Confessions of a Cayce Doctor


Dr. Bob

123 Main Street

“You know you live in a small town when –
Neighbors sometimes know your business before you do.
People wave at passersby whether they know them or not.
When the dog runs astray, a resident takes care of him or the sheriff does.
A traffic jam occurs when people stop to chat in the middle of the road.”

§ I look back over my life and recognize that my favorites homes were in two small towns: Letcher and Lavina. Each had less than 200 residents. I don’t know if they were representative of small town living, but they offered me much fodder for thought as well as opportunity to get familiar with people. Know them as neighbors. And, as sources for characterization in print.

Community is harder and harder to come by in recent history for obvious reasons. We are spread apart in so many ways. Interestingly as we have more amenities and technology and free time, we find it harder to come together. I remember hearing an old Freemason tell about the expedition it used to require to drive to town in the winter for a meeting with his brethren. Keeping bodies warm and his automobile running.

There are still options and opportunities to make those connections most everywhere. But, small towns make it easier and more natural. Thence, there is the benefit of getting to know people. The disadvantage may turn on the same note. We may not want to get acquainted with some of the denizens.

Which brings to mind the story of a man who was circling a small rural town in his late model car. On the edge of town, he spotted a farmer leaning against his tractor. He drove over to him and moved out of his car. The traveler quickly got to the point after addressing the farmer. “I’m thinking about relocating to these parts. What are the people like here?”

The ag man thought for a moment and said, “Well, I suppose like most places. What are they like where you come from?”

The visitor replied, “Why they are intrusive, inconsiderate, and unfriendly. That’s part of the reason I’m looking to move.”

Farmer said, “Well, we have got folks like that here, too. You will feel at home if you move here.”

Half an hour later, another newcomer stopped within a few yards of the farmer who was still cooling his heels. The stranger dismounted his auto and moved over to where the ag man was standing.

After a few pleasantries, he asked, “I’m wondering about life in these parts. I am thinking to try living in a different, smaller place. I may want to spread my wings and move nearby. Say, tell me what are the people like in this community?”

The farmer had a ready response, “Pretty much like everywhere, I suppose. What are they like where you live now?”

“Oh, they’re fine folks. Couldn’t be better. They’re friendly, helpful, and accommodating. I will have to part with some good friends to relocate.”

“Well, we got the same folks here, too. You will feel at home.”

I look back and am pleased to have spent over ten years in the tiny town of Lavina, MT. That was a much longer stint than my year in Letcher, SD. I learned much a lot about community in both locations. I also am thankful to have known the spectrum of people living in both places – some permanent party, some settlers, and some just passing through. But then, we are all just passing through. §

By the time Ginger joined me in Lavina, I had several years of history there. My introduction to the area had been through the notorious Tim Rogers who lived in the Bundy area a few miles east of town. If you haven’t met Mr. Rogers, you should. You might get a kick out of the experience.

Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers in recent days

Timmy Boy was my landlord for about six months. I had lived in the big town of Billings heading toward seven years and was getting the itch to be closer to the countryside. While I had spent most of my life in towns or cities, I never quite got used to Billings. It is the largest city in Montana, clean and well maintained. Billings lies under the sandstone Rims which surround the Yellowstone River and should make it appealing. But, it always felt a lot like many larger cities in the rest of modern America. Populated by lots of streets and autos, and pointed towards plastic prosperity which meant more cars and traffic, more signs and franchises. The people were fine, a few became long time and continuing friends. But, something was missing for me in Billville as the mayor used to call it.

I looked outside of Billings in the direction of Columbus and Absarokee – towards the Beartooth Mountains. But prairie was more to my liking than lots of close-up trees. And it so happened that late one evening, I made a grocery stop at Bob’s Evergreen IGA just around the corner from where I then lived. Walking in from the parking lot I ran into Mr. Tim Rogers.

I had met him shortly after moving to Billings and had seen him a few times at the Unity Church, Jones Cafe and around town. He even came a time or two to my downtown meditation group. I later spent a few hours at his bedside in the hospital after he had a serious motorcycle accident. I remember reading to him a couple chapters from a book which was on his bedside table. The story was similar to the Myth of Sisyphus. Like pushing a stone up a hill with it endlessly taking charge and rolling back down.

Rogers was himself a Billings native who found his way to the Bull Mountains thanks to a bachelor named George on Dean Creek Road. TR helped George with all sorts of building projects on “the land” in the 70s and inherited his 80 acres on the old man’s death. It was a perfect spot in many ways for the one-of-a-kind “kid” who liked to call himself Mr. Rogers. “Hello, boys and girls.”

Timmy Boy is tall and lean and gnarly. He listed to one side or the other because of his accident, shattered leg, and the rods and screws with which the orthopedist pinned it back together. Rogers generally wore a scruffy beard and colorful welder’s cap. He decorated the front of his truck with stuffed animals to add effect. Most outstandingly, Timmy almost always had a big smile and a story to tell. Or advice to give. Or something off the wall to throw out.

Rogers’s lines were unending. Sometimes, it was hard to tell what was legitimate and what was just leg-pulling. He was friendly and outgoing, a trickster with lots of childlike qualities. He always had a tip, or treat to share. Rogers made regular rounds at the Montana Rescue Mission, dumpsters and other ports of call. So, he generally carried with him day-old bread, rejected fruit or some other relatively edible foodstuffs. He happily shared or forced it upon whomever was in front of him. In between such “magnanimous gifts,” Rogers persisted in his almost continuous monologue. Telling about HIS life and projects and interests. Occasionally stopping for a comment or question. Still, I usually listened for a reasonable amount of time whenever I ran into him. I told him that HE was a “real character.” Which description he turned on me a few times in later days.

On that particular meeting at the IGA, he said as he had times before, “How about coming to see my land in the Bull Mountains? Come out for pancakes, some time.” Usually I was busy or the trip seemed a long distance and untimely when he offered to open the door. The next day after our visit however, an appointment fell through and I gave Mr. Rogers a call. He relayed directions and I headed northwest of the airport past Acton and took a right on gravelly Oswald Road.

The territory was flat and gray. There was still some snow on the ground in March. The Toyota and I continued 20 miles on Oswald, then Dailey and Stephenson which led to Dean Creek and some timber country. The pine trees were pikers, compared to many forests and woods even in Montana, because of the limited rains in the area. Nonetheless, it was pine forest and Dean Creek had become a haven for people trying to find inexpensive land and leave one town or another. A few miles on Dean Creek Road and I found Rogers’s paradise. Those eighty acres in the Bull Mountains, more accurately called Bull Hills.

I turned into his property at his distinctively welded iron mailbox made in the shape of a barn. Planted next to the box was one of Rogers’s steel pieces with a hunter meeting a deer carrying a rifle. A thoughtful and somewhat provocative artifact. But, I didn’t need the mailbox to tell me where I was. I had descried “The Alcoa House” long before the wiggling road went past his abode. The house was much more distinctive than the mailbox. The two-story Alcoa House looked a bit like a shiny, silver barn from a distance. Much of the construction materials were recycled from here and there. The aluminum siding was the most obvious. It had come in squares but was hardly a typical house covering. “Whatever works,” Timmy and George subscribed.

The grounds surrounding the Alcoa House showed ample evidence of the continuing and changing projects which had occupied Rogers for 20 years. The long side of the narrow building was fronted with several big windows and faced south for passive heat in the winter. The first floor housed a two-bedroom apartment with rear exit which led to Mr. Rogers’s huge high-ceilinged workshop in the rear. Rogers was a collector and his workshop held a spectrum of building materials and products of his own making as well as a sound system which was generally tuned in to KRKX, “Rattlin’ the Rims and Rockin’ the Rockies.” The music suited the listener. Fortunately, the walls and insulation kept most of the rattles in the workshop.

Tim Rogers was known as the Steel Man. He sometimes called himself a Metal Sculptor or Artist, but that might have been stretching things. What he did was use a projector to shoot images onto butcher paper; then he traced the design to heavy gauge steel to be cut out. Early on, it was car fenders, or washing machine lids, or whatever was available and appealing to him at the time.

Timmy is artistic, but not as is typical. If there is such a thing. He most certainly is eccentric, beats his own drum and follows his singular path. A free spirit, to be sure. Nature worked for him and George’s gift of “the land” was a Godsend for Tim Rogers. Who knows where he might have landed considering his younger years and later predilections?

Mr. Rogers revealed to me at one point that he had been farmed out in adolescence to Assumption Abbey in North Dakota. He was sent there in hopes that the Brothers could “straighten him out” a bit. Their success was minimal, at best. Rogers would always be a round peg resisting one of the square holes that the world had waiting for him. I eventually found another person who also “spent time” at the Abbey. He became a lawyer and worked as a Public Defender.

“The Land” was Rogers’s true element, steel and wood and photography seemed to be his hobbies. If he could only have made an income from any of his pursuits. Timmy was not one-pointed and tended to bounce around like many other artists. But, he always came back to the Land. Despite his injuries and aches and pains, Timmy got “out there” regularly. Working and tilling the soil. He was no stranger to weeding and clearing. Hard work was almost fun for him. He was always planting and replanting and transplanting. One hare-brained idea followed another. Some of them panned out. He spread his gardens around the land just as far as sun and water could reach them. The “critters” were nuisances, but didn’t seem to bother him or his crops too much.

Besides flora and fauna, Rogers attracted leftovers, hand-me-downs and used stuff. That stuff came in handy from time to time. At the bottom of his property where Dean Creek twisted through tall trees, a mountain man’s version of a used car lot had collected. Timmy had stashed a few of his own there. But, most had accreted over the years from points and persons too numerous to mention. Rogers didn’t even remember who had dropped off some of the machines. “Joe Blow is supposed come and get that one, some day.” Most of the cars should have been junked years ago, but Timmy put some to use in his “metal sculpting.” Many years after I passed through, TR did request a visit from the state’s Junk Vehicle Department. He was relieved of a number of the autos, pickups and vehicular shells and put a few dollars in his pocket.

Rogers pulled the seats from a number of autos and arranged them around one or the other of his bonfire pits. Timmy was famous for outdoor parties – winter, spring, summer or fall. He would get a fire raging while neighbors and comrades gathered. Steaks, wieners, burgers, etc. went on the makeshift grill. Potatoes covered in foil were thrown into the coals. Marshmallows got roasted as well and smores were manufactured if a lady's touch was involved. Fireworks of various kinds to light up the countryside often topped Rogers’s outdoor extravaganzas.

Rogers Metalwork

A Rogers metal piece

When Rogers tired of cutting appliances and autos into designs, he settled on steel. He eventually turned the steel into lighting sconces and other decorative pieces. Tim spent many hours perfecting a rusting process to “enhance” the work. Sand blasting, salt spray, acid baths. He tried them all and then some. I thought that his pieces looked better when they were left with their original shiny steel finish. My opinion and those of others didn’t seem to influence him much. He was a singular character and played his own tune.

TR was forever hunting a gallery or a cafe window where he could consign his work. He figured some day his pieces would catch on and the $150-250 price tags wouldn’t matter. I opined to him on a number of occasions that if he was serious about making money with his steel pieces, he should put them in the hands of an agent or distributor. He quickly retorted, “But, they will take a big cut out of the sales.”

“Maybe so. But, 50 percent of something is usually better than 100 percent of nothing.”

Rogers also turned bowls on his wood lathe using unusual sections of timbers, partially burned pine logs, salvaged lumber, etc. Then, he finished them with his own peculiar combination of stains and lacquers. His bowls were my favorites of all his work. Some of them were truly extraordinary like himself.

Rogers was also a photographer. He always had a camera (long before digitals) with him and shot rolls and rolls of film spending lots of money to process it. He took photos day and night and had some great pictures of the moon, of fireworks displays on his property, of sunrises and sunsets. Looking back, I wonder if he didn’t invent the “selfie.”

Timmy was a multi-talented man. But, poorly contained. He was all over the place and largely self absorbed. He often complained that people didn’t come to visit him. But, he often seemed to ignore them when they did. He wanted to have friends, but didn’t give others much opportunity to participate in a friendship. Other than to listen to him and follow his program.

I did that for a time. Timmy showed me around the property. This garden bed and that. The pumping system he had developed to move water from the creek to trees and vegetables and plants. The stretches of land which needed to be tilled for new gardens. And re-tilled for old spots. The chicken coop area which eventually became a tomato patch.

I had only been on the property a few minutes when Timmy suggested, “Why don’t you move out to the land? Scott and Valerie, the people who have been living in the lower level, are in the process of moving up to the top of Coyote Creek Road.”

Well, I was looking for a way to get to a quieter spot. A small town or the country. It was certainly quiet. Rogers made it clear he would not intrude on my life or space. He lived up to that intention, as he generally kept to himself with one project or another. The rent was modest and we agreed for it to be cut it in half in exchange for my helping with gardening, weeding, hoeing, tilling, trimming, etc. I moved out “to the land” within a few weeks in my little Toyota pickup and began to appreciate the country again.

