Born Forgetful, And Getting Worse

 Forgetfulness is so common that countless writers have ruminated on it, often humorously. 

  Mark Twain, whose writing and witticisms are anything but forgettable, observed that “When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not.”

  That was the only quote I could remember about forgetfulness. So I looked up some others:

  Science fiction-fantasy writer Vera Nazarian wrote that, “The only thing faster than the speed of thought is the speed of forgetfulness. Good thing we have other people to help us remember.”

 One of my favorites:  “My ability to remember song lyrics from the ‘80s far exceeds my ability to remember why I walked into the kitchen.”

  Not sure who came up with that one, but it makes perfect sense. It’s probably happened to you. You confidently stride into a room to do or get something and stop the second you get there, unable to remember what the devil it was.

  I’ve been taking this a step further of late, not just forgetting why I walked into a room but walking into the wrong room altogether. It’s more than a little disconcerting when you recall, while standing slack-jawed in the bathroom, that what you were after was lunch.

  Such behavior isn’t necessarily a function of getting older. Some of us are born forgetful. The missing-shoes story is a perfect example.

  I was preparing to go somewhere – where exactly seems to have escaped  me at the moment – and wherever it was necessitated wearing shoes. Maybe it was a considerable distance away or required walking over rough terrain – the details are a little hazy – but shoes were definitely needed.

  I looked everywhere for those shoes. In closets, under beds, outside on the patio, you name it. It hadn’t been that long since they were on my feet, but it was as if they’d dematerialized. For the life of me, I couldn’t recall where they were. 

  Then I remembered that a little while earlier I’d fixed myself a snack.

  Was it possible?

  No, the very idea was outlandish.

  It was possible. My shoes were in …

  The refrigerator.

  This didn’t happen a few months ago, or even a few years ago. I was a teenager when it happened.

  This was about the time that I started playing in a band. My main instrument has always been the guitar, but for a few years I played a bit of keyboards as well. Our group was setting up to play for a dance in Oregon one night when I realized that I’d forgotten the keyboard. We asked the audience members if any of them had one we could borrow. The result: a child’s toy keyboard that sounded like a cross between a kazoo and a calliope. 

  It was a very long night.

  Forgetfulness can be expensive. A couple of weeks ago, I forgot to turn off the water in the back yard, which has a small fountain that needs to be refilled every week or so. It only takes a few minutes, but I got sidetracked and left the water onall night long. The water bill hasn’t arrived yet. Luckily, my wife is out of town and may never see it. 

  “Forgetting to turn off the water doesn’t mean you’re getting Alzheimers, Dad,” one of my daughters said by way of reassurance. “Anybody could do that.”

  Well, maybe.

  But what about this?

  Regular readers may recall a recent column about a vacation rife with medical emergences involving pets. Roux, our older daughter’s dog, got in a fight with another dog. The results included a scratch on one of her eyes. Three weeks later, we’re still putting antibiotic ointment in it. Max, my wife’s pet lizard, got a lung  infection and had to have injections every other day.

  Anyone who think it’s easy to give a lizard an injection has never had to do it. Max was on full lizard alert the second he saw the needle coming. One person had to hold him while the other did the dirty work. 

  Usually that job falls the aforementioned daughter, who is a paramedic. On one of the days that Max had to have a shot, however, I was the only one available.

  “Don’t worry,” she said. “I called the vet, He’s going to do it. All you have to do is get the medicine out of the freezer and take Max to the clinic. Be sure to remember to take one of the needles, too.”

  “Of course! What do you think I am, forgetful or something?”

  I made absolutely sure to put both the medicine and the needles in the car. I also put Roux in the car, which wasn’t easy. She’d spent the night at our house and, assuming that I was taking her for her morning walk, bolted out of the garage and down the street. It took some doing, including a doggy-treat bribe, to get her in the car.

  The clinic’s receptionist’s eyes lit up when she saw Roux.

  “She’s so cute!” she gushed. “Would she like to have a treat?”

  This would have been like asking Elvis if he’d like to have a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Roux is the Joe DiMaggio of dogs when it comes to catching treats tossed from impressive distances. She is also a ham. She entertained the receptionist, and just about everyone else at the clinic, by catching treats until the novelty wore off and the applause ebbed.

  “So,” the receptionist said when things returned to normal. “You brought Max’s medicine?”

  “Yes. It’s right here.” 

  “And a needle for the injection?”

  “Right. It’s in this bag.”

  She looked at me expectantly …

  “Did you forget something?”

  “No, I think that’s everything.”

  “Are you sure?” 

  “Sure I’m sure. I gave you the medicine and the needle. What else …”

  Leaping lizards! I had forgotten Max!

  Who takes everything to the doctor except the patient?

  It would be nice to think there are supplements that would make a person less forgetful, but my doctor says he doesn’t know of any that help much.

  So it looks like I’m stuck with being a modern-day version of the absent-minded professor.

  If this column isn’t in the paper the next time it’s supposed to be, you’ll know why.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

Will This Vacation Ever End?

  It had all the makings of a memorable vacation. It was the first time my wife and I and all three of our kids had taken a vacation together in many years.

  Our vacations used to provide fodder for columns. The kids invariably got colds, our cars broke down, I got chicken pox … Readers looked forward to our vacations because they made their own vacations look good by comparison.

  Those days are behind us, of course. The kids are grown now, and one of our daughters would be driving us in her recently serviced, high-tech SUV. What could possibly go wrong?  

  Our destination was the family cabin in Washington state. We got up in time to get an early start and were on the road by 7:30. That would put us there by 5:30. Plenty of time to unpack, have dinner and enjoy a relaxing evening. 

  We stopped in Ontario, Ore., for breakfast. We stopped in LaGrande, Ore., for snacks and a bathroom break. We stopped in Boardman, Ore., for lunch. With five of us in the car, the stops took longer than expected. The odds of having dinner and a relaxing evening were steadily shrinking.

  Just out of Baker City, Ore., my wife noticed a problem with Max.  Max, her pet lizard, was accompanying us on the trip, along with Roux, the family dog. (Roux was named at a shelter in Louisiana, where roux, a thickening agent used in sauces, is practically a food group.) 

  Max clearly was in trouble, opening her mouth and gasping for air. This had happened once before. A vet had diagnosed it as a lung infection and prescribed antibiotic injections. Within a few days, Max was her old self.

  “If only this had happened yesterday!” my wife lamented. “I could have taken Max to the vet then and everything would have been fine.”

  Unfortunately, we were several hundred miles from our vet. A Google search yielded veterinary offices in half a dozen Oregon and Washington cities, calls were made to all of them, and all but one either didn’t treat lizards, weren’t taking new patients or were so busy they couldn’t see Max until the following week. 

  The exception was an emergency clinic in Portland.  Not being all that familiar with Portland, I was a bit uneasy about our chances of finding it.

  “No worries. We’ll use Google Maps.”

  This would be the same Google Maps that has steered us wrong on multiple occasions, including one that resulted in driving two hours in the wrong direction on a remote stretch of desert. 

  The woman who answered the phone at the clinic asked us where we were and said it would take about 40 minutes for us to get there. An hour later, we weren’t even close. Google Maps had taken us on a scenic tour of Portland and greater Multnomah County. This included driving over the highest bridge in Portland, with a dizzying view of the Columbia River and the city. Or so I’m told. A lifelong acrophobiac, I had my eyes tightly closed.

  When we finally got there, the clinic looked like Costco during a toilet paper sale. It was jammed to the rafters with customers. There were cats in crates, dogs on leashes, kids crawling on the floor …

  I don’t spend enough time in Portland to know the current fashion trends there, but the clinic’s clientele was, shall we say, colorful – shaved heads, Mohawks, chains, piercings, facial tattoos … 

  We waited. And waited, and waited …

  This did not sit well with Roux. Roux is a dog that craves attention, and Max was getting all of it. She responded by lying down in the car, sulking and playing dead. 

  Roux is smart. So smart she speaks English. Not in actual words, of course, but her expressions and body language speak volumes.

  “You want to go for a walk?” I asked her.

  “ A walk? Do you really think a walk would make up for everyone ignoring me while that stupid lizard gets all the attention?”

  With that she sniffed haughtily, turned her back on me and played dead again. 

  To kill time, I chatted with a lavishly tattooed woman who was there with her bull terrier.

  “What’s wrong with your dog?” I asked her.

  “Swallowed a plum pit.”

  “Excuse me.”

  “My dog swallowed plum pit.”

  Of course. Plums are a staple of any canine diet. 

  “Did the vet get it out?” 

  “We haven’t seen the vet yet. We’ve been here for hours, and they say it will be two more hours.”

  We continued to wait. An hour passed, then another, and another … Midway through the fourth hour, my wife was called to the inner sanctum for a consultation.

  “They want to do blood work, an X-ray and a bronchoscopy,” she reported upon returning.

  “A bronchoscopy on a lizard? They’ve got to be kidding!”

  “They aren’t. The total would be $1,200. I told them to just give Max the same medicine they gave her in Boise last year.”

  Max has been receiving regular injections ever since and seems to be doing better. 

  Roux is another story. When relatives came to visit us at the cabin, she bit their new dog, Louis.

  “Bad dog!” we admonished her. “No treats for you today.”

  “Fine. I’ll just get up after you’re asleep tonight and raid the refrigerator. And if Louis come back I’ll bite him again.”

  Now Roux has an eye infection. That, at least, is the unofficial diagnosis. All of the vets we called were so busy they couldn’t see her.

  Personally, I think she’s faking it.

  We’ll be heading home in a few days, and none too soon.

  I’ve had about all the vacation I can stand.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

You Can’t Go Home Again?

Thomas Wolfe famously wrote that you can’t go home again. He was right in the context of his book, but sometimes you can go home again.

  And maybe it won’t look very different.

  An errand recently took me within a few blocks of my childhood home. It had been years since I’d spent much time in the old neighborhood so I decided to stop and see what the years had done to it.

  The first stop was the corner where I met my first friend in the neighborhood. Boise’s North End was still developing then. The street in front of my parents’ house hadn’t even been paved yet. Now it’s an old, settled neighborhood.

  My friend’s name was Timmy. We both would have been four years old at the time. Kids didn’t have as many diversions in those days, certainly none of the electronic variety that occupy so much of kids’ time today. We sat on the curb and played with rocks in the gutter. 

   The home were I grew up had hardly changed. The window shutters  had been taken down and raised beds for plants dotted the lawn, but other than that it looked pretty much the same.

  This was also true of what had been the Robertsons’ house next door. My sister was smitten by one of the Robertsons’ sons. She literally married the boy next door. A picture of his sister, Timmy, yours truly and some of the other neighborhood kids, taken in the Robertsons’ back yard, graces my office to this day. The yard hadn’t changed at all.

  The next house on the block didn’t appear to have changed, either. It had belonged to a dentist, who may well have considered me the bane of his existence. All kids do stupid things from time to time; the good doctor’s house was the scene of two of my more memorable efforts in this regard.

