Being back in Montana for the 4th of July week has brought back some
delicious memories of my childhood here. I’m sure you all have these, and
I hope mine can stir a few of yours.
It’s the 2nd of July, 2018, and we just got to my cabin this afternoon. Betty
Ann unpacked us and our pals, Roger and Jack came up for a drink. We
were back into Montana Mode before we knew it.
After dinner B and Susi went upstairs to bed, and I sat down to have what
I thought would be a contemplative glass of wine. I’m selling this cabin, this
safe haven I have run to for 38 years… this place that, of all places on this
earth, was home to me… the place to be, for the sheer joy of life in Montana,
and the place to be when I was down, out, too tired to think.
So I was sitting here, running some of that in my head, when up in the
kitchen I see movement… and then more movement. I watch for a moment,
then I see two mice run across the kitchen floor, chasing each other and
squeaking. Squeaking! I set my laptop down and made a noise, a noise they
paid no attention to. Instead, they kept chasing each other around the kitchen
in a disgusting display of mouse tag, or grab-ass, or whatever the hell it is
that mice do. Wait… never mind. I know what mice do when they do this…
I mean, we’re in a cabin in Montana… a cabin that hasn’t been inhabited in
a year. What do we expect? You’ve gotta smile, right? And as I sat here,
sipping my wine and listening to those little bastards squeak across the
kitchen, my memory clicked in to another time when I heard mice… heard
little mice scratching at the wood outside another cabin… in another time.
I write this next section for my pals in V.C., some of who know, or have
heard of, the Dixon family. Now the Dixon family had a fairly high profile
here in the ’50’s. Two brothers, Carl and Ernest, both married and had
children here, who grew up and attended our V.C. school. Our interest
here is in Ernest, better known around these parts as “Mutt.” Yup. Even
us kids knew him as Mutt and would shout and wave to him on the street,
“Hi, Mutt!” And he would always wave back and smile. I could tell you so
much more about him, but suffice to say, he joined the Marines with Tuffy
Bergstrom in WWII, and from what I heard, they signed up only if they
could be guaranteed to serve together. The story says that they did, and
that they landed, and survived, the landing on Iwo Jima. They always called
each other “Pard” and we kids knew there was a bond there that could
never be broken.
Mutt married Elizabeth “Doll” Cox and they had two girls and a boy…
Terry, Beth Ann and Jay. Terry, Jay and i were all about the same age and
we spent a lot of time together. In the ’50’s work got scarce around V.C. and
about a dozen of the men ( my dad included ) did any work they could to keep
the home fires burning. One of these random jobs that sprang up in the summer
of ’51 was at a saw mill up in Ruby Creek, an isolated spot up in the mountains
of the Southern Gravelly Range. About 40 miles north of Yellowstone Park,
it was remote… and beautiful.
Mutt took the job, and, making the most of it, he had his family up there for
a few weeks that summer. He had a tiny three-room cabin across from the
sawmill, right next to a creek. There were bunk beds in one of the rooms,
where the kids, we kids, slept. I say we because they invited me up there to
spend one of those weeks with them at Ruby Creek. A week I’ll never forget.
I think it was late July when they invited me up there. Mutt came to town,
picked us all up and drove us up to Ruby Creek in The Blue Mercury. Yes,
it was a Mercury, yes, it was deep blue, a ’47 teardrop model that had
already seen better times. But up to Ruby Creek we went, with Tuffy and
his wife Betty, along for the week.
From a seven year old’s point of view, it was a magical week. I would guess
it was a pretty damn good week for the grown-ups, too. We kids spent the
time feeding the squirrels and chipmunks ( we got the chipmunks to eat out
of our hands, sitting on our legs…) and swimming and bathing in the frigid
waters of the creek behind the cabin. The sawmill hummed all day, and we
got used to the sound, feeding the Blue Jays (which we call Camp Robbers)
and walking down the road to play in an old cabin that was falling down.
But I remember the nights the best, the clearest. After the evening meal, we
would climb into our bunks for the night and snuggle down for a good sleep
in the mountains. Someone would pull the curtain shut between our bedroom
and the main room, and we would be in semi-darkness… warm and safe, but
still on an adventure!
I can remember so clearly, being almost asleep when I hear this little
scratching against the wall… right next to my head! It startled me and I called
out, “Doll, Doll! Something’s in here!”
Of course Doll came in, heard the scratching and whispered, “It’s just a
mouse, Stever. It won’t hurt you, it can’t get in. Go Back to sleep.” And I did.
But before I did, I lay there for awhile, listening to the mouse, listening to
Terry and Jay breathing in the bunk below… listening to the sounds
coming from the other room. Beyond that curtain, the hiss of a propane
lantern floated through the air. The grownups were laughing quietly, having
some drinks and playing cards by candle light and lantern. That sound…
the sound of their quiet relaxation and contentment, the lantern, even the
mouse!… is forever imbedded in my memory as one of the most profoundly
peaceful nights of my entire life.