TR and I did pretty well together during my months on the land. It was hard to keep up with his ever-changing projects and moods. But, he did his thing and I did mine except when work on the land was to be done. I did my share and then some.

When I was “called” to California for six months, he already had a new tenant moving in as I was packing up. My parting thought may well have been that, “The Alcoa House, the Rogers property, and the Bundy were a sweet spot to spend a season. But, Mr. Rogers you better watch yourself.”

Since I overheard a message on his answering machine that “My camera is out of film and I need some film,” I figured that Timmy Boy might be asking for trouble supplying his friends with “film.”

At one point I said to him, “Timmy. This is your land and house. I’m just a tenant. What you do is your business. But, you better be careful with the people buying your film.”

Mr. Rogers laughed it off. “Oh, it’s no big deal. I’m out here by myself. Not bothering anyone. Besides, I’m careful and it’s just not my karma. Don’t worry yourself.”

Rogers persisted at the Alcoa House. But, the smoke was in the wind. Eventually, Ginger and Rogers met. The former had her own words of warning for him as well about the “film” growing in the garden. But, that was a few months down the road.

To get started, she and I took up residence at the old Tea House, also known as the Nelson house and most recently the Cooley home of a few years. Ginger had bought it over the telephone from Terry and Glenna as they planned to move on. It was an inexpensive investment for a quaint old building with relative comfort and plenty of space. The structure had in fact been a Tea House long ago in the hands of two spinster sisters who created an option to the saloons. 123 Main Street was a step up from my previous abodes in town and became a gathering spot for a variety of activities during Ginger’s two-year stay and afterwards.

By our arrival in the summer of 1999, I had lived in three places, worked at various jobs, gotten to know most of the residents, painted the Adams Hotel, helped with Rose Wise’s Lavina Legend newspaper, and bought the County Garage which I renamed the Rocky Mountain Garage. I was known and people knew me.

One of my first “community” experiences in town may have set the tone for the days ahead in Lavina. Just settled a few days, I thought to myself, “You know I haven’t been to church in some time. Maybe I should drop in, be neighborly, and see what sitting in the pews in Lavina is like.” So, I presented myself at the Methodist-Lutheran Church. Such combinations are quite common in the hinterlands. Lavina’s old Catholic Church had shared space with the German Lutherans. On entering the sanctuary, I encountered just a few parishioners – less than twenty and sure to diminish in number. Practically all were gray haired. I had only a little gray at the time.

The minister came over to introduce himself and welcome me. He apparently had a regular job in Billings and came up to fill pulpits in Lavina and Ryegate on Sunday. I later was told that Reverend Ed was a Southern Baptist which was by then was no surprise. I took a seat where I landed and had the whole pew to myself.

Reverend Ed made a few brief announcements and led the group in a couple hymns. Then, he pointed to a TV screen which was centrally placed in front of the altar. “We watched half of this video on Creationism last time. We will finish it, now.”

Without further ado, the minister pushed a few buttons and the TV came to life. Parts of the audience did the opposite. I paid attention and was less and less pleased as the presentation continued. The speaker had a doctorate of some kind and directed a museum in a southeastern state. His premise was that the public and the schools were being duped by science teachers who espoused Evolution. His case became stronger and harsher. Near the end of the tape, he pronounced, “The teaching of evolution is evil.”

Well, that got my hackles up more than a bit. Shortly thereafter, Reverend Ed turned off the machines. He looked around his congregation and said, “Would anyone like to comment on today’s presentation?”

Some of the congregation was just reawakening as I scanned the pews. I couldn’t help myself. I rose and said, “I don’t think this was a very fair or Christian presentation.”

The minister responded, “Well, I was just trying to get the other side of the issue an airing.”

I returned, “I think that’s just fine, Reverend. I just have to object to your expert calling ‘the teaching of evolution evil.’ When we call something ‘evil,’ we prevent any sort of real communication and interchange. I doubt very much that Jesus would call the teaching evil.”

Ed sputtered a bit and eventually said, “Who sent you here, anyway?”

I had to tell the simple truth. “No one did. I just came to attend church. I thought I might hear a sermon and meet some people.” Needless to say, I did not become a regular attendee. I only appeared at the Methodist-Lutheran Church for special occasions, to visit Janie Brown’s Bible class, and sit at funerals.

The incident could have happened anywhere, but it happened in Lavina soon after my appearance therein. It was like most small towns, but it had its unique side. Highway 3 ran north-south through the center of Lavina’s 15 or 20 square blocks. The highway slowed traffic for cafe, gas station, post office, mercantile, park, the Masonic building, the log cabin community center, the Adams Hotel, and miscellaneous properties coverings its sides. The church and public school (K-12) were set back to the east of the road.

While the layout and buildings told more than a few stories, it was the people who made the town and its history. I became part of that chronology and am happy that I did. But, maybe the way I started out put people to talking about “the new fella in town.” And spread some wonderments about me. Maybe it had something to do with how I was viewed here and there. Early on in my Lavina days, I used to go into the Slayton Mercantile to purchase groceries and sundries. The owner at the time sure seemed to keep a close eye on the new member of the town roster. When I appeared at meetings focused on putting together a levy to build a new school, I got somewhat the same vibes. It felt like they were unsure of the newcomer. Well, I met the challenge. If indeed there was one.

Slayton Mercantile

Along the way, I got to know up-close-and-personal a goodly portion of the populace of Lavina and I am happy to share some of their stories. However, I should remark that I mostly got to know kindred spirits. Many of those were just passing through for months or years.

I got to know Letcher SD moderately well in the better part of a year. But, my ten years in Lavina MT gave me ample opportunities to take in the cast of its small town Montana “characters” which was changing even as I appeared. Many of the locals were transplants from distant places. Nothing lasts forever, even a small town census. Still, there were stalwarts and homesteader families who had deep roots in rural Montana and in its Golden Valley.

Our home was Golden Valley County where lived around 1000 people. The county encloses almost 1200 square miles giving a density of less than one (1) human per section (square mile). That of New York City is 2181.6. Quite a difference. Many decades ago, Golden Valley County boasted 22 towns. Presently, there are two.

It was a HUGE change for Ginger to translocate from the largest city in the USA to one of the smallest. Neither of us truly realized how great that was at the time. In any case, it became an adventure and an opportunity which would bear much fruit and many memories. We both partook freely and made 123 Main Street, Lavina, Montana, USA our home.

Interestingly before Ginger became a resident, the population of the Lavina had become an issue of some importance. That situation leads into other stories. You see, the numbers in town had circled in the 150 to 170 range for decades when the 2000 Census enumeration of in-town citizens came into question. At the time, the Town Council was preparing to apply for funding to upgrade its sewer system for the first time in 40 years. Grant monies were dependent on need and on population base.

Minnie Krause

The Queen of Lavina

Minnie Krause, our former Postmaster and self-appointed mother-in-charge of the town, ran the Senior Center (it was only open one day a week, but she had the keys and the control for other use) and kept tabs on everything and everyone in town. To me, she was the Queen of Lavina. I never mentioned that to her.

Minnie was one of the first to hear about the grant situation, as she was a councilwoman for many years and continued to attend meetings long after giving up official duties. Mrs. Krause “knew” the town had more residents than were counted in the recent Census. So, she decided to go out and make her own count. Minnie enumerated – in Census parlance – an extra score of citizens and the grant application reflected such for Lavina. She didn’t formally dispute the government figures. But, just enough to boost the numbers for the application.

It is hard to figure how the town survived after Minnie left a few years later and relocated to Billings. Mrs. Krause was involved in everything but the Volunteer Fire Department. Her sister-in-law, Joan, the one-time county commissioner, took it upon herself to join and become active in the VFD when in her mid 70s. Go Joan, go. Rah! Small towns always need more fire fighters and first responders.

Minnie Krause did, in fact, help hold the town of Lavina together, being Postmaster for many years, serving on the town council, and working on the town historical society until its eventual demise. Minnie was involved in the America Reads and RSVP programs. She attended practically every program and event that came to her notice.

At one time, yoga popped up in town thanks to a newcomer who lived near the ghost town of Belmont. Paulie Zink soon had a dozen citizens coming to his Taoist Yoga classes. As typical, most of the students were women. But, an occasional rancher appeared for his own good or to accompany his wife.

Minnie didn’t let her age or state of health get in the way of investigating the new class. I remember a brief visit with her at the counter of the Lavina Crossing Cafe. I had a town business question for her. That answered, I had to be conversational and asked about the rest of the day. “Well, I have some errands to do this afternoon. Then, I’m going to the Yogo Class.”

It was funny to me, but I didn’t laugh. I give her credit for going once, just to watch. If nothing else. Since Central Montana is known for Yogo sapphires, Minnie should be excused for getting terminology of East and West confused.

Minnie was always visible, although that was not necessarily pleasing to the eye. She still wore those winged 60s vintage glasses. Wire on the base of the lenses and dark trim on top and the temples. Some of her clothes didn’t seem much more modern.

Mrs. Krause rarely smiled or laughed. It just wasn’t in her repertory. It wouldn’t have hurt, though, for her to try. Minnie had a perennial frown or grimace or scowl on her face, making one wonder,  “Did I do something wrong, or are you just having a rough life?” The thought crossed my mind more than a few times.

Minnie looked more than a bit like Margaret Hamilton in her witchy Wizard of Oz role. Her nose wasn’t hooked and she wasn’t really menacing. The dogs weren’t afraid of her. But, some of the newcomers were. It took a couple of my 10 years in Lavina before I began to feel that some people – including Minnie – were no longer suspicious of me.

A couple years after my walk across the country, a newspaper friend came to visit from back East to explore the Rocky Mountain West and get to know the town and area a bit. One day, Judith Present and I walked into the Mercantile. Joan and Minnie and Juanita (all sisters-in-law) were sitting at a table reserved for coffee drinkers and visitors. All three Krauses were of the same vintage. 70s. Old, and getting older.

We stopped to pass the time and get Judith introduced. She was on the lookout for news, so she sat down for a time and conversed with the Krauses. Later in the day, Judith asked me, “Now, is the woman with the funny glasses Joan’s mother?” I eventually had to tell about that interlude to Joan, but to no one else until now.

Minnie Krause, acting the part of the Queen of Lavina, was only one of a number of fascinating figures who populated that tiny spot on the road in the center of Montana. I believe Minnie attended one of my efforts to focus some attention on the older citizens as well as to get them out of their homes on occasion. The event entitled “The Good Old Days” drew only a dozen or so, mostly oldsters, to review the past and reminisce about their prime years and those of the town and countryside. Most aging people don’t have much to look forward to, so an outing and a chance to see old friends and rekindle old times can make a person’s week or month. Who knows? Maybe, year.

For the first event, I hunted up Jimmy Jensen at the nursing home in Roundup – 25 miles to the East. In his mid 80s, Jensen lived with his wife Doryce in a small two-bed apartment in the facility. “Apartment” was a stretch in terminology, but the couple seemed accepting of their station and reasonably comfortable.
The Jensen family had a long history in the area. Jimmy’s father, the first James C., was born in Denmark, trained to be a butcher in Germany, and took a boat to the USA in 1909. The patriarch worked his way across the country via Wisconsin and landed in Lavina where he soon opened the Jensen Meat Market in 1911. He eventually homesteaded just west of Lavina and spawned the lineage which is now in its 5th Montana generation. James C. did well enough to buy property and then more property until the Jensen clan owned many sections far and wide in the county.

Sheep and later cattle as well as hay were their commodities. They kept busy and active as long as bone and sinew would allow. Then, they passed the fruits of their labors as well as continuing chores and responsibilities to the next generation. By all accountings, Jimmy, the second James C., did very well at “holding down the fort” for the Jensen clan. He was apparently a mechanical wizard. Jensen built all sorts of implements for their ranch and when time allowed shared his skills with the townspeople and the Main Street Masonic lodge which was for a short time the Bank of Lavina.

Masonic Lodge

He led the refurbishing and upgrading of the lodge’s wood frame building in the 60s. One of the fascinating pieces of engineering he put together was to connect the plumbing system to the electrical. To flush the building’s toilet and/or start the faucet in the kitchen running, one just let up on the toilet seat or flicked another switch over the kitchen sink. If the water started running all of sudden in the kitchen, it was a sure sign that someone had just got up from the bathroom commode.

By the time I met Jimmy Jensen, I had become aware of his high mechanical and good citizen reputations. He willingly accepted the opportunity to “lead” an evening on The Good Old Days. “But, what will I say?”

I reassured him that the event would be informal and more a social gathering than a speaking engagement. His son Carl, the third James C., readily volunteered to bring Jimmy to the parlor occasion. Family and friends joined in for an cozy get-together and a chance to return to old times. I got the ball rolling with some broad and relatively innocuous questions. Jimmy recounted memories from the ranch and town life from Depression Days into the modern era. At times, he got distracted or confused in his tale telling.

