Race to Nowhere

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The annual county fair wraps up most of its activities on Saturday, and the PRCA rodeo highlights the day’s events.

Professional cowboys travel to this small town every August in search of top prize money as they show off their skills.  However, the real adventure and fun arrives at the end of the rodeo competition. 

Every year the Wild Horse Ride wraps up the afternoon.  Gathering from the area’s farms and ranches come “wannabe” cowboys.

The goal for each rider is to mount a horse and ride around the race track.  It’s winner-takes-all at the finish line.

The riders are divided up into teams, and each team consists of two other individuals.  The mugger controls the untamed horse’s head so it cannot rear back.  The shanker holds the lead rope so the wild horse doesn’t run away.  The rider is left to saddle the anxious horse and race it.

As the announcer starts up the competition, a mad scramble commences as each team frantically works together.  One rider, LeRoy, is the first to saddle and mount his overly aggressive horse.  He turns his horse around and heads to the race track, well ahead of the other riders.

However, there remains one big problem.  LeRoy’s mount is galloping in the opposite direction around the track, and he will never be able to turn the horse around.  The crowd roars with laughter at LeRoy’s dilemma. 

To this day, many rodeo goers still remember “Wrong Way” LeRoy!

Monday Memories: Drivin’ the Fairway

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Pete lines up his tee shot on the first hole.  Will his golf game be up to par?

He takes his stance, and his graceful and controlled swing looks perfect.  Well it should; after all, it was just his warm-up swing.

Swinging for real, Pete’s tee shot flies away and looks to be splitting the fairway right down the middle.  Suddenly, the golf ball changes direction as its speed shatters the sound barrier . . .  hooking and hooking, left and more left!

Through the fairway.

Into the backyard of a home, sitting along the fairway’s left rough.

This tee shot looks hungry to score.

Through the kitchen window.

Right into Fred’s morning “Cup of Joe.”

Filled with a swagger and some pumped up jazz, Pete wanders up to the kitchen window and peers inside. 

He confidently asks Fred, “Do you mind if I play through?”

Puzzled, Fred looks down at the golf ball swimming in his cup of fresh brewed coffee.  Without saying a word, he seems to be singing the blues!

Originally published July, 2020.

Anything for Grandma

Courtesy of Pinterest

As Grandpa’s pick-up truck drove into the Gallatin National Forest, Lydia continued to remind him of Grandma’s instructions.  Grandma expected them to return home with the most perfect Douglas fir tree for Christmas.

Seven-year old Lydia was excited to make her first trip into the forest to pick out a Christmas tree.  Both she and Grandpa were dressed warmly in layers of outer clothing, snow boots, and stocking hats.  The early December day was going to be snowy and cold.

Lydia’s family always used an artificial Christmas tree, which was better described by Grandma as a “fake” tree.  Her eyes were filled with so much excitement, and her smile reminded Grandpa of the blessing of spending time with his beloved granddaughter.

With the tree permit in hand, Grandpa knew just the right place to find a tree in a dense grove of smaller to medium-sized trees.  Grandma had sent along a delicious lunch of sandwiches and hot chocolate. 

Upon finding their destination, Grandpa parked the truck along the road.  The two of them would have to hike into the forest for about a mile or two. 

Eventually their search found the special grove of trees.  Lydia’s expression was priceless as she witnessed her first look at “real” Christmas trees.

Grandpa gave Lydia her final instructions.  She needed to pick out a seven-footer, according to Grandma’s expectations.  After about 20 minutes, she found just the right tree.  Grandpa checked the measurements of the tree, and he was sure it would fit in the living room back home.

Crawling under the Douglas fir with his tree saw, Grandpa began to carefully cut the tree away from the frozen ground.  He made certain to leave a short stump of less than six inches, just as the Forest Service expected him to do. 

With Lydia’s help, they tied up the tree on a small sled that they’d brought.  Now they could easily transport the tree back to the waiting pick-up truck.

Sitting in the warm cab of the truck, Lydia and Grandpa enjoyed some tasty sandwiches with hot chocolate.  Their laughter and conversation kept them warm as well.

Soon it was time to drive back home with their treasured tree for Christmas.  Lydia took a nap along the way, but she woke-up when Grandpa pulled the pick-up into the driveway. 

Grandma stepped outside to see how the two tree hunters had made out.  She called to Lydia, “How did you do?”

Beaming with her warmest smile ever, Lydia ran and hugged her, “We found the most perfect tree.  Anything for Grandma!”

Monday Memories: Midnight Smorgasbord

pexels-photo-1186851.jpeg

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I woke up in the middle of the night last week.  A muffled series of sounds were coming from the kitchen, and no doubt my beautiful wife was up to something.

She had been fasting all day after we both enjoyed a pleasant mid-morning brunch., and now her hunger harshly interrupted her need for sleep.

