Thursday, May 6, 2021
May 6, 2021

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Everybody Has a Story: Lessons learned on the road with Dad

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I recently got a package from my older sister that contained a treasure trove of old photos and documents from our shared past. Several of them were shots of my father as a young man, which triggered a flood of memories for me.

My father, Carroll, was a state liquor inspector. He worked for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and his territory was quite large, encompassing most of Coos County and all of Curry, the southern Oregon Coast. Primarily, he visited taverns and cocktail lounges and inspected them for cleanliness and scolded them for legal infractions such as serving liquor to minors or allowing gambling on their premises.

Since he was on the road a lot, our father-son time was irregular. From time to time, he would appear out of nowhere at my elementary school, Ocean Crest, and, pleading a family “situation,” whisk me away to ride shotgun in his state-issued sedan as he toured his territory. At some point we’d stop and he’d call Mom from a phone booth and let her know he’d kidnapped me and we’d be back in a day or so. From outside the booth, I could hear her sputter her anger that he’d interrupted my schooling. But he was out to offer up a different kind of education.

As we drove, he would tell me stories about the people and places of the southern Oregon Coast. Battle Rock, where Qua-to-mah Native Americans, justifiably ticked off at being shoved off their land, fought Capt. William Tichenor’s men in 1851. Humbug Mountain, the highest point on the Oregon Coast, so named when that same Capt. Tichenor sent out a party to explore the area and they got turned around and went north instead of south.

We ate lunch at a roadside diner that featured waitresses with hair piled high atop their heads and who called everyone “hon.” It was my first exposure to hash browns and gravy, which became a lifelong addiction.

One time, we stopped at a motel in Gold Beach and Dad popped into the office, returning with a receipt from the desk clerk. “For the expense account,” he explained.

We then drove to the county lockup where I met Emma, the sweet, portly woman who acted as head jailer. I soon discovered we’d be staying at the graybar hotel for the night. There were no other inmates, so we had our choice of cells. I became a jailbird at a tender age.

I also accompanied Dad to some of the bars he had to visit. There, I would sit with my cola and wait as my dad talked turkey with the bartender. I developed my love for a well-told, off-color joke by eavesdropping on the patrons who shared stories with my father.

Dad would put his fingers to his lips and caution me: “Shhh. Not a word of this to your mother.”

I came across an enlarged black-and-white photo of Dad as part of a team busting an illegal moonshine still up in the hills of Southern Oregon. Even though this was a federal operation, OLCC guys were often recruited to fill out the ranks. The men in the photo are examining a collection of large pewter containers with hoses and pipes protruding from them. A man in handcuffs is glowering in the background.

Sometimes, Dad would come home from one of these raids with a quart jar of amber liquid. After dinner, he might pour himself a tumbler of the “shine” to taste.

“The law says we have to pour illegal liquor down the drain,” he’d proclaim. “It doesn’t say a word about where it goes before that.”

I once asked him why he came home from some raids empty-handed. “I only drink the stuff made by real craftsmen,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe the crap some of those guys put in their moonshine. Tin cans, lawn trimmings, even a dead animal. You drink it at your own peril.”

Carroll wasn’t a traditional nine-to-five, catch-in-the-backyard kind of dad. But he always found time to spend with me. And our road trips provided me an education no conventional school could deliver.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.

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