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From about 1937, whenI was 7, until I joined the Air Force in 1950 my family spent every summer in West. My father was a school teacher in Texas and had the summers off. Both of us were professional fishing guides and later became motel owners of The Dude and FenHaven.

In the 1940s, when I was a very young teenager, my dad and I liked to get up early to fish in the Park. The west gate didn't open until 6:00, so the night before my dad would leave our car just inside the log fence that separated government land from the little village of West Yellowstone. Many times we found ourselves fishing at first light and it was not unusual for it to be so cold that ice formed in the agate guide on the tip of my fly rod, making it hard to retrieve the line.

One morning when it was mostly still dark, I was walking along the bank of the Madison River, leisurely fishing and enjoying myself, when I suddenly got a very strong, musky smell that puzzled me. When I looked around I saw twelve large buffalo resting in the tall grass, looking at me with great disinterest. They could not have been more than ten feet away. So much steam was rising from their backs that a small cloud formed, partially obscuring their bodies, and then disappearing as it rose into the trees.

If the wind had not been just right I am sure I would have walked right past those great beasts, being totally oblivious of that wonderful experience. Over the years I have remembered that incident and thought how nice it would be if all animals, human and otherwise, would just go on about their business, as we did that morning, and leave each other alone. There must be a moral in there somewhere.

In the summer of 1942, when I was twelve, I found myself selling newspapers, the Montana Standard and the Billings Gazette, on the streets of West Yellowstone. That was many years before any streets were paved, and the deep potholes on Canyon were often filled with water and fair game for every car that sped by. I think they competed to see which could splash water the furthest. 

Anyway, the good news was that I made a penny for each paper I sold, although the bag my eighty pound body had to carry was so heavy I struggled with every step. One morning my boss drove by and saw me sitting on the curb in front of Scaggs Grocery Store. He rolled his window down and yelled, “You're canned.” That's all! 

Of course I didn't know what that meant but guessed it must be something good because I was so proud of my job. When my mother told me I had been fired I was devastated.

No matter. I soon got the dream job of being the only dishwasher at the Totem Café. Well, that meant getting up at 0430 to be on the job at 0500, and sixteen hours later my shift ended and I was eight bucks richer. Each dish and pan had to be washed by hand, dipped in scalding water and dried by hand. Whew! My hands turned white and had deep canyons in them.

A wonderful old lady, Miss Mary, was my co-worker who made cherry and apple pies. They smelled sooo good.  One day, during the lull between breakfast and lunch, I apprehended one of her pies and took it out back behind a tree and ate the whole thing. When the boss caught me there was a severe scene.

Miss Mary said she gave me the pie but no one believed her and I was fired for “stealing.” While I was drying my eyes the cook reminded “Old Fred” that there was no one to wash the dishes, so he quickly capitulated and rehired me. It felt so good to be needed.

I won't mention anything more about that pie issue except to say that the precedent had been set. Ha! I grew to love that old Miss Mary.

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