Wes Smith Day

Have you never heard of this day? No surprise, really. It’s not a national day, or even a state or county celebration. But it’s a celebration in a little mountain town happening on November 18th.

Wes was born and raised in Index, Washington. All the locals know most of his stories, his growing up years, his years as a young man, a married man, a father, a grieving father, a grandfather. And always a part of the town like the granite and trees and river.

The Wes Smith Bridge over the North Fork Skykomish River.

He liked to come in to the town hall where I worked and sit with me on Tuesdays. He expected coffee on those days so we had a little pot and he showed me how to make it. He would then sit by the door with his mug, and hold court. Every person who came in, every phone call I got, he had commentary and strong opinions. Sometimes it was challenging to get work done. Sometimes work was forgotten.

The little red town hall where I worked for almost twenty years.

He told me that he met his wife when she was five years old and he was maybe seven? I don’t remember now how old he was. She was walking down the boardwalk and dropped a nickel, which went down between the boards. When he saw her she was crying (that would have been a lot of money a hundred years ago). He managed to retrieve the nickel, and he told me it was love at first sight and love from then on.

I should add a caveat here that stories he told me in his nineties might not be the same stories he told others. Details may have faded and grown foggy over the years. But Wes was a no-nonsense sort, a man who’d worked hard and probably played hard, and a bit impatient with people who came into the town hall and showed a lack of common sense.

Anyway, Wes was a fisherman and a hunter and he’d walked those mountains and woods for many years. He bushwhacked, he followed no trails, he went alone with his dog, a fearless one used to treeing bears. Wes and his dog knew those mountains intimately, and what walked there.

Which of course led me one day to ask him if he believed in Bigfoot. I asked half-joking, fully expecting him to scoff. But instead he got quiet. After a long moment he said he was going to tell me a story he hadn’t told many people.

He was hunting Philadelphia Ridge off Mt Index one chilly fall day. They were way off the beaten track. He made a point of telling me how his dog was afraid of nothing, had taken on all sorts of wild animals. But that day they heard someone walking through the trees and smelled something awful like nothing he’d smelled before. But what left the biggest impression on him was that his dog was scared. Plastered up against Wes’s leg, tail tucked, shaking. Wes said he knew if something was out there that scared his dog, it was nothing he wanted to come in contact with, so they got away from there. He told me that he didn’t believe in nonsense and fairy tales but after seeing how scared his dog had been, he’d always wondered what was out there in the woods with them that day.

And he also made a point of telling me that when he first heard the noise he immediately thought it was another hunter. Because the sounds were ‘step, step, step’ just like a man.

Heybrook Ridge – another area Wes hunted extensively.

When Wes was failing in health, I would take him homemade chicken noodle soup with fresh tarragon. We would sit at the little table in his kitchen and swap stories while he ate. Several times my son went with me. He was about six at the time and he and Wes would talk non-stop. We weren’t the only one visiting. In a small town, everyone rallied around Wes.

When he was in his last days, I took my son there to say goodbye. Wes was in a hospital bed in the living room of the old house he’d brought his wife home to and raised his kids in. Family and friends came all day long to tell Wes goodbye. It wasn’t clear whether he knew we were there or not. But my son climbed right up on the bed, lay down next to Wes and cuddled right up to him and started talking. I don’t know what he said, but he chattered on and on, his little hand in Wes’s old gnarled one.

And Wes talked with him. Whether he was coherent or not, or even aware who was there with him, I have no idea.

I’ve always wondered what those last stories were, that none of us could hear.

I think about Wes now, with his Day approaching. What was it like to be born, to grow up, to live a full life in one tiny mountain town? Our world now is so big, between the ease of travel and the internet. I don’t know if Wes ever traveled. But I do know that his home place was a tiny footprint in the Cascade mountains, where he knew the land more intimately than most of us ever will.

And where, according to one old man and his fearless dog, Bigfoot once walked.

