I’ve come to believe that a sign of growing older is found in sudden fixations with random events, often insignificant, of our childhood. My fixation of late is “the bell”.
This particular bell rested on our garden lot, across from my childhood home. I’m not sure if I have the story straight, but I believe that the tall, skinny building we used as a garage was once a church … the bell had belonged to it.
What pride for my siblings and me to have our very own bell. It reclined on the ground, so there was no way to ring it, but we enjoyed climbing aboard its broad base, clanking the outside as if it truly were sending a melody out to all the neighbors.
Yes, we were proud of our bell. Only … it wasn’t ours.
What a sad day when a group of men drove up with a flatbed truck. At the end of an hour of huffing, puffing, and grunting, the bell was hoisted onto the bed, firmly tied down, and whisked down the road.
“Where is our bell going?” My younger brother asked what we all wanted to know.
“They’re taking it up to the mountains,” my mom answered.
“The mountains” were our name for McCroskey State Park and Skyline Drive, five minutes east of Farmington. Besides leaving 5300 acres of land to Idaho as a state park, Virgil McCroskey donated 400 of those acres to the Boy Scouts. In the same spirit of giving, someone in town gave OUR bell to the troops.
In all honesty, I don’t think we mourned long. The bell had been a big deal as long as it was in sight. By the time I was teenager though, a new pride came in being able to tell people that OUR bell had the center stage at Camp McCroskey.
Camp McCroskey was not off limits to the general public. As long as you were willing to hike the mile down a long and sometimes slippery switchback or drive the long way around through a poorly kept road, visitors were welcome in the absence of scouting events. It was cool to reach the bottom and traipse amongst log structures. The coolest part, of course, was yanking on the bell’s rope sending a ringing melody down into King Valley.
The last time I rang that bell was my junior year in college, which makes it exactly 30 years ago. A friend had come home with me and hard pressed for much to do in Farmington, I showed off Skyline drive and the camp. That last hike has left a picture in mind of neatly arranged log seats, the bell “tower”, an area cleared for tents, other structures that I couldn’t explain but figured were important to the scouts.
In the years since, I’ve often thought about climbing back down that hill. In fact, nearly every summer of my girls’ childhood, I’ve drug them to Eastern Washington and often suggested that they go up to the camp with me.
“Sounds boring” they’ve always said.
However, just last week, I was rewarded with a new attitude from Sallie. A year away at college has given her a different perspective on her own set of childhood memories, so we spent a few days at Grandma’s. Her curiosity peaked by places I had often talked about, she wanted to explore with me.
It took two attempts. I convinced my mom to go up to Skyline Drive with us because I couldn’t be sure anymore of where the trail head started. There used to be a sign, but I thought it might be gone. Well, we came close, but but since neither Mom or I had been there in years, we ended up turning back about a mile too soon. Checking in with some of the other locals, we headed back up a second day. I assured Sallie that the weather would probably be better anyway, as it was raining on our first attempt.
I was wrong on two accounts. The sign was still there and the rain was MORE intense the second day, but curiosity owned us, and we were not going to drive back to Western Washington without looking. One question in particular pushed us through the downpour, “Could the bell still be there?”
Rain. Mud. Giant puddles. Slippery slopes. We made it down. No bell. In fact, very little remained to identify that the camp had ever been there. I’ve included pics of the few structures remaining. Maybe you know what they were used for and can post answers below because I am clueless.
The bigger question still remains … where does that bell toll now? I am hoping that the scouts relocated it to another camp and that it wasn’t stolen. Do you know? It was a bit sad to not find it, even though I knew it certainly must have been removed years ago
Beyond the mystery of the bell, this experience marks a different milestone; that of entering into adventures with my adult children. It is rewarding to know that all those trips to Grandma’s house forged deep and important memories, even though these summer vacations never seemed splashy at the time. And even more amazing is the bond that both our girls feel with Eastern Washington and the Palouse Country as these are treasured places that only people who spend a lot of time there can ever really understand.
Thanks for reading … and if you have any info on that bell or the pics I took, please chime in!