I rose out of bed and began to creep silently toward the kitchen.

In the meantime, my wife was in the process of raiding the fridge for a midnight smorgasbord.  She had laid out a scrumptious feast on the kitchen counter with all kinds of tasty treasures.

She selected only three items, and was more than ready to sample a scrumptious, fried chicken leg and a cold piece of her favorite pepperoni pizza.

As I approached the kitchen, the only light was coming from the still-open refrigerator.  As I slipped unannounced into the kitchen, my wife’s midnight buffet was serving up its final course . . .  dessert of course!

She was enjoying her final choice . . . a slice of decadent triple chocolate cake.

She turned and was shocked to see me up at this midnight hour (since I am usually a very sound sleeper).  She confidently told me, “I’m not night eating.  It’s time for ‘nunch.’”

With her mouth full, she asked, “Do you want the final slice of this yummy cake?”

blueberries cake chocolate chocolate cake

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Originally published November, 2019.

Never Doubting

Courtesy of Pinterest.

Dry, parched farmland stretches for endless miles.  Tender wheat sprouts are beginning to wither under early June’s hottest sun.  Will rain arrive in time to save this year’s crop?

At the intersection of two country roads sits a small, wood-framed church.  The location is called Fertile Prairie, which seems appropriate with the scattered farms up and down either road. 

Today the church gathers farmers and their families.  They have been assembling daily to join as one voice in prayer.  Their petitions focus on God’s faithfulness.  According to His plans, in time He will release nature’s rain-filled drink for their wilting fields.

While prayers continue to be lifted from the inside of the church, dark clouds are filling the outside sky.  Will they finally bring the Lord’s blessed rain?

At first, a few drops find the parched ground.  More follow in unison until a steady, grace-filled rain is watering the fields.

Outside the church stands six-year old Tommy.  He has been waiting outside and smiling at the darkening clouds.  His young heart feels joy as the rain begins to nourish the land. 

Inside the church, the assembly hears the falling rain.  They gather at the door to look out.  Smiles, filled with hope, share praises to the Lord.

They realize that Tommy is standing under an umbrella.  He is the only person who brought an umbrella.  This young boy has never wavered in his own faithfulness.

Tommy’s mother asks him, “What on earth caused you to bring an umbrella today?”

Tommy confidently replies, “Last night during my prayers, God reminded me to bring an umbrella.  Never doubting, I made sure that I brought one today.”

Grandparents Love Story (Episode Two)

From 1939, a scene of downtown Billings, Montana. This is the eventual home for a young couple moving to Billings about three years earlier. (courtesy of Pinterest)

Grandparents Jim and Marge experienced a love story that began in their teenage years.  Little did they know where life planned to take them in the years to come.

In 1911, Jim was born in the tiny town of Marmarth, North Dakota.  The small community of about 800 was founded as a railroad town along the Milwaukee Road line.  The transcontinental railroad traveled from Chicago, Illinois to Seattle, Washington.

When Jim was an infant, his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio.  He excelled academically and athletically during his school years.

Born in 1912, Marge already lived in Ohio when Jim moved there.  Eventually their lives intersected during junior high school.  Her father was a Cleveland native while her mother was born in Belfast, Ireland.

With their love blossoming, Jim and Marge were married in 1928.  Jim pursued his career goal of becoming an engineer with his studies at the University of Akron. 

Sadly, the arrival of the Great Depression crushed Jim’s pursuit of a college degree.  With money very tight, Jim needed to pursue a different career.

In 1936, Jim, Marge, and their first-born son traveled to Billings, Montana.  Jim had been hired to work for a wholesale and produce grocer.  Working for the Gamble-Robinson Company for 40 years, Jim eventually became the general manager of its Billings office.

When World War II arrived, Jim accepted his responsibility and served with distinction in the U.S. Army until being honorably discharged at the war’s end.  Meanwhile his young family endured without him being at home. 

Marge and her three young children managed to make life as pleasant as possible during Jim’s wartime absence.  Unable to drive a car, Marge used other means for transportation.  Rationing of vital commodities during the war made for useful transactions because Marge traded her gasoline ration cards for other ones. 

Billings was growing, but it still had the feel of a smaller, close-knit community.  Neighbors helped out each other.  Church was a center of worship and fellowship for the young family as well.

When Jim returned home, the family continued to live in Billings at the same home.  As childhood sweethearts, Jim and Marge experienced quite a life journey, which took them from their former homes in Ohio to a lasting one in Montana. 

This story recalled the start of my mother’s family.  Being the middle child and only daughter (born in 1938), Martha started a family of her own with the birth of her first child in 1956 (Richard).  Eventually the family would number five sons and one daughter.  

Previously, the story of my paternal grandparents was published.  In case you missed it, here is a link:  Grandparents Love Story (Episode One).

