Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Custer, Kids and Company

It is September 9 already! The Dutch family has come and gone, leaving us with a taste for more, more, more. There was bad news on the doorstep with various health issues attacking various deeply loved family members. Labor day is passed, and we survived having our grandchildren for a three night weekend. While Nik and Holli went to San Diego on a whirlwind to attend a good friend's wedding. Baby CharleeRose had never been away from Mom for longer than a few hours, so we were expecting a difficult time with her. Plus, she is teething fiercely. But she came through like a trooper, especially with her big brother's reassuring presence and constant help. Bedtime was hard the first night, less so the second, less again the third, and overall I think our fourteen month old granddaughter had a pretty good time at Oma and Opa's. I believe it was harder on Mom and Dad to leave her; CharleeRose adapted to her circumstances. And when Mom and Dad came to pick her up she ran to greet them, then quickly turned on her heels to punish Mom ever so briefly for leaving her behind, as kids and kitties are wont to do. And once again for Diane and myself, the house was suddenly empty after a wondrous cacophony of people. With the Dragon Boat Races coming this upcoming weekend and six thousand people roaming the street of Lakeside looking for parking and good things to eat, Diane and I will be busy helping at Glacier Perks to answer an even louder cacophony, which will make the quiet home a welcome refuge until our next guests arrive at month's end. Busy is good. The irony for me is that the writing urge is returning just when I am too busy to fully give in to it. That's okay – I am like a keg of Malbec aging and swirling and perfecting the material inside me, fermenting if you will. The urge being back is a welcome thing, that part of me that had slipped into a back room or a nearly empty box in my mind, padlocked and safe but far, far away. Then I met a man in Gardiner. Gardiner is a small town on the northern entrance of Yellowstone National Park. I escorted my Dutch family there for a four day trip to the Park and back, with two exciting days roaming through as much of the Park as we could see given the number of people also trying to see as much as they could. We stayed in Gardiner, a quaint town of 800 that lives on the summer tourists but does not try to gouge them. The Yellowstone River runs right through the town, with most of the businesses and people on the north side. We stayed on the south side; our accommodations overlooked the small canyon and river below. There was much construction going on that side of the river, but we concentrated all our in-town time there and found a nice place for breakfast and another for dinner. It was at our second breakfast that a Gardiner native volunteered to help clear the table that would hold all five of us, to help his friend the waitress. Somehow that gave him the idea that it was okay to hold a conversation with us at three different points in our meal, and we politely let him. I am glad we did – his story was interesting even if he interrupted our meal three times to tell it. He told us how Gardiner got its name from a Colonel Gardner who served with Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn, in one of the two sections of Custer's army that were not wiped out. At this, my ears perked up – I had a completed but unpublished final draft of a book for younger readers on the Last Stand waiting for my finishing touches, so I knew a bit about the battle and was always alert for new information. Gardner, the man explained, settled in the area, only to disappear later in what was presumed to be an Indian raid on his camp. The town was named in his honor, but somehow they messed up the spelling and added an “i” to become Gard'in'er. There was a picture of the man on the wall right above my head. While we went on with our breakfast he apparently googled the man on his I-phone, to add that the only link he could find led him to the inquiry into Major Reno's conduct at the battle. The buzzwords all were there, and my curiosity was put into overdrive. So I looked up Colonel Gardner. Nothing. I looked through the roster of Custer's men and found a Private John Gardner, who died with Custer. I looked up Gardiner and got nothing relating to the 19th Century. Finally, I looked up Gardiner, Montana. It turns out that our uninvited breakfast guest was mostly wrong. The area became a town in 1880, but there were trappers and settlers in the region as early as fifty years before, one of them named Johnson Gardner. Gardner gave his name to the lush area at the headwaters of what is now Gardiner River. Calling it Gardner's Hole. In 1871, surveyors encountered two settlers who added the “i” to the name Gardner. One of them, J. C. McCartney, sometimes called himself Jim Gardiner and was known as Jim on the Gardiner, himself unaware of the earlier Johnson Gardner. McCartney and his friend established the first hotel in the region and the government established the first post office just outside the north entrance to Yellowstone in 1880 – and Gardiner was born. George Armstrong Custer and unfortunate Private John Gardner had nothing to do with it. But our guest lecturer had brought up Major Marcus Reno in his “search” report. He and I discussed how everyone wanted to blame Reno for Custer's massacre. Immediately, I realized my book needed one more chapter. Now I'm glad I waited to publish. There's a bit more work to do, and I've already begun. It goes to show: sometimes it pays to just listen, even when at first you are reluctant or feel the speaker is imposing. Best of all, the urge is back, the urge to speak on paper. But you get to choose whether to listen or not.