March and Montana go together. At least, that's the case for some members of my family. I mentioned in a posting last week that Mother and Harold got married in March at the Ford garage over in Thompson Falls. Getting married in Montana was a natural for Harold who always wanted to go back to the Big Sky state to raise cattle.
The romance of his life, besides my mother, was a yearning to return to a piece of the "Last Best Place." Around the old yellow metal kitchen table in our family home on North Boyer Road, we heard story after story of life on the Madison Valley ranch during the '30s where Harold rode the summer range in the mountains and worked winters in the valley for the Easters who owned the ranch.
He talked of horses, of ranch owner Millard, and of his friend Kenneth Parent who took over the cabin in the mountains after Harold left. He also talked of chaps. His great chaps story had Mother going for years when he told her that he wore those thick leather bat wings to bed on cold winter nights in the ranch cabin, just to keep warm. She believed him, and so did I until the day he grinned at the wrong time and she caught on.
Going back to Montana remained Harold's wish, probably even until he died. Because of that constant longing, each year's early spring time provided him, at least, temporary fixes as we'd all load in the car and head east for a day's drive around Trout Creek, maybe even on to Plains or sometimes as far as the Bison Range. As documented in my first book, our drives often took us up and down back roads, scaring the bejeebers out of my mother.
There were always Bacon Thins---doled out sparingly to the three hands waiting to grab from the back seat. Those were days when we didn't have legal access to the refrigerator or cupboards. Life was frugal.
So, the thought of gobbling up the whole box of tasty crackers in one Sunday drive, while counting the deer---dead or alive---alongside the roads, never occurred to us. What remained in the box after this drive would mean more treats next time. After all, convenience stores where we could spend five dollars for a bag of chips and a beverage didn't exist. Nor did the five dollars in any kid's pocket.
Well, a lot has changed since then. For some reason, I remember the deer being a lot smarter about staying alive back then; could it be that oblivious drivers have increased? Convenience stores now dot the roadsides from here in the Idaho Panhandle to parts unlimited in Montana. Bacon thins are out; Twix bars or Reece's pieces and cups of coffee, purchased at Hope, Clark Fork, Noxon, Trout Creek or points in between, are in.
In spite of these changes, that allure of Harold's for the "Last Best Place" transferred to some of his children, and it still remains a constant with our mother. Could be because of the memories, or it could be because of the feeling Montana always instills in us---the feeling of a different time, a time that fortunately hasn't quite caught up with the rest of the crazy world---except for fast cars that is.
Even the generous state speed limit, or lack thereof, contributes to notion that independent-minded Montanans still like to live life without all the nitpicky rules, the fancy trappings or neurotic notions of present-day society. There's a delicious feeling of the past in Big Sky Country. Add that to a family's longest and dearest memories, and you've got the mix for another pleasant memory.
At least, that's how I see it today as Mother and I take off in her car---no kids in the back seat, no bacon thins but plenty of good memories---and head to Thompson Falls. A nice lady named Sandy Posey has asked me to bring some books for her store.
So, we're combining business with pleasure, and we'll probably count some deer and, for sure, we'll recount some tales of the days so long ago when Harold started this whole thing in the first place.