Mailboxes and Old Barns: Stopping by Granny’s

MBOB mailbox.larsenI attended high school at a Lutheran boarding school 180 miles from our Montana farm for reasons of convenience and opportunity. Our parents were tired after chasing kids,   for over thirty years by that time, and besides that, there was a top notch choral program there that provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in music.

At some point during my first couple of years there, I wanted to send a card to my Granny in Montana.  I didn’t know her address, but she lived in the lovely little town with tree-lined streets and a big cattle auction ring in the Yellowstone River Valley, a place where they actually had irrigation systems with small canals accessing the rich farmland all around the town.  They also had wells that gave usable water, drawn from a fairly high and constant water table.  Even the people who lived on the farms spread out around the town had green lawns all summer.  It was remarkable.

The farms were surrounded by flocks of sheep and fields of sugar beets that fed the equipment at the Sugar Beet Factory south of town that provided employment to generations of strong men whose parents and grandparents settled the valley.  The histories of all of these good people were recorded by folks in the community and published under the fine title, Courage Enough in 1975.

The tree-lined streets didn’t vary much, except that near the center of town–the old part–the well-built little houses were a little closer together, perhaps clustered for Sidney5safety when they were first built in the 1800s.  Uptown only required about six square blocks for its full allotment of farm implement dealerships (at the edge); the movie theater and The Eagle Cafe; the dentist’s office and the insurance building; the ladies’ dress shop and Woolworth’s dime store; two hardware stores and then, a couple of blocks away from downtown in all directions, a smorgasbord of churches.  A few blocks to the northeast brought you to the water tower and the necessary, small “park” that surrounded its clumpy feet, where there was a single picnic table in the shade in case someone wanted to sit there and have coffee while their children played nearby.

One of the best features of the town where Granny lived was The City Park which was Sidney 2almost as big as all uptown.  It was grand — at least five or six acres of green, green grass with shade trees all around.  At one end was the obligatory stationary locomotive not too far from a couple of military statues from one war or another, along with a sign board listing all of the men who served and died in World War II.  The picnic tables scattered throughout the park, with a great deal of space between, provided a great sense of sanctuary, privacy, and passing ownership on the frequent occasions when my mother and any number of her sisters would decide to have coffee at the park.

Whether we arrived with a postcard announcement preceding us to let the relatives know, or we arrived without notice, it only took a couple of phone calls to gather four or five of Mom’s sisters and a few cousins (when we were all still quite little) and the most pleasant of hours would be spent playing on the swings while our Sidney4mothers visited, drank coffee, ate sweets, swapped recipes, and doted on their now aging mother who was a little shorter each year, a little more bent each Christmas but still braiding her long, long salt and pepper gray-black hair into a single thick braid every day, and then arranging it neatly on the back of her head and fastening it with large hair pins.

If there wasn’t the time or the weather to go to the park, it was fully as satisfying to stop by Granny’s for coffee.  Her little apartment was the corner unit of a single floor building that sat on a major street corner, one block from the center of uptown.  She had a big black rotary dial phone that sat on the little end table next to her chair.  On the table was her Bible and her Streams in the Desert devotional book that she read from every day. (She had nearly fifty grandchildren, so how is it possible that I have that devotional book here in my house? I’m blessed.)

She had a tiny kitchen where she still baked cookies into her 80s, and always had the coffee pot on and cookies ready to be served the moment after she had welcomed us into her home with a glad greeting..

It was a characteristic of arrivals at the home of family members that body language and tone of voice literally, warmly, emotionally, happily welcomed us.  It was a deliberate and volitional welcome.  They were glad we had dropped in.

Sidney8The approach to her little apartment was a little bit like this picture.  The little side walk approaching her screen door terminated in a flurry of thick vines that surrounded the door, climbed up on and trailed off the roof on all sides.  Her little entry way was located precisely kitty-corner from the classically beautiful (and large) post office.  It was a lovely setting.

This MBOB turned into a daisy trail.  I intended to tell you about the day I wanted to mail a note to her from Minot, North Dakota and didn’t have her address. So we return now to the main trail.

Because there was no phone on our farm, I couldn’t call my mother to ask.  The population of Sidney at the time was about four thousand.  It couldn’t be assumed that the letter sorters would know either her or her location so I improvised.

