Thursday, August 19, 2010

1969 Chevy Pick-up Truck

Whadda ya think?
1969 Chevy Pick-up Truck

Last weekend I drove to Missoula to deliver a couch to a customer. It was fun to be back in Missoula , seeing old sights, visiting old friends. I felt nostalgic for the days when I lived on Alder Street with my young son. My friends and I shared all our resources. We could always count on each other for help. It was a time of stimulating talk, good friends and little money.

On my way back home I stopped at Ma’s CafĂ© in Loma. The Sunday evening special was a juicy a rib-eye steak. I washed it down with a tall glass of iced-tea. Satisfied and satiated, I rambled out to my elderly, but trustworthy, cargo van. I climbed into the driver’s seat and started to turn the key. In front of me, angled off to the side just a hair, sat a sky blue Chevy pick-up. A red and white FOR SALE sign was stuck prominently under the windshield wiper. The minute I saw it, I said out loud, “With that truck I could be a politician.”

For a person involved in city government, I am about as apolitical as one can be. I have never had political ambitions. But when I saw that truck, political lust struck. I knew this truck would be the perfect campaign outfit. With it, I knew I could win any race I chose to enter. Now I know nothing about politics, but I have observed that ignorance is no detriment to the job.

I bounced out of my van and walked around the old pick-up. It was a 1969 Chevy C-10. A gun rack spanned the rear window. An older model 30.06 nestled snug in the rack. A cap with a fish skeleton logo dangled from the rear-view mirror. An NRA sticker was plastered in the back window. Old Glory flew from a stake in the back right hand side of the box and an old broom stuck up, right behind the cab. The brake lights were mounted on posts on each side of the missing tail gate. The grill was noticeable by its absence, but that was no big deal. Both front fenders were intact though thoroughly dented. I kicked the tires. She was a beauty. This outfit, complete with all the accouterments, was everything I would need to launch my new political career. The only thing missing was a horn which could play “Yankee Doodle”. I jotted down the phone number. I knew I would pay any price.

I could see myself tooling around, up and down all the back roads of Montana . I would plaster campaign posters all over the truck. I would make speeches in local Fire Halls, shake hands with farmers, kiss babies and eat fried chicken. With my truck I would lead the Fourth of July parade. One look at my truck would convince the voters that I was a woman of the people, by far the best candidate. And if I had a flat tire, I could change it myself.

In these troubled times, people are flocking to the polls in every state to vote for sincere, well-meaning folks with little or no experience. I would fit right in. I also have noticed that these same voters are leery of the two established parties. There is already a Tea Party. So I thought I’d give mine a name that would appeal to more of my constituents. I would call it the Kaffee-Klatsch Party. I’ve been listening to the men sitting around the front table in Deb’s Diner. I’ve noticed that more political talk takes place over coffee than tea.

I had a moment of apprehension when I recalled the grief and aggravation my Harlem friends, our mayor and the county commissioner, put up with. I flung that fleeting fear aside. Maybe I could recruit one of them to be my campaign manager. With support from my friends and the right truck, there would be no stopping me.

Driving between Loma and Big Sandy, day-dreaming of fame to come, I saw three sets of genuine crop circles. What is this world coming to!

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
August 19, 2010

Five Women and the Bears

The story I didn't tell: At lunch I felt a tick crawling up my leg. I said, "Excuse me, please," as I dropped my drawers right there in front of everybody. "Ive got a tick." The tick shape-shifted into a strand of dried bear grass which had worked its way up my pant leg.
Five women and the bears

Donna and Linda from Lincoln invited Karen (Floweree) and me to pick huckleberries. I had important business in Malta Saturday morning so I took the long route, but that is another story. I met Karen at her house at the end of the gravel road down in Floweree. Karen’s husband Don loaded our gear into her SUV. Neither Karen nor I had ever picked huckleberries so we had no idea what to expect. Rookies that we were, we thought picking huckleberries would be like shucking corn. We each brought along a cooler and buckets and miscellaneous containers. We also packed sturdy shoes, hats, jeans, long-sleeved shirts. I brought my bear bells.