His kin or contemporaries had to come to the rescue. But not always coinciding with Jimmy’s memory. On a couple of occasions, Jimmy and Don Belcher went over the same moment in history. The results were quite differently recalled. No referee was needed, but neither was a consensus achieved during much of the session. One onlooker remembers, “They disagreed about everything.”

One area of dispute was over the details of the final hanging in Golden Valley County which was nearly the last in the whole state. Lee Simpson, a local rancher, confessed to killing his hired hands, the MacDonald brothers, but not until after also doing the same to Deputy Sheriff Burford in April 1937. His trial in September of the same year lasted three days.

Simpson’s execution did not occur until early in the morning December 30, 1939. Gallows were transported from Forsyth and erected on the grounds of the county courthouse. Great numbers gathered to witness the event and “a few hundred were appointed Deputy Sheriff to preserve order.” (Dawn in the Golden Valley) Jensen and Belcher, who were both young men in 1939, recalled the story differently. Probably neither had received appointments to preserve order on the day of the last hanging in Golden Valley County.
I got to know Mr. Jensen just fleetingly. When he passed away a few months after the “Good Old Days” event, I was pleased that I went to the trouble to bring him to town for an occasion and not just for a car cruise around the perimeter. I attended his funeral, but the church sanctuary could not accommodate all the attendees. So, I sat in the basement of the church as the oration was read and his life remembered.

I sometimes wonder whether other towns are home to such a variety of individuals and characters as Lavina was at the time. I do believe we find what we look for. But, such actors were readily recognizable without searching in that tiny rural town. We had an abundance of unique folks worthy of study and consideration. And more in number than print allows.

By the time I appeared, the two workers on the city payroll certainly fit the bill as unique and bear a few lines. The first just briefly. Shauna Tinker was for a few years our Town Clerk who doubled as a waitress at the cafe depending on who was running the establishment. Shauna was big-boned gal – as my mother might have remarked – with a large voice and a bit of a mean stare when her dander was disturbed. She had followed her mother to town once upon a time.

Shauna was our no-nonsense Town Clerk. Few people wanted to tussle with Shauna on any issue. The other city employee was the sewer man whose story will appear later. I recall quite distinctly attending Town Council meetings on numbers of occasions for various reasons. The four council persons, mayor, clerk, sewer man with a few people in the seats met monthly at the American Legion’s old log cabin building on Main Street. One particular time, there was some concern voiced about Town Clerk Tinker working out of her trailer home, keeping records there, and being intermittently accessible to the public.

Some comments were made suggesting that the clerk have regular hours. I stood up and recommended that arrangements for a regular office be made for the clerk as well as to house city records. Council-woman Nola Toombs obviously didn’t like the idea. She said something like, “We have gotten by all these years without an office. Besides, what does it matter to you? Do you pay taxes in this town?”

I was a bit flummoxed. I sat down and shut up. But, I should have responded, “I certainly do pay taxes indirectly through the rent I give to one landlord or another.” Interestingly, within a year or so a corner of the old log cabin was partitioned into an office for the town clerk with file cabinets, telephone, computer, etc. Sam Bolton, a local carpenter did the honors nicely without detracting from the rest of the spacious, all-wood structure.

By that time, Shauna had gone back to waiting tables at the cafe full or part time. The upgrade of the town’s sewer system was in process, the job had gotten more involved, and more complicated. Shauna’s replacement needed computer and bookkeeping skills. Mrs. Tinker had been out of her league for years. But, she exited before she would have become inundated. Her fit as a clerk had always been subject to question but few apparently asked the simple ones to which she frankly answered, “No, I can’t spell and I don’t type.”

Steve Habener was our other town employee for several years. He was another one-of-a-kind Montanan. A huge, burly, red-haired fellow who could really fill out a pair of Oshkosh overalls. His red chest hair rolled over the top of his bib and his muscles made him look like a modest-sized Paul Bunyan. Some likened him to L’il Abner of comic book fame. When Ginger came to town, she started calling him L’il Habener. I thought of him being more like the “loud-mouthed schmuck” called Foghorn Leghorn in the old Warner Brothers cartoons.

Regardless of his failings, Habener was busy and active and doing things in the community of Lavina. He seemed to be everywhere. He was the town sewer man, Lavina’s Ralph Norton. He also was the groundskeeper for the Lavina and Belmont cemeteries. He usually did the summer job of mowing the Lavina Park. Steve made a few dollars cutting and selling firewood. When I first came to town, he was the maintenance man at the public school. But he got pushed out (“your contract will not be renewed”) apparently because of his big mouth and lack of tact. He was never afraid to say what was on his mind. Steve suggested he got the boot because he saw two teachers in a romantic clench in the bowels of the school. True or not, I suspect he was due to be excused from the job.

Habener was relatively handy and will never be without a job. At the same time as he was a devoted if not devout Lutheran, Habener was considering and talking about the possibility of ministerial training in Minnesota. We discussed that intention a number of times. He seemed to waffle on the option. I suspect book work was not one of his fortés. But, I wonder if other parts of ministry work might have weighed on his thinking.

Mr. Kinerk told the story of the time Steve and helpers were re-roofing Habener’s old church (until recently used by the Catholics and German Lutherans) and intended future residence. I helped on the project, but I must have been absent on the day in focus. It was a Sunday and the temperature was above 100. Kinerk did the groundwork and Steve straddled the peak, according Mr. K., “cussing a blue streak.... The irony of it all ... Sunday ... on top of a church ... a man who wants to be a preacher ... cussing so loudly the whole town could hear him.”

On another occasion, Kinerk and I appeared at Phil Horton’s house a bit late to help out with a concrete job that Phil and Steve were doing. Steve was always owing someone a favor and Phil was always doing people favors. So, they seemed to balance each other out. Habener would lend a hand when convenient.
As Jim and I were watching the workers in action, Steve was in his “cussing and damning” mode. “Cussing and damning” might be a gentle way to put it. Not being afraid to speak up on most occasions as well, I had to say, “Steve, how do you imagine going off to ministerial school with the tongue that you have?”

He took immediate offense. (I admit I should have addressed the issue in private.) “What the hell. It doesn’t matter what the f__k you say or do. What matters is that you believe in Jesus and are saved. I think I can get people saved. It doesn’t matter what the f__k else I do. I’m saved. Are you?” Kinerk jumped in, before things got any more engaged. We soon backed off and walked returned to town.

Some weeks later, Steve drove up next to me as I was walking down the alley behind the hotel. He started beating his gums, which he liked to do. I was surprised when out of the blue he brought up the incident and was close to tears. He said something like, “I didn’t like what you said. But, you made me stop and think. I thought about it for quite a while. Bob, I’m not a nice guy. A minister needs to be a nice guy. I think you did me a favor. I have lots to learn and probably better ways to do it than being a minister. Thanks.”

I had to give him credit and do. “It’s hard to hear what you don’t want to hear,” for all of us. One might say Steve wasn’t really cut out to be man of the cloth, whatever his talents were. Finding our niche in life and place to contribute often takes reflection and “persistence and patience.” Rome wasn’t built in a day or a lifetime.

Having introduced the town of Lavina modestly along with snippets on some of its main characters, I will turn to near newcomers. The Wises were central to the scenario of the town for several years. Aside from town politics and school activities. 

Rose Wise

A Rose by Any Name

I mentioned the Wises earlier returning to Lavina from the West Coast, buying parts of Main Street, and beginning to renovate the Hotel. That was a little before the time I wandered into town with the call to help on the Hotel. Tom and Rose attracted more than their immediate family and me over time to Montana. And, that gave them ready made company, but also more family responsibilities and conflicts. The Wises had lived in rural Bundy – an old railroad stop east of Lavina many years past – a dozen years earlier and had a house in the country there. After intervening lives in Alaska and Oregon, they decided to return to Montana. In part it seemed clear because of the “coming earth changes.” They made for one of the most artistically talented families I ever met. But sadly, they were also one of the most dysfunctional. The two attributes seem to be common partners amongst “creative people.”

Rose (I liked to call her Rosalia, her real name) was a gem of a person and the materfamilias. Generous and giving – to a fault. Tom would work at pulling money in and bank it – or try to – and Rose would hand it out and share the wealth, so to speak.

While multi-talented and sometimes self-assured, Rose was an enigma in many ways. Rosalia was a beautiful woman – from the inside out – even in her late 50s. She had dark black hair and the greenest eyes you ever saw. Rose usually wore a cape or caftan or expansive jacket. Was it for effect or to try to cover her bulging figure? Or both?

Rose was always good for a hug. She gathered a person (me) in easily. But, there was too much of her for that person to grasp at one time. Physically, and metaphorically as well.

The layers of Rose’s beauty by then were covered by extra garments and makeup as well as sheaths of adipose. The weight dragged on her. She limped as well due to a “bad hip.” (I never tried to do doctor talk with her.) So she walked and exercised little. Which added to her problems, especially as she worked in the cafe kitchen and made tasty morsels for customers – and undoubtedly for her self.

Tom and Rose gave the impression of being devoted to each other and the family even though the children were all hers from a previous marriage. Rose grew up Catholic and had, at one time, wanted to be a nun, and it seemed that part of her still yearned for the nun’s habit. It was clear to me that over the years she had pulled back sexually from Tom and unintentionally emasculated him to a degree. Adding to his other discomforts and stresses.

Tom was a regular guy, more or less. Average height, average intelligence, average appearance. Nothing stood out – except maybe his short temper and big nose. But he kept trying. He tried to be friendly, but such was hardly natural for him. (Walmart in Billings eventually hired him as a greeter. Many locals wondered about that, but maybe he grew into the role.) Tom tried to be a jack-of-all-trades, but had only mediocre handyman talents. He wanted to win at something – like most of us, but never quite made it happen. He wanted Lavina to be his success and the hotel the centerpiece of that success. Tom desperately wanted to stand out in some way in the midst of his talented, artistic family. But, he just didn’t.

His stepson, Jonathan, called Tom a dry drunk. Making one wet and another dry in the family.  Tom eventually became abusive to Jonathan – who obviously egged him on. Wise went on anti-depressants and saw a counselor for a time when Rose threatened to leave him because of his temper and inability to deal with Jonathan. But, Rose wouldn’t have done it. “Who would have a fat old woman like me?”

At a critical juncture, Rose did make some steps to separate. She talked about divorce. Even moved out for a few days. But, she couldn’t separate for long. She was too moral and Catholic in values even though she hadn’t gone to church in years. Rose believed that her lot in life was to help Tom and care for her children and grandchildren come what may. Rose held things together. She was ever keeping an eye on family affairs, mothering her children, and bringing up the grandchildren as well. I’m sure that Tom felt he was getting short shrift. Nonetheless, he kept as close to “Rosie” as he could.

Rosalia was an omni-talented artist. She could do almost anything with paints and craft items. The family had supported itself at one time by producing and selling knick-knack items that Rose designed. She had done some amazingly expressive and exquisite, sometimes ethereal portraits in past years. But she was lured away to graphic arts in the time I knew her. Rose spent hours and hours on the computer, when not otherwise occupied, working with her graphic arts software and studying the latest conspiracy or UFO on the Internet.
Still, Rose seemed to carry her whole family – and then some – on her back. Maybe it was her hip. Through her talents and energies, love and concerns. She did that to a degree for the town as well. I remember on one occasion her bemoaning the burdens she had carried. Rose went on to remark that she had fulfilled her obligations and would not need to reincarnate again. I had to throw in. “Now, Rose. I don’t like to spoil the party. But, you said the same thing last time. You will certainly be back. Your work is not done. There is no end in sight.”

Some of Rosalia’s other talents came to life in the kitchen at the Lavina Crossing Cafe. Pies and desserts of all kinds were specialties. Her baklava was just terrific. My sweet tooth was well tended when Rose plied me with desserts.

Rose and Tom and children started out like gangbusters, buying the cafe (which Rose purposefully renamed The Lavina Crossing) and the hotel and the old bar as well as a couple houses – one for use by their daughter and another for a rental. Rosalia published a monthly newsletter/paper called The Lavina Legend. The town hadn’t had a paper in generations. She gave it a go for a year or more, but it was just one more project. I volunteered to be her editor-reporter and helped her with a half dozen issues, gathering the little local news that there was and writing articles about townspeople. But, I burnt out quickly with another non-paying job and an irregular publishing schedule.
Daughter Carina was an artist – pen and ink pointilist – in her own right, but she was easily distracted emotionally and otherwise. She had two children who pulled her in opposite directions. One was autistic and in constant motion, the other precocious and talented and nerdy. Curly-haired Carina was bright and bouncy in one moment, but skittish and easy to take offense in the next. Making small incidents into big traumas. She acted as waitress at the cafe for some years and her husband cooked as well. I can still hear her talking about a busy day, “When we got slammed.”

