Friday, February 19, 2010

Abducted by Aliens in Saskatchewan

Abducted By Aliens in Saskatchewan

Recently I drove up to Saskatchewan to visit Sharon, my buddy since the early 1990’s. Though we both had settled on the West Coast ‘forever’, serendipity brought Sharon and me back to the plains, one after the other. Sharon and her husband Ron, an immigrant from Singapore and a chef, own and operate the Quick Stop Diner in Watson, a town two hours north of Regina . The trip is a good day’s drive, in this country where distance is computed in hours. The foothills and plains give way to true prairie. The unexpected modern city of Regina erupts from the flatland like a Disney dream. I turn north into marshy country. I look for elk and moose browsing in the brush, but this time of year I only see V clouds of geese quilt the blue sky.

The Quick Stop was still open when I arrived in Watson, a town about the size of Chinook. Hugs and hellos. Tea. Introductions to friends. The place buzzed with activity. Sharon and Ron bounced between serving customers and quick stops at my table for stories and laughter. At closing time I swept the floor and wiped down counters. We walked a few short blocks to their home.

Besides their culinary talents, Sharon and Ron are trained in several aspects of traditional Chinese medicine. Sharon lounged on my bed. On the dresser sat an open box, filled with strange heavy open-ended bulb-like glass objects. There must have been thirty. I picked one up. “What is this?”

“Cups. Acupuncturists use them to aid in pain relief and healing.”

“How do they work?”

“I’ll give you a treatment.” Within minutes I lay face down on the bed. I closed my eyes. I felt brief startles of heat as each cup sucked onto my bare back. I remember flashes of light. I’m not sure what happened next. I lost track of time. Maybe this is when the aliens abducted me. Sharon removed the cups, and covered me with quilts. I slept like a baby.

The next morning after my shower, I looked into the mirror. Crop circles covered my back, just like those tracks mysteriously left by space ships in wheat fields or grassy pastures. Hmmm. I mentally ran a body scan. I felt great. However, later that day I discovered irrefutable evidence that my body had been taken over by alien forces.

When I walked through the living room Ron sat watching a curling match on the tube. Canada versus Scotland . I stopped, mesmerized. I couldn’t move. Please understand--all my life, sports, any and all sports, have held no interest for me. Zero. Zip. Nada. I once forced myself to endure an entire football game to impress a man. It didn’t work. I couldn’t fake it. Football, baseball, basketball, hockey, bowling, golf, ping-pong; not my game. I just want to stay home curled up with a good book.

But as I watched the Canadian bend low and hurl the stone down the ice, I felt a curious frisson of electricity move up my spine. I backed into a chair, keeping my eyes focused on the action. I turned to Ron, “What is this?” He explained the rudiments. I learned a whole new language. The lead curler is the skip. The thingy which looks like a turtle with a handle, sent sailing across the ice, is called the rock. Don’t those words feel good in your mouth? The men shooshed the rock as closely as possible to the center of the house. The other team blasted the rock out of the house. Back and forth it went. I could hardly breathe for the tension. I heard the term ‘rock around the house’. Who could not like that? I cheered when the rock landed on the button, the center of the target, which looks like a bull’s eye. I groaned when Scotland had the hammer, the last shot. And something deep within me felt satisfied, fulfilled, as I watched grown men with brooms sweeping for all they were worth.

I love it! I want more. I am possessed. Some people think watching curling is the equivalent of watching grass grow or paint dry. (Insert your cliché of choice here.) But to me curling holds thrills, action, tension, fast pace, and skill. There is only one logical explanation for this incredible transformation. Aliens had abducted me and had injected this fascination with sport of curling deep into my psyche. I like this new me, but my Harlem friends treat me with skepticism and even suggest I might want to check in to someplace quiet for a nice little rest. However, the reporter from “National Enquirer” will arrive any minute to interview me about my alien abduction experience. I don’t know how he found out. I don’t read the tabloids; really I don’t. Well, maybe I peek at the front covers in the grocery check out lines, but who doesn’t? And while I wait for him, I am avidly organizing a group trip to the new curling rink in Shaunavon. After Shaunavon, we’ll go to Medicine Hat for a tournament. Then on to Calgary for a hot meet with the rival team from Edmonton . So, how about it? Want to join us, eh?

My Shameful Defect of Character

My Shameful Defect of Character

These are hard times. I wake up at two in the morning wondering how I’ll make it through the year. What happened to my money? My wallet is flat. My investment portfolio is a joke. The paper my dismal checking account statement is printed on cost the life of a good tree. My emergency savings account at the Bank of Beautyrest is empty. Each day I read the employment ads in the paper.

I used to joke that if all else failed, I could probably get a job waiting tables, slinging hash, washing dishes. But now I must confess to a shameful secret, a painful defect in my character. While for most people it is a simple thing to deftly swish coffee into a cup, I would rather invent a power source which uses a minute speck of dust, negotiate the end of all wars, or implant a device which leaks common sense into the brains of all politicians. Anything would be easier for me than restaurant work. In short, I lack the necessary skills to wait tables. I tried. I failed. Here’s what happened. I was sweet sixteen. My friend Charlotte asked me to cover her job while she went on vacation with her family. So, for two interminable weeks I worked the early shift at Frip’s Café.

Everyone in Harlem gathered at Frip’s. The merchants congregated for mid-morning coffee. Their employees dashed in for a quick and nourishing lunch. Housewives graced the establishment for mid-afternoon pie. Football heroes swaggered in after practice to fill up on double cheese-burgers with fries. Families filled the booths for an evening meal. Frip’s was a landmark, now a piece of history, but then as vital to the nourishment of our community as church.

I was a girl from the farm, lacking the grace and sophistication of the ‘town’ girls. I was shy and awkward. My hands shook holding the coffee pot. I could not carry a cup in a saucer without jiggling the cup. Once I juggled the cup, splattering coffee everywhere. I even dumped a plate of spaghetti with meat balls in a tourist’s lap. What’s worse, I tried to clean it up. When the elderly men teased me, attempting to put me at ease, my face turned beet red, my eyes watered, threatening to spill over, my throat closed and I hung my head and stumbled back through the swinging doors to the refuge of the kitchen.

In the kitchen Beulah ruled. She had cooked at Frip’s for years. She had trained dozens of young women. Beulah cared. She tried her best with me. I think she even liked me. But I was impossible. For example, there is a special language in restaurants. When you order two eggs over easy, ham, hash-browns, and whole wheat toast, the waitress conveys the order to the cook in a kind of short-hand code. I always bungled the code. Beulah would roll her eyes in exasperation and gently correct me. I would repeat what she said and then promptly forget. I was so afraid of making mistakes that all I did was make mistakes. When she rang the bell signaling ‘order up’, I could not remember which customer to take the food to. ‘Chicken fried steak’ arrived in front of ‘hot beef sandwich’. I don’t know who was more relieved to see Charlotte return; me, Beulah or the customers. I washed dishes at Frip’s from time to time, but nobody ever asked me to go back on the floor. I was an unmitigated failure.

Because of this excruciating early experience I have great empathy for restaurant workers. I know how hard their job is. I admire their multi-faceted skills. I see the human being, the unique individual, living a life of service.

So I surprised myself on my recent visit with my friends in Watson , Saskatchewan , the owners of the Quick Stop Diner. The restaurant was crowded all the way up to closing time. I drank tea at a corner table and watched the activity. Sharon had told me she would have to wait tables all by herself the following day. I wanted to help. As I sat there I took note of how the process flowed from order to kitchen to tables. I hatched a plan to redeem myself after all these years. I knew I could help Sharon . After all, my fiasco was safely in the past and I was no longer that shy, bumbling youth.

We did a brisk breakfast and lunch trade. In my new yellow Quick Stop Diner tee-shirt and apron, I put out cups and saucers and cream, napkins and tableware, delivered jellies and catsup, poured coffee, joked with the customers and carted dirty dishes back to the station. I left most of the order taking and food serving to Sharon . I figured to ease into that part of the job. I planned to sign up for advanced training my next trip. I was relaxed. I felt good. Ahhh, sweet success.

Well, almost. There was the incident with the coffee machine. Sharon had explained the precise steps. First place the filter in the basket and hold the basket under the bean grinder. Next slide the basket filled with freshly ground coffee into the slots beneath the water shower. Place the pot on the heat pad. Pour water into the reservoir. The rest is automatic. Sure, simple. I can do that. In actual practice, to my dismay, no two steps may be reversed. Unless the basket is firmly in place and the pot beneath it, you’d better not pour the water into the well. After Sharon mopped the floor, I noticed she raced to beat me to the coffee machine when the pot was almost empty. It was mid-afternoon before I had another chance to make a pot of coffee. I felt like the little train that could. I know I can. I know I can. I know I can. Grind. Basket. Pot. Fill. Auto. Yahoo!

I figure I’ll need two more trips to the Quick Stop Diner for advanced training and then I can apply for my new job. First I will need to master order taking and food serving, including language interpretation. Then I’ll finalize my training with money handling, change making, and charge machines. Two trips. Or maybe three. Soon I’ll master the diverse intricacies. Or, I can always wash dishes.


Crossing the Border

Crossing the Border

When I was twelve my family and I drove to Canada for a picnic. I was excited. Crossing a true international border! Going all the way to Canada ! Oh, man, I couldn’t wait! I had never been further from home than Chinook. I had devoured my cousin Jim’s issues of “National Geographic”. I read my copy of “Around the World in 1,000 Pictures” a thousand times. I memorized the pictures. And now, a trip to a foreign country! I was almost afraid to breathe for fear my Dad would change his mind.

