ONE PERSON’S STORY

Ann Minnett MWW photo

By Ann Minnett

“The story of one person is the story of humanity.”
~Paul Coelho

Earlier this month my husband and I walked the grounds of the American Cemetery in Normandy France where 9,387 American military dead are buried. Some sections were open to the public to stroll between the markers and perhaps find lost loved ones. Although we had no family members to locate, the memorials, the beautiful setting, and pristine white markers moved us to silence. Each headstone listed the man’s name (4 women were buried there), service rank, home state, and date of death. I lingered over a few markers, concentrating on each man’s name as I zigzagged through the maze. It felt wrong to skip even one, and that’s when the impossible task of honoring all of them overwhelmed me.

D-Day markers

D-Day single headstone

I headed toward the central path, and there was a cross bearing the name of Raymond F. Eggers, TEC 5, from Oklahoma. Both sides of my family come from Oklahoma. I was born there. The enormity of war and killing and dying settled onto the headstone of this one young man who died in France 72 years ago. The fact of his grave stone touched me far more deeply than the enormous maps depicting American and British divisions landing on the beaches or parachuting into the countryside behind German lines or even the regimented rows of gravestones stretching in all directions.

Later, on our way through pastoral Normandy toward a seaside village up the coast, it dawned on me why one stranger’s grave stood out among the enormity of the events memorialized in the vast cemetery.

I could relate to the personal story of one man. His background. The loss of him.

And isn’t this where good authors excel? For readers the grand story emerges in telling the ‘small’ moment of one individual.

Enjoy your Memorial Day. Let us be grateful for those who came before and for those we touch today.

(Originally published May 20, 2016)

Greenhorns

By Diane E. Bokor

In the 1970s, something in the culture shifted.  You often heard of people going “back to the land.” Tom and I were among them.  That is how I ended up here in northwest Montana, reflecting on one of the biggest decisions of my life.  We were twenty-five-year-old city kids who married after meeting in college. We were old enough to be completely emancipated and young enough to do some pretty stupid stuff.  We were greenhorns.

We had made a life in the great white city on the hill (San Francisco) when we caught the bug.  We sold everything that would not fit in the back of our grey Dodge Ram. We quit our jobs and hit the road in search of our piece of “the land.”

We arrived in Kalispell the first week of May, 1976.  It was hot that week, 90 degrees hot. This pleased me greatly, as there were two things that gave me pause about this adventure:  cold temperatures and wild bears. I’ll work on my fear of bears, I thought, this is going to be just fine. It’s just not that cold here.  

All but our brand spanking new REI camping gear went into storage as we headed “back to the land.”  Well, not literally “back” as we had not actually been there yet. We had a plan. Tom and I would spend the summer exploring the region, campground by campground.  In the fall, we would decide where to settle, where to buy our piece of this land. Then, we would confidently figure out the rest of the story.

We had been living in our tiny two-man tent greenhorns campsite for three weeks when Memorial Day weekend rolled around.  It rained for four solid days. I now know that this is a typical Flathead weather pattern. That weekend I was traumatized for four days, peeking out of a blue nylon tent flap, cold and damp, nibbling on candy bars.  It was too wet to start a fire. It was too wet to crawl out of the tent. Forty-three years later, I can tell you that even with climate change, it will rain at some point on Memorial Day weekend in the Flathead.

Later that summer, after drying out, I awoke at dawn to a noise coming from the direction of our campsite picnic table.  Severely nearsighted without my glasses, I sat up in my cozy down sleeping bag, rubbed my eyes and opened them to make out a park ranger bending over our table.  Weird, I thought, why is he up so early?  With my glasses on, I was shocked. HOLY MOSES!  A BEAR! greenhorns bearA man-sized black bear was standing on his rear legs, rooting through the box of groceries we had covered with a plastic garbage bag, to keep it dry of course.  The bear had found our green grapes. Greenhorns with green grapes.

Due to my life long fear of bears, I was pretty sure I was going to die.  Obviously, I did not. Tom was able to find the Dodge keys. I grabbed my single-lens-reflex Minolta.  In our pajamas, like commandos who scurry along the perimeter of a battlefield, we made our way to the passenger side of the truck.  Once safely ensconced in steel and glass, I snapped evidence of our stupidity. If not for the snapshot this whole incident might be lost to the mists of time.

Back then, there were no signs instructing campers about food storage.  There was no host coming by each evening to warn/threaten campers about food storage.  There were no campground brown metal communal food lockers. You can thank me and Tom (and the rest of our ilk) for all that.  

A Memory in the Making

P1000686 On May 25, Memorial Day, my daughter drove 120 miles to make this year’s cemetery run with me. I started doing this with my mom when I was in the fifth grade. Then Elmer covered her spot after she passed. And now, it is my daughter who faithfully travels so we can remember our loved ones.

First, we drove to Conrad Cemetery and put a potted mum on my great-grandma Elsie, then we stopped by Shopko and did some looking around in the garden department, Deanna’s favorite place to snoop at fun yard stuff. She bought a ceramic croaking toad to put in her flower bed, and off we went

We headed twenty miles north to Woodland Cemetery in C-Falls. That darn toad croaked with every turn, bump, and pass all the way. We got tickled. This year we had a croaking toad to make the run with us. We decorated Elmer. Alan, Mom, Dad, Grandpa and my baby. Got back into the car to croaking.  More belly laughs.

Then we drove to Hwy 93 and down to Glacier Memorial, (say thirty miles or so) and decorated Howard and Buella Buck, my best high-school friend’s parents. That dang toad croaked all the way there and then to my home. Before driving back to Plains, Deanna removed the toad’s battery. I still chuckle at how quickly she tore off the packaging.

I liked to say some expansive, grand piece of wisdom about our yearly journey to pay respect, but I think the croaking toad says it all. Enjoy the moment.

Marie f Martin

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