Mona Harding Raser (1917-2008)

I was born in Dillon, Montana on November 19, 1917; my mother always told me when I was growing up that she was about ready to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner when I decided to make an appearance—I believe it for a long time, until I knew enough to know differently, but my birthday does fall on a Thanksgiving about every five years.

My father was a fireman on the Great Northern Railroad and of course; I don’t remember when or why we moved to Pocatello, Idaho, where my brother, Warren, was born. I do remember that it was quite a nice house and the most vivid remembrance was the wind up Victrola record player that was in the living room. There was also, evidently, a floor furnace as I remember a square grate in the floor that we used to sit on. We must have lived there for a few years as I can remember the mischief that we would get into and I teased my mother in later years by telling her that she would bump my brother’s and my head together and make us get under the kitchen table. She, of course, always denied this and I still think I can remember a time or two that we did sit under the kitchen table.

When I was about school age, my father came home and informed my mother that he was transferred to a little place called Lima, Montana and that they were going to move soon and couldn’t take very much of our furniture—Mom was broken-hearted, but because she always did whatever Dad said, we moved.

Lima, Montana in those days was a bustling little town that had a round house where the trains could turn around and we moved into a little house that was not like the one I Pocatello–We even had outdoor plumbing, “outhouse” as it was called in those days. There was a creek that ran across the back, but not deep enough to be dangerous, but just across was a farmer who raised a calf or two and I will always remember the “awry” “know-it-all-kid” that wanted me to come over and watch them butcher one of the calfs was horrible as I saw them slit its throat and from then on I didn’t have much to do with that neighbor.

We did have chickens and every once in a while, my Dad would cut one of their heads off, so we could have it for dinner; it would hop all over the year and was sickening as far as I was concerned. Mom would have to pluck the feathers off that chicken so she could cook, but I do remember how good it was. It was my brother’s and my job to crank the turn on the ice-cream maker and we did it about every Sunday. In those days, the only way to get ice was to go the ice house and buy a big chunk that had been cut and stored in the winter. So we did a great deal of time chopping ice for that blasted ice-cream maker.

I started first grade there in the new school that was quite a nifty school for then as it was made of brick and had several rooms. We had a home room teacher who was nice but strict and I can remember how she made me hold out hands one day, palms up, so she could give a few whacks with the ruler for something I did, which I don’t know what it was. But on another occasion, when I had been hit in the head with a softball during “gym” she was so nice and had me put a damp cloth on it and lay my head down on the desk. To this day I have the Christmas ornament that she gave to all of us. It was in Lima that I learned that there was no Santa Claus, as I awakened Christmas Eve and heard Mother and Dad putting up the Christmas tree and putting the gifts under it. I was shocked and heart broken, but had to find some way, I guess. Our Christmas was always a festive occasion and Mom would spend hours cooking the delightful food we had on a wood cook stove in the kitchen and the only refrigeration was the ice box that had to have blocks of ice from the ice house. It used to get so cold in Montana that the river would freeze solid enough for these big blocks to be cut out and stored in the icehouse. We always had to get the ice with tongs, but my Dad would do that.
It was in Lima that I got my first sprained ankle as some kids chased me up a tree and I fell out of it. It was in this town that I experienced getting shot in the rear by an air rifle gun and remember how it did hurt. I guess we were like all kids at that age and tried a lot of different things. I can remember another kid and going down the alley and somehow making a pipe out of something and smoking it until we got sick and Mom caught us. We did have fun, though, and I can remember how spooky Halloween was as we lived right down the hill from the cemetery and one Halloween a couple kids and I were traveling up the road and a couple ghosts jumped out at us. Scared us half to death and we beat it home. I didn’t find out till years later that they were my Mother and cousin Dorothy (Haymon) who was staying with us. I still remember that long road we had to walk to get to school and how cold it was in the winter. I had to wear long underwear, which I hated.
When it was time for me to go into the 3rd grade, my father had to quit the railroad as it was telling on his health so he started in the gas business—delivering and getting orders for gas for the various types of equipment around there. I can’t remember the house we moved into as we were in several there in Dillon. It was a bigger town than Lima and a bigger school, but the first person I met was Dorothy Graves Kirby who came up to me and asked if I would like to be her friend and we were friends for life.
There aren’t too many recollections of my early school years, except the big kids would stand outside the school at recess time and tell “dirty” jokes. I remember falling of the slice, which consisted of two metal poles at an angle to the ground and we had to put ours over them to slide down. The fall really hurt and I had to stay home from school two or three days.
There was a little “tough” girl that took a liking to me and we would do the usual like climb over fences and whatever. It was through her that I learned how babies were made as she told me one day as we were climbing a fence that they were made when men and women did the “F” stuff. I, of course, was shocked and went home and told my Mom who tried to smooth it over by telling some sort of a story but I can only remember what Helen Wheat (her name) had told me.
To continue my “Memoirs” I should go back to my early life in Lima as there were several things about this little town that are worth remembering. It had beautiful mountains around it that were covered with snow in the winter, and it was a sheep raising country as well as cattle. I had cousins who lived there and had a sheep ranch and belonged to a big family—Martinell—my cousin Dorothy married Paul, one of the brothers. They lived up in the “Sheep Creek Canyon” on their summer place with their sheep in the summer and would come down to “Dell” a little town 10 miles from Lima in the winter as it got too cold in the winter up in the Canyon—but more of this when I was older and living in Dillon. The one thing I can remember about Lima is when my Mom and Dad went back to bring a new Pontiac car home and we had to stay with a school teacher who was not the nicest person “in the world” and we were glad when my folks got home as they had the “talk of the town” with the new Pontiac—a square box-like car with roll-up windows and probably one of the first “new” cars of the town. Probably about 1923 or 1924 so it would really be an antique now.