  The first was cutting down a tree he’d planted in his front yard. My intention was simply to do a little carving on the trunk with my pocket knife. One whittle led to another, and to my surprise the trunk snapped and the tree toppled over. My parents were mortified. I was grounded for the next year.

  Not really. It was probably only a week or two. It just seemed like a year.

  The second incident could have been a disaster. In his spare time, the dentist enjoyed woodworking. Beneath the table saw in his garage was a large pile of sawdust, which (it’s still hard to believe I actually did this) struck me as a good place to toss a lighted match.

  Well, now!  You can imagine my surprise when, in less time than it takes to scream “call the fire department,” a blaze of shocking proportions erupted. That match might as well have been tossed into a tub of gasoline. Horrified, I compounded the problem by running home and pretending as if nothing had happened.

  It took about five minutes for the doc to put out the fire with a garden hose and arrive, fuming, on the doorstep of the neighborhood troublemaker. This led to a scene almost as heated in our garage, with my father chasing me around his Buick while I unsuccessfully attempted to outrun a spanking.

  Up the block and around a corner was the onetime home of the witches. They weren’t witches, of course, but no one could have convinced the neighborhood kids of that. The “witches,” two elderly, reclusive women, lived in a tiny house on an alley. The house had an ancient smokestack from which plumes of dark smoke ominously rose. We were reasonably certain that the source of the smoke was a fire under their caldron.

  The house next-door to theirs was the home of a girl who spent countless hours on a swing in her back yard. It was a big, home-made swing, and she  swung so high it looked as if she was trying to reach the clouds. My folks worried that she might go over the top and come to earth in a painful crash. She not only never did that, she went on to take flying lessons and, the last I heard, was well on her way to becoming an airline pilot.

  The opposite end of the block from the witches was home to Ed and Anna Chamberlain. Anna was rarely seen, and on the infrequent occasions when she was she almost always seemed to be dressed in black. We’d have suspected that she was a witch if she hadn’t been married to Ed, a pleasantly gregarious old fellow who vied for the honor of being the slowest driver in town, if not the entire state.

  Ed drove an Oldsmobile station wagon. You wanted to avoid getting behind it, especially if you were in a hurry, because it seldom exceeded the dizzying speed of 10 mph. Ed routinely had a parade of angry motorists behind him. He was not a man to be rushed, and was happily oblivious to the cacophony of horn honking he provoked, which had no effect whatsoever.

  Howard Snyder, the neighborhood handyman, advised him to take the Oldsmobile out on the highway and drive it fast enough to burn the carbon deposits out of the engine. To universal surprise, he actually did it.

  “Took it out on the highway and drove the hell out of it,” he told Howard.

  “How fast did you get it up to, Ed?”

  “Like I told you, I drove the hell out of it. Had it up to 40 mph.”

  Howard’s was the only house in the neighborhood that had significantly changed. A modest home during his tenure, it had been enlarged and attractively remodeled.

  When my childhood home went on the market – this would have been a couple of decades ago, give or take –  a real estate agent asked me if I’d like to go through it. I did, and briefly toyed with the idea of buying it. The price was reasonable, and the idea of moving back to the old neighborhood wasn’t without a certain appeal. My wife and I were happy in the home we’d built, however, and decided against it. 

  My folks built their dream home, including the lot, for $13,000. Its estimated value today, according to Zillow, is $779,000.

  That, without a close second, was the neighborhood’s biggest change.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

Giving Back: The Winner is …

  Maybe there’s something to be said for almost dying.

  Or at least thinking you could be.

  Readers of my last column will recall that I inadvertently took two prescription  drugs recently that shouldn’t be taken together. I’m usually careful about checking drug interactions, but one of the two seemed so harmless that it didn’t occur to me to check until after the fact. You can imagine my reaction upon reading that possible reactions included “extreme sleepiness, slowed or difficult breathing, coma and death.”

  Obviously, I didn’t die that night or you wouldn’t be reading this. A Poison Control Center volunteer told me to try to stay awake for three hours – it was then close to 1 a.m. – and that my wife should get me to the nearest E.R. immediately if I fell asleep and couldn’t be wakened. Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary. I fell asleep, but an alarm clock and timer woke me repeatedly until the three hours were up and the risk had passed.

  Two good things came out of that night. One was a lesson learned. From now on I won’t take so much as an aspirin without checking interactions with other meds. It’s easy to do, only takes a few seconds and it can save your life. The drug interaction site if you’re interested – and you should be if you take or will be taking multiple prescription meds – is

  The other good thing that resulted from that night is a new way, for me at least, to do something useful.

  For those who missed the earlier column, an explanation:

  When you get a scare like that, one that conceivably could have been your last, it’s natural to want to make the most of the time you have left. You feel an obligation to do give something back, something to express your gratitude for not being six feet under. To that end, I asked readers for suggestions on ways to do that.

  Writers never know what will happen when they ask readers for suggestions. Sometimes the response is a resounding silence that makes you wish you hadn’t asked. Other times, the response is gratifying. This was one of those. Readers suggested oodles of volunteer opportunities. Here are some of them:

  Reader Nancy Viano suggested volunteering for What The Vote, which she and a friend began in 2018 as a non-partisan effort to encourage young people to participate in our democracy by registering, becoming informed and voting. To date, it has registered 7,200 of them. A worthy effort, and never more so than during the times in which we’re living. Its website is

   Ray Guindon didn’t have a suggestion, but offered condolences for “what you recently went through. Glad you had the presence of mind to realize something was wrong right away and were able to react to your situation immediately.

 “ … My wife is always trying to get me to volunteer at a hospital, like giving support to people with certain ailments, but with Covid out and about that’s probably not a good idea yet.”

  Point taken. The shelter where my wife and I volunteered pre-pandemic had us stop coming for that very reason.

  Selina Harris and Linda Hieb suggested working as a driver for Meals on Wheels, delivering meals to homebound seniors. Harris also suggested  volunteering at the Boise Rescue Mission or Big Brothers and Sisters.

  St. Vincent dePaul has a program to pick up people newly released from prison and help them with food, clothing vouchers, transportation and other essentials as they reenter society. Reader Mareesa Rule described voluteering for it as “an unforgettable experience.”

  Jeanne Huff, my Idaho Press editor, is a longtime volunteer for the Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline, where she works a shift a week and has logged over 700 hours on the phones. Her email suggested the hotline and two other possibilities – the Women and Children’s Alliance and the Agency for New Americans,. 

  Jan King took the prize for offering the most suggestions:

  * Volunteering at shelters for battered women and families.

  * Helping volunteers at Nampa High School provide essentials for homeless teens.

  * Taking clothing, laundry soap and other necessities to Hope’s Door (a shelter in Caldwell), the Salvation Army Shelter and the Justice Center in Nampa.

  * Checking with schools about providing backpacks, school supplies, clothing and food packs for at-risk students.

  “Often the only meals some kids get daily are breakfast and lunch at school,” King wrote.

  Shauna Sanders encouraged me to check, which features literally dozens of volunteer opportunities. If you can’t find something that interests you there, you’re pretty picky.

  It was gratifying to receive such an enthusiastic response from readers, and to learn that there are more ways to volunteer locally than I dreamed possible. Scores if not hundreds of them.

  So which seemed like the right fit for yours truly? Picking one wasn’t easy, but the one that truly spoke to me came from Boisean Gene Dillner.

  “You asked for ideas on causes that allow you to give back to the community,” he wrote. “I’d like to recommend the Learning Lab of Boise. … With your career experience, you would be a perfect candidate as a tutor.”

  Dillner has worked as a tutor at the Learning Lab for over 20 years and says it’s “the only volunteer job that has never gotten boring or that I didn’t feel I got more from the experience than I gave.”

   The learning lab, according to its website, is “a literacy education center for low-income adults and families with young children. Instruction is individualized, based on students’ needs and goals. Adult students may work on basic skills including math, reading, writing, spelling, and, for many, English language learning.”

   That sounded like a good fit. The last thing anyone wants a right-brained person like me teaching is math, but reading, writing and spelling I could handle. And what more appropriate way for a writer to give back to the community than by teaching people to read?

  With that in mind, I called the lab, was told that there is always a need for volunteers there and that I’d be welcome to stop by and learn more about it. I’ll be doing that this week.

 I can’t think of many things more rewarding for someone in my line of work than teaching people to read, write and spell.

  And it definitely beats being six feet under.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

The Night I Though I Might Die

All my life I’ve been lucky with my health. Some illnesses, of course, but nothing life threatening. Even when a doctor said I had cancer, it was a small tumor, removed with no recurrence. Not once was there concern that it could be fatal.

  That kind of luck can make you feel almost invincible. Last week, though, an incident occurred that could have been fatal. It made me appreciate as never before that none of us are invincible, that good luck can change in an instant when we least expect it.

  The incident involved prescription drugs. My doctor recently prescribed one for a mild case of peripheral neuropathy. He said to take it every night at bedtime.

  No problem, until one night last week when I couldn’t get to sleep. Frustrated with tossing and turning, I got up and took a pill to help put a stop to that.

  You’ve probably known people who are forever popping pills. Not me. I take them as infrequently as possible and am borderline neurotic about checking drug interactions. 

  Except on this particular night. The pill to help me sleep was one I’d taken before with mild, almost unnoticeable effects. It seemed so gentle and harmless that it didn’t occur to me to check what could happen when taken after the neuropathy medication.

  Until I got to thinking about it, decided to check just to be safe and read the online drug interaction warning:

  Concurrent use can result in extreme sleepiness, slowed or difficult breathing, coma or death.

  Death? Could that really be possible?

  I read it again.

  It hadn’t changed.

  I checked some other sites.

  Same warning.

  Suddenly it seemed unbearably hot in the room. I was sweating; my stomach was in knots.

  Death? Really? Had my good luck run out? Run out because of a careless oversight? I could see the headline:

  “Newspaper columnist dies of terminal stupidity.”

  What to do?

  There was only one thing to do – get the pill out of my system if possible. It had only been a couple of minutes since I’d taken it. Maybe it wasn’t too late for the old finger-down-the-throat maneuver.

  Nothing came up that looked like a pill. It may have already dissolved, which wasn’t encouraging. 

  It was after midnight. My wife, who is recovering from surgery on her Achilles Tendon, was asleep and would have been as flummoxed as I was about what to do next. What was needed was an expert. I looked up the toll-free number for the National Poison Control Center and called it.

  “You vomited?” the woman who answered said.


  “We don’t recommend that. You could have aspirated into your lungs.”

  Well, yes, if we were talking about a bottle of poison. This was a pill smaller than a BB. 

  She asked me the dosages of each drug and asked me to hold while she checked on the interactions.

  “Are you alone?” she asked upon returning.

  “No, my wife is here.”

  “The danger is that you could fall asleep and not wake up. Try to stay awake for the next three hours. If you fall asleep and can’t be aroused, your wife will need to get you to the nearest ER immediately.”

