on returning home from coeur d’alene, idaho

For just over four years, we called Coeur d’Alene, Idaho our home. The city is named after the Coeur d’Alene People, a tribe of Native Americans who lived along the rivers and lakes of the region. They were first encountered by French fur traders in the late 18th and early 19th century, who referred to them as Cœur d’Alêne, meaning “heart of an awl,” reflecting the Frenchmen’s experience of the tribal traders as tough businessmen, “sharp-hearted” or “shrewd.”

In the first month, my first husband, Bill, and I lived temporarily in a brick rambler.  One dark night while Bill was at work and I was alone, someone knocked at our front door and then disappeared; heart pounding, I picked up a large butcher knife and stole out the back door.  I was terrified of being trapped in the house with a violent intruder.  I figured if I was outdoors, I could scream, or run to a neighbor’s, or just run like hell.  I remember holding that huge knife in the freezing wind of a starless Idaho night with my back up against the rough brick wall of that rambler.  I stole around the entire house, pausing to peek around every corner in case I came face-to-face with the perpetrator.  Luckily, I never encountered a soul.

For some reason, Idaho seemed scary to me in those early days.  Maybe it was because in those days I was afraid of everything.

Four years, and during the remaining winter months of that first year, we lived in an A-frame near Hayden Lake, less than seven miles from Coeur d’Alene. That A-frame was freezing cold and I sat bundled up much of the time in front of an oil furnace making up grocery lists.

For four years, we lived in a tiny house in a run-down part of Coeur d’Alene.  Renovated by some builder, it cost $26,000. It was a perfect price for our first home as Bill had spent most of his inheritance from his mother’s death on his trip across country with his college roommate Andy, and I helped him spend much of the rest. Brown carpet was throughout; everything was new, but every room was claustrophobic.

For these four of the first five years of my newly married life, I felt I was failing miserably at the marriage thing.  I tried to be domestic.  I experimented with recipes out of cookbooks and magazines, expanding past my limited childhood menus: I made soups, hamburger Stroganoff, casseroles of every kind. Bill planted a garden in the backyard and I did a lot of quilting. I felt a bit like a prairie girl, because I certainly wasn’t a mature woman yet. I was 24-28 years old during those years.

For four years we stayed, but only five months after we arrived, on May 18, 1980, a wall of ash marched across the sky on a blue Sunday afternoon.  We hadn’t turned our television on, so we had no idea what was approaching us in that sludge-gray curtain. It seemed Mount Saint Helens, 96 miles south of Seattle, Washington, and 420 miles away from Coeur d’Alene, had erupted. We were covered in ash for days, trapped inside, advised not to drive or go outdoors. We were miserably hot because we couldn’t open the windows; I was worried we’d be stuck forever in that tiny house. After several days, rain fell and eventually, the ash washed away.   The Mount St. Helens eruption was the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in U.S. history.  Fifty-seven people were killed; 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles (24 km) of railways, and 185 miles (298 km) of highway were destroyed.

For four years, we enjoyed short but sweet summers, with perfect temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s and no humidity.  We also suffered through impossibly long and harsh winters, with periodic blizzards dropping up to 36″ of snow; sometimes immediately following a blizzard, the warm and moist Chinook winds swooped in from the Pacific Ocean toward the Rocky Mountains, melting feet of snow within a day or two.

Over four years, we became good friends with Frank and Rhonda.  Rhonda worked with me at Idaho First National Bank and limped because one leg was shorter than the other. Frank didn’t work and was living off a trust fund left to him by his deceased parents. They had built an A-frame log house on a mountaintop outside of town.  We partied with them a lot, drinking a lot and having wild times in that untamed country.


Frank & Rhonda at Lake Coeur d’Alene

For four years, my husband wrote for The Coeur d’Alene Press.  I wrote for six-months at the fly-by-night weekly newspaper, The Spokane Falls, where I made $45/week.  When the editor quit after I’d been there only a week, I suddenly became editor and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.  Bill helped me at night, sitting at our kitchen table — a wooden spool that had once held electric cable — and edited my stories until they became HIS stories. Slowly, any confidence I had in my writing ability deteriorated until I had none at all.  I quit and found a job at Idaho First National Bank, where I started as a teller, then worked my way up to management trainee and loan officer.

We had always said we didn’t care about money and that we wanted to accomplish something meaningful in our lives. I got sidetracked from that vision because I was tired of being poor!  We never had any money.  We went out to eat, went on camping vacations, and never bought anything for the house.  We never saved money.  I was ashamed of that little house and never wanted to have any friends over for dinner.

Four years during which we did a lot of hiking and I tried skiing at resorts outside Coeur d’Alene.  I had a fear of heights and fast speeds and my skiing ability was pathetic.  I spent most of my time on the bunny slope, out-of-control, screaming and sliding on my behind.

Four years in which we attended dog sled races because Bill had to cover them for the newspaper.  He also had to cover crimes, car accidents, local politics and the activities of the Aryan Nations, an anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi, white supremacist terrorist organization which at that time was based on a compound near Hayden Lake.  We kept a police scanner in our house so Bill could hear of any stories he might need to cover.  He’d often run out in the middle of the night to follow the police.


dog sled races

Four years during which I ran long distances, through neighborhoods, around Tubbs Hill, and on mountain roads with my friend and work colleague Delinda. One year, I ran a 10k in the Hangover Handicap on icy roads on New Year’s morning. I finished last because my feet kept sliding out from under me with every step.  The race officials drove behind me picking up cones and markers for the race, annoying me immensely!

During our four years, we took a seven-day raft trip down the Salmon River in southern Idaho, organized by a college friend from William & Mary.  Some of Bill’s fraternity brothers were along. Most of us were in two-man inflatable canoes, but two large rafts carried our camping and food supplies. The Salmon is the most massive river in Idaho and one of the largest in North America; it wends its way through the second deepest canyon on the continent, passing through 85 miles of remote wilderness. It has class 3 and some class 4 rapids. We paddled through heart-stopping roller coaster rapids and wave trains punctuated by deep green pools and roiling pillows.  We rested at white sand beaches and pools and bathtubs built into canyon walls. We jumped off bridges into the river.  We took turns cooking dinners for the whole group as we traveled.  When we finished the trip, we took a jet boat back upriver to our starting point in one day.

Four years during which we had crazy parties with our friends and formed a human chain across two-lane roads late at night, dispersing at the last minute when we saw cars approaching from a distance.  A black & white photo of our human chain is pinned to the bookshelf in the photo below.


Doug, Bill, me, Bill & Karin

Four years in which we explored and camped all around the Pacific Northwest, including Washington, Oregon, Montana, southern Idaho and Banff, Canada.  Four years in which I had too many bad haircuts to count.


me in Coeur d’Alene


me at the Oregon coast


cooking creations while camping

Four years in which our marriage often seemed on the rocks.  We fought a lot and I swore I never wanted children. In a desperate hope of saving our marriage, and after watching The World According to Garp, in which Garp was desperately in love with his family and children, I decided maybe we should have children after all. Both, I realized much later, were stupid reasons to bring a child into the world.

I got pregnant almost immediately once we decided to have children, five years into our marriage.  Our daughter Sarah was born in April of 1984 in Kootenai Hospital in Coeur d’Alene, and we moved back to Virginia shortly after she was born; there, we would have family around to be part of her life.

We moved to an apartment on the second floor of an old house in Mathews, Virginia and eventually I went to work as a stockbroker for Thomson McKinnon Securities (now defunct). Nothing helped, however, to keep our marriage together.   Bill and I separated in 1987 and divorced in early 1988, after 7 1/2 years of marriage. Sarah was just over two years old when we separated.

This was my first time to live outside the state of Virginia, where I’d lived my whole life. I didn’t know a thing about relationships as I hadn’t had good role models, and I was entirely too self-centered to be either a wife or a mother.  Life was a struggle for a while after we returned home, as we went through our separation and I tried to juggle full-time work and motherhood. Sarah’s father and I always shared custody of Sarah.  Though her childhood was tough because of this, she admits today that she feels very lucky to have two families, with four parents and four brothers, all who love her dearly.

*January, 1980 to May, 1984*


“ON RETURNING HOME” INVITATION: I invite you to write a post on your own blog about returning home from one particular destination or, alternately, from a long journey encompassing many stops.  How do you linger over your wanderings and create something from them?  How have you changed? Did the place live up to its hype, or was it disappointing? Feel free to address any aspect of your journey and how it influences you upon your return. If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments.

For some ideas on this, you can check out the original post about this subject: on returning home.

Include the link in the comments below by Sunday, June 30 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this challenge on Monday, July 1, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation on the first Monday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