Tuesday, July 13, 2004


I will tell you that it rained all day on the Fourth of July in L'Anse, Michigan, and after twenty-two hours of it my rain-proof tent gave up keeping the water out. I slept that night in the car. I had to dry the tent (and some of my clothes) once I got to South Dakota, when it wasn't raining there.

The rain didn't dampen my spirits, nor did it get in the way of some good Vagabonding. While in L'Anse, I toured the Ford Sawmill in Alberta Village. I hiked to Canyon Falls and to Sturgeon Falls, and on the steep climb back from Sturgeon Falls I was hearing "a distant pounding like a motor trying to start, but it can't. I suppose that is my heart working for me, as hard as I'm working to gain this sense of who we are." I drove almost to the highest point in Michigan, Mt. Arvon, but gave up the attempt when the pool of water was wider than what they call a road, and I didn't know how deep it was and how soft the mud beneath it. A challenge for another trip; the pamphlet did say the roads are not always suitable for passenger cars. I toured Pettibone Manufacturing in Baraga with company president Kevin Walsh, and talked with plant manager Jerry Niemi, chief engineer Ray McDonald, and Phil Latendresse, grandson of the Phil Latendresse who invented Pettibone's flagship product, the Cary-Lift. Later in the week I also did formal, more personal interviews with Ray and Phil. I climbed to the top of Little Mountain just outside L'Anse, and noted that "in that battle between water and rock, water always wins." I made my way by car and by foot to the far tip of Point Abbaye; and walking back to the car I had something of an experience; this is what I wrote: "Part-way back to the car, I hang my head and cry. I don't know why. I have touched something large, I know that. Have I over-juiced on God? Have I felt a tug of what it means to be part of the universe? Have I just had a mystical experience? Shall I never pass this way again?" On July 3rd, I attended the Fourth of July parade in Baraga, but I didn't stay for the fireworks that started at dusk. I did wake that night when the rainstorm hit at midnight; that's the rain that continued all through the Fourth and into the following night. I interviewed Nancy Besonen who, in writing about my February trip to L'Anse, had said: "Tom Montag is defining the character of the Midwest - one character at a time." Nancy is a Chicago girl who always liked the northwoods. I heard Da Yoopers in concert, part of the Lumberjack Days/Fourth of July celebration that wasn't rained out, but got moved into the Bingo Hall at the Baraga Casino.

I drove kitty-corner across the upper middle west, from L'Anse, Michigan, to Redfield, South Dakota. On the way, I stopped in Doland, South Dakota, to see what remained there; Doland is where former vice-president Hubert Humphrey graduated from high school in 1929, and where Dennis Koslowski graduated in 1977; Dennis "was the first American to win a medal in Greco-Roman wrestling in a non-boycotted Olympics - a bronze in 1988. He won a silver medal in 1992." I also stopped in Frankfort, South Dakota, to see what was left in Harry Eisele's hometown. It was obvious all across Eastern South Dakota that the area has been getting plenty of rain this summer. Things looked green.

Again on this visit, I stayed with Marlin and Lyn Flint; they always take such good care of me. I did finally get a hair-cut, for those of you who worry about that. I couldn't go into Alley Cuts by front door, though; I had to go through the alley - Main Street has been torn up for a couple months and, though work is almost completed, sidewalks still need to be poured. I interviewed Barb Paulson, a teacher in Redfield who grew up in Redfield; Barb left the community to make her way in the world before she and her husband decided that Redfield was where they wanted to raise their family. I interviewed Barb's father, Royce Bush, who operated a full-service gas station in Redfield for much of his career, back in the days when Redfield had fourteen gas stations. I interviewed Gerald Marlette, whom some think of as Redfield's Mr. Lions Club. I visited Tulare, south of Redfield, to see what's there - the South Dakota Wheatgrowers elevator by the railroad tracks, the Bar With No Name, Mrs. Louie's Cafe, and what else? I interviewed Stan Schulz, who with his wife Kari operates the SAKS Restaurant in Redfield. Stan was "the foot" in Dances With Wolves, the foot seen kicking out a campfire at one point in the movie; he has been in several others since then. Kari Schulz showed me through Redfield's depot, which is being restored and soon will be re-opened as a tourist information center. "Imagine all the history that went on in this building," Kari said. "A woman told me the depot has both happy and sad memories for her. She said she'd gotten engaged on the platform, and that her father had dropped dead in the door of the express freight room." I think Kari sees the same kind of ghosts I see. She said, "When these old buildings are gone, they'll never be back." I interviewed Pastor Tim Fugman of the Congregation Church and Dave Durfee, the veterans service officer for Spink County. I interviewed 80-year-old Andy Clawson, a Republican who doesn't think he can vote Republican in the coming presidential election. I got a tour of Redfield from Craig Johnson, Spink County's economic development director, who took me to the CallSynergy call center in Redfield where I talked to Mike Rohrbach, the night-shift manager, about their work. Afterwards, because the afternoon had grown hot and we had grown thirsty, Craig and I stopped for a beer at the Chrystal Palace; Craig didn't tell me the history of the place and I couldn't print it if he had. Then we gathered up Craig's wife, Corrine, and Craig bought me supper. Thanks, Craig. I saw the Redfield American Legion team lose its first game in the weekend tournament, 3-2. I interviewed Redfield physicians Jo~ and Dewi Cabacar, who came from the Philippines for additional medical training in America, and are still here, doctoring in an "under-served area." Jo~ is an internist with a specialty in nephrology; Dewi is a peditrician with a specialty in pediatric neurology.

And, to understand where and how the middle west ends and the west begins, the last official act of my trip was to drive the 181 miles west from Redfield to Faith, South Dakota, on Highway 212, then drive 64 miles north to Lemmon, South Dakota, and then return to Redfield via Highways 12 and 281; I've made 45 pages of notes about that drive, some of which I'll inflict on you at some point in the future.

It was a good trip. I got lots of good material. I worked hard, but not so hard that I didn't have a good time. I didn't have such a good time that I didn't want to come home, however. I'm glad to be home.



This is part of an interview I conducted in July, 2003, with 99-year-old Pearl Mt. Castle of Lewisburg, Ohio. Pearl taught school for forty years, usually fifth grade. She taught Sunday School for sixty-four years, retiring from that when she was in her nineties. She still lives independently in the house and on the farm her parents moved into in 1913. She still takes care of herself. She still sometimes refers to herself in the third person, in the manner of old school teachers. I found that my job during this interview was to stay out of the way and let Pearl tell her story. Pretty much I succeeded in staying out of the way; there's no question but that Pearl can tell her story. Try and keep up with us, now.

"In 1991," Pearl said, "I had my first opportunity to see this place my uncle lived, and where the Olson boys lived, near Minot, North Dakota." There was no longer any of her uncle's family in the area, however. A friend of Pearl's, knowing that she loved to travel, had said 'Pearl, where are you going to go next?' I said 'I want to go to North Dakota." She said 'I'll take you there.' So she and her friend, who'd just bought a new car, and her mother and I - four women - took the trip to North Dakota."

"It was my 50th State," Pearl said. "I'd been to all the other states before. It was one of the nicest trips I ever took, of course, because of the things we saw and did."

Pearl talked about her travels. "In 1932," she said, "two other teachers and I and a fellow we knew who had a new Chevrolet car decided we wanted to go to the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. So all of us, in our twenties, late twenties, went to the Olympic Games in 1932. We visited all the western states while we were out there."

"One of the girls knew a fellow who would be in the Olympics," Pearl explained. "He would be running in a relay race at a certain date. We started our trip early enough that we could visit parks in Colorado and Arizona and so on. We hit all the states - from Los Angeles we went north to Oregon and on up into Washington. A big circle - we took in all those states up there. We saw everything else but not North Dakota. I took a hundred dollars with me, and came back with some money left, after four weeks of travel."

"While we were in Los Angeles, Pearl said, "we lived in the home of a cousin of one of the girls and, of course, that was cheap living."

"We cooked for ourselves on the trip," she said, "and stayed in little parks, like rest areas are today. I still have the iron skillet we took along with us. We'd do some cooking when we had the chance to. We really pioneered, but we got to see a great deal, back in the days when things weren't so commercialized. An example of that - Mt. Rushmore which we saw on that tour was just Washington, and the second face was started. In 1991, when I went to North Dakota and around through South Dakota, all four faces at Mt. Rushmore were finished and it was very commercialized. There was a big difference in the area in that length of time."