  Right. My wife who had one foot in an orthopedic boot and wouldn’t be able to walk for another three weeks.

  “Don’t worry,” she said after being awakened by her increasingly anxious  husband. “If you go to sleep and I can’t wake you, I’ll call 911.”

  By this time it was nearly 1 a.m. Determined to stay awake, I went downstairs, turned on a bright light and started reading. That worked for about an hour. Then my eyelids got heavier, heavier … Time to go back upstairs.

  We set the alarm clock and a timer to wake me up in half an hour and an hour respectively. They did.

  I set the timer for another hour. Same result. By then the three hours the Poison Control woman recommended were over, and I was – to my boundless relief – still alive.

 The day before, a car had come inches from running over me on my bicycle. Was God trying to tell me something?

  It reminded me of a dream I had years ago: My wife, our son and I were standing on the steps of my old high school with a tsunami bearing down on us. It swept us into the school, where, with seconds left to live, my last thought was that I should have done more to help other people. It wasn’t long after that that I happened to meet a director of a homeless shelter and began volunteering there. 

  That was just a dream; the pill incident was real. Frighteningly real.

  A natural result of such experiences is a desire to make the most of whatever time we have left. The night I thought I could die made me want to spend more quality time with friends and family, to do things my wife and I have been putting off, to try to be kinder and more helpful to people. 

  The homeless shelter where I worked, and my wife later worked, made us  stop volunteering until the pandemic was over so I’m looking for some other way to help people. We’re not just here, after all, to pursue our own ends. Ideally, we spend at least some of our time trying to make our part of the world a little better.

  If you have suggestions on ways to do that, I’d love to hear them. Please email them to the address below. The results will be in a future column. 

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

A Murphy’s Law Kind of Day

  Some days are just bad from the start.

  You wake up feeling great, looking forward to the day, and before you know it things begin to unravel.

  It happened to me on a recent day when my older daughter and I went to a concert in Portland.

  Not everyone travels 400 miles to attend a concert, so a word of explanation is in order. Actually, a confession. We’re both addicts. We are addicted to the music of Steely Dan. We’ve been fans forever. We’ve been to at least eight of their concerts – she claims it’s more – in cities as far away as Boston.

  So for us a one-hour flight to Portland was nothing.

  Until the fateful day dawned.

  The trouble began with the morning coffee. When I took the coffee grounds from the day before out of the coffee maker – something I’ve done countless times without incident – the filter broke.

  It broke in a rather spectacular fashion, actually – an avalanche of soggy coffee grounds. Coffee grounds on the kitchen table, a chair, the floor, an area rug, me … It took 15 minutes to clean it all up. 

  Until then I’d been on track to drive to my daughter’s house in time to take an Uber from there to the airport. The coffee fiasco would make us borderline late for catching our plane, 

  And that was without the John Leo Ryan frisking in the TSA line.

  John Leo Ryan was my late father-in-law. John Leo Ryan was also, apparently, the name of someone on the TSA watch list. 

  My father-in-law was the farthest thing from a terrorist. He was a World War II veteran who proudly wore a “Kamikaze Survivor” ball cap wherever he went. Not that that mattered. Every time he went through the security line, he was taken aside and all but strip searched.

  Now it was my turn.

  “Sorry, sir, but we’re going to have to check you. Would you prefer to do this here or in a private room?”

  “Check me? Why?”

  “The scan is showing something in your pants.”

  “It is?”

  “Yes. Are you absolutely sure you removed everything and put it in the bin?”

  “Yes. Even my picture of John Leo Ryan.”


  “Nothing, just kidding.”

  “Well, the scan is showing something in your pants. You can see it on the screen there.”

  There on the screen was an image of a brightly colored box. In the last place you’d want it.

  “I’m going to have to pat you down. Are you okay with doing this here?”

  I was. Going somewhere else would have made us even later.

  “I’ll be using the back of my hands to pat you down,” the agent said. “Are you comfortable with that?”

  “I don’t know. Will you buy me a drink first?”

  Just kidding. I didn’t really say that.

  The pat-down took an uncomfortably long time, which wasn’t surprising because whatever the agent was looking for wasn’t there. There was absolutely nothing in my pants that shouldn’t have been in them. My daughter, meanwhile, was all but choking with laughter. 

  By the time I got everything back in my pockets, my shoes on and my dignity back intact, we were late getting to our boarding area. Happily, no one was boarding yet.

  “That’s odd. You’d think they’d be …

  “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re sorry to announce that our flight to Portland has a mechanical problem. We’ll let you know when it’s available for boarding.”

  So we were there in time, after all. Plenty of time. So much time, in fact, that instead  of getting up before dawn, we could have slept in. The delay, we were told, would be about an hour. Then, another hour. Then half-hour increments for a total of over three hours. We were starting to worry about whether we’d get to Portland in time for the concert when at last the flight was called. 

  “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re ready to board. We apologize for the delay and are giving you vouchers good for $12 at restaurants in the Portland airport.”

  At the Portland airport, we had a choice of two restaurants. At the first, an employee greeted us with a bizarre statement: 

  “Sorry, we don’t have any food. We’re having growing pains and are shut down for sterilizing.”

  The other restaurant may or may not have had growing pains, but it did have food and honored our vouchers. At our hotel, however, the desk clerk greeted us with another bizarre statement: 

  “Actually, I have three reservations for you.”

  It took a while – quite a while, actually – for him to figure out that two of the reservations were scams. This was a relief, because until then he seemed bent on charging us for three rooms. A bit paranoid by then, I began to wonder if he was going to ask whether I wanted to be taken to one of them to be patted down.

  The concert, at least, was great.

  Or would have been if the guy behind us hadn’t talked continually, trying to impress his wife with how much he knew, or thought he knew, about the music. Why is it that some people at concerts think that everyone around them paid for a ticket, and perhaps traveled hundreds of miles, to listen to them blather?

  With everything else that happened that day, there hadn’t been time to have dinner. The next morning, we couldn’t wait to get to the breakfast buffet.

  “I hope it’s a real breakfast and not just one of those cold cereal bars.”

  “Me, too. I’m starving.” 

  At the breakfast buffet, a sign was taped to the door:

  “Sorry. We’re closed. We’re out of food.”

  Some days are just bad from the start.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

Barefoot and Lucky in Hells Canyon

  One of my most memorable vacations was a raft trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. It gave me an appreciation for the beauty and power of river rapids.

  The Middle Fork’s rapids pale, however, in comparison with those of the Snake River before it was dammed in the late 1950s and 1960s. The late river-running guide Georgie White Clark, the first woman to run commercial rafts through the Grand Canyon, called it “the only major whitewater river in the Northwest.”

  Boisean Cort Conley, who has worked as a river guide throughout the West, agrees:

  “Before the dams, the Snake in Hells Canyon was one of the Northwest’s most spectacular stretches of whitewater. It had incredible beaches and huge rapids, some of the best river running stretches in the West.”

  A writer and publisher as well as a river guide, Conley recently received a manuscript for a book about a raft trip through Hells Canyon just before it was dammed. It had been rejected by other publishers, but Conley found the story irresistible and published it. The result is “Barefoot in Hells Canyon,” by Bryan Gould.

  I’m not a river runner or a book reviewer. But, like Conley, I found Gould’s tale of derring-do on a legendary stretch of Idaho whitewater that no longer exists too compelling not to write about it.

  “Barefoot in Hells Canyon” is the story of two teenagers, Gould and his friend Glen Burns, and their unlikely trip through Hells Canyon in 1958. Unlikely because they had never run a whitewater river before. Unlikely because there are bathtubs bigger than their raft was. Unlikely because they didn’t live in Idaho, or anywhere within hundred of miles of Hells Canyon. They were from San Francisco.

  “We just wanted to run the wildest river we could,” Gould said in a phone interview. “A lot of people told us we were crazy, and they were probably right. But you know, we were 19. We’d live forever.”

  Burns, sadly, died last year without ever seeing the book. Now 83, Gould looks back on their trip as one of the great adventures of his life, and the bedrock of a lifelong bond with his late friend.

   The adventure began not on a raft, but in a railroad yard in Oakland, Calif. The boys didn’t drive to Hells Canyon; they hopped freights, hobo-style, and hitchhiked. But for a sure-handed fellow “passenger” who caught him, Burns would have been killed when he fell asleep and nearly fell off of a tanker car.

  Riding the rails was tame, however, compared with rafting the Snake pre-dams. Veteran river runner Blaine Stubblefield warned the boys that the river through the canyon was “deceptively calm, punctuated by steep drops and half-mile rollercoasters over boulders and whitewater runouts.”

  They were to experience the potentially deadly rollercoasters time and again. The danger was compounded  by a lack of gear that contemporary river runners would deem all but suicidal. Their  undersized raft was almost comically unsuited to the challenge. Their “helmets” were baseball caps.

  “We flipped faster and harder than a flapjack,” Gould wrote of their passage through one set of rapids. “The dump was so immediate that we never saw its cause. We swirled helter skelter in chaos. I was plunged six feet below the raft, helpless as a rag doll. My knees scraped rocks.

  “… The raft was upside down and, for now, there was no righting it. We both surfaced, fighting for air, clinging to the raft, which was intent on dragging us through endless rapids.”

  At another rapid, “the river descended sharply. It was like being heaved down the treads and risers of a long, steep stairway, and I wondered if our raft might toss me directly into a boulder instead of sliding around it. The river sank into another hole, then bounced me to the surface in time to grab another frog breath and then go under again.”

  As if the river weren’t enough of a challenge, the boys lost their shoes in one of the rapids and spent the duration of their journey barefoot while negotiating the canyon’s rocky river banks and prickly pear.

  They could have come close to starving as well. They didn’t have fishing poles, they only had enough money to buy three days worth of canned food, and the passage through the canyon would take a week.

  They were incredibly lucky, though. Not only did they survive multiple rapids that could have killed them in a heartbeat, they chanced upon a cabin where they sheltered from a storm and feasted on its comestibles – canned hominy, chili, pork and beans, Campbell’s soup and sardines.

  Their luck held for the duration of the trip. At the landing where they left the river, they met a fisherman and his son, who gave them a ride to within walking distance of White Bird. There they met a telephone operator who knew exactly who they were, told them Gould’s father had been calling and connected the two of them on an ancient switchboard.

  Sixty-plus years later, I asked him if he felt lucky to have survived.

  “Yes, I do, he said. “I most certainly would have drowned if I hadn’t had a rope to hang onto when I was dumped. I didn’t know how to swim.”

  He still doesn’t.

  On the back cover of “Barefoot in Hells Canyon,” Conley noted that he could not recall, “since the steamboats, a Snake River journey that quite rivals this one for interest, mettle and fortuity.”

  No argument.

How to get it: “Barefoot in Hells Canyon” may be ordered online at, $23.95 plus shipping. Also available at Rediscovered Books, 180 N. Eighth Street, in downtown Boise.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

Lowell Pool – Worth Saving

  The old pool clearly had seen better days.

