Life in Missoula - #2


South of Missoula was Ft. Missoula, so during World War I the town was filled with soldiers, which made for excitement among the girls. The Epworth League at the Methodist church put on special parties for them and families invited them home for dinner after church services on Sundays. The most excitement of all was in meeting the troop trains. Of course, all the older girls went to the station. Gertie Kline, who lived next door, and Agnes Nottingham across the street never missed a train. Gertie's sister, Wiletta, was my chum and because we weren't old enough we weren't allowed to go, but we were old enough to want to. One night we sneaked down there but after just a little while the Travelers' Aid woman, who knew us, ordered us home, but not before we had seen the train full of soldiers hanging out the windows and the girls handing them candy bars and other goodies. Gertie and Agnes always attended every dance and were escorted home by soldiers. Wiletta and I sat Hazel West & Willeta Klinein a tree in our front yard and watched them saying goodnight to each other. It's a wonder we didn't give ourselves away by giggling. (That tree in the yard is the only thing left at our house at 908 Vine St. since I-90 went through.) In a small town everyone knows everyone else, which is not all bad as I look back. One night a bunch of us were out riding around and ran out of gas. We stopped at all the gas pumps and drained any gas left in the hose. Of course, no stations stayed open all night then. The next morning my folks knew all about it for our neighbor, a policeman, had watched us.

Because Mother was ill much of the time, I did a lot of the housework and cooked. My Dad's favorites were cream of tomato soup and peanut butter fudge, made from recipes out of the Larkin cookbook. I remember the Larkin salesman coming to the door selling the same products that the Watkins man did later on. I'm still using the Larkin book for special recipes like the sandwich spread made from ground, cooked ham, vinegar and peanut butter.

  Here is the recipe:  
  1 cup or 1/2 lb chopped ham (I always ran it through the meat grinder)  
  Enough good vinegar to moisten well  
  1 tablespoon of peanut butter  
  A few drops of celery flavoring extract  
  Pepper and salt to taste  

I also still use the Haviland dishes Mother and Dad got from the Larkin company. One day I was planning on making a cake but couldn't get the fire started, so I poured kerosene on the coals and it exploded. Whatever I had in my hand - probably the cup in which I had had the kerosene - I threw in the stairway on a pile of papers, which started to burn. I ran to get water to put the fire out and put my hand to my head for some reason and thought that I had on my crocheted cap. But when I happened to glance into the mirror above the sink, I saw that my hair was aflame. As I ran through the dining room where mother was resting on the couch (not davenport) she yelled at me but I kept going to the front door where there was a small rug at the entrance. I had been told what to do if I ever caught on fire and the only thing I remembered was that I should roll up in a rug. There were coats hanging near the kitchen door but I thought only of a rug. I had a celluloid comb in my hair, which melted and had to be cut out, and the hair has never grown back there. I still have a scar. The doctor was called and after he left all the neighbors came to see me with black oil spread over my face. He gave me a sedative, which didn't work.

I had been told never, never to use the kerosene but I thought I knew how to do it having watched Dad a number of times. So it wasn't until I was married and here in Seattle that I told them what had happened. Dad thought some explosives had accidentally been left in the coal when it was mined so refused to pay for that ton. Every time I thought of it I had an awful guilty feeling.

Missoula is in a valley surrounded by mountains. The home that Dad built at 1114 Poplar Street was very close to the foot of Mt. Jumbo. And close to the end of Hellgate Canyon through which the Blackfeet came to fight. Our school was on the slope of the mountain so we could climb it to pick wild flowers at recess. Before Missoula was settled the area on the south side of Missoula River was the battleground where the Blackfeet and Flathead Indians met. Early settlers found many arrowheads there. An old timer told Dad that the mounds in our chicken yard were graves, but there were no markers. Iris bloomed there in the spring. We children climbed Mt. Jumbo often just playing there among the rocks on a plateau or picking wild flowers, including the Bitterroot, the Montana State flower. One day my brother Vern and I were up there just roaming around when I saw a rattlesnake under a bush. I screamed, "Run", grabbing Vern and pulling him after me. That is the only time I ever saw one there, but knowing there could be another didn't keep me off the mountain.

Whenever we children went on a hike or out in the woods anywhere Mother searched us when we got home, especially our heads and necks, to see if there was a wood tick on us. They burrowed themselves under the skin and were nasty to get out. They are flat and hard and almost impossible to squash. I remember one fellow who lit a match and tried to burn the tick out. All he did was burn himself. Mother was right to be concerned because many people got spotted fever from them and died.

At one time a big sugar beet-company started raising sugar beets in the valley west of Missoula and advertised for people to move there, grow beets, and make their fortunes. It turned out to be a disaster for the people new to the region knew nothing about ticks. Many developed spotted fever and died. Since I left Missoula a Japanese scientist has perfected a serum so spotted fever is a thing of the past.

I know we didn't have as much as some of my friends, but I don't remember feeling sorry for myself. I had friends, my family loved me and I was happy.

1988/89 Life story class Life in Missoula.txt Page 3 of 3 01/18/01 11:41 PM