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Monday, July 11, 2011

Montana or bust...

Family vacations. 

Let's see, they are completely memorable but really shouldn't be called vacations by any means as most of us think vacations=relaxing.  As most of you know, carting children through busy crowded airports, changing planes, locating missing toys and sippy cups, hearing other children whine and cry about their missing toys and sippy cups, well let's just say that it's anything but relaxing.  Family vacations however, are for the most part FUN.

We've just returned from a five day trip to Montana.  Montana is beautiful, God's country they say (well at least my mother-in-law says) and the billboards along the highway seem to support that claim.  I saw the "10 Commandments" and a huge shot of Jesus in about a 3 mile stretch yesterday so I figure I got my religious obligations done on the drive to the airport.

Seriously, it was truly beautiful.  This was my fourth trip to Montana but the first one really doesn't count because I was only 18 months-old.  The second was in 1982 for my great-grandmother's funeral and I don't remember much other than the temperature outside didn't support my California blood and the plaid walking shorts and penny loafers I was wearing in the crisp October air. 

The third time I was there nine years ago exactly, was much more memorable.  My mom and I took a road trip with my son who was three at the time.  We packed up my little Jeep Cherokee and headed up the Interstate 15.  This was before DVD players sat neatly in the back of the headrest so I bought a tiny TV/VCR combo and wedged it between the two front seats. We must have heard Thomas the Tank Engine 400 times before our journey ended but it kept him happy and occupied for the five hour stretches of driving!  The Jeep was filled to the brim with toys, suitcases, a cooler, you name it, we jammed it in there.

It was a 10 day trip that included several pit stops with visits in Sandy, UT, an overnight in Idaho Falls, two days in Great Falls, Montana followed by three days in Butte, Montana.  Butte is where my mom grew up and we have a lot of family still there.  On that trip, we celebrated my great-aunt's 75th birthday and the 4th of July.  I got to see cousins and relatives that I hadn't seen in years, some I hadn't met yet. 

Butte is a big town for Montana but for a Cali girl like me, seeing a place like this is eye-opening to say the least. 

Butte was a bustling mining town and a hot spot during prohibition, but now many of its once thriving tiny stores and mom and pop shops up on the hill are abandoned and run down.  "For lease" signs hang on many of the brick buildings but you could see potential if there was just a little bit of money invested.  These buildings have character and many are at least a hundred years old.  Our family owned a grocery and catering business and my Mom lived there until she was 16. I know her heart still belongs in Butte but I am keeping her here. 

I once again found myself there just two days ago.  Chris, Gavin, Piper and I spent the past week at my in-laws place in Deer Lodge about 30 minutes or so from Butte.  Chris had never been there and Gavin vaguely remembers the trip we took nine years ago.  Chris's mom kindly offered to take us in to town for the day so that I could show them where their other grandmother's roots took hold.  We drove into town and headed up the hill on Montana Street.  

I was happy to see that the Trafford's Fine Food's sign was still up on the original store location but the shop itself had been converted into a beauty supply/salon I think. Things looked to be shaping up a bit on the hill but most of the bigger commercial stores moved down in the area once known as "The Flats."

Then we drove around the little neighborhoods looking for my aunt and uncle's house and the cottage my mom grew up in.  We found them both with ease as we wiggled our way through the narrow streets.  The Folk Festival was going on so there was quite a bit of action happening in the sleepy mountain town. 

We headed down the hill for lunch and then we made our last stop at the Holy Cross cemetery near the airport on the outskirts of town.  This is a big deal for me because I do not go to cemeteries, it's just not my thing.  But I felt compelled to go this time.  You see, Butte is the town my mother was born in and it was the same town where her mother was born... and in 1957, where she was laid to rest. 

After a little confusion and a great deal of searching, we found her headstone, Jean Zetta Trafford.  I brought her some flowers; yellow, purple, white and pink.  I set them down and once again I wondered what it would have been like to know her.  The mystery of her life and what would have been had she lived past 32.  Would she have liked those flowers or preferred something different?  Something tells me that she liked all flowers no matter what color they were.

What I do know is that the gift she left behind was the life of my own mother and the relationship we have that is full of love, laughter, and joy (most of the time).  I think she would be proud of what she created and the women we've become. 

So while this family vacation included swimming, tennis, and horseback riding, it also included so much more for me.  The deep connection my mother feels toward her hometown has crept into my heart even though my roots grew here in Southern California, I do feel that same intensity when I am in Montana. 

My roots are planted firmly in the sands of Huntington Beach and Southern California but my soul and branches are growing farther and wider than I expected. 

As for my mother, I guess you can take the girl out of the mountains but you can't take the mountains out of a girl, right? 

But I do think you can sprinkle a bit of sand around her toes...

This blog is dedicated to my mom, my best friend, biggest supporter and ongoing inspiration.

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