  Its cement was cracked, its paint faded. Dirt and leaves had collected in the bottom of the deep end, along with a purple Royal Crown whisky bag. A gray, gloomy afternoon completed the melancholy tableau.

  The occasion was an open house at Lowell Pool, 1601 N. 28th Street, in Boise’s North End. Lowell, along with the pool at South Junior High School, has been closed for two summers. Built in 1953, they’ll need extensive repairs to reopen.

  How many years had it been since I’d set foot in Lowell Pool, once a virtual home away from home? Years?

  No, decades. More than I care to contemplate. 

  Stepping inside the entry’s double doorway brought at once a feeling of deja vu and a stark realization of how much time had passed. New and teeming with noisy, youthful customers when last I visited, the pool this time around was empty and silent, a forlorn ghost of its former self. 

  A sign by the doorway encouraged patrons to use sunscreen. Sunscreen hadn’t been invented when kids from my old neighborhood spent summer afternoons there. By the Fourth of July, our bodies were brown as bagels. Now we’re paying for those youthful tans in visits to dermatologists’ offices.

   Like so many things remembered from childhood, parts of the pool  seemed smaller. The changing and shower room, where the slap, slap, slap of flip-flops on the concrete floor reverberated through what seemed to be a seemingly spacious tunnel, felt cramped and claustrophobic. To say nothing of dark, dank and depressing.

  For those unfamiliar with Lowell and South pools, they were built using a design pioneered by engineer Wesley Blintz of Lansing, Mich. More than 100, according to the Wesley Blintz Swimming Pool Network, were built between 1919 and the 1960s. They saved cities money in construction costs because they were above ground, requiring little or no excavation. Plant facilities, changing rooms and showers were at ground level, the pools themselves upstairs.

   Lowell Pool was four blocks from my childhood home. Its opening day in 1953 was the biggest thing to hit the North End since the Lionel Train man set up shop.  Every kid who knew how to swim, and some who didn’t, was there. I was among them, despite having rudimentary knowledge at best of how to float, let alone swim.

  It was a big deal when a friend and I learned to float during a morning swimming lesson at the pool. Such a big deal that we rushed home to brag to our parents, and anyone else within hearing distance, that “we know how to face float!”

  The pool wasn’t heated, and the water early in the season was so cold your teeth chattered. This did not deter us, however. Within a few weeks we were doing cannonballs off of the low dive and swimming back to the end of the pool as if we’d been doing it all our lives.

  I was surprised to see during the open house that the high dive appeared to have been removed. Summoning the courage to jump from it was a rite of passage. You walked a little taller on the way home after that.

  The lifeguard stand also had been moved, from the north to the south side of the pool. How many times had we tried to flirt with the pretty lifeguards who were stationed there and been rebuffed as the pint-sized pests we were?

  We spent virtually every summer afternoon in Lowell Pool, often returning after dinner to swim until closing. It wasn’t just that we enjoyed swimming; the pool was one of the few places you could cool off on days so hot the tar on the streets bubbled in the sun.

  Though it was mainly kids who used the pool in the afternoons when their parents were working, it was common to see grownups there in the evenings. My mother and sister, who was ten years older than me, took swimming lessons there. Family nights at the pool were well attended. It was a magnet for both young and old.

  Looking back, I can’t recall happier, more carefree times than those spent in that wonderful old pool. It would be a shame to see it demolished, as has happened with many other Blintz pools around the country. Of the more than 100 that were built, according to the Blintz network’s website, only 17 remain. 

  And Boise has two of them! Lowell and South pools aren’t just swimming pools, they’re pieces of Americana. And from a design standpoint, they’re close to being unique.

  Those are compelling reasons to save them. Another is that the cost of renovating the pools and that of tearing them down and building new ones, according to Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway, would be about a push. It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to build new pools with zero history and probably not as much character, especially when most of the public testimony has favored keeping the old ones.  

  North and South End kids places to swim on hot summer days. Two summers without a pool is a long time for a kid, and a third is all but certain. 

  Here’s hoping the city gives the kids something to celebrate by the summer of 2023.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

After the Mardi Gras – Boise’s Gone From Five Ballrooms to None

  The view from the stage would have gladdened the heart of any musician.

  A sold-out show, an enthusiastic crowd. Hundreds of people dancing, laughing, enjoying an experience that, sadly, will never happen again.

 Bob Woollis, who was visiting from Syracuse, N.Y., called the evening “a fitting end to an era for a storied Boise landmark.”

  The occasion was last month’s Farewell to the Mardi Gras dance. After more than 60 years and hundreds of dances, the historic ballroom at 615 S. Ninth Street will be closing soon.  

  I was lucky enough to have been in one of the groups that played there that night. To say it was an honor would have been to state the obvious. Being on the stage where Buddy Rich, the Ventures, Buddy Guy and other legends played, knowing that the old ballroom’s long run was about to end, was both gratifying and bittersweet.

  The future of the Mardi Gras isn’t certain, except for the certainty that it won’t be a ballroom any more. Longtime owner Lydia Merrill died last year at 106, her heirs want to sell and the site – on the edge of downtown Boise – is worth a fortune to developers. The building might not be demolished, but don’t bet on it.

  Playing for the farewell dance took me back to playing for dances as a teenager at the Fiesta Ballroom – hundreds of young people dancing, the band playing hits of the era, the unique experience of participating in the time-honored tradition of a Saturday night dance. People must have danced more then, because Boise used to have five ballrooms.

  That’s not a misprint. There actually were five ballrooms in Boise:

  * The Fiesta Ballroom was on the second floor of the old Eagles Building at Sixth and Idaho Streets in downtown Boise. It was once an Arthur Murray Dance Studio. A man name Mel Day opened it as a teenage ballroom in the early 1960s and made it the place to go on Saturday nights.

  The group that played there was called the Fabulous Chancellors. One of its members, Phil Volk, went on to become a teen heartthrob known as “Fang” of Paul Revere and the Raiders, regulars on Dick Clark’s “Where the Action Is” television show. 

  Day closed the Fiesta, which had been dark for a couple of years when my group, the Mystics, reopened it in 1965. We played Saturday nights there for a couple of years, but it was more than a ballroom for us. It was a second home. We rehearsed there, had parties there, sat on the stage at night telling ghost stories with the old building creaking and groaning around us. Those were some of the best times of our lives.

  * The Trocadero Ballroom was on Overland Road, in the building that until recently housed a Reel Theatre. Del Chapman, a local deejay, held Friday and Saturday night dances there with music by local bands and national or regional acts of the early 1960s – the Marketts, Paul and Paula, the Wailers, Dick and Dee Dee, the Cascades, etc.

  The regular Saturday night band at the Trocadero was a group called the Hitchhikers, which included two former members of Paul Revere and the Raiders. Revere recruited most of his musicians from the Boise area in those days.

   * The Miramar Ballroom was on Fairview Avenue, where the Alden Waggoner Funeral Chapel is now. It was home to an excellent group called Dick Cates and the Chessmen. Cates was reminiscent of Roy Orbison, for the dark glasses they both wore but mostly because of his voice. Good as he was, Orbison had nothing on Cates as a singer.

  Like many local kids who hoped to be in a rock group one day, I all but idolized Cates and his band, never dreaming that one day I would play with them. A friend of mine took lessons from their drummer. When the Chessmen’s guitar player was too sick to play one night, he suggested me as replacement.

  “Hello, is this Tim?” a voice on the phone asked.


  “This is Dick Cates.”

  My heart all but stopped. Was this one of my friends playing a practical joke?

  An awkward silence. Cates pressed on, the power of speech having left me.

  “Darrell can’t make it to our dance tonight, and I was wondering if you could fill in for him.”

  If the Beatles had been around then – they were still a couple of years away – this would have been like asking if I could fill in for George Harrison. I got through the dance with a lot of help from the Chessmen’s bass player, who shouted chords at me all night, and floated home on a cloud of adolescent ecstasy.

  * The Rocking Castle was next-door to the Fiesta Ballroom. It was the domain of a group called the Quirks. We competed with them, a challenge as they were a very good band.

  * And of course the Mardi Gras, bringing the number of ballrooms to five.

  Now there will be none. There are a few places that have dance floors, but none that would qualify as ballrooms.

  Maybe that’s okay. Maybe young people don’t dance to live music as much any more.

  If so, they missed something.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

Duo to Perform at Sapphire Room, Tell Story of Life-Saving ‘Big Give’

 Musicians are noted for their generosity. Examples abound of musicians both famous and little known giving gifts both large and small.

  Big names from Taylor Swift and Elton John to Rihanna and Willie Nelson have donated millions to charities.

  A former bandmate of mine spent thousands to have a custom made guitar built and gave it to one of his students.

  Musicians routinely donate their time and talent for worthy causes.

  Heather Platts’s generosity went beyond donating time, talent or money.

  She donated one of her kidneys.

  Platts, who will be performing at the Riverside Hotel’s Sapphire Room on April 28, has been playing music most of her life. A native of Washington state, she majored in music composition and piano performance at the University of Idaho. A Twin Falls resident since 1996, she now writes, teaches, and performs music. 

  In 2014, searching for someone to produce an album of her material, she met Bruce Michael Miller online. Miller was a Nashville singer-songwriter and producer. She went to Nashville, he produced her record and they fell in love. So much so that Miller left his longtime home in Nashville and moved to Twin Falls, where they began performing as a duo called Crazy Love. 

  “When I got to Idaho, I wondered what there was to do here,” Miller   said. “Then I learned about the local geography and nature. There’s just something about the desert and the open spaces here. I’ve come to really love Idaho.”

  Neither of them will forget the 1,800-mile journey from Tennessee to Twin Falls.

  “We drove here from Nashville in a Subaru Outback with a U-Haul trailer and 17 guitars,” Platts said.

  A challenging journey for a person in perfect health. Miller wasn’t. He had been suffering for years from kidney disease.

  “I was into alternative medicine and was trying to stave it off with lifestyle changes,” he said. “I refused to believe that I was going to have a transplant or dialysis. I thought I could fix it.

  “When I came to Twin Falls, I found a kidney doctor. My numbers by then had started to plummet quickly. I was down to 10 percent kidney function. The doctor told me to go to a dialysis center and learn about dialysis.”

  Platts accompanied him to the appointment.

  “I was stunned to realize the gravity of the situation,” she said. “I went home and started Googling information about transplants and how to become a donor.”

  Hedging his alternative-medicine bet, Miller had already put himself on a waiting list for a kidney.

  The wait can be as long as eight years.

  So Platts started checking on whether she could be a donor.

  Bruce never asked me, and we didn’t talk about it,” she said. “But as I learned more and found that I could be a donor for him, it became obvious that it was a chance for me to save his life. … On average, 13 people a day die waiting for a kidney. I was blessed with good health. I was able to donate mine and still have  a perfectly normal life.”

