Thanksgiving in August ~~Aug 24, 1992
While thousands in Homestead, FL had their lives rearranged today;
Locked in fear and lost in heartbreak.
Hurricane Andrew had struck with force!
We felt so lucky. We felt such sorrow.
The past few weeks has been has been filled with delightful anticipation, preparations, laughter & wonder. I’m not sure what magnetic force was pulling at the heartstrings of so many, this particular time of year; all with the want to share their time at our home. I’m still amazed how this all came to be.
About a month ago our phone started ringing off the hook!
First was Keith’s cousin Butch’s call. He and Debbie are going to make a loop from Whitefish east, down our way and back through Missoula & Darby, then they will be heading west towards home. Starting out in Olympia, they figured they’d be arriving at our doorstep Thursday August 20th and would stay for about one week. (He wants to check out the hunting possibilities while here!)
Four days later, the second call came from Uncle Leonard. He wants to surprise Clint with a visit. I had yet to meet this man and was thrilled with his plans to arrive via Amtrak, from St.Paul, MN, the 20th also!
Clint is already here. He arrived in May. Keith’s Dad is such a lonely man, with a heart so huge it seems to be exploding with enough love to share around the world twice, and then again. He has become a ‘fixture’ at our home on the ranch in Montana these years.
No more than 6 hours after Uncle Leonard’s call, was one from Danny. He is going on vacation, and is wondering if he could spend it here riding and helping at the ranch, as he always enjoys doing. He likes to escape the city, the rat race of Boeing. Would that be OK ? Okay is not the word! He will be bringing Kelli (daughter), this time and they will be here Saturday the 22nd, he said.
Keith has been so excited these 3 weeks anticipating our brother-in-law’s visit. His best friend! The one person he’s missed the most having left Washington when we came here to the ranch in Montana. Danny comes several times a year and each time is anticipated like it is the first, by both Danny and Keith!
Two days later, Dave and Gail call. Are we going to be around the 21st through the 25th they wanted to know? They too, need a vacation from Boeing. They are going on a road trip and wanted to stop here for a few days. Now that is a dumb question! They know, as everyone knows, when ‘working for the brand’, you are always at home! You may be in the mountains or out on the range, but most nights you lay your head on the pillow, in the comforts of your own bed.
Let’s count now…Butch & Deb=2; Clint makes 3. Uncle Leonard=4; Danny & Kelli makes it 6. Now with Dave & Gail, the total has reached 10, counting Keith and I!
How much better can this get?
A houseful overflowing through the eaves, when we only have each other most of the time.
It was about to get better! 12 days ago, Elaine called. She wants to take the train to come visit us, is that OK? She is thinking the 20th or 21st.
Uh-oh….people, dates, they all raced through my brain calculating, quickly, putting pieces of this puzzle together. When and who was arriving from where and for how long. Quickly I asked, if her much welcomed trip could begin the 20th. That would mean only one trip into Havre for me.
As I hung up the phone I was overwhelmed, I sat at my quilting frame with tears streaming down my cheeks. I wasn’t crying because of the number of people who were about to embark into our lives at once. Nor was I concerned with the total bodies sharing one bath, the food bill or whether this old ranch house, which was actually 3 old structures put together over time, would bust apart at the seams with 11 under one roof.
No, I was feeling so blessed that so many of our friends and families from far away, not just in miles, but in lifestyles, wanted to visit! And at the same time! Elaine’s call brought a surge of excitement and thankfulness. She is the person who introduced Keith and me years ago in that Cowboy bar, The Trails End. She is the one we thank every day, enabling us to set out on life’s journey, seeking our dreams.... together.
The upstairs was first on my agenda. I quickly finished the quilt (luckily, it only lacked binding the edges) and matching pillow shams that I’d been working on, when barely a month ago, the calls and the plans for visitors started falling into place.