A girl who was my first pupil - she was 12 and I was 19 - finished college and started teaching and still lived in Lewisburg. We became great friends. Not too many years between us, see. She wanted to travel and she was free to do so. I took many summers when I'd do something for Pearl - I'd work hard for ten months - and she and I traveled together a great deal. Our first trip out of the country was to Mexico. Another trip was to Alaska. Another trip to South America."

"I had another good traveling mate," she said. "She and I went to Australia"

"I've been to all fifty states," Pearl said, "to Mexico, to seven countries in South America, the Holy Land, Egypt, Spain, and Portugal. If I had a good strong arm to hang onto, I'd still go to Antarctica, which is the only continent I haven't been to."

"It must have been the 1960s when we went to South America," Pearl remembered. "Our first stop was in Panama. Then over into Ecuador, Peru. We crossed the Andes a couple of times. Over into Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile."

"I spoke very little Spanish," she said, "but this was a school group, so we visited schools in various places. It was a conducted tour. We met teachers at the different places we went."

Back in the classroom at home, Pearl the teacher said, "we studied these places in geography. And I'm a geographer. I could just tell you lots of things. One time I beat the people who were on the Jeopardy program because I knew my geography - they all missed the problem and I got it."

"All that was curiosity," she said. "I think I loved the first map I ever saw. I know maps. I know left or right, east or west. A lot of people don't know east or west, you know. The only place I don't know east or west is in the mountains, where I've got to know straight up."

"In 1928," she recalled, "my college room-mate liked to travel as much as I did and we decided we wanted to go to Canada, so we drove my car to her house, which is eighty miles from here. I left the car there. We went to Toledo and took a boat across the lake, shot the rapids of the St. Lawrence, visited the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec. We took the train from Montreal through New York into Vermont and on into Massachusetts, by ship into New York City, and from New York City down to Washington, DC, then home. That was 1928 or 1929."

"My sister two years younger than I am lost her husband and wanted to get away one summer," Pearl said, explaining how she saw the southeastern United States. "She and I took a trip, stopping at Roanoke to visit relatives, then down through the Carolinas, on down to Florida. We hit Kentucky and Tennessee and so on coming back."

To be continued....



(501 W. Third #12, Smith Center, KS 66967)

"You know," Ivan said, "one nice thing about living in Smith Center - when they have a class reunion we don't have to drive hundreds of miles to attend. We're already here."

"Gas gets any higher, I'm gonna have to see Jim Tharp about buying a bicycle," Ivan wrote. "They say you never forget how to ride a bicycle. What they meant was you never forget how to wreck a bicycle."

"Judy Hall was coaching first base for her little girls T-ball team," Ivan said. "One little girl came running down to first base. Judy said 'Nice going, Ashley.' The little girl said, 'I'm not Ashley, I'm Kaitlin.' Judy said, 'Oh, that's right, I never can get you girls straight.' Kaitlin said, 'You ought to be able to. I got freckles and Ashley don't.' That reminded Nolan Hajny of a song he used to sing - 'She's got freckles on her but she's pretty.'"

"Where did I go wrong," Ivan asked. "All my kids are Republicans. And now my youngest is running in Senior Track Meets. What fun is it to run 1600 meters when you are fifty years old? Unless you are running to a voting booth where you can vote Democratic."


JUNE 30, 1998

A cool morning. We get to start the day fresh, but I suppose it will be very hot by noon again, as it has been here the past few days.

I am lost in the day - in the blue sky, the white clouds, the green corn and beans - dreaming. I am halfway to Ripon before I am conscious that I am halfway to Ripon. It is a shock to recognize that I have been "in the moment" entirely - not thinking about it, just here. Then I ruin it by thinking about it, by making these notes! Isn't that the curse of the writer with his material, and the curse of the physicist trying to study wave and particle?

I lean forward to let the breeze cool my back that has grown sweaty against the seat of the pick-up. To ride the moment once again.

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