  The transplant surgery was on Aug. 5, 2019 in Salt Lake City.

  Platts was in the hospital for three days, including the day of the surgery.

  It was “four weeks before I could return to work, and by six weeks I felt almost completely back to normal. Not a bad trade for saving a life!”

  She was the one who donated the kidney, but she says she received more than she gave. 

  “Initially it was a gift I was giving to Bruce, but the fact is the gift is actually mine. We all try to do good things but it’s those defining moments when we say yes to something big that we feel truly alive. It’s those defining moments that I think wake you up to the fact that life is incredibly precious. I’ve become part of the next chapter of Bruce’s life. I can say I’ve been a factor in the future of another human being. For me, that’s an incredible gift.”

  They say the gift changed both of their lives for the better. 

  “Heather not only saved my life, but I’ve changed as a result of her generosity and love,” Miller said. “I have a new sense of how precious life is, and I feel that I want to live in a way that makes me worthy of her gift by being more giving and present, by being kinder and more compassionate to others.”

  Their April 28 Crazy Love show at the Sapphire Room, with special guest Dan Costello, is titled “The Big Give.” They’ll be telling their story, playing and talking about the songs they’ve written and providing information on how to become a kidney donor.  

  “We try not to be preachy about it,” Platts said.

  Mostly, the evening will be about music. Platts is a talented pianist with a beautiful voice. Miller is first-rate guitarist and a good enough singer that he sang backups at a Paul McCartney concert in the Hollywood Bowl.

  Tickets are available at 

  If you go, you’ll hear some good music and interesting stories.

  Who knows? You might even end up donating a kidney that saves a life.

  And getting a gift of your own.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

Adventures of a One-armed Man

  One of my favorite  possessions for the last few weeks isn’t a material possession.

  It isn’t something worth a lot of money or a possession treasured  for its sentimental value.

  It isn’t something you’d put your hands on, unless you’re a family member or a close personal friend. 

  It’s my left arm.

  It’s surprising how we take things for granted, even body parts, until we don’t have them or can’t use them any more. 

  Last year, my left shoulder started to hurt. It didn’t seem particularly worrisome; the right shoulder and both knees had hurt in the past and gotten better. I figured the same thing would happen again.

  It didn’t. It got to the point that I couldn’t lift my arm without it hurting. Sometimes, for no better reason than a slight, seemingly harmless movement while driving or riding in a car, the pain would strike with such intensity that the resulting shriek made fellow passengers wonder if I was having a stroke.

  An MRI identified the problem as torn cartilage. 

  The doctor said it was common for old shoulder injuries to catch up with us. I may have hurt the shoulder playing football or baseball or skiing in my teens. Now it was collecting on an overdue debt.

  A steroid injection didn’t help. Physical therapy didn’t help. The only option left: surgery.

  In that I was lucky. The doctor and nurses at St. Luke’s Sports Medicine couldn’t have taken better care of me. The surgery went well; the prognosis was positive. All I had to do was wear a sling for a week, followed by physical therapy.

  The worst part wasn’t the surgery. It wasn’t the anesthetic. It wasn’t even the pain. There was so little pain from the operation that the high-powered pills the doctor prescribed weren’t necessary. 

  The worst part, hands down:  the sling. The seemingly simple act of wearing it literally kept me up nights.

  We tend to think of slings as simple pieces of cloth that tie around the neck and are wide enough at the bottom to support an injured arm, which rests comfortably against the chest. The sort of sling seen in old movies. 

  The sling prescribed for my surgery had almost nothing in common with the old-fashioned variety. It was more of a combination sling and  brace. The brace is secured with a strap around the waist and rests  against the hip. The arm rests on the brace and sticks straight out at a 90-degree angle from the elbow.

  Picture sleeping on your back with one of your arms sticking straight up all night. You can’t sleep in bed; you have to sleep sitting in a recliner.

  If you’re a back sleeper, this might be at least marginally comfortable, arm pointing straight up notwithstanding. A side sleeper, I can’t sleep more than a few minutes on my back.

  This meant that for a week I probably averaged two or three hours sleep a night. Just scooching onto the recliner and trying to get the pillow and blankets situated with one arm all but useless was a practically a gymnastics feat. It was a good thing my wife was two floors away, unable to hear the grunts, groans and increasingly colorful language. 

  Dressing oneself with an arm in a sling can be equally challenging. How, for example, do you put socks on with one hand?

  Answer:  With difficulty, accompanied by inordinate grumbling.

  How do you wash your hands with one arm in a sling?

  Answer:  Same as above.

  The sling can be removed for showering and dressing, but how do you get dressed when you can barely move one of your arms?

  Answer: Same as above, with help from spouse. 

  It was a happy day when the physician’s assistant cleared me to “wean” myself off of the sling as she put it. The weaning lasted as long as it took to get to the car, take off the sling and drive over it.

  Just kidding. I didn’t really drive over it, tempting as it was. 

  It was wonderful to get my arm back. Certain movements were forbidden, however, such as twisting a lid off of a jar. I dealt with a particularly stubborn lid by taking it to my workshop, putting it in a vise and twisting it off one-handed. It was the most use I’ve gotten out of that vise in months.

  None of this is meant to be taken as whining. I’m lucky, actually, only having to be in the sling for a week. If the shoulder tear had been in the rotator cuff rather than the cartilage, it would have been six weeks.

  And look at all the people who lose the use of an arm permanently.  Compared with that, shoulder surgery is nothing.

  With the sling no longer needed, the question was what to do with it. My first thought was a bonfire.

  It was kind of expensive, though, and who knows when it might be needed again? Prudence dictated hanging on to it; I just don’t want to see it or think about it.

  It’s resting comfortably now.

  In the attic.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblogcom the following Mondays. Contact him at

The Day I Was Attacked by Elvis

Tim Woodward is recovering from surgery so today’s column is a Woodward Classic, originally published in The Idaho Statesman in 2007. His regular columns should resume in two weeks.

  One of the last things a happily married person expects to be involved in is a love triangle. It happened to me during a recent assignment.

  The participants in the triangle were myself, a woman named Andrea Zollweg – and Elvis.

  Elvis is a formidable individual. His sudden, seemingly unprovoked attack on me erupted with such intensity that if he hadn’t been locked up I’d have feared for my life.

  The fact that Elvis is a 13-pound spider monkey is beside the point. He may be small, but he’s as scary as any animal alive.

  My assignment was a Labor Day story about people who do what some would consider dirty jobs. As part of her job as a zookeeper at Zoo Boise, Zollweg has to clean up after the animals.

   The zoo was where photographer Joe Jaszewski and I met Zollweg and Elvis. Joe, who arrived there ahead of me and was taking photographs when I arrived, later confided that he’d had the benefit of an advance warning.

  “They said I shouldn’t even look him in the eye. I didn’t dare raise a camera to him.”

  There wasn’t time for him to say that as I stepped into the monkey compound, however. All he managed to get out was a whispered, “Don’t make eye contact!” I thought he was talking about Zollweg.

  No eye contact? Why wouldn’t he want me to make eye contact with her? She didn’t look intimidating at all. Just the opposite, in fact. A friendlier more cheerful person would have been hard to imagine.

  “Good morning,” I said, reaching to shake her hand. “I’m Tim Wood …”

  That’s when one of the monkey the cages exploded. Elvis, its occupant, leaped onto its door, clenching its wire grate with his fingers and toes and shaking it so violently it looked like the hinges would tear loose. His body rocked back and forth like Richard Simmons on amphetamines. I was about a yard away with my back to him and had no idea the outburst was coming.

  It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that I came out of my skin. I may even have temporarily lost the power of speech. But I categorically deny wetting my pants.

  As if hurling himself against the cage door wasn’t enough, Elvis was shrieking like a deranged “American Idol” contestant.

   “I’m going to have nightmares about this,” Joe said.

  “Is he always like this?” I asked Zollweg,

  Impossible as it seemed, that made Elvis even angrier. He slammed himself against the cage door with such demonic fury that we’d have  been justified in calling an exorcist. Forgetting Joe’s advice, I briefly made eye contact.

  Two things about that were unnerving. One was that Elvis’s eyes were a psychotically vibrant shade of blue. Who ever heard of a monkey with blue eyes? 

  The other unnerving thing was that those vibrant, blue eyes seethed with hatred. Every fiber of Elvis’s being was focused on annihilating me. There wasn’t the slightest doubt that if he’d gotten out – and the wires of the cage door suddenly looked way too flimsy – he’d have finished me off in less time than it takes a pit bull to finish a Slim Jim.

  “I’m going to have nightmares about this,” Joe repeated.

  Elvis calmed down a bit when we left the cage to go to the visitors’  area, where Zollweg revealed the shocking truth.

  “I’ve worked here long enough that he thinks I’m part of his harem,” she said.

  “Harem? You’re joking.”

  “No. He sees you as competition. Watch this.”

  She put her hand on my shoulder for about half a second, long enough for Elvis to erupt in another gymnastic fit of rage.

  Asked how Elvis and her husband got along, she smiled playfully and said, “My husband doesn’t know about me and Elvis.”

  At that point we opted to leave the monkey compound, ostensibly to watch her and a coworker clean the “rain forest.” In truth I wanted to put as much distance as possible between myself and the glowering primate, who smoldered and simmered while conversing with some other spider monkeys. My guess is that he was bargaining for some wire cutters, or possibly an AK-47.

  I left the zoo that day feeling limitless gratitude to the designers of the cage door that had held firm against Elvis’s assault. True, he’s just a spider monkey, not a lion or a tiger or a baboon. But never have I witnessed anything close to his consuming, murderous wrath. Compared with that, lions and tigers seem almost gentle,

  Later, Zollweg told me Elvis’s age. He’s 40, ancient for a spider monkey

  An old man, in other words, long past his prime.

  I think I’m going to have nightmares about this.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

Boise’s Oldest Store to Close

  David Graves jokes that he’s “the mayor of Eighth Street.”

  “If there were such a thing, I’d be it,” he said. 

  Graves has worked at the Alexander Davis men’s clothing store in downtown Boise for 38 years. He’s sold suits to senators, governors, mayors and billionaires.

  And to regular folks who just want to look good in their clothes. He’s waited on as many as four generations of the same families.

  The store is a piece of Idaho history. Alexander Davis, 812 W. Bannock Street, is the oldest retail store in the city and possibly in the state.

  It was founded in 1891 by Moses Alexander, a two-time Boise mayor and Idaho governor. The store has operated continuously for 131 years, supplying menswear to customers from miners and farmers to tycoons and statesmen. Hanging on one of its walls is a framed copy of its workman’s compensation policy – Policy No. 1A, the first ever issued in Idaho. 

  An upscale store with high-end merchandise, expert tailoring and employees with decades of experience, it’s believed to be the eleventh oldest clothing store in the U.S. 

   But its  long run is about to end.

  “It’s time,” Graves said. “Our last day will be April 30.”

