Friday, February 15, 2008

Big Timber on a Saturday Night

Big Timber on a Saturday Night
For as long as anyone can remember, Bob DeCock’s focus has been automobiles—cars and trucks—and he also gathered up old machinery by the acre. He was collecting classic old Ford pickups and restoring them long before it was popular. He never married—too busy mechanic-ing.

Mary Lody was a rancher’s wife. When she was widowed, she continued to ranch but needed help when aging equipment broke down. She called on Bob just like everyone else in the neighborhood does when they need an obsolete replacement part or repairs on an aging outfit.

When the spark lit…it went just like wildfire in a stubble field and they were married in short order. That was last year when Bob was in his fifties. Now he acts like a young kid. Side by side, he and Mary greet each day. And because Bob and Mary’s wedding dance had been so much fun, they decided to invite the Big Timber community to an anniversary dance. It was held last night in the basement of the Legion.

The gathering was reminiscent of old school house dances that I can remember as a kid…people in the community getting together and making their own entertainment. Potluck food along one wall, coats piled in the back and the dance floor sprinkled with a little sawdust. It is customary to “pass the hat” to help pay for the expense of a band and a sound system. Those with musical talent take a turn at the mike when the band takes a break.

Rick and I gravitated to the Sanders and Richerts table. Lynn was strumming gingerly on his guitar after rotator cuff surgery earlier this month. The deep richness of Lynn’s voice always surprises me coming from this all-business rancher. It is the feeling he puts to it, the warmth and sincerity that belies his gruff exterior.

Steve introduced a friend of his daughter as “the most beautiful girl in the high school...and the strongest too.” She was a pretty girl; proudly wearing a jacket embroidered with “FFA Agronomy Champion,” she seemed to take the joking in stride. There was a buzz as neighbors and families were enjoying each other’s company--high school kids visiting with their parents and grand daughters dancing with granddads.

Schotts drove all the way over from Belgrade for the occasion. Carol is a Raisland and her father Benny is playing the accordion. Rick asks about her girls, he is partial to Ellen who is now working at the bank. I praise their youngest daughter, Susan, thinking how carefully she had taken Xrays of my hand after the colt kicked me last fall. Brother Elmer has a serious look on his face as he dances with his wife. It makes me smile to see the family resemblance to Earl. Hard working German Earl has more going on than the average person realizes. Under his jovial fun-loving exterior is a good human being with great affection for kids even though he has never parented. Never married. He has a deep love for his nieces and never missed the girls’ basketball game at home or away.

Over the years, we’ve had the good fortune to have shared ranching chores back and forth with Earl Schott. Earl is the first neighbor to our loading chute when we’re shipping calves to market and in turn Rick pulls a trailer load of Earl’s cows when they head to summer pasture. He lends a hand irrigating and stacking hay in exchange for feed. And last year when Rick broke his leg, Earl and his brother Dale were right there to help out.

I continue to reflect on the goodness of this family and I think of Earl’s sister, Jenette. She has worked at the nursing home in Big Timber for years. It warms me to see how tenderly she gave my mother her bath. The residents thrive under her care because they get more than just their basic needs met. Their spirits are nourished by her love.

Now Earl’s family members are part of the swirl of people who make their way across the dance floor. After a bit of hesitation, Rick asks me to dance. Instead of one-two, one-two, he steps one-and-a-half with his left foot and a half-hop with his right. It is coming on six months now since he broke his leg, and it still takes some limbering up to get it working. Other younger more energetic dancers whirl past us, their cowboy boots cla-lomping on the floor as they make wide swings with their partners. Mary’s father is dancing with her mother. Still recovering from a stroke, he shuffles his feet.

Mary Lody’s mother is a spry lady in her 70’s. She steers her husband to the platform and encourages him to play his guitar which he does smiling as a man reborn after a stroke. She listens intently until she hears the key and then she begins to play the piano. Sometimes sitting, sometimes standing, she gives it all she’s got playing the tune and adding notes all along the way. Bouncing up and down until it seems the piano is jumping with her; she brought the house down playing her favorite old western tunes.

I marvel at what a wonderful way for Mary to have grown up watching the love between her parents. The mother artistic in music. The daughter artistic on canvas. And then the band plays “Have I told you lately that I love you?” Mary and Bob never take their eyes off each other as they dance.

Older generations bent and bow-legged, younger generations limber and energetic. All of them part of the fabric of this small ranching community. Big Timber, Montana, is a special place. It is all about families and it is why we do what we do.