Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pullman Holidays

The cold weather has brought with it the reliable introspection that comes with the fall season, and it seems as though the "resident" writers here at Warm Earth Writings have gotten some wind in our sails as a result. Ken Winward provides us with the first post in many months, just in time for the holidays. - Jana

It is cold here in the high desert and it’s about this time of year that I start to recall those holidays about 100 miles northeast of here. As I think about the holidays, I guess that, like most people, I think about how the holidays were when I was a child. I think believe the first impression of Christmas I have is riding in the back of my folks’ wood-paneled station wagon and seeing the garlands that were drawn across Grand Ave. in Pullman. This avenue runs the length of the town north and south. These garlands would run from telephone pole to telephone pole the whole width of the four-lane road. These strands started at Dissmore’s and would be spaced every hundred yards clear to the old Pufferbelly Depot. The garlands were made from a green plastic that was about a foot in diameter that looked like a large green pipe-cleaner. This plastic surrounded an anchor-line that attached in five points equally spaced on the cable that ran between the adjacent telephone poles. The garland hung from the 5 attachment points with a drape that made this decoration look quite festive, but the features of the garland that really brought the adornment together was a few large globes along the length of the garland with a showpiece of a large orange bell that hung right in the middle of the strand.

As a young child, I spent every trip down this part of that road looking up through the curved glass in the very back of my folks’ station wagon trying to get a glimpse of the clapper that must be inside that bell (as my 2, 3, and 4-year-old reasoning determined). I could never see it! When I couldn’t see this clapper I began to jump over the seats bolting window to window (long before seatbelt and car-seat laws) trying to get the glimpse up inside those bells as we passed under each strand. It must have been a site for cars following us. Even when my folks got the new Impala station wagon that had the high-wrapped glass on the windows, I couldn’t get that glimpse. I finally gave up on this quest and forgot about the clapper. The inability to get a glimpse of this clapper drove me nuts for years. Especially the year the city maintenance dept lost the pulley used to install this decoration. (There was a big article in the Pullman Herald that my folks read to me when I asked why these decorations had not been hung.) We did not get to enjoy these ornaments, and I did not get a chance to quell my clapper obsession for 24 months!

Later in life I was a garbage man for the local disposal company. It was Christmas-time and the college students and much of the other residents in Pullman were gone for the holiday. I was driving truck 15, a lovely example of a Heil front-loading truck coupled with a Peterbilt (yes, it’s spelled that way) chassis. I had long ago forgotten about my clapper-quest until I was on my way to dump the Cougar Country 6-yard dumpster and realized that the decorations were up and the truck I was driving was 12’ 4” tall and I had a built-in ladder on the side of the truck. Just before I got to Cougar Country, I feigned a maintenance issue with the truck. Stopping directly under one of the garlands I turned on the emergency flashers, set out my warning triangles, jacked up the cab to expose the engine to further bolster the ruse, then climbed the frozen metal ladder rungs welded to the side of the truck’s compacting box. As I climbed, all that excitement I felt as a youngster stirred up inside of me and my hands started to shake. I reached the top of the truck and carefully traversed the ice-laden metal on top of the compactor. I looked up into the bell…it was a light bulb. Well, duh. Of course it was. I think I knew this since the bells were lighted at night but still, what a let down. I stood there and stared then reached up inside of the bell and felt the bulb out of sheer disbelief. After “fixing” the truck and as I started to drive away, I felt an interesting sense of enlightenment from the experience. While there was no clapper as I had reasoned years ago, it became a moment of endowment. I had now touched something that 20 years before I never believed I would. Very few people get to have that specific experience. I feel lucky.

I miss Christmas in Pullman…I think my kids need to take a ride with me to my home town and view these garlands. I wonder if Bill will let me borrow a garbage truck. - Ken Winward