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Story ID:3609
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Somewhere Montana USA
Person:Ma & Pa Campbell
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"The Middle Ta Nowhares"

by Kathe Campbell

Northbound geese took turns honking while winging in vee formation over lower mountain passes onto long valleys. Well below the tree line, pussy willows were trying desperately to bud in-between spring snows and pruning shears. It was along this northern route we found ourselves following nature in all of the season's youth and scents.

My husband, Ken, had business in a part of Montana we had not seen before. It just blows me away when I'm reminded that there are a mere four of us for every square mile, and cattle outnumber we mortals three to one. Less than one million folks live a quality of life in these versatile surroundings that exist nowhere else. For us it's the best of the best.

After three hours we left the interstate and the green cover of our mountains to travel on an endless, narrow two-laner. The Missouri River had turned east, well behind us now as we drove out onto flat, brown prairies past an occasional farmer's gate, or a lone hawk catching the breeze. Observing little of either, the place seemed unfit for man or beast. The road map indicated our destination was yet another two hours on an Indian reservation near the Saskatchewan border. I felt secure observing the cell phone mounted on the dash until, alas, we were out of range. Our isolated connection with the universe seemed only a captivating French Canadian radio station.

At last there appeared in the distance what looked to be a building and gas pump. The sign read, "Jasper's Gap, Established 1906." A lazy white-whiskered dog laid next to an old codger rocking on the front porch. I was so glad to see someone - anyone - I began inquiring about the quaint place. The old man leaned back, threw his feet up onto the railing, spat a well-aimed chew between his boots, and drawled, "Why lady, yer out har in the middle ta nowhares!"

The ancient store offered everything for a modest lifestyle right down to brand new galvanized wash tubs with wringers, chamber pots, coal oil lamps, and barrel stoves. This place hadn't matriculated beyond 1906. The old man's wife appeared in a tattered ankle-length frock over her massive frame. I would have bet her unkempt bun housed any manner of creepy-crawlies while she clunked around in Mammy Yokum style boots showing off her crocheted pot holders. I doubt she'd used the business end of a bar of soap in some time. Unlike her spouse, she rattled on and on. "Where ya from and what ya gona do when ya gits to St. Jore'?"

Just as Ken asked if she had coffee brewing, I felt obliged to kick him in the shins. There was a pot of scorched smelling black stuff sitting on the wood stove alright. The spoon all but stood alone in the stained, cracked cup. We sat at the counter on tractor seats while Ken managed a couple sips and I took cover in a can of lukewarm soda. After another bitter swallow he decided to fill the car, purchase two rock-hard Snickers, and take a picture or two. Both of us felt better served in tending to other immediate needs behind a big half-dead scrub down the road. Down the road was just a few miles from our destination, where unbeknownst to us, the best was yet to come.

While Ken handled his inspection, I watched two handsome young Cree men jumping in and out of the local dilapidated reservation fire truck. Their persistent adjustments under the hood seemed futile as great clouds of black smoke escaped from beneath. Lordy, I hope no one will need their services any time soon, I thought to myself, as the old relic backfired and chugged down the road.

There was no grocery store, no drug store, or cafe. There was, however, a mercantile/post office, not too dissimilar, and probably a competitor of the previous. The proprietor stared unmercifully at my new prosthesis with wondrous curiosity while I sorted through his wares. I'm oft moved under such circumstances to cheerfully shout out, "I'm cool," however, the merchant seemed uneasy and disappeared. His disdain was nothing new, so I purchased a couple hand-carved picture frames and returned to the car for a snooze.

Only minutes later I was abruptly awakened by the sound of the local school bus doors creaking open, whereupon a half dozen kids retreated into the mercantile. No sooner had I closed my eyes once again when the same youngsters raced over to our car to look inside. I was taken aback until it dawned on me that these children were there to see the lady with the hook. How swift the grapevine.

So, as with our own twelve grandchildren, I opened and closed the hook, I picked up a few items, explained how the contraption works, and even invited the boys to shake hands. They stood agape and wide-eyed, giggling persistently in-between polite questions. It was probably the highlight of their week, maybe even their year, this lady with the funny arm.

And as I look back with such respect and affection for those uninhibited children, I wondered why so many grownups seldom show empathy when confronted with the handicapped. Oh to snatch back a piece of childlike innocence, honesty and kindness. God bless the simpatico. It's just a kid thing I guess, and especially for those living in "the middle ta nowhares."

- 2006