Rumor has it that the bears in Lincoln outnumber humans two to one. In fact, city officials worry that some enterprising genius will register the bears to vote. This is not a bad idea except they fear the bears might vote a straight Democratic ticket.

Bears. They are everywhere. We women took a walk in the twi-night. We saw neighbors taking in their bird feeders and dog dishes. Others carted garbage to a shed, securing the door with a bullet-proof padlock. A couple of families sat around their patio barbeque pits, protected by ICBMs. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks currently are monitoring thirteen Grizzly sows in the vicinity. I would not want these huge hairy beasts hanging out in my back yard. Yet in Lincoln , there are people, evidently ignorant, who feed the bears. Yep, you heard me. They are like tourists in Jellystone who want to get a picture of their favorite grandchild, grinning, snug in Yogi’s arms—just before Yogi changes the name of the grandchild from Joey to Lunch.

Later that evening we gathered at Linda and Gary’s for huckleberry margaritas, ostensibly to inspire us for the next day’s picking. Mmmm, Mmmm, Good! Keep in mind this drink could be habit forming, creating an obsessive need to pick huckleberries to make more margaritas, which would strip the mountains of an important sustenance for the bears, necessitating the requirement for Fish and Wildlife to build bear pet feeders, which would lead to a direct reduction of the population of both dogs and grandchildren. But I digress.

Sunday morning Ginny and Ken joined us while we prepared for our trip up the mountain. Karen, Linda, Donna and I are former classmates, Harlem High ’63. We declared Ginny an honorary member on the spot. We loaded gear, sandwiches and buckets. I wore my bear bells. Christmas bells, actually. Five bells strung together on a decorative rope secured to the belt loop of my jeans. They clang and jangle nicely. Donna remembered she had a string of miniature cow bells, so she followed suit. Oh, you should have heard the men hoot. They hitched their belts up, fondled their massive pistols. They teased us that our bells would call in the bears. They would then protect us and be heroes. Oooh, we felt safe.

We drove, lurched, bounced and heaved up the side of Sauerkraut Mountain, not too far from where Bigfoot was spotted in July of 2004. (“Oh, look, there’s Bigfoot. Hand me another beer.”) Lincoln is a known sanctuary for a diversity of wildlife, both animal and human.

Now our education began. Keeping close to the men with guns, we women gave obeisance to the gentle and rare mountain huckleberry. Bent over at the waist, we searched each calf-high plant for the occasional berry. After an hour of harvest, we each had a treasured cupful. One would have thought we were panning for gold. At a cup an hour, well, you do the math. Yet every hour of picking did not yield a full cup of purple-some fruit. Alert for bears, we kept track of one another. We jangled our bells, shouting frequently, “Where’s Linda?” “Over here.” “Where’s Duane?” “Up here.” We were careful not to stray too far from the men with the artillery.

By noon we had grown complacent enough amidst the bruin infested wilderness to have a tailgate snack of sandwiches and cookies. We picked for another couple hours before calling it a day. With sly grins, one by one, Ken and Ginny, Linda and Gary , Duane and Donna, all dumped their berries into Karen’s and my picking pails. I almost cried. Through our friends’ generosity, Karen and I each brought home enough berries to make a batch of huckleberry jelly. Thanks to our pistol-packing guards, we had survived the perils of Griz, Bigfoot and shades of the Unibomber.

Those who scrabble around the mountainsides picking huckleberries to supplement their income have my admiration and respect. We arrived back in Lincoln tired, thirsty, hungry, sweaty, dirty and sore. Next year I’ll pay the price and buy my huckleberries at the S.A.T.U.R.D.A.Y. Market. I will visit my friends in Lincoln well after the huckleberries have been harvested.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
August 12, 2010

Monday, August 2, 2010

Yard Sale

True story, eh?
Yard Sale

At Easter Sunday dinner Pearl and I decided to have a yard sale. My closets were cluttered and the basement was stuffed. Pearl had equal excess. We had things we had not seen in years. We figured the middle of July would be a great time to hold the sale. We chose Wednesday, July 21. We decided to hold it at my house, situated as it is on a main street, with a wide concrete driveway.