I had boundless expectations. I would hear a different language. I would see onion-domed palaces and golden minarets. I dreamed of jeweled exotic costumes, lush terrain, jungle animals and palm trees.

We crossed the border at Turner and drove to Climax, where I faced one of the huge disappointments of my twelve-year-old life. Because nothing changed. Canada had the same rolling terrain as Montana . Same prairie. Same wheat fields. Same cattle. The same Levis and Stetson hats. We slowly drove up and down the street in Climax. We could have been in Hogeland, Harlem or Dodson. We chose our picnic spot beneath the shade of a cottonwood tree. Same mosquitoes. Same unrelenting wind blowing grit into our food. An afternoon in a foreign country. We might as well have stayed home.

Since that trip, when my youthful expectations were crushed, I have had the opportunity to cross many borders, cultural and geo-political, north, south, and across the big waters. I have been to China . I’ve been to India . I’ve been to Japan . And I am fortunate to count numerous trips to visit friends and see the sights in the countries of our nearest neighbors, Canada and Mexico . I’ve experienced exotic architecture, dress, food, customs, and most of all, beautiful people. My travels have changed me.

Today, I frequently choose to satisfy my passion for international travel with a short jaunt into Saskatchewan . I drive through lush Montana prairie, where the deer and the antelope play, where meadowlarks warble on fence-posts, where red-tailed hawks and eagles criss-cross the sky, where a coyote slinks along the highway, unafraid.

I cross the border at Turner/Climax. At customs I declare nothing more dangerous than imagination. I continue a few kilometers north and pull my car off the road onto the edge of a bluff. Far below, the Frenchman River threads a glacier-gouged gorge through the lush Canadian prairie.

I look around me. Nothing has changed. It is still the same landscape, same wheat fields, same wind, same mosquitoes, same small towns with wind-scoured buildings pinned to the map by lofty grain elevators. Same geography. Different me.

So if you want to see what I see today, you have to stop. Here on the bluff is a good place. You must get out of your car. Put on a hat with a big wide brim so you don’t get sun-burned. Walk away from the car. Find a nice big rock and sit down. Plan to stay at least an hour. Breathe deeply. Let your eyes scan the vista. Pick an area. Notice the colors. Isolate the details. Imagine the sound of the water far below. Listen to birdsong. Feel the wind on your skin. I guarantee you will change your perspective. It is like getting a new pair of glasses.

Hey, I’ve got an idea. Why not join me? We’ll pack a picnic lunch, load up paints and canvases, c-clamps to secure the canvas onto the easels, sandbags to keep the easels to the ground and a case of “Death to Mosquitoes!” And let’s make this is a two day trip. So grab a book or two for the night in a motel in Shaunavon.

When we cross the border back into Montana we’ll have a lot to declare. We’ll have captured all the subtle shades of the Frenchman Coulee, identified birds, painted tiny prairie wildflowers that people whizzing by on the highway never see. We’ll have made friends with a gopher or two. And yes, we’ll take back mosquito bites, despite our best efforts with sprays and ointments.

And, if the light is just right, we will feel compelled to unload our canvases and set up the easels again, to paint Woody Island Coulee. Then, instead of a picnic, let’s grab a bite to eat at the Border Bar in Turner.

We’ll be full of our adventures. Maybe one of the Turner residents will saunter over to our booth and say, “Mind if I join you? Where you been?”

“Oh, man, wait till you hear. We just returned from a foreign country. It was great, really beautiful. You ought to go there sometime.”

I'll Bid Five Dollars

This morning
I’ll Bid Five Dollars

We drove out of Dodson several miles south, up onto the plateau, out toward the mountains. We passed the turn off with the long dirt road to the place where I used to live, another life-time ago. I recognized the same barbed-wire gate. Sun dappled the hills. A slight breeze played with the grasses. A perfect day.

Signs marked “Auction” pointed us in the right direction. Oak pallets, each one heaped with an assortment of goods, snaked across the field. Beyond the pallets, lined out like an old-soldiers honor guard at a funeral, slumped cars and pick-ups, trucks, tractors and machinery, dating from the early 1900’s upward, though none from this century. Several outbuildings were surrounded with carefully sorted stacks of lumber, tools, wire, boxes and bins of parts and nails and bolts.

I signed in and received number 100, a good omen, I thought. I wandered over to the pallets where the auctioneer worked. Trash and treasures. I could find a treasure in the mix on each pallet. I knew every person here would choose a different treasure.

I had not been there five minutes before I started a bid. Two and a half. The bid went to five. Why not? Okay. Seven-fifty. Once. Twice. Sold! Gulp! I had just bought a pallet. I had not really intended to buy it. I had no idea what was on the pallet other than a large brown boxy thing and an old pressure cooker minus the petcock.

The auctioneer proceeded along the row of pallets and I stopped to paw through my acquisitions. Within moments, I sold a box of dishes and another box of something else I did not want. That paid for my pallet. Before the day was over I had sold or gifted everything on my pallet except for the cooker and a box of canning jars. Now, I may never can meat or garden vegetables again, but, then again, I might.

An hour passed before I bought another pallet; this one for five dollars. It was heaped with odd dresser drawers, minus the dressers. Some old wood. A mix of cabinet doors and a sturdy box with dividers creating slots for storing all manner of things. It could have fit into a tool shed, a kitchen or an office. What did I buy? Art projects. Wait till you see what I can do with a dresser drawer.

I bid on some other stuff, but I set my limit, according to what I can see on the pallet. And no matter how much I might desire that particular treasure, I recognize when someone else wants it more.

An auction is a bitter-sweet place to spend the day. It is a book of somebody’s life, easily decipher and just as easily misunderstood. This place was probably homesteaded, and possibly in the last wave of homesteaders, if I read the pages right.

I look out over the hills. Even today something within me yearns for this life, isolated as it is, out here on the flat with the snow-covered Little Rockies directly south and the Bear Paws a notch over to the west. I lived out here during the sixties, snowed in every winter, farming with horses and an obsolete tractor, no running water though we had a good deep well, and no facilities. We never had any money to spend but we were rich in living.

My friends and I took a break from our heavy spending and sauntered over to the cook wagon. Replenished with a generous bowl of hearty beef stew, bread, dessert and a drink, we headed back into the fray.

We watched buyers haggle over the old car bodies. Much as I might want a restored antique auto, if I hauled one home, I could do no more than watch it continue to rust. The auctioneer, like a mother hen with chicks, herded his brood around some large sheds. We ended up over where a large fire had burned down the house.

Oh. That answered a lot of questions. I had figured one of the sheds was originally a house and the owner must have moved to town long ago. Wrong. His niece wandered over and told me that Ole was ninety-three years old, when last December he died in the house fire. She grew up out here on this farm and the pain of loss in her eyes was easy to read.

Around the edges of the pile of debris surrounding the burn were several old stools. Some had three legs. Some had four. Some had legs different lengths. Some legs faced different directions on the same stool. This was not craftsman work. But I recognize treasure when I see it. I piled up six of the stools and bid on them. I’ll paint them each a different color and plant them in my back yard. I’ll surround them with pots of petunias to honor the memory of the old gentleman and my day at the auction.

The Day of the Rhubarb

The Day of the Rhubarb

Thursday morning early the phone rang. It was a friend in Helena . “How you doing,” he asked.

“I’m feeling discouraged,” I replied. “And I have no good reason to feel discouraged. I just returned from Great Falls and a Leadership Training. I met good people, heard great stories, returned home loaded with ideas. I should be having a ‘Whoo-hoo’ day. How are you?”

“Well, I’m feeling discouraged myself.”

“You’re no help. Don’t you know you’re not allowed to be discouraged the same day I am!” We laughed. “Guess I’ll have to dig into my tool box.”

I go to my tool box when I need to tweak my thinking or change my actions. Some of my tools, such as my gratitude list and self-pity expunger, are battered and scarred from use and others are rusty and need sharpening. Meditation is a good tool. So is Call a Friend. I had already used that one and true, it did perk me up a bit. I poked around in my tools. Ah, ha. My iron. Hey, it’s my tool box. Ironing works for me. It’s a form of meditation. And I happen to have a pile of fresh laundry waiting.

Then as the long weekend approached, I looked at my flip-chart ‘to-do’ list. I write my list large, complete with stick-figure illustrations. My “to-do’ list was long. It included work, meetings, theatre, and play. I looked outside. The sun was shining. The sky was cloudless. The weeds were growing. Everything on my list was important. But nothing was urgent.

On Friday I bought plants from the nursery in Havre. I was born with my fingers in the dirt. Dirt makes me happy. The plants loudly lobbied to go into the ground. I agreed with the plants. I dedicated the weekend to grubbing in the yard, the garden, and my multitude of pots. Already I felt better.

Yesterday was a good day. I worked outside for an hour, then inside for an hour, alternating gardening with house chores and re-reading a favorite novel, W.P. Kinsella’s “Shoeless Joe”. Who could not be happy!

This morning I woke up early. Showered, made my morning cup of coffee, watched the sun rise golden through my living room. My room faces north, but when the sun rises, it shoots rays through my wall of windows in a magical golden haze. I sip coffee, grinning like an idiot.

