Medicine Dreams is based on my childhood. I was born in Portland, Ore., during WWII. My father and mother met in the Swan Island shipyards where he was a welder and she, a typist. After the war, Liberty Ships were no longer needed, and so my father became a diesel mechanic and moved his family from a comfortable house in Portland to a logging camp in the coastal mountains of Oregon, 27 miles by gravel road from the nearest town.
The town, now just a fork in the road, was Sitkum, and in the late 1940s and early 1950s, it was a magical place for a kid. Surrounded by mountains, along the Coquille (rhymes with ‘free meal’) River, it was dark, and rainy and mysterious. We ate venison shot out of season, and trout, as well as staples from Safeway in Myrtle Point. There was a small store at Dora with a freezer for meat. In the winter, the Coquille flooded and cut off the road to town, and frequently, the power went out.
I was the oldest, and started first grade at Sitkum school in 1951. Twenty-seven kids, grades 1-4 in one room, 5-8 in the other. An 8th grade girl was the janitor. At recess we fished, shot birds with slingshots, and climbed far up into the trees surrounding the school. In bad weather, we roller skated in the gym, which served as a community meeting place.
When we played war in the woods, my younger brother Dale was always the one who made news. A spear thrown by the enemy tore open his nose, and when local kids tipped over our outhouse on Halloween, he fell in. My mother said they buried his clothes and for a while they considered burying him as well, but got over it.
My youngest brother Bruce lived in his own world of imaginary friends, and it is from him I derived some of the color and fluid realities for Medicine Dreams.
Some of the incidents in Medicine Dreams are based on real events in Sitkum between 1949 and 1952. Loggers did die, and rock blasted from a quarry nearby often rained down on roofs and broke windows. Parties were raucous affairs and while as a kid I was not privy to such things, my parents hinted over the years as to some of the goings-on. As mentioned in the story, alcohol and tools don’t mix. And jokes with dynamite could often backfire. I made up names and incidents and any resemblance to real people and events is coincidental.
I loved writing Medicine Dreams, as it brought back the sounds and the smells of a unique childhood — a small isolated setting for a story that I hope you will enjoy. Click here for a sample.
Here are a few more photos of Fairview, where we first lived, and Sitkum: