Don’t laugh at the natives

malloy CHUCK
MALLOY

 
In Idaho

Growing up in the Silver Valley, I remember taking a trip with my father one day to visit clients in Kellogg, where he did most of his business as a public accountant. Along the way, I saw a sign saying, “Don’t Laugh at the Natives” – or words to that effect.

I’ve kept thinking about that sign during the ongoing political debates over guns and management of federal lands. The words from my father more than 50 years ago hold true today.

My dad said that the sign was a display of civic pride – to show that people in the Silver Valley were proud of who they were, what they were and their heritage. He said the sign served as fair warning to outsiders who might have had any thoughts about looking down upon the good people in the Silver Valley.

At the time, I couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to laugh at the people for I was sheltered from the seedy side. I didn’t fully appreciate that working all day in those dirty and smelly mines was a helluva way to make a living. One of my dad’s clients was a bar owner and it didn’t occur to me that the bar, along with others that lined one of the main streets of Kellogg, were sanctuaries for many of the hard-working miners. Some of the more frisky ones would go from the bars to the whorehouses in Wallace, and people often joked about that. Mining was the leading industry in the Silver Valley, but prostitution might have been a close second.

When I want to be reminded about how things were, I go back to my old neighborhood on Division Street in Kellogg, where we lived from 1956-58. It’s like a time warp. One of my childhood memories was seeing an old washing machine on the front porch of one of the houses. I’m not certain, but when I visited the neighborhood a few years ago, I think I saw that same washing machine on the porch of that same house.
Now, that’s laughable.

Though I’d never want to go back to live, I love that area and I loved that time of my life. Most of all, I loved and respected the people – from my childhood classmates, to the bar owners and the miners who worked hard to feed their families and send kids to schools. Generations of men in the Silver Valley were knocking themselves out, and sometimes dying in mining accidents. But they were, in their own way, living the American dream.

There’s nothing laughable about that.

Which brings me to guns and management of federal lands. The outside world often rails about the backward thinking of Idaho legislators and clever commentators can get people laughing about the misguided Idaho politicians who seem to want guns everywhere. As for the federal lands, intellectual elite will offer a long list of reasons why the state cannot manage lands as well as the federal government.

But on both matters, legislators have it exactly right as far as reflecting their convictions and the wishes of their constituents. Legislators aren’t in office to represent Boise State University President Bob Kustra, or left-leaning editorial boards. A good number of legislators are firmly convinced that universities, legislative chambers and school classrooms would be safer places if the right people were carrying guns.

Many of those same lawmakers also think the state should take over the management of federal lands. Last week, I attended a reception for House Speaker Lawerence Denney, who is running for secretary of state, and it was enlightening. The audience ate it up – and some people emptied their pockets – as Denney talked about the virtues of state management of the federal lands, and there was nary a word to the contrary.

Yes, this is Idaho – with all its flaws. I’ll admit that sometimes I shake my head over things that are said and done in this state, but I don’t laugh. That sign and the words from my father 50 years ago are locked in my memory.

Those who do laugh at the natives are probably outsiders who don’t understand Idaho, and never will.

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