I look in my “tool-box” and decide to bake bread. Baking bread makes me happy. I knead the dough and set it to rise in the big blue pan. I go out to the garden, hook up the hose and water my pots of petunias and geraniums. I grub out a few weeds. Another day free of mosquitoes, no-see-ums, and black flies. “Whoo-hoo!” I dig up a few more weeds. I run inside and punch down the bread dough. It rises quickly on this warm, muggy, humid morning. I read another chapter of “Shoeless Joe”. I go back outside and scatter the birds while I grub out yet more weeds from my never-ending supply. I plant a lilac. I discover that the three decorative plums that winter-killed are not dead. They have new growth suckering up around the main stem. I trim the brittle barren sticks, glad I had waited to pull them out. I go back into the kitchen and shape the dough into loaves and rolls.

Back outdoors, I check my rhubarb. I love rhubarb. My Dad, whose place I bought and where I now live, also loved rhubarb. He planted five bunches. One rhubarb plant makes a year of rhubarb pies. What was he thinking! The stalks are beautiful, tender, aromatic. There are enough mature stalks to make two pies.

I have an idea. I know another man who loves rhubarb. He and my Dad were friends. Now and then he phones just to check on me, to make sure I am okay. I chuckle while I pluck the prettiest stalks, leaving the elephant ear leaves intact. I anticipate the surprise on his face while I drive out to his place. “Here’s a bouquet for you.” He is delighted. We discuss the huge yard and garden where my Dad spent every spare moment. I decline coffee. My bread will be ready for the oven when I return home.

The yeasty smell of baking bread permeates the house and creeps out into the yard. Bees dance around me, sing songs of pollen and honey-flowers. I plant two new bunches of sweet basil in my herb garden. I pinch the rosemary just for the aroma. I feel filled up with flowers and bees and robins and gold finches and raspberry canes and strawberry plants and all things good.

The sky begins to cloud up, the wind blows stronger. I straighten my back, turn and look into the eyes of a robin nested in the poplar. The finches flitter around, landing here and there, helter-skelter, unafraid. The bread is cooling on the counter. I close the doors and windows when the wind comes up in earnest. The sky darkens. Clouds roll black and pregnant with rain. I hurry out to the rhubarb patch and pull out enough for another pie.

I chop rhubarb, roll out pie dough, put the pie in the oven and finish reading my book. I stand in the open doorway watching the rain pelt blessings onto our world. It is a beautiful day. A juicy rhubarb pie cools on the kitchen counter. I breathe deeply of wet earth and warm pie. “Whoo-hoo!”

Dear Hearts and Gentle People

I never know where these things are going to come from. This is a true depiction of one day last weekend. It did not even occur to me to think what I might look like.
Dear Hearts and Gentle People

What a wonderful community I live in! Over the weekend, while hacking out weeds, planting petunias to replace the ones frozen in the last snow, and spreading bark chips, I noticed a number of people would drive by, slow down, point, and then wave at me, big grins spreading across their friendly faces. Some even drove around the block twice. They must have been admiring the improvements and changes I have made in my yard. It made my heart swell to know I live among such friendly and observant neighbors. I actually got tears in my eyes because of their gestures of friendship. Generally I work head down and don’t see a thing. From now on I’m on the lookout for opportunities to wave back.

It truly was a beautiful weekend. Well, except for the mosquitoes. Some lucky people say mosquitoes don’t bite them. Others say they get bitten but they don’t swell up and itch; it’s just a nuisance. I guess they see it as donating blood so their fellow creatures can multiply and fill the earth. I am not so magnanimous. I swell and itch and scratch and bleed and scab and scar. By the time fall arrives and the freeze, O blessed freeze, descends, I resemble a walking case of chicken pox gone wrong.

I like to believe all my fellow creatures have a place in the grand scheme of things. Even snakes. I’m able to imagine going through life feared and much maligned. However, I draw the line when it comes to the pesky mosquito. I begin each mosquito season strong and healthy. By fall, because of them, I am an anemic pin cushion. Even clothing does not deter the evil buzz bombers. They can and will drill through a denim jacket, as long as I’m the one wearing it.

Every summer I buy anti-itch ointment by the case. I slather myself with repellent. And the smell—I smell like the effluent from a chemical plant. Oh, I do everything I can to keep those buggers away from me. In the store I read the fine print on each brand of mosquito repellent to see which contains the strongest poisons. I ignore the directions, scrunch up my eyes and spray the stuff head on. I generously coat my entire face, ears, hair and neck and then move down to cover the remainder of my body, including my clothing, and finally apply two coats to my hands. Then I head outdoors to do battle, frequently renewing the spray. Once I am finished in the garden, I strip inside the door and toss my clothes into the washer on my way to the shower to scrub the nasty stuff out of my hair and off my skin.

So I was skeptical when a solution to my mosquito problem arrived in my email. You know, the kind of helpful hints well-meaning friends send out to everyone on their contact list. Usually I delete these things. Some are silly. Some down-right stupid. Some might work, but mostly I don’t have time or inclination to check them out.

This one caught my eye. It was about dryer sheets. Now I already know about dryer sheets, the kind which prevent static cling and make your laundry smell like a French bordello. I hate the things and don’t use them in my dryer. But I drop them here and there around my basement to keep out the mice and spiders. And I have to tell you, my basement is mouse and spider-free. So when I saw that the list of magical uses of dryer sheets included mosquito control, I had to give it a try.

I safety-pinned a dryer sheet to my cap, one on my right sleeve, one to the left tail of my tee shirt, and pinned others to the legs of my jeans and headed out to my backyard to work. And I have to tell you, I did not get bitten. Not one mosquito bite. Oh, they swarmed around me, but it was like I moved in an impervious zone of protection.

Now I don’t know if this new-fangled magic will repel mosquitoes every time but I feel like I have conquered a plague of pests. I had fun working in my garden. I enjoyed the honks and waves of passers-by. And best of all, I discovered what a friendly neighborhood I live in, all in one day.

I Cooked My Goose

I Cooked My Goose

The other day I was working on a project when a gray pickup rolled up in front of my studio. I watched a man emerge from the cab, look around, adjust his cap and amble to my door. It was unlocked, so I motioned to him to enter. He just stood there. I went to the door and opened it. We looked at each other curiously.

“You don’t know who I am, do you?” he asked.

I hear that question frequently. I dislike that question. It has been forty years and more since I have seen some of my old acquaintances. I sort of know who they are but I can’t quite place them. How do I know them? Where did I know them?

“Take off your cap,” I order. I scrutinize him closely. “I give up. So who are you?”

“You invited us to dinner and cooked a goose.” He laughed. “I’m Pete.”

“Oh my gosh, Pete. I wish you didn’t remember that.” Now I recognized him. Pete and Thelma were neighbors on a ranch south of Dodson, forty years past.

Now that he knows I am back in town, Pete will spread his version of the goose story to anyone who will listen. So I am going to tell you what really happened.

We were both newly married couples. Pete and Thelma lived a couple miles away across the prairie. We invited them to dinner one holiday. Maybe it was Thanksgiving. I eagerly looked forward to my first company dinner.

Though I was only eighteen years old, I was quite proud of my culinary skills. I was especially proud of my blue ribbons for spice cake and rhubarb pie I had won at the Phillips County Fair.

Cooking a goose was not my idea. It was my husband who suggested, “Why don’t you roast a goose.” Though I had never even eaten goose, I had baked hundreds of big fat roasting hens and a dozen turkeys. So how hard could a goose be?

My father-in-law raised geese. He thought we should keep them on our place in Dodson rather than on his farm in the valley at Harlem . I hated those geese. To get to the main road to town, we had to open three barbed wire gates. These crude gates were cruelly designed constructs which required I heave with my entire strength to get them opened and closed. As I struggled with each gate the geese raced to attack me, darting their long necks forward and shredding my ankles with their lethal beaks. I soon learned to armor my ankles with cowboy boots, even when going to church.

The day of the dinner arrived. I deliberately pointed to the meanest goose, the leader of the flock. My husband wielded his axe and chopped its head off. I dunked it in hot water and began plucking feathers. Wet down stuck in my hair. Wing feathers didn’t want to release. I used pliers on some of them. The pin feathers took me hours.

Finally I had the goose clean. I prepared the carcass just like a turkey, filled the cavity with sage stuffing. I stoked up the wood cook stove, popped the pan into the oven and turned to the rest of the meal. My German grandmother had trained me to prepare an overabundant feast. The table groaned, laden with every imaginable accompaniment to the goose. Green salad, Jell-o salad, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, freshly baked rolls, home-churned butter, my own chokecherry jelly, ears of corn and green beans from my summer garden, home canned dill and bread-and-butter pickles, a chocolate cake, a peach pie and a pumpkin pie, iced sweet tea and hot coffee.

My guests arrived. I greeted them shyly. But I felt proud. I knew I had thought of everything. The feast would be my triumph. The goose smelled heavenly. The aroma wafted through the kitchen, which is also where we ate our meals. I pulled the roasting pan from the oven and removed the lid.

I knew right away something was wrong. This great bird, beautifully browned, floated in goose grease. I tried to drain it. I spooned the dressing out of the cavity. The soggy stuffing was saturated with grease. While my husband told a funny story, I sneaked a forkful. I spit it out. We could not eat this mess. But I knew there was no way I could hide it. Everybody was seated around the table. They had watched me fill my only china serving dish. I did the only thing I knew to do. I prayed nobody would want any and set the bowl on the table.

I arranged slices of breast meat onto the platter. They squished, not with juices, but with grease. I flanked the quickly congealing slices with the drumsticks. The platter made a pretty picture when I set it on the table. But I knew its contents were not edible. I wanted to hide. Everybody spooned some stuffing and forked the meat onto their plates. I surreptitiously watched them try to eat the mess. I was nearly in tears. But my guests were polite. Graciously, while he picked a goose feather out of his coffee, Pete began laughing. Then Thelma gently taught me the proper way to cook a goose. My face was red but I was able to laugh along with the others. I admitted this disaster was my maiden run with cooking goose. Fortunately we had plenty of good food to eat. We certainly had a memorable time. And they carried home a good story along with left-over pie.