There isn’t much to tell about from Lima, though, it was here that I along with a couple other kids tried making some sort of a pipe, like a corncob one, and tried to smoke dried grass; also saw a calf that had been slaughtered moments before at the little house across the crick in the back—made me sick and I couldn’t get it off my mind for a long time. It was here in Lima that I found out that Halloween was a “destroy” time in that many kids would wander around and tip over fences and outhouses—even had a ranch cart taken apart, moved up on the local post office and put together again by some older kids, so they weren’t “innocent” kids that knew nothing even in those days. We were warned against talking to the only black, called “niggers” as there was lots of prejudice in those days.

I do remember one of our favorite things was when they would hold a dance in the high school gym and we little kids would go with our parents and sit on the side lines, eventually falling asleep—a big thrill was when an adult would take one of us girls out on the floor and dance us around. We were just like kids today in that we wanted to grow up fast.

So on to Dillon where my father had taken over a “Texaco” gas station that had living quarters and modern plumbing. Life was pretty good there. I started taking piano lessons again, as I had started them in Lima—Classical—which I didn’t like but was forced to continue. I also started taking dancing lessons—tap—so by the age of 12 I was getting pretty good and a boy, Irwin [Erwin Christensen, son of Danish immigrants Berg and Christina Christensen], and I would give exhibitions at various occasions. He was OK, and liked me, I guess, although the feeling wasn’t mutual—thought he was rather a sissy as they called them then, although, he came from a rather wealthy family and later when I was in high school he would have parties at his house as they had a big one in the country and it had a floor that was a dance floor, so we had some good parties. It was there that I tasted and drank my first “sloe gin” drink, not knowing, finding out that it was alcohol—tasted great, but effects were not what I would have wanted a child of mine to know—my folks never knew about these either, though nothing ever bad resulted as we didn’t have that much.
It was at this time when I was experiencing high school. It seemed to be a lot like it is now, only more conservative, and less things for kids to get into, such as drugs. We never knew what they were, and smoking—although it was becoming a fad that the majority was trying to learn to do. A girl named Helen Irwin and I would hike out to a place called “Lover’s Leap” (a cliff-like formation of rock where, as the legend went, an Indian maiden and a white boy leaped off to their deaths as they were forbidden to marry) and try to learn how to smoke and inhale (a painful process) and one that I didn’t dare let my folks know.

It was while I was in high school that I wore red nail polish to school, as it was becoming an “in” thing, not only for me, according to my family and teachers. One day when I did wear it, secretly, my math teacher asked me what I had on my fingers when I raised my hand to answer a question. And when he learned that it was red nail polish, he expelled me from class. The only way I was able to get back in was for my Dad to plead with him while they were playing pinochle at the Rotary Club.

I was about a sophomore when I talked my mom into letting me take some “popular music” lessons so I could play popular music. I loved it and learned quickly. Good thing as when I was a junior, Depression was settling in and my father lost his business. Before that, though, we did have some good times in that house by the service station. M first girl-boy party where we played such games as “spin the bottle,” musical chairs and various other things like making and pulling taffy, popping corn, and dancing—yes, dancing with boys. We had lots of laughs there and one of the funniest ones was when Mom and I were looking out the back-door window watching my brother and some of his friends goofing around, and one of the kids—a real show off—put a pet crow on top of his head and it decided to do his “job” and it ran down the front of this kid’s face. Also, it was while I was here that my two best friends, Dorothy and Helen Irwin, started making me believe in FAIRIES, something that I believed and did leave a note on the fence post in the back yard and there would be a surprise there the next morning. I believed in these for some time, and can’t remember how I found out that it was just a joke they were playing with me. I was very naïve then.

