It was about 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon. My mom and sister were on a grocery run, which was an all-day event. We lived 4 miles from the nearest road and another 20 miles from Sandpoint, the closest town, and so trips to the grocery store included a pack horse and, usually, a jump start for our 1979 Chevy Blazer, which would often sit for months at a time unused.
We were building a cabin on a remote mountain in northern Idaho. My father had died when I was an infant, and Social Security was the saving grace that kept our family off the streets. However, as I was now 15-years-old, just three short years from manhood, that gravy train was about to end, and my mom had gone into full panic mode. I can’t imagine the fear and pressure she must have felt. Mom had purchased 10 acres of land in the remote Idaho panhandle, with no electricity, no running water, and no phone lines, but for 50 dollars a month, we owned a piece of land where we could build a home.
At 15, I learned how to operate a two-man saw, and I became almost as proficient at using an axe as my sister, Mac, who was three years older than me and indisputably the baddest badass there ever was. She still is. You see, because Mom had been able to raise the four of us kids with the guarantee of Social Security, we always knew that even if money was tight we wouldn’t starve. But now that was about to change.
We built our log cabin in the woods on that remote mountain without the benefit of power tools or building experience. We used the axes and the two-man saw and hammers and spikes. We dragged trees from a mile away, summoning whatever ingenuity we could muster—levers, pulleys, our younger brother’s Huffy bicycle—but mostly determination to beat the approaching winter. We were so close. The log walls were up, and the cross ties and Tamarack rafters were in place. The final remaining job was the roof. Part of my mom’s trip into town that day, in addition to purchasing supplies, was to visit the library, hoping to find some miracle guide to installing a roof.
The morning Mom and Mac departed for Sandpoint, our project was to start “thatching the roof.” The idea would have been laughable if we hadn’t been so desperate. We’d had to clear snow from the rafters at least twice so far, and we knew that winter was coming soon. Without a roof, we were in real trouble. We weren’t just a little scared; we were really scared. So my brother and I were scouring the woods, looking for branches and brush, anything that looked like it might be suitable for covering the roof.
It was getting late in the afternoon, and I was perched between two rafters, 15 feet above the ground, attempting to place some branches across the beams, when I heard a man call out, “Hello, how are you doing?” The memory is so powerful, it literally brings tears to my eyes thinking about it. Any fresh face was a welcome sight, so I climbed down from my perch to see who had somehow managed to find us out here, so far from civilization. Harold Larson was the man’s name. We didn’t know Harold, but he’d heard about this single Mom and her kids trying to scratch out some semblance of survival in the mountains near Vay, Idaho, and he was worried that we might not survive the winter without help.
I greeted Harold enthusiastically. I think he was the first person who had actually made the unguided trek to our homestead. He looked around and asked about our plans, which I told him included thatching the roof and building a fire pit in the center of the cabin floor. There was nothing condescending about Harold. He said he’d be back tomorrow to help, and then he left. I was reasonably certain that I’d never see Harold again.
Mom and Mac got back just after dark, and we told them about our visitor. We were excited that there might be some help on the horizon. Of course we were doubtful—who shows up out of the blue in the middle of nowhere offering help?—but we were also desperate. Snow had fallen, and our plan for weaving thousands of sticks and twigs together in some magical way to keep the heat in and the weather out was sketchy at best. The library hadn’t provided any grand salvo for Mom and Mac either.
It snowed again that evening, just two or three inches, but enough to remind us what was in store. We dusted the snow from the log ceiling joists and started trying to imagine how we could possibly construct a roof from the debris we’d scavenged from the woods. Time was running out, and things weren’t looking good.
The next morning, just past sunrise, five pickup trucks scaled the treacherous road to our cabin. I was amazed that they made it up the steep incline, but somehow they managed. Harold Larson and his band of saviors had arrived to install a roof on our humble cabin, and when we saw them, all our fear, hunger, and exhaustion gave way to pure elation. Their pickups were loaded up with sheets of plywood, batting, roofing plastic, and a crew of workers.
Winter days are brief in northern Idaho, with darkness setting in by five at the latest, but by the time Harold and his crew left, we had not only a pristine new roof on our cabin, but also an old, wood-burning stove for good measure. Now we could use our two-man saws and axes to cut up wood to provide heat.
God bless Harold! I went back to look for him 20 years later because I really wanted to revel in his grace and let him know what an impression his generosity had made on me. As it turns out, Harold and I are vastly different people, politically. Harold is a staunch conservative, a Seventh Day Adventist who devotes his life to his Church. He found us and helped us because of his beautiful spirit and his personal desire to help anyone in need. In other words, he wasn’t just a Christian, but truly Christ-like. I have that same desire to help, and I do help, just without the religious motivation.
Harold Larson and I are on complete opposite ends of the political spectrum, but none of that matters. My admiration for his selfless generosity was greater than our differences. What he perceived as a down-on-their-luck family on a remote mountain in northern Idaho was really us living our own come-to-Jesus moment, and Harold stepped in to save the day.
I love Harold Larson. I don’t really know him, but I know he gave unconditionally, without any expectation of repayment. To me, that’s what the country I live in and grew up in is all about. In my mind, Harold personifies the greatness I expect, not only of myself but of everyone. At a minimum this is what we should expect and cherish from our leaders. Sadly, we are not even close to realizing that type of integrity amidst the moral destruction wreaked upon our nation during this current political era.
I want what you want. I want a roof over my head. I want responsible stewardship. I want integrity. I want honesty. And even though Harold and I don’t walk the same path, we share the same moral compass, this is what we should all want to see from our President.
I’ll admit it, I’m political. I like to read things that might help me understand the “why,” things that might help inform my opinions on the swirling mess that sometimes threatens to engulf us all. Some of my favorite authors are Douglas Blackmon, Naomi Klein, Matt Taibi, David Stuckler, Henry George, Michael Lewis, George Lakoff, Jonathan Tepper and, yes, Barack Obama.