Being the worry wart that I am, wanting everyone to be comfortable, to give each their own space was a huge challenge that I took on with diligence & pleasure. Each visitor is totally different than the next, from their personalities to their tastes. The only thing they all have in common, so different from Keith's and mine, are their lifestyle. All are coming from very populated parts of Washington & Minnesota. Their neighbors can hear them sneeze in the night. They are coming to our quiet little niche in the world, far, far away from city noises, from amenities; a far different way of life than any of them will ever live.
The upstairs bedroom, with its massive collection of boxes filled with fabrics, books, and other unpacked items were organized. The new quilt and shams adorned the bed. (I have this tendency to never totally unpack as we move so much in our lives; we just need to move boxes the next time, all packed and ready to go!) This will be Butch and Debbie’s room.
Just outside this bedroom door is my quilting, drawing and crafting room. You walk through this space before you come to the stairs heading down. This is my little sanctuary where I let my creative juices flow. How do I rearrange this space, to allow other people into the private solitary space I call my own? This room took some serious consideration. It would be the ‘bachelor’ quarters. Clint, Leonard, & Danny would adorn this room via the floor covered in quilts, pillows and suitcases. Clothes could be hung on the hooks I cleared of ‘projects in the works’. They would have to learn not to stumble over each other in their midnight quest for the bathroom…downstairs. They need to be arranged as to avoid the comings and goings from the bedroom next to them.
I had to dismantle my drawing table and my old wooden quilting frame, which I hid under and beside the bed in the bedroom next door, in order to accomplish this feat.
It was done successfully.
Dear Elaine, would be granted the couch covered with the first quilt I made. It is chalked full of memories with childhood clothing outgrown by the kids. She has known the kids since they were 2 and 3 years old. She will remember this swatch from Heidi’s dress, or that one from Chad’s first day of school shirt. She will be content.
Last but not least, I cleaned up Keith’s bed roll for Kelli, to use on the living room floor behind the couch where Elaine would rest. She would be out of the way there so as not to be walked on during the early morning stirring and preparations of the day by Keith, Danny and I.
I’ve spent many hours scouring, rearranging, and baking these past two weeks. My energy levels are running in overdrive. Motivation and anticipation have over powered the need for sleep!
I have amazed myself that I managed to can 18 pints of beans and 7 quarts of carrots; finished the quilt and pillow shams. I rode with the guys two days moving bulls to a different pasture. I made 8 loaves of bread, 5 batches of cinnamon rolls, 4 batches of brownies, 5 dozen oatmeal cookies, 5 dozen peanut butter cookies and 6 dozen of my "pocket sandwiches" for the working men. Thank goodness we have a huge freezer! I have made 2 gallons of trail mix, jerked some more beef. This was to be our biggest gathering of family and friends in several years. I wanted everyone to feel at home, feed them well, give them days to remember, while at the same time show them what life on a ranch is all about. I wanted memories to be made by all.
Thursday, I tricked Clint in to staying home while I made the 60 mile trek into Havre. (I told him he would regret having to ride in the car with Elaine and I giggling and full of girl talk.)
With two and one half hours to kill before Elaine’s arrival from the West, Uncle Leonard and I set out on the quest of purchasing groceries. Our house was filling up quickly and feeding such a large crew was going to require more groceries than my pantry could spare.We bought a 24 # turkey, 50# of potatoes. There were sweet potatoes to be had which meant marshmallows! He saw the Granny Smith apples and thought we should have a pie made from them. I winced when I saw their price at $3.99/lb, but didn’t show him. For this crowd, it would mean two or three pies, which meant a lot of apples & a lot of dollars. We loaded up with bacon, sausage, 5 dozen eggs, 6 gallons of milk, (4) 3# cans of coffee. As we continued to shop, we laughed like we had known each other for years! He even pushed the cart for me, which was a treat since I’m usually by myself lugging cartfuls through the store.
At the check out stand, the grand total came to…$233.56. That is a lot of money when our wages are slim! I was silently thinking as I heard every ping on the register, it’s a good thing we have a freezer full of beef, ranch provided. I didn’t really didn't care. We so rarely have guests unless it is other ranch hands and their families. I reached in my purse for my checkbook and the cashier said “Thank you, have a great time!”
