(Joseph Hedge lived for summers! He shared why in this is a glimpse of his childhood in the early 1930’s in Anaconda, Montana.)
By Joseph F. Hedge
Behind our yard and across the alley was a large hill. What do you do with a hill when it is in the neighborhood? Well, of course, you get all of your buddies and plan just where you are going to put your cabin. After the decision is made, you began the process of finding where all of the lumber is coming from to build the cabin. It never occurred to any of us that we would be unable to get all we needed by procuring from old piles of wood, scarfing a few pieces from some of the dilapidated garages in the area, and having plenty of discarded lumber from the flume that sent water to the smelter.
The flume was always being repaired and planks that were rotting from the moisture were replaced and just set aside. This is where we would find the wood for our floor. Other pieces of lumber could be found at our own homes. The planning stages completed and some of the lumber hauled up the hill, it was time to dig out the construction spot.
All of this activity began after school was out in the summer. The frost was gone from the ground and our folks wished we were back in school. There were eight of us involved in most of the neighborhood projects, my brother Bill, Bill Kloker, Freddie Hummel, Dick Moreland, Al Jacques, Eddie Peterson, and Michael Judge.
Most of the major decisions were made by my brother Bill or Bill Kloker. They were the oldest and biggest and meanest. When it came time to dig, everyone did his fair share. The mothers could attest to that because they had to clean us up each day after our hard labors. This was not a project that would be completed in one day – not even in one week. It would take us a week and half to dig out our position, meanwhile playing soldier, finding pieces of fool’s gold to make us all rich, and watching our homemade kites fly during break periods. Also there were times we just had to make pictures of the clouds passing by.
We all would bring our lunches so we wouldn’t have to go home until supper time. But always when we really got into the cabin fever we could hear any one of the mothers holler, “I need you to run to the store!” We knew from whom that demand came and we would argue as to whose mother it was, at least until the second call came. Then the errant son would grumble and leave, go to the store, and come back. After being gone long enough, each of us would gripe about his being gone and then find out exactly what he had to go to the store for. We didn’t care, but we felt that he should share this information with us. If by any chance he was lucky enough to get some penny candy, we also expected him to share. How did we know and he didn’t tell? We could tell by his breath and he was required to breathe in our faces as proof. Or he would stay away for a longer time and have a better excuse as to something else his mom had him do. We gave him the “eagle eye” just to check on his story. To give the “eagle eye” you half close the left eye and open the right eye as wide as possible and tilt your head a little forward and to the left.
Back to the digging and some safety concerns that had to be attended to. If a baseball-sized rock would start down the hill, it often would hit other rocks and an occasional big rock would be dislodged. “Not important,” you say? Well, those who had their homes built next to the hill thought differently. Many of them had rocks hit their houses, break windows, bang into the walls, and scare the inhabitants. Whenever we would see a big rock being dislodged, the hillside would suddenly be cleared. We waited for repercussions from the neighborhood. If the rock stopped before it hit a house, we would return to the job at hand.
When the digging was finished and the pad for the cabin was completed, we would place all of the flume planks in a row and toenail them together. Our floor would be completed in a short time.
Then someone eyed the Indian tobacco growing like a weed next to our cabin site. We thought this must be what the Indians used in their peace pipes. Bill Kloker just happened to pull a corncob pipe from his pocket. We had to try! We stripped the tobacco from the stalks, tamped it into Bill’s pipe and passed it around so that we might have peace in our group and eventually in our cabin.
One puff proved you were with it; the second puff proved you had all you needed. The heat burned the inside of your mouth and maybe the folks would be looking to see if you were OK. Kloker finished the pipe, tamped it out, put it back in his pocket, and promptly threw up.
The next three days were spent putting up the sides and roof of the cabin. Oh sure—there were some open spots where the light would come in but we would patch them on the outside. This would seal us in and the rain out.
Now that we had our cabin, it was time to furnish it. Hummel had a pot-bellied stove that his dad gave us. All we had to do was haul it up the mountain. We all groaned at the idea but Hummel said, “My dad gave it to us, now get your asses busy.” He always talked that way and each time he swore we would cringe. He would smile because he knew we couldn’t talk like that for all our asses would be flattened by our dads. We hauled the stove up. It took us all afternoon. Then we had to cut a hole in the roof for the chimney and then we’d have heat. Yes, it was still summer, but a cabin has to have heat. A door was the final part of the construction. It had to have a peep hole to check on the arrival of strangers that were not to be admitted.
Our first visitors were three of the dads. They inspected our work (for protection I am sure.) They indicated we had done a good job and the cabin would last most of the summer, unless we had a strong storm.
Our first meal was stew, –“Dinty Moore” to be exact. Two cans heated on our stove, tin plates from our houses and silverware—a spoon each. It turned dark fairly early that night and we had Dad’s Coleman lantern. It was a special night. We told stories. Kloker told a ghost story, “Who Stole My Golden Arm.” This had us all scared and afraid to leave the cabin.
Our parents knew what was going on and snuck up to our cabin. As soon as Kloker finished the shocking story, they banged on the outside of the cabin. It was emptied in a matter of seconds.
We spent many a good night in our cabin and the ghost stories came and went, but the parents stayed out of it since the first episode. They figured our lesson was learned, but it wasn’t. We still told ghost stories, but none as bad as “Who Stole My Golden Arm”!
I remember one day of entertainment in the cabin. We had a dancer from the neighborhood—her name won’t be mentioned. The dance of the five veils! (Two of them were not removed.) How wonderful it must have been. Oh Yes, I was there and so was by brother Bill. I had to stand and face Bill while he looked on the dance; he felt that I should not, at my age, view this dance. He held my face, which gave him the credibility of purity, for me. For this I shall always be grateful, or at least that is what Bill said.
The winters come early in Montana and abandonment of the cabin came pretty soon. We cleared the cabin of all our precious goods. The stove—back to Hummel’s. The wooden orange crates to our kitchens. The cabin was cleaned and left for the winter snows to collapse it to the ground and await our return in spring. The thought of eating dinner at the cabin in ten degree below zero weather did not occur to any of us. Also—we were back in school. It was turning dark earlier. We had homework to do. “Early to bed makes a boy healthy, wealthy, and wise.” This was Mom’s saying. So far the healthy has held up. I did question wealthy or wise. I wasn’t wise enough to realize I had no money, but I went to bed hoping.
We planned on what we were going to do next spring,–build a two-room cabin, or two levels, or side-by-side cabins. We would do something exciting…we always did.
What finally stopped this year to year routine? That answer came with puberty, girls, football practice, baseball practice, after school jobs, learning to drive, and driving.
The tradition continues. Our memories are clear as when we owned the hill. Now it was time to transfer ownership to the younger children building their cabins. They now own the hill. They use our shovels, hammers, spare lumber, and are called to go to the store for us.
How things change and still remain the same.