Carina’s brother Jonathan was the prize of the crew. Surely the one with the most raw talent. He was towheaded and bright blue-eyed, good-looking and garrulous besides. But always with a bit of a sneer connected to his smiles, suggesting, “Who gives a rip. It’s all just a joke.” Jonathan never got slammed. He could run the cafe single-handed, cooking and serving tables with unexpectedly novel and appealing entrees in a small rural Montana town. But, Confusion might well have been Jonathan’s middle name.

He was surely confused sexually. Gay or bi-sexual. He definitely didn’t know himself, who or what he was. Probably like another strange bird who was one of my barracks mates in the Army when I lived in San Francisco in the 60s, he was a tri-sexual. “I’ll try anything once – or twice or three times!”

Jonathan chased around the world with his San Francisco-based flight attendant lover who paid the freight. Or he just picked up and moved here and there whenever he felt like it, taking on temp jobs as waiter or bartender. He went where he pleased whenever he pleased, then gravitated back to SF and his lover or to MT and his mother.

Jonathan was also an alcoholic and undoubtedly tried what ever brand of dope that was available. While he could do a host of artistic things, he had no control of his desires and inclinations. People appreciated his work and talents but not his attitude. Inevitably, Jonathan ended up “in treatment” on numerous occasions.
As well as an artist, he was also an actor. Jonathan would have been done well in movies or stage, if he could have learned to sit still and follow a script other than his own. He could play the game for days or weeks to get him through a program or to the next destination. I drove him to a month of Rehab in Butte once upon a time. He was talking the talk, but fell off the wagon very quickly on his return. Jonathan may have let his therapists think they were getting inside of him, telling them what they wanted to here. But he wasn’t about to let anybody, “Read my beads.”
Undoubtedly, many in the town of Lavina knew he was gay. That was almost okay as long as he didn’t flaunt it. But when he got interested in one of the rancher’s daughters, tongues really started to wag. And her mother not surprisingly went into a tizzy. Jonathan left town for “a break” not long afterward.

Despite the discomforts in the Wise family, their Lavina Crossing Cafe in the tiny Montana hamlet was one of the focal points of activities – along with the Mercantile and the Bar, the School and the Post Office. I dare not forget the Rocky Mountain Garage and 123 Main Street.

Scary Mary

Nor the Adams Hotel especially in light of the genuinely unique character who eventually purchased it from the Wises. As I put paint to its exterior, the hotel was quite unused except for warehousing items for the Wises. It had been occupied off and on over the years since closing as the Adams. A church group had used the structure for a time and the local flea collar company (Natural Research People) manufactured its product in the building. The former closed up shop. The latter moved its operation to the Bundy. My one-time landlady, Jane Krause, lived in the hotel for a time with one of her husbands. She was the last resident, having sold the hotel to the Wises.
Eventually, Tom Wise decided he could no longer afford the Adams and keep up with the cafe and his other projects. The universe never really provided any hint that he ever would have the time or energy or money to do justice to his dream. Many people thought the Hotel should have been torn or burned down. The other railroad inn had been swiftly razed to the ground on the Christmas Eve before I arrived on the scene. The cause was never officially determined. But, it seemed rather suspicious for an empty, untended building to suddenly start on fire in mid winter. (Movie buffs might recognize the old Hotel Annex as it was a fixture in the movie Stacking.)

Where some saw the Adams Hotel as an eyesore worthy of nothing but demolition or the torch, Mr. Raymond Barry had different eyes. “Yes, sirree, Bob. That building can be restored.” Raymond appeared and things started to really change at the Adams Hotel from the inside out.

Barry was another one of that artistic group. He had been living in neighboring Roundup for a few years where he had started to renovate the old hospital. But according to him, the hospital – obviously a small old-timer – had been pulled out from under his feet. Not unlike another building which he had tired to refurbish in southern California.

Raymond Barry

Raymond Barry
Courtesy of the Billings Gazette

Things seem never to have gone right for Mr. Barry. A man who could be humorous and delightful in one moment and a whining, childish, effeminate nightmare at the other. Raymond was bright, intelligent, refined in taste, and widely studied, but he was basically asocial unless the socializing was on his schedule and by his scheme.
Raymond could sing with the best, a clear tenor voice. He was a member of a barbershop quartet which performed out of Billings. He had been in some small theater productions back in southern California. I missed his one premeditated acting role in Lavina when he did a reprise of his award-winning California portrayal of Hattie McDaniel, playing the maid in Gone With the Wind. “Oh, Scarlett. Honey chil’, you po’ thing.” I believe Raymond did his impersonation for a Halloween event. I sure wish I could have seen that.

Raymond – nobody called him Ray and got away with it – had the Libra sense of things. Color and detail and perspective were natural to him and suited a talented man who took a degree in Interior Design in California in the 60s.

But not until he had suffered with a family about which he could say little good. Except for his Granny. His mother was a terror, stole from and mistreated him. His father was never around. He didn’t communicate with his sisters. No brothers. He came to Montana because of a nephew with whom he inevitably stopped speaking.

Raymond rarely related anything positive about his family, but he did tell a hilarious story about his siblings and their chewing gum experience. And Raymond delivered it perfectly every time he told it. The tale went that he and his siblings were not allowed chewing gum and candy, among other things, as they grew up. The household, to Raymond’s telling was tight and restrictive to say the least. But on one occasion, an aunt bought a used piece of furniture and left it at the family home. The kids got to exploring and found dried gum stuck to the underside of the item. They put the gum back to use despite its age and station. The children supposedly passed the old wads between themselves a number of times. “For years,” Raymond said, “we had no idea that all gum didn’t taste like wood varnish.”

Raymond talked precisely and correctly. He was in control at all times and when not, his world was turned into a cave. Mr. Barry stood ramrod straight and walked proudly, usually wore a tightly trimmed beard, and was a natty dresser when the occasion required. But generally, he just wore work clothes and spent most of his money on furniture and trinkets and artifacts.

One of Raymond’s favorite items, as a knick knack or antique, was a cluster of grapes. The hotel eventually boasted dozens of such pieces in all sizes, forms and colors. Raymond was so taken with them that when he got on the Internet after I sold him my old computer, he used “grapenut” for the front end of his email address. Raymond was definitely prim and proper, but in a very peculiar way. Prim, proper and peculiar. Maybe that works.

Mr. Barry heard from one of his friends at Homes on the Range in Roundup that the old hotel in Lavina was for sale. He soon hitched a ride over with one of the old ladies whom he charmed – he didn’t have a car at the time – to take a look. Even with the fresh paint job, the hotel was still dilapidated. It took some imagination to vision that anything could be done with it. But, Raymond had to have the Adams Hotel. The only problem was that he didn’t have the money. Even a down payment.

The asking price was the same as what the Wises paid for it a few years back – before my paint job and some minor repairs. $9,000. You can’t buy much property anywhere for 9 K. Nonetheless, he didn’t have it.
Raymond was on a monthly fixed income. In his late 50s, he had been on partial disability for many years from the Navy. He had received a medical discharge for a psychological problem. Raymond had been a Navy corpsman in the 1960s in Guam. He told me that his fellows mistreated and called him names. Sometimes, it was Scary Barry. At others, it was Scary Mary.

I never got the details, but it was clear that Raymond hardly fit in anywhere and most certainly not in the military. He claimed that people didn’t treat him right, which may have been true. But, he probably didn’t make it very easy for any of his co-workers. Barry only got along with others when he was in charge. In any case, Uncle Sam eventually shipped Raymond stateside, discharged him and gave him a disability a small disability check.

Whatever the amount, Raymond spent it before he got it. Always buying antiques and always owing someone for them. By the time he caught up with one purchase, he had a few more to pay off. Still, lack of money or a down payment didn’t slow Raymond down a bit. He had been working for years to get his disability pumped up to 100 percent. Somehow, he did it. But, that didn’t eventuate until many months after he had signed a buy-sell contract and moved into the hotel.
In the meantime, he persuaded acquaintances far and wide to loan him the money to get into the building. Once ensconced, he wasn’t about to leave. It was to be “Barry’s Last Stand.” In a matter of months to the relief of the Wises, he paid off all that he owed them and proceeded to invest more in his building and accessories.
Despite the fact that the hotel roof was in sad shape and leaking mightily with every rain, that the foundation at the rear of the building was shifting, and that he had no running water, Raymond pressed ahead to make The Adams Hotel into a museum. His kind of live-in museum.
For the rainy or wet season, Barry placed numerous – a dozen or more – plastic kiddie swimming pools under strategic points of the roof where cracks and crevices readily allowed drainage through the ancient rolled asphalt roof. An extra barrel here or there made up for insufficient pools. His efforts helped some, but only some. It was hard for him to keep up with the weather and the changing points of drips and drains.
Furthermore, Raymond had no regular plumbing for years (the building did have a well with a hand pump in the building from which he got water for spit baths and to flush the toilet – the sewer was hooked up). His propane heating system was restricted to the west-end kitchen with some heat flow to his bedroom. Being a good neighbor, I once passed on a set of long electric baseboard-type heaters. Barry thought they might make his bedroom a bit cozier. Alas, his electric bill went up by hundreds of dollars in their short-lived use.
Raymond Barry’s hotel had plenty of color, history and flair. But, it definitely lacked standard modern amenities. Still, he went on frequent shopping sprees at Granny’s Attic and other antique treasure shoppes in Billings. Later, eBay became his regular online stop. Raymond also had items in storage hither, thither and yon. He bought and collected and gathered. And, he started cleaning and repairing and renovating with a vengeance.
Human beings can be both fascinating and perplexing. Barry was immaculate in some parts of his life and activities, and quite otherwise in times and places. He got rid of refuse of the ages collected variously around his fortress. He cleaned and scrubbed again and again, wanting to make the old Adams Hotel a place of beauty and memory. Raymond took the greatest pains to fix and decorate his building. But, he also collected cats which were his only company in daily life. They were not always visible. But there presence was unmistakable. The longer he lived in the hotel, the greater the pungent aroma of cat piss percolated through the structure. Either Raymond didn’t notice or just didn’t care. Feline odors pervaded Raymond’s mansion.
Mr. Barry ecstatically picked up where the Wises and I left off with clearing out 90 years of debris and detritus. He filled dumpster loads with general garbage, pigeon guano, lath and plaster, and whatever looked like it wouldn’t work with his plan. Cat and mouse and pigeon and bat carcasses added to the load of refuse.
Within weeks he had rooms on the first floor methodically cleaned and patched, or at least scheduled for such. Raymond ingeniously used paper grocery sacks for wallpaper and then painted over it. Eventually, he raised the sagging floors and sheet-rocked particularly nasty walls in the building.
Plumbing was obviously not Raymond’s forté. That was definitely low on his priority list. But, he did need his building re-electrified and other reconstruction work done that was beyond his talents and 60+ year-old abilities. Raymond cajoled and wheedled – I won’t say begged, traded and manipulated – acquaintances to get such jobs accomplished. Barry was a dealer, in more ways than one.

Raymond’s tastes were for 19th century antiques. The walls in all rooms were decorated red or purple or maroon. He soon had everybody who was allowed into his chambers thinking that he was trying to resurrect the old whorehouse in modern Lavina. He was telling before he suddenly died many years later that the next paint job on the Adams hotel would be done in pink. Like one of his California projects.

Besides supporting his own peculiar patterns of interest, Barry collected items from here and there which had local historical value. Railroad memorabilia, artifacts from the old town, newspapers and books and articles about the area. He did, in fact, soon have a museum and a knowledge base that was superior to all but a few long-established facilities in the region.
The hotel became a desired stop for those who valued the past and could stifle their olfactory nerves. But, Raymond was not a typical docent or curator. His hotel was his castle and people generally could only visit when he let out the word of a special showing or an event was set up for the likes of the wives of local Freemasons, seniors from out of town, historical buffs appearing by appointment. An inquiring knock at the hotel front door was likely to be ignored or the visitor turned back quickly, if Barry wasn’t in the mood. Which was not an uncommon occurrence.

The 777 Aquarians

The Triple 7s were neither Biblical nor political. My Lavina Triumvirate was composed of Jim Kinerk, who was a Star Child mistakenly dropped on Earth; Terry Cooley, a disgruntled but lovable wannabe Indian who became Terry on the Prairie; and Ginger Allen, the Witchie Weed Woman from the East.

Rose Wise was a dreamy Sagittarian, but Terry, Jim and Ginger were all Aquarians and all born on February 7. Different years and decidedly different personalities. Kinerk was the eldest by a a year, then Terry and then Ginger a half dozen years later on the birth calendar. They crossed each other’s – and my own – paths for several years in Lavina, became friends and then eventually went their separate ways.

7s are lucky numbers. “7 come 11.” 7 has meaning for all of us, whether we know it or not. Its meaning for me was enhanced by my February 7 friends. Ginger gives her time of birth as 7:11 pm. I wonder what to make of that.

