Born in Roseburg, Oregon, to Emmitt and Helen Dage, the second of three children. Father was a logger and mom stayed home; he cussed and smoked and drank; she didn’t. Two tangible things Dad taught me were how to play cribbage and field dress a deer; Mom taught me the important stuff, like how to brush my teeth and make my shoes last an extra year. They divorced when I was seventeen, then remarried each other about four years later. Go figure!
My misspent youth was spent in Sutherlin, Oregon, a small town where kids ran free, played Little League and Babe Ruth, raided cherry trees and skipped stones on rivers. I caught frogs and sold the legs to the neighbor. That day when I was five or six and Susie, a neighbor pest, had her older brother hold me down in the dead grass of the front yard so Susie could kiss me. She did. On the lips. While I kicked and screamed, her brother laughed. Very traumatic. Still not over it completely.
My older brother, Dennis … that morning at home in the bedroom when I was seventeen and he was twenty-one and so very, very ill (kidney transplant malfunction), him lying on the bed choking on his own swallowed tongue, face blue, Mom screaming, Dad run off with another woman, me straddling Dennis’ bloated belly and forcing a tablespoon between his clenched teeth, prying them open to fish out his swallowed tongue so he could breath again. I couldn’t, and he didn’t.
My younger sister, Bev, currently resides in Washington state with her wife, Laurie, in their beautiful home on a lake. We’re very close. When we were kids, she could hit home runs that sailed far over the fence and into the horse pasture. She’s a fair cribbage player.
When I was twenty I quit college and joined the Army, mostly because I sensed the big world was passing up little ol’ me. After Basic Training at Fort Lewis, Washington, the Army sent me to Fort Eustis (Even Uncle Sam Thinks It Sucks), Virginia, where I learned how to crew chief the AH-1G helicopter, better known as a Cobra gunship. Spent ’70-’71 in Vietnam, mostly at An Khe, a fire base in the Central Highlands. Two memories from that year: One night on guard duty, a monsoon night, me hunkered in my poncho, when I got to thinking how much I hated the Army, and what am I going to do afterwards? Whatever it might be, it would be something as far removed from guard duty as I could conceive, and at some point during that long, wet night I decided to be a teacher. And another guard-duty night, when the Ohio guy accidentally or purposefully–who the hell knows?–shot himself in the face with a .45 and died, and how my fingerprints got on on the gun. (You may find my short story “Guard Duty” of some interest. Click Here to read it.)
After the Army, I enrolled at Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon University), where I received a Bachelor’s Degree in Teaching (Social Science/Language Arts). In ’75 I got married to my college sweetheart and started teaching at Glendale High, in Glendale, Oregon. I also coached three sports. One year later, I had earned my Master’s Degree. In the summer of ’77 we moved to Canby, Oregon, where I began teaching Language Arts at Canby High School. I taught there for the next twenty-seven years, and I was blessed by the many hundreds of fine students who entered my classroom. My philosophy of teaching, loosely stated, was “Kick ’em in the ass, pat ’em on the back.” One of the highest compliments a student ever sent my way was, “Mr. Dage, you’re mean, but in a nice way.” A vivid memory from CHS: The day I learned in second period that John, a dear friend and fellow teacher, had killed himself … it still makes me cry to write about it.
In the ’80’s I began writing fiction, mostly about Vietnam, initially. My love for writing, I believe, can be traced back to Mr. Gary Anderson, my senior year English teacher at Sutherlin High, who taught The Lord of the Flies with such insight and passion that some of it was bound to rub off, and it did; and to Mr. Greg Jacobs, a Comp 101 teacher at Umpqua Community College who, despite my numerous spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors said my style reminded him of Ernest Hemingway, whom I’d barely heard of, but a name like that can’t help but to impress, and it did. And I credit Tom Spanbauer, a Dangerous Writer who, after my two-decade-long absence from writing, rekindled my passion for storytelling. Beyond these fine mentors, I am largely self-taught. I’ve been published in a few places you’ve probably never heard of (Listen Magazine, Expose!, a teacher’s journal, Accent on Living) and I’ve won a few writing contests you’ve probably never heard of (Pacific Northwest Writers, Willamette Writers, etc.). Trout Kill is not my first novel. Perimeters, an unpublished Vietnam story, holds that distinction.
During those Canby years my wife and I had two beautiful daughters, Kassia and Kelly. Kassia currently lives in Astoria with her husband, Matt, and their two lively, beautiful children, Eleanor and Declan. Matt works for Edward Jones, and Kass is super-involved with her community. Kelly lives in New York City with her husband, Neal, and their two super-cute boys, Dash and Mace.
In 2006 I got divorced, and then four years later I married Debra Meadow. We currently live on the McKenzie River, where Debra does her super-creative-artist thing and I write.
What a wonderful read. I look forward to reading all your books. You really forced me to rewind my memory tapes. Hopefully I will be able to get my books autographed.
Shirley, it’s so nice to hear from you again. The older I get, “Rewinding the memory tapes” is something I find myself doing more often. Why is that? I suppose writing has a lot to do with it. Someone once said that all writing is autobiographical, and that’s certainly true of me. Of course, I’m not claiming all my memories are totally accurate, and that’s where (conveniently so) fiction fills in the blanks. Hope to see you soon!
You are not only a great writer, but also a great teacher. I’ll never forget my student teaching experience with you at Canby High School. Now as a veteran teacher myself, I still remember your words of wisdom from so many years ago: “Prior planning prevents poor performance” and “Papers pollute the home.” You were right! Thank you for everything and I look forward to reading more of your work. You inspire me!