Sunday, June 20, 2010

Maraschino Cherries

I owe my existence to maraschino cherries.  Hard to believe but true.

My parents met while working in the summer of 1950 at Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone National Park.  Mom had been working as a statistician for a small company named Honeywell in Minneapolis after her graduation from the University of Minnesota several years before, and my father, whose college career at Miami University in Oxford OH, had been interrupted by World War II, was just beginning medical school at Case Western.

Mother was a hostess at Old Faithful and Dad was a bartender.  Most of the summer jobs at Yellowstone were filled by college students, or post-college students, and apparently Mom was dating a garbageman at the time.  But she really, really liked maraschino cherries and would sweet talk the bartenders into giving her some during her shift.  Which is how she met my father, and the rest, they say, is history.

The stories were pretty fun, like the time mother and some friends made a long stretch of pipe that ran from the Old Faithful Lodge to the geyser and as the hour approached for the geyser to blow, one of the workers would go out and crank the wheel on top of the pipe, and sure as shootin' Old Faithful would erupt shortly thereafter.   Mother reported that one couple from New York walked away in disgust, with the husband exclaiming, "I knew it was a fraud."

Dad mentioned going out skinny dipping in a lake in back country, falling asleep in the sun and awakening to a very painful sunburn.

As their relationship got more serious, they planned to introduce each other to their respective relatives, when they travelled to Yellowstone to see them.  Each visit was a disaster.  Mother's parents showed up after war was declared in Korea and the talk was that the draft would be reinstated.  My father and several of his friends, learned of this and fatalistically thought that they would be drafted.  So that afternoon, they got rather drunk and were waltzing with each other in the parking lot, when my mother's parents drove up.

My dad's sister Caralou and her husband, Chuck, drove down from Casper, WY to see Dad.   He let Mom know that they were coming to the dining room that night and to be sure to give them a good table.  Instead, she didn't recognize them from the description and seated them right next to the kitchen.

Aunt Caralou, Dad, and Mom in Yellowstone, 1950

Although each got off to a shaky start with the other side of the family, they persevered and were married the next summer:  Aug. 10, 1951.

They started taking us to Montana in the mid 60's for summer vacations at a working dude ranch named Lone Mountain.  It was midway between Bozeman and Yellowstone, so sometimes, we would get a trip to Yellowstone thrown in so they could revisit and reminisce. 

The dude ranch was sold to Chet Huntley and became Big Sky, a ski resort.  I've never been, but I understand it is pretty spectacular.  I think I prefer my memories of sleeping in a rustic log cabin with the corrals within walking distance and going on day long trail rides where sometimes you'd run into a mother moose and her babies or get caught in spectacular lightning storms.  I remember long car rides on the drive from Ohio to Montana, where we'd play endless car games like the animal game or the alphabet game, or if things got really bad, mother would pull out the rosaries and we would say a full mystery to calm us down.  I remember waking up from a nap to see a herd of antelope sprinting up a hill in eastern Montana.  And the time we took the plane to Bozeman instead of driving, getting caught in a terrible storm in the prop plane.  The adults were white knuckling it, sure we were going to crash, but all us kids could do was say "Whee" when the plane took another precipitous dip. 

These days Montana is east, not west for me, but I wonder if those vacations didn't instill in me my deep love of large vistas and mountains, ultimately leading me to Seattle.

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