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The need to win where it all went wrong

There it was, above the fold on A-1, in the lede of Chris Bristol’s story clipped from the Aug. 5, 2000 edition of the Mail Tribune: “Jane Hagle was right.”

My mother, who over the years has held onto her share of items serving no purpose I can discern, gets a pass for preserving this one. I rediscovered the yellowed article while ripping up flooring in her dilapidated chalet-style home in east Medford in June.

The details matter less now than the outcome: a judge temporarily halted the city’s bid to condemn a portion of her property, but as anyone who has watched the hillside transformation can you tell you, the $6.4 million extension of East McAndrews Road eventually went forward. The nearly two miles from Foothills Road to Tamarack Drive can now be covered in less time than it takes a Dutch Bros barista to whip up your latte. That’s what city fathers call progress.

But “progress” sent Mom backward. Her divorce from my father had been finalized the previous December. Between raising three kids and battling city hall, utterly alone, her spirit splintered. More recently, after a tumble from a shaky stepladder, her hip followed suit.

So I arranged extended leave and returned to the Rogue Valley from Alaska this summer with a singular goal: square up and help her sell her property. Get her out of there. Maybe into one of those trim new developments off North Phoenix Road, where she can recover from her gauntlet of impending medical procedures in a healthier, more manageable environment.

I had considerable forces on my side: my relative youth and vigor, financial flexibility, the sympathy of relatives and expertise in the green remodeling field. But five weeks in the lowland heat simply evaporated like so much sweat, and by the solstice, I was overwhelmed.

I’d taken pains to account for my time. I constructed an elaborate spreadsheet of tasks, snapped progress photos, and chronicled my thoughts in a journal. For a week or two, I was in control. But eventually, I felt the creep of an old familiar melancholy, like the first itch after a brush with poison oak: here I am, back where it all went wrong, trying to notch a win where Mom couldn’t.

What is it that tugs some of us back home like this? For me, the Rogue Valley is where the soft glow of nostalgia bleeds together with pain and frustration I never fully understood, but have nonetheless inherited. It still affects me, even from over 2,000 miles away.

Only now, in my labors to rectify it, have I begun to comprehend the nature of the trauma passed on from my mother, in the form of that blighted A-frame hulking in the suburbs. More importantly, upon rereading that old article, I suppose I saw her, scars and triumphs alike, for who she really was. In that instant, I knew also who I was, and why I had to come back.

Griffin Hagle lives in Utqiagvik, Alaska.

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