I let go of Montana. During the wait, I let it go. I ran from Montana and embraced California once more, making it my own state, reveling in my sunshine, my hibiscus bushes my camellias, African fern, nectarine tree, avocado trees… all my tropical plants and flowers that filled my world with natural beauty. My lemon tree in the back yard my ocean my sandy boardwalk my hip new skateboard, my groovy purple Schwinn Stingray bicycle with the banana shaped seat and my record player and my 45’s. The Beatles the Stones and Herman’s Hermits blasted the walls of my bedroom while I twisted away on my nifty twister board, helping to keep my waist trim. I didn’t give one thought to the Montana project. Montana dissolved like a root beer flavored Fizzy tablet in a glass of cold water. And yet, I felt haunted by Montana. Despite my love for California, I couldn’t help but daydream about the huge sky and puffy white clouds in the pictures of the rocky mountain state in the many books I read at the library. The cattle, horses, elk, moose, deer, antelope and bear all intrigued me.
The more I tried to leave the Montana project behind the harder it was to not think about it. The rivers and lakes were calling me. The thought of growing a vegetable garden during a short summer and then canning everything from the harvest and putting the canning under your house in a special room called a cellar where they would store roots such as potatoes, turnips and carrots, so that you had food in the freezing winter truly captured my attention. I had never heard of such things before and found the idea of it all foreign and different in an odd way. Food under your house? How did they do that?
I thought about the Native American Indians in Montana, the battles over land and the sturdy clothes that they made from buffalo hide to survive in. I thought about Lewis and Clark discovering Montana on their way west. I was mesmerized by the mere idea of Sacajawea, her life and journey, her bravery. I would lie on my bed and wonder how the Indians and pioneers would have survived during winters that brought temperatures down to forty degrees below zero. How did they survive? It’s true that many didn’t, but just the same, many did. Over and over in my mind, I imagined that I was an Indian woman leading the great explorers through the vast mountain range of Montana onward to the west coast. Montana had a deep impact on my visual imagination. With very little effort, I could transform myself into a pioneer woman coming from the east who sat in a covered wagon for weeks on end afraid but courageous tired yet strong, filthy dirty from blowing dust and being unable to bathe but beautiful just the same. I imagined every scenario of the early Montana settlers that my mind could remember from the books that I read and browsed through. Enthralled by the history lesson, I knew I would never forget Montana.
When she was finally finished scrutinizing our projects Sister Carmel Mary called us up to her desk one by one to recover our reports and grades. As my name was called the palms of my hands were soaked in perspiration. I chewed my thumbnail down to the quick in nervousness. I remember it throbbing as I walked up to the teachers desk. When she was passing the poster board and the written report to me she smiled a tiny little smile and had a glint of approval in her eyes. As I grabbed onto the poster board, the right corner of the board caught on Sister’s large black rosary beads that hung from her habit at the waist. Sister gasped a little and so did I as my report became hung up on Jesus Mary & Joseph. Sister managed to unattached the board from God himself it seemed to me and I was relieved as I walked back to my seat, having survived a pat on the bottom from our Holy Father!
Sitting back down I placed my poster board in the skinny space between my desk and Eva’s. I placed the written report in front of me. My heart swelled with pride when I looked down to see the bright red A nearly three inches tall written on the cover page. She gave me an A. Montana gave me an A. Deep sense of accomplishment washed over me. Although I didn’t actually feel as though I had deserved the grade I was happy to have it. So many students, such as Eva, worked hard for weeks to turn in their reports but I crammed mine into a few short days. Nevertheless, I had completed the project and received a generous grade.
I was happy to crash into my father’s car at 3:15 on the nose when he came to fetch me from school that day. I stuffed the poster board into the back seat and planted myself up front with Papa. He looked over at me with a serious look on his face that quickly changed to a broad smile when I blurted out I got an A with a mouth full of apple.