We were poor and that meant hand-me-down clothes, sourdough pancakes for breakfast every morning, and venison steak for supper every night. All but 40 acres of the big ranch had been sold and the Farmer’s Almanac wasn’t always true to its predictions when it called for years of plenty. Poor, dry-land farmers in central Montana couldn’t afford the latest technology to produce good crops and water was a precious commodity. So, we prayed to God for rain in the dry years and for the sun to come out when the ground was too wet for planting our crops. Along with his faith, Dad threw in common sense and wives’ tale wisdom into the mixture of his survival recipe. The Farmer’s Almanac was always within reach on the table next to Mom’s bible and the radio on the kitchen counter was always tuned into the Havre radio station for the weather and agriculture report. We planted our crops and vegetable garden in the spring after the ground thawed and the moon was in the right phase. The butchering was done in the fall and I remember looking over Dad’s shoulder as he read the spleen of a hog to predict the weather of the oncoming winter.
Growing up dirt poor in the Breaks with parents was hard enough. Not having a mother to keep the softer side of life’s balances in check was even tougher. At least, that’s what so many people have said to me over the years. “You poor little thing! I can’t even imagine what you’ve gone through not having a mother. And your dad! How could he raise you girls all by himself…and out in the wilds of the Breaks?” The intentions were pure and I still believe that people truly did care. Like me for many years, however, most of them were so focused on Mom’s missing presence they forgot about the man who was still standing firmly on the ground making the best of a tragic situation. To my knowledge, Dad never wallowed in any kind of self-pity over losing his wife. It seemed as though he approached Mom’s death like he did whenever an animal died on our ranch. Death was a part of life and, while Mom was the love of his life, he had no choice but to carry on without her. He had kids to raise, so he just kept moving forward each day, putting one foot in front of the other. Mom died, life went on and it was as simple as that.