Years ago, I remember being admonished to put the heaviest part of a load over a truck’s back wheels, so I was careful a few weeks ago to put the Ponderosa pine in the proper weightbearing location on the Umatilla County’s flatbed vehicle. I don’t work on the Umatilla County road crew, but I do walk up into Oregon from Kooskooskie and notice what they are about. When I took the photo of the flatbed and the pine, it reminded me of photos from the 1950s. Back when it seemed possible to do any sort of feat, even load a Ponderosa upright in the back of a vehicle and show it off by hauling it down say Walla Walla’s Main Street for a Labor Day Parade. I changed the photo’s color to black and white adding to the illusion. And yes, this truck parked in front of a Ponderosa pine is an illusion.
Illusions sometimes are frivolous, fostered for humor or delight: the slight-of-hand of a magician’s tricks, the peek-a-boo game with a baby, or the tongue-and-cheek banter about who is better at golf – when everyone knows who it is that always wins.
Illusions can inspire. In the children’s book by Jabari Asim, Preaching to the Chickens: How Civil Rights Legend John Lewis’s Humble Childhood Incubated His Heroic Life, the recently deceased Congressman John Lewis created an illusion for himself by preaching to chickens on the sharecroppers farm where he grew up. Along with nine siblings Lewis grew up poor. He loved the word of God, the verses from the Bible, and hoped to one day be a preacher. The illusion of his flock (literally) listening to him as he joyfully prayed for their wellbeing, inspired his life-long optimism and activism. In his early forays for political justice, in a time when a Black man rising to political positions in the South was unheard of, he created another illusion for himself and eventually he made it a reality.
Here in my hometown of Walla Walla, we have our own form of illusion at work. At a recent Black Lives Matter event, Walla Walla City Councilman Riley Clubb noted that in the last many years, construction of houses have mainly been “large single-family homes.” They are attractive and give the illusion that our community has a healthy stock of housing, but in reality we lack diversity in housing options. This lack of choices impacts families of color to a greater extent, partly because many experience discrimination in the housing market. Clubb encouraged those at the event to support the construction of a variety of housing stock and be willing to create diverse neighborhoods where single-family housing is interspersed with multifamily structures. He asked us to imagine planning more Walla Walla neighborhoods, like our Catherine Street, beautiful in its mixture of homes, apartments for seniors, and condos.
John Lewis asked us to make “good trouble.” Walla Walla and many other cities in America could do so by taking the illusion of good housing and make it into a reality.