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Fields of barley near Dillon

July 25, 2017

Jim Feathers’ daughter, wife Barbara, himself, and P. having supper recently in Dillon.

July 25, 2017

I confess.  I often nap after P. leaves for work in the morning.  This morning at 10 our daughter phoned me to shriek, “Get up!  Do something!”  Well, she was in Minnesota driving to their cabin to have it appraised for sale so they can move to SD, C.

Whenever I feel especially lazy all I have to do is consider my old friend Wade Hansen, the guy who climbed two mountains last weekend.  Or I consider our oldest son who Sunday completed an eleven-hour ordeal in which he swam 6 miles, bicycled 105, and ran 26.  Makes my trips around the block with Gunther seem like child’s play.

However, these super athletes clouded my vision so that I had difficulty contemplating ordinary athletes, the kind for whom a trip around the block is, well, a hike.

Of course, I am writing about my old friend, Jim Feathers, with whose family P. and I dined at the 50th reunion.  His wife Barb is a union carpenter.  Jim is a college professor at the University of Washington. Their daughter is going to UW next year, I believe.

I was the new kid in town.  In 1962, the year my mother took a job teaching college courses in education at Western Montana College in Dillon, I found it hard to adjust to being tormented by the other junior high students.  I mean, I didn’t torment anyone, but for some reason four or five of my fellows must have felt the need to physically and emotionally bother me each day as we walked home across this huge park.  Such a huge park it was hard for me to run across, even to escape.  It was even harder to run across while getting the “Struckman treatment.”  I don’t recall much more than the name they gave my hazing, but I do remember getting tossed to the ground.

One day in the eighth grade during art class Jim Feathers invited me to sit with him and a few others.  Turns out his dad also taught at Western and since he knew a bit about my family, I guess he considered me to be a legitimate person.  The hazing stopped.

Jim and I became best friends, inseparable.  Of course, when we went to Methodist summer camp at Flathead Lake the counselor separated us when we announced to her that we were inseparable.  Had one of the best weeks of my life.  I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere that they were liberal with sex education and one of the female counselors had me and the rest of a coed group leaf through a Playboy magazine!  She complained the women didn’t look good to her, but to me they were big and bouncy and thoroughly delightful.  Has to be one of the highlights of my high school years.  I don’t know if they did that with Jim’s group.

Well, I had a summer job moving irrigation pipes for Joe Helle, a major rancher in the Dillon area.  Hell, Joe ran cattle and sheep all the way from Yellowstone Park to Dillon, but he had to keep his barley crops watered with sprinklers.  That’s where me and a couple others came in.  The job meant getting up at dawn, driving five miles to the barley, shutting off the line of 50 40-foot pipes, then moving them about sixty feet.  We moved about three lines apiece, me and a couple other irrigators.  Then it was back home until about 4 p.m. when we’d move the pipe lines again.  We kept the lines straight by aiming them at a distant mountain.  Sometimes there’d be fish or a snake in the pipelines.  At the beginning of the summer we watered dirt.  By the end of the season the barley was so tall it was hard to walk through.

About the summer before our senior high school year I invited Jim to fill a job opening moving the pipes.  We got about $10/day, quite a lot in 1966.  Trouble was, Joe paid me a bonus for being in charge of teaching Jim the ropes.  Joe let me drive the truck and tractor when needed.  When Jim learned about this he grew angry, since we both did the same amount of work.  In fact, Jim slept in our basement and every morning I’d wake him at 4 a.m. and we’d eat cereal in silence.  I think the strenuous work, the getting up in the dark, the cold cereal, and the fact that I got paid more than he did, put our friendship on the rocks.  We didn’t speak, until at one point we were practically punching each other out.  Jim was so angry he threatened to burn down Joe Helle’s by-then golden fields of barley.

Jim and I didn’t speak our senior year until Jim extended his hand to me and suggested we mend our friendship.  I took it and promised to be his friend once more.  That was more than 50 years ago and we’re still friends.

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