7 is clearly important in the inner AND outer worlds. Consider the 7 Seas and Continents, 7 Rainbow Colors, 7 Days of the Week, 7 Churches and Seals of Revelation. 7 is a mystical, magical and potent figure. A number with wonderful but also imposing possibilities. And, maybe that is part of what my friends were dealing with during and since the time I met them. We all have challenges and opportunities in this life, but Jim, Terry, and Ginger seemed to have more than their fair share. They were on their paths trying to find some sense to life and to make a little difference in the midst of their families, neighbors, and worlds. But, making sense of life can be very hard work. It requires becoming conscious and that definitely ain’t easy. So, struggles develop frequently. How else is an Earthling – or even a Star Being – to learn?

Terry on the Prairie

I got to know Terry Cooley and his wife Glenna a little bit at a time after they followed the Wises out to God’s Country. The Cooleys moved from timber land in Oregon and were keen to get even farther away from civilization. Lavina was just a step along that journey.

Terry and Glenna bought and moved into the old Tea House and stayed there for three or four years. Having visited the Cooley home a number of times, I could describe the place fairly well to Ginger who determined to vacate the New York City area and test her wings in wide open Montana. By the time we had UHauled across the country, Terry and Glenna had moved two blocks to the west and into an old yellow School Bus parked in her mother’s side yard. Terry was fitting the rig up for parts uncharted and places unknown. Over the years the Cooleys had developed survivalist mentalities, followed Coast-to-Coast AM Radio predictions for “endtimes,” and looked to carry their home on their backs wherever the trying days ahead would lead them.

The Cooley story is sad and frustrating, even from the outside looking in. As best I can remember the tale, Terry and Glenna had lived on wooded government property not far from the Oregon sea coast. Terry believed that he had legal rights to maintain residence there indefinitely. But at some point, the rules changed and they were given marching orders. Terry, an Army veteran of the Korean Cold War, was ready to stand up and fight. But, he eventually thought better of it. He quit his maintenance job, sold much of his personal property, and followed his mother-in-law (Tom Wise’s sister) to little Lavina.

Lavina was clearly just a stopping point for Glenna and him. Terry was looking for the next place, not wanting anything to do with the government and regulations and laws. No 9-to-5, no bank accounts, no credit cards, no paper trails. Con trails (google that one) were more on his mind.

Listening to late night radio, the two of them discovered a teacher named Robert Ghost Wolf. Then, they proceeded to hook their futures to his for a time. The Cooleys journeyed to a number of his gatherings in western states and followed his prophecies and teachings pointing to dramatic apocalyptic times ahead. The transit of the Hale-Bopp Comet was one of a number of signs which put them to looking for a remote parking place for their new school bus/home.

Terry was mechanically talented and could fix almost any piece of machinery. He came up with a few inventions which showed his ingenuity. But, they were never patented and the ideas were hardly put to use. One I remember was a unique setup for distilling water under primitive wood-fire circumstances.

Terry was surely a nomadic Indian reborn into a modern society which repelled him. Glenna had some of the same within her. She even more obviously carried native American “blood.” I could see it in her face. Regardless, she would have traveled to the ends of the earth to be at Terry’s side. Glenna lived for Terry. While she had two children from a previous marriage, Terry was obviously the center of her life and world. Whatever Terry said seemed to be Gospel. Glenna is memorable mostly for being at his side, “Terry said this,” and “Terry did that.” And, Glenna spoke all those things with a bubbly lisp, a lilt to her voice, and a clear sense of adoration for her husband.

The two seemed inseparable. The Cooleys were chainsmokers and “rolled their own” in tandem. That was a regular and time-filling task because they smoked so much. But then, that was a good project to attend to while listening to Coast-to-Coast AM with Art Bell. They soaked in layer upon layer of doom and gloom at the same time they filled the air with equally darkening tobacco smoke.

Terry was a big fellow. Maybe he appeared larger than he really was. He had a barrel chest and gave a hell of a hug. But, the latter was not a common occurrence as Terry kept his distance maybe because of how the world had treated him and his family. He had been hurt too many times, it seemed. And, he didn’t want to get too close to anyone or any system which might conceivably cause him more pain and discomfort.

Cooley was sandy haired and good looking. Round of face and a warm of smile and laugh when he allowed himself. His laughs and breaths were often spaced by coughs and sputters of incipient emphysema. Terry was slow to talk and slower to reveal himself. He was hardly ever at ease with people, wondering about their motives. But once he knew and trusted you, he would do anything to help out.

Glenna was the talker of the two. Grinning and always with an optimistic air, even if the sky was falling. She could be that way because Terry was near at hand. He held hers as well. Glenna was a bit on the light-headed and ditzy and nondescript. But, she worshipped Terry Cooley until the day he died. And then some.

The roll-your-own Cooley radio nights reminded me of the time when I attended a Medicine Ceremony at Crow Agency, MT. A friend got us invited. Why not? I have lived in the North Land well over half my life with native Americans in the towns or on the reservations at close proximity. But, I have had little contact with Indians. So, that opportunity helped me to catch up on a few things I had missed.

The Ceremony was held in a double-wide trailer used as a private residence. People collected around a number of elders who made up an inner circle seated on the floor. The Medicine Ceremony was a continuous run of prayers interspersed with the smoking of cigarettes while another circle of drummers beat gently upon their tom-toms. Cigarettes were the focus of the ceremony, tobacco being the offering of individuals to have their prayers presented to the ancestors. The more prayers that were requested, the more cigarettes appeared in the circle and the more smoke filled the modest-sized space.

The haze got so thick, you could have cut it. Since I didn’t have a knife, I just choked up quite a bit. Eyes and lungs suffered for the prayers of other. The ceremony seemed to go on almost endlessly. Another prayer and another smoke. And so on. It was reminiscent of a Sweat Lodge Ceremony. Both can be grueling, but for different reasons.

Finally, the Medicine Ceremony ended and refreshments were served. Tea – mint tea – was the beverage. I was told that it had been the Native American drink of choice before whitey appeared with fire water and coffee. All the people were warm and welcoming. But, much more memorable is that overwhelming fog of prayerful smoke.

Terry and Glenna had charged the Tea House with smoke in a number of ways before Ginger and I appeared on the scene. Terry had dragged a wood stove into the basement (more smoke) – which we gladly used for heat for several winters in the house. It was good, inexpensive and penetrating heat. Besides, I got warmed by it two or three time along the way with collecting wood, running up and down the stairs to stoke the stove, and exporting ashes as well as sweeping the chimney each spring.

Terry had the habit of gathering recently cut, unseasoned pine for his wood stove. That was so because he always expected to be elsewhere when winter appeared. So, he didn’t think to collect a seasoned supply. I remember watching him do chimney duty from a distance when I lived around the corner. He would take the stove pipe liner out of the brick chimney and lay it in the back yard of the Tea House. Then he would set it afire to burn away the creosote that had collected. Better that it burn freely on the gravel than produce a chimney fire in the house. I gather Terry had experienced at least one such fire during their ownership of the Tea House.

Prairie Bus

Terry, Glenna and the So-Kool Bus

In the summer of ‘99, Terry and Glenna began housekeeping in their recently purchased school bus. Legally they had to change the name of their home if they put it on the highway. It could no longer be a SCHOOL BUS. So with a little touchup, it became the SO-KOOL BUS. The name worked quite well. The conversion to a home on wheels wasn’t quite so successful.

Terry decided he wanted as many options aboard as possible. So after clearing out most of the seats, he began installing a number of heat and energy sources. He put in an airtight wood burning stove and hooked up a propane heater as well. Cooley installed small solar panels and attached a wind charger atop the roof which must have rattled the cage quite a bit when the wind blew. How he integrated everything, I don’t know.

Radios, antennae and accessories were plugged in. A kitchen and bedroom and closets were supplied. And they were off. Actually, no. They took their rig out for a few test runs. I don’t recall them ever taking the SO-KOOL BUS out of the state. They did take the Bus to a rendezvous of friends and family on Flathead Lake one summer. And they spent at least one winter up the street, moving into mother-in-law’s house on occasion for various reasons.

Terry’s story turned out to be a lot like the one he told about his grandfather who had farmed his whole life in north central Oregon. When he reached retirement age, Grandpa determined to build a boat and get it down to the ocean for a long stay on the seas. Grandpa and Grandma got the rig into a nearby stream and were set loose towards their destiny on the wider waters. Sadly, they ran aground just 20 miles downstream and never picked up their voyage again.

Money got tight for the Cooleys. The sale money for the Tea House lasted only a short time and Terry took on a job as ranch hand for the Horpestads. They then moved the SO-KOOL BUS twenty miles up the road to the North Ranch and parked it next to the old bunkhouse. Terry and Glenna tried to live that first winter in the bus, but you might guess it would be hard even for an Indian in the modern era to keep warm in a metal-shelled School Bus with lots of windows and no insulation on the wide open prairie in central Montana. The wood stove and propane heater could only do so much. Before the first winter was over, the bus became a storage unit and the Cooleys were forced into the bunkhouse. They stayed there until the owner got remarried and his wife pushed them down the road.

“Follow Your Bus” Baby Boomers weren’t the first and won’t be the last to follow their bliss, to do what they love and let the money follow, to search for the lost grail of happiness, etc. I am one of that group – more or less. But, the definitions of bliss, joy, happiness often get garbled along the way. Many people forget the old adage to “bloom where you’re planted.”

We all are planted one place or another. Itchy feet can get us moving here there and anywhere. But the grass is not necessarily greener over there, nor is there a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Still, most people at one time or another in their lives strike out on the less traveled road looking for who knows what? Sometimes, they find themselves and sometimes not. Regardless, wherever you go, there you are.

I wish I could say that Terry Cooley found what he was looking for. Maybe he did in some ways. HD Thoreau says, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” The latter part of his thought leaves me wondering about that song. If someone – anyone – is singing, that seems hopeful. It seems that too many folks don’t even have a song to sing. Or give up singing early in life.

Terry and Jim and Ginger and many of my fellow Lavinans were trying to sing a song. Inwardly if not otherwise. That was one of the great things about that little spot on the highway. And probably many other spots on the road way out West. The West and other oases provide opportunities for people to express themselves in a low-stress, slow-paced, fresh-air semblance of a community. One of the wonders of Montana, the Rocky Mountain states, and the whole American West is the inherent ever-blossoming potential to grow and change while being close to the earth and elements. That is one of the great draws to our part of the world.

A lot of people come to visit and tour and explore for a time. Few stay long enough to be truly transplanted. It takes a certain kind of makeup to do that in a genuine sort of way. We have lots of rich folks who buy or build trophy homes in the mountains. Many of them bring their big city standards with them or just occupy second homes to get away.

I am reminded of a brief encounter I had with a Party Planner in New York City. This young woman heard that I was from Montana. That got her interest and prompted some telling questions:

“Are you a hunter?” “No.”

“Do you ski?” “No.”

“Do you ride horses out there?” “No.”

“Then, why do you live out there?”

Thus ended the conversation with the woman undoubtedly thinking that I was wasting my time and life in the great western state. While hunting and fishing, riding and skiing are important to some who live out here, there is a whole lot more to being a permanent resident of the Last Best Place.

Thinking about the Big Apple, I am also reminded of New York, New York, the song about the city that never sleeps which Frank Sinatra made memorable. A key line runs, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” I have often thought that if you or I can make it in a rural setting – in town or outside of town, then you can make it anywhere. The big city may make for hard work and stretch a person’s skills, abilities and patience. But, country living surely can do the same. Some of the brightest and toughest and most talented people around live in our part of the world. Maybe you should be one of them.

The Return of JFK

How do you attract people to a small western town like Lavina in the present day? Gold and copper, land and railroad-spawned dreams got people out west in distant times. Now, small towns need to get folks from near or far to make visits and maybe even move. Else they will continue shrinking and dying more so than over past generations.

Some western towns have taken to advertising in efforts to lure new citizens into their populaces. Free land, tax incentives, moving assistance, etc. have been offered. There have been some successes, but probably few compared to the efforts expended. The benefits of small communities, fresh air and open spaces, safe places for children to be raised certainly are worth mentioning. Schools with just a few students in each class and teachers who know every child they pass in the hallways should be newsworthy to some.

But, such attractions are for the few. To really attract attention something more eye-catching must come forth. Two such ideas came to mind repeatedly with regard to stimulating possibilities for the fading berg of Lavina. Both involved the Adams Hotel. One was to search out and discover a vein of hot water near town, pipe it into the Hotel and turn the latter into a spa. Being within easy driving distance to Billings, the state’s largest city, could make such a discovery a winner. It is not beyond the realms of possibilities. “There is hot water in them there prairies!”

