I 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 safety 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 almost 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 mothers 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.
The 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.