In the next few years, whenever I would see him, Pete would tease me about my goose dinner. So now I’ve confessed the true story. Anything else Pete might tell you is miss-remembered. The story of my fall from pride is bad enough as it is. And no, I never cooked another goose.


My Tuna Casserole Day

My Tuna Casserole Day
My two Montana cousins and I had just returned from a trip to my old family home in southern Indiana , where aunts and uncles and mobs of other cousins gathered in celebration of my Aunt Mary’s ninety-fifth birthday. For six days we basked in our historical culture, with love, hugs, abundant food, and family stories with everyone talking at once. It was a good trip. On the way back to the Cincinnati airport we only got lost once. We made every connection, complete with our luggage. It was a trip to treasure.

I got home at midnight. I slept well. So why, next morning, did I feel punky, lethargic, and just plain blue? I had just spent the past week surrounded by loving friends and relatives. I should be walking on clouds. Instead, I was dragging my face along the floor. I knew there was only one thing that would dig me out of this pit. I needed a Tuna Casserole Day.

Now to experience a true Tuna Casserole Day, one must feel downright depressed. Self-pity is essential. Loneliness is a must. An ability to wallow in misery is vital.

Here are the rules for a Tuna Casserole Day. You must don a shabby bathrobe. Well, but not just shabby. It must be old, shapeless, stained, unwashed, smelling of sweaty nights and days in bed, colored with evidence of melted chocolate wiped from your fingers, coffee dribbled from blubbering lips and sleeves used to wipe your runny nose. Get the picture? It is against the rules to wash this rag, ever. (I recommend you have a hidey hole where the thing can be stored when not in use.) Health and Safety Warning: This item is to be worn sparingly, in emergency situations only.

Shut the blinds. Lock the doors. Disconnect the phones. Tune the radio to tear-jerking country music. Limit your television watching to soaps. Junk food is taboo. It is too entertaining. Limit your food intake to something that matches your mood. For you it might be chicken noodle soup from the can or maybe cream of wheat. For me it has to be tuna casserole.

Wallow. Yes, wallow. Really wallow. Get down and dirty. Of course the world is going to hell in a hand-basket. Feel it. Of course your life is worthless. Know it. Of course the future of humanity is hopeless. Of course you are broke and dying. Wallow in it. Oh, did I mention, it’s critical you set a timer? You don’t want to be stranded here forever.

So I crawled out of bed trying to remember where I had hidden The Bathrobe when I heard a knock on the door. It was Jerry, a long-time friend from Washington . He said, “Remember when we used to make those gratitude lists? I decided to take a road trip to see you and talk about gratitude.”

Gratitude. My Tuna Casserole Day was doomed. As I watched my day of wallowing slink out the door, I noticed the sun was shining. “Let’s go,” I said.

I had heard there are some spectacular badlands north of Hinsdale on Rock Creek. We decided to try to find them. And find them we did, a miniature Grand Canyon . We made several stops during our journey. We picked up a truly huge snake skin of the lethal variety of snake. At the edge of a field of spring wheat, we found a fist-size agate, a treasure. To our surprise, we spotted a pond full of pelicans. At the high water mark of the creek where we stopped to fish, we found some farmer’s long lost favorite screwdriver with the handle missing. Along the way we talked about old times, mutual friends and plans for the future. We ended the day in Malta with a meal fit for the gods.

So now my Indiana trip is memory. Jerry is headed back to Washington . The rain has stopped. The sun is out. I went out my back door, clippers in hand and returned with a fist full of poppies, a couple sprigs of mock orange, blue bachelor buttons, a late peony, chive blossoms and milk weed blooms. I arranged them in the antique blue glass bowl, a gift from Aunt Mary, and set it on my dining table.

The world is filled with beauty. Life is wonderful. The future is today and I am rich. Who needs a tuna casserole!


My Life With Ruth

My Life With Ruth

I have a new body part, a brand new knee, latest model. When my knee and I were not yet thoroughly acquainted, we often did a polite dance around one another. For example, my knee might have said, “Are you ready to move?”
“Sure, but why?”
“We need to stand up.”
“Oh. Okay. But just a minute, please.”

Let me tell you the story. Forty years ago I was in a car wreck which shattered my knee. It was never fixed right, and over the years the pain increased exponentially. Something had to be done. I investigated. I am self employed and uninsured. Because of the extent of the damage the costs for my knee replacement would have been astronomical, much more than the average surgery. Friends suggested I look into getting the operation done abroad. I researched surgeons and hospitals in several countries. India sounded best. I talked with a woman in Havre who had been there. She added to my information and calmed my fears. I made my decision.

So late last summer I flew to Bangalore , India , for a three week vacation in a hospital suite. After a difficult surgery, loving care by my doctor and the entire hospital staff, and filled with delicious Indian food, I returned home with a state-of-the-art titanium knee. Because of the work I do, I consider myself the queen of saws. Technically I figure I could have done it in my own shop except that I vomit whenever I think about the procedure. They saw your bone off above the knee. Then they saw your bone off below the knee. They hammer posts into your leg bones. Then they glue the movable parts to the posts. It’s sort of like carpentry. My stomach still lurches whenever I think about it. It is not pretty. But after forty years of pain I did not want pretty. I wanted freedom from pain, whatever that took. So that is how Ruth entered my life.

We were acquainted, attached one might say, a few days before we actually introduced ourselves. “So what is your name?” I asked my new knee.

“Really, it is quite obvious, I’m Ruth,” she replied. “Remember the story of Naomi and her daughter-in-law? ‘. . . whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge . . . I will leave the land of my nativity and follow you home’.”

“But my name is not Naomi.”

“No matter.” she said cryptically. “I wouldn’t follow you across the seas and over the mountains and plains unless I knew you would always love me and take care of me.”

“Whoa. That is a tall order,” I replied.

“It’s a mutual agreement,” Ruth responded. So we set out to get to know one another. Love at first sight it was not. It was hard. It involved physical therapy and pain and strength training and more pain. I had to get used to how Ruth felt inside me. We are culturally different. Our physical properties are different. For a long time I did not trust her. I did not trust me. Despite the glue that holds us together, it was not an easy bonding. For a long time I wondered if I would ever walk again. Really walk. There were times I didn’t like Ruth. One day I told her, “You are ruthless.”

“Sure, and where would you be if you were Ruth-less?” she replied. “Listen, I’ve grown to like Montana and I want you to be able to show me more. Let’s get on with it. Lift those weights. Walk your foot down the wall. Twenty minutes on the stationary bike. And we’ll finish with half an hour on the treadmill.”

We now have been intimate nearly a year. It took months of hard work before we got comfortable with one another. She and I went through the usual relationship-building processes. You know, trust, communication, learning one another’s habits, making room for our differences. That sort of thing. Recently we had this conversation. “Are you glad you adopted me?” Ruth asked.

“Certainly. I’ve been free from pain for weeks. I can do things I have not done in years. My strength is returning. I feel great. You are the best thing to come into my life in a long time. But how about you? Are you happy with me?”

“Are you kidding? How else would I get to travel all around the world. Who else would take me looking for agates and dinosaurs and elk and on train rides to Minot . We have fun together. Although there is something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”

“Oh. I know. It’s all the walking I’ve added into our schedule, isn’t it? Am I pushing too hard?”

“No, that’s okay. I let you know when it is too much and time to rest. You listen a lot better than you used to. Here’s the thing, I want to know when we will get to go to the ocean again, walk the beaches with waves lapping over our feet, watch the sun drop behind the horizon. And Fort Peck. You haven’t taken me to Fort Peck yet and you promised. And when are you going to take me on a float trip down the Missouri , huh?”

The Day of the Iguana

The Day of the Iguana

Earlier in the month during my regular check up Dr. Harry had discovered a tiny
cavity. For most people a tiny cavity is no big deal. However, when I am faced with dental work, any dental work, I become a blubbering baby. When the dentist points the needle toward my quivering mouth, I am reduced to mush, the result of a childhood dental nightmare. I will never forget my first trip to a dentist. He was a giant hovering over me with a foot long needle in his hand. “This won’t hurt a bit,” he said as he gave me a shot of Novocain. It hurt like hell. He had lied to me. He immediately began drilling my tooth, probably with a rusty drill, without waiting for the shot to take effect. This was agony. Trying to stop the drilling, I grabbed his arm. He hit me. He was furious. He screamed at me. I was sobbing. As I remember it, he strapped me into the chair and resumed drilling. I have never recovered from this experience.

I am not a coward. In fact, I would describe myself as brave. I have descended into a cave near Belt on a ramshackle homemade ladder and crawled on my belly through a narrow opening and along a ledge to reach a dome room back in the bowels of the mountain. Without a qualm, I have ascended high into the sky above the ocean with a rope umbilical cord loosely tied between my parasail and the powerboat sputtering along the coast of Mazatlan . I have even driven in downtown Chicago during rush hour.

Several years ago a dentist introduced me to the miracle of nitrous oxide. A whiff of the gas and I was taken to a land of no fear and no pain. I called it happy gas. On the basis of my trip home that day, I learned that I should not drive a car after nitrous oxide. Since then I always have a driver with me whenever I visit a dentist so I can inhale a hefty shot of nitrous and not have to negotiate the highways home. This time was to be no exception, I thought, so I asked a friend to drive me.