The other thought was to float the story that Elvis Presley stayed – one once forgotten time on a trip to the West Coast – at the Adams Hotel. That event has yet to be uncovered from one Presley’s or Raymond Barry’s scrapbooks. When brought to light it would surely catch somebody’s interest, whether true or not.

Much of history is mixed up, confused, and even erroneous. Like Fake News. How much of it is fabricated? Who knows? Maybe Elvis did stop in Lavina once upon a time. In any case, a little white lie for the little White City wouldn’t hurt anybody, would it?

What if JFK had graced the town of Lavina with his presence once upon a time? That might be worthy of notice. Guess what? I can honestly and truthfully tell you that JFK did visit Lavina on several occasions. He never stayed at the Hotel, but he did look through it a time or two. Still, he was hardly noticed at the time. He was almost unknown then. And still is.

JFK – James Francis Kinerk – was the second of the February 7th Aquarians I danced around for a few years. Bibi used to say, “Those f___ing Aquarians. They think they know everything.” That was quite a sweeping statement, but it had a grain or two of truth in it. I can say that because I am an Aquarian from more than one angle. And, Bibi has Aquarius as her astrological rising sign.

JFK seemed to know everything and nothing, both at the same time. Mr. Kinerk was a bundle of contradictions. He carried the aura of a benevolent Mr. Know-It-All, but often reverted to time-worn refrains like, “I have no mind. They took it from me. I have no feelings, I just borrow other people’s. Just like I borrow your thoughts. I feed on your mental energy. Worse than that, I may not even have a spirit. I think they took that, too.”

THEY referred to the Star People of which he was one. Somehow, THEY had dropped Mr. Kinerk on planet Earth and forgotten about him. Left without mind or spirit. A tough row to hoe, whether real or imagined.

Kinerk occasionally recalled or pointed out people whom he believed were also Starbeings. I never got lumped or placed in that category. Most often his fellow Starbeings were female, young and attractive.

Jim Kinerk did introduce me to a well-known Starbeing, commonly known to the movie world as Jeff Bridges. Kinerk first turned me on to The Big Lebowski, a cult movie starring Bridges as The Dude. But more to the point, he directed me to Bridges’s other even more eccentric role as Starman. I must admit that the Starbeing and the Starman did have some qualities in common. Mr. K. would surely be flattered to be compared to the Starman in any way, shape or form.

Even while his spirit-mind-emotions-brain were frequently addled, JFK did “know” enough to work as a medical insurance underwriter in Nebraska for many months at a stretch in the early period of our friendship. He made good money, working long hours as well as getting per diem along with wages/salary. Then, he would take off for as many months as he could afford.

He hated the work – or so he related – and said he did it by rote. “You don’t need a brain. You don’t have to think. You just go on automatic and follow the program.” I suspect it was more complicated than that. He certainly was quite functional in many times and places. Environment and interest had a lot to do with it. But, I could never convince him. “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

James Francis Kinerk is a blond-haired, blue-eyed ballplayer and sports devotee. He loves his Kansas City Chiefs and Royals and the Jayhawks of the University of Kansas, his alma mater. Hall-of-Famer George Brett is another Kinerk favorite and JFK was thrilled to see his photo displayed at Ott Field in Billings on the one occasion we went to see a Billings Mustangs game. Brett had played for them many years past.

From time to time, Mr. K. would take me to the outdoor basketball court at the Lavina school to shoot hoops. We even played a few games with young people when they appeared. He was always coaching and giving me tips to be a better player. Which made absolutely no inroads with me at my age. Besides, I was an intramural basketball dropout.

Noting his keen ballmanship, I tried to interest him in applying for one of the odd basketball coaching jobs which invariably came up needing to be filled each year at the school. He wouldn’t hear it. “Kansas is even too far north to be in the winter.” Still, he was keen about watching any kind of ball game and we sat through a number of boys and girls basketball games when his northern tours extended into BB season. We even made a trip past Locomotive Butte and into remote Rapelje to view one such event. Rapelje, even though stationed in the middle of the state, is accessible by gravel roads only from three directions. Apparently, school teachers get bonus remote-duty pay.

More to my liking were the times we played catch with baseball and gloves. It was a bit like my olden days. I still had my old mitt. We tossed the ball back and forth, and back and forth. Shooting the breeze about this that and the other thing. It was almost reminiscent of Kevin Costner playing catch with his ghost father in A Field of Dreams. Maybe JFK was my ghost brother.

One summer – Sunday, August 4 – during Ginger’s residency, we put out the word for a town ball game. It wasn’t baseball. But, softball was close enough. Softball and potluck behind the schoolhouse. There was a good turnout. Some to play, some to watch. Everybody to eat. Pot luck brings people and other creatures out of the woodwork.

Mr. Kinerk is a product of parochial schools. He used to spout Latin collected from his Catholic school days. He didn’t have much good to say about the church in particular or in general, even though his brother is a priest. Jesuit Father Edward Kinerk is a former superior of the Missouri Province and former president of Rockhurst College in Kansas City, MO.

For a man with no brain, Mr. Kinerk seemed to have a pretty good memory. He remembered lots of school Latin, stored all sorts of trivia and data somewhere in his being – if not his brain – and promoted lots of beliefs. Thus, I recruited him to lead one of our Friday Forums. Jim spoke forth for the longest time – almost two hours – on “Basic Metaphysical Principles: A Paradigm of Spirit.” It was much too long for me, but everybody else seemed to be absorbed into his presentation. Kinerk has a gentle and easy rapport with most people, especially the ladies.

Being a Catholic by history and holding authority by subtle design, he could pontificate on a wide range of subjects, including women. He counseled me a couple times regarding Ginger. “Just nod your head and say, ‘Yes.’ All you need to do is let them (women) think they are in charge.” Good advice, but hard to follow at times.

Looking back, it seems interesting that I took relationship advice from a man in his mid 50s who had never been married. At least, I had been through that experience one time for nine years. It had been years since Kinerk had lived with a woman and maybe a decade since Lorelei had broken his heart, run over his ego and left skid marks on his soul.

In years past, Kinerk had run study groups, done psychic readings and sent out metaphysical newsletters to friends and followers – who were mostly women. He did have a real knack with picking up on people and their worries and concerns. “I don’t have any emotions, I just channel other people’s.”

On a couple occasions, George (from Dallas) and he sat down and read palms for a circle of friends. The palm owners were engaged and enthralled. George and Jim did a great job of filling their parts. And their impressions seemed to be “right on,” most of the time. Jim had also worked the Psychic Hotline years back, but disliked having to keep people on the phone longer than necessary to satisfy the owners of the business and put more money in their pockets. That amounted to another failure on Jim’s apparently dismal tour of life on an alien planet. Nothing seemed to work out for Kinerk. And, he wasn’t the type to pick up the thread of a previous experience and “give it another go.”

I once playfully suggested that Kinerk and I go into our own business and pick up where the Psychic Hotline left off. I thought we could start a new rage, employ the oft-times unemployables, and maybe bring some excitement to the telephone wires. While the idea was simple, it may have created some PR concerns and upset the politically correct folks.

The brainstorm was to put together a Psychotic Hotline. How does that grab you? Probably not too positively at first glance. But ... I think the idea had/has merit. Psychotic people are too often drugged up these days all the while they have access to realms and vibrations which most of us have never even imagined. Psychotics are sometimes just a bit further over the line than so-called “psychics.” The distance between genius and lunacy is sometimes very slight. And as Aristotle said, “No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.”

Should such psychotic people thus be put to work they could use their heightened senses to access potentially useful information for people on the other end of the line. Lots of stories come to mind, but I desist and just suggest that the reader ponder on the idea. I believe it has merit.

Little old Lavina attracted a fair share of people on the fringes of society and of sanity. I don’t necessarily exclude myself from that group. But, let’s take Jim Kinerk for example. Kinerk claimed that he had been put on Earth by mistake. He was a Starbeing. His home was elsewhere although I don’t remember him pointing it out in the skies or giving that place a name. Earth certainly was not a comfortable fit or even acceptable for him.

Kinerk, like many of us, was a walking set of contradictions. He had studied metaphysics, learned to do readings, and could quote chapter and verse of various teachings. What you and I should know and do. But, practically all of his advice and guidelines did not fit him. Because he was not of this planet. A Starbeing. His equipment was lacking. They had left him with missing parts. No mind, emotions, spirit. No brain, apparently. “I fired my Guides and High Self.” He must have been running on fumes alone.

As Lavina’s premiere stand-up comedian, Kinerk told the audience at our first Red White and Blue celebration that he “had given so many people pieces of my mind, that I have nothing left.” The more he said it, the more he believed his proclamations. It was hard for anyone or anything to counteract his long-held view of himself. Which is not unlike the case for most of us.

JFK Pictoscope

My take on Jim Kinerk from the angle of Pictorial Astrology

About that time period of history, the television show called Third Rock from the Sun was running quite successfully on television. I borrowed from the program and started calling Kinerk “The Big Giant Head” after the mission leader for the Solomon family. The epithet was meant particularly to remind Mr. K. that he did “have a brain.” It had effect but for a short time. “Oh, I’m just drawing on your mind. But, keep trying just the same,” he would say.

Maybe he should have attracted more mind, better karma and happier days. Mr. Kinerk could have used many more good days according to his accounting. He was up late most nights. Bailed out late morning. Used pills and alcohol to mitigate his moods. Which may have added to his problems. But, JFK seemed at his best when doing manual labor, using his muscles, and lending a hand at some physical task. The Cayce Readings recommended such activities for many folks along the way who experienced one mental-emotional challenge or another.

One of Kinerk’s biggest problems was crowds of people. So, he ran away from the world whenever he could. During the summers – and sometimes winters – to distant places. He found some redeeming moments as long as he kept away from the cities. Lavina was perfect – almost perfect – for him in that respect except it was too far North. Still, it had a few too many people and energies for him. He parked his camper behind the Tea House (or wherever I was living) and plugged his trailer in for water and electricity. When he was on the road, he had to make do. Mr. K. often went to Arizona for the winter and camped on government land, two weeks at a spot until federal regulations forced him to move on. He circled around Parker, Bouse and Quartzite.

JFK drove an aging woody-looking Ford van and pulled his highly stocked rigs all over the western states. If I ever needed a tool, I had a good guess who might have one. Kinerk kept two of everything. “In case I’m on BLM land far from Walmart and something breaks.” His vehicles were so heavily laden that they suffered mightily. Heavy loads contributed to more than a few flat tires.

Jim’s continuing travels prompted him to resurrect his newsletters. Formerly, they had been metaphysically oriented and sent out accordingly. His more recent versions were called “Trip Tales.” Every spring, he would put one together –12 to 20 tightly-spaced pages – and mail them off to friends. I think a few people read some of them. Bibi’s father and I were probably the only two schmucks who admitted to reading them front to back, regardless of the repetition, minutiae, and questionable humor.

The major themes of the “Trip Tales” besides visits with friends were efforts to find campsites, to hook up his two satellite dishes – for ballgames, and to keep track of latrines. He might as well have called his yearly writings “The Latrine Letters.” He seemed to be fixate on outhouses, latrines, and loos.

His humor pointed in that direction as well. Giving credit where credit is due, I quote from Kinerk’s original Trip Tales: “George and I would often walk around the campground (Glacier Park) in the evening. It consisted of three loops. We were on loop C. A quarter of a mile away was the Visitor Center. We would often walk down and watch some of the programs put on there. One that we saw was singing and dancing by some Blackfoot Indians. This was very interesting. The Blackfoot (called Blackfeet in Canada) were so named because their feet would often get black from the ashes from prairie grassfires through which they would run in their hunting.

“One evening we were walking around loop A. There we noticed something very interesting. There was a brick outhouse next to a building housing modern toilet facilities. We read the plaque on it. It stated that it was the last outhouse built in Rome before the advent of indoor plumbing over 100 years ago. It had been disassembled and rebuilt in Glacier Park. It was the Little Latin Loop A Loo.” (A word play on a song from the 60s.)

“The Apache Reservation is famous because shortly after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, he installed one of them in one of the outhouses there. Thus becoming the first man to wire a head for reservations.”

Another “famous” Kinerk story begins with him telling how he had never had a UFO experience until . . . Until he was out on the trail in the desert one winter in Arizona. He discovered phosphorescent droppings in the middle of nowhere. They looked a lot like human manure, but they glowed in the dark. He eventually got other hints that these were left by extraterrestrials and he had had a “close encounter of the turd kind.”

James Francis Kinerk is one of a kind, to be sure. What kind that is, is subject to debate. A debate that he probably has had within himself on many occasions over his sixty plus years. That debate has been schizophrenic at times, as for most of us. The basic problem seems that JFK just never felt like he fit. Oh, he managed in most places. But the more he was around people, the harder it was for him. That might have been said for Terry Cooley and numbers of other who lived in and around Lavina. They found their way to the countryside to get away from the madding crowd. Even Lavina was too much for Jim and Terry. Cooley headed for the prairie as soon as he could. I got to calling him Terry on the Prairie when he moved north and became a hired hand on the Horpestad Ranch.

