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A Very Good Man

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A Very Good Man

Laclede native Pat Graves remembers "the war," farming strawberries, less fog and the values of hard work.

Fingers of fog rose from the river, obscured the river’s banks and reached back into the mountain canyons. The land was gray misted, waiting for the sun to warm the air enough to absorb the moisture.

“There didn’t used to be so much fog,” Pat Graves said. “The river was narrow and swift before the dam. We used to grow grain—barley and oats, but the dam changed all that. It’s too damp now.”

Graves is a Laclede native; his parents and grandparents lived here. He farmed the land, just as his father did before him, but as a young man he went to work for Boeing in Seattle.

“I learned to read blueprints and how to use the various tools at the training center Boeing had in Sandpoint. This was before the war. The drive to Seattle took a good twelve hours; there wasn’t any blacktop in those days. I got in a car wreck when I was nineteen, just before the war started, so didn’t get into the service right away.”

When he did join the Army, he was stationed at March Field in the Los Angeles area as a Home Parole Investigator because he could type.

“I never understood it. They kept the single guys at home and sent the married men with families off to fight.” He shook his head. “But my job was interesting, and I was lucky.”

His job was to interview the men in prison and determine if they were eligible for parole. He sent forms to their home towns, and sometimes they were returned with “Keep that SOB in there, we don’t want him back” written across the front. In his years of service, he was able to get just one man paroled. It took the reprobate just one day to have enough rubber checks to wallpaper the bank lobby, and the soldier was back in the army jail.

When the war ended, the GIs were given a paper to sign, promising they’d be mustered out in six months. Graves refused to sign, and he was a civilian within a few weeks. The men who signed served their six months in upset mode.

He went back to work at Boeing, until his father died and at his mother’s request, he and his wife moved back to Laclede. Pat doesn’t regret that decision.

“I made a lot of foolish mistakes,” he said, “and some good ones, too. I enjoyed growing strawberries. Strawberries are a good crop. You work yourself almost to death for about four months, but the money is fast. Had trouble with elk and deer though. I’d go out and water would just be spurting out of the irrigation hose where their hooves broke it.”

He paused a moment. “I wish more people would grow strawberries.”

In 1948, the year of the big flood when there were no dams, he and some friends took the train to Bonner’s Ferry and filled gunny sacks with sand. He said there were so many men and boys working they never did get his name, so he didn’t get paid. He slept out in a field, then returned to Laclede. The next day Bonner’s Ferry was covered with water when the levee burst at 10 am.

Laclede had three stores, including a bakery, a tavern where the church now stands, and three ice houses.

“We used to cut the ice from the river, and store it in the ice houses between sawdust, which we got from the mill. The sawdust kept the ice from melting together.”

In the 30s wagons from eastern Washington came to Laclede bringing big sheep. They had a covered wagon for the cooks, and the sheep would graze the fields for miles around. I asked if the shepherds were Basque, but Graves isn’t sure.

He had one of the seventeen or eighteen dairy farms in the Laclede area.

Graves laughs. “One year an old farmer asked me to haul his milk, and his wife disagreed. There was lots of snow that winter. She tipped the milk cans—there were only about four of them—and the farmer hit her in the rear with one of them, he was that mad.”

The Depression in the 30s took its toll on Laclede as well as the rest of the nation. The land across from them, 480 acres, was repossessed by the Federal Land Bank. No one had the money to purchase it, until a coal miner from out of state bought it.

“We’re here to farm, not to make friends.” the new owners told the Laclede natives.

Graves said, “And they didn’t make friends. One time his wife stole my mother’s pigs, so she stole their turkeys. An exchange was made in the middle of Riley Creek Road, and there was no more pilfering.”

Graves hands me an old pocket watch.

“This was my father’s. He lost it in, oh, about 1940 when he was out tilling the fields. Somewhere around 1957 I was on a big tractor, turning back the furrows down where the Klondike is now, and I saw something glittering. I knew just what it was, too. I keep thinking I should get it fixed.”

He handed me the memento of his father. The hands were missing and the writing across the face was too small for me to read.

Pat’s son Jeff examined it, “Looks like it says Hampton Watch Company.”

Pat took back his treasure, and lovingly put it away.

Pat Graves is himself a treasure. He’s lived here before there was electricity, or indoor plumbing. He’s seen the world change, but holds to the old time values of hard work, family, love and honor. He’s what this world needs, has always needed. A good man. A very good man.

 

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