A Valley Full of Ghosts

With a wife out of the country, I decided to do some things I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Last Wednesday, I went up on a school night to Whidbey Island to have dinner with some longtime friends I just hadn’t seen in a while.

On Friday, I tried out the new Amazon Fresh store that opened near our home.

And over the weekend, I semi-spontaneously decided to head over to Walla Walla and do some wine-tasting. You can never go wrong there and it had been at least a decade since my last visit. As far as the tasting went, I made some amazing discoveries and brought back quite a collection.

But surrounding the delicious tastings was a trip down and back through the Yakima Valley. Since you have nothing to do but think as you drive along the highway, I started reflecting on that area and the many memories associated with the valley.

Some good, some bad.

Yakima is where this guy landed after graduating from the University of Washington with a Communications degree, wanting to put it to work in radio. I had looked in the Washington State Association of Broadcaster want ads, saw there was opening in Yakima at a station called KQOT and set up an interview.

It was a long, nervous drive as I hoped they would see the good in me and hire me for my first professional radio job. After chatting with the business manager and the owner for a while, they said, “Let’s hear how you sound.” We walked into the control room, he tapped the disc jockey on the air on the shoulder, told him to get up and I was instructed to do a show. Apparently, it was their practice when auditioning talent, they would set them down in front of the microphone and then go out and drive around, listening to them on the radio.

I was hired. $350 a month to start, bumped up to $375 if I “worked out.”

I spent a total of less than three years in the Yakima radio market, but those were three very life-eventful years..

I reconnected with an aunt, uncle and some cousins that I hadn’t seen in years down in Wapato, just to the south. They had a mobile home for rent on their peach orchard for $175 a month. OK, there was half my paycheck. Shortly after moving over, my college sweetheart came over for a visit. She missed me. But I had decided it was just too early to settle down with someone, that we needed to break up. I was a jerk to her all weekend and she left knowing that we were over. Of all the things I carry with me through this life, how I handled that still haunts me.

So, let’s see. I got to be a disc jockey, do high school dances, do a ton of radio production and copywriting. Did some serial dating, had a stalker. (that’s a whole blog in itself) On the personal side, I eventually met someone, fell in love and got married immediately prior to getting a call from Larry Nelson at KOMO radio in Seattle to come ever there and be his producer.

Yeah, in less than three years, a whole hell of a lot happened.

On my way down to the Walla Walla wine-tasting trip, I arranged to meet up with Brady Layman, who was the seasoned veteran of KQOT when I first went to work there. He was now living in the Tri-Cities and reminded me that, as a child, he had polio. It had come back to bite him again as he was now wheelchair bound. We reminisced about those KQOT days: the people, the crazy promotions, the River Floats, etc. I asked about a couple of the old gang that we used to hang around with. One had a heart transplant and was now living in Spokane. The other had a tragic end with a messy divorce that drove him to take his own life. But even though that was 45 years ago, we both remembered details that triggered the other to remember something else, and it was just a wonderful stroll down memory lane.

After posting some pictures of day 1 of wine tasting, one of my kids’ former teachers from Bothell High School reached out and said, “You’re here? Let’s wine-taste tomorrow!” So, an extra stop was added to my eastern Washington tour and Shelly Crump & I managed to sip and reminisce in the early hours of that Sunday.

Then it was on the road again, this time to Terrace Heights, east of Yakima. Gary Myhre and I had a blast together during my time at both KQOT and KMWX. He was supposed to buy KQOT and we were going to rule the valley but the deal went south, he went across town and I went with him. If you search these blogs, he’s come up before so I won’t repeat stories, but we had so much fun at those stations. He’s always been so complimentary of what I do, so it was always nice to have a fan. And here we are, 40+ years removed from those days and when we get together, it seems like it was just yesterday.

By the way, weird coincidence—both Gary and Brady married women named Peggy.

My next stop was with the one remaining relative in the area, Bonnie, who was on that peach orchard with my aunt & uncle all those years ago. Another person I’ve previously blogged about with a fascinating story, but this was just a check-in to see how she was doing since losing her partner two years ago. It obviously still hurt. We had a great catchup and then I headed home.

I wanted to drive by that peach orchard and see if that mobile home was still there, but just ran out of time. To me, I’m just amazed when I actually think of how many life-shaping events took place during my 34 months in the Yakima Valley. I’m sure if we ever get together and you start me on that stretch of time, several dozen wild stories will come to mind.

Just like with Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”, not all ghosts are bad and some are there to help us understand our lives even more. I guess if I’m ever feeling like I’ve got everything figured out, all I need to do is head east of the mountains and return to the Valley of the Ghosts.

Yeah, there are a LOT of stories that didn’t come to mind during this time through.

I’ll just save those for the next time.

Tim Hunter

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