Friday, March 25, 2022

Memories Lost and Found


by Belinda 

          My Talent roots run long and deep. My Grandparents homesteaded in the mountains west of Talent in 1918, and then moved down into Talent proper when their children needed to go to school. But my grandmother had always wanted a farm, so in 1937 they purchased 41 acres just south of Talent with the northwest corner lying across from Rapp Lane, and that is where their house stood. Recently, it was occupied by South Valley Pool & Spa. The property ran south from there along South Pacific Highway with the eastern boundary being Bear Creek.

 When my father returned from WWII, my grandmother gave him and his new wife several acres at the south end of the property.  He then proceeded to build a house for his family and that is where I grew up. The house at 717 S. Pacific Hwy. was most recently the home of Simple Machine Winery. The land between my grandmother’s house and my old house was divided and sold through the years with several small businesses locating there. The bottom land in the big field adjacent to the creek was used for wheat, alfalfa and later became Mt. View Estates. But now, everything is gone. It all burned down in the Almeda fire of September 8, 2020. All those memories from my childhood are just piles of ash.

Photos clearly show that when my father was building our house in 1946, there were no buildings to the west at all. The road out in front was just two lanes and was always referred to by locals as the New Highway. It was the new location of Highway 99, the Pacific Highway, compared to the Old Highway (now Talent Avenue). Later when I was growing up, a few houses were built along the highway, but the land lying between the roads was a cow pasture with a unfriendly bull presiding. If I wanted to visit friends on the Old Hwy., I needed to go to Creel Rd. or usually north to Rapp Road and around.  At that time, Arnos Rd. didn’t exist. It was a rural area and wasn’t included in the Talent city limits until years later. What a wonderful place to grow up. With the creek running down at the bottom of the hill, I spent many a day playing and exploring all the nooks and crannies amongst the oak trees.

Currently, my husband and I live in the foothills between Talent and Phoenix just up from Colver Rd. and I’m proud to say I still have a Talent mailing address. When the fire started on the morning of Sept. 8th, we watched in horror as the clouds of billowing smoke got closer and closer. Like so many others, our power was cut off early on, and trying to figure out where the monster was headed became our primary purpose. It headed north and for the most part stayed down in the valley devouring most everything in its path.  Our two sons and their families were more directly in its path and evacuated early that afternoon. We stayed on hoping that we were safe. But as darkness fell and retardant planes and helicopters could no longer fly, the fire began to spread west, encroaching closer to us. There came a point when it was no longer safe for us to stay, and we headed down the driveway.  I took one last look at our home for the past 30 years, assuming it would be lost. The night sky glowed red and we could see the flames just over the hill, but we were safe and our family was safe, and that was all that really mattered. Thanks to the amazing efforts of the firefighters, they managed to secure a fire line on Colver Road. and our neighborhood was saved. Our house was still there when we returned.

Over the years, that southern section of Talent along Hwy. 99 has become much more commercial, and the land between the Highway and Talent Avenue filled in with apartment buildings and a large, manufactured home park reached by Arnos Road. It was a busy area with businesses lining the road. More than a week passed after the fire before that section of road was open again. Until then, downed power poles and debris made it too dangerous for traffic. But eventually there came a point when once again you could travel south on 99 from Phoenix to Talent to Ashland, and I knew I needed to go and see what the fire had done with my own eyes. I had seen the photos. I should have been prepared. We set out to view the destruction. No words can really do it justice. My hand was gripping the door handle tightly and my stomach was tied in a knot. So much was gone. Just gone. We had to keep up with the traffic as my head turned from side to side, saying over and over that this was gone, and that was gone It was strangely disorienting. All those familiar places were missing. Where was I exactly?  Rapp Road, was just ahead.

My Grandmother’s house was just a pile of rubble, and there was little left of the house I grew up in. Only the chimney remained. Some of the pretty red tiles on the face of the chimney survived, while others were scorched and brown. My Mother had loved those tiles as they reminded her of fireplaces in her native England.  How many times had I stood in front of it on a cold winter’s day?  As I surveyed the carnage around me, it suddenly occurred to me that I could once again see across those former green fields to the road to the west. You could see from the New Highway to the Old Hwy again. Just burnt remnants of buildings and homes were all that remained in between. The burned carcasses of trees stood out directly across from my old house, but along Arnos Rd. not much was left. In a strange way, it had gone back to how it had been so many years ago. We are, after all, just borrowers of this land. Building on it and thinking that what we humans have constructed is somehow permanent is, in reality, a myth. A fire like this proves that our material dwellings are but temporary. But what no fire can do is take away the memories. Over the past few weeks, I have found myself remembering that little house on the highway more and more. It might be gone, but I can still recall how it felt to grow up there.

My family was one of the lucky ones. Our houses survived and my deepest sympathies go out to those that weren’t so lucky. Many friends lost everything. I hope that even though your house might be gone that you will still have memories to somehow get you through. The response from those who call Talent home has been tremendous, and I hope that everyone who has any kind of Talent roots will help one another and rebuild our special town back again; treasuring our old memories while finding ways to make new memories in the future.

note: this article appears on pages six and seven in the December 2020 issue of the Talent Historical Society Newsletter, The Historicale.

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      On September 8, 2020, a fire was started at the North end of Ashland, Oregon, on a street named Almeda.  Sixty-mile-an-hour winds blow...