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“If he got arrested, he might or might not get convicted. And if he got convicted, he’d get maybe six months in jail,” said Mamma. “And when he got out of jail, he’d come back to our neighborhood to live. And one night our barn would burn down. Or maybe our house. Or someone would shoot our cows or maybe even us. Something. So we leave that situation alone.”
Now that rest of country has discovered Montana and taken over a good chunk of it (the goodest chunk, in fact), people no longer think that way. The Bitterroot Valley has five times population it had in my childhood. The sheriff has deputies, and according to local newspaper they are busy day and night responding to complaints of barking dogs, domestic violence, and petty theft.
But, during that week in late sixties, we and Davises kept watch on shack and did what we had been taught to do: nothing. “Look!” said Daddy, as our car drove slowly by one night. We looked, and, sure enough, a dim, grey light shone through shack’s window, which window was pretty dirty now that Grandma no longer gave it her attention. “He’s lit kerosene lamp.”
“Must be reading in there,” said Mamma softly.
That week we locked doors of our house every night -- something we had never done before -- and Daddy slept with his pistol close at hand.
In case dog barked in middle of night.
So that was why we’d put up with all that barking all those years, I realized. That and our family’s soft hearts and, where some of those dogs were concerned, our soft heads as well.
“The Davises tell me they haven’t seen a light in that shack for three nights,” Daddy said a few days later. “I’m going up with my pistol and investigate.”
He went up at noonday, stood like a Western lawman with his back to one side of door, gun ready. He suddenly whirled to face shack and kicked door open.
He went inside, gun still at ready. But shack was empty. Our fugitive had fugited, leaving behind only a couple of well worn detective magazines and a pile of cigarette butts. And an unmade bed. Sure proof he hadn’t been brought up right, you bet.
And, in case you wonder, Daddy didn’t take dog when he reconnoitered around shack that day. Daddy was pretty fond of that little dog, and he didn’t want him to get hurt.
Go STEAMIN’ DOWN THE TRACKS WITH VIOLA HOCKENBERRY, a storytelling cookbook -- and find Montana country cooking, nostalgic stories, and gift ideas -- at Janette Blackwell’s Food and Fiction, http://foodandfiction.com/Entrance.html -- or visit her Delightful Food Directory, http://delightfulfood.com/main.html