Today I read a most wonderful book. It’s called My Childhood in Montana, by Irene Estella Stephens (1920-2015). It is published in paperback, on demand, and can be purchased on AbeBooks.com for under $10. It was compiled by Pamela Gehn Stephens, and copiously illustrated by William Shumway.The book came to me in the mail from Brent, with a note that said, “Forrest, I hope you enjoy my grandma-in-law’s stories. She was a great storyteller and really would have liked to have read your memoir I’m sure.”
On the back cover of the book are these words, “Irene was my mother-in-law until her passing at age 95 in 2015. She was an exceptional person of many talents, and I especially loved reading her straight-forward vivid description of growing up on a remote dryland wheat farm on the central plains of Montana during the Great Depression. This memoir evokes her close family and neighbors, and the constant hard work to survive in this harsh environment where the winters were long and bitter, and the growing season was, at most, four months.” Pamela G. Stephens
Chapter 13 is titled Teacherage
“In late fall, when the Montana winters dug in, it became too difficult to ride our horses to school, so our folks would take us to the schoolhouse Monday morning, and we would live there with the teacher until Friday afternoon. The school building was heated with a coal furnace in the basement, and the teacher had to shovel coal into the furnace or see that it was done by one of the older boys. She also had to cook our meals and get us to bed at night. Before school started in fall, the parents would bring a load of coal out from Roy, along with school supplies and food staples. Of course, the toilet was an outhouse, same as at our house.
“One year our teacher was Mrs. Stephens, and I remember giggling with the other girls when we saw her son Webb wearing his long red nightgown. That boy grew up and became my husband. We were married for 55 years.” (A cutout from Chapter 6. “There were at most 14 students, and sometimes as few as 9 or 10, from 4 or 5 families in grades 1-8, all taught by 1 teacher).
The 40, one-page chapters were drawn to a time, just 10 years before mine, when the promise of an easy life seemed distant. But they held sway so potent that I longed to harken back and live it all again with them. Tough times make memories stronger, and longer lasting. I love Irene and her sister, and their father with his rigid expectations. Please read this book and tell me what you think. f