Ward Troxel

     Ward Troxel was the Father of my best friend Larry Troxel. Their family had moved from Tennessee to our neighborhood when I was about eleven years old. We lived out in a rural area a couple of miles from the town of Glendale , Oregon . Glendale is a small sawmill town nestled among the mountains of southern Oregon , about seventy miles north of the California border.

I first met Larry when his Mom and he began attending the same little Southern Baptist church where we went. I don’t remember how we became friends it just happened. I was about seven months older than Larry, and a grade ahead of him in school. We were good friends all through school, actually more like brothers than friends.

Larry and his family lived in an old farmhouse in the valley below our house. It was a beautiful setting with a creek running right behind the house and lots of big oak trees all around the property. It was about a quarter of a mile from my house.

The main road to our area was known as Tunnel road. The name of the road was derived from a railroad tunnel some miles up the track from where we lived. From Glendale the railroad tracks ran a winding route through the small valley before entering the tunnel, which provided access through the mountains to another small town called Wolf Creek . It was probably about five miles from Glendale to the railroad tunnel. I could look out across the valley from the front window of my house, and see the trains as they came by. It was less than half a mile away as the crow flies. We spent many summer days playing on and around the tracks. We walked to Glendale on the rails many times.

The road I lived on branched off of Tunnel road, and ran up the hill for about a quarter of a mile and dead-ended at the base of a big mountain. It was a dirt road, and had no name, the area was known only as the Humphrey addition of Tunnel road. Mr. Humphrey, who the community was named after, owned a large farm nearby. 

Glendale was a neat place for kids to grow up, though I’ll admit most of us were ill prepared for the real world. The population of Glendale was only about five hundred or so. We had about a hundred and fifty students in our high school. Most of us never had any idea of going to college. The boys usually went into the service as soon as they graduated, and most of the girls got married right out of high school. A large percentage of the people in Glendale were just like my family, poor transplanted southerners that moved out west to find work in the sawmills.

Ward was probably only about thirty-five or forty years old when I first met him. He was average height, slim and very handsome.  Even as a kid I thought he looked a lot like Peter Lawford the actor. He never worked a regular job, due to an injury he had suffered years earlier in a logging accident, which had left him with a bad back. He did a lot of work around their house, and other odd jobs around the neighborhood.

Ward was one of my favorite people in the whole world, I loved going to the Troxel home, he was always joking and pulling tricks on us.  One of his favorite tricks was one he used to play on my twin brothers. Ward would say, “Pete and repeat were sitting on the fence, Pete fell off who was left?” Well of course they would say, “repeat,” so he’d say it again until they finally grew tired of the joke.

Larry’s mother was named Wilda; she was a beautiful woman with bright red hair. The thing that impressed me most about Wilda was her neatness, she always had the house spotless, and she was always so clean and neat herself. I loved it when I was at their house, and she’d ask me to stay and eat with them. She was a great cook, and did all the cooking on an old wood cook stove.  Ward and Wilda seemed to be very happy together. Wilda had a great sense of humor, and a ready laugh; she greatly appreciated Ward’s sense of humor, and always joined right in with the jocularity.

When we were about twelve years old Ward decided it was time for us to go Snipe hunting. None of us had ever heard of a Snipe before so we didn’t know what he was talking about. He told us that Snipes were small bird like creatures that ran around in the woods at night, but couldn’t fly like a regular bird. They slept during the day that’s why none of us had ever seen one before.  He knew everything there was to know about Snipes. Larry’s older brother Lynn seemed to know quite a bit about Snipes also. He was four years older than Larry, and always gave us a lot of crap.

Finally the big day came and my two brothers and I showed up at the appointed time with our tow sacks in hand. Several other kids in the neighborhood were there for the Snipe hunt also. It seems like there was about six of us all together. It was just getting dark, which was the perfect time for Snipe hunting according to Ward. We set off for the woods barely able to contain our excitement and soon we reached our destination... a thickly wooded area up on a hill near the railroad tracks. There he stationed us out some distance from each other. He showed each of us, in great detail, how to hold our sacks. “Now don't make any noise he told us, “Snipes are very smart, and any little noise will scare them off.” After getting everyone positioned Ward and Lynn left to catch their own snipes. Soon it was dark, and each of us waited with anticipation in the Snipe catching position on a well-worn Snipe trail for the Snipes to run into our sack.  Well we waited and waited and waited, no one making a peep; no one wanted to be the one to ruin the Snipe hunting. To this day I don’t know how long we actually waited since time is somewhat irrelevant to a kid, but it seemed like hours. I’m not sure who spoke first, but soon we were all calling softly back and forth to each other trying to find out if anyone had caught a Snipe yet. I thought maybe it was just me, but apparently no one else had caught any Snipes either. This was very disappointing since we were all very curious as to what a Snipe looked like, and now it seemed as if we wouldn’t get the chance to find out.

