Saturday, October 26, 2013

Critters, or How I Came to Be an Oregonian

Oregon Ozone (Recycled)  1

My grandfather, Reuben Blalock was born in 1869 “up a holler” in the great Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. He did some “book learning,” and memorizing scripture, and when he was still a youngster he loved to join in the hot debates that raged in the hill country following the War Between the States. The debates he loved the most were of an ecclesiastical nature, dealing with the “signs of the true church.”  Thomas, his older brother, had taught him to look for the “landmarks of faith” that distinguished the “true Baptists,” from the worldly imposters—like those of the Southern Baptist Convention. Thomas then went to China, leaving Reuben to hold fast to the things he had received.

Around 1890 Reuben came west to see if he could work for his uncle Niles, who was a big rancher in Walla Walla.  He also owned an island in the Columbia River, and a ranch, up a canyon in the Gorge, that both bare his name. It seems that Niles (or N.G. as he liked to be called) has slipped off the path of righteousness and had gotten mixed up with some new fangled outfit called “Seven Day” something or the other. This made Reuben (who, by-the-way, liked to be called “R.Y.”) hot as a sprinkled hen, so he headed down to the Oregon coast to cool off, in the misty glades around Tillamook, in search of missing cousins from back home.

Grandpa "R.Y."

As he wandered around the biblically inspired Mount Hebo, and along back roads, leading through little hamlets, not once did he see the ordinarily familiar site of a little white church house. This began to bother him, perplexing his mind. Having come from the boarders of the great Piedmont of the Southeast, where religion was as popular as it was with the Greeks in the heyday of the Byzantines, he could not fathom an American community without at least one church house at its center. These thoughts were heavy on his heart as he walked up a road outside of the town of Beaver. Soon he came upon a farmhouse with an old woman sitting on the porch. Reuben took of his hat and made a polite bow.

“Pardon me, madam,” he said, “Can you tell me if there are any Landmark Baptists in this part of the world?”

"Pardon me, madam"

The old lady fixed her good eye on my grandfather, closed the other eye, and said, “No, I can’t say that there are, and I can’t say that there ain’t.”

“Well, then ,” grandpa Reuben continued, “What about Regular Baptists?”

The old lady smacked her toothless gums and said, “I can’t say that there are, and I can’t say that there ain’t.”

To make certain the place wasn’t completely godless, my grandpa continued: “Are there any Methodists that you know of?”

The old lady rocked back and forth in her chair for a minute, silently considering the question. Then she replied, “No sir! I can’t say that there are, and I can’t say that there ain’t.”

As a last resort grandpa Reuben asked, almost desperately, “What about Presbyterians? Are there any of those?”

The old lady rose up from her rocker and motioned toward the barn behind the house. “I’ll tell ye what,” she said in a reluctant sort of voice. “My Jeb shoots lots of critters, and hangs their skins on the shed. You go back there and see for yerself if any of them critters you was asking about are hanging up there, and my Jeb will tell you where you can find ‘em.”

Following this discourse grandpa went back to North Carolina, and “surrendered to preach” (as the expression goes). When he graduated from the seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, he headed right back out to Oregon where he knew he was needed. He married May, the lovely daughter of Joseph and May Donaldson, who were early pioneers to the Tillamook area.

This is a short vignette explaining, in part, how I came to be one of the happiest of all God’s critters, an Oregonian.

1 “Oregon Ozone” was the name of a delightful little column that ran for a short time in the Oregonian. It was a feature in 1905 (the year of “The Fair”) and only ran from May through November.  I am stealing the name, maybe I should say, “recycling” the name, for blog posts that are not related a maritime theme.