She Never Met A Stranger
Alice McClintock Gagner
November 27, 1900--March 13, 1992
Chapter II High School
I had saved some money for clothes that were always ordered from Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward catalogs. Young girls were wearing long dresses, almost to the ankle, and cheap, part silk and
And no bobbed hair! I was ready to venture forth and take the train to Townsend for high school decked out in a long skirt, cheap Japanese silk blouse, laced high-top shoes and a cheap long khaki green raincoat, all from Sears Roebuck. My hair was in a bun with a blue corset cover ribbon tied around it. However, sometimes I had long braids, none of today's loose long hair. Aunt Elizabeth, my mentor, encouraged me to get an education and since there was no high school close and no bus service, she urged me to come to Townsend. She got a job for me working for my board and room with a German family and I remember Mama being sad and I frightened to go so far away, alone. But a neighbor girl a little older than I, Bertha Nelson, was going to Mount Ellis Advent School so we would be together part way on the train. Mount Ellis, about half way between Bozeman and Townsend, used to be a military post during the days when the West was being settled. We went to Laurel, a railroad center thirteen miles from home by horse and wagon where we caught the train west. Bertha an "experienced" traveler, having made the trip the prior year, advised me to be wary of strange men. If one came close, carrying a cane or umbrella, to be especially cautious as it might have a needle in the end with which I could be poked, drugged, kidnapped, and sold into white slavery. She had read too many stories about men from the cities luring poor, dumb, impressionable country girls away or kidnapping them for sale to houses of prostitution. She warned me to hang on to my "gold jewelry" when, for eleven minutes; we went through a long tunnel, west of Livingston. I was scared since I did have gold jewelry, a long, solid gold watch chain made from gold mined at Diamond City, where Mama was born, which had belonged to her grandfather. Aunt Elizabeth had it cut in three shorter chains; added gold lockets and Mary, Clara and myself had been given these. It was my one and only piece of jewelry and I was fearfully waiting for the men with the walking sticks to kidnap me.
Bertha got off in Bozeman and I went on to Trident where I had to change trains for one going through Townsend. Bertha gave me a note for the stationmaster requesting assistance in making my train
change but I never saw him.
When I arrived the train was there, waiting, so I got off and right on the other one. I made the mistake of getting into the observation car and when the conductor came to check my ticket, he asked for an additional twenty-five cents for my seat. Although I didn't like parting with all that money, I didn't have sense enough to move into the ordinary coach. We arrived late and I was concerned that no one would meet me as this was at supper time, however, my aunt's new husband, Willard, was there. Earlier, he had been told by Aunt Elizabeth, "but you haven't seen Alice and wont know her" and had answered, "I'll just look for the greenest girl that gets off the train", and sure enough, he was right.
I stayed a few days with them getting registered in school and meeting the family I was to live with, a fairly young German couple from Helena who had two babies, which was fine, but there were other
obstacles. Their pink frame house was rather attractive but my room had been added on and had no insulation so in winter I nearly froze to death.
The husband managed the town's hardware store so I had very stiff horse blankets for bed covers. They didn't nestle down, provided little warmth and had leather straps and buckles, and would have been just the thing for horses out in a Montana blizzard. Aunt Elizabeth gave me some of her husband's wool sox and winter underwear and along with my long flannel gowns I managed. The floor was of cheap congoleum and when I tried to mop it the water froze. There was much quarreling, the wife would lock the husband out and he would threaten to use an ax to break through the door but never did. I was always frightened when the quarreling went on late at night.
Since it was difficult to dry clothes in the winter, baby diapers, with a very strong ammonia odor, were hung over the kitchen table where I had to eat. As a servant, I wasn't allowed to eat with
the family. And a third baby was on the way!
Aunt Elizabeth had dinner at noon and supper at night and would save some food for me. I would go by her home, coming from school, to get fed but Mrs. "G" found out and gave me strict orders to come straight home and do my work with no stopping off. I hurried home for lunch, usually had boiled onions (ugh) and liver, did the lunch dishes and rushed back to school with pigtails flying. One day when I was scurrying out she called me back and exclaimed, "Clean that dish pan! It's as black as the ace of spades".
The family's fare was better than mine and often, after I had gone to my room, they would get out their hidden cookies and goodies.
Her brother worked for the National Biscuit Company in Helena and sent them big boxes of chocolate, coconut, marshmallow and other kinds of cookies. Sometimes while cleaning I would find them, take one or two, and then be afraid she would miss them.
I did the cleaning, washing and ironing and took care of the babies while the mother went to the hardware store with the husband, most evenings. Being Catholic, they had to attend mass every Sunday
so that meant I had very little time off.
She was one of the socialites and strived to impress the other ladies. She would take her turn entertaining the bridge club for which treats were sent out from Helena; cheese sticks, patty shells, creamed chicken, fancy cakes and a rose at every guest's place, la-de-da! Customarily the "upper crust" had a certain day to call on each other, all dressed up, with gloves and hats. They had a table in the hall or close to the front door where calling cards could be left, something new for me. On the farm the only calling cards I knew about was when the animals broke the fence, got into the yard and left their calling cards. Later, Mrs."G" told Aunt Clara I was such a nice untarnished girl.
I got measles in late winter and Aunt Clara Barker Shaw had me move into their home a few blocks away, which was also a boarding house. I roomed with my cousin, Little Clara and had more freedom, a
good clean, warm bed, good food and companionship with three cousins a few years younger than I. I thought it was heaven. I was put to bed in a darkened room so the light wouldn't damage my
sight since it was thought that measles weakened the eyes. Clara's husband, Charley, the town's blacksmith, didn't make much money which was the reason my aunt had the boarders and roomers, mostly
friends and relatives.
I helped with the cleaning, dishes and ironing for my board and room and was very happy there. I went to church occasionally with Aunt Clara, a very devout Catholic convert. Some summers I had an outside job doing housework and one summer I returned to our farm to work. I had fun going to country dances and had a handsome boy friend that wanted to get married. He even came to Townsend for a week and bought me a "ruby" engagement ring but, for some reason, I wasn't interested in his marriage proposal.
During my second year I worked for the Kirschers, a young couple with two small boys and another on the way.
Both were graduates of Montana State College at Bozeman and I recall her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bull and her older sister, Freda coming for Christmas. Freda Bull was a math professor at the college. They were a Methodist family, the father a minister, and they went to church every Sunday while I took care of the babies. Occasionally, on Sunday mornings before church, several couples would have a progressive breakfast, going to each other's homes for different courses. I remember preparing the first course, grapefruit all cut around, served in the shell and decorated with a maraschino cherry. Having grapefruit was very unusual and oh, so fancy. The family also had a couple of boarders and my job included waiting table and doing dishes for every meal so I had to hurry to get to classes on time. I had no time for outside school activities.