At eight o’clock in the morning I was leaning back in the dentist chair. With a smile on my face, I requested the good ol’ gas. “Oh, we don’t use that anymore. It is dangerous for the staff to be around nitrous all day, every day,” Dr. Harry said.

I was horrified. My mouth dried up. I could not speak. My eyes were huge with dismay. “There is an alternative,” he said. “Have you ever taken a sedative?” He explained that the sedative would relax me, but that I would not be able to drive home or operate any machinery for twenty four hours, not even my sewing machine.

I was relieved. I was ready. I had a driver. “Please,” I said. I swallowed the tiny pill. Oh, my. Almost immediately my arms and legs relaxed into a rubbery gumby-like state. I didn’t care what the dentist did next. Needless to say, I floated through the ordeal. Dr. Harry is my new hero. He even walked me out to the parking lot to counsel my driver about my care. My friend drove me home, walked me to my bedroom, pulled back the covers, ordered me into bed, placed a glass of water and the phone nearby, told me to call if I needed anything and left.

At four o’clock in the afternoon, I woke up. The phone rang several times while I slept. Mores the pity, I think that I answered it. But I have no idea who called. I have no idea what they said. And worse, I have no idea what I said.

I was hungry, and since I had been cautioned to eat only soft foods, I decided to eat a bowl of ice cream to keep up my strength. As I sat in my living room, eating the ice cream, I watched the trains roar by, east and west. I also saw an iguana go galumphing past my window. It was a quite large iguana, about the size of a Volkswagen bus, gray-green in color with largish eyes and a smile. I wondered what an iguana was doing in Harlem , Montana . When I returned the empty bowl to the kitchen, the iguana galumphed past the dining room windows. We smiled at one another. I was quite entranced.

I was still a little hungry. Nothing in the refrigerator appealed to me. I checked the freezer. Ah, rhubarb pie. That’s a soft food, isn’t it? I popped the pie into the oven and while it baked, I read two short stories and watched two eastbound freights and three westbound freights rumble past my house. And the iguana continued to pass my window, like the trains, east and west. I ate a slice of pie, definitely a soft food, with another scoop of ice cream. It occurred to me the iguana might also like rhubarb pie so I took the rest of the pie outside to give to the iguana. He was nowhere to be seen. I waited. I left the pie on the step.

I yawned and decided to go back to bed. As I turned, I saw the iguana once more. With a gleam in his eye, he winked at me and made a sort of bow in my direction. I waved, thinking he was quite charming. I climbed in bed, eased into sleep and dreamed that I was Elizabeth Taylor in Puerto Vallarta , playing the role of Alice in Wonderland, directed by a galumphing iguana. When I woke up in the morning the pie was gone, the plate licked clean, leaving only the reflection of a smile.

A Small Town Fourth

A Small Town Fourth

I began my Fourth of July by watering pots of petunias and sighing over the ever-present dust. The previous evening we had a non-storm, the type I call ‘Big Hat and No Cattle’. The wind blew and blustered, black clouds gathered high above, thunder roared and lightning flashed. I stood on my front steps and hoped for rain to settle the dust, but the clouds rose even higher and briskly marched across the sky to a Sousa beat. Later I heard that in the mountains to the south of us and on the high plains to the north, some folks got more action than they had wanted from those same clouds, but here in our section of the Milk River Valley, we stayed dry and went to bed with a clear sky above and the waxing moon erasing the dark night.

In the early afternoon I had a surprise visit from Charlotte, an old friend from high school, up from Billings to visit one of her daughters. We reminisced until it was nearly time for the parade. It is only four blocks from my home to Main Street . I hurried off on foot, hoping I would not be late, and arrived just in time to watch the parade get underway, led by the Fire and Rescue vehicles. The parade had everything; vintage cars and trucks decorated with streamers, floats, marchers of all ages waving flags and carrying banners, young people zipping around on ATV’s, beautiful horses with stately riders bringing up the rear. The marchers waved and we waved back. They threw handfuls of candy and balloons. Small children scrambled for the goodies. We spectators along the sidewalks chatted with one another with smiles, hugs and handshakes.

When the parade ended, we walked from Main Street to the city park. There the Harlem Civic Organization had set up serving tables for the annual Potluck in the Park. On these tables were children’s wading pools filled with ice to keep pot luck dishes cool and electric roasting pans to keep the barbequed pork hot. There were long rows of tables and chairs set up for the hungry diners. One thoughtful community member had set up a huge bank of speakers where as DJ he played lively background music, just loud enough to listen to but soft enough to allow easy talk with neighbors. It was early yet. Children played on the new playground equipment and romped on the grass while their parents staked out a family area and visited from group to group, keeping a watchful eye on the kids. I meandered over to the playground to help with the games for the little guys. I sat in the shade of a tree and handed out prizes to the winners. What fun to watch the children run three-legged races, sack races, crab crawls, backwards races and tugs-of-war, to shout encouragement to the participants, and to cheer for all the children. After each race I was mobbed by kids for their prizes. All were winners in my eyes. I passed out handfuls of booty.

The Civic Organization had set up a tent with photo displays of our town, pictures of things we like about our community as well as things we would like to change. Harlem is taking part in the Horizons Project, a program designed to help revitalize a community. The project helps members of the community plan what they want and then put their plans into action. Everyone has input into the planning. One step in this process includes a survey. Citizens hovered over yellow survey sheets as they thoughtfully painted a word picture of their visions for Harlem . The Potluck in the Park was a perfect venue to gather a large cross-section of our people in one place for this survey.

At six o’clock the food was ready. We formed lines, heaped our plates, and filled the tables in the park to capacity. Friends, neighbors and guests feasted on good food and fellowship. There must have been nearly three hundred people at the dinner. In that magical loaves-and-fishes way of potlucks, everybody had plenty to eat. We laughed, told stories, and enjoyed one another’s company. Around eight o’clock everyone spontaneously began to gather up empty plates, to break down folding tables, to stack chairs and to carry supplies to the large Seed Show truck to be stored until the next community event.

I walked home to find an unexpected surprise on my doorstep, bare root chokecherry, sand cherry, Saskatoon berry, lilac, golden currant, and plum sprigs, gifts from a friend. The only thing that could top off this day would be the fireworks. I stood in my back door and watched the sky rockets explode color umbrellas in the night sky. What a complete day. A diverse community had come together to celebrate our nation’s independence. We had a wonderful time.

I Could Have Danced All Night

I Could Have Danced All Night

We of the Harlem High School Class of ’63 were a tight bunch. Whether we were working on a school project like building floats for the Homecoming Parade or a community project such as Clean-Up Day, it often seemed that, without consulting one another, we worked as a unit, all of the same mind. We thought we would maintain that special closeness throughout our lives. Yet after graduation we scattered like seed in the wind, into jobs, the military, college, marriage, distant places.

So forty two years later, at the 2005 All-School Reunion, several of us put our heads together, looked into one another’s eyes and said, “We don’t know each other anymore. We don’t want to lose touch again. What can we do?” We made a commitment to meet annually. Since then we have come together in Virginia City , Big Sky and Ennis.

We have found healing and forgiveness in our gatherings, in re-union. Old hurts disappeared. New bonds formed. Smiles grew larger, laughter deeper. Between the reunions we email, write letters, and pick up the phone. We keep in touch. We are here for one another.

Reunions are such fun. First come the lies. And I love them. “Gosh, you look great!” “You haven’t aged a bit!” “We are a good looking bunch!”

Then comes all the catching up, the Remember Whens, the Children and Grand-children, and the Bragging-About-Accomplishments. Pictures are passed around. We look through old year books. In small groups and one by one, we regain the closeness we formerly had, but now with more depth. We have found that getting re-acquainted is a precious trust. We like one another even more than in the old high school days. By the second day layers of reticence peel away. We begin to tell the other stories, the things we each went home to and never talked about, things that made us who we are. Some were sweet, some were sad, some poignant, some brought tears. “I wish I could have been there for you.” “Ah, that’s why I liked to visit your home.” “I wish I had been a better friend.”

This year we gathered at the home of Donna and Duane in Lincoln . Donna had prepared mounds of spaghetti, huge vats of meat sauce and a table full of homemade French bread for Friday night supper. We played games in the back yard, a crazy kind of horseshoes. We mingled and mixed. Graduates from other Harlem classes who heard we would be in Lincoln joined us. We welcomed them and made them honorary members of the Class of ‘63. We didn’t want the evening to end but nightfall sent us, tired and happy, with hugs and handshakes, to our cabins or tents or rooms.

Bright and early Saturday morning we met for the promised skillets full of sausage gravy, platters of fresh biscuits and dozens of eggs. Did I mention homemade huckleberry jam? We fortified ourselves and headed out in search of the famous Lincoln grizzly bear. We toured the jerky factory, hiked, fished and identified wild flowers, and even poked through yard sale tables of treasure. We snared strangers to hold the cameras for group photos.

I love this stuff. Seeing my oldest friends, meeting their spouses, listening, laughing and even crying left me feeling full and overflowing. I could hardly wait for the Saturday evening finale. Donna and Duane had arranged for us to have steak dinners at the Bootlegger followed by dancing to live music.

Last year I had promised myself that this year I would dance at our reunion. At one time I loved to dance but that had been twenty seven years ago. Once I had small children I seldom had the opportunity, and finally, with a shattered knee, I was physically unable. I hoped that surgery a few months ago had given me the chance to try again.

Sax Cadillac, a band from Havre, were tuning up their instruments when we arrived at the Bootlegger for dinner. We devoured our steaks with gusto. When the music began, they played the same songs we had danced to in high school. Our songs. They were a hot band that night. The dance floor filled and never emptied.

