Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Life in Sumatra, Montana!

I was reviewing some old, home movies yesterday and thought I'd share a little bit about my growing up years in Sumatra, Montana.

My Dad and his four brothers purchased a large, spread of land in eastern Montana. Literally, it was thousands of acres. In fact the spread was so large you could stand on a hill and as far as the eye could see in any direction, was our property. We raised cattle, sheep, and horses on the ranch. The nearest large city was Billings, Montana, which was 150 miles east of the ranch. We did our major shopping there. There were smaller little towns like Melstone and Roundup that we could go to purchase small things. But if we needed major medical help it was 150 miles away. Of course there was a vet closer for the animals than a much needed people doctor!

Eastern Montana is rather barren. Not a lot of trees, just rolling hills, sagebrush, prickly pear, rattelesnakes, and antelope. Dad and his brothers took their little families to live on the ranch which was about 10 miles off the main highway. Sumatra consisted of a few homes, a post office with the only phone in town, a gas station, a church, and a couple of old hotels, one of which had been converted into the school house, and used as a Sunday meeting place for our church services.

Even though I'm not 60 years old, yet, it's amazing to tell people that I lived during a time where we had no TV, radio, or telephone. And, we generated our own electricity. In our first home we didn't have in-door plumbing, but used chamber pots which were kept under our beds, and of course the out-house. And yes ... the Sears catalog did come in handy when tissue paper wasn't handy! My least favorite chore was emptying those pots! I shudder to this day when I envision carrying that pot up the stairs and out the door, praying that nothing should spill.

School was unique. As I mentioned, our school was an old converted hotel. The downstairs had a gym and a kitchen where we ate our lunch. The middle part was the elementary and junior high. It consisted of two class rooms. One had grades 1-5 in it. And the other class room had grades 6-8 in it. The upstairs was for the highschool kids. I remember well, those old, dark, squeaky wood floors and how we would have to have drinking water brought into the school because the water in the town wasn't fit to drink. I'm not sure why... We had great wells out on the ranch and plenty of wonderful water to drink!

Going to school in the wintertime was an experience. We had a pickup truck with iron bars that ran across the back of the bed of the truck which held a canvas tarp in place. Yes, I know ... it really does sound like Little House on the Prairie. The little kids got to ride up front in the cab of the truck when it was soooo cold, and the rest of us had to brave the back. Keep in mind that winters in eastern Montana are frigid. Sometimes the weather would be 60 degrees below zero with drifts of snow covering fences and climbing half way up a power pole. To keep us from freezing our mothers would heat cinderblocks or bricks in the stove and then wrap them in gunny sacks for us to place our feet on in the back of the pickup. Then at the end of school, the cook would re-heat our bricks for us to use on the ride home.

I remember watching TV for the first time. My aunt and uncle purchased one in Billings and brought it out to the ranch. The only problem was ... there was only one channel and very poor reception. We thought it was marvelous as we made out the characters through the fuzzy, snowy picture, and watched the Mickey Mouse show. The audio was terrific. The antenna had tin foil on it and someone was in charge of touching the ears just so, so, and holding their arms high in the air, just so, so, so we could get a semi-decent picture.

We never did have telephone service. If there was an emergency we could go to the post office and have the post mistress let us use the phone.

Well ... I could go on and on about life in Montana. It was wonderful. I lived there until 9 years of age and then we moved to California.

Time is passing quickly this morning and I have grocery shopping to do today and a little bit of house cleaning. And, I think I'll play with my Big Shot too.

This is a view of the highway from Sumatra.

This and a church building and trailer home is about the only thing still standing in Sumatra. This isn't the original post office that we went to as a kid. The school house has since burned down and there's nothing remaining. Our home out on the ranch is still standing, barely. Parts of the roof are missing, and animals have been living in it. A few years ago we made the trek out to the ranch to show our kids where I grew up. It was so barren and lonely and I wondered how my mother ever learned to love it there and raise her little family. My kids thought it was neat and I have to confess amid the bustle of every day life, traffic, and people, I long for those dreamy, sunny, lazy, quiet days, where the only thing you can hear is the wind whistling in your ears, and perhaps the far-away cry of a baby calf.


The Great 8 said...

Linda, It is great to read about your life in the country. What a fantastic childhood foundation! I dream of that myself sometimes. I grew up on a ranch in New Mexico and often find myself wondering why my kids don't like to go watch the clouds or listen to nature sounds as much as I did... Then I realize, they live in a whole different world! Thanks for taking us on a trip down memory lane! Love ya!

Christie said...

What an amazing story Linda. Have you ever thought of writing a book? Even if it just for your family(and your stalkers like myself lol). You are such an amazing person with wisdom, talen, and life expirences beyond your years. It would be great to carry on your legacy for many years, and many more people.
Have a great day.

The Peton's said...

I loved hearing those stories as a kid, and I still do! I thought you were so lucky when you were little. Now, I just think what you do. . . How did your mom do that?

Patti Scanlan said...

Linda - hello from Eastern Montana! :) I live in Fort Peck and enjoyed your little bit of history. We are still pretty barron up here - and I laughed at your comment about 150 miles to Billings for shopping - we get excited to drive 150 miles to Miles City to hit Wal Mart! I have been here 17 years (my husband is from Miles City - I am from San Diego) and I love hearing about the "old" days here in Eastern Montana - I don't think people realize just how desolate it could be. And back in those days when it was 20 or 30 below zero - there were people living in "shantys" I still wonder how they stayed warm.

Have a great day!!

Butternut Sage Designs said...

oh my Linda I did not want this story to end....I think there could be at least a childrens story here! What a wonderful time that must have been. Getting on in middle years (56) makes one dream of those times, when the best thing on a May day was putting buttercups under your chin! Have a great rest of your day. ~Donna

Patty Bennett said...

Wow.. I feel like I took a little vacation reading that!! (glad to be back in CA tho!) :) What a marvelous story.. write more!! :) Where did you move to in CA ? I was born and raised here.

Kristin Markus said...

I loved "listening" to your story, Linda! I felt like I was in another world and wished it wasn't over so soon!

Joni said...

Linda-you're bringing back memories of my girlhood in MO. We weren't 150 mi from town but we
Went to town very seldom...TV was very unknown until I was about 9...we were busy milking 100 cows; feeding 40 calves & riding a bus which I now feel grateful to have had! To school for an hour each way....
Long ago is so bittersweet-thanks for taking me there w/ you...I LOVE MT!