I'm writing my column this week as I fly from Seattle to Boise. Once I land, after some conversations with old friends and maybe a few old foes as well, I'm headed to the family ranch in central Idaho, nestled just over a hill from Hells Canyon.
It's the place that has always defined Idaho to me. Both peaceful and wild, and usually filled with family. At the ranch, people, place and history collide in a literal way that hints at the deeper connections beneath. I may have first learned the art of politics and public works in my adopted hometown of Sandpoint, but it's at the ranch that I learned who I wish to be, and the philosophy that's driven me.
My cousin is getting married there this coming weekend, almost exactly five years after my wife and I got married there. There will be a party, and it will be grand and loud and loving in all the ways only a Greek family knows how to be.
We like to repeat an old joke in my family: "Is this a private argument or can anyone join in?" But that question doesn't only apply to arguments. It applies to parties and funerals and games of pinochle. Whether we're fighting or playing or celebrating or laughing or crying, we want to do it together.
The ranch was founded by my great-grandfather, who first came across an ocean to America alone as a teenager and then made his way across the country to the West. He bought the ranch during the Great Depression on credit — a feat that was only possible for a young immigrant because of a hard-won reputation for honesty. The family story goes that he and a group of other Greek sheep ranchers had cosigned on a loan to finance each of their ranching operations. The rest had gone broke and were unable to pay, so my great-grandfather — true to his word — covered the entire debt.
Originally the ranch had a mansion built by a previous, much richer, owner, but I never saw it, as it burned down when my grandmother was a child. When the mansion first caught fire, my great-grandfather's response, rather than rushing to save valuables, was to start throwing mattresses out the window. He was going to make sure his family had somewhere to sleep as comfortably as they could that night.
After a couple of generations of staying in a small cabin, we built a new house a few years ago. Driven by the same philosophy as my great-grandfather, it's mostly filled with beds so everyone in the family will have a place to sleep; the most important thing being that there's a place we can all be together — to more easily join whatever fight or party is happening.
The world is crazy right now, and so is my family. But my family's crazy is also comforting. The ranch offers us a place that is simultaneously outside the world and at the center of it. And right now, it feels like exactly the reminder I need: What's important is that in the face of life's fires, we work to make others as comfortable as we can, that we share in celebrating and mourning together, and that when we see others facing challenges, we ask, "Is this a private argument or can anyone join in?" ♦
John T. Reuter, a former Sandpoint City Councilman, has been active in protecting the environment, expanding LGBT rights and Idaho's Republican Party politics.