  Graves purchased the store from the Alexander family in 2006. Covid hurt sales, as it has for many businesses, and after nearly 40 years of working there he was ready to retire.

  In his time at the store, he’s sold suits to Idaho’s U.S. senators, Gov. Robert E. Smylie and every other governor since Cecil Andrus, seven in all. His customers have included Idaho’s potato king, J.R. Simplot, and Joe Albertson, founder of the Albertsons grocery store chain.

  As you might expect, he’s had his share of memorable encounters with customers.

  “There was a time on a Saturday after closing time when I heard a panicked knock on the door. I opened it, and a guy walks in and says ‘I need an outfit for a wedding tonight!’”

  Graves found a sport jacket for the man, pressed it and “told him with assurance he would blend into the wedding crowd with ease and not to worry. The wedding was for 7:30 that night, and it was after 6:30 at this point.”

   On his way out, the customer told Graves that he wasn’t merely part of the wedding crowd. He was the groom.

   “I don’t know how it all turned out as I never saw the man again.”

  Another customer clearly had hoisted one too many before coming to the store to complain about the way his new shoes fit.

  Actually just one shoe. He said it was so tight it hurt his foot. The other shoe seemed to fit just fine.

  The customer had had so much to drink he didn’t realize that when he put the shoe on he forgot to remove the shoe horn.

   “It took a heck of a tug to get it out,” Graves said.

  When he began working in the store, there were a dozen Alexander Davis stores from Twin Falls to Ontario, Ore. Downtown Boise had multiple menswear stores –  Alexander Davis, Reilly’s, Roper’s, Men’s Wardrobe, Marshall’s … It had four theaters, five department stores.

  “Downtown used to be the place to come for high quality, interesting businesses,” Graves said. “There were men’s and women’s clothing stores, high-end department stores, five jewelry stores … That’s all changed now.”

  One reason for that was the opening of Boise Towne Square Mall in 1988. Many of the kinds of stores that used to be downtown are in the suburbs now.

  Another reason has to do with ways downtown has changed. 

  “I’m a two-stop shop. Most often you have to come back after what you bought is tailored. You have to park twice, and parking has changed with bike lanes.

  “When Covid hit, the city allowed patio dining for bars and restaurants. Sidewalks became choke points with pedestrians, scooters, bicycles and skateboards. The dynamics of the city have changed.”

  Now the changing city is about to lose an iconic business that has stood the test of time, and then some.   

  “Everything good has to come to an end,” Graves said. “It’s bittersweet, but I think it’s time for me to retire and enjoy what a weekend is. It’s unheard of for retailers to get two days off in a row.” 

  He considers himself “the last of of the old guard,” owners of Roper’s, Brookover’s, Angleton’s and other downtown stores, now fading memories.

  “What I’ll remember most are the wonderful people who have supported us. It’s comforting knowing that the store has impacted a lot of people. My head’s held high. I feel like we’ve been a good steward for the community.”

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

When Journalists Were Colorful

 Here’s to the late Miriam Barr, who died last month at 99, with almost half of her long life spent as a journalist. May she now be writing stories for the ages on a celestial typewriter reserved for her exclusive use. 

  I met her when she was just a kid in her late forties, working out of The Idaho Statesman’s Caldwell bureau office. I was the new kid on the block, hired just out of college to help with the paper’s Canyon County coverage. A co-worker confided that Miriam was a bit of a character, an assertion she wasted no time confirming.

  A woman with snow white hair and piercing eyes greeted me on my first day at the tiny bureau office.

  “Hello,” she said. “I’m Miriam. The file cabinets and the desk next to them are mine. The other desk is yours. The typewriter on that desk is  yours, too. Don’t ever touch the typewriter on my desk.”

  The last sentence was spoken with as much vehemence as if she’d been telling me not to rummage through her underwear drawer.

  My successor in the bureau learned just how possessive she was of that typewriter, a gleaming, black Underwood with a touch as soft as a baby’s cheek. He thought he’d have the office all to himself one afternoon when she walked in and caught him using her typewriter.

  “What did she do?” I asked him.

  “She picked it up and threw it across the office.”

  She was an old-school reporter who seldom strayed from her beat, but wasn’t afraid to take on those who offended her sense of propriety. The owner of pornographic book store learned that the hard way when she tracked him down in another state and grilled him mercilessly for an investigative story. 

  Barr was one of a legion of colorful characters once common in newsrooms. A few were famous for being colorful.

  The late Charles McCabe of the San Francisco Chronicle was said to have had a desk in the paper’s newsroom – where no one had seen him in years.

  One of his favored haunts for writing his columns – which could be about anything from the benefits of sleeping in to the difference between shower people and bath people – was a North Beach bar. If he didn’t finish a column by his fifth bottle of “the Green Death,” his name for Rainier Ale, he threw it away and started another one.

   Statesman Sportswriter Jim Poore was locally famous as a larger-than-life character. Tipping the scales at more than 300 pounds, he was forever meaning to lose weight but unable to resist temptation.

  “Hey, Woodward,” he would say. “Let’s get in that ugly little car of yours and go to the Fanci Freeze for a Boston Shake (a hot fudge sundae at the bottom of a milkshake).” When a waitress turned to leave after taking his order for a family sized combination pizza and a pitcher of Coke, his dinner companion memorably called after her, “Wait! I’d like something to eat, too.”

  Hanging from a wall in my home is a framed poster for the Jim Poore Invitational Golf Tournament, illustrated with a photo of a  pepperoni, olive and golf-ball pizza.

  Jim divided his mail into two piles, bills and everything else. The bills he consigned to a trash compactor.

  He didn’t file a tax return for several years year in a row, prompting an “invitation” to visit with IRS agents. He left them laughing – and the IRS owing him money. Impossible to refuse or dislike, he charmed a dour, tight-fisted editor into sending him and me to England to look for ghosts.

  And he wrote beautifully and almost effortlessly. 

  Al Shayt was an old-school Statesman copy editor. He wore a green eyeshade, had the unusual hobby of fashioning model airplanes out of soda and beer cans, and was a gambler extraordinaire.

  Returning from weekends in Jackpot, Nev., he elicited “oohs” and “aahs” from envious co-workers by pulling fat wads of hundred-dollars bills from his pockets. He had invented a winning system and even written a short book about it.

  We were shocked the weekend he returned with no Benjamins in his pockets.

  “They called me into the casino manager’s office the minute I walked in the door,” he explained. “He said they were not in the business of providing second incomes for their customers and that I was banned from setting foot in the place.”

  He most likely responded with his trademark expression:

  “Well, I’ll be a bruised peach.”

  A few weeks of becoming a persona non grata in Jackpot, he quit his job at the paper and moved.

  To Atlantic City, N.J.

  Features editor Betty Penson traveled the world on press junkets, staying in five-star hotels and dining with the likes of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. Like Barr, she was not a woman to be crossed, as I learned after a column of mine mentioned her with what she judged to be a lack of deference. Biting references to “young Woodward” appeared in her columns intermittently for the remainder of her career. 

  Copy editor Gordon Peterson wore a cowboy hat, shirt and boots – and occasionally chaps – to work. With his long white hair and beard, he could have passed for Wild Bill Hickok’s older brother. 

  He came by the look honestly, having previously worked as a cowboy and as an editor for the Tombstone Epitaph, the paper famed for its coverage of the 1881 Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It was rumored that he kept a bottle of whiskey in one of his desk drawers. Having alcohol on the premises was strictly forbidden, but he was so good at his job that he was allowed to get away with it.  

  They don’t make newspaper characters like that any more, and in some ways that may be a good thing. Journalists today look and act more professional. 

  But they sure aren’t as colorful. 

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

The Real Book Typo Culprit

  A woman I know stops reading a book if she finds a typo. It doesn’t matter how much of it she’s read. She could be several hundred pages into a book she’s crazy about and a single typo stops her cold.

  She’d have made it as far as page 46 in my latest book.

  As you know if you read it or have seen The Idaho Press’s  advertisements for it, the book is a memoir. It’s about many of the things that comprise a life, but mainly it’s about growing up in a very different Boise of 35,000 people, playing in a rock band and my career as a reporter and columnist at The Idaho Statesman.

  With the first printing a few dozen books short of being sold out and the jury out on whether to do another printing I can write about it without  shamelessly promoting it. Who writes an article to promote a book that’s almost out of print? And it’s not really the book itself that’s today’s subject. Mostly I wanted to write about its typos – to explain to readers that it wasn’t cobbled together singlehandedly by a feebleminded geezer who couldn’t find his reading glasses and wouldn’t know a typo from a Bingo chip. 

  There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that is easier to miss than a typo in a book. Including the time spent writing it, I must have read the entire manuscript a dozen times or more, and parts of it more than that. Three other people read it, too, all of them smart, well-read individuals. I’d have sworn that there were’t any typos or other mistakes in the book, yet some horrifyingly obvious mistakes got by every one of us.

  One of the more embarrassing was a wrong last name, specifically the wrong last name of the late Jim Morrison, lead singer for the 1960s rock group the Doors. I’ve played some of Morrison’s songs, known about him forever, and for a reason that is a complete mystery to me wrote Morrissey instead Morrison.

  Morrissey? I’ve known plenty of people named Morrison, but to the best of my knowledge have never known a soul named Morrissey, or even heard the name before. What would possess me to write such a thing? It would be like writing John Lemmon or Paul McCartly.

  One of the proof readers who painstakingly reviewed the manuscript was a teenager in the 1960s, is well versed in the music of the era and was horrified to learn that she missed such a glaring error. 

  That made two of us.

  Some of the easiest typos to miss are words repeated that shouldn’t be. A textbook example is found at the bottom of the aforementioned page 46: 

  “It was far enough from the city proper that I’d fall asleep on the on the way home.”

  That, at least, is understandable. The eye goes right over those sorts of things.

  Less understandable, and arguably the most embarrassing mistake in the book, is a sentence about my late Aunt Nita and Uncle Edward. What makes it even more embarrassing is that it took a reader to bring it to my attention weeks after the book was released. Aunt Nita and Uncle Edward became Aunt Edward and Uncle Nita.

  Aunt Edward? Uncle Nita? How could any of us, let alone all four of us, have missed that?

  A mistake that jumped out the first time I held the book in my hands had to do with my mother’s name. A cutline accompanying her picture identifies her as Margaret Woodward.

  Her name was Marguerite Woodward.

  There are a lot of things I don’t know or may be a bit hazy on, but one thing I do know beyond any possible doubt is my mother’s name. There is no way on God’s Earth I would have called her Margaret.

  So how did it happen? A good question. I’ve been working with Jeanne Huff, my Idaho Press editor, long enough to know she wouldn’t have changed it, so my best guess is that it happened somewhere in the publishing process.

  It helps a little bit to know that no one escapes the typo curse and that some typos are laugh-out-loud funny.