Monday Memories: View from Mockingbird Lane

Courtesy of Pinterest.

I have been living with my aunt and uncle for a few years on Mockingbird Lane.  While I love my family a great deal, I must admit my life has been much too challenging at times.

I always feel frustrated at being the “plain” person in the family.  I pretty much look like anyone who walks by our house, but I am sure people talk behind my back when they see the rest of my peculiar family.

Uncle Herman once greeted one of my dates at the door.  When I came downstairs to meet him, he had rudely disappeared.  I guess he felt overcome with fright upon seeing my uncle who stands over seven feet tall.

Aunt Lily, who is a devoted wife, enjoys preparing pancakes every morning, but I seldom have an opportunity to eat many of them.  My uncle gobbles them down faster than she can cook them. 

Grandpa is a gentle soul who enjoys telling stories about the good old days in Europe.  I think my ears have heard every story at least three times over from this “past his prime” storyteller.

Cousin Eddie is quite a bit younger than I am.  He is still in elementary school, but he misses a whole lot of school because he sleeps in each morning after a full moon.  He wakes up at midnight, and he isn’t sure if he wants to howl at the moon or go in search of some red, bloody meat in the refrigerator. 

As you can see, I don’t quite fit in with this family.  I almost always have to walk to school by myself because all of my classmates walk on the other side of the street.  One morning, they fled when they saw my uncle catch a ride to work in the company car (a hearse).  He crawled in through the back door and lied down in the back.

I appreciate you listening.  Please stay for a bit longer as I have several more grievances to discuss. 

Uncle Herman has a steady job with Gateman, Goodbury and Graves where he works as a grave digger.  Being big and strong, his employer appreciates his excavation skills.  But for a mature man, he still melts down with childish temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way.  Good grief!

Aunt Lily and Grandpa stay in touch with relatives who still live in Europe.  I sometimes dream of traveling there until I realize that they both have ancestors back in Transylvania.  Yes, you got it!  They are both vampires.

Eddie is a creepy juvenile delinquent, and his appearance scares everyone away.  Who would want to play with a boy who is half vampire and half werewolf?  I rest my case.

My naive uncle took me trick-or-treating a few times when I was younger.  People loved his costume, but they became fearful when he would want to shake someone’s hand.  They would freak out upon seeing all of the “real” hair on the back of his enormous hands.

Oh, I almost forgot.  My uncle traces his family tree to Germany, and he is a close associate of Dr. Frankenstein.

So if you see me walking along the street in the neighborhood, please don’t run away.  I would love to find a few new friends.  All of my old ones are too scared to come around anymore. 

Marilyn Munster

“The Munsters” was an American sitcom back in the mid-1960s.  Even though the show only aired 70 episodes, it gathered quite a following when the show went into syndication.  By the way, Marilyn Munster did look like any normal, young woman with her blonde hair and modern dress.  

The cast of “The Munsters”: Fred Gwynne, Yvonne De Carlo, Al Lewis, Butch Patrick, and Pat Priest. (courtesy of Pinterest)

 

Originally published October, 2020.

Back in School

Courtesy of Pinterest

Being retired, my days are usually filled with plenty of leisure time.  But even the best laid-out plans can suffer from a surprise.

Arriving in the afternoon mail is a registered letter from the local school district.  Hmm, I wonder what they want with me.

In examining the letter, my usual fun-loving outlook fades while reading each sentence.  My school transcript shows that I didn’t complete Kindergarten. 

My goodness!  I’m 66 years old and a grandfather.  What gives here?

I’ve been instructed to show up on the first day of school at Central Heights Elementary School (my alma mater). 

The following Monday, I am in the classroom . . . not exactly eager to be here.  I look around the room at the tiny tables and even smaller chairs.  How am I going to be able to sit in these?

Suddenly, I spy a much bigger chair in front of a colorful rug on the floor.  I sit down while the rest of the class comes rumbling in from the playground.  Their voices raise the roof with all of their morning energy.  I guess that they’ve been fed with extra sugar, oh my!

The teacher, Mrs. Meissner, makes her dramatic entrance.  A piercing whistle quiets down the class.  I am already feeling a migraine headache approaching.

Mrs. Meissner walks over and motions me to sit in a much smaller chair.  Are you kidding? 

Later in the morning, she directs the class to sit on the colorful rug.  Everyone sits “Indian” style with both legs crossed.  I am somehow able to sit in this yoga position, but I can feel my muscles already cramping up.

As she sits in the adult-sized chair, she reads a story to the class about what Kindergarten will be like.  As she reads, she inserts each student’s name into the plot.  I keep listening for my name, but the story ends without a single mention of yours truly. 

As the day continues, we (the students and I) practice how to walk in straight lines to the restroom and the cafeteria.  We also are reminded to keep our hands to ourselves and to speak with soft voices.

