Thursday, September 2, 2010
Neighbors, faces of North Idaho
World War II veteran John Meschko in his St. Maries home.
Coeur d'Alene Public Library lower gallery
The photography exhibit "Neighbors, Faces of North Idaho" by local photographer and writer Ralph Bartholdt will be on display through Sept. 30.
702 E. Front Ave. (208-769-2315).
COEUR D'ALENE — Call me Jonesy, the woman said.
She wanted to tell a story about an elk she killed long ago in the high country not far from her home at Carpenter Creek.
Her accent was Appalachia. She had moved to Idaho from the Carolina mountains as a girl, or Virginia, or Kentucky.
Her dad wanted millwork, something that was less readily available in the smoking peckerwood mountains of the Southeast.
She married young, raised a family, worked but hunting was her flair.
Always hunted, she said, bringing her prowess at sneaking in the woods with a rifle to the Idaho hollers.
The six-point bull elk Jonesy killed long ago was the result of a bet. Not a hand-shake bet, but more of a pantomime, a no-woman-kin-do-it sort of pan.
When later she asked the loggers down the way to help her drag her bull, they choked and then went chivalrous, she said.
She would have offered up some meat for their assistance, but they already had a plate of pride to swallow.
Jonesy Woltering is one of the many people I met while working as a writer and photographer in North Idaho.
Frank Werner is another.
Frank is well known for the wooden, duck decoys that he carves with hand tools curling thin peelings that fall to the floor until a block of white pine takes the shape of a fowl.
Frank is a retired Marine who learned about ducks, flat-bottomed boats propelled with a pole and about the decoys that attracted waterfowl to gunners while working at Camp LeJeune.
He had come back from Vietnam to find his new military occupation waiting: Game warden.
It meant confronting the hand-me-down generations of waterfowl hunters in the Carolina estuaries at foggy dawn or black-eye dusk who didn’t have permission to be there.
The confrontations turned tutorial. Soon Werner was learning the pragmatic art of drawing birds to decoys.
Werner has a lot of names for the pretty carvings that land on gallery shelves. Art ducko is one.
His carvings lure real birds, and he shoots them.
Werner’s decoys are pragmatic works of folk art, that he also displays in galleries usually accompanied by the kind of rye humor learned in the muck marshes of the inner banks of Carolina or his 20 years in the Corps.
The people who allowed me to photograph them, and who invited me to their stories are neighbors.
Outwardly they rummage in the run-of-the-mill, they are modest, indifferent, but it’s not true. They all carry something of the extraordinary.
John Meschko is pushing 90 now.
He sits in house on 15th Street with its wood stove and the motorcycle on his porch.
There are memories of more.
He started riding Harley Davidson’s as a scout in World War II and remembers locating a German company in an autumn woodland. By the time he turned tail with a handful of throttle the area, including the road he was on, was being carpeted with bombs.
Meschko was the sergeant at arms in Berlin after the war, then returned to Idaho to attend the university.
His daughter remembers his motorcycles.
One of her first memories recalls riding on the gas tank of Harley through the campus at UI.
He was always on a motorcycle, she said.
These are our neighbors, and part of the fabric of North Idaho.
This exhibit is theirs. It’s for the living and as someone said, the ones who are “no longer fishing.”
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