Our friend Mark Growden
is a storyteller and professional musician from my hometown. Several years ago, he asked us to make him a bag to use during his songwriting workshops that could hold his Sruti Box, a tambourine, and a notepad.
I have been watching ‘Ax Men’ with my 2 year old, and it conjures layers of memory from childhood in a logging town.
Our childhood hero was Mangin, the bachelor timberfaller across the street. He was home from the woods at about the same time that we were free of school - logger childcare. As kids with the whole afternoon to kill before our folks got home, we would sit in his yard in the shade of a big fir tree and watch Mangin and Kent take off tall boots, sharpen saw chains, drink Mickey’s bigmouths, and spin yarns.
Mangin was also a Volkswagen mechanic. He wore the same pair of black Key Jeans every day in the woods, and they could stand up by themselves. His house smelled like fir pitch, sweat, and peanuts. He was half deaf from logging, and spent a lot of money on stereo equipment, on which he played very loud ZZ Top and rock radio. He welded a secret compartment in some bozo’s gas tank, and when that guy got popped smuggling a whole bunch of cocaine in from Central America, Mangin had to spend some time in the Federal Pen in the Mojave. My dad the homebrewer put a six pack of beer into root beer bottles that – delivered to Mangin – proved a great hit with the boys down there in Barstow. I was about ten, but I still remember Mangin’s going-away party before he went to prison. August in Goodrich Meadows, with kegs of Budweiser cooling in the back of Mangin’s Willys pickup under a load of snow from Swain Mountain. Dave Foat roasting a pig over a pit fire.
Kent was killed falling a tree about 10 years ago, and there were a lot of broke-down burly woodsmen in his yard for the wake. A section of the street was flagged off for the overflow crowd using ‘KILLER TREE’ flagging. The preacher was from the church that Mark’s dad helped to start about 30 years ago. When he said that Kent was going to heaven not because of his good deeds but because he the preacher had saved him not 2 months before, a surge of anger flushed through me, and a good part of the crowd too. Kent’s good friends from the bar stirred angrily out in the street, and Kenny Bruns grumbled ‘Bullshit! He is going there for his good deeds too’.
I have come to realize that we had a lot of male role models, and that we are of a storytelling culture.
My (Zeke) bagmaking has been slowed up by two young boys and starting another business – I’ve made three bags in the last 10 months.
I took measurements for this bag 16 months ago, and Mark has been very patient. Finally he called a month ago and said gently ‘the bag I have been using has completely disintegrated, how’s that bag coming?’ I needed a prod.
Two or three years later, this one is finally done. Making it brought up a lot of these stories.
Fire hose, cordura scrap, necktie, a classroom map, a jacket lining, surplus webbing, treebark camo pantleg, and some aluminum tubing from the ReStore.
Under the flap is more necktie and map. Mark is a few years older than me and his dad was my track coach/crafts teacher in high school. Mark has been studying music for most of his life with influences all over the world ranging from Ravi Shankar to old slave songs. He came back to town when I was still in high school to regale us with tales of traveling around the West Coast juggling, making music, falling in love, and having wild hitchhiking adventures across the American West. He knew how to make weird Vietnamese-shaped hats out of felt, and spent a few weeks telling us stories and teaching us to juggle, playing music, and generally blowing our smalltown minds. Then he was off again.
Old camo as a nod to shared millpond roots. This project brought up memories of growing up in Westwood, and the interweaving of lives there. Of track practice in the gym with 6 feet of snow outside, or running on melting slush through streams of icy runoff; of shooting guns at the sewer ponds with Dean Growden – Mark’s brother who is now Lassen County Sheriff.
Or of the 1970s Cutlass that Mark’s younger brother – my best friend Jeremy, filled up with gas one day during our senior year and just drove away.
And Mark has always been pretty flamboyant for a Westwood man, so I had an excuse to go wild with the bag, and let my own freak flag fly a bit.
For wild Middle Eastern circus music, and a tambourine.
Mark’s sister Janay makes amazing clothing, window displays, and anything else. We painted flowers and peace signs on her VW bus before we knew that we weren’t really hippies, or that hippies weren’t really very cool, and drove it down Highway 32 to Chico to shop for school clothes at Pegasus, wondering why the guys in the big trucks were flipping us off or screaming at us. Janay is a master textile artist who gives me courage to sew in a stream of consciousness way – we share a love of the zigzag.
Making the bling/tag was its own project.
Time passes, and the meaning of songs change. Mark wrote a song about Westwood years ago that means something to any person who is from there. Trying to reconcile his love of the land with the hardship of the place and its baggage. I used to think that he whined too much about his life, that he was being a drama queen. Later I realized that he was just a few years ahead of me in trying to come to terms with, or express how you identify with (or don’t) the important places in your life. As time goes by, I am glad that we have a place that we know is home, and stories to share about it.
Long may you run, Brother Mark.