The school bell rings at dismissal time.  The youngsters eagerly and safely board their busses for their ride home. 

I stand at the curb and wait for my granddaughter to pick me up.  My car is being serviced at the garage as it needs a 100,000 mile checkup. 

After just one day of Kindergarten, I feel like my body needs an immediate check.  Rubbing my aching lower back, I am thinking of scheduling a chiropractic exam as soon as possible. 

I finally reach home, and there is another registered letter waiting for me.  Tearing the envelope open, I find that the school board has ruled on my appeal.  I am no longer required to attend Kindergarten.  Hooray, no more back to school for me!

Inside the envelope is an application for employment with the school district.  They are looking for additional staff since there is shortage of Kindergarten teachers for this school year.

 

Monday Memories: Faith Sees Us Through

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Throughout much of my teaching career in Montana, I personally witnessed the labors and hard work of farmers and ranchers on the eastern plains.  Their faithful perseverance will always be a testament of their faith in a God who will see us through.

The labors of a family wait for another harvest.  Fields of spring wheat are maturing rapidly under the blistering hot, August sun.  The heads of grain are filling out and turning harvest gold.

A year’s worth of income rests in these fields.  Three generations view God’s bounty with praise and thanksgiving.

An aging grandfather has witnessed the good times and bad.  While he has slowed down a bit, he still looks forward to operating the combine at harvest time.  He becomes as excited as a young boy while watching the header cut the ripened grain.

His son, now a mature and tested father, has followed in his footsteps.  He returned to the farm ten years ago when his father suffered a heart attack.  He manages the day-to-day operations as skillfully as his father ever did.

A teenage boy, both grandson and son, has observed his father’s long hours and hard work.  He values his grandfather’s wisdom and experience.  He plans to attend the state’s land grant university during the upcoming fall semester, but first he needs to help out with harvest.

One evening, with harvest set to begin soon, these three generations of men view a field closest to their homes.  The grain is heavy, filled with high protein content, and will fetch an honest price at market.

Dark clouds loom to the northwest as a storm appears heading away from their farm.  The three men turn in for the night, feeling confident and safe.

The next morning, the sun comes up right on schedule, but this season’s harvest has been cruelly cancelled.

Overnight the storm changed its route.  Heavy rain, strong winds, and large hail shredded every bit of grain far and wide.  Not even a cow would be able to find any nourishment.

The grandson has never seen such devastation, and he is emotionally numb and filled with shock.

His father knows the coming year will be filled with hardship and uncertainty.  With God’s guidance, somehow he will carefully balance the books. 

The grandfather prays to God, asking the Lord to provide for the family as He always has—in the best of times, and now the darkest.  He opens his Bible and reads the following verse from Isaiah 40:10: 

“Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

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Grandparents Love Story (Episode One)

From 1939, a scene of downtown Billings, Montana. This is the eventual home for a young couple moving to Billings about 20 years earlier. (courtesy of Pinterest)

Grandparents Herman and Annie experienced a most unusual courtship.  Little did they know where life planned to take them in the years to come.

Herman was born in 1890 in Brainerd, Minnesota.  He moved to North Dakota in 1911, then to Forsyth in eastern Montana.  In 1916, as Europe filled with the winds of war, he arrived in Billings, Montana.  He had been hired to be a mail carrier.

Annie was born in 1895 on a small farm in Harlon County, Nebraska.  Not even a blizzard dared to delay her birth.  Her early schooling was spent in a sod school house.  In 1915, her family moved to Leavenworth, Washington where she finished high school, worked in a photo shop, and was employed as a staff operator by the Great Northern Railroad.

Both of their unassuming lives intersected along the railroad tracks of the Great Northern.  Herman was traveling to Fort Lewis outside of Seattle on a troop train.  He was being trained to serve in the American army which was shipping troops to Europe during World War I. 

Along the rail line, many young ladies passed out slips of paper with their name and address.  Herman received one from Annie.  Later, he sent her a card, and thus began a courtship by correspondence. 

The two of them met briefly at Fort Lewis before Herman shipped out to France.  Upon returning safely from the war, Herman met up with Annie to be married in 1919.

They moved to Billings where Herman still found his mail carrier job waiting.  Together they raised a large family of six sons and two daughters.  Ultimately, the siblings witnessed the blessing of 32 grandchildren.

Taken from the front of the house along Jackson Street, the family home (built in 1920) as it looks today. Nearly all of the large trees have been removed. (courtesy of Pinterest)

This story recalled the start of my father’s family.  Being the youngest child (born in 1935), Jim started a family of his own with the birth of his first child in 1956 (Richard).  Eventually the family would number five sons and one daughter.  My youngest brother became the final grandchild when he was born in 1967.