Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Living The Big Sky Life: Geography Has Made Us Neighbors

A continuation of “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” …

It was a year and a half before we finally got around to having an official housewarming party to celebrate the acquisition of our new home on the range.

Fifteen months of country living had simply flown by in our consuming fury to finish up the construction of Chef’s licensed catering kitchen in the walk-out basement portion of the new house. By the time we had the final permit in hand, we realized that we’d better hurry up and have that fully catered BBQ we’d been talking about for over a year. And we’d better do it before the warm fall weather took an irreversible turn for the frigid.

Signs of Fall in our backyard around what's left of the duck pond
Yet with the unintended passing of time, went our original motive for having the housewarming party in the first place. It had now become less about inviting our friends over to see the house or getting acquainted with our inherited neighborhood, and more about introducing our new catering business. The reality was our friends had been hanging out at the house for more than a year, and we knew more about our neighbors than we ever needed to know thanks to the narrated updates regularly delivered by my daughter who enjoyed making frequent after-school visits to the households along our street, especially to those without young children.

The afternoon school bus routinely saw my daughter dropped off in the same place it picked her up every morning; namely, at the top of our street in front of the corner house belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Casey. Mr. Casey was a retired school teacher and former coach, which might’ve explained why he had that enormous asphalt ball court with a stand-alone basketball hoop in front of his oversized detached garage, and no one around to enjoy it. After we moved in, Mr. Casey had a postcard-variety big red barn built on the back half of his property which always seemed strange to me. Not because it stuck out like a red sore thumb in that it aesthetically clashed with everything around it (including his house), but because he had no large farm animals or any apparent purpose for it.

I had little doubt that Mrs. Casey probably preferred the retired Mr. Casey to be out of her house as much as possible during the day, so there was rarely an afternoon when my daughter didn’t spend at least a few minutes chatting with Mr. Casey who’d be predictably doing chores around the property when the school bus made its daily deposit near the front of his house.

It would seem that no neighborhood could be complete without at least one family like “The Cleavers”, and the “Ward and June Cleaver” of our lane lived across the street from us between the Casey’s and Mr. and Mrs. Claus (Carl and Milly). We never called them Ward and June though. We called them James and Brenda. They were Florida transplants who brought with them three small children, a substantial net worth from sources unknown, and eventually James’ widowed mother who acquired the vacant lot at the end of the cul-de-sac where she built a custom house to live in whenever she felt the need to swap Florida’s humid heat for Montana’s dry summers.

The first neighborhood Christmas party we attended was hosted by James and Brenda, and I found it hard not to empathize with Brenda’s ambitious attempt to bring civilization to the wild west as she struggled to be the “hostess with the mostess” under the party planning tutelage of her idol, Martha Stewart. It made me wonder if June Cleaver ever felt the same kind of pressure to be perfect from Julia Childs.

Living in the house on the other side of Carl and Milly were the Perkins. Like many of the men throughout the Stumptown community, Mr. Perkins was a long-timer with the Burlington Northern Railroad, and would typically be gone for days at a time while working at riding the rails into eastern Montana and back again. From the many closings I performed at the title company in Whitefish, it became obvious early on that working for the railroad provided one of the best livings (above minimum wage) to be had in the area.

Mrs. Perkins was a homemaker who appeared to keep herself busy with arts and crafts projects, and caring for their three little terriers. She was very partial to my daughter, and so particular about whom she’d let care for her children, I mean dogs, that whenever she’d be gone for more than half a day, it was often my daughter who did the babysitting. In fact, one Friday afternoon she dropped by my office in town to see if my daughter could care for her dogs that night because she had to leave unexpectedly. When I told her my daughter would be spending the night with a girlfriend and wouldn’t be home, I watched my neighbor’s face sink with despair. She was so distressed that I felt compelled to offer to care for the dogs myself. It was only one night after all, and I’ve cared for many a child and pet over the years. I figured I could handle it, but Mrs. Perkins didn’t seem to agree, and left me standing there, mouth agape, as she passed up my generous offer on her way out the door. All righty then.

In the cul-de-sac, next to James’ Floridian mother, lived the Cannen's. Mr. and Mrs. Cannen oozed their New York roots from every pore. They owned the Par 3 Golf Course on the east side of Highway 93, just north of Highway 40 in south Whitefish. Mr. Cannen was a fast talking east coaster who always had a sly twinkle in his eyes which seemed to go right along with his cheery, almost Gollum-like, quasi-toothless grin. Mrs. Cannen looked as if she could’ve been the long-time wife of an old mob boss, and she appeared to fit into the Montana mountain mama scene about as well as I did. The Cannen's seemed to really enjoy the way my daughter would simply drop by unannounced for no other reason than to socialize. I always liked that the Cannen's never tried to hide or make excuses for who they were, east coasters gone west. Take ‘em or leave ‘em. No skin off of their brusque hides either way.

Between our ranch house and the Cannen’s, resided a nice young couple, Sam and Mary Ellen. They moved in with several barking rottweilers and two young boys about a year after we did. They were Flathead Valley natives who were looking for enough space to have horses, and once attained, they expected to never move again. They began acquiring those horses as soon as they were settled in. Their boys should be all grown up by now, and there's no doubt in my mind that Sam and Mary Ellen are still living in that house.

The neighbor who lived in the house on the other side of us was Peyton, with her teenage son, Michael. They also shared our large duck pond in the back. Peyton was widowed shortly before we moved in, and I would venture to say that she was my daughter’s favorite neighbor because she’d often chose to spend her after-school afternoons just hanging with Peyton. Peyton was a nice lady who kept pretty much to herself, although we did share several dramatic episodes when my daughter’s cat decided to get aggressively territorial in territory belonging to Peyton’s cat … a story for another time.

We had a well on the far front corner of our property, and it was a community well that provided water not only to our house, but to four other homes on the street including, Sam and Mary Ellen's, Carl and Milly's, the Perkins', and a nameless neighbor's house on the other side of Peyton. I have to say, of all things to have to share, I was always glad we shared that well because whenever there was a problem, it became a community problem and expense, and not ours alone to bear.

The septic tank and leach lines were another matter altogether. Definitely a story for another time.

Living The Big Sky LifeTM
© by DK King

1 comment:

  1. I feel like I know your neighbors....I think they are my neighbors, too! I live in WA State in the mountains near a small logging town, transplanted from the East Coast. We have lots of characters here, too. I just found your blog and am enjoying your stories.

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