I recently relocated to the St. Johns neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, and have been trying to get my bearings. “Gritty” St. Johns, as Portlanders say, or “up-and-coming” St. Johns, as Realtors tell us, was once an independent city built on its port and a few industries. It was incorporated into Portland a century ago. The other day I walked by a display, pictured above, in the windows of a store that had just closed. Free verse, public art—Sharon Helgerson tells her story and St. Johns’. Age 79, she is third generation St. Johns and a former Longshoreman, once a member of ILWU Local 8.
Nolan Calisch and Nina Montenegro joined to put her words up, part of People’s Homes, a collaborative art project. The store is across the street from James John Grade School, where Sharon began attendance in 1942.
The other morning I searched online to see what I else I could find about Sharon and ran across this casual picture she took in 1968:
Via the St. Johns Heritage Association.
Bobby Kennedy, campaigning in Portland, made an appearance in St. Johns after their May parade, just a block away from the school, the store with the sign, and the place where I now live. Ethel and John Glenn were there as well. Two weeks later Bobby was shot.
The coming elections are in mind, and I’ve been thinking about ways to repair the break in time and the rent in our social fabric, as well as imagine what words I might put in a public window some day, without success.