Duke fed more than family of 4

November 07, 2012 01:55 pm

Running an eight-room motel along a wild and scenic river, down in the bottom of a canyon, I noticed passers-by either drove 60 miles per hour down the road, perhaps wondering, “Whoa, what was that?” or they would stop, buy a pop and investigate.

One summer afternoon a woman drove the driveway at break-neck speed to inform me there were cows in the highway. I said, “It’s open range so you need to drive slowly on the highway and in my driveway. I got a couple free-range dogs here, too.”

Another day, as I was folding laundry under a sign that says “Minam Motel and Market” a woman asked, “Do you rent rooms?” While several other curiosity seekers walked into the market, under the sign “Market,” looked around at the beer, pop, tackle and bait, and asked, “What is this?”

My anthropology professor warned me of this. He said that we leave the house and go on auto-pilot. The clerk at the grocery store says, “How are you today?” and you say, “Why, I’m just fine,” even if your dog ate the last piece of quiche that morning and your car battery was dead and you couldn’t find two socks that matched.

When we go on vacation, the auto-pilot runs strong. I have a friend who works with tourists and at the end of her week we would swap tales of the questions we’d been asked like, “Is the water in the drinking fountain drink-able?”

Children on the other hand don’t have time to ask dumb questions. A family stopped in so the six year-old could ask, “How many people live in Minam?” I said, “Four.” Satisfied, they got back on the highway and headed for Wallowa Lake.

Except for Minam and a Forest Service guard station where no one ever ventured, Lostine is the smallest community in which I’ve lived, yet at dawn there’s coffee available at The Blue Banana, biscuits and gravy at the Lostine Tavern, and by 8 a.m. M. Crow and Co. is open as are the auto and welding shops.

Lostine doesn’t necessarily bustle, but there’s a definite sense of community.

I lived in Lostine about six months when I met some of my neighbors at the Tavern’s Wednesday Taco Night. I had ordered carry-out, but when I went in to pick up my order I was invited to sit at the back table with, what I call now, the board of directors.

I met Duke and Rhee Lathrop at a Tavern Taco Night. Duke had turned 83 years old and had just given up horse riding, but he had a joke: “What’s the difference between a large pizza and a cowboy? A large pizza can feed a family of four.”

Duke entertained the crowd each summer at the Wallowa County Stockgrowers Rodeo with his family-friendly jokes and at Christmas he would give his fellow Lostinians ground beef, whether they were relative newcomers or multi-generational natives.

He never failed to say hello, offer an opinion or tell a story when our paths crossed, despite my profession, and I never failed to go visit him when I saw him out and about. A life-long Wallowa County rancher’s perspective is invaluable and Duke was always kind and mentally spry.

Duke died last weekend and I’ve been thinking a lot about him – and his name. He was too hard working to be the “King of Lostine” and left the mayoral duty to one half his age – but a Duke he was. He managed his land, his cattle, loved the wilds of the outback where he lived, and was a kindly benefactor.

Unlike the cowboy in his joke, Duke fed more than a family of four.