I put my return address on the envelope and wrote her name, and Sidney, Montana underneath. To the left of her name and town, I sketched a neat little map of the intersection in front of her apartment, including the post office in the right, upper half of the sketch.

Make the intersection plain.  Then draw in a little square to show her apartment — across the way, kitty-corner from the post office.  Finish it off with one clean arrow at the end of a straight line from the post office building to her front door.

Near the point of the arrow I wrote — She lives here — and dropped it in the mail.  She received the note a few days later with a note written in her slightly shaky but still beautiful hand.


cat 2

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22 Responses to Mailboxes and Old Barns: Stopping by Granny’s

  1. Pingback: Mailboxes and Old Barns: Stopping by Granny's | The Last Refuge - Christian IBD

  2. Omar says:

    What a precious, precious jewel to have in your treasure chest of memories. I loved reading this!


  3. ZurichMike says:

    Such a sweet story!


  4. stella says:

    Sharon, I love this story, especially about your note to your Grandmother. Your ingenuity, the homey small town, and the intelligence of the small-town postal workers!


  5. Auntie Lib says:

    Oh, Sharon – while you were meandering along rabbit trails, I hopped on the interstate and figured your Granny lived somewhere around Laurel (used to be a huge sugar beet factory there). Speaks to how those of us in Western MT lump everything from Plentywood to Miles City into the same geography. Even though I’ve been to Sidney several times (and conduct my classes in the big USDA research facility) I still don’t think of Sidney as lush farmland…


    • Sharon says:

      I still don’t think of Sidney as lush farmland.

      Your comment made me smile, because it reminds me that the meaning of the phrase is somewhat determined by what we’re comparing it to, isn’t it? 😉

      …..and stop lumping everything from Plentywood to Miles City into the same geography! 😉 That’s funny.

      Now that we live in the truly lush Willamette Valley in Oregon, I often have to explain to people “which Montana I lived in”–because the minute I say I grew up in Montana, the look on their face says they are seeing western Montana! Trout streams! Chalets! Massive lush wheat fields!!…. So then I Not that one. I lived in the other one.


      • Auntie Lib says:

        “Lush” is definitely a relative term. Even western Montana can’t compare to the Willamette Valley – that’s LUSH!!!!


        • Sharon says:

          🙂 I’m having to consciously adjust my gardening expectations.

          You plant stuff here, it grows and yields in record time, and then the newly-emptied area of the raised garden (at the end of June) looks at you with a raised eyebrow (or dirt clod) as though to ask, “….what you starin’ at? You gonna get a second round of veggies planted here or what???”


  6. St. Benedict's Thistle says:

    A true bit of Americana. Beautiful.


  7. nameofthepen says:

    Absolutely lovely, Sharon. ♥

    Ha ha…somehow, I knew that was going to be the point of the story – that you trusted in the kindness of strangers, and it worked out. I just needed to hear the details.

    What a wonderful story. 🙂


  8. rovatek says:

    Train in the park eh? That’s interesting, we had a Jupiter missle in the park where I grew up but a train sounds like more fun.


  9. Menagerie says:

    In the park in a little Kansas town where my grandparents retired, the park had a real windmill. This was truly fascinating to us southern kids.

    Is the school you attended still there?


    • Sharon says:

      The high school I attended in Minot was closed down a few years after I graduated. As roads improved throughout the rural areas and perhaps some hard crop years, those “distant isolated farms” whose owners tended to enroll their high schoolers at the academy perhaps just didn’t have the cash any more.

      Interesting tidbit: Board and tuition for a full year was $750. I worked in the kitchen all four years I was there, hand washing silverware for 75-125 people every meal, and was paid $75.00 (per semester/twice a year) for that.

      The buildings were old when it was a school. Each set of rooms in the dorms had been (pre WW II) small apartments. Tiny kitchen, large sitting room, through a tiny half bath into the adjoining bedroom. As dorms they were occupied by 3 girls: 2 in the “living room” and 1 in the bedroom. The tiny kitchen was used as study room with two small desks in it, almost back to back, so three of us shared the half bath. Showers were in the basement, two or three floors down.