JFK became Kinerk the Jerk as well as the Big Giant Head. The former may have been of his own initiation. In many ways, he seemed to think highly of himself. But on equally common occasions, he was self deprecating to be generous. Still, Jim Kinerk thought of himself as a Star Child. Which seemed to put him in a special category. Terry Cooley was a survivalist and Indian wannabe or reincarnate.

New York Meets Montana

Have you ever heard the following anecdote? A city person stops for a night in a small rural town. He walks out of the cafe after a greasy-spoon meat and taters meal. He stares around for a few moments. Not much traffic, not many people around. The sun is going down. A lawn mower hums in the distance. Dogs bark at each other.

The visitor turns to the local standing next to him and says, “Hey. What goes on here after dark? What do you do for excitement?”

The town citizen smiles and responds, “You’re doin’ it.”

Those three words sum up a lot about small towns, rural life and the situation Ginger met when she dropped anchor in Lavina, MT. In the country, you make your own life and events and activities – or else veg out and watch the paint dry. Which is what Ginger and Kinerk did on a number of occasions. I was the paint applicator.


That was the challenge for Ging when she appeared at 123 Main Street in Very Small Town, America. Sometimes it was a Twilight Zone kind of Pleasantville address. Mostly, it provided an opportunity to innovate and imagineer, create and commune.

Ginger had spent a couple summers camping in the Wind River region of Wyoming in years past and had seen the Lavina landscape for a few days the previous year. But living in the rural west day in and out was a totally different story. She was used to living on the edge of the largest metropolis in the USA. The differences between the two were more than striking. They were monstrous. It was like going from Brobdingnag to Lilliput (Gulliver’s Travels) or from the Rose Bowl to the goldfish bowl. Back in New York, Ginger only had to walk out the door to get in the swing of things. The  Long Island Railroad was never far away nor was a vehicle to cruise a few miles to numerous centers of activity. The TV stations were full of local activities of 10 to 20 million people and their latest gyrations and creations. The sounds of the City were never – night or day – totally silenced. There was always something to do because the City That Never Sleeps was close at hand, ever inviting and eternally awake.

The buzz and the hum of traffic were ever apparent in the Big Apple. In comparison, Little Lavina seemed to be Idling in Park. Oft times, the town might have used a push and so too Ginger. She was used to action, choices, changes. Rural Montana mostly provided quiet, mundane, homespun opportunities. In that respect, she did well for a while by inviting people in for coffee, surveying and exploring the landscape, visiting the hot springs 100 miles west in White Sulphur Springs. Ginger did work at getting a massage business going in the rear of the old Tea House. She found a few clients. But in a town of several score people, the pickings were slim. Frequently, she went from coffee to email to the phone to keep her sanity.

Ms. Allen apparently made a mean pot of java according to the local drinkers. The citizenry was used to Folgers, sometimes just the instant variety. Ginger made espresso-like coffee in a time when Starbucks and coffee kiosks were just beginning to penetrate the Montana hinterlands. The coffee pot brought a few to the doorstep and helped her get through the morning. She was friendly and chatty and loved to BS over coffee. Her kind was so strong that “it made your spoon stand on end.” So I was told. Still, she found coffee drinkers to share her morning brew.

Lester Krause, an almost-retired music teacher who appeared during the summers, was her favored consumer and fellow raconteur. He loved to stir the air and ruffle feathers. A fine storyteller, he could equally pull your leg. And he surely did that with Ginger a few times.

It wasn’t an easy fit for a Big City woman to deal with conservative thinking, fundamentalist religion, and weed-whacking ranchers. Cowboy Krause was different than many of the locals. He just summered with his horses on the edge of Lavina. Lester taught school in the area for many years before removing to a school district in the Las Vegas diocese. He could reminisce, complain, and listen all at the same time.

Ginger and Lester enjoyed lots of laughs and shared many stories. But, the two came to loggerheads when Lester made comments about the Yellow Dock plant he saw growing on the north side of the Tea House. He tried to impress upon Ginger that it was an noxious weed. That only got her dander up as Ginger had spent a great deal of time studying weeds, herbs and medicinal plants. Yellow Dock was a medicinal in her book. “A weed is a plant that's growing where it's not wanted. But, get this, Lester. I want that plant.”

Lester made some protest like, “You better pull that weed or you might find yourself in trouble. I may have to come over and take care of it myself.”

Ginger got huffy and responded, “You just try. See what will happen to your coffee ration.”

Fortunately, Mr. Krause backed off. He was only in town for the summer and the Yellow Dock wasn’t about to follow him down to Nevada. Besides, he was tight fisted, enjoyed the strong coffee, and the conflict was not worth the trauma.

I have to insert further reflections on that cowboy Lester Krause. He might prefer horseman. Krause (pronounced Kraus-E) rose up in North Dakota and started teaching school. His car broke down in Melstone on a trip once upon time whence he got recruited to teach there. After which, he had taught and worked as superintendent in the area for many years. He eventually moved south becoming band and music teacher in a Las Vegas school district south of the big city. Lester returned most summers to a tiny property he kept on the south edge of Lavina. He brought horses, rode them, and did clinics for horsemen and women. When he wasn’t riding horses or flirting with women, he was reading books or practicing flute or saxophone.

Lester had more than his shares of talents. He could tell a good yarn, blow a horn and play the guitar, ride and train horses, collect motorcycles and women. By the time Ginger and I met him he had settled himself down with one woman. Three wives and many affairs and more years had finally worn down the runty Scorpio with big eyes and appetite.

I can see him now. Long sleeved shirt, jeans, cowboy boots. Big hands and short legs. Glasses, tightly trimmed moustache and a devious smile. Topped off with a ball cap or sombrero. He sometimes reminded me of Yosemite Sam or other cartoon character whose head and/or hat overwhelmed the rest of his being. Even though Lester was short of stature, he could stand his ground and was ready to tell his stories and offer his opinion in a trice.  Lester was the leader of one of our Friday Forums in which his topic was entitled “Is All of Life a Power Struggle?”

You might readily guess what Lester thought. And that most of his audience was opposed to his obvious stance. Lester spent much of the program defending his ideas. He finally did mention the word Love once or twice by the time his talk was up. Which also seemed to reflect his personal view on the subject of Love. Lester had been involved with a bright, caring school teacher for the previous decade. She had to be very accepting and tolerant. In a couple revealing moments, Lester reminded me, “You only have to tell a woman you love her once. That should be more than enough.”

Lester was from North Dakota where love can still be an unspoken but powerful force in a man’s life. His ideas on love reminded me of another North Dakotan and a favorite little story that he told. The funny little man was a Norwegian dairy farmer who smiled and snickered between each sentence of the retelling. He said, “There was this old Norske who loved his wife so much. He practically worshiped the dirt that she walked on. She made the sun rise and set for him. Oh, he just adored her. He loved her so much, he ALMOST told her.”

Well, Lester told his lady friend once, or so he said. Maybe he just imagined he had. Love was obviously not a big part of his vocabulary or his way of doing business. Power was the key for him. I watched and heard about Lester in action with horses on a few occasions and compared him to our other horse trainer in town. Control and power seemed to be his method as opposed to the gentler approach of the other man. Nonetheless, he got the job done and attracted people who liked him and his work.

Ginger had her own views of Krause as well as the rest of the world, the town, and the countryside. She thought that there should be access to the river south of town. In the next moment, she was worrying about Mayor Giuliani spraying mosquitoes back along the Long Island Sound which might affect the area waterfowl. In the next moment, there was time for upset that cows (and their owners) controlled everything in the Montana countryside. “The powers that be care about cows, but not the rest of the critters.”

Ginger had or thought she had the uncanny ability to tell where land had been clearcut of timber in years past. Driving down the highway, she would point out areas in the distance which had been cut, logged and denuded of life-giving trees. I couldn’t see any signs thereof. Maybe she was psychic and tuned in. “I just know.”

All the “stresses” of rural living and machinations of her mind came to a head once when we went for a short walk north of the town near the cemetery. Her dog, Little Bear, trailed along with us. As we passed toward Harmon’s Taxidermy up Cemetery Road, the owner motored slowly by and made some comment about, “Dogs off leashes are likely to get shot in these parts.”

That really upset Ginger and was the topic of conversation for days. I tried to calm her by saying that Harmon wouldn’t really think about it unless his animals were in danger. And all his animals were dead and mounted, or in process. Nonetheless, his passing comment came to be part of her localized version of “Home on the Range.”

Home, home on the range
Where the deer and the antelope play.
Where Bilden does booze and Harmon does cruise,
And the dogs are shot dead if they stray.

She came up with another song, or at least a title. Lyrics were never developed. It met the standard of many country and western tunes. Lester K. certainly would have approved. This one was to be called, “I’m Gonna Kill That Man But I’ll Love Him Till He Dies.”

Ginger was from a Big City with millions of neighbors. She was used to navigating freeways, toll roads and booths, subways and railways, parking and driving jams. Ging could whip through City Traffic without batting an eyelash, find her way from one end of Long Island or New York State to the other. I remember her doing U Turns in a number of New York urban areas. But, wide open Montana became a test more than a few times.

She had driven through Broadview, the small town between Billings and Lavina, several times before realizing she was going through a populated outpost. Even though the highway speed zone was lowered there and a number of buildings and residences dotted the lane, Ginger hadn’t even noticed that she was going through the town on a number of occasions.

Once, we were planning to go to the Big City of Billings. It was just an immediate right from 123 Main Street and a direct route to Metro Billings with only Broadview in between. For some reason, she drove across the street to swing by the public school. On returning to the highway (Main Street) she began to turn north and away from Billings. I had to reorient her to the proper direction. From then on, it became clearer and clearer that Ginger was Lost in Lavina.

Ginger and I worked together on several projects, some of which involved travel to promote SPDX. We were on the road in the midst of the battle to decide who would be America’s 43rd president in November of 2000. But, we also got involved in Lavina in a variety of ways. Helping with America Reads and later substitute teaching were good ways to find out how the school worked and make contact with teachers and students, especially the little ones.

Baby Doctor

The publication of my first book, Baby Doctor, produced a number of memories. Copies of Baby Doctor, a novella about a future life, arrived from the printer on my 51st birthday. A dinner and get-together at the Tea House occurred to celebrate all of the above. Two tables were laid for the guests, Ginger cooked her favorite chicken cutlet dinner, and the group reveled a bit.

At one point, I asked the guests to say a few words about themselves because numbers of them were – despite them all being residents in the near area – little known to each other. Timmy Rogers, my former landlord at the Alcoa House, attended the event with his housemate of the time, Diane Cuccinata.

Mr. Rogers, opposed to his common one-on-one verbosity, didn’t say much. But, Diane let the cat out of the bag. She told a little about herself, that she had lived in the area for a time and, “Mr. Rogers lured me to his country property. He takes good care of me and has a great stash of weed and other medicinals.” Well, it was a mixed audience and you might guess that some of the people could have taken offense. Fortunately, some quite get her obvious intimations.

Tall, skinny, but also blonded and brazen, Diane was never one to hold back her opinions or favorite biases. Cowboy Krause recalled more than a few times to those who would listen that he once paid for coffee (he must have been feeling rich) at the Cafe with Diane. Their conversation eventually turned to the lack of activity on the Main Street of Lavina. Ms. Cuccinata thought for a moment and burst out to Lester, “What this town needs is a whorehouse or at least one good whore.” She then strode out the door, paraded up and down the sidewalk for those or him who might be paying attention.

Before long, Ms. C. returned and announced that, “I don’t believe this town is big enough to support a Lady of the Night. Why should a girl waste her time in this one horse town.”

Ginger eventually befriended Mr. Rogers. He came to town and visited. We drove to the Rogers land and helped him garden a bit. Ginger, who is an herbalist and an avowed friend of weeds, noted on one occasion that, “Timmy has five cannabis plants growing out there.”

She spoke up and told him that he was asking for trouble. He brushed her concern off, just as he had my own long past. “Not my karma.” So, the story went until 2003 when a collection of federal agents appeared unannounced at the Alcoa House. They had a warrant, searched his property, arrested and mightily scared Mr. Rogers. Although they could have put him in prison, according to the Billings Gazette, District Judge Jack Shanstrom sentenced Brother Rogers lightly to three years of probation on his conviction for possessing four pounds of marijuana with intent to distribute. Timmy had to hand over $10,000 to the government as part of the agreement.

While his rural property had been a boon to Timmy’s artistic and free-floating lifestyle, it prompted him to become a weed grower and drug salesman. One without a license. There were no such licenses then, before medical marijuana legislation. So, Mr. Rogers had to pay the price. But, things worked out as they always do. Rogers moved to Billings, found a job caretaking property for a lawyer. He got his act back together, made a regular income and passed through his probation without much of a struggle. He eventually returned to the land, surely chastened, wiser and more understanding of his karma. “As we sow, so shall we reap.”

