Leahy Road stories, 1956-61
A Wonderful, Hazardous Place to Live
With a big house to move around in (compared to where we lived before), a full but unfinished basement to develop projects in (even on rainy days), about half an acre of rather wild woods out back, and right next door to our school, West Tualatin View Elementary, Leahy Road was a choice spot for the two of us kids and our folks to enjoy some country living. And only about five miles from downtown.
That said, there were dangers. For one thing, the living room had wall-to-wall carpeting, which must have been installed by amateurs. Needle-sharp carpet tacks lurked in the rug, and I, for one, managed to step on them often enough that a philosophical perspective began to grow in me regarding the pain and the blood. I also wore shoes in that room more often! Dad may have attempted to find the tacks with a strong magnet, but as I remember, the problem was not really solved until we completely removed the carpet and applied some sanding and finishing to the wood floor.
Bee stings and spider bites now and then: no big deal, since none of us had undue allergic reactions.
Poison oak was a big deal only once. That is a story of its own, not to be lumped in with this one.
One of the best features of the place was the fireplace, the first and only one we had in Portland. Dad tested variations of “teepee’ing” two split logs on the andirons, letting them radiate into each other, glowing all night. He also tried various wood varieties and found ash to be the best, agreeing with the old traditional English “Woodcutter’s Song” lyric, of which he was probably not aware. Here is the last verse, as I heard it in the 1970s, sung by Robin Williamson with his Incredible String Band:
“Pear logs and apple logs, they will scent your room
And cherry logs across the dogs, they smell like flowers of broom
But ash logs, smooth and grey, buy them green or old, sir
And buy up all that come your way, they’re worth their weight in gold, sir.”
Sometimes, before bed, we’d roast hot dogs or marshmallows at the fire. One night Tom and I tried a marshmallow roasting method that eliminated the careful nuances required of distance from the coals, rotation speed and duration: we simply put them so close that their outer layer began to burn. Then we rotated them until the inside was melted, blew out the flame and waited until cooling rendered them edible. I pulled my roasting stick out of the fireplace with the left hand for a change, brought it toward my face to blow out the flame, and accidentally touched the burning marshmallow to the side of my right middle finger. It hurt like hell and I tried to wipe it off, but the sugary molten mess was so sticky, it just kept on burning deeper. I tried to lick or bite it off, but it singed my tongue and lips. By the time I ran to the kitchen sink and put cold water on it, the damage was done. Not a noticeable disfigurement unless I look close-up and carefully to see the little flat scar. It healed remarkably well, but some of the surface nerves never did recover; it has less sensitivity to touch right there than the mirror image spot on my left hand. I took it as a cautionary tale and avoided similar mistakes as life continued to chug along.
The routine maintenance activities we supported were not very demanding, but mowing the lawn, which fell to me, did require some psyching up for, or it would get postponed for another day – and another. Sunny days were rare enough that we needed to take advantage of them. Three lawns. The top one was longer than the house and perhaps as wide. Not too many obstacles, just the cherry tree and the big fir. I always did that one first, so each move to the next level was downhill. Dad bought the mower new and was very pleased with it. It was a rotary blade model with two-speed propulsion from the rear wheels, controlled by an engagement lever, particularly nice when the grass was tall. He did the lawns himself several times, then taught me how to do it when I reached the advanced age of about eleven. Of course no one we knew wore hearing protection or safety goggles back in the 50s. (No seat belts in cars either.) And the mower design would not prevent you from pulling it back over your toes when the powered wheels were disengaged. He made a point of warning me about that danger.
But most of his teaching time was spent on starting the motor, by the only means available: yanking the rope. We went over making sure the wheels were in neutral, and putting my foot on the blade housing to prevent toe amputation. It helped to prime the single cylinder (it had no manual choke) by unplugging the spark plug wire until a few vigorous rope pulls had moved some gas into the combustion chamber. With the wire restored to its proper place, only a few yanks on the rope were usually needed to get the machine going. It was fun. For the first few times. A real sense of accomplishment rewarded my completion of the upper lawn.
Then down to the middle lawn, on the same level as the long porch off the daylight basement. This one was much shorter and narrower, but it was rather bumpy and demanded care to avoid damaging Mom’s flower bed at the edge of the terrace and the mower blade on the edge of the concrete porch.
Then down to the lower lawn, which was a rectangle of extra rich grass, owing to the underground nutrients supplied by the sewer’s drain field. Beyond that lawn was the woods. Finishing the lower level of lawn mowing brought the reward of a job well done. At least at first. But eventually the lure of the nearby forest would prove too much for me; more than once I stopped and abandoned the mower for a while, running pell-mell into our little wilderness of textures, sounds and smells … before coming back up to finish the lawn.