By Robert Lucke
When I look back to my childhood in Havre in the '40s and early '50s, this was a very different community. I think isolation must have been one of the defining words of the town. Remember, this was before television and personal computers, so Havre kids chose their own recreation, made it up and usually it was with a gang of other kids.
My gang was the Second Avenue and Tenth Street kids. There were plenty of them in this pleasant after- World War II world. My parents would take me to window shop in the stores that made up a huge business district. At least huge to a kid. Or we would just go and watch the trains come in. My grandfather would lay his ear on the railroad tracks and tell us all when a train was coming. Scary for me to see. And on Saturdays all we kids would head mostly to the Lyric Theater to take in a Western and a serial for 14 cents. We could go to the Orpheum or the Havre theaters but they were not nearly as cheap as the Lyric.
Summer nights would be spent playing cowboys and Indians around the buildings of the Northern Montana College campus. The east parapet at Donaldson Hall or the outdoor stage of Pershing Hall were our "ranch houses."
Or maybe we would play kick the can, where one was "it" and others would hide and "it" would have to find them while not getting far enough away from the can to allow any of the kids hiding to come out and kick the can. Simple, but it is amazing how many hours that game could consume in the alley between Second and Third avenues in the 1000 block.
But winter and Christmas were best of all. We all had our sleds, and what hills to fly down all around the college. A few had toboggans, but most of all, we soon found that old pieces of cardboard worked best for getting down those hills with great speed. In those days Second Avenue ended at some married students' apartments at the top of a long hill. We could slide down that hill, go all the way across Tenth Street, go down that block to Ninth Street and a tiny way up the Second Avenue hill before stopping. What a ride! Even more dangerous because we had to cross 10th Street, which was then the highway to Great Falls. Speed was what it was all about. That and fun, no matter what the temperature was.
But the most fun of all was when various parents got rid of their Christmas trees. We kids quickly hauled them to the hills between Second Avenue and the college and made Christmas tree forts out of them. We had 12 to 20 rooms. Evergreens for walls, evergreens for ceilings and hard trampled snow for floors. Oh, those tree forts were glorious.
Some of the older boys would attach igloos to their forts, but my crew was happy with more rooms than we could count. And that smell in those rooms, of evergreen. Never will I forget that.
In the summer there were secret caves all over that hillside. Maybe we all had read too many Hardy Boys mysteries, but it was important to have secret entrances and secret caves and secret societies. Some of the older boys even wore sheets and once in a while attacked all us little kids by coming screaming down the hill in their sheets. That is until Mrs. Klabunde one day saw them and attacked them. They never bothered us again.
And some of the most daring of us during winter days hitched our sleds onto the back of slow-moving autos and rode in style all the way downtown.
These days our efficient city hauls the old Christmas trees away with great dispatch. I wonder if kids know what fun they are missing by not building tree forts or whiling away lazy summer hours with cowboys and Indians and kick the can in Northern's bosky dells?