But there was one problem for me. The beat was too fast. My brand new metallic knee was not ready for fast dancing. I was almost in tears. In my heart of hearts, I knew that if I did not dance this night, I might never have the courage to dance again.

Then Sax Cadillac changed gears and began a slow waltz. A man in a leather motorcycle jacket approached me, held out his hand and said, “May I have this dance?” With a smile, I took his hand and walked out onto the floor and into his arms. My feet flowed with the music. My heart sang with joy. Here we were, a group of classmates dancing in a small town pub to a small town band. For most people this would not be a big deal. But for me it was the best dance of my life. It was the dance I had almost missed. It was the dance that assured me I could do anything. I smiled at the stranger who guided me around the floor. I knew this would not be my last dance.

Chance Encounter at the Creamery

You never know when you'll meet a friend you didn't even know you had!
Chance Encounter at the Creamery

If I were stranded on a desert island with only one food, I would choose ice cream. When I was a child it was my favorite treat. It still is. So when the Creamery opened in Chinook a couple years ago, I celebrated its presence with a vanilla malt. When it closed in the fall, my heart fell. Ice cream may be a seasonal treat for you, but for me, I savor it year ‘round.

I don’t go to the Creamery every time I am in Chinook. When does a treat cease to be a treat? I don’t want to take that risk. So I often have to white knuckle the steering wheel right on past. But school had started. Summer was all but over. Winter was in the air. The Creamery would soon close. I let my van, Roshanna, lead me right up to the door.

Roshanna is a carmine red cargo van with my business logo embossed on the side panel. She and I have been partners for over twelve years now. I enjoy a special relationship with her. When I picked her up at the dealer’s, I asked her name. I knew we’d be together a long time. Cars, like cats, have names. “Roshanna,” she said. “That’s a strange name,” I said. “You should talk,” she replied. We are friends. I take good care of her. She knows my likes and dislikes. Therefore she automatically turns into the parking lots and glides to a stop at the Little Montana Café in Grass Range , the A&W in Roundup, the cute little coffee shop in Troy , the Mangy Moose in Priest River , the German café in Ritzville. You get the picture.

I purchased my vanilla cone and sat at the table out front, enjoying the late summer warmth as the ice cream trickled down my throat. A bicycle pulled in front of the shop. Roshanna winked at me from her parking space. We both recognize a kindred spirit when we see one. The rider pulled off his helmet and placed it at the other end of the table where I was sitting. “I see your bicycle automatically drove you here,” I said to the rider. “It never passes up an ice-cream shop,” he said. We grinned.

Then his buddy rolled in on his bike and we had a minute or two of chit-chat. They were pedaling coast to coast, from Seattle to Boston . The man who stopped for ice-cream was from Seattle . His buddy was from Boston . Boston asked me if I knew of a barber in town. He ruffled his hair, sweaty from the ride. The men had been on the road nearly two weeks and he was feeling shabby.

“Why, yes. Go down to Indiana Street and turn right. The shop is three or four blocks up the street, on the left. The sign simply says ‘Barber Shop.’ Linda is the barber. Tell her I sent you.” Then I added, “She’ll hack it off for you.”

The men bent over with laughter. I laughed too. I don’t know why I say these things. I don’t mean anything by them. It is a form of what I call “cowboy talk”. These phrases bypass my brain and roll off my tongue.

Seattle went inside to get his ice cream. Boston jumped back on his bike and rolled down the street, still laughing. I climbed into Roshanna and headed out of town. But first, I drove down Indiana and sure enough, the Bostonian’s bicycle was parked in front of the Barber Shop.

A chance encounter at the Creamery, my blurted out remark, and these men will never forget their stop in Chinook where Mr. Seattle had ice cream and Mr. Boston had his hair hacked off.

Sondra Ashton
Havre Daily News: Home Again
Published November 25, 2009

Up To My Neck in Hot Water

Up to My Neck in Hot Water

It was a night much like tonight. The wind whipped sheets of snow around the corner of the house, ice rimed every surface. Snow piled in drifts which the wind, like a restless housewife, never satisfied, picked up, dragged elsewhere, then shoved back again. Temperatures had plummeted and settled with no notion of moving upward. Aspen , Karla and I sat on the floor in my living room playing rummy. The boys kneeled in the opposite corner, constructing fantastical buildings with Legos.

We were single women in Missoula , raising children, and adrift in the same boat of poverty. Karla did odd jobs about town. Aspen worked at St. Pat’s and raised two children she had not birthed but loved just the same. I put an ad in the paper and called myself the “Scissors Wizard”. I hemmed blue jeans, replaced zippers in ski jackets, and altered chiffon formals. If it could be done with a needle and thread, I did it.

Our pleasures were few, simple and mostly of our own contrivance. I had moved to town late in the fall and these women were new-found friends. Karla said, “Let’s bundle up the boys and drive out to Sleeping Child.”

Aspen walked to the window and looked outside. “In this mess? My jeep won’t even start.”

“What is ‘Sleeping Child’?” I asked. “ Hot springs ,” they answered in unison.

We emptied our purses and pockets into a pool on the floor and counted the loot. Entry was only a dollar or two and we could stay as many hours as we wanted. We had enough money leftover to put gasoline in Karla’s clunker. Mine was sitting out front with a flat tire. It would sit there a couple more weeks. I had a block of commodity cheese and a loaf of bread so I made sandwiches. Aspen lived a couple blocks across the park. She ran home and came back with orange juice. Karla had brought over brownies for later. We were set.

We packed the boys and our winter picnic lunch into the backseat of Karla’s beast of a car and headed south out of town to Sleeping Child. We undressed in the change house and, nearly naked in our bathing suits, skittered and slipped through the snow, across the ice. The boys dived into the large pool and frolicked about. We eased into the smaller hot pool. As our limbs relaxed, we basked in the heat, watched the steam roll off our shoulders. We floated and gazed, mesmerized, at the star-studded sky. Some time later fat snowflakes drifted lazily into the hot waters. On the way home we all sang songs until our worn-out boys fell asleep. Then we women, sated by the warm waters, quietly shared our fears and hopes to the tune of the tires shooshing along the snowy road.

Thereafter, nearly every week, seduced by hot water, we loaded food and boys into whosever car was running and drove out of town. We went to Lolo Hot Springs, at that time housed in a primitive barn. Sometimes we drove to Paradise and Quinn’s Hot Springs . If the roads allowed, we crossed into Idaho to Jeremiah Johnson Hot Springs , a series of bubbling pools in the briskly flowing Lochsa River .

When I moved to Washington I traded hot springs for a hot tub on my back deck, which my family and I used daily. It wasn’t the same and I missed my friends. Oh, the kids and I occasionally trekked to Olympic Hot Springs, where numerous thermal pools snuggled into the hillsides, a short drive and a long hike into the mountains near Port Angeles .

What had begun as a subtle seduction had turned into an addiction. So twenty five years later I returned to Harlem , hooked on hot water. And I had a dilemma. Sleeping Buffalo , the nearest hot spring, was a bit of a drive, though I did avail myself of its pleasures now and then. I wanted to sink to my ears in hot water every day. Most bathtubs are useless for soaking. The tubs that were deep enough cost too much, were huge and inappropriate for my tiny 1970’s bathroom. I could not afford to buy, maintain and heat a hot tub. What was a woman to do?

One day in Havre I drove up the hill to Big R and parked. Right in front of me, stacked behind the fence, in a variety of sizes and shapes, sat the solution to my problem. I nearly danced with excitement. I took some measurements, drove home and took some more measurements, drove back and bought a galvanized stock water-trough for a mere seventy dollars.

Then I proceeded to rip apart my bathroom, plumbed in the trough, lined the walls with cedar and burlap, propped an ancient wooden ladder in place of a towel rack, installed an old dresser to hold my sink, and built an outhouse surround for the commode. The traditional quarter moon on the door completed my rustic in-house out-house.

Let the wind roar, the snow fall, the drifts pile and shift and bury all evidence of yards and sidewalks and streets. Let the ice build and snow and cold have their way. Tonight I am in my own tub, in my own home, steam wafting off my shoulders, up to my neck in hot water.
Sondra Jean Ashton
Havre Daily News: Looking out my back door
January 7, 2010

Showdown At Sundown

Nothing like a meeting!
Showdown At Sundown

Nasty Nate, nattily attired in black, from his hat to his boots, swaggers in and leans against the wall at the back of the room. He adjusts his ten-gallon hat, opens his jacket to expose the butt ends of sinister chrome-plated six-shooters, sneers, draws, twirls the pistols, then slams them back into his holsters. He stands, hands on hips, cigarette dangling from his lip, ready for action.

At the front of the room the Councilpersons, all wearing good-guy white hats, cower behind their desks. They glance at each other resignedly. Another ambush by Nasty Nate.

Steely eyed, Nasty Nate peers at his favorite target, Councilwoman Pollyanna Priss. He fires from the lip. “You been playing fast and loose for a long time, Councilwoman. You promised that garbage would be on the agenda tonight. So where is it? I want to see the Garbage Ordinance and I want to see it now.”

“Yeah, he wants to see it now,” challenges Nate’s side-kick, Dolly Doolittle, as she saunters in the door, dressed in low-cut, red frilly dance-hall regalia and joins her partner. Together they insolently twirl their revolvers like gamblers shuffling stacked decks.

Councilwoman Priss sneaks her derringer from her boot and craftily fires back, “The City Council is not at your disposal, Nasty Nate. Garbage will be on the agenda when the draft ordinance is good and ready.”

