rented grange hall. I never went to a ward meeting in any kind of chapel until I was about fourteen.

My mom, and three of us boys who had been born at that time, lived in a small trailer behind my uncle’s house. He was single and took care of his two elderly parents. Later, when my grandmother died, he married. Our family moved to Beaverton, OR for their excellent schools. But I showed an early interest in school, and my parents wanted to enroll me in kindergarten, but Beaverton had none. So, I went back to White Salmon and stayed with my aunt and uncle and my grandfather while I attended kindergarten. My grandparents raised their 9 children in a small log cabin in Alberta. This little house in White Salmon was the first real home and the first indoor bathroom my grandmother ever experienced.

We lived right across the street from the school, on what in now Academy Street in White Salmon. Back then, the town was so small, none of the streets had names and nobody locked their doors. The school yard was a huge grove of pine trees. Some of the trees had bars between them. You would hang by your knees. You could also easily climb up on the trees and nobody could see you. The old school building had two huge slides used as fire escapes, from the second story down to the ground. It was a sure sign you were a big kid if you could climb all the way to the top of the slide by yourself, and slide down, sitting on a slick sheet of waxed paper. That was our playground. In the school complex stood an old wooden gymnasium. One night it burned down, and we could feel the heat of it, all across the street.

In our back yard was a cherry tree. We used to climb the tree in summer and eat cherries until we got sick. Behind the cherry tree was a field we played in, and behind the field, a forest. I used to walk up the road, past the forest to my friend’s house. We went to kindergarten together. Up behind his house was another field and another forest. Once, I went walking up there alone, and some big boy came rushing up, grabbed me, tied me to a tree and called me a “queer”. I didn’t know what the word meant, and I doubt if he did either. I think he just liked bullying smaller kids. I asked my parents what the word meant, and they wouldn’t tell me.

But, I’ve never liked that word, since. It is a pejorative to me, and will always be such. The so-called “gay community” revels in the word “queer”, however, and when I object to its use, these preachers of “tolerance”, somehow become most intolerant. I have little use for them. They never helped me, and do not speak for me. They are like yet another cult. They make pronouncements, which then people must agree with. But, if you don’t agree, you are ostracized. This is no different from the religions many of us left behind. Take the abbreviation LGBTQ. This stands for five different groups of people who have nothing in common except their victimhood. I don’t belong to this group because, when presented with an opportunity to become a victim, I refused to let myself be victimized. I chose, instead, the path of personal responsibility, and I consider myself, not a victim, but a victor.

I liked the small and friendly atmosphere in the White Salmon Branch. I liked knowing everybody. I liked knowing we were a minority in the community. People were serious about their church membership. With the whole town against you, there was no place for “sunshine Mormons”, or “latter day ain’t’s”. I liked the way nobody in the church teased me, bullied me, or made fun of my eyesight. My cousin, who lived in a nearby town, used to introduce me as her “little cross-eyed cousin”. That hurt. And when anybody commented on that, even later in life, I went back to being a helpless little 3-year old, alone in the world. I know what it’s like to be bullied. I learned it from an early age.

I was bullied and passed over by the kids at school, and in the neighborhood. I learned to get over it, and this is why I have no sympathy for people who start whining because people persecute them for being gay or transgendered, or whatever. I’ve lived with it for longer than they have, and was bullied for more reasons than they have. I got over it, and so can they.

If you are in any way different in society: handicapped, too smart, too dumb, too fat, too skinny, too good-looking, too ugly, breasts too large, breasts too small, endowment too large, endowment too small, wrong race, wrong religion, talk with an accent. You name it. People will look for a reason to bully you, and if you don’t find a way to stop it from being a game for them, they will continue. But, what I loved about the church was I never had to fight those battles — at least as a young child. As an adult, it was a different story, but I had the maturity to handle it then.

My earliest memories are of going to the children’s hospital in Portland and getting my eyes operated on. After the operation, I had to keep returning to see Dr. Hill for follow-up visits in the hospital. I remember asking my mother about the other children I saw at the hospital. She told me that they were “crippled” and couldn’t walk and needed crutches and wheel chairs to get around. She helped me say my prayers every night, and we added a new phrase to the set litany: ” … please bless all the poor little crippled boys and girls..” This is not politically correct today, so please don’t take it out of the context of the 40’s. But, these experiences at the hospital and the experiences of praying for the handicapped, plus the experience of being slightly handicapped, myself, had a profound and significant affect on my life, as we shall see later on.

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