Uncommon Ground

Take Time

He told tales of his younger days, when lots on Whitefish Lake sold for $3,000

By Mike Jopek

We entered the thrift store seeking a new collar for our farm dog. People perused the aisles looking at used shirts, shoes, and assorted supplies. It was half price day. There was a checkout line.

The collar we bought had a metal clasp, not a plastic one like farm dogs seem to break. The little dog took his farm chore seriously. A new collar felt like a reward. Not sure he agreed. He favored the earned treats for jobs well done.

At Rod’s orchard we selected a yearling Jonamac apple tree that he’d grafted onto a cold hardy root stock years earlier, when his sickness first appeared, and he had more strength for work. Jonamac was a cross between a Jonathan and McIntosh trees. Firm, crisp with a sweet tart flavor. A perfect eater and one of Rod’s favorite apples.

Inside we visited, listened and talked. Our neighbor Dick, who we hadn’t met until now at Rod’s, was also visiting. He told tales of his younger days, when lots on Whitefish Lake sold for $3,000. I recalled, as we arrived fresh out of college, lots on the lake were $30,000. Neither of us had that kind of cash in our youth, regardless of the decade.

I reiterated a story that our elderly neighbor Gladys told us when we were young. Gladys said that in her younger days as they’d go to neighborhood potlucks, some folks would bring assorted Jell-O dishes versus traditional potato salad, as a signal that they had a bit of disposable cash and weren’t just dirt poor.

Gladys salvaged the nails from their first home after it burned to the ground, to rebuild. That was after the war, as rural electrification became more a part of Whitefish. One lifetime ago.

Rod said that in his younger days of smoke jumping, they wore Kevlar outerwear to protect themselves from tree limbs as they quickly descended from the sky onto the forest floor. Dick said pack herds would come gather the gear from the trail.

Rod’s young grandson awoke from the other room. After initial grogginess, he quickly noticed a jar on the table containing bugs, sitting next to the supplemental property tax notice that contained a big tax increase from the state. I gasped at the bill. How unfair of Montana, I thought. The grandson earlier collected the worms, centipedes and Rollie Pollies from the yard. He liked the worms best.

We noted how his pill bugs were dark in color while some of ours on the farm were tan. Rollie Pollies were crustaceans that become completely adapted to spending life on land. Rod suggested to his grandson that he dig for some of the red wigglers, the compost worms.

Seated in the recliner, Rod wore his thick down coat. His gray beard flowing over the top button of the green, puffy jacket. He closed his eyes, nodded off as we chatted, reawaken as if listening the whole time, enjoying how his grandson talked about bugs. It’d been a good day, many visitors. Rod smiled. He was in hospice, his live-funeral in the past. The end was closer.

Back on the farm, we planted the apple tree near the McIntosh. They’re fall apples but worth the wait, said Rod. The young tree was but a whip, a single branch on a root stock. It looked slight compared to Macs we’d recently pruned and plated some 20 years earlier, as whips.

The young farm dog ran about, eager to be done with the drive. His new collar still in the car. He’d caught scent of something under old cardboard mulch at the other end of the farm, and eagerly dug, then pointed as if the world’s problems would simply be fixed if I’d just come and see.