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Nostalgia: Reversed

Nostalgia doesn’t fit a reverse chronological format, so I’ll refrain from indulging in sweet stories of pig-tailed cherubs wearing gingham, skipping about in the late afternoon sun. I did enjoy my trip to my hometown after these many years, but it didn’t seem all that much different than the towns I visited in Missouri, or Vermont, or Arizona, or any other of the states in which I’ve lived. My mom enjoyed the photos I brought back, though, so that’s a goodness.

Kettle Falls hasn’t changed much. Any new development tends to be along the highway rather than through main street. The only change was the addition of a median with trees down the street. Oh, and to shame big city libraries, this little town’s tiny little library offers free wireless.


The old grocery store was still standing but, like most of the businesses, closed. I spent many a penny on candy in that store during its time. When I was about a year old, my mother had gone into the store leaving my brother and me in the car outside. My brother released the brake on the car and managed to hit another car before we stopped.

Hodgkiss Grocery Store

The old Assembly of God church I attended is now painted a bright blue and is a union hall; I imagine the union workers are timber company employees. Timber is still the big trade item in the area, though the old saw mills are gone and the new ones burn ‘cleaner’. Not so clean, though; I saw too many dead fir trees, most likely killed by acid rain.


When I lived in town, I and a friend used to climb Gold Hill, which formed one side of the main bypass highway. In my mind, I remembered it as steep and rather expected it to be less rather than more. However, my childhood memories do not lead me false–it is a steep hill, and a tough climb. Yesterday, I could barely climb the road much less the hill.


And Ralph’s is still Ralph’s. Every town has a Ralph’s, and while Ralph’s lives, the town still exists. If you grew up in a town like my hometown, you know what I mean.


In the country outside of town, the road to my old house hasn’t changed much. A few more homes, but the area is part of the Colville National Forest system, which has kept growth down. I stopped at the old bridge crossing the Colville river as it made it’s way to the Roosevelt. This is about two miles from my old home, and hasn’t changed even a little in 40 years.


I followed the old dirt road below our old house, where I spent most of my time growing up. How odd to see the land more wild than when I was a kid. Along the sandy shore next to the Roosevelt lake, I noted footprints: skunk, deer, and dog. It was the dog that sent me back to my car: dog prints without a matching human are never a good sign.



I almost passed the house I lived in until I was nine. My old science teacher bought it from us, and his widow still lives there. Sometime in the last few decades, they moved the driveway from the right side of the house to the left, took out the fruit trees, and cleared the forest behind the garage. It’s the same garage I almost burned down when I played with matches as a kid. I’d post a photo, but it’s a garage and posting a photo of a garage exceeds acceptable sentimentality. So I’ll just post a photo of the house, instead.


There was an nice looking, sightly older man mowing the lawn when I pulled up, and I asked him if I could take photos of the house, as I used to live there once. I identified myself and he offered to get his mom, but I didn’t want to disturb her. When he said ‘mother’, I asked him if he was my brother’s friend Mike, astonished to see the mature man where last I’d seen a teenager. He was visiting from his home in Hawaii, of all places. He was one of the many Mikes that were all of an age (it was an uncommonly popular name). Odd thing is, all the Mikes that moved away, lived, all the Mikes that stayed, died before 25.

I missed getting a picture of the sign leading into the town– Kettle Falls: 1255 friendly people and one grouch. Oh, in case you’re wondering, yes, I’m sure I’m related to the grouch.

It was interesting seeing the place, but I felt no connection with the area. As they say, you can’t go home again.


Just Shelley Photography

From a Train Window

Spending two days on a train is an interesting experience, one that could be improved by spending the extra money for a sleeper. No matter how comfortable the coach chairs are, they are not conducive to sleep.

I had a chance to see Illinois’ fall colors on the trip from St. Louis to Chicago. It was a lovely day and the view was wonderful. It was during this portion of the trip that I found out train personnel are very strict regarding baggage. One mentioned weighing my pullman bag until he hefted and then said it would be fine. Note: if you travel by train, don’t fudge your baggage; not when fuel is so costly and the railroads are barely scraping by. If the bag was overweight, I don’t know if the attendant would have started chucking my clothes out the window.

I spent four hours in Chicago waiting my next train. A red cap at Union Station helped me get my bags to lockers, and then retrieved me and the baggage for the next trip. If you ever need a red cap at Union Station in Chicago, I recommend Phil.

Baggage checked, I had three hours to look around, and it was a perfect fall day: cool, sunny, colorful. I had a marvelous time walking up and down canal street. At one point I passed a bunch of trailers for a movie, but I couldn’t see anyone about.

Back at the train station, I decided to go into the large, open room called the Great Room, but it was blocked off. The Clint Eastwood WWII movie, Flags of our Fathers, was being filmed in Chicago, including scenes at the train station. The Great Room had been re-decorated until it resembled its 1940’s self. The security guards were very nice, answering my questions, and letting me take photos from the doorway. I didn’t see anyone in period clothing, so assumed they were probably on break. Too bad—I would have liked to have seen Eastwood.

High, and not so high, lights of the trip:

Good: Having a chance to spend a few hours with the friendly folk in Chicago–not to mention seeing that great downtown.

Good: Spending 1/2 hour waiting for a train with about 30 Amish people, as one group of Amish ran into another group of Amish and exchanged details of their lives. Some English was used.

Bad: Finding out that the Amish are suspicious of outsiders and not particularly friendly.

Good: Train was half empty so I had my two seats to myself.

Bad: When you’re a tad over 5’11”, you cannot fold yourself into two train seats. No, not even when you do that.

Good: The homemade beef pot pie in the dining room was excellent.

Bad: Being seated with three complete strangers in close quarters in the dining car. More, three strangers who look aghast at you when you order a beer for dinner.

Good: The old cars dumped down hills here and there. You wouldn’t think junk could be beautiful, but it is. Especially the rusted out Model T laying on the hillside in North Dakota.

Bad: Seeing so many small, deserted towns along the way, as corporations buy out small farmers and ranchers. One town was completely empty, but strikingly preserved except for the grass growing along the street and a couple of range cows grazing on it.

Bad: Not having enough time to get the camera ready when an exceptionally fascinating view comes along, such as the abandoned town, the Model T, and a wolf in Montana.

Good: Having a chance to see the abandoned town, the Model T, and the wolf, regardless of getting a picture or not.

Good: Being able to walk about, stretch, gaze out the window.

Bad: Trying to sleep sitting up.

Good: The sound, the motion, the feel of being on a train. It is unique.

Bad: One train attendant who was rather offensive with the pretty, young women.

Good: The train conductor who helped me off with my bags at Sandpoint. He answered all my train questions with enthusiasm and delight. It is rare to meet someone so completely and absolutely in love with their work.

Good: Having so much to see that you never get bored.

Best moment: The pass coming from Glacier, Montana to Sandpoint.

The pass is normally completely dark. I was half asleep and reading when I noticed a ghostly blue light around the track ahead of us. Through the fog, a phosphorescent glow silhouetted several train cars lying scattered about—up the hill, down a cliff—in a scene that looked straight out of The Shining.

I asked the conductor about the lights and he said the cars were from a derailed train carrying grain and hadn’t been recovered yet. The lights placed around the cars were to keep away the bears who were attracted to the wet and fermenting corn. The bears would eat the corn, and then pass out on the tracks.

Flags of our Fathers