Friday, August 5, 2011

A Weekend at Fort Peck with Friends

Friends and Food
A Weekend at Fort Peck with Friends


We were planning our annual Harlem High Class of ’63 reunion when we got a phone call. Actually we got two. They sounded something like this, “Can some of our class join you this year for your reunion? Your class has more fun.” And that is what led to a blended Class of ’61-’63 Gathering at Ft. Peck . It must be true—we, like blondes, have more fun.

Early Friday afternoon, along with driving rain and golf-ball sized hail, our group pulled into the Buckhorn Lodge at Fort Peck Lake . Some of us beat the stormy winds and black clouds, some rode the deluge in fear and trembling, and others followed behind, assaying the damage in Glasgow . Meanwhile, out at the Buckhorn, it rained a bit, hailed a bit, and the sun beamed until nightfall--true Montana weather.

One thing about our class, we eat well. Every fresh arrival brought more food, enough to pack two refrigerators and crowd the tops of two tables and the kitchen counters.

Friday night dinner came off with barely a hitch, although at times it resembled a fire drill. Jim had volunteered to man the grill, cooking the prime rib brought by Fred, possibly from his own beef. Whenever I glanced out at the back patio, I saw what looked like dinner by committee. Jim, Fred and Jess each had strong opinions about the best way to cook the cow, but true friends, they worked out their differences without resorting to fisticuffs. Once the flash-fire seared (don’t ask) rack of beef was sliced, the chefs plunked a huge chunk of perfection on every plate. Unanimous in our accord, we agreed—this was without doubt the best prime rib we’d ever eaten. The accompanying baked potatoes and pasta salad were perfect, the huckleberry-topped cheesecake divine.

Before and after the meal we played cards, poured over photo albums and school annuals, snacked on salmon, told stories, and soaked up being together while the tunes we had enjoyed in our high school days played in the background. We had come from California , Washington and Oregon ; from Harlem, Chinook, Conrad, Billings and Glasgow . And if you weren’t there, we talked about you.

Saturday morning, after a leisurely breakfast of country sausage, eggs, sourdough waffles and fresh garden raspberries with whipped cream, we waddled out the door and caravanned across the four miles of earth-filled dam. We viewed the lake from the overlook, then we drove on to the spillway where we stood in awe, feeling the sheer power of the rushing water. We went down the hill to the Interpretive Center where we were captivated by the story of the building of the dam. From there we continued on to tour of the fish hatchery. Not wanting to miss a thing, we took in the vintage car show and Art in the Park on the grounds of the old Fort Peck Hotel. I bought a wonderful wooden pink flamingo (I named him Floyd, of course), with a strip of flexible metal for a neck. Floyd now resides in my chokecherry orchard, feeling quite at home.

We wandered back to the Buckhorn to rest, tell more stories, and get ready for a dinner of sautéed shrimp and steak grilled to order. Fat and happy, those who chose went to the Fort Peck Theatre for an absolutely stunning performance of the musical, “ Chicago ”.

Sunday, after sour dough pancakes, so light they floated off the griddle, ham, fruit and gallons of steaming coffee, some of our friends gave us a farewell round of hugs and headed down the trail to home. A few of us went for a ride on the lake in Jim’s boat. When we returned I realized I had sacrificed my favorite best green sweater to the spirits of Fort Peck Lake . I didn’t mean to but I guess the lake wanted it. Those things can happen in a boat.

Stuffed with food and stimulated by our activities, we slept well each night. I know I did. After I arrived home in Harlem , a friend asked me what I liked most about the weekend. That was easy. Friends. Being with friends. Reconnecting, deepening our relationships, strengthening our bonds. I have a rather simple belief—life is about friends. Friendship is what’s important—not houses or cars or money. Not stocks or bonds or clothing or jewelry or awards. Simply friendship.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

July 28, 2011

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