Don and Elsie McClean collect things.
Brass tea kettles, pennies and African masks.
Cloisonne boxes, ashtrays and cigarette lighters, though neither of them smokes.
A wooden airplane propellor that’s mounted over the mantel. A caboose out back. A flintlock muzzleloader from either Africa or Spain - Don’s not sure which.
And rocks. Rocks the size of an 8-year-old, lining the driveway, each with its own story.
Best of all, the McCleans collected each other.
Thirteen years ago, Don married Elsie. It is his first marriage, her second. He’s 85 now; she’s 78.
They live on 26 acres stretching up the hill from Liberty Lake. Their affection is tangible. She leans toward him, forehead almost touching his cheek. He apologizes, unnecessarily, for failing to pull weeds around the ore car Elsie gave him last summer for his birthday.
“It’s terrible when one packrat marries another,” she quips.
The two have known each other a long time, all through Elsie’s first marriage of 47 years.
“I was her husband’s best man,” Don says. He still remembers the day in Conrad, Mont., when his best friend introduced him to Elsie.
“I had a hunch I was losing my hunting and fishing partner,” Don says. Conrad is a small town, but, he reminds Elsie, “I’d never seen you before.”
“I’d seen you,” she replies.
Don stayed friends with the new family, taking the kids hiking, building a treehouse for them on his Lazy S Ranch. He traveled, learned to fly. And he built a house for himself. A worker he was, but a builder he wasn’t, he says. Certain projects rank, even today, as a twocase project - for how many beers he provided his crew of volunteer helpers. Completing the house took 37 years, almost as long as Elsie’s first marriage lasted.
“He could only work on the house on Sundays,” Elsie explains. Don and his brother owned Trent Hardware, at the corner of Trent and Fancher. The two brothers worked hard at the business.
Don even slept at the store. When he wasn’t racking up record sales of Toro snowblowers, he occasionally did dangerous duty. One night, that meant a battle with a burglar.
Don keeps a guest book. One page shows a drawing of a man with a swollen shoulder with this caption: “What Don’s shoulders looked like after wrestling a 300-pound burglar.”
“He dropped down through a vent in the roof, and he beat the hell out of me,” Don says.
Other adventures are recorded in the guest book. Such as the time the hot air balloonists drifted over the ridge and landed in brush near the house.
The balloonists hollered down, explaining their predicament, and Don fired up his Jeep to haul the errant adventurers out of the tules.
He tells each tale with relish.
“My wife says I never stop talking.” Even the water storage tanks on the Lazy S Ranch have a story. One started life as part of a tanker truck that rolled on the Lewiston hill.
Don’s acreage is tucked in above the marsh, at the south end of Liberty Lake. Next to the caboose, a $50 purchase from the old Spokane International Railroad, is a lovely view of the marsh and - amazingly - not a single house.
“I love that, after all the new houses that have come in,” he says. Indeed, “for sale” signs dot the edge of Liberty Creek Road, leading to the Lazy S Ranch gate.
Don wrote a letter to the editor this spring, castigating the county for lack of upkeep on Liberty Creek Road.
After the letter was published, a county grader showed up.
“The fellow said that three-quarters of the people who work for the county don’t even know that it’s a county road,” Don said.
He frets about the upkeep around the Lazy S.
“I’ve told Elsie, if anything happens to me, I want her to sell it the day I’m gone. There’s just too much to do around here.”
Don downplays the unusual timing of his marriage.
“I like to travel, you know, and it’s never fun to travel alone…. And we’d been friends for a long time,” he says. Still, “It kind of surprised us both.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
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