In response, Nasty Nate and Dolly stomp out a high stepping, synchronized dance number, managing to make it look menacing. Spectators join the leg-kicking, foot-pounding hoe-down.

Mayor Malcolm Muchley bangs his gavel, shouting, “Order! Order!” City hall is in an uproar.

For sheer live entertainment, an action-packed reality show that tops anything you can see on television, nothing beats a government meeting. State meetings, county meetings city meetings, school meetings. Given the choice between watching the insipid offerings of the tube and real live thrills and excitement, town hall should be bulging on meeting nights. It beats flipping channels and you don’t have to fight over the remote. Meetings about bridges, water, sewage, roads and finance. Transfer stations, landfill, recycling, lift stations, sewer lagoons, filtration and chlorination, budgets. This is the real deal. Drama and comedy, outspoken opinion, challenges and defenses, struggles, deadline pressures, and at times, smoke and mirrors. This is good stuff. These folks are into action. They get things done. This is grass roots citizen government, government by the people. It is participatory theatre. When you show up, you are a member of the cast.

Meanwhile, back at city hall, tension mounts as Nasty Nate, whose natural nature is negative, launches a second attack. “What about the #*#%# pot-holes? If I break an axle on my pick-up,” he shouts, “I’m going to sue the city.” He lets out a stream of profanity that would smoke a duck. Folks in the audience huddle behind their chairs, terrified. Suddenly Councilwoman Pollyanna Priss, intent on heading Nasty Nate off at the pass, climbs onto the table. She reaches into her handbag, extracts an ancient blunderbuss and lights the primer. She thrusts her arm into the air. “Let’s raise his taxes!” she shouts.

“Aye.” “Aye.” “Aye.” “Aye.” In quick succession the votes are counted.

Nasty Nate, riddled full of holes, collapses in a heap on the floor. “I’ll be back,” he rasps.

Mayor Malcolm Muchley bangs his gavel, “Motion carried. Meeting adjourned.”

Sondra Ashton
Havre Daily News: Looking Out My Back Door
January 14, 2010

Water on My Brain

Running Waters
Water on My Brain

Today I celebrate Water Appreciation Day. It’s my own private observance. I named the day myself. Actually, I observe frequent water appreciation moments. When I turn on the tap and the precious liquid gushes forth. Or when I stand beneath the rain nozzle on my shower. Or when I pull the little chain.

We live in a part of the country which outsiders frequently describe as “brown,” in an area in which the average annual rainfall can only be depicted as “pitiful.” I support and practice water conservation in my own little way. Perhaps the results of my conservation efforts are only a drop in the proverbial bucket, but I do my part.

My motivation is completely self-serving. The emotions which fuel my gratitude when I turn on the tap well up from my personal memory bank. I am happy that my neighbors all have good water, but only because I do too. I don’t regret the rich experiences which resulted in my full and over-flowing memory account; I simply do not wish to repeat them.

Back in the mid-sixties I lived on a little ranch south of Dodson. To borrow from Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” To say we lived a primitive life is an understatement. We lived in a little shack created by cowboy-ing three grain-storage buildings together, shotgun style. One stepped over a threshold to enter each of the three rooms. Some homesteader had added windows (for light) to an already drafty structure and tacked on a roof. The well-built barn, heated only by the breath of the milk cow, was warmer. When winter winds blew, the curtains wafted in the breeze. I quickly learned to tack sheets of plastic over the windows, inside and out. We heated with wood and coal. I had an electric range sitting next to the wood-fired cook stove. The electric range sat idle except during the summer.

Here’s where the water comes into the picture. I am not complaining, just reporting. It is just the way things were. I couldn’t rely on the creek for water. Deer Creek, right outside my kitchen door, only ran during spring melt-off and the rare cloudburst. Although we were among the last people to farm with horses, we did not have to hitch old Tom and Jerry to the wagon and haul barrels down to the Milk River , a couple miles across the hay fields. During the hard winter of ’64, when we retired Tom and Jerry, I helped break the new team, Harry and August, harnessed to the sleigh, over the deep snow to feed the cattle every day.

But, no, we did not haul water. Er, not any distance. We were lucky. We had a well. We had a good deep well with good pure water so cold it hurt your teeth, even on the hottest summer days. When I got married my father-in-law gave me two brand-new galvanized buckets. And the pump was only fifty steps with empty buckets down the path from the kitchen door. It took twice as many steps sloshing back when they were full. With them I hauled water to fill the reservoir in the wood stove. I hauled drinking water to another bucket on the stand inside the kitchen door. Beside it sat a wash basin. A dipper hung on a nail above the bucket. A towel hung on a nail above the basin. The slop-bucket where I poured dirty wash-water, dish-water and food scraps, sat on the floor beside the wash stand. When it was two-thirds full, I lugged it out to the creek bank and threw it into what could have been a great compost pile if I’d had any sense.

From the well I hauled bucketsful of water for cooking. I hauled water for cleaning. I hauled water for washing clothes in the wringer washer. I hauled water to fill the galvanized bath-tub which hung on a nail outside the kitchen. I hauled water to heat in the copper boiler on the wood stove, winter and summer. Every drop of water I hauled in, I hauled out again, all in open five-gallon buckets. Hauling water in the summer was a chore. But every winter was a winter of my despair.

The other facility used no water. It was the little house down the path behind the main house. In the summer it reeked noisomely. Wasps and rattlesnakes hung out there, keeping us on our toes. In the winter, well, constipation was a problem.

The way we lived was neither good nor bad. It was just the way we lived in that time and place. We were fortunate we had electricity. But the day my father-in-law said he was going to put running water in the barn, but not in the house, was the day I began packing to leave.

There was nothing romantic about the way we lived. The Society for Creative Anachronism holds no appeal for me. Give me running water from the tap, an indoor flush toilet, a washing machine settled in its own little room, and I am blissfully happy.

Sondra Ashton
Havre Daily News: Looking out my back door
January 21, 2010

In Search of the Elusive Lefse Stick

In Search of the Elusive Lefse Stick

It began with an invitation. Katie said, “Come on out Saturday afternoon and help us make lefse.”

“Wonderful,” I answered. “I’ve only done it once before. Years ago, when I was a young woman, my friend Mary took me with her to visit her mother-in-law and we made lefse.”

For a moment I was lost in memory. It was a crisp autumn day in Lambert, a few miles due west of Sidney . Mrs. Lake held court over her immense country kitchen orchestrating a Scandinavian feast. Mary and I were in the center of the fray. Hordes of children and other family members, all of distinctive Viking ancestry, streamed in and out of the kitchen, swiping snacks from the cookie jar or the jumbled shelves of the refrigerator and risking a smack of the stirring spoon from Mrs. Lake, who never ceased laughing while cooking and keeping track of babies.

I remembered huge vats of steaming potatoes. I remembered standing over a giant pottery bowl ricing potatoes as fast as I could. Mary measured the potatoes into another bowl and added the butter, cream, sugar, salt and flour. Mrs. Lake stirred meatballs with one hand, pulled a tray of cookies out of the oven with the other, and still managed to have a pair of hands free to knead the potato dough. I remembered a huge black wood cook-stove, a roaring fire in the firebox, the top surface cleaned and polished to create a lefse grill.

I remembered being handed a warm circle of dough, sprinkled with powdered sugar, my first-ever bite of lefse. I wondered how this experience had escaped me since I was raised in a community largely made up of second and third generation Scandinavians. And I had never tasted lefse. Uff da.

That Saturday afternoon at Katie’s house, the maelstrom was outside with falling snow swirling around the farm buildings unlike the storm of family streaming in and out the doors at Mrs. Lake’s. But the smells in the two kitchens were the same. Katie formed the dough into smooth patties. Her son Trent manned the modern electric lefse grill. And I was given the most honored place, at the rolling pin, sprinkling flour and rolling the patties into approximate rounds. Some looked like amoebas. Trent slid the turning stick beneath the papery thin dough and lifted the dough onto the grill. Katie wrapped the steaming golden circles in towels to cool. I rolled another round. When our labors were over we sat down to enjoy our lefse, lightly buttered and sprinkled with brown sugar and eaten with appropriate sounds of appreciation. Katie sent me home with a bag of my own.

That night I decided I wanted my own lefse-making equipment. I knew I wouldn’t make lefse more than once or twice a year, probably to impress my out-of-state guests. But my kitchen lacked some essential tools. I had the rolling pin, of course, and knew I could make do with my cast iron griddle and there are many methods to smash potatoes, but there is no substitute for an authentic wooden lefse turning stick.

So one Sunday in Havre I began the search. I started at Herberger’s. While their kitchen section was impressive, they lacked a Norwegian Korner. At Northern Home Essentials I bought a cloth rolling pin cover, a helpful item, but no lefse stick. I zoomed through every store that was open. Nada. I went to the K-Mart down the hill, feeling there was only a slight chance of success, but I hoped to find one in the Martha Stewart kitchen section. No luck.

Now the search became a quest. At Ace Hardware in Chinook I found a potato ricer and a round cloth covered pastry board, so I bought them. I went to Chinook Hardware and in an out-of-the-way corner of used and marked-down items, I found a nearly-new lefse grill, still in the box. I dithered over the price, haggled with the proprietor and bought it; a satisfying transaction for both of us. Now I had acquired all the items that I could have done without but I had not located the one essential thing, the lefse turning stick.

Back in Havre another day, I cruised the aisles of the Salvation Army store, often a treasure trove. Walked out empty handed. Then I had an idea—try the pawn shop. So I entered Leon ’s Buy and Sell. Oh, my. Although the store looks small from the front, it is a veritable warehouse inside with shelves and cases crammed with everything. Nearly everything. Everything but my now precious lefse stick.

