Friday, October 07, 2022

Part II of III

Jack assured his son that everything would be all right.

The next morning, Jack awoke early, dressed, and went outside. The thermometer read 45 degrees, a cold contrast to the afternoon August temperatures in the 80s. The sky was crystal clear, the air clean and fresh. What a contrast, he thought, to last night’s stormy conditions. A pattern was forming in his mind: when things are tough in the mountains, they can be exceedingly so; when things are good, nothing really compares. Jack walked to the front of the RV and got his first surprise of the day. No more than 10 feet from where he backed up the RV in the dark last night was a ravine at least 40-feet deep. Incredibly, they had avoided a huge disaster. He decided not to discuss the matter with his family. Instead, after breakfast he carefully drove out of his space and took off on the day’s itinerary.

The morning was spent hiking in Waterton Lakes National Park, the afternoon in the prairie visiting Browning, Montana, the center of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. The Blackfeet were the only tribe never to have been forcibly subdued by either the US Seventh Cavalry or the Royal Canadian Mountain Police. Their existence as a “border” tribe made all the difference. Whenever the US Cavalry approached, the Blackfeet promptly left for Canada and, similarly, they headed back to the US whenever the RCMP appeared. Ultimately, Teddy Roosevelt ceded 1,000,000 sq. acres in Montana to the tribe and purchased another adjacent 1,000,000 sq. acres that belonged to the tribe to create Glacier National Park. To this day, the Blackfeet live where they lived in the days of the fur trappers, raising beautiful horses under the Big Sky of Northwest Montana.

The Blackfeet reservation was a beehive of activity the day Jack’s family came to visit. Daily demonstrations of tribal dances and rituals abounded. Our Jewish “pioneers” participated in one memorable Friendship dance with about 20 costumed tribe members. Following the dance, Jack befriended a young Blackfoot man named Wade Manyfeathers who agreed to guide the family around the reservation. Wade wore an authentic Indian costume, colorful and complete with beaded headdress. Jack instantly knew what he wanted to do. Wade’s belt had perfect space for the small, turquoise-handled camp axe Jack had purchased back east at Ramsey Sporting Goods on Route 17 in Paramus. As many a Jewish trader had done a century before, Jack offered the axe to Wade in exchange for guide services. Wade gladly accepted the gift and fulfilled his duties admirably.

Jack then drove the family to the next campground, which was in the prairie around St. Mary’s, MT. Everyone was hungry at this point and Jack prepared an outdoor barbecue whose centerpiece were the meat provisions from Calgary. Jack unwrapped the small grill he had purchased earlier roadside and started a fire on which to cook the food.

“Who wants hamburger, who wants hot dogs? Come and get it!”

Everyone gathered round, plate in hand, and commenced to eat. The hot dogs weren’t bad, but the hamburgers were somewhat rubbery and had little taste.

“That was really good,“ said Jack sitting by the fire in a folding chair near the RV door. “I was hungry.”

The kids picked at their hamburgers, but could only manage a few bites. Jack’s 11-year old daughter made the discovery of the night:

“Daddy, the wrapper that the hamburgers came in says: ‘Best if eaten by November 15, 1988.’ It’s August 1989! Yech! No wonder, it has no taste!”

Jack didn’t feel so good all of a sudden. He swallowed hard.

By Joe Rotenberg

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