Friday, March 02, 2007

Pullman's Pull (Special Guest Post - Part II)

Here is Part II of Jeff Worthy's essay entitled, 'Pullman's Pull', which he wrote for his students as an example of how to write a descriptive essay. This portion of his essay got me thinking about how many Pullman natives have their own list of "must-see" stops when they return to town. Mine is nearly identical to Jeff's - especially since we both lived on the same street. Someday, I expect to run into him on Clifford Street, driving slowly, and taking in all that has changed, and all that is, thankfully, the same. - Jana

"...The landscape is changing now. Gently rolling hills, supporting ripening crops of wheat, barley, lentils, and Austrian peas undulate into the distance. Soft winds send ripples of movement through the as yet unharvested fields, the waves of a terrestrial sea. Shadows of passing clouds obscure the sun in patches, subduing the verdant greens and blazing golds, but only for brief moments as the fields flare back to life when the sunlight breaks through once more. I roll down the window a bit to let in the rich, earthy fragrances of the fields, another enticement in the pull’s arsenal.

Road signs begin to appear, with arrows pointing off down narrow roads that wind North into the hills, leading to the sequestered, friendly farm towns of the Palouse. Their names are so familiar, though in truth I have visited only one of them; one which holds an honored place in my memory. St. John, Washington.

St. John, to me, is the epitome of small town America, an America that is fading away. It was here I was assigned as a student teacher under the supervision of Mr. Bruce Holbert, and educator whose guidance was invaluable in the earliest days of my career. I have never again seen a school like SJ-EHS (the communities of St. John and Endicott consolidating their district). With only 90 students enrolled, they all know one another, so well in fact that they never even close their lockers. The “lockers” aren’t equipped with locks anyway! When teaching Senior English, the entirety of the Senior class sat before me in a classroom they did not even fill. I met people such as Dick Behrens, who served as Principal, Vice-Principal, Athletic Director, Head Football Coach, Head Track Coach, Health teacher, and the District Representative to the W.I.A.A. (Washington Interscholastic Activities Association). Think you’re busy? Try a day in his shoes. The students were kind, respectful, and eager to learn. Whenever I have a difficult day or even question my career choice, I recall my days at SJE, and remember how truly joyous this profession can be, and the kind of kids that keep me in it--like you.

State Route 26 ends in Colfax, the Whitman County seat. I’m sixteen miles from the source of the pull. I merge onto U.S. Route 195, which will see me nearly through to the end of my journey. Colfax has changed little over the years; some new businesses, and new signage on the old ones. I had interviewed at Colfax High School, home of the Bulldogs, three days prior to interviewing in Blaine. Had CHS offered me the job, I’d have taken it--no hesitation whatsoever. What ripples that decision might have sent through my life I cannot begin to imagine. Things would have been...different. How might it have altered the feelings I have for this country, or would it have? Can one miss what one never leaves behind? There is a saying we have: You never fully appreciate something until it is gone. Is leaving something you love behind you necessary to fully appreciate it? More on that later.

Nothing now stands between me and my destination save sixteen miles of windy country road. I cruise between the quilted hills, reminiscing about the first time I drove my fiancee Margot to Pullman. Being something of a “city girl,” Colfax kind of freaked her out a little; she wasn’t accustomed to towns of such small size and apparent isolation, or the lack of trees. As we drew closer to Pullman, with no further signs of larger scale civilization presenting themselves, the anxiety emanating from her side of the car was as palpable as Othello’s heat.

A final roadsign catches my eye, and I even consider turning left, despite the delay it would bring. Had I done so, I would have shortly come to Albion, population 880. It was here my grandmother lived when I was a child. The memories flash before me like a slide show: staring up at her sparkling ceiling as I spent the night, picking gooseberries and eating them raw, getting kicked in the jaw by the neighbor’s horse. She had moved to Pullman when I was in the third grade, selling the house in Albion, which made me sad. No more drives to her house, no more sleep overs. A life chapter had closed. I turn left onto State Route 270. I am but a minute away. The pull is gone now, replaced by a warm aura of welcome and fulfillment. “Welcome home,” the city whispers, moments before it comes into view. The road gently rises between two wheat-blanketed hills, and I can already see in my mind’s eye the vision that will open up before me once the hill is crested. I then begin to sing a song called “Return Again” from the Unitarian Universalist Hymnal which I have always felt fit this moment, this entire journey, exceptionally well:

Return again, return again, return to the home of your soul.
(Repeat line)
Return to who you are, return to what you are, return to where you are born
and reborn again.
(Repeat first line twice more)

It is a simple song. When I sing it, this is the moment I visualize--reaching the top of the final hill and seeing the home of my soul once again, still right there where it should be.

Pullman lies nestled in a shallow river valley, sprawling up onto four surrounding hills, each with its own name: Military Hill, Pioneer Hill, Sunnyside Hill, and College Hill. It is unique, this city. Surrounded on all sides by vast tracks of farmland, here sits a town of 26,000 people, 18,000 of which range in ages between 18 and 22. Despite this, people do live here; not all of them are temporary residents here to attend classes at Washington State University. Even though the city largely exists to serve the university, and would not exist without it, there is more to this special place than just W.S.U. When I tell someone I am from Pullman, the typical response is “Wow! I didn’t know people actually lived there.” Oh, they do. They thrive there, love it there--and when they leave it, it calls them frequently home.

Over the next several days of my visit, I make the necessary pilgrimages: to the house on Clifford street (now significantly remodeled) in which I was raised until I was eight; to Jefferson Elementary School (having been demolished and rebuilt since my day) where my formal education began; to Hobbs Field where I played my high school football for the Greyhounds; to the W.S.U. campus itself, transformed by new construction each time I visit; to Ferdinand’s for ice cream; and at least one visit to the Cougar Country Drive-In. Some thought the arrival of McDonald’s, Burger King, and Arby’s in Pullman would drive old Cougar Country under. Sorry, folks. They didn’t miss a beat. If you ever get the chance when passing through Pullman, visit the quaint little restaurant, and order a Cougar Special with onion rings and a chocolate shake. Tell me then you haven’t crossed over into the promised land..." - Jeff Worthy

( be continued. check back soon for the next post!)