There are some things that will always be constant. Things infinite in the sense that it is beyond imagining a time ahead in which such things do not occur or exist. The tide is one of these things.
There are indicators in Bandon of just exactly how the decades have passed since the '60's – my growing years and the main decade I lived there. Dozens of rich, faux age-washed shingled houses with many levels that are elephant-sized, overgrown versions of the bourgeousie "beach house". Millions of dollars poured into leveling and clearing the scrub and land and sand of coastal plains to build monuments to a fine retirement with a view. World class golf courses that charge hundreds of dollars for eighteen holes. The local residents can no longer afford to play golf, as the "heritage" course, a nine-hole rough and tumble gem south of town on the Beach Loop road, has closed down, overgrown and untended. All the money is now north and south of town. Bandon in the middle has experienced little growth from the play money spent generously on the transformation of sand dunes and gorse into profitable bunkers and challenging water hazards.
My Bandon was a working class town. Fishing, lumber, cranberry bogs and dairy were the industries of the 60's, though there were certainly signs even back then that these would not always be mainstays of the south coastal economy. My dad was the port manager in town and I remember his discussions with my mom four decades ago on how the harbor had to adapt to tourist fishing and still somehow support commercial fishing while it lasted. One of the major flags to the changing priorities of the government and the slipping fishing industry was when the Coast Guard reduced the station support in town.
There was enough of the Coast Guard left in the area to cruise the river that night my dad drowned in the Coquille River; enough to drag the river over the next few days in a futile attempt to find the boat.
There are sacred spots on the Coquille, though no language known carries the original stories and memories anymore. The legends have been diluted by time and ignorance. A commercial glaze has been applied to appeal to tourists and gamblers. At Bullard's Beach state park on the Coquille, near the 101 bridge, ancient bones in ancient graves were found in 1969. I remember this event, not very publicized due to the academic nature of the dig, as the first time I realized that what I was familiar with was not what had always been. I guess I got "history" then, as some get "religion".
Due south of that dig a couple of months later, perhaps two or three football fields in length away from the Indian burial site, in some dark spot on the Coquille my father drowned, an early dark evening in October 1969. It was very stormy and windy that day and my father was upriver some from the marina securing log rafts to pilings just off the banks of the Coquille near the bridge. Near the 101 bridge and the marsh lands that are now a protected wildlife sanctuary. In those days, there were wooden billboards stuck down in the mud of the smelly marshlands advertising everything from local motels to Lucky Strikes.
My mother called the station that night of October 7, 1969 around 6 pm when Daddy hadn't gotten home. Like clockwork each weekday evening around 5:30 pm, he'd pull into the yard in his '66 Chevy pickup, aqua green-blue, rusted on the bumper already from the corrosive salt air and constant wind. That night, a stormy, gusty, rainy night, darker it seemed than other nights even before we were aware, that night he wasn't home for dinner. Beef stew with stewed tomatoes, potatoes sliced into walnut-sized wedges, cubes of left-over roast beef, parsnip chunks, celery sliced on the diagonal, pepper, carrots cooked tender almost to paste, simmering on the stove for several hours.
I remember nights at 9 pm in the summer when my dad would take me to the city dock to watch the trawlers return with their catch. Huge halibut, ugly creatures, and red snapper, so prehistoric seeming, and tons of salmon the size of which seem to dwarf the fish tossed around at Seattle's Pike Place Market now. I was a child and all things were bigger then.
When the local Coast Guard commander pulled into the motel half-circle yard around 7:30 pm, the stew was set on low on the stove, untouched. I remember dead space from that point on. Don't think I even cried or mourned that night. I'm not sure that, at eleven years of age, I fully comprehended our loss that night.
Nor do I think I understand that loss still, at fifty.
I went home last week and my daughters drove this time, both being of age now to drive. We crossed over the Coquille bridge on 101, the entry point to a long straight stretch into Bandon, and I looked down to the right at the river, as I always did in those years after. As I am still compelled to now, so many years later. I am within a year of my dad's age when he drowned 39 years ago. My mind passes over the unwise and useless thought, "Where's the boat?".
Why should it still matter?
The wound of the question may heal; the scar left behind will always be there. There are some things that will always be. I've always lived near water. In twenty-some moves in my life, in three different coastal states, I've always either seen water from where I live or I could walk to it. It haunts me and I have fallen in love with it and I cannot leave it behind. There are elements of both ephemera and immutability in the sediment of the Coquille and that is my dad's true grave. The tide comes in and out and the river bottom ever changes.
(Excerpts and photos from a previous diary on the same subject intersperse this post.)