When I was Young No. 2; Butte, MT

Butte, MT

The first place I can remember outside of North Dakota is Butte, Montana. I was four and a half years old in the summer of 1941 and had two younger brothers Lowell and David. I had no idea why we were there. I don’t know how long we lived there, but we lived in the basement of a house on a steep hill right in the city. That is if you could call it a city – it was much smaller then. The first floor was on one level and opened to the street and the basement opened to the back somewhat like a daylight basement.

There was a vacant space just below the walkway to our door. The hill was so steep that when we went out the door we could see only the roof of the next house. There was a kitchen with a green enamel kerosene stove with an oven. The kitchen was also the living room. There were two bedrooms. We three brothers shared one even though David was a baby.

We still had our dog Jiggs; he followed me around whenever I wandered off. There was no such thing as a fenced yard in those days. Fences were only for keeping farm animals from wandering too far. And wander off I did. It was either that kids had more freedom in those days or that our mothers with children so close together had no energy to chase us.

I seldom went anywhere that I could not see where we lived. However, one morning I wandered off to places farther away than usual and probably had no idea where I was. As usual, Jiggs was with me; he probably knew the way home.

Kids did not have watches and probably could not tell time if they had one. I was told by Mother that I could count and understood some number concepts by the time I was three. That seems strange to me now because I could not do multiplication in my head until I was an adult.

I knew it was time for lunch when the bells on the clock tower in the center of town rang 12 times. And when the bell sounded six times I’d better be on the back stoop or inside.

When I heard the bell sound 12 that day, I started home without knowing which way to go. Without knowing it, I did a grid search. I just went up one street to the top end of town and down the next to the bottom end. If I had been smart, I would have taken the horizontal streets instead of the uphill and downhill streets. I eventually found the place where we lived.

Throughout my life, I often took the hard way first.

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