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Summer school at the University of Montana in 1977

August 26, 2015


Mount Sentinel had one of its grass fires that year. The first day the Missoulian newspaper headline said that the mountain had been destroyed. The next came a retraction, admitting that the mountain was intact, but the grass had burned. As usual, the fire was blamed on children.

My family and I had moved back to Missoula from Southern California the previous fall, when I resumed working on the journalism degree that I had abandoned 8 years previously. We had spent a cold winter in the warm apartment of student housing, one of the x’s. Sisson apartments. We had fun that year, and for the four years following as I finished journalism, then a pharmacy degree. I stuck with journalism because I had promised to do so, on an application for a $150 scholarship that I received in 1967 from the Montana Newspaper Guild. Eight years later I took courses from some of the same professors from 1967. Bob McGiffert. Nathaniel Blumberg. Also new ones. Jerry Holloron. Don Miller. This last one taught photography, and I took his class the following summer after I re-enrolled. Man! It was good to get back to Missoula. I walked into Elrod Hall and got the key to our apartment in Sisson. Just like that. Then we moved in. Missoula smelled like fall that September. I remember that it was the 22nd when we rolled into town. We had two Volkswagens. One of them had a disabled motor because it blew up just outside of Bozeman. I had been towing it behind a U-Haul truck. I had left the VW in first gear and when I towed it the engine started smoking and the volks got hard to pull. Later I took the burnt engine apart and found lots of small metal pieces that smelt like–burnt metal pieces.

Our kids were 2,4 and 5 years old. Our daughter was too young for school, but our younger son could go to Mrs. Everingham’s preschool at the university. Our older son went to a Montessori across from the campus. At least for a while. He had bad asthma and ended up in the hospital.

We couldn’t afford to pay the hospital bill, so I visited financial aid on campus. The man there got me a job helping with audio visual aids. That meant setting up projectors of various kinds in classrooms around the campus.

I went on a Cushman motor scooter to show a film in the science building. One about the baobab tree. The projector was at the front of the classroom, which shined onto a mirror that in turn shone on the back of a translucent screen. I got the film started. Then I left the projection room to watch the film.

What a fascinating film! The baobab tree is so important to a host of African creatures and people too. As the final credits rolled, I ducked back into the projection room.

The room was a great mass of film, piled up like hair on a barber’s floor. I saw to my dismay that the film had jumped off the take-up reel (because the reel was slightly pinched together).

I spent the next hour in the room winding up the errant film, which had much dirt and dust. I wound up the film by removing the reel from the projector and putting fingers in two of the peripheral holes, then going hand-over-hand. I mean, finger-over-finger.

I had only one more misadventure before I resigned my position with the audio visual service. The audience was about 500 world history students and I was trying to show a film that had been produced by Hitler for propaganda. Unfortunately the film warbled and ran poorly, until the professor came back and hissed, “turn off the sound! It sounds comical!”

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