As it turns out, in one of Leonard’s disappearing acts, he had gone to the checkout stand (which he made sure I chose that one!) and left a blank check or cash, I don’t know which, to cover our purchases! What a sweetheart of a man!
With 45 minutes until Elaine’s train came in from the West, Uncle Leonard and I decided to chose a small café near the station to grab some coffee and a sandwich. I could have sat all day with him, listening to the stories he had to tell. I sure love this man, as I do Clint!
Elaine’s arrival was filled with laughter and hugs that would not quit! Our chatter was non-stop. Even Leonard offered to drive us home if I'd give him the directions, maybe so he could ignore our childlike giggling. That was an easy choice. And it is an easy route.
(I did forget to tell him about the turn off for the short cut through Box Elder. It did not matter. We all just laughed).
Approaching our drive, from the ridge overlooking our home deep in the coulee, I could see that Butch & Debbie had arrived. Clint was napping, but we had plenty of hands to carry in our raid of the grocery store.
While the five of us were laughing and catching up on things, there was something stirring in Clint’s slumber on the couch. He awoke seemingly confused. His sock clad feet slowly veered toward the kitchen where all the racket was coming from, because something deep in his dreams from his past had awakened him, had been causing an 'itch that needed scratched' he said.
To his sleepy surprise, there stood his brother! Leonard!
It was the most elating experience to see these two brothers at that moment come together!
I will treasure that feeling, that vision forever!
Dave and Gail arrived Friday as we were enjoying the warm afternoon, sitting under the cottonwoods. Their last visit had been in the dead of Winter and they were pleased to see that it does get green here. Keith was working still, so the 8 us of lingered and laughed, the hours passed quickly. As the sun began to set, a chill was settling in the air.
Danny and Kelli pulled in around 10 pm on Saturday. Little did we know, but dragging behind in Danny's tracks~ was SNOW! Upon awakening in the early morning hours, we couldn't help but wonder if Danny’s sly sense of humor inspired him to lasso this storm coming over the Rockies, only to be deposited here on the prairie! We were covered in a white wintry blanket of snow! Not unheard of in Montana for a summer snowfall, but this 6 inches was a lot!
Today, the weather was cold and dreary, still lingering from yesterday's snowfall...perfect for a Thanksgiving in August! We had turkey, stuffing, candied sweet potatoes, homemade rolls, the whole works! Even 3 apple pies!
Little Joe gave Keith the day off, so we all were able to share in the cooking, the pranks, the laughter; the telling of big tales or small ones, new ones or changed ones. The house was alive with an electrifying spirit.
Everyone pitched in for the massive cleanup and mountains of dishes to wash. We had a real assembly line going as there is not much room for movement. It was the most fun I've ever had doing dishes! And we used every dish towel I owned! (Tomorrow, I must remember to do laundry).
As late evening settled in, we gathered in the living room, languishing in the memories of today, from the bounty we all shared. Our bonds grew tighter, we were wrapped in an enormous camaraderie only the 11 of us will know.
I'm pretty sleepy now as the clock shows 1:15 am.
As I put my pencil down, I think about the bittersweet day that has past.
While we enjoyed our Thanksgiving feast together, we also gave our solemn prayers to those in Homestead, Florida who lives were cruelly, and forever changed.
It has been 16 years today. I still remember it like it was yesterday.
The wonderful time the eleven of us shared together, packed into our home,
in the far away lands of Montana.
The snowfall, the love, the joy....and the sorrow for those in Florida.
Since that day, we have lost two of those special people who shared so much in our lives, who helped fill our hearts with memories~ that August of 1992.
Our Brother-in-law, Danny and Keith's Father, Clint.
We thank them....
and we will forever love and miss them....
(*PS...I still, to this day, do not completely unpack all of our boxes...one never knows what tomorrow's wind might blow our way!)