Our class was small (graduating only twenty-three) but we were tight. Whatever we set our collective mind to do, we did it up right. Year after year we had the best float in the Home-Coming Parade, the best skit at the Carnival, the most innovative dance theme. Best of all, we were pals. Then we graduated and scattered to the winds.
Back in ’05 while we were lined up for a class photo at the All-School Reunion, an every five-year event, Karen and Jesse suggested, “Why don’t we get together every year.” Collective mind went into action and within a few minutes, the gang of us had determined to explore Montana while renewing friendships. We’ve gathered in such far-flung places as Virginia City, Ennis, Lincoln, Fort Peck and around the fire-pit in Sondra’s back yard in Harlem.
This year, destination Red Lodge. Thirteen classmates (along with family) arrived from California, Washington, Idaho, Utah and throughout Montana. For us that is a grand turnout. What pulled so many of us together this year? Other than to celebrate our Big 5-0, my theory is that it had to be the Pig Races at Bear Creek Downs.
So Sunday night we met at the Bear Creek Saloon for steak dinner and a hot time in the ol’ town. After our meal, we sauntered out to the deck to look over the prospects, snorting and rooting in the pen below. Then we placed out bets. We didn’t actually bet on our favorite jersey-clad porker. Betting is run more like a football pool with two dollar squares. Five squares are drawn at random, one for each pig in the race. If your number is matched with a pig and if that pig wins, you win twenty-five dollars. The final race pays out a whopping hundred dollars with a five dollar buy-in.
The bugle sounded the Call to the Post, we raced to the rail to support our steed, the gates opened and five pigs flew around the track with the red jersey edging out green across the finish line. We repeated this process several times that night. Most of us went back to our lodge a little lighter in the pockets. We did have at least one big-time winner. Jerry flashed his money in our faces but his wife Lola let slip how much money he spent to acquire his twenty-five dollar purse.
Race proceeds fund scholarships for local students, many of whom once worked Bear Creek Downs as sow-boys or sow-girls. By the way, the Saloon does not serve pork.
We checked in at the Rock Creek Resort Sunday and most of us were there through Wednesday morning. One thing we look for when choosing the gathering place is a common room where the entire group can gather, relax, cook meals, mill around and visit. Monday night the men fixed prime rib and Tuesday night the women hosted a sourdough pancake supper. The rest of the time we played pinochle, explored town and countryside, uninhibited tourists that we are, or hung out and told stories, some larger than life. More than one person said, “No, that’s not the way it happened. I remember it like this.” Or, “You’re making that up — that did not even happen.”
I have heard several people say they don’t see why we make such a big fuss over our reunion, after all, they’ve never been to one of their reunions and furthermore, don’t intend to go, ‘cause it’s just a bunch of la-de-da about who’s done more, better, best’. I find that sad. Our class is and was a group of diverse individuals who shared a common history through years of grade and high school. Those experiences act like glue; they stick us together on the same page, even if memories shift and get tattered around the edges. Kind of like an old Valentine.
At our 2010 All-School Reunion, a couple, both Harlem grads, from ’61 and ’65, hung out with us all weekend and finally asked if we’d adopt them into our class, saying, “You have more fun.” They were probably supposed to be in our class anyway and got mixed up along the way. We don’t have the exact same history, but close enough. And if we need to, we’ll make it up. We have a lot of story-tellers. And they are right. We do have more fun. Who else would make the pig races a destination?
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little different. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)