It was really getting dark by this time, and we were all wondering what was going on, when suddenly we heard Ward calling to us. He wanted to know how many Snipes we’d caught. We replied dishearteningly that no one had caught any Snipes. He said that since the Snipes weren’t going to cooperate we might as well give it up for the night. We all gathered together in the dark, and walked down the hill to their house.

It wasn’t too long after we got back to the house that Ward revealed to us that we’d been snookered. We learned that Snipe hunting was just a joke... there really was no such creature. He explained that every kid has to go Snipe hunting once in his lifetime, and this was our time. We had been set up!

I remember one day Ward asked us if we knew how to tell if a dog was part bear. Of course we said no, so he goes over to their dog, pulls his tail up so you could see his bare butt and says, “this dog is part bare.” He seemed to have a never-ending supply of jokes.

My folks moved out to Oregon from Arkansas when I was seven years old. We went back almost every summer to visit my Grandma and Grandpa. We spent the summer fishing and swimming and doing most anything we wanted to do. 

Ward would sit around and listen to me and my two brothers tell Larry about our adventures back at “Mar creek” until he eventually put enough information together to convince us that he had once lived there and had been the dog catcher at “Mar creek.”

We would start talking about the swimming hole or some other place and he’d “Is that down by the bridge just up the road from your Grandpa's house?” We’d look at him with amazement and say, "Yeah, how did you know that?” He would answer, “I told you I was the dog catcher at “Mar creek” for years.” He was just teasing us of course, but we were never completely sure because he had so many facts from listening to our stories that it seemed like maybe he really had been the dogcatcher at “Mar creek.”

He was always revealing something new to us. One day he showed us how to take a small round rock, and hold it in the crook of our index finger, and by using the other index finger, and putting pressure on the finger with the thumb we could shoot those rocks out like a bullet. We practiced until soon we were quite accurate at short distances. I've never met anyone else who knew how to shoot a rock like that. He knew all kinds of neat things that we were impressed with.

Ward used to roll his own cigarettes, and it was like an art form watching him do this. He was so practiced at it that not a motion was wasted. I would sit mesmerized watching him go through his routine. He did buy some cigarettes already rolled; his brand was Lucky Strike. Every once in a while Larry would snitch a pack, and we would go out in the woods by the creek, and smoke them.  Larry was real good at blowing smoke rings, but I never could get the knack of it. I’ll never forget the first time Larry talked me into inhaling, it felt as if someone had stuck a dagger down my throat and straight into my lungs, but it got better after that, and soon I was inhaling every time; we thought we were real men.

When I became a teen-ager Ward was always there to talk to. He would tease us about girls and stuff but he was also there with words of wisdom when we needed it. He was truly interested in what was going on in our lives. 

When I got out of the navy I went back to Glendale for a few months before moving on with my life. Ward and Wilda were still there although they had moved into town. Wilda was working at a grocery store within walking distance of their house, and Ward was keeping busy doing odd jobs and such.

Before I moved so far away I used to go back to Glendale fairly regularly to visit the folks. I would stop by and visit Ward and Wilda, and get all the news about Larry and his family who lived in California , but I regret that through the years my visits became less frequent. When Ward died I knew I should go to his funeral, but for selfish reasons I decided not to. I hate funerals, and I knew he would understand. Ward is still very much alive in my memory, and that’s the way I want it to stay.

It’s been many years since I was that kid living up on Tunnel road, but I’ll never forget how much Ward Troxel meant to me; he was so important to my life. I am thankful for Ward and Wilda, and the memories they gave me. I know that no one is always happy, and I’m not naive enough to think that Ward was any different, but I do know that when I was around him he made me happy. 

 Written by:  Robert Tallent McDowell