My next clear recollection of that train trip was when we came down the Columbia River Gorge on the last day into Portland. We had been in dry and almost barren brown hills of eastern Oregon then, a few miles beyond Pendleton we were suddenly on the bank of the mighty Columbia River.
I moved to the right-hand side of the coach and gaped in awe. I had never seen so much water in one place before. At home in the Ozarks, especially during the drought years, I could throw a rock across the biggest river I knew about. Now I was gazing at a mile-wide expanse of water that was headed for the Pacific Ocean.
The best was yet to come. After a short stop at The Dalles, we were into the heart of the Columbia River Gorge. The brown hills gave way to mountains covered with green Douglas firs and rocky cliffs over which streams tumbled in great waterfalls.
I moved back to the left side of the coach and, nose pressed firmly against the windowpane, gaped ecstatically as we passed Horsetail Falls, Bridal Veil, and Finally double-tiered Multnomah Falls.
During the final hour into Portland, I felt a kinship with old Brigham Young as I kept repeating silently to myself, “This is the place! THIS IS THE PLACE!!!” That train began a love affair with the Pacific Northwest that would remain steadfast during the remainder of my life, no matter how much of the rest of the world I saw.
My father had borrowed Uncle Austin’s black Plymouth sedan to come to the train station at Portland and he, holding baby Sandra, and my mother were on the platform to meet the train.
My principal memory of that reunion was the reaction of my mother. She had left behind in Missouri a tow-headed youngster that she could kiss on the forehead but I had grown a full six inches or more during those months. Instead of little Conrad, she was looking at a gangling youth, arms and legs hanging out of that too-small grey suit.
As I stepped down from the train, I heard my father exclaim, “There is is!” and as I turned toward them my mother stood stock still as I advanced, her mouth open in surprise. As I came near, she finally said “Conrad?” in a questioning voice then gave me a big hug. The top of her head came barely to my nose.
“Conrad Ross Frieze,” she said in mock severity but with delight, “I swear you have grown a foot in just seven months! Just look at you—we are going to have to get you some new clothes!”
Shifting little Sandra, now a roly-poly one-year-old to his left arm, my father gravely shook hands with me. He simply said “You are looking fine, boy.”
The drive to our new home was fascinating. We crossed the long Interstate bridge over the Columbia to Vancouver. Below on the water I saw a tugboat pulling a big raft of logs slowly downriver—just like the picture in the atlas at Bona School. Upriver there was an honest-to-gosh sternwheeler steamer thrashing along. My father pointed out the DuBois sawmill from the bridge where he worked. He had taken the day off to come get me.
It was a wonderful feeling to be with the family once more.