I know what my lefse stick looks like. It is wooden, probably oak or maple, delicately long and thin. I know the heft of it in my hand. As a last resort I turned to the internet. I found lefse sticks but they are only sold in complete kits. And I already have everything the kits contain—except for the elusive lefse stick.

I’ll continue my quest. I’m hoping to make a trip to see relatives in Indiana next summer. I will detour through North Dakota and Minnesota , exploring every Scandinavian community along the route. I know I am getting closer. I can feel it, ja?

The Right Way

And it is my way, all of the ways.
The Right Way

When I was growing up I learned that it was important that I always get it “Right”, do things the “ Right Way ”. The “ Right Way ” was never spelled out for me. So I had to watch like a hawk and hope to figure “It” out. But, if I did not catch on in time, I caught a different “It”. This “It” meant a willow switch to the back of my legs or humiliation or harsh words.

“Antoinette insisted we put together a five-hundred piece jigsaw puzzle,” my daughter announced with laughter.

“Five-hundred pieces! But Annie is only four. She won’t have the patience for that. Last month we bought her half-a-dozen twenty-five piece puzzles.”

“She whips through those, Mom. Maybe the big one will be too tough for her, but she insisted. She and I turned all the pieces right side up. Then she kept trying to start in the middle. So I had to teach her how to find the edge pieces and start with them.”

I cringed. “Oh, Dee , I taught you to do that, didn’t I? I taught you that’s the right way to work a puzzle. I was wrong. There is no “right” way. Maybe Annie’s way is just as right as ours and she should be allowed to figure out what works best for her. Her way might suit her better. Or it might be how she learns patterns. So you go back and un-teach her right now.”

“Whoa, Mom. You feel strongly about this, don’t you?”

“You bet I do. The “ Right Way ” is a trap. Brings your thinking to a dead stop. Fortunately, along the way I had good friends who took me under wing and showed me that it’s a lot of fun to explore different roads to the same destination. What’s more, the road that is best for me today, may not be the best road for you. And tomorrow’s road may be different yet.

“In fact, watching how you and your brother learned things also taught me a lot. Both of you were still babies when I realized you were ambidextrous. I could have forced you to be right-handed. Remember Sister Mary Bernadette? She didn’t allow left-handers. You still have chicken-scratch handwriting. And we three each have a different way we organize things. I’ll never forget the day I learned to avert my eyes and simply close the door to Ben’s room, knowing he is ‘differently organized’.”

When I realize that I cannot see over the top of the rut I’m in, I try to climb out. Here’s a test. Which foot do you start with when you are putting on your britches? Uh, huh. See. Same foot every time. Try alternating left and right each day. It is just a little brain shift trick. It affects our left-brain/right-brain creativity. And it’s kind of fun.

Annie’s puzzle stuck in my mind. I like jigsaw puzzles. I decided to perform a puzzle test. I dug my thousand-piece puzzles out of the cupboard and laid them out in a row. I chose a winter scene, snow piled high, just like the drifts outside my windows. I dumped the puzzle in the middle of my largest table. I turned the thousand pieces picture-side-up. I cleared a space in the center. I bravely forsook the siren call of the edges. I picked an obvious middle-section piece with which to begin my grand experiment. In a short while I had cobbled together a section roughly twelve by eight inches.

I learned that a puzzle can be worked from the inside to the outside. I chortled with glee when I finally got to press an edge piece into place. I finished the puzzle and proclaimed the experiment a success.

So today I have two ways to put together a jigsaw puzzle. I wonder what would happen if I started on the left side and worked toward the right. Or from top to bottom. Or corner to corner.

Next I’ll tackle crossword puzzles. Vertical clues first.

Sondra Ashton
Havre Daily News: Looking Out My Back Door
January 28, 2010

Peeing in a Cup

Rejected by Havre Daily News as "Yellow Journalism".
Peeing in a Cup

We’ve all had to do it at one time or another in our life—pee in a cup. For many of us women this ordeal likely started with pregnancy. For you men, perhaps the inconvenience began when you entered military service or later in life, to check the health of your prostate. The doctor or nurse handed you a miniature alcohol towelette, of dubious value, along with a tiny paper or plastic cup and sent you into the sanctuary of a miniscule cubicle with directions to void. I will not burden you with further details.

So that’s how this tribulation began for most of us—in the doctor’s office. Not so for my four year old granddaughter Annie. She hatched the idea on her own. Had she been eight, she would have flushed the evidence. Instead, her mother found a teacup sitting on the dresser, full of pee.

“What’s this?” Mom asked.

I rolled my eyes. I don’t know why she asked that question when she already knew the answer. It is a well-known fact of child psychology that by age four all children answer redundant questions with either “I don’t know” or “I didn’t do it.”

“I don’t know,” Annie answered.

“Why did you pee in the cup?” Mom continued. Dumb-mother-question number two.

“I didn’t do it.”

The next day Mom found a cereal bowl filled with pee on the kitchen counter. Same questions. Identical responses.

The following day Mom found Annie out in the yard, panties hobbled around her ankles, arching her back and aiming an uncertain stream in the general direction of an azalea bush.

Her mom asked me what to do since Grandmas are well-known repositories of wisdom.

Once I wiped tears of laughter from my face, I responded. “Annie is in daycare with two boys her age, right. I’m sure she has seen them do it. She is probably just trying to figure out where it comes from and how it works. If she can figure out how the boys pee, then she can figure out how she pees. Boys’ plumbing fixtures are so much more visible, easier to understand. Shoot, she might have been in a panic about hers. It is healthy scientific experimentation. Ignore it.”

“But why in a teacup?”

“Why not? It was probably in the dish drainer, easy to grab. What about her father—does he ever go out on the deck at night and . . .”


“Hey, I’m sure he does; it’s a man thing. They all have this universal urge to whizz outdoors. It’s probably a residual need of the male animal to mark his territory. I wonder if she has seen him. You know, every little girl wants to be just like her Dad.”

“I shudder to think,” my daughter said.

“You’ve got to think about these things. I just got this mental picture of Annie peeing off the deck when she’s sixteen, wobbling in high heels, prom formal hiked up around her waist.”

“Mom, mind your mouth.”

“Oh, Honey. Annie is in an exploration phase. I guarantee it won’t last long. Unless, of course, Freud was right.”

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

Dear Uncle George

Dear Uncle George,

I wish I could have returned to Indiana for Aunt JoAnne’s funeral. But more than that, I wish I could have been there to spend time with her and with all of you before she died. She was very special to me.

My earliest memories of Aunt Jo were at the time when she lived in a handsome brick apartment building on Park Avenue in Indianapolis , before she married Uncle Lee. I thought it the most elegant place. One rode up in an elevator. Her apartment spread over an entire floor with bay windows in front and a back porch with stairs down to the alley. It sat on a quiet street lined with stately elms. It was a palace in my young imagination, a romantic place filled with history and elegance.

Aunt Jo was the Princess and Indianapolis was my Camelot. Major streets converged at Memorial Circle where the Soldiers and Sailors Monument reigned. We rode the trolley downtown to view this towering bronze and limestone memorial, built specifically to honor Civil War dead, but which included the names of Indiana men who had fought in our countries wars. I remember how proud I felt to find the bronze plaque from World War II with my father’s name embossed.

From the Circle we would walk to LS Ayers Department Store, eight stories of city treasures. Aunt JoAnne always bought me a special dress or sweater set, all the more special for being “store bought”. She then purchased a pound of assorted pastel bonbons with coconut centers, still my favorite candy. After shopping we would eat open-faced sandwiches in the Tea Room where the linen-covered tables sparkled with china and silver. I sat primly on the plush chair, partly in wonder, partly terrified of using the wrong fork.

Jo would admonish me to stand up straight. I was the tallest girl I knew and tried to slump. She eased me into some of the mysteries of female life, including how to shave my arm pits, roll on deodorant, launder undergarments by hand, and to always wear a freshly ironed blouse. I also learned the importance of clean underwear in case of being hit by a car.

Once we took the train all the way to Cincinnati to go to the Zoo. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. It was summer and the snake house reeked and the rhinos were the most impressive animals I had ever seen.

But the Museum in Indianapolis was my favorite place, with a labyrinth of rooms, thousands of exhibits. I fell in love with the paintings of the French Impressionists, whom I still love. I wanted to live in the Museum. Instead, we moved to Montana .

Years went by. JoAnne visited me at the ranch in Dodson and held my six month old daughter. She told me stories about my Mom and about the time when I was a baby. It was the first time anyone had ever talked to me about my mother. She answered many questions for me; made me feel like my blank early years had some substance. When Jo had to leave, I drove her to the train station in Malta . I was crying so hard, I backed our old Chevy pick-up into a lamp post.

When Uncle Lee retired, he and Jo built a cabin on Kentucky Lake . She continued to live there many years after his death. Whenever I visited Aunt Jo, I could see why she loved it so much. We spent many hours on the lake, rowing, casting our lines, pulling in sunfish and croppies. I felt sad when Jo chose to sell the place and move closer to you, Uncle George, but I understood the necessity.

Uncle George, when I visit you in Indiana , I love to amble with you along the paths in the cemeteries, stopping at each family grave to tell stories, to reflect, to draw more closely together. Now we will have another place for remembering.

I’ll miss Aunt JoAnne but I have rich memories.

I love you, Uncle George.

Your niece,

Havre Daily News: Looking out my back door
February 18, 2010