  One of my favorites was in a cutline on the front page of a weekly newspaper in a small town in Washington State. The town was so small that when its only church got a new minister after months without one, it was big news. Pictured on the front page were the new minister, his wife and their three sons.

  Except that what should have been an “o” in “sons” was an “i.”

  Not even bestsellers from major publishers are immune. Amor Towles’s “The Lincoln Highway,”  for example. It was a No. 1 New York Times best seller, chosen  by Time, NPR, The Washington Post, Barack Obama and others as a Best Book of the Year.

  The porpoise notwithstanding.

  The porpoise makes its unlikely appearance on page 456 of “The Lincoln Highway.” It splashed onto the page where Towles intended to write “purpose.”

  The book was published by the venerable Viking Press, whose authors have included D.H. Lawrence, Sherwood Anderson, James Joyce, John Steinbeck and other great writers. It presumably has some pretty fair proof readers as well. 

  One of the most infamous typos, an omitted word, occurred in a reprint of the King James Bible. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” became “Thou shalt commit adultery.” It inspired the reprint’s enduring nickname, “The Wicked Bible.” 

  What could be responsible for such egregious errors finding their way past even the most conscientious proof readers?

  I think it’s the devil.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

Normalcy Revisited: No more Column Reruns

  It’s been two years now since the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency that disrupted life as we knew it. It wasn’t long before one thing after another was being canceled or suspended. 

  Including this column. The pandemic-related loss of advertising revenues led to my new columns being reduced from every other Sunday to once a month, alternating with previously published columns.

  Omicron notwithstanding, maybe things are looking up. Some medical experts are predicting that after a tough couple of months, we may have something approaching herd immunity by spring. And starting today, I’m back to writing a new column every other Sunday. No more reruns. 

  Actually, I kind of enjoyed doing what came to be called the “Woodward Classics.” It wasn’t a lot of fun retyping them, but they were fun to revisit.

  A few of my favorites:

  * State of the art confusion, inspired by shopping for a new stereo and understanding almost nothing of what the sales people said. Their incomprehensible jargon about bandwidths, energy transients, harmonic distortion and other gibberish left me feeling, as my mother used to say, “like two cents waiting for change.” Nobody wants to go shopping and be made to feel stupid. It’s been a lot of years since that column was first published, and I still haven’t bought any new components. My old, hopelessly outdated stereo is just fine, thank you.

  * National Nude Weekend. This actually happened. It was billed as a “celebration of nude recreation, sun and freedom by nudists from coast to coast.”

  An American Sunbathing Association representative I interviewed said there were 50,000 card carrying nudists in the U.S. He wasn’t amused when I asked him where they carried their cards.

  The column was a satire. Promoting nudity was the farthest thing from my mind, but at least one person took it seriously. She furiously demanded to know just who I thought I was to encourage readers of a general circulation newspaper to walk around naked all weekend. 

  * A Textbook Woodward Vacation. Readers used to ask whether my wife’s and my vacations when our kids were small were as bad as they sounded in print. They were.

  One of the more memorable began with arriving at Yellowstone Park during a rare summer snowstorm:

  “The weather was so miserable that we left Yellowstone and drove to a fishing hot spot in Montana, where the fish weren’t biting but the mosquitoes were ravenous. My wife fell in the river. … One of our daughters woke up the next morning with chicken pox. Two days later, I had them. We opted to come home early, having had as much vacation as we could stand.” 

  Some of the reruns were mini-profiles of memorable Idahoans – raptor expert Morley Nelson, construction magnate Harry Morrison, the Small family of Small, Idaho (once listed in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the smallest town in America), “Prairie Captain” Bob Ertter, whose double life took him every other week from selling groceries in a tiny store on the Camas Prairie to running an oil tanker on the San Francisco Bay.

 Now I wish I’d reprised more of those. Idaho has been home to enough colorful characters to fill a book. And then some. 

  It was tempting to rerun some old columns that, for one reason or another, didn’t make the cut.

  * A column about an alarming number of U.S. senators who looked like Elmer Fudd. I ended up not using it because some younger readers may have no idea who Elmer Fudd was (a cartoon character doomed to being forever outwitted by Bugs Bunny).

  * The Lowman Burping Contest. This also actually happened. It was a way for locals to pass the time because, as one of them pointed out, “the winters are pretty long up here in the mountains.”

  The contest’s winner, for the second consecutive year, was a woman named Rose.

  “You probably think all this is silly or disgusting, and maybe it is,” the column concluded. “But everyone had a good time, nobody got hurt and, as previously noted, the winters can be awfully long in Lowman. As I buttoned my coat and walked out into the snow, a mocking shout broke the stillness of the forest.

  “‘Come on Rose! The contest is over.’”

  * A column about one of the state’s political parties giving an award to a congressman newly released from prison for failing to report nearly a third of a million dollars in financial transactions while serving in Congress. Readers could be forgiven for thinking there was no honor in politics.

  And how could I forget Elvis? Elvis was a spider monkey at Zoo Boise. When I went there to interview a zookeeper, he saw me as a rival for her affections.

  Elvis’s eyes were “a psychotically vibrant shade of blue and seethed with hatred. Every fiber of his being was focused on annihilating me. There wasn’t the slightest doubt that if he’d gotten out – and the wires of his cage door suddenly looked way too flimsy – he’d have finished me off in less time than it takes a pit bull to finish a Slim Jim.”

  Fun as it would have been to run some of those columns again, the return to all new columns is welcome. And maybe, just maybe, the hoped-for end to the pandemic is just months away. Fingers crossed on that. 

  The most difficult thing about writing a regular column, as anyone who does it will tell you, is the ongoing need for new subjects. I’m always looking for them, and ideas from readers would be appreciated.

  Something you’d like to see in the paper?

  An interesting story?

  A colorful  character?

  Someone with a unique job, hobby or collection?

  I’d love to hear about it. You can reach me at the email address below.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

Love Letter to Idaho

Tim Woodward’s new columns have been alternating with Woodward Classics during the pandemic. This one, slightly modified here, originally was published in The Idaho Statesman after the Mt. St. Helens volcanic eruption in 1980.

  A fair part of the state has choked on volcanic ash, and a scientist has predicted Idaho will fall into the sea.

  No resumes are in my mailbox; no moving van is outside my door

  A world without Idaho? Unthinkable.

  What is Idaho?

  Idaho is mountains. John Steinbeck called them real mountains that reach to the sky.

  Idaho is farm country. It’s irrigated valleys with shimmering arcs of portable water, rain-swept hills of green grain. Smudge pots and spray planes and sweet-pungent earth. 

  Idaho is basins where the snow never melts, forests where the sun hardly shines, sagebrush immensities where you can spend a whole day and hear nothing but the wind.

  Idaho is an old man lamenting the demise of his favorite trout stream, a newcomer flushed with the discovery of unpolluted air and free campgrounds.

  Idaho is heart-stopping emptiness, half again as large as England with a fiftieth as many people. You can start at the northern border and drive all day without seeing the southern border or a high-rise building.

  Idaho is Sun Valley, America’s first ski resort. Exclusive shops, cocktails in the Duchin Room, suntanned jet-setters in gleaming Porsches. Grand memories – Cooper and Hemingway, Shearer and Sothern, Harriman and the UP – and simple fun – a Volkswagen full of backpacks and pizza at Louie’s.

  Idaho is corporations with offices from coast to coast, a weekly newspaper with a staff of one.

  Idaho is an abandoned cabin on a windswept plain, a lonely teacher in a one-room school.

  It’s elk grazing on a hillside, jackrabbits dying on a highway.

  It’s hermits in the back country, newcomers in the suburbs.

  It’s smog and computerized traffic, a town with a single parking meter.

  Idaho is a thousand little towns with names that dance lightly on the tongue:  Santa and Jerusalem and Coeur d’Alene, Eden and Hope, Pearl and Gem, Harvard and Princeton, Elk Creek and Three Creek, Grimes Pass and Good Grief. Bear, Eagle, White Bird, Elk River, Duck Valley, Horseshoe Bend.

 Idaho is millionaires. We have the Potato King, the Supermarket King, the Timber King and other royalty, and wages among the lowest in the nation.

  Idaho is a mansion with a view of a skyline, a baby crying in a migrant labor camp. Idaho is a general store with everything in the midst of nothing, a restaurant that serves eight kinds of homemade pie in the middle of nowhere.

  Idaho is wilderness: jade lakes in granite basins, stories around the campfire, hot springs under the stars. It’s huckleberries and hummingbirds and hunters in the hills. Raptors and rookeries and rivers on the run.

  Idaho is Basque country. Chorizos on the grill, weightlifters in the park, Oinkari dancers in the streets. Girls with flashing eyes and boys in tow, a solitary sheepherder in a wagon called home.

  Idaho is Indian heritage – Sacajawea, Chief Joseph, Pocatello – and Indian reality – Fort Hall, Lapwai, Duck Valley.

  Idaho has been called a natural paradise and a cultural backwater.  The reality is somewhere in between. You can’t pigeonhole a state like Idaho. It’s too big, too diverse; a geographic jumble, a cultural stew. 

  Idaho can be ugly, barroom brawls, dirty politics, sewage flowing from a pipe – and it can be lovely – flowers on the Camas Prairie, a full moon over Hells Canyon, sunlight on the St. Joe. Anyplace in the mountains. Any mountains. Take your pick.

  Other states have beckoned, but the sum of their offers is at best a trade. When you’re tired of Idaho, you’re tired of life.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him a

Has Boise Lost Its Soul?

 When one of my recent columns asked readers for help tracking down a man who wanted to leave Boise 30 years ago because he thought it was getting too big, I figured the odds of finding him were about the same as those of finding Slim the cockatiel.

  Slim, a Woodward family pet, flew out an open door and into the sunset more than 20 years ago. 

  The name of the man who thought Boise was too big is Don Taylor. According to there are 649 Don Taylors in the U.S.

  Long odds against finding him. And after three decades and counting, there was no guarantee that he was even alive. 

  So you can imagine my surprise when he emailed me. a relative and a friend of his hand read the column and told him I was trying to find him. 

  Taylor, 71, grew up in Boise when its population was 35,000, roughly 15 percent of what it is now. There were two tall buildings, and one of them was the Statehouse. Traffic was non-existent. Anything west of Curtis Road was considered rural. He and his family lived on a  farm that’s now part of Interstate 84.

  Disillusioned by how much the city had changed since then, he dreamed of moving to a small town with “a sense of community, a phone book less than half an inch thick, no traffic-watch planes and no mall.”

  Did that happen?

  Did he in fact move to a smaller town?

  If so, how have things worked out there?

  Does he ever return to Boise, and if so what’s his take on it today?

  It turns out that Taylor and his wife, Jacque, did in fact move to their dream town. It just took about 25 years longer than expected.

  “We had three young kids, and we had to get the kids raised before we moved,” he said. 

  Their dream town?

  Nehalem, Ore. They moved there in 2016. 

  “We’d gone there on our first family vacation with the kids and fell in love with the place,” he said. “We finally moved there five and half years ago when we retired.”