Sharing Stories

Recently I mentioned it was the anniversary of my father’s death and a friend asked me to tell her a story about him. This simple thing reminded me of how much power there is in a story. In this case, it was a way to remember and share and bring a tiny piece of him back to life. But that power is the same, even if the story is about a place, or a time, or a song, or a pet. Or even simple things like how a person’s day was. Tiny stories are as powerful as novel-length ones.

I followed that conversation with reading something similar in a book. In it, the character is looking at worlds facing war and he realizes that prejudice is adding to people readying for violence (this is simplifying the plot considerably). He decides people need to see each other as people rather than where they are from or what race the belong to, so he starts interviewing others for their stories and traditions, and then he broadcasts those stories out into the universe.

Again, the power of story.

So I want to ask you the same thing. Can you tell me a story about something that resonated with you, or meant a lot to you, or made you laugh, or pause, or think, or cry? Share something mundane or earth shattering so that I can sink into a story and share that place in time with you.

I’m going to go make a cup of tea and then settle into the chair and wait for you.


When we were little, food had so much impact on us kids, as I’m sure it did for many.

I remember my youngest sister forced to sit alone at the table after all of us were gone, because she couldn’t gag down the liver and onions. She couldn’t leave the table until her plate was empty.

I remember if you spilled milk into your plate on accident, you still had to eat the soggy food.

I know all of this came from the generation my parents grew up in and that my mom came from little. I know also it came from having to feed five kids on a limited budget. Nothing could be wasted or thrown out. I have so much respect for mom, there at home, three meals a day. Her canning, the 50-pound burlap bags of red potatoes and lentils.

I remember commodity day. I swear it was dad’s favorite day of the week because in the commodity box would be a huge block of REAL BUTTER.

When my parents retired, they volunteered at a local food bank. Every Friday they came home with boxes and mom would radiate relief. Cans on the shelves, meat in the freezer. It was like commodities day all over again. Mom told me once she volunteered at the food bank because volunteers got first choice. I also wonder if she volunteered because it allowed her to feel like she was earning the food she brought home.

She also came home with stories. People had to sign up, provide identification, and provide proof of their low income status. Mom would tell stories of people who were humiliated. Or people coming through that drove fancy cars or wore nice clothes and how she felt they were lying. That they were taking food from those who really needed it.

Fast forward to a few months ago when I was talking to a neighbor about a local food bank. She said I should pick things up because they had such a surplus. I told her we didn’t need to do that. She said it had nothing to do with income levels; that question wasn’t even asked. She told me they received funding on a point system and the more people that came, the more points they got. Points allowed them to continue providing for the community. She said it helped them out if people came.

Recently I had a day off when her food bank was open. I thought I would go, be counted so they got some points, and do my part to help her out. I figured I would pick up one or two things to look like I was legitimate. In other words, I’d fake it so they could count my household and help others.

When I got there, there were rows and rows of food. One family was leaving with a cart piled high. One woman was going through a huge case of tomatoes, picking out a box full and talking about canning sauce. Other than that it was just the volunteers.

They were so excited to see me. I signed up, politely followed their directions, and picked up a loaf of homemade sourdough bread. A volunteer pushed a cart over to me. Another said ‘oh, you have to take some of this!’ Another said ‘come back to the freezer and get some meat!’ A third put a box of donuts on the cart, along with spinach and squash and…more and more.

I kept telling them ‘no thank you’. I finally confessed that I didn’t need anything, I’d just come to get counted so they could get points.

They then told me they had so much left over at the end of the day that they fed local pigs and chickens and horses.

I came home with a few boxes and lots of guilt. Some of the things were well past their prime, like corn that was tough and woody, and spinach that was slimy. But those things were in boxes that had been pre-made by someone and sealed. The things the volunteers pressed on me were fine. Mom and dad would have been thrilled.

In one way, a part of me was thrilled, too. Free food! I can stock up the pantry even more! Canned soups and rice and beans and flour and…it was like grocery shopping without having to pay for anything.

And in another way, I was extremely uncomfortable and guilt-ridden. I still am, today, which is why I’m writing about it. I’m not sure I’ll go back. I’m going to make donations, though.