The Bing Crosby House

I recently returned from a family gathering in my hometown that I would have not been able to imagine as a child.

***

When I was nine or so, my dad was a middle school teacher and studying for his doctorate. He often spent Saturdays at the Bing Crosby Library on the Gonzaga campus in Spokane, Washington. These sessions ended with his crossing the street to drink at the house of a friend. On some Saturdays my mom insisted he take a couple of his five kids with him—to relieve her burden and possibly keep him from drinking too much.

bing20I was infatuated with Gonzaga. In the sixties, the campus was home to some fine-looking young Jesuits. I remember them as well-trimmed blondes in slim gray slacks and light blue cotton shirts with the unfortunate clerical collars signaling they were off limits to my desire. In contrast, the flocks of formidable-looking nuns, their copious black robes rustling in the breeze as they left Mass, made me quiver in fear. I imagined the church, Saint Aloysius, to be a replica of heaven itself.

Later in life, my dad claimed, “I raised you kids to be independent.” I couldn’t argue. His neglect was sufficient to keep us from ever thinking about depending on him. Such was the case whenever he took his two oldest—my brother and me—along with him to Gonzaga. We followed him into the Crosby Library and were told to meet a few hours later at his friend’s house. My first stop was always the Crosbyana—a small room filled with Bing memorabilia the singer/actor had donated to his alma mater.

bing12My favorite pieces were the framed gold record “White Christmas” and his Oscar for Going My Way (which I recently discovered is a replica). I remember the room as quiet, cozy, and rather dark, but recent pictures—that I cannot show because they’re copyrighted—reveal it to be light and airy. I curled into a plush chair and imagined it was my room, a den perhaps in the mansion that was my home.

Afterward, running around campus with my brother, I marveled at the coeds and longed to live in the Madonna Hall dorm when I went to college. Unbeknownst to me, my future husband was a student at the time. I never went there, but 40 years later our son Harrison would enroll and live his first year in that same dorm.

My last surviving Spokane relatives—a brother- and sister-in-law—moved to Phoenix a decade ago, but live in a cabin on Newman Lake, near Spokane, during the summer. This past spring, I thought it would be fun to have a family reunion with them, our kids and grandkids. Their cabin isn’t big enough to accommodate many overnight guests, but the overflow could stay in hotels and spend days at the lake.

Harrison suggested I look for a vacation rental on Coeur d’Alene Lake where we could all stay together. Many of the cabins available online are rustic with photos that hint at large spiders and mice. I found a couple of luxurious places that, when split four ways, were affordable, but not available on our chosen weekend. I grew frustrated and hateful.

I backed off and let it go for a few days. One morning, I girded my loins to try again. I expanded the search to include Hayden Lake, a few miles north of Coeur d’Alene. Lo and behold, up popped the Bing Crosby House! Bing Crosby, the inspiration behind the Crosbyana Room, the oasis that had comforted me as a child.

My fingers trembled as I clicked the link. I found a 3,000 square-foot log house built in 1955, lovingly kept in its original condition by Bing’s heirs (including the kitchen appliances). With four bedrooms, three and a half baths, and a stone deck running the length of the back facing the lake, it was perfect. But it required a five-night stay. Given everyone’s busy schedules, we could only eke out three nights to be together. I emailed the owner (Bing’s granddaughter) and asked for an exception. She agreed. I was beside myself with excitement.

***

bing19Entering the circular driveway of the Crosby House, I got chills. It doesn’t look like much from the front, but upon entering I was awestruck by floor to ceiling windows spanning the western border with a magnificent view of the lake. In the expansive great room, the walls were made of bleached paneling and logs that stand vertically.

bing3The entryway had a framed page from an American Home magazine article written, I assume, soon after the house was built since there was no year is on the cover. Subsequent framed pages line the hallway. Each room holds a page about that particular room.

