Every December 27th, for exactly fifty years now, I remember what happened on this day and have to smile. For those few of you who, sadly, might never have been to Montana, and not know what life can be like there, I remind you that the story below really happened, and in Montana, is not even that unusual. It’s probably one reason why I have a blog… if I carried all these crazy memories around with me all the time without sharing any of them, I’d probably go nuts. Talk about your baggage… fun baggage, yes, but whew.
A quick overview here. About a dozen kids from Colorado, aged 24 -30, somehow discovered Virginia City, Montana in the late ’60’s and moved up there to start a new life. They were mostly from the Aspen area, which even then had gotten too expensive for them to live decently. They bought old houses and built their own cabins, melting into the community and endearing themselves to the townspeople, especially the older folk. They were called “The Hippies” although none of them was even close. Well, maybe Pigger. They fit into our community seamlessly, until they all moved out in the middle ’80’s. “Not enough snow,” they told me. They were all big skiers, naturally.
Dec. 27th, 1972
My Colorado pals, Skip, Don and Ray, figured we needed to go skiing over at Maverick Mountain after Christmas. We weren’t sure that the lifts would even open, as the temperature was sitting on a solid 15 below. We decided it was worth a try, and they came by the bar at eight the next morning. We had three Thermos bottles filled with coffee and a big lunch that Dad had made for us, and off we went.
We got to Maverick Mountain about 10 a.m.. It looked closed, but a guy came out of the main building when we pulled up, and we talked him into giving us a half day on the hill for half price. He shook his head as he turned toward the lift to fire it up. “Okay, but I’m shuttin’ down at 3 o’clock.”
We skied til 1:00, then had to stop to warm up by the big fire inside the lodge. There was no one there but us… it was wonderful. We bought some hot dogs, coffee, rolls and hot chocolate from the guy since he was nice enough to open up the hill for us on a day like this. The skiing was actually grand – a clear day with no wind, and it warmed up to zero around 2:00. We had to stop frequently, as the wind chill was fairly serious. We all had frost on our eyebrows, mustaches and beards, but with the sun out it really wasn’t that bad. We were ready to quit at 3:00 however.
The guy at the bottom told us that since we were crazy enough to ski in that cold for half a day, he was crazy enough to give it to us for nothing. We didn’t believe it, but he wouldn’t take a penny. We headed back to town as the sun was setting behind Maverick Mountain, knowing full well who the crazy one really was.
About twenty miles down the road from Maverick lay the little town of Polaris. And I do mean “little.” Two families lived in Polaris. One ran the Post Office, the other ran the Polar Bar, right across the street from the Post Office. We were pumped from a day on the slopes and were looking for a way to keep the magic going. We pulled up to the Polar Bar and in a moment an older man came out of his house across the street to open the bar for us. It was as cold inside as it was outside, but as soon as the old guy had poured us a drink, he started up the pot-bellied stove in the corner and it was toasty in no time.
The Polar Bar was a trip, a tiny little place. Only five people could stand elbow to elbow at the bar, and behind us was barely enough room for a card table in the corner and a jukebox. Even the ceiling was low, making us all feel like giants.
We ordered four bourbon on the rocks. “No ice,” said the bartender. “It’s frozen.” Well, of course.
“Okay then, bourbon and water.”
“No water,” said the bartender. “It’s frozen.”
“Wait a minute,” Don said. “If the water’s frozen, then you should have ice, right?”
“Make ‘em straight up,” Skip interrupted. Enough of this. Skip wanted a drink. We were tossing down the first one and trying to blow smoke rings with our breath when another old man came in. Turned out he ran the Post Office across the street and always came over to see if the customer would buy him a drink. We bought him one, then the bar bought us one, then we bought another, thinking we ought to have at least one while we couldn’t see our breath in the place. Somewhere in the middle of the third drink the world tilted ever so slightly and things became somewhat surreal. Probably it was a combination of feeling like a giant in a small room, the drinks, the room finally heating up, and a hippy named Bill who walked in carrying a small terrier. He comes in with this spotted dog and before the door has closed behind him, Ray says, “A guy walks into a bar with a dog…” and we all crack up.
Bill thinks this is pretty funny too, and. Joins right in. He says, “This dog can jump over a bar stool for a drink.”
We all thought that was pretty funny. All except the bartender. “Let’s see the trick first,” he scowled.
Skip laughed, “Hell, I’ll buy a round if the dog can do it.”
That was all well and good except that there were no bar stools in the place – no room for them. So Don got down on his hands and knees and we put one of the chairs from the card table on his back. Ray mimicked a drum roll on the bar with his fingers while Bill turned his dog Skeeter around and got him aimed at Don.
“Jump, Skeeter!” And Skeeter jumped, clearing Don and the chair by nearly a foot. We all clapped and cheered and Skip bought a round. Now the bartender and the postman were smiling at the dog and things were getting downright friendly. We decided that Skeeter should try to jump over both Skip and Don, which it did. Then we decided on Skip and Don with the chair on top, which made the jump over five feet high.
Ray did his drum thing again. Bill said, “jump, Skeeter!” And Skeeter jumped, high enough and almost far enough. His back legs grazed the chair, barely pulling it over. Skip felt it, lost his balance and fell off Don, who tried to roll clear of the chair. The two guys and the dog sprawled on the floor while the chair bounced off Don’s shoulder, hit the floor and rolled into the wood stove in the corner, causing sparks to fly out of the top flu, which belched a puff of smoke.
Don, Skip and the dog were in a heap in front of the stove. The dog yelped and jumped up while Skip and Don rolled around on the floor, slapping at the sparks on their jacket and jeans. The room was filled with smoke, the dog was barking and the bartender was trying to put the sparks out with a bar towel while Bill reached across the bar and helped himself to the bottle of bourbon we were drinking. The postmaster stood at the end of the bar, cackling, “Hee hee hee. Ain’t that the damndest thing you ever seen? Hee hee hee.”
And Ray, leaning on the bar, watching the proceedings and grinning from ear to ear, saying, “One more and that should just about do it.”