I spent two years in the late 1950’s making America safe for democracy by keeping a vigilant eye out for enemy planes—North Korean and Russian-piloted MIG’s that might be threatening Oregon’s interior near Madras. My mother, [my sister] Ronna, and I moved to Madras, a town of seventeen hundred people in the sunny interior of Oregon, so my Aunt Mac could help with Ronna. . . . . Watching for enemy planes was first and foremost on my mind. Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, my friend Tub Hobson and I stood on the flat roof of the Madras Fire Department, scanning the horizon for hostiles.

With the naked eye, and a single pair of binoculars traded back and forth, we repeatedly swept all four quadrants, taking no chances enemy planes would sneak by us to attack Culver, or, God help us, open fire on Madras itself. Our Boy Scout leader had warned that even seemingly harmless places like Metolius were primes targets, given the fact that they grew and stored potatoes there. He told of starvation during the Irish potato famines and how Stalin had starved the Ukrainians by taking away their potatoes. Now our enemies threatened Central Oregon’s spuds. I was convinced by our leader’s speech, but Hobson was more skeptical.

“Hairballs,” he whispered. . . . .

What did fly across the Madras skies during our watch? A yellow biplane crop duster, numerous magpies, a confused pheasant that wandered into town and dodged traffic. Closer to the earth, we also spotted a few wobbly drunks escorted by the police from the Shangrila Bar to the city lockup, where they idled until their red-faced wives reclaimed them.

Thank heavens no enemy planes threatened Madras on our watch. In those days, the city police car had no radio (tight budget), so if an emergency occurred, Madge Frudgett, the dispatcher, lit a red beacon on top of the firehouse. The light was visible from anywhere in Madras—except the dark, smoky bars. When he saw the light, Herb Vibbert, the officer on duty, would stop at a houses, ask to borrow their phone, and call in to see what was happening . . . .

–Craig Lesley, Burning Fence (2005)

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