After traveling from Trenton, NJ, I was going through a part of Montana unknown to me. I forgave myself; Montana is a big piece of real estate. A trip to cities along the Hi-Line, the east-west road that runs along the top of the state is a fair trip. Endless wheat fields extending north into Saskatchewan and Alberta, small towns, large farm headquarters, some like small towns, all disappeared in the wake of the speeding Empire Builder. I watched it all from the Vista dome, trying to take it all in, watching the snow-capped peaks of Glacier Park rising in the distance. It was all really quite nice.
Soon, perhaps too soon, the announcement for Havre MT came. I returned to my compartment, gathered my things, made my goodbyes to my Village friend, said I will look you up when I get back, stepped off the train into the arms of my dear sweet family.
It was good to be home; well, shocking really. After 18 months of new, to be suddenly back in the uber familiar actually took a bit of getting used to. I enjoyed my family, getting caught up, remarking how much more mature Donna and Janice had become, listening to tales of my relatives and my folk’s friends, changes to Helena. I matched it all with endless babbling of what I had done and seen, where I had been and, when eyes glazed, I returned to the old standby of what-ever-happened-to and the conversation reignited.
My folks and my sisters were home for a couple of days, perhaps it was a weekend, but then returned to work and school. I was left alone, in the house, sunlight streaming through the windows. I was a bit at wit’s end.
My folks made a car available so I cruised around Helena. The familiarity of Helena crushed back, clearly showing how little had changed, how much I had changed, my horizons broadened. It was all there, nestled under the Cathedral: Last Chance Gulch, Cathedral High, Carroll College, the Capitol. I drove up into the dry gulches with their abandoned mines. I stopped by my dad’s sheet metal shop and saw my Uncle Tink, Red Drennon and some new faces. Weggeman’s Market was still there, the 4B’s, the RB drive-in, Wong’s Chinese Restaurant defining exotic only 18 months ago. The pizza joint I had worked in, checked off the list. Around noon, I stopped by the bank where my mother worked and took her to lunch, she proudly showing off her officer son. It was the right thing to be doing, I was following the path of the good son, and I enjoyed it.
I checked around to see if any of my old friends, the few there had been, were around but everyone had flown the coop. They were working out of town and out of state, some were in the military, others were in law school or medical school; I was the anomaly, back in Helena.
My dad and I went fishing out to Canyon Creek; we went to the lake with my mother’s family; I drove around some more. And time passed, I don’t remember much more than I related, except for the rising tide of wanting to be off. The one thing I do remember is the feeling my voyage of discovery was not over. I came to terms with how much I had changed, repeating my earlier position I could never live in a tiny town again.
The leave, two weeks no less, passed without incident. The airline mechanics strike still on, I went back to New Jersey by train. It seems though I took a different route, more southerly. I traveled along the Yellowstone River, stopping in Billings. I wish I had taken better notes. But, in any event, I arrived in Trenton a couple of days later, Ron picked me up and I was back to work the next day.