The Baby Doctor celebration was one which dotted the calendar during our time at 123 Main Street. Ginger and I often took care of our own business for days at a time. She went one way and I the other. Much of my time was spent maintaining or embellishing the Tea House or the Rocky Mountain Garage. Kinerk was often a help when I asked him. Phil Horton would also come to the rescue when needed.

On more than a few occasions, JFK and GA indulged themselves and watched the paint dry. GA wasn’t afraid of work, but was much like Abe Lincoln who said, “My daddy taught me how to work, but he didn’t teach me to like it.” So if she had an option, other things took precedence over work.

Ginger and Friends

Ginger made friends with a few of the women who lived inside or outside of town. Kaye, Valerie, Glenna, and especially Rose. Rose and Ginger hatched a plan at one point to create a labyrinth on the Wise country property in the Bundy. While it was their idea, much of the work fell to male rock pickers and carriers. We didn’t mind though. Extraneous friends, visitors and passersby helped out. The project itself was fairly simple – to set up a circular walkway leading to a central point. The latter became a bit of an outdoor altar. The walkway was outlined to a greater or lesser degree by stones and rocks gathered from the amply supplied sandstone hills in the area.

The labyrinth got little use after its construction. But, the idea got us involved in another community effort. Such efforts bear fruit over time and are more important than we might imagine. That one brought Ginger and Rose closer together and added another project to their mutual resumé.

Not much ever happened politically in Lavina, but we did develop a group which might have rivaled recent ones like the Tea Party and the Coffee Party. Long before these latter efforts, the Barrel Party reigned in central Montana. Terry Cooley and Jim Kinerk were major contributors and supporters.

“There is no trash service in Lavina so we saved all of our burnable trash and every week or two we would take it to Terry and Glenna's burn barrel for a barrel party. Robert and Ginger, Rose and I and a few occasional others would show up. We would stand or sit around the barrel and talk, sing and just visit while our trash and a few logs burned. We would roast hot dogs and marshmallows and eat a little potato salad and whatever else might show up. I really enjoyed these get-togethers. One time as we sat around the fire, we watched a lightning storm to the south towards Billings light up the night sky for us as stars shone right above us. Just as this storm began to die out after about an hour, another one took its place to the north of us. We just sat there and took in the awesomeness of nature. It was a special treat for us.” (From JFK’s Trip Tales)

There was yet another party which found representation for a short time in Lavina thanks to Rose Wise. Despite being a low key, behind-the-scenes person, Rosalia was often an instigator of events and activities. Or at least a mediator. Rose was a big presence in herself and was strategically located at the Lavina Crossing Cafe – if strategic ever fits a micropolis like Lavina. She made good use of her spot on Main Street and the Highway. Location, Location, Location. Rose was always looking to improve and promote the town, not just her interests. She was also an idea person and had contacts. Her warm and gently solicitous manner was palpable. It was hard to say “No” to Rose.

Rose and the Cafe became the magnet for an event that happened in Little Lavina in the late 90s. Lakota Sioux Indians contacted Mrs. Wise and immediately got her cooperation for their project which developed quickly in town over a few days. It is worth noting that Rose had a quantum of Indian blood running in her veins.

The event developed as a band of Native Americans prepared to march up Highway 3 on a mission to gather attention for an issue involving sacred lands in the Sweet Grass area of northern Montana. The small group of Sioux warriors (including women and children) set out from the sacred site of Bear Butte, South Dakota, carrying a banner and medicine bundles en route to the Blackfoot Reservation. They stopped and made contact with sympathetic people wherever possible. At Lavina, the elders and families were invited to set up camp on Wise rural property and build a sweat lodge in support of their mission.

Terry Cooley – the Aquarian with a former lifetime as an Indian – was quick to get involved and harvested willow saplings near the river for building the two lodges which went up on the Wise property. He became the point man, the gatekeeper, and a few other things along the way. At times, I was his assistant and gopher man. This kind of thing was close to Terry’s heart since he had been booted off land in Oregon. His own story was reminiscent of native American dilemmas of generations past. Terry was in the thick of things in every aspect of the happening. A serious onlooker might have guessed him to be a leader of the event rather than just a local recruit.

The occurrence itself in Little Lavina was certainly out of the ordinary. But, one never knew what might occur next at that insignificant crossing in the road. The most memorable moment of the weekend should have been the sweat lodge ceremony. Not so for me. The afternoon before the major event, I was sitting close to a few of the modern-day Indian men drinking coffee at the counter. They were talking about the upcoming lodge ceremony and the topic of dress inside the lodge came up. There was some concern about who ought to wear what. As I recall it, one of the elders said something like, “Well, men can come into the lodge unclothed. But, the grandfathers don’t approve of women being naked inside the lodge.” I had to laugh up my sleeve that the high, spiritual grandfathers would be concerned about nude women in a sweat lodge. Why or how would they peek in on the event? And with what kind of eyes? But, I certainly didn’t say anything at the time or later.

The lodges went up and the ceremonies took place in the midst of repeated summer downpours. I helped Terry with chores outside the lodges. While it should have been a warm summer night, I got “frozen out” by the rain. Terry took the weather and all tasks in stride.

The reader may remember that a sweat lodge is a Native American ceremony performed inside a practically air-tight shelter. The space provided is usually just large enough to pack a few people tightly in around a hole in the ground which eventually gets filled with hot, hot rocks. The stones are fired for hours before the lodge is convened and the gatekeeper uses a forked stick or iron implement to move them into the pit. Water is thrown on the rocks periodically to create steam. Prayers and purification define the purposes of the sweat lodge.

I passed up my chance to get inside one of the lodges on that Lavina occasion. I was not in mood partly because of my one previous sweat lodge experience in Colorado. At the Bundy Hills, the heavy rains during the sweat lodge might have put a damper on the ceremonies. As it did for me. I can be a fair weather participant and traveler as well. Most everyone seemed to be delighted with the event. The following day, a round dance was held in the town park next to the Cafe.

Quite a number of locals joined in who had not been involved in the sweat lodge. Eventually, the Indians continued to the north on their trek. But, not before several Lavinans walked with them and carried their sacred medicine bundle for a few of the miles of their journey. I remember walking a few miles with the group and carrying the bundle for one of them. It was an extended community, Earth as village, Native Americans of past and present uniting. Rose and her Indian friends helped bring diverse people together for a time. Whether it had any effect on the Sweet Grass issue, I never heard and cannot say.

And, I don’t think it really matters. The passage of the Indian troop through Lavina was a minor boon to all who participated and maybe even those on the periphery who didn’t. The Sioux March through Lavina certainly had no conscious effect on my own eventual journey. At the time, short jaunts were as far as my eyes could see. But, the event may have primed the pump – so to speak – for my inevitable venture to be detailed later.

Out in the West Texas town of El Paso
I fell in love with a Mexican girl
Nighttime would find me in Rosa’s Cantina
Music would play and Felina would whirl
Marty Robbins

For years, the Lavina Crossing Cafe was the focal point in Lavina. What is a town without a cafe? Fortunately, the Cafe had good food along with character created and sustained by Rose and her family. But, nothing is perfect and holding an eating establishment together anywhere under most any circumstanrces is a difficult proposition. On the down side, the Cafe was prone to unexpected closures, changes in business hours, as well as problems keeping or even finding employees when family help was unavailable. Grumbling and bumbling resulted all around.

A small town cafe is not a secure way to make money, but it can be a certain source of stress. Tom Wise carried the brunt of that at the Cafe. He was the money man and I am sure that was neither good for his ulcers nor his temper.

Having spent quite a few years in small towns, I have had the repeated opportunity to observe their cafes coming and going through cycles and changes. From the cafe run by my mother’s family in Bridgewater, SD, to the Wise’s in Lavina, and others along the way. It has given me pause to think that the souls who take on such karma are either foolish or saintly or both. Small town eateries are generally break-even propositions at best. Plus free food for the owners and a place to live upstairs or out back. Another good thing is that people who take on that chore rarely have to pay much income tax.

But, isn’t there a better way? That has been my repeated question – rhetorically and generally spoken. The old ways continue even when they often don’t work very well in the present. Maybe they never did. Why does an eatery have to be open every day of the week – or almost? And all the daylight hours? Why does its menus have to include so many selections? Why does it require so many more choices than the kitchen in our own homes, past or present?

A “wise” restaurant or cafe owner might consider limiting regular days and hours of operation. Good food and friendly, timely service will bring people in when the doors are open. It is tasty food that people are generally interested in, not a wide selection. A person generally can eat only one at a sitting. Substantial portions are a good addition to such a business. They will help bring customers back.

I have to admit I have never run a cafe (in this lifetime) and only worked in two including the Lavina Crossing. I pay respects to those who can make such a business go. To make it thrive is worthy of praise. Those who try and fail are due honorable mention.

The food was always good to excellent at the Lavina Crossing. Rose was a fine cook, maybe a better baker. She had the artist’s touch. Her son Jonathan made food that was even better and quicker to be served. He had lived and worked in large cities and foreign countries. He was willing to try anything once, or twice ....

Food and coffee generally drew people to the Cafe. In a small town, it was often for a place to meet up with someone. Coffee or coke or food was frequently an excuse to do it. My friend Kinerk used that reasoning to frequent the town eatery for a time. But, he really had fallen in love with Rose. Fallen in love by one standard or another. The relationship was sure to be platonic. Jim and Rose were kindred spirits. Much like Jim and Terry.

Maybe they were Star Beings like Kinerk. Jim and Rose had no end of things to talk about regarding the metaphysical realm, people and relationships, the state of the world. I sat in on but few of their conversations. So, I can only guess about the range of talk. Jim told it like this: “When I first met Rose I saw Awareness fairly shooting from her eyes. Over the next several weeks I had a chance to get to know her a little. She is an awesome being, one of the most powerful I have ever met. She seemed to have read just about everything and knew a lot about a lot. She had been in no formal groups or schools of New Age learning but always managed to find it wherever she was, even in central Montana where she searched the Internet for the latest in New Age thought. She is also incredibly creative and artistic. She can make a plate of hamburger and fries look too good to eat. I don't know how she does it. She also writes and draws and paints. She showed me a painting of an Indian woman which she had done and I swear I saw a soul looking back at me through the paintings eyes. It was as if the woman in the painting were alive.”

Rose and Jim had a keenly sympathetic connection. A mutual admiration society developed between the two. But, that became a thorn in Tom Wise’s side. Jim, who renamed the cafe as Rosa’s Cantina, had to find other venues to spend time with Rose. That turned out to be meeting at the Tea House when the opportunities arose. Or phone calls. For a number of years, Jim had to use emails and telephone connections scheduled around Tom to make contact with Rosa.

It was a sweet and really harmless arrangement they had, but Tom felt Rose’s affection for Jim nonetheless. He didn’t like it and thus he came to dislike Kinerk as well. Fortunately, time and circumstances change everything. As my old mother used to say, “It all comes out in the wash.” Tom and Rose inevitably sold the Cafe and embarked on other activities. Mr. Kinerk eventually stopped visiting the Great Northern Paradise. Jim and Rose stayed in touch for a long time, but communicated less and less over the years. Still, I am sure regardless of events that there mutual affection and admiration survives. That although Rose has passed on and Jim is not far from the gates.

Me O My, I Love Pie

Pie, Pie, Me oh my

Nothing tastes sweet, wet, salty and dry
All at once o well it’s pie
Apple! Pumpkin! Minced an’ wet bottom.
Come to your place everyday if you’ve got ‘em
Pie, Me o my, I love pie
Roy Blount, Jr.

Meat and potatoes and coffee may be the staples of a cafe or a restaurant. But, what’s a fella to do without dessert from time to time? That is what took me to the cafe more often than not. And Rosalia Wise’s pies were worth the visit. I could get away with stopping at the Cafe most any time, especially if I dropped in for pie. There were usually a few choices. Sour cream raisin and lemon meringue were my favorites. Strawberry with or without rhubarb pulled in third place. I could take Kinerk over for coffee and pie (his coffee and my pie) on occasion without raising Tom’s ire. We focused on dessert and talk. Tom had two paying customers and wouldn’t complain. When he wasn’t looking, Rose could wave or a wink at us.

I easily pass on meat offerings. But, don’t forget me when the dessert comes by. Pie, cake, cookies, pastries. I like pie. Family knows it and so do the neighbors. Rose Wise learned that really quick. I am sure she had her own attraction to desserts. Else she wouldn’t have taken so much time and pleasure in the lovely sweet treats she put together in back of the Cafe and later when she removed herself full time to the Bundy. Gooey, sweet, honey-laden baklava, creamy cream puffs, and chocolate delights were her top productions in my estimation. Would that Rosalia was still around to indulge my sugary interests and pass the time.

Online Reading

Bob’s Best Books