About the Book
As Dede Montgomery moves through grief to accept of the death of her father, the stories in My Music Man shed light on change, acceptance, and forgiveness amid close personal relationships and Oregon’s natural landscapes.
The reader is catapulted into autumn on the Willamette’s riverbank in the 1960s with the author and her brothers, where they discover their father’s own childhood stories and the intimate relationship he shares with the land. Tales about generations of family weave between time periods, held together by the constancy of place and colored by memories of picking berries and filberts, traveling through the West Linn locks, and swimming in the river on a hot summer day. Montgomery describes small-town life in a school where everyone knows everybody, and how it felt to be an only girl in what often felt like a never-ending sea of boys.
For Readers and Book Clubs:
A Lover of Rivers
IT WAS BECAUSE of the tanneries that we didn’t build my childhood house on Oregon’s Tualatin River. The real deal breaker, said our dad to Uncle Bill. In truth, the decision to put money down to build on the banks of our valley’s neighboring Willamette River may have been more about the memories imprinted in Dad’s brain from his childhood. To build the only house he ever lived in that was built from scratch and moved into new.
Oh my. The Willamette. What is it to be of the Willamette River? Its banks create smells for each season. As the days grow shorter and fall’s dense chill sets in, smoke from fireplaces and field burning mingle with rotting leaves. Pumpkins ripen on the vine, their stems curling toward the earth. We kids quickly claim which giant squash will be our selection, to be honed by knife as our Halloween masterpiece. We savor the last of our stunted daylight hours.
When I was six, my neighbor, Frank, born over half a century before me just at the turn of the century, pulled out a shovel to help me dig new russet potatoes, brown and knobby, from his garden. Mostly bald-headed, Frank Lockyear wore an old Boy Scout jamboree T-shirt, I guess reflective of decades of working with scouts. Frank was a nurseryman who believed the world needed more trees, and in his lifetime, organized the planting of millions of trees in the Pacific Northwest and dozens of countries around the world. Frank’s name is left behind in a memorial grove of trees that he planted in 1934 near Oregon’s Clackamas River. He has one of those smiles that turned his whole face into layers of crinkles. My own dad—a handsome, strong guy who looked a bit like those good-looking magazine models if you ignored the profile of his nose that he had broken a couple of times—liked cutting down trees, bucking up logs, and mowing grass. But Frank toiled in his vegetable garden, inspired to show me his rows of late season carrots. His garden was even bigger than our mom’s. Hers with rows of fat green peas earlier in the summer but now missing asparagus to cut back because my older brother, Andy, overzealously weeded them out.
But Frank’s garden was huge! He patiently showed me all that was still popping out of our rich valley earth, even as the days shortened. Rows of carrots and mounds of squash plants overtaken by their rough, now yellowed, withering leaves. He didn’t like me to call him Mr. Lockyear, so he was just Frank. We wrapped the just-out-of-the-earth potatoes in foil, burying them deep into the ashes of the bonfire simmering in his several-acred front yard. While we awaited our snack on this Willamette Valley fall day, he let me dash between his garden rows—many of them now turned under and renewed with compost. I showed him how little I was by climbing into the cardboard box, lying in wait of filling from the remainder of his garden’s offerings. He took a picture, me with legs hanging over the box edge, and told me he’d send it to my mom so she would know where I had been.
And then, our potatoes were cooked. Frank used a long metal rake to pull them out from within the ashes and quickly removed the hot foil with his calloused hands. After they had cooled, he handed one to me whole: we ate our roasted potatoes plain, without butter, salt, chives, or sour cream. Frank chastised me with a teasing grin. “How can you be hungry in the middle of the afternoon? Doesn’t your mother feed you?”
Frank liked to tease me, but somehow I always knew it was his way of helping me feel special. My parents didn’t worry about me, a quarter of a mile down the street. I showed up as the afternoon wound down, well before it was time to set dinner plates on the table. And I was still hungry enough to eat that night’s meal.
Our own acre of land was sandwiched between that of my grandparents and my uncle with unowned acreage between, on a street named for our family, maybe not much different than the early settlers who used their names to claim new streets and towns. Maybe someone would prevent us from continuing our independent neighborhood travels if we did something too terrible. Or as I learned later, if we thought something really bad happened nearby. Once Mom was terrified three years earlier when my just over one-year-old brother disappeared late one morning. I was too little to remember all of the details—with only sixteen months separating our births—creating a close and often competitive bond between us.
“Has anyone seen Mike? Michael! Michael!” she hollered after the last visitor departed down our gravel driveway following some meeting she’d been busy leading. Mom scurried through the kitchen, the living room, even looking in his crib. “Where is he?”
Brother Andy and I ran into the house to see what new incident had erupted this time. We set out to search. Finally, in fewer real minutes than worry minutes, Mom found Mike peacefully sound asleep next to a log at the beginning of the trail to Uncle Bill’s house, his nearly white hair mussed and studded with the remains of maple tree helicopters. Drool dripped from his upturned mouth, long saliva strands reaching with the help of gravity to the dirt below. No worries seemed to peek through his slumber. Was this an early shout out to be noticed among this growing and boisterous clan? Or just the beginnings of the wanderings that we all continued?