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Some musings about the Portable Wall

December 19, 2016

A cover from The Portable Wall. Illustration by Dirk Lee.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

In 1976, after I was discharged from the marines, Dana and Hannah lived a short distance from us at University of Montana family housing in Sisson apartments.  I was still working on a journalism degree and I waited until the following summer of 1977 to take the required language.  I chose Spanish.  Dana taught me how to study a language by memorizing the vocabulary and in understanding how to conjugate the verbs and match them to the gender of nouns and pronouns.  She made it seem easy and I got A’s in Spanish.  At Penny’s suggestion, I gave Dana a rose.  In those days we had everything except much money.

The building where we lived was shaped like a huge “X,” one of two about a quarter mile from the university campus.

That’s about the same time I started the Portable Wall magazine.  In fact, I took a class in photography, one in Spanish, and a seminar from Wilbur Wood the summer of 1977.  My project in Wilbur’s class, titled “Journalism and Poetry,” was to start a small magazine.  Dana contributed $10 toward the first issue and thereby earned the right to name it after a wall at the so-called “Church House” on West Main Street, near other hippie enclaves on Front Street in Missoula.  The non-portable Church House wall had a lot of witty graffiti, including “life is what we do while waiting to die.”

I don’t know how many people lived in Church House in the late 1960s, but the building was a two-story duplex with bedrooms and bath upstairs, kitchen and living room down.  The place was in pretty rough shape, perfect for any and all of us to sleep anywhere we could find room.  I remember that Dana lived there and slept on springs without a mattress.  Seriously.  Just springs with a sheet and light blanket.  I don’t know how she did it.

Years later, when our kids rented a room next door from Church House, I took a roll of film of the venerable old duplex.  I looked for the photos just now, a bunch of nondescript pictures showing the south-facing back porch with a beat up old couch.  Great for watching the snow melt and Spring arrive.  I couldn’t find the photos, but no matter.


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