Memories over the years make aloneness easier

by VALLE NOVAK Contributing Writer
| January 3, 2021 1:00 AM

I believe it’s true that the first few years of one’s life set the pattern for the decades to come.

Here we all are, homebound – generally with family but often alone. Many people resent it, some can hardly bear it, others – like yours truly – don’t see much change at all. I’ve been living alone since the late 1970s and wouldn’t have it any other way.

That seemingly blasé statement is not an indication of anti-social leanings – I love my family, friends and neighbors –and know (and love) a large number of varied store owners, workers and such – I am simply content with my own company (and my four cats). I am convinced that this state of things was bred into me in my childhood.

Chilco in the early 1930’s was sparsely settled and the nearest neighbors were anywhere from a quarter- to half-mile away. There were no phones, of course, and no electricity (till about 1934). But that didn’t stop a thriving community relationship. When Mother wanted the McMullan’s to come for Sunday dinner, she’d have Daddy hang a bright Indian blanket on the clothesline, purposely located in a visible spot in the flat, open landscape. If they could make it, they hung out their own signal – which I seem to recall as a wind-sock. Everyone had their own clothesline message item and it worked great. I, of course, took these things for-granted as normal.

Company was rare, but all the folks knew one-another and all their kids and it was like a scattered family. From time to time a group of workers would gather where needed to build a barn, dig an outhouse hole, or put up a load of wood for someone’s stoves. I loved the whine of the gas motor and ker-chunk! of the logs going through the big circular saw owned by a neighbor and pulled by horse-power from house to house when needed. He’d be paid in any number of ways – a side of venison, maybe, or a young pig, geese or chickens. All the men showed up to help – some stacking, other splitting pieces into small sizes for the cook-stove; and the lady of the house always had coffee and pie on hand to treat the volunteers at the end of the day.

Until I started school at age 5, I learned to content myself with little made-up games – rolling marbles down paths made with a stick in a dirt pile – pretending they were racing. I had no friends of my own age but didn’t miss them. You don’t miss something you never had. Therefore, school was a revelation to me. Where did all these kids come from?! Grades One through Six were represented with a total of about 20 students. We started the day with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, and singing the first two verses of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”: “Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord – He is tramping out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored –He has loosed the fateful lightening of His terrible swift sword…” obviously my young brain picked up that God was a terror and not to be messed with!

However, Phonics saved the day for me. I learned to read within mere days – of course I already knew the alphabet, and it set the course of my life. Words, beautiful words – history, geography, literature, there was so much to learn and know. I’ve already recounted in previous columns how I picked out the words about Petra in our National Geographic at home, and it fired the desire to travel and see all our wonderful world! It set the course of my life for years of travel.

However, a confession is due here – lest anyone thinks I was a brainchild whiz kid. I was abysmal at arithmetic. Numbers didn’t speak to me like letters and I just couldn’t grasp them. I couldn’t even figure out how to read the clock – and that curse stayed with me into high school – where I had to take Algebra two years before I “got it.” To this day, though I can keep score for pinochle, Scrabble, etc., I struggle to balance my checkbook.

But words and literature remained my forte and though I didn’t make it to Petra, a plethora of incredible sites offered adventure and knowledge and left me with a lifetime of unforgettable memories. I acknowledge that God truly made it all possible – and I realized that (S)He was not at all the avenger I had sung about as a first-grader. (Visa helped too!)

My obsession for reading ultimately led to a large personal library – now mostly given away – some to family, some to the local Library – keeping only a few favorites to re-read. What’s more relaxing than a good book and a glass of equally good red wine? I’m an eclectic reader, by the way – sometimes for knowledge/education, others for pure enjoyment – The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, for instance, and my complete set of the Dragon world series of Anne McCaffrey (good friend and brilliant artist/sculptor Gabe Gabel , is also a fan).

I’ve always been grateful for my Daddy’s legacy of love for the outdoors and the knowledge he imparted. I’m equally grateful I took a two-year course in Ornithology in college along with my major in Journalism. Anyone who lives here is aware of the beauty of our natural surroundings, and my passion for our amazing birdlife enables me to share a little background for your own enjoyment during our quarantine. I still maintain that if everyone would hang a birdfeeder outside a window, then set a chair inside with binoculars at hand, that the very first bird to appear would make all the loneliness and boredom simply disappear. Aloneness doesn’t have to be loneliness.

Our world is filled with fear, anger and frustration. I cannot understand the brouhaha over masking, however. I am aware that I personally – as well as anyone else - could carry the Covid germ, so am not only willing but determined to negate that possibility by wearing a mask on my rare trips to the grocery store. I don’t feel it threatens my femininity and respect the fellows that also wear them while shopping. I do not find them less macho for this considerate act.

I wish for health and happiness to all my wonderful reader friends and a New Year that’s kinder, safer and saner. On New Year’s Eve, I enjoyed a beautiful crystal flute of excellent Champagne all by myself – I toasted the World and didn’t feel the least bit lonely. Be content with yourselves –and remember we are never really Alone! Happy New Year!

Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at or by phone at 208-265-4688 between the hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.


Valle Novak


(Courtesy photo)

Valle Novak, pictured third from right in the front row, in her last year at Chilco School in 1936.