Saturday, January 9, 2016

Next Year Country—Next Year People

Next Year Country—Next Year People
            While I have great respect for the past, I am not one to yearn for olden days. Not for me the re-enactments of historical events. I’ve no desire to escape today’s trials through romanticizing the past. I’ll happily trade your retro calico bonnets, buffalo robes, corncob pipes, and bushy mustaches for my flush toilets, electric lights and a full set of teeth.

            As the New Year approached, my group of women with whom I graduated high school sent one another wishes. We ignored prosperity, health and happiness. Yet each and every one of us mentioned without dwelling on details, that 2015 had been a rugged year. Our common theme, we each in our own words declared, “Enough already. 2015 was a big dose to swallow. Let 2016 be a better year!”

            While I read my friends’ messages a picture from my memory flashed in vivid detail, a picture that to me illustrates the concept of “Next Year Country”, a concept familiar to all of us raised in contrary eastern Montana.

My Dad stood knee deep in rushing water in the sugar beet field north of our house, irrigating shovel in hand. He wore farmer overalls and a red-plaid flannel shirt though it was a hot day in August, protection from mosquitoes. He wore gray irrigation boots on his feet and a straw hat covered his head. His gloves and a pair of pliers stuck out of his back pocket. His neck craned back while he watched a covey of puffy white clouds swan across the open sky and disperse into nothingness. As the clouds disappeared the wind picked up dust from the gravel road to the east and scattered it in our faces.

Dad looked down at me. A look both grim and wry crossed his face and he shook his head, amused at his own perseverance for farming in such devilish country. I spent a lot of time out in the fields with my Dad that summer. I learned to watch for the clouds, the few, the disappointing. I knew it would not be a fat year.

I peg that summer as the time I learned to shake disappointment and turn a hopeful, if somewhat wishful, eye toward the rain clouds of next year. Surely we’d have a good crop next year. Surely.

Oh, I know we Montanans don’t have any monopoly on hard times. No person is immune from hardship. We might look around and see those who seem to live perfect lives, untouched by tragedy. Don’t believe your deceiving eyes. A person’s outsides don’t always reveal the sorrows and tears of the insides.

 Yet, our plains country more than most geographic areas, yields a hard life for a hardy people. This may sound like sentimental claptrap.

It is a personal prejudice of mine that next year country breeds next year people. We recognize them. It’s the way they shoulder into the task before them. Or it’s the way they scan the sky for a better day. Or it’s that glint of humor, the ability to laugh at oneself.

I don’t want to roll the clock back to any previous time, no way, no how. I just know next year is going to be a better year for you, for me. I feel it in my bones.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

January 7, 2016

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