- November 16, 2016
- Posted by Brenna Sellars
We spent four days split between Libby and Eureka, Montana. Two towns I had passed through previously, stopped at gas stations, checked in at ranger stations. I’d never really experienced either of these small towns.
Eureka was first. We were our first client’s “captive audience” in his small RV home with a long view of the fields surrounding it. As Forrest and I put plastic over the aluminum framed windows, the client showed Jennifer over-flowing photo albums and told stories: of rebuilding a beautiful Model T with his buddy, now passed; about his family, particularly his mother and her parents, who were of German descent. He brought out his mother’s elaborately decorated birth certificate, and told vague recountings of her sharing a birthday with Anastasia (as in Romanov) as he intimated his belief that his mother might be her - Anastasia. “The body in Anastasia’s grave was too short to be her, you know.”
Day two in Eureka started off pretty weak with a household less that thrilled to have us there but was quickly redeemed when a young single mother answered our waiting list call. We showed up at her small house with chickens roaming in the backyard and plants filling up all the windows. She and her young daughter made us feel very welcome as we insulated her back door and gave her some efficiency pointers. She felt like a unique presence in this conservative town - her two jobs were at the health food store and the garden center/nursery; she had veggie and herb plants growing all throughout her house; and she had picture cut outs of art and artists mounted in her cabinet doors.
Libby was next. This day was punctuated by an early morning, rain, and an older bachelor’s home that he didn’t want us inside of. The glimpse I got into the front room was of tables and other surfaces piled with things: spilled cereal, work gloves, boxes both empty and full stacked precariously on each other. The ceiling was largely caved in with the plaster hanging down, the door was broken, there were beer brand towels as wall hangings in the back. There were a few moments in which we couldn’t tell if he was about to cry or if his breath was just catching. We simply stood there in the rain, for about an hour, and listened. Heard about his friends who had died from asbestos poisoning in the last year. Heard about his father who had built this house so many decades ago. He needed someone new to tell his stories to.
Our last day, Friday, had two very different appointments. The first was an incredible survivor of a man. Already a cancer survivor, he’d just recently had a failed knee surgery and a massive heart attack while in the hospital post-surgery. Now also a survivor of a quadruple bypass surgery, he kept saying to us, “I’m not crying, I know how lucky I am to be here.” He was so kind, so grateful to have us there, so happy that this program exists. Our goodbyes lasted almost five minutes with him wishing Forrest, Jennifer and I all the happiness in the world for our next endeavors.
Our last appointment for the week was in a small one bedroom apartment in a funny little complex. As soon as we walked in, we were hit by the overwhelming smell of cigarette smoke. The air was hazy and nicotine colored. When Forrest and I walked back outside to gather the proper supplies, we gasped in the fresh air and vowed to do these windows as quickly as possible. As we wiped down window frames, our Clorox wipes came back black and the streaks of liquefied nicotine smudged our arms. As we sealed her in with her smoke, she pressed the handle down *ka-chunk* on her cigarette roller, producing a several inch high pile of some of the longest cigarettes I’ve ever seen. Our rush to leave the thick smoky air was slowed by her wish to hug each of us and really express her gratitude.
On the drive back to Kalispell, I thought about the incredible variety of folks we saw in 13 households, in 4 days. I know a little more about the communities that exist in these two small Montana towns, and I am richer for it.
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