  Nehalem is on the Oregon Coast. Its population, according to the latest U.S. Census estimates, is 303.

  “They call it a town, but to me it’s more of a village. It’s a river town, a fishing and logging town. Things don’t change much in Nehalem. They built some nice pickle ball courts recently. That’s about the only thing that’s changed in the time we’ve lived there.”

  Is tiny Nehalem what they were hoping for when the Taylors left booming Boise? Are they happy there?

  “Very happy,” he replied. “We just love it.”

  Jacque Taylor says she feels “perfectly at home in Nehalem. No traffic, noise, sky or air pollution. That’s a huge plus. And we felt a sense of community from the get-go. … We went to our local Grange yesterday for a Christmas bazaar and ran into so many people we know. That used to happen in Boise, but not any more.”

  Their oldest daughter was nine when the Taylors discovered Nehalem during the family vacation, in 1991. She was so taken by the place that she wanted to be married there. 

  And she was, in 2006. She and her family now run two inns there. 

  The Taylors’ other daughter got engaged on the beach at Nehalem. Her fiancé knew how important the area was to her so he brought her there to propose.

  Nehalem’s slower pace suits the Taylors just fine. Retired from their respective careers in electronics and banking, Don and Jacque spend their free time playing pickle ball, kayaking and cycling. They enjoy spending time on a beach a mile from their home and are active in a community garden and land trust.

  That said, Jacque added that Nehalem isn’t perfect and isn’t for everyone:

  “I’m not saying that we don’t have problems. Growth is also a huge issue here. (But) there are policies in place that don’t allow any franchises or buildings more than two stories. … As more people of our generation are retiring, they’re selling their homes in Portland and moving to the coast. Building is occurring, but it’s happening with a lot of community input.”

  As much as they love the area, she adds that “it’s not for everyone. You have to drive 25 miles north or south to get to retail stores. … The closest Costco is 50 miles north.  We’re good with all that. It’s so worth it living here because of the soul of our community.

 Their take on Boise today?

 “We have friends who had to move out of Boise for work and then came back,” Don said. “We asked them how they felt being back in Boise. They said ‘We still love Boise, but Boise’s lost its soul.’”

  The Taylors saw the Boise they knew and loved slipping away from them more than 30 years ago.

  “As farms and land disappeared, we could see what was happening,” Jacque said. “Boise was being loved to death. We as natives felt like the minority.”

  If anything, the trend has accelerated. We didn’t used to see a lot of out-of-state license plates in what recently OF LATE? has become one of the nation’s fastest growing cities. Now you can’t drive more than a few blocks without seeing them.  

  “I hear friends who live in Boise complaining about how much bigger it’s gotten, and they moved to Boise just ten or 15 years ago,” Don said. “It’s changed a lot just since then.

  “ I hate seeing this done to communities all over the country. People move to places for the quality of life, and then it’s destroyed. We shouldn’t be doing that. We should be able to protect and preserve that quality of life in the places we love.”

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

When the Last Kid Leaves Home

Tim Woodward’s new columns are alternating with Woodward Classics during the pandemic. This one originally appeared in The Idaho Statesman in 2007.

  It’s almost spooky at our house these days. The other night I woke up and went downstairs to turn off a light that wasn’t on. I thought it was our son, up for one of his nocturnal snacks with a light turned low, but it was the moon shining through a kitchen window. 

  I see him in his room, on the computer, around every other corner. I hear a television and think it’s his voice. I start to reply, then realize he isn’t home. 

  And won’t be any time soon.

  Our youngest left home last week to attend school in another city. For the first time in years, there are no kids at our house. Just the two of us now, rattling around in a house built for five – seven if you include a deceased dog and a pet cockatiel that has long since flown. 

  Some of the changes have been okay. We buy a box of cereal and it’s still there the next day. The stereo is getting a breather, the fury of Metallica serenely absent. These, however, are small things. The big thing is more complicated.

  When you first have kids, you feel like they’ll be around forever. Then you make the mistake of blinking and they’re gone. That’s when you start to wonder, in all that unaccustomed stillness, whether you wasted too much time along the way. You wonder whether you appreciated them enough, whether you did enough for them.

  Were you a good enough parent?

  If you had it to do again, would you do it differently?

  Everyone who has children knows a time will come to let go, but the generations don’t seem to learn much about it from each other. A letter my parents wrote after I left for the Navy has come to mind a lot lately. They wrote about how quiet it was around the house – I was the last kid, too – and how they were struggling to fill the time once taken by parenting. 

  A few blinks later, I’m in exactly the same situation, never thought to ask them how they handled it, and now it’s too late.

  Should we do what they did – play golf, go fishing, buy an RV?

  Somehow I don’t see myself in golf shoes and a pork pie hat, muscling a gas hog around Arizona.

  Part of the problem is that we didn’t plan for this. Like many parents, we’ve been so wrapped up in work and being parents that we never gave a thought to how we’d fill the time when there was no one around to parent. 

  Canoeing, maybe? Canoes have always intrigued me. Maybe we could buy a canoe.

  No, that wouldn’t work. My wife hates canoes.


  No, too expensive.

  Ballroom dancing?

  No, one of us is too clumsy. (Hint: it’s not my wife.)

  One thing that does help fill the time is that we’re having to do the things our newly departed son used to do around the house, primarily cooking. He gets it from his grandfather, who also loved to cook.

  Maybe there’s some  hope there. I have my eye on an Internet cookbook. Maybe a latent gene will kick in and I’ll while away my anecdotage puttering with pots and pans.

  It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. When people learned that our nest was newly empty, their reactions varied wildly. The wildest was an observation that with the kids gone we could walk around the house naked.

  The neighborhood is breathless with anticipation.

  The most insightful question anyone has asked so far is whether we still know how to talk to each other now that the kids are gone.


  But a fair amount of the conversation tends to be about the kids. Something that fills three decades of your life doesn’t just go away. You never really stop being a parent.

  You do have to move on, though. It would be nice to tell you we have that part figured out, but we don’t. Not yet, anyway. Talking about the kids and puttering in the kitchen will only get you so far, and continually seeing a face that isn’t there is one of the worst kinds of lonely.

  If any of you who read this have a suggestion, I’d love to hear it.

  And if you read this, Mark, know that your parents still miss you like crazy.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

Mardi Gras Owner Dies at 106; Iconic Boise Ballroom to be Sold

  On a recent Saturday, for no apparent reason, Lydia Merrill came to mind, making me wonder whether she was still living. A few days later, a call came saying that she wasn’t.

  She died the day I’d been thinking about her. 

  Maybe it was her way of saying goodbye.

  I’d have liked to have said goodbye to Lydia, the owner of Boise’s Mardi Gras Ballroom. In her quiet way, she was the heart and soul of the old ballroom at Ninth and River streets. I’ve attended or played music at events at the Mardi Gras since I was a teenager and there was never a time when she wasn’t there.   

  “If you went to the Mardi Gras, you probably saw her,” her son, Tim Merrill, said. “She took tickets, counted the money, answered the phone, did a lot of the cleaning.”

  “She was pulling tables around in her 90s,” daughter Lana McCullough added. “If a dance ended at one or two in the morning, she’d curl up on a recliner and sleep there.” 

  Interviewed on the occasion of her hundredth birthday, she said she’d try to make it to 110. She came within a few years, dying of Covid 19 complications at 106.

  The ballroom is almost as old as she was. Her husband, Orson Merrill, bought it in 1958. It was already a local institution by then,  opening in 1928 as the Riverside Pavilion, an open-air venue. By the time the Merrills took over, it had a roof and a history of hosting big bands and jazz artists – Buddy Rich, Glenn Miller and his orchestra and Gib Hochstrasser and the Kings of Swing to name a few.

  The Merrills initially operated it as a roller skating rink. When roller skating didn’t prove to be as popular as they hoped, it went back to being a ballroom and an integral part of the local music scene for decades. The Ventures, Johnny Winter, Leon Russel and Edgar Winter, Albert Collins, the Animals, David Lindley and his El Rayo-X band and R.E.M. were among the famous acts that played there.

   It could take forever just to get close enough to the stage to see the band at some of those events. I was there the night blues guitarist Buddy Guy had fans packed elbow to elbow – 1,200 of them filling the dance floor, the lobby, tables and chairs, nooks and crannies, anywhere with sitting or standing room. The  music was so loud you felt it in your solar plexus.

  In my high school years, the Mardi Gras was a magnet for teenagers drawn by the music of Paul Revere and the Raiders, Dick Cates and the Chessmen, the Chancellors and other local groups. Along with the Miramar and Fiesta ballrooms, now both memories, it was one of the happening places to go. 

  If the Mardi Gras had a front man, it was Orson Merrill. Outgoing and colorful, he enjoyed chatting up the bands onstage while they were setting up. I still laugh about the time he carved “Orson” with a nail on one my group’s microphones, thinking it was his. He once poked a teenager with a hat pin for sitting on a table and was known to stop the music during dances to clean the hard-rock maple dance floor, which he installed himself. 

  And always, behind the scenes, there was Lydia – an icon in her own, quieter way. She helped keep the ballroom running for over half a century, kept the books in her younger years, and in her 90s was still vacuuming, cleaning tables, answering the phone, overseeing pretty much everything.

  “She’s probably the hardest working individual I’ve ever known,” McCullough said. “The two things that gave meaning to her life were being able to work and being able to learn. Until last few months of her life, she talked about wanting to go back to school to learn to speak Spanish.”

  On her hundredth birthday, she received an honorary certificate from Boise State University – where she earned over 100 credits as a senior citizen.

  “She had bookshelves in almost every room of her house,” McCullough said. “She read everything – self-help books, cookbooks, religious books, political books, everything except fiction. To her, novels were just stories. She wanted to learn, and she read everything she could to do that.”

  The ballroom during her last years wasn’t the force it had once been on the popular music scene.

   “It was mostly used for ethnic celebrations,” Tim Merrill said. “Mexican, Laotian, African, Afghan, a Bosnian party. … Mom went to a few of those. She had a T-shirt with ‘Security’ written on it.”

  With her passing, the iconic ballroom’s days most likely are numbered.

  “I think it’s going to go the way of Lydia and Orson,” McCullough said. “I think they were the only two people who could do the job the way they did it.”

  Developers, she added, “have been interested in it for years. It would be great if someone bought it who wasn’t just in for the money, who wanted to keep it a ballroom. I’d be all for that. Money isn’t everything. I’m hoping for something that would be a legacy for Lydia and Orson.”

  And for the city. How many venues do we have that have been around for nearly a century and entertained Idahoans with artists from Artie Shaw to Pinetop Perkins?

  Here’s hoping that McCullough gets her wish and someone who appreciates its history will buy the Mardi Gras, pump some money into it and bring the artists and the crowds back. We have plenty of banks, office buildings and condominium complexes. There’s only one Mardi Gras. 

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at