For the past year, I've been pulling together a book about life in this place in the 1940s and 1950s, when forests, farmland and eccentrics still defined it. The place (I like to think of it as "Sylvania") was decidedly NOT southwest of Portland. Portland was "the other," a beckoning destination and a bus ride away.
I say I have been "pulling together" the book, "In My Time: Growing up in PreSuburbia," because I didn't write it, except for its preface. The writing is that of veteran journalist Paul Pintarich. When he died in 2011, at the age of 72, he had lived his entire life here, with the exception of a stint in the military.
For five years starting in 1996, Paul wrote a monthly column for this newspaper. It was my privilege as editor during most of those years to get to know Paul and to share his writing with Connection readers. Nearly every "In My Time" column was about his boyhood in what he called "pre-suburbia."
His catch-all adjective for the place was "wild." Its primal allure shaped young Paul and his buddies. He referred to his fraternal pack as "feral," besotted as they were with slingshots, Daisy BB air rifles, hatchets, whirling yo-yos, ghostly imaginings and mischief.
The columns were nostalgic, funny, insightful and at times poetic. Nearly all of them hinted with foreboding about "progress" and how the "wilds" were being paved over and subdivided. Paul's boyhood years were the precursor to today's "densification," congestion, pollution and technological dehumanization.
Paul stopped writing the columns not long after I sold the paper at the dawn of the new century.
I had those early issues of the The Connection bound into three sets of massive volumes the size of flagstones. I have a set, the Central Branch Library has another and the Pamplin Media Group should have the third.
Every so often, I heave open a volume to explore The Connection's record of "The News." As editor, I always contended that local history was a form of "I-didn't-know-THAT!" news. We wrote many articles about the area's history. Paul's "In My Time" columns were in that spirit. Rediscovering Paul's prose in one of my archival dives, I resolved to republish the "In My Time" columns as a book.
And now this labor of love is complete. I transcribed every word from those yellow-paged columns, resurrected original sketches by Jeff Cook and invited Rick Bella, Paul's friend and Oregonian colleague, to write a foreword. You can purchase "In My Time" at Annie Bloom's book store in Multnomah Village. (Please join me for a reading and discussion at Annie Bloom's on Thursday, March 29, at 7 p.m.)
Here's a preview that highlights a few of Paul's themes.
n The smells of the "wilds": "The drying hay on late-summer days when there were more cows than cars around here. Fields and orchards are pungent with memories. The air sweeter by being pure. Home-cooking smells more compelling than the predictable charcoal chemistry of backyard barbecues. The surprising fragrance of chicken coops and barns...."
n His righteous resistance to change and intrusion: "With each new dug foundation and pile of lumber ready for yet another house, we felt put upon. Soon the fields filled and the woods were cut and divided. The creeks became polluted, the fish and crawdads disappeared and detergent foamed in the tiny falls of Marshall Park."
n The pre-TV, pre-computer, pre-smartphone culture of a mid-20th Century boyhood: "We dabbled in smoking out in the woods. We taught each other how to spit and swear. We wondered about sex, threw rocks at dogs, cats and each other, and in the murky gloom of fogbound days had eye-threatening BB gun wars, driving our parents crazy with our mindless, muddy-footed insolence."
There's more, so much more: baseball; comic books; Dick, Jane and Spot; Barbur Boulevard dives; and neighbors who ranged from kind to deranged.
The themes alone were enough to inspire the "In My Time: Growing up in PreSuburbia" anthology, but Paul's way with words warm and warn us — in our own time.