Saturday, June 21, 2014

"Many of our fears are tissue-paper-thin, and a single courageous step would carry us clear through them."  ~ Brendan Behan

I know about fear. I once lived in Montana! It was early in our marriage that Richard was sent to Montana to be the legal counsel overseeing the legalities of a huge government construction job that his company had begun. In the beginning months of that project there was no housing for the wives, and that was actually a good thing. At one point that winter, it was 43 degrees BELOW 0! Now, I like snow, but cold, cold mountains of it seemed much too much. 

Anyway, I was teaching high school when Richard left for Montana, a man who HATES cold weather! He called every night from his office out there, and I would sit by our phone, waiting for it to ring, as soon as I got home from school every day. Richard came home once a month for the weekend, and then back again he'd go. That is, until June...

Early in June, the huge contract was cancelled by Washington, and it meant that Richard would be home again by October after wrapping up all the contract details.  So, as soon as school was out, I flew to Montana to live in a trailer with Richard for the summer and see Montana for the first time in my life.

Richard had taken up skeet shooting! I told him that I hated the idea of his shooting poor little skeets...

"Terry, do you know what skeet is?"

"Well, it's some kind of little bird, isn't it? And, Richard, you know how much I love birds! Please don't kill them!!!"

"Terry, skeet are clay pigeons that are hurled out of a gadget..."

"Oh, NO! Some jerk throws pigeons into the air and you SHOOT THEM? RICHARD!!!"

I finally got "it" when Thursday rolled around, and Richard put a shotgun in the trunk of the car and me in the passenger seat. Off we went to the Conrad Skeet Shooting place. It had 6 stations where 6 guys would stand with their shotguns aimed at the clear blue sky. There was a long wooden bench behind them and to the right, just in case more than 6 guys showed up on an afternoon. So I plopped myself down on that bench, and prepared to cover my ears during the shooting.

I was intrigued, though... there was this guy crouching in a bunch of bushes near a tiny little wooden hobbit-house right in front of the shooters! He'd dash out and set up a metal pitcher-thing that flung blue clay "frizbees" up and out into the air. He'd let fly with one per shooter. The shooter would blast it, and then that guy in the bushes would load and fling another "frizbee" for the next guy. I watched for about 10 minutes, before the bear came!

He was fuzzy and stood on his back legs and wore a plaid flannel shirt and baggy pants. The bear sat down on the bench, and I tried to disappear. Where was Mr. Spock when I needed him? ("Beam me up, Scotty! PULEEZ beam me up!") That bear of a man scared me, REALLY scared me! I'd heard of "mountain men," but I'd never been near one before. 

It was 3 weeks of skeet-ing before I even looked at the bear when he'd come to the bench and sit down after finishing his shooting. But that 3rd week he nodded to me as he sat down! I nodded back, and then, all of a sudden, in a halting voice, I said, "Hello!"

That was the beginning of my learning about history from a real live historical figure... This man and his wife had lived in Kansas during the 1930's "Dust Bowl" days, when their little farm was destroyed by the wild winds that blew the dusty dirt so forcefully that it was unliveable there. So he and his wife put what they had left into a rusty old truck and drove to Cut Bank, Montana to start their life all over again. In that truck they had stowed a tent to live in, and that was do-able, he said, until the winter came, full force. He said that the snow had been so deep and heavy that 3 times that winter it had caved in the tent completely! They stuck it out, though. They'd carved out a place for themselves in Cut Bank, Montana and had never looked back.

I will never forget that man, that bear of a man, and his hardships, and his quiet courage. I'd always wanted to meet his wife, but she never came to sit on that bench, and I wondered about her, too... Think what I would have missed if I hadn't muttered that whispery little frightened "Hello"... 

Later that summer the guys decided that there ought to be a party for all the company people, and I had another scare... sort of... 

There was food, there was music, and there was the entire company of husbands and wives in that smallish conference room. Ed, the very big, very tall, very out-going, head of the entire mission was in the mood to dance. His wonderful wife and mother of their 4 children was pregnant again with their 5th child, and her time was near, so dancing was, naturally, the last thing she wanted to do! 

"Terry! Let's DANCE!" boomed Ed from half-way across the room. Ed bounded across the dance floor, and so I held out my arms to dance. But Ed grabbed me by the waist and lifted me off the ground completely! We "danced" to 2 or 3 songs, and for those 15 minutes my feet never did touch the floor! I was whirling around the entire dance floor without ever landing! I wasn't used to feeling like a 5'8" rag-doll. And you know what? It was fun! When he finally put me back down on the floor, I was dizzy and laughing so hard that I couldn't catch my breath.

But it was Norah, his wife, who I was scared for... A few weeks later she told me that she was "due" within the next week to have her 5th baby! I kept asking her each day why she wasn't lying down and resting... 

"Terry! I have 4 children, didn't you notice!" And she sure did. Her kids were as rambunctious as her husband, and she had no "down time."

It was Friday, and I wandered over to Norah's double-wide trailer to see if I could help her, somehow, but Norah was in the midst of toting food and clothing to the little camping trailer that they would hitch to their truck!

"Ed just called and we're going camping for the weekend! Ed wants to leave as soon as he gets home."

"But Norah, your baby's due... What will..."

"Ed said that if my labor starts, he'll drive me to the nearest hospital. Now help me get these kids rounded up so I can stuff them into the trailor before Ed comes home. I think I've got all the food we'll need. 'Course Ed will shoot a deer, so we'll have venison... and the kids..."

"Norah! Will you be near a town? Richard and I drove that road last weekend, and it was all forest to the Canadian border..."

"Oh, we'll go across the border to the gooood forest. You know Ed!"

"Norah, arent you scared?"

"No time to be scared, Terry!" I could already see Ed's car careening down the dirt-covered road toward us.

Norah had her baby 2 days after they got home from camping in the wild. No, she wasn't scared. And even though I watched all that summer and lived beside all those amazing people, I didn't become brave like she was for a very long time... 


  1. You certainly have the gift for writing. I enjoyed this very much. Makes me want to write about my days in Alaska.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.