Friday, January 18, 2013


Thirty years ago I flew into Boston for a special extension training workshop.  The idea was to help expand and extend the denomination, which is based on free thinking, good conscience and humanistic principles like valuing everyone regardless of their past or nature.  It was founded in opposition to Calvinism with its emphasis on original evil and predestination:  blaming the victim for being in the grip of fate, promising salvation through conformity to rules.

I was the first one there, settling my luggage in a small assigned bedroom before my roommate arrived.  I came in from the prairie, which meant I was a little stunned and gaping at the big city, a little out-of-phase with the plans.  Wandering into the kitchen, I was amazed at the boxes of food on the counter, waiting for someone to stash them.  As dusk fell, I went out the door to explore a bit.

The street people were just settling into their niches and corners for the night.  I stopped to talk with a few.  A woman had a dog and told me she could make more money if she asked for money to buy dog food than if she asked for herself.  I was shocked at how many street people there were.  When I got back to the house, another minister had arrived, a young man.  I said to him,  “Let’s take all this food and hand it out to the street people.”  He was horrified.  “Do you know what a hole that would make in our budget?  It could cause the workshop to be cancelled!”  I wish I’d at least taken the bananas out to distribute.

People talk one game and act out another.  It’s human -- starts early.  Lately there have been a few deaths that make me think about it. The previous post about the Louis Malle portrait of a small midwestern town confirms and encourages the idea that living in a small town is safe. People say there are no prostitutes (They mean street-walkers.), no street kids, no homeless people. But whereever there are clusters of people, even as small as a four-hundred pop. village with hardly any streets, there are ALWAYS people who are out on the edge, just not reconciled to the norms for one reason or another. Some are tucked away and some are hiding in plain sight. Even locals don’t see what’s right in front of their eyes because of assumptions. We get used to it.

Valier is a place where single old men can get by, some “old bachs” and some widowers.  In the cities they might be in Single Room Occupancy hotels or modest apartments or just a rented bedroom.  In this town some have shipshape tiny houses. 

Others live in shocking circumstances, to the point that passers-through might never guess that anyone lives in the jumble of shacks or abandoned warehouse or old service station piled high with scrap.  One of our local solitaries has died in a nursing home, another has been moved into a nursing home.  Now a third has died.  

Roy was more public than the others because he spent a lot of time in a car, cruising up and down the dusty blocks or hanging around at the crossroads to strike up conversation.  He lived behind his service station in a derelict trailer with no heat.  

In the last cold wave (down to thirty below) he stopped showing up at the nearby grocery store to buy his daily food.  In a few days the sheriff was called and found him dead.  There was no autopsy planned, no evidence of foul play or an accident, so the conclusion was a heart attack (he was medically obese) or hypothermia or both.  His death has prompted some to think about an important issue:  how much should we interfere in each other’s lives, how much are we entitled to endanger ourselves?

Roy’s contact with others was an uncomfortable mixture of paranoia, proselytizing, arguing, and judging.   There WERE mechanisms for Roy to have gotten help with his heat, but they meant reaching out.  One of his friends tried to organize the sale of his mountain of recyclable junk, but Roy refused.   It’s easy to say this death was his own fault.  The town has been worried enough about crime to organize citizen groups to patrol, but has given no thought to organizing door-to-door checks on loners and elderly.  Most people here are members of tight-knit extended local families.  There is a social worker for the elderly but I’m not sure anyone thought of Roy as elderly.  He did have family, but never married or had children.  His mother helped him until her death a while back.

At roughly the same time Roy died, Richard Corday disappeared over Smith Falls in Idaho, evidently a suicide.  There has been no publicity but a friend of mine knew him, met him when he came from Chicago looking for someone to build his dream house up on a ridge.  The friend took the job and even went to Chicago to pack him up.  (Corday’s apartment was so small that my friend had to sleep on the balcony to keep from being claustrophobic.)  Corday’s idea was that he would be safe (maybe even immortal) up there in his quite nice castle.  I guess in time he decided immortality was overrated.  My friend tried to keep track of him and help him, but Corday fought for his isolation, much more than Roy who only wanted his self-determination.  Aside from converting people.

My friend notes that in his neck of the woods, even more rural than Valier, there are two animal rescue shelters and one official dog pound, but “by comparison, we have one tiny understaffed and paltry food bank where folks can score a box of food once a month. The state closed the welfare/food stamp office here a couple years ago, forcing anyone needing help to find a way down to Sandpoint 35 miles away.”  Why will we extend help to dogs but hardship will make us (both the community and the isolate) withdraw from other humans?  Is it because of saving ourselves?   

From the official obituary:

Roy Alan Davis, 67, died of natural causes on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 at his home in Valier.

Funeral services were held Monday, Jan. 14 at Pondera Funeral Home. Burial with military honors followed in Lakeview Cemetery.

Roy loved being a mechanic, his first car was a Model A car that he would drive his siblings to school and back.

Roy went to Bible School in Omaha, Neb. He worked in a slaughterhouse to support himself. In 1966 Roy was drafted in the U.S. Army. He was sent to Vietnam. Roy didn’t talk about his experiences in Vietnam, only to say that he spent a lot of time at the orphanage there and really had a soft spot in his heart for the children. When Roy came home he bought the Texaco station in Valier. This is where he made his home. Along with his passion for getting motors to run and work he had the love for the Lord. Roy lived a life without many worldly conveniences. When Roy wasn’t out witnessing for the Lord he was praying and spending time in the Lord’s word. Roy loved the Lord and is safe in God’s hands. He was a loving son and a kind and honest man.

The man who lived here was an elderly sex offender.  He's in a nursing home now.

The owner of this defunct warehouse died in a nursing home, demented.  
There is concern about it being an eyesore.

Concern about occupants, not so much.

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