My Home Town
When the subject of home-towns comes up, the conversation usually goes something like this:
"Where are you from?"
"I grew up in Chicago."
" Ah -the "Windy City!"
Or: "I'm from Minneapolis."
Ah - the good old Midwest!'
My response, "I grew up in Plentywood, Montana," usually elicits a blank stare. When I add, "It's halfway between Outlook and Antelope," it doesn't seem to help much. I usually get, "Never heard of it!"
It isn't surprising. Tucked into the northeastern corner of Montana, it isn't on the way to anywhere. Why my hardy, homesteading parents chose to settle there is beyond me. The name is a misnomer. There isn't a whole lot of wood there. But I do have to admit the sparse line of trees clinging to the banks of the Little Muddy River do provide a bit of green as it meanders from the north to the southeast through the "Old Townsite", a nice change from the flat, treeless prairie that extends in every direction as far as the eye can see. There again, "river” is hardly the right word. Most of the year it is a mere rivulet commonly known as "the crick".
Plentywood, a town of less than a thousand people when I lived there, had a Carnegie library, three churches, a Farm Labor Temple (and that is a story in itself) a drug store, a J.C. Penney's, a grocery store, a meat market, a bank, a car agency, and assorted other businesses and stores, among them a candy store run by our neighbor, Mosie Marconi, an Italian immigrant. It never occurred to me to wonder at the time, but it has since. How did he provide for a family of five on what he could make in that candy store? They did have a large vegetable garden. That sticks in my memory, because one summer afternoon
little Pasqualina and my little sister, Eleanor, discovered the garlic patch and apparently indulged themselves in enough sampling that my mother wondered if she should let Eleanor in the house when she came home.
Oh, yes, there were a couple of restaurants. One was owned by Harry Koiki, a Japanese immigrant. I had left the area before World War II broke out, but I heard tales that when the authorities went to talk to Harry they found guns and ammunition in his basement. I have always questioned that story. As far as I know, the Koiki family was the only Japanese family in the whole area. I'm afraid they would have waited a long time for the Japanese army to attack northeastern Montana.
The school (first through twelve -no such frills as a kindergarten) stood facing south on a rise at the top of Main Street. The main building was brick and housed the High School. The lower grades were in smaller buildings on either side. From the second floor one could see some 8 or 10 blocks down Main Street, almost to where the Great Northern railroad track bisected the town. At this point the general appearance of the buildings took a down turn. The expression "living on the wrong side of the tracks" could have originated in Plentywood. Beside the railroad track at the west edge of town stood the grain elevator, a standard fixture by any railroad track in grain country. North of the school beside "the crick" was "Wildwood Park," another misnomer. A tamer park I cannot imagine. There was a swimming pool, (kept from becoming a hotbed of disease by Mr. .De Silva' s regular and generous scoops of a chlorine mixture tossed into the pool,) a candy stand, picnic tables, and for awhile a miniature golf course. That was it. It did, however, serve a good purpose by giving the bored, sweltering town kids something to do during the Summer. We lived across the street from the park, but my mother "ran a tight ship" and we kids were never allowed to just "hang out" in the park.
On the other side of the "crick" was the De Silva home and the pop bottling factory owned and operated by Mr. .De Silva. As a child I thought nothing of having a pop factory in town. I now realize Mr. De Silva must have been an enterprising man to start this kind of a business in such a small town. He even made chocolate pop! It was
my favorite flavor. After a few years that flavor disappeared. Perhaps it didn't keep well.
When I started writing this I thought there would not be much to say about my dull small town, but as I write, various memories return. Maybe, just maybe, I might have been able to survive if I had not been
able to make my escape.
* * *