We took great delight in these. A highlight: as a rough and tumble kid in Spokane, Bing often got in trouble for fighting, most notably beating up a “boy who called his sister tubby (she was).”

bing18We fell in love with Mrs. Lemmon, Bing’s dowdy French cook who was cordoned off in the kitchen and, unless the swinging door was open, could not be seen from the living area. According to the article, whenever she heard Bing’s car enter the driveway, the tiny woman stood on her tippy toes, looked out the window above the sink and cried, “Mr. Bing, God bless him!”

bing16To me, the most unique feature of the house was the original draperies. According to the article, “Bing’s famous theme song, ‘Where the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day,’ is motif on the living room draperies, done in square Gothic notes from 15th and 16th century parchment panels of church music that hung over piano. In his bedroom, [the] tune changes to ‘Home Sweet Home.’”

It was thrilling to stay in Bing’s house, a place custom built for him, where he and his kids spent summers fishing and golfing. This was the perfect setting to gather a family who enjoys spending time together, a family far more wonderful than my childhood fantasies could have conjured all those years ago when I nestled into that plush chair in the Crosbyana Room.

katekid

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Cash Flow

In the summer of 2008, after numerous citizen complaints, the Fort Bragg city council passed an ordinance against panhandling. I was relieved.

PanhandlingFlyerIn lieu of giving strangers money, I prefer to donate to organizations that help the homeless and those in need. But as the town’s panhandling situation escalated, I felt pressured. It got to the point where I couldn’t go grocery shopping or walk downtown without being asked for spare change. When I finally mustered the nerve to deny one guy, he told me to “Have a nice day, bitch!” Well there he went, ruining it for everybody. With few exceptions, spare change has stayed in my wallet from that moment on.

Some years ago, I drove around Spokane, Washington, with our son Harrison collecting what he needed to move into a dorm at Gonzaga University. On our one hundredth trip to the Valley Mall, I pulled onto the freeway off ramp and stopped at a light. A short, stout woman with hair the consistency of a bird’s nest stood in the dry weeds next to the street holding a sign that stated, “I need money to get out of here.” Perhaps it was her extreme twitchiness that prompted me to roll down my window and ask, “Where are you going?”

“Idaho.”

She was only twelve miles from the Washington-Idaho border. Her chances of success were quite high.

“And then I’m going to the state after that and then the state after that and the state after that….”

I reached into my wallet and pulled out the first bill I touched. It was a five.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.” She shouted as she took the money.

The light turned green and I proceeded to the mall.

“You know she’s going to buy drugs with that money, don’t you?” Harrison said.

“I suppose.” I didn’t tell him I had experienced times in my life when I wanted to make a run for the border and keep going to the state after that and the state after that.

mycarThis past spring, about a month before a van tried to run me over in The Purity parking lot, I found a dollar on the sidewalk. I put it in a cup holder in my car. I would give it to the first street person who asked for money, preferably someone encountered in the parking lot at The Purity.

I was surprised how long it took to pass along that dollar. Seven months after finding it, I was downtown on Laurel, walking along the north side of the street. As I approached Pippi’s Longstockings, a young man and woman crossed the street from the alley.

Both were tall and lean, the kind of lean that borders on emaciated. Despite the warm weather, they wore sweatshirts, the hoods pulled over their heads and down to their eyebrows. His was gray, hers a faded red. There was a dark desperation about them, the kind of look I get when I’m denied my mid-morning sugar fix. I gave them a nod of acknowledgement, a smile of understanding. I’ve been caught without cookies in the house when I dearly need them.

As if I’d tossed a lasso and pulled her in, the woman approached. “Do you have a dollar?” she asked.

I do.” It’s difficult to describe the joy that came over me. Someone had finally answered my call and I was able to relinquish the responsibility of being a good steward of found cash.

The original Purity dollar was in my car, but I had a substitute in my wallet. I pulled it out and handed it to her along with a big smile. She snatched it from my hand. “Thank God,” she said, with a deep sigh of relief. It was the same relief I feel when, hopeless, I remember a stash of mini-muffins in the freezer.

Her man friend had continued north through the alley. She quickened her stride to catch up.

Perhaps she’d use that dollar to feed her addiction. Maybe it would help her buy some food. Possibly it would help get her to the next state, and the state after that, and the state after that.