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Family and fishing matter most in life

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Just ask Elvin McClain what's really important in this world, and he'll answer you quicker than the blink of an eye. Family and fishing, those are the things that matter in life. And at 83 years old, the Snoqualmie Valley native has had plenty of experience with both.

"My wife and I, why we'd travel all over the place in our trailer," McClain said. "Sometimes we'd spend two months at a time over in Ilwaco fishing. We loved it and we had some great times, great experiences."

Raised in Fall City, McClain worked for Weyerhaeuser for 38 years. He still lives in the Snoqualmie home that he and Claudia, his wife of 63 years, purchased in 1951.

"My son grew up in this house," McClain explained, "now he's retired, too. We can't do so much anymore, so he helps us take care of the place."

Settling in next to the guitar he has played since he was 16, McClain, a natural storyteller at heart, begins to talk about life in the Valley. Within moments, he begins weaving the rich tapestry filled with the essence of his accumulated wisdom: hard work, close ties, personal tragedy and, of course, fishing.

The eighth of 12 children born to William and Anna McClain, it was the passing of his last surviving sibling that led McClain to begin making a written record of his history. Using an ancient family Bible as his guide, McClain documented a century of births, marriages, deaths and minibiographies. An honorarium to those who have passed away, McClain said he was drawn to the task with an urgency so strong that he worked almost non-stop from start to finish.

"You can see here how cancer runs in my family," McClain said.

Noting that most of his siblings had died from the disease, McClain explained that he has been fighting his own battle with prostrate cancer for the past two years. With his family and most of his friends now gone, McClain chooses to remember the good times.

"I've got more than 300 pictures here," he said. "We always went to the kite festivals at Long Beach, and we traveled to different parades. We'd go over to the Pot Holes State Park to fish and at just about every river, and we took pictures of it all.

"We were over there fishing in 1980 when Mount St. Helens blew up. There were 2-foot drifts of ash, and we couldn't get out of there for two days. I rigged a sewer hose from the trailer to my truck engine to clear the ash, and even then the authorities wouldn't let us come out of there alone. Two families at a time had to travel out of the area in case something happened to one." When they finally did make it out, McClain wrote a column detailing his experience for the Valley Record.

Reminiscing on the Valley, McClain spoke about the day that the old plywood plant burned to the ground. He recalled the time his mother lived near the old Snoqualmie school, and when a gasoline truck wrecked on the bridge sending a huge fireball high in the air and melting the bridge right into the river.

"I bet it's still there," McClain mused.

He recounts the annual elk and deer hunting trips with friends and family, proudly showing a bull elk trophy on the living-room wall. Through it all, family and fishing were the ties that bound this salt-of-the-earth family together tightly.

"I got rid of the trailer three years ago," McClain said, a hint of sadness echoing in his voice. "There comes a time when you have to give things up whether you want to or not. Last year was the first that I haven't hunted or fished. My legs and feet, well, they just bothered me too much."

But even as he sets aside so many things, McClain's life is full and his wonder at each new day intact. The McClain's only child, Roger, remains close. The couple's two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren live in the Valley and visit often. Elvin and Claudia McClain, always devoted to one another, have formed an enviable 63-year bond that has only grown deeper with time.

"It's all good," McClain concluded. "It's been a great life."

Valley Portraits is an occasional feature that takes a look at people who contribute to the community. To suggest someone for an article, call Michelle Gisi at (425) 888-2311 or e-mail michelle.gisi@valleyrecord.com.

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