Pearl tacked up flyers around town. We checked the weather oracle. Sunny with a few clouds. Temperatures in the high seventies. Precipitation zero. Utter perfection! A delightful forecast.

On Tuesday, the day before the sale, Ted and Pearl and their grandson Justin arrived with a pick-up load and a tent. The tent was a welcome surprise. It would expand our sale area, provide shade, and protect things overnight from the elements, should there be any elements raining down.

Setting up a tent is always great fun. I remember one family outing at a campground on the Elwha River in Washington . My husband and I laid the tent and all its parts out on the ground. I stood with the directions insisting that part A could not possibly interface with part D. I noticed our eight year old son Ben had disappeared. I figured he went scouting down to the river. After several failed attempts to raise the tent we were glaring at each other, sweaty with frustration. At that point a couple carrying camp chairs showed up and sat down to watch. That seemed strange, but we were consumed with trying to unravel the puzzle of tent construction. The next time I looked, at least a dozen people were circled around our little campsite. One family was passing out popcorn. Ben had gone from campsite to campsite and sold admission tickets to our comedy. He clutched a fistful of dollars. When it looked like we were destined for failure, a kind man with a similar tent stepped forward to save the day. In minutes our tent was erected. Everybody applauded.

In contrast, Ted and Pearl ’s tent was a wonder of engineering. Some genius had color coded all the parts. Blue fit into blue and red into red and so on. In no time at all Ted and Justin raised the tent. Pearl and I looked it over and saw that it was good. Ted noticed he had forgotten the tent stakes so he and Justin went back to get the pegs and another load of stuff for the sale. Pearl and I went down to my basement to find my large coffee urn. We planned to make coffee for the hordes of people who would come swarming through in the morning.

We stepped outside just as Ted and Justin drove in. We all stood stunned. The tent was gone. Gone. Really gone. Not there. Not where it was. Not where we had left it. The spot where we had put it was empty. A breeze had come up so I looked east to see if the tent was flying toward Dodson. I scanned the sky for an unidentified flying object. Then Justin yelled from the neighbor’s yard, “Here it is!” A gust of wind had swooped up the tent, sent it somersaulting over a twelve-foot high caragana hedge and landed it sitting perfectly upright in the neighbor’s yard. We each grabbed a corner post and walked it back into my yard. Justin immediately pegged it into the ground.

Sale day arrived. At seven o’clock Pearl and I were making final preparations when a dozen state highway department trucks rumbled around the corner. One man parked in front of my house. He jumped out of his rig and set up cones to block off my street. We ran over to him. “What are you doing?”

“We’re paving your street today.” Who would believe this? Pearl and I could only laugh. We’d picked the perfect day, picked the perfect street, and look. Soon dump trucks full of hot mix and machines to spread and tamp it thumped and clanged in front of my house. The noise was intense. Pearl and I sat out front watching the road show and drinking coffee from our sixty-cup urn. Finally a few people parked on the side streets and walked over to the sale. We urged each of them to have a cup of coffee. We offered seconds. They left full of coffee with arm loads of treasures. The highway crew wandered over at break time. They picked through our stuff. I poured them coffee.

In minutes clouds swooped in and chased away the sun. Rain pounded the ground. We hastily shoved the remainder of our goods under the wide overhang of my roof and into the tent. The highway men milled around and then quit for the day. Soaked to the skin, we drank more coffee and watched the rain. It rained hard. It rained steadily. It rained for hours. At noon, as the rain continued, I suggested, “ Pearl , go on home. Tomorrow is bound to be better.”

The next day the highway crew returned. The rain followed. Pearl and I shrugged and called Ted to come take down the tent. We’ll try again next year, on another perfect day.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
July 29, 2010