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With that in mind, read on!

Montana Women Writers 009

Back row, L to R: Christine Carbo, Patti Dean, Marie Martin, Ann Minnett, Jeannie Tallman, Anne B. Howard, and Constance See

Front row: Gail Ranstrom, Kathy Dunnehoff, P.A. Moore, Marlette Bess, Leslie Budewitz, Nan McKenzie, and Betty Kuffel

Camera shy: Deborah Epperson, Angela Miller, Ina Albert, Karen Wills, and Lise McClendon

Beyond the World – An Excerpt

By M. F. Erler

There was nothing but darkness before his eyes as he moved slowly through the trees.  Somehow, he could sense them and avoid walking into their rough-barked trunks.  Perhaps it was the way the ground level changed as his hooves neared their roots.

          He tossed his head, shaking out his tangled mane and nickered softly.  Then he pushed air from his nostrils in a loud whoosh.

          Lowering his head, he chomped off a few blades of grass.  It was still too early in the spring for very many of the new fresh blades, so he had to settle for the dried remains of last year’s crop.  It wasn’t too bad, though—it tasted like the straw his master had fed him—back when he still had a home.

          That was now a hazy faded memory, though.  He couldn’t really measure the time, but there had been numerous periods of light and darkness.  The weather had gone through its full sequence—from the chill of the snowy time through the greening up and the hot days of sunlight—and then back to the long darkness and the fading of fresh and green things—into the cold, and back out again.

          These cycles had always been a part of his life, but before there was some shelter provided for him from the wet rain and the cold snow.  Now he had to find his own shelter—sometimes in a rocky overhang or under some of the taller, thicker trees.  The cycles passed over him, and he just took what each day brought.  Numbering the passage of seasons was not part of his nature.  His only awarenesses were the immediate needs—food, water, and shelter.

          This night, there were no lights—he didn’t know to call them stars or moon.  Neither did he know to call the dark concealing these things clouds.  All he knew was his sense of sight had little use at the moment.  He was using his keen hearing and sense of smell, along with the touch of his hooves on the ground, and occasionally the brush of his flanks or legs against some low vegetation.

             Suddenly his eyes did see something—two yellow lights glowing between the trees ahead of him.  Stepping closer, he saw the eyes of some animal.  It was lower to the ground than he, and emitted a low growl.  At first, he snorted in fear, but when the eyes didn’t move any closer, he sniffed more deeply.  There was no smell of threat.  In fact, there was a smell he hadn’t known for a very long time. 

          Moving closer still, he could see this was not a wolf but a big black dog with pointed ears.  It gave a whining sound and stepped closer to him.  Now he knew this scent—it came from humans.

          The dog brushed gently against his foreleg and gave a short bark.  Then it started off through the trees to his right.  Without any hesitation, he followed.

Max

By Catherine Browning

Let me tell you about Max. Max was one of the engineers that worked with Mary Jackson at NASA on the command modules for all the Apollo missions. He also worked at Rockwell International on the B1 bomber and jet engines. This man was no dummy. He was brilliant and won an award for an invention he made for the Polaris missile. They sent him on a trip to Germany. He retired at age fifty-five.  All his nieces and nephews loved Uncle Max. He was fun and funny, had an easy-going personality and a silly sense of humor.

Max and his wife moved in with his son and daughter-in-law four-and-a-half years ago because he had too many incidents where he couldn’t find his way home and his wife had to sell their house.  It was immediately obvious that his wife couldn’t take care of him. She was ill and died five months after they moved in.

Max was hard of hearing, so at first, his son and daughter-in-law thought his behavior was because he couldn’t hear. But noooo . . . Daughter-in-law Amy became his primary caregiver during the day when he was diagnosed with dementia.

“You really have to be willing to just drop everything and go if he thinks he has to go somewhere. Or try to distract him. Sometimes it’s easier just to go.”

Amy and her husband David watched as his dad deteriorated, forgetting how to use the bathroom, how to eat, what words or actions are inappropriate, confusing day and night.

What did they learn? In a moment of lucidity toward the end, Max told his son, “I love you.” It was a difficult four-and-a-half years, but they were able to give one old man a quality of life he wouldn’t have had in an institution. It was worth it.

July Book News

Mary Frances Erler (mferler@peaksandbeyond.com) recently did a speaking tour of four Stonecroft Women’s Connections in North Dakota, including Minot and Bismarck. Her speech highlighted how she has battled and began to overcome depression in her life. She was able to display her books, including the 7-part Peaks at the Edge of the World Saga and her newest book, a historical fiction called Voices in the Past. Sales were brisk.

Book display at Bismarck brunch in June.

Her Name Was Linnie (an excerpt)

By M. Frances Erler PeaksAndBeyond.com

          When I was about seven or eight, my parents hired an African American maid to watch us kids after school when Mom had bridge club.  She also did the ironing while she was at our house.  I remember her running the hot iron over a Colonial Bread wrapper, to get the wax melted on it.  This made it really smooth out the wrinkles in the clothes, I guess.

          My brother was three years younger than me, so he doesn’t remember her.  She was to my childhood eyes an older woman, with maybe a little gray in her hair.  Soft-spoken, but I could tell she was a loving person.  If we wanted to talk, she listened.  I don’t think she tended to start the conversation, though.

          Both of my grandmothers lived in other towns, so for those years, Linnie became a surrogate grandma for me.  I never felt uncomfortable around her, like I did with my ‘real’ grandmas sometimes.  I guess I didn’t see them enough to know them well.  

          One evening, Linnie stayed late and made supper for us.  I’m wondering if it was the night my youngest brother was born.  She warmed a can of cream of chicken soup, using water to dilute it.  Mom always used milk, so I thought it would taste strange.  But it was fine.  Every time I make a can of condensed soup with water now, I think of Linnie.

          I don’t know for sure who brought Linnie to our house.  Maybe Mom went to pick her up while I was a school.  It’s odd the things you don’t notice when you’re a child.  She was just there when I got home, and then she went home somehow when her work day was over.

          Once, though, she needed Mom to drive her home, so we children went along.  This was the only time I saw where Linnie lived.  It was in a shabby part of El Dorado, Arkansas, with only dirt streets, and little rundown wooden houses.  It looked rather sad.

          After we’d dropped Linnie off at her house, I remember asking Mom: “Why do the colored people live in such poor places?”  (The N-word was forbidden in my family, even then in the 1950s.)

          “It’s not their fault, Frances,” she said quietly.  “People who are poorer than we are in things are still just as good as people.  Always remember that.”

          I can still picture this entire scene, even though it took place at least 60 years ago.  The words my mother said took on more and more meaning for me as the years went by.  She went out of her way to make sure we didn’t look down on any of the poorer people who lived in our town.  I never knew, until many years later that her childhood had been lived in poverty, too.  Out of it she forged an understanding of all people less fortunate, and compassion for them.  It’s one of the best legacies she left me.

Change (For the Summer Solstice)

By M. F. Erler

The world is like a river flowing,

          Permanently changing,

          Forever running,

          Building its own land.

And in the same way,

          Changes creep into me, unfelt

          Whirling ‘round my feet and head in eddies.

So my soul:

          Longs for where I’ve been

          Craves where I am going,

But can only be here—in the now.

Why can’t I be like the river?

          At its source—trickling from the deep,

                   dim, in-parts of earth?

          At its mouth—wandering slowly, at ease,

                   before losing itself

                   in the wholeness of the sea?

          –and everywhere in between?

                                      M. Frances Erler, PeaksAndBeyond.com

Painting by M. F. Erler