It was here in Dillon that I learned to drive. My Mom would take me out in the country and I would get behind the wheel of the little “coupe” that we had then. She had so much patience. My Dad, however, was not patient, and one day when the car was at one of the pumps at the station getting filled with gas my Dad told me to get in the driver’s side, which, of course, being thrilled at that—and nervous, too—I, with my Dad at my side, started out of the station. When suddenly, without warning, he told me to turn to the right, and I turned too abruptly and ended up running into the stand up sign on the grass and into the corner street lamp before Dad could get me to get my foot on the brake. We were both so embarrassed, especially Dad as we were right across the street from the businessmen’s lunch place—he belonged to the Rotary Club. He took quite a ribbing about that. Needless to say, I let my Mom do the teaching from then on. I was only 13, so was impressionable.

We had a very good business here at this gas station, and delivered gas to so many farmers in the valley with a big truck that our collie dog, named Spot, riding on top of the truck, so would advertise the Harding delivery for miles. My brother and all of us loved that old dog, and many times we would come home and find my brother lying on the floor with his feet in the oven and his head on old Spot. But the old dog, about 13 at that time, disappeared and we never saw him again. People would console us and tell us that was nature’s way of dogs dying, so we believed that, but were brokenhearted for a long time.

We were very comfortable here in this setting at our gas station, but when the Depression hit, about 1929, Dad lost the business as so much of his accounts were on books as the farmers would charge a lot of their dealings. There were many fun experiences, though, such as going down the river on an inner tube—one of our favorite things. Going fishing with my Dad and Mom and brother, and eating the trout cooked over a campfire. One of my most distressful times was when we went for a picnic for the 4th of July. We had a watermelon, which was a treat in Montana, and something we had to pay dearly for. And we all loved it! So we took it to a nearby creek and anchored it to a rock so it would be cold when we went after. Imagine our chagrin when we found it gone when we went after it. We looked and looked for it, but it probably washed down to the Beaverhead River and maybe was found and enjoyed by someone, I hope. It really spoiled our picnic. However, in those days, we [were] allowed to have all the firecrackers we wanted, though not much else in the line of fireworks. But we had lots of fun with the fireworks.

My dad, during the Depression, lost his Texaco station and we moved out to the Big Hole Valley. We moved all our furniture. He [Dad] fed cattle all that winter, and Mom cooked for the crew at this ranch, as they were quite successful. I worked for my board and room in town so I could go to school, but on Saturday nights, I would come out to the Big Hole and play with a small dance band for country dances as the cowboys and ranch hands really liked this. Sometimes, most every Saturday night, we would play until 3:00 am or 4:00 am in the morning. My fingers would get so sore, I would have to wrap my thumbs many times as we had to play loud—they had no loudspeakers then. But the good news about it all was that I would get paid $5.00 and maybe a dollar or two extra, depending on how late I did it. It was out there that my Dad taught me how to cut hair, practicing on my brother, which he didn’t like at all.
Dad only stayed there through that first winter, then we moved up to Argenta, little mining community about 18 miles from Dillon—I was a junior in high school. He and my Uncle Chet (Eunice’s husband) started mining by digging a shaft down in the ground and while it was really dangerous and hard work, they managed to get some ore out, although the price of gold in those days was only $25.00 a pound so it took a lot of ore to make even a meager living. Dad had built a log cabin for us and while it was not modern, it was nice. He even built a little room on the side where my Mom would bake and cook. She baked lots and lots of bread for the mining camp that was up the hill from us. I ironed shirts for the young miners and was paid $0.15 a shirt. I really hated it, as I had to use the flat irons, heated on the wood cooking stove, but it brought in some spending money. Mom had chickens, of course, all named and many times we would get the .22 rifle out and try to get one of the many chicken hawks that kept pestering. Never did hit one, but sure tried.

It was there that I learned to play poker as that was the only recreation that we had. Dad taught me how to have a poker face. We kept tabs on our winnings and losing, and always were promising that we would pay it off (which, of course, we never were able to do).

We all got together one Christmas and decided we would pull our resources, which wasn’t much. But we were able to buy a turkey, and scrape enough together for a gallon of choke cherry wine, which my cousin, Evelyn, and a guy named Harley and I were told to go after in a little coupe, which held only three. We went to Dillon and a few miles south, got it from what they called “Wops” then. I think they were Italian or Mexican, don’t know. On the way home, the top of the jug kept blowing off and every time it did, the other two would talk me into taking a swig. By the time we got back to the cabin, on my getting out of the car, I fell flat. Although it was rather icy, but my Dad was so angry he grounded me for some time. I have always wished I could have some choke cherry wine—it was really good. We picked choke cherries every August as they were plentiful there, and Mom would make the best jam and jelly. She always missed those when we moved to Oregon, but they only grow on the east side of the Cascades, and the Indians get to them first.

It was here in Argenta that my Aunt Eunice talked me into having a “henna” rinse put on my hair. It was only supposed to make it have a few highlights, but she left it on too long, and I turned up with really red hair. My Dad was so angry that he cut my hair into a short, short buy cut, which I had to go to school in as I was still going to high school, driving back and forth. I had a hard time explaining to TEXT ENDS HERE.