A walk down memory lane

It was a smoky drive across Montana yesterday. The smoke is mostly coming from the Lolo fire complex in Idaho, but there is also smoke from the Rim fire in California. For most of the drive we could see some of the nearby mountains, but they were clouded in smoky haze. The farther peaks weren’t visible at all. It is strange for us to have smoke all the way across Montana. The skies were also cloudy for much of our drive and we encountered rain a few times as we made our way across. Even the rain didn’t take the smoke out of the air, however. Researchers tell us that the fires are getting bigger and more intense than was the case in previous years, all part of the worldwide trend of global warming. The smoke make us sneeze and gives us a bit of congestion, symptoms that no one wants to be experiencing in the time of Covid-19. We have experienced good health after the scare with Susan’s hospitalization last fall and are trying what we are able to stay healthy. We have been being very careful in our travels to avoid close contact with anyone except family members we know are healthy. Since others are experiencing the smoke irritation, we are confident that it is what is going on with us as well.

Today we head home and hope that we will experience clearing skies as we go.

I went for a walk in Red Lodge last evening. I took an hour or so to walk around a town that used to be quite familiar to me. My paternal grandparents lived here during much of my childhood. My grandfather had abandoned the farm in North Dakota in the early forties, after surviving the great depression. He decided that the automobile was the future of the economy and operated a service station in Billings for a few years before purchasing a station in Red Lodge which he operated until his retirement. They continued to live in the big house in Red Lodge for several years before health forced a move back to Billings to be closer to doctors.

As I walked, I imagined that I was walking the same streets that my grandfather walked in the early days of his retirement. He used to walk down town for a cup of coffee many days and I can still locate the house in which they lived, though it is now painted red after decades of being white with green shutters. Like many small towns, Red Lodge didn’t have formal zoning during much of its development so not every house has sidewalks and the sidewalks that do exist aren’t completely consistent in width or in distance from the street. Waling involves a bit of walking on the streets and then going back to the sidewalks. It seems quite natural to me and the town feels in some ways like little has changed over the years.

Many of our visits when I was a kid involved arriving by airplane as my father regularly flew fire patrols over Yellowstone National Park and the Gallitan National Forest. A swing by Red Lodge was easy after a trip over the Park. That meant that once we were on the ground we were walking where we wanted to go. Our trips usually only involved a walk down the hill from the airport to my grandparents’ house, but sometimes also included a walk downtown for some errand. Sometimes, I would walk around town by myself while the adults visited.

I felt right at home walking around the town. It has grown a bit since those days. There are quite a few new houses, especially on the outskirts of the town, but I walked through the old neighborhoods where the houses looked much the same and the feel was very similar to how it had been when I was a child. In fact, it was easier to remember being a child than it was to imagine myself being the age that my grandfather was when I used to visit, though I now have become the age of my grandparents when they lived in this town.

Like many who survived the Great Depression as adults, my grandfather was skilled in a lot of different areas. He collected rags and made beautiful braided rag rugs in the basement of their home. The rungs were mostly given as gifts, but he would sell a few from time to time at fairs and markets. He was mechanically savvy and could diagnose and repair many problems with cars, skills that came from years of pumping gas, washing windshields and checking oil and tires. He could change tires on a wheel with a couple of hand irons and without the use of the machines that you now see in tire shops. He could adjust a carburetor and set the gap of points and plugs using a homemade feeler gauge. He was a fairly good carpenter and did most of his own home repairs. I have his wood planes and I can remember playing with the curls of wood that came off of those planes when he helped my dad add a second story to our home. I was very young at the time and I suspect that playing with his hammers and the wood curls is one of my oldest memories.

He hasn’t lived in Red Lodge for more than 50 years now and folks around here don’t remember him. Part of the building that was his gas station is still standing, but it hasn’t ben a gas station for many years. Some of the buildings that were part of the old Red Lodge zoo are still standing, but there is little other evidence of the bears, deer, elk, antelope, wolves, beavers, and other small mammals that were caged there. The zoo was not large and the enclosures were not sufficient for the animals and it is a good thing that it has closed, but it was part of so many visits to the area that it lingers in my memory.

I walked by the cabin my in-laws owned here for a few years. It was the destination of our honeymoon when we had only a couple of days and not much money.

The town is full of memories which are part of the treasures of this phase of my life. It was a fun walk down memory lane to stretch my legs after a day of driving. If only the air had not smelled of smoke.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!