      The buildings were demolished some years ago. The entire area was flooded, destroying everything, about 3 years ago (The great Minot Floor of 2010? I think it was?)..The girls’ dorm was directly across the street from that river, with the front entrance of the dorm less than 100 feet from the river bank, so it would all have been destroyed in that flood if it hadn’t been demolished already.

      There was no “campus” per se. No fence. No gate. Just two large buildings (dorms upstairs, classrooms on the main level) and one single story office building to house the president, principal, secretary and music director’s offices. It was all open to the surrounding neighborhood, occupying about 1/4 of a small city block. We loved our school and absolutely had a blast.


  10. Cyrano says:

    Great story, Sharon! I laughed out loud over the little map. Love it!


  11. Pingback: Mailboxes and Old Barns: Stopping by Granny’s | A Quarter Bubble Short of Plumb

  12. justfactsplz says:

    What a lovely story Ms. Sharon. It made me think of my own grandmother and her gray braided hair. I have thought of you all week. I am at my sister’s farm. She has a picture in her house that makes me think of you, Ms. Sharon. It is an old delapidated mailbox attached to an old wagon wheel. The door is open and hanging by one hinge. There are wildflowers and a scraggly small tree around the box. On the tree a beautiful bird perches. Inside the old mailbox is a nest of baby birds with their mouths wide open. It is a precious picture in my mind. I told my sister about you and your great Sunday stories and how you are one of the strong Treehouse administrators.


    • Sharon says:

      What a sweet remembrance you offer. Thank you for thinking of me while visiting in that setting….enjoy some of it for me. ((hug))


  13. dawndoe says:

    Blessed, indeed(!) to have your grandmother’s devotional book. What lovely memories. Makes me want to start making a quilt. 🙂 (I’ve never made one, but I plan to.)


  14. WeeWeed says:

    What a wonderful MBOB, Sharon! Thank you. Whilst laid up yesterday (yes – even I, teh Weed, get ill sometimes…..) I watched a movie I’d not seen before, “How Green Was My Valley.” Really enjoyed it, and seeing Roddy McDowell at 12 was a trip – sets were awesome. Anyway, the point of the storyline was about our memories. While we have our memories of them none of our loved ones are ever really gone to us. How green were our valleys, indeed.


    • Sharon says:

      My brother mentioned once that it’s sort of “given” that fifty years after our deaths, there will be no one alive who knew of us.

      So write the memories down. Make them remember. 😉 Haunt them with loving words.

      Our son, 47 years old, called me on Saturday from Abilene, Kansas. Things do get successfully “passed down” and it was amazing to hear him talk. He sounded so good, he and his girlfriend are returning to Denver from Ft. Benning where they attended our grandson’s graduation from basic training on Thursday. When he called, I wasn’t sure where they were or how far yet to go.

      So I said hello and then asked, “How are you and where are you??” He laughed and said, “Mom, I’m living the dream. We’re in Abilene, Kansas.” They had just seen another son who’s stationed at Ft. Riley. When he called, they were standing in the entry area to the Dwight Eisenhower Library/Museum center, and just ready to go in. He was so utterly pleased to be there….and talked about how they had been reading the markers, and he had commented to J, “The only ones left any more who would have personal memories of these times would be our parents now….” And I told him that Eisenhower was the first presidential election I was conscious of and had any understanding of. Told him to touch a few things for me and really LOOK for me. It was such fun to hear how pleased he was to be there. He loves history and pays attention when he goes places, and that pleases his Giant Mother no end.

      When the boys were very little and I was about to go off my rocker (or send them off theirs) I would look at them sternly (most of the time trying not to laugh) and would say, “The Giant Mother is informing you that you will now………” whatever. What that actually meant was, “Even though you’re cracking me up here, knock it off. NOW.” It always worked. So today their affectionate name for me is still Giant Mother. Works for me. 😉


  15. Judy says:

    Great story and sweet that you wanted to send mail to your Grandmother….and your ingenious way of getting it delivered!


  16. ctdar says:

    I love reading your Sunday stories of remembrances Sharon; reminds me of both my Southern and Yankee grandparents. Also makes me a little sad as thru death (& in one situation choice) my children will never experience such memories. Hopefully one day my DH & I will be able to make it up to them in spades with their children 🙂


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