Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Blondie Billington...MEMORIES 1922-2012

Born Elvira May Billington, May 13 or 14, 1922,  in Livingston Montana, Blondie had been her nickname since she was little because she had very curly blonde hair.  In her later years, when her hair was silver,  she just wanted to be called Bea. She was the third child born to Eva and Sidney Billington and grew up enjoying the hard work of ranch life.  She learned from her dad how to pitch hay, milk cows, and take care of the farm animals.  She learned from her mom how to garden, cook, can, crochet, sew and other handicrafts.  They washed clothes in a tub with a washboard and hung them to dry from the solar power of the summer sun, they did the same in the winter, except then it was called freeze dried. They had a wood burning stove to cook on, to heat their hot water and to heat their ranch house.  
By the time the Billington clan was old enough for school, the family lived on the Bodine Ranch in a big house in Brackett Creek. Sid's job was to herd the cattle up on the hills.  He camped there and came down twice a week to visit the family. One of Blondie's earliest memories was the time her mom brought all the kids up into the hills to see their Dad.  He had prepared a camp dinner for the family.  The family often picked wild huckleberries in the hills and Eva would can them into jelly jars...after most of the berries were gladly eaten with cream and honey.  They had an icebox, so Sid often went to town to get ice in the summertime to freeze some of those delicious huckleberries.  In the winter he just cut some ice from the frozen Skunk Creek or Brackett Creek nearby to keep in the icebox.

 Four nearby families sent their kids to school, the Camp’s, the Bridgeman’s and the Curdys, and another she can’t remember.  Blondie remembers they all rode horseback, the two brothers on one horse, “Smokey,” or “Roan” and the three sisters on the other horse, “Bird,” all the way to school and back.  Sometimes when their parents weren’t watching Jo would stand up with one foot on each of the horses.

 Hazel Curdy became Blondie’s best friend.  The Billington’s often raced to school with the Curdy kids. One winter on the way to school, Blondie, when she was 10, was riding Smokey when he slipped on the ice while crossing the creek, and fell on Blondie’s leg. She went on to school, but her leg kept on hurting so the teacher told Billy to take her back home. Her mom and dad took her to the doctor in Livingston in their Model T.  Her leg was only cracked, not broken, but hurt for quite a long time. 

Sometimes on the way to school, if they saw the other neighbor girls, (the ones who wore fancy long dresses and had studded saddles), the Billington brothers would tease them by racing up behind their horsers and hitting them on the rump.  The horses galloped off and the girls would scream and have a hard time handling their horses.  The boys just laughed and raced off ahead of them on their horse. Blondie remembers: The boys at school always pushed the merry-go-round as fast as they could and everyone hung on for dear life. 

The girls had to wear dresses and long stockings held up with rubber bands, but Blondie disliked them so much, especially when it was hot outside,  she would roll them down when she got to school. In the winter, or when they were riding horseback, the girls wore overalls on top of their dresses and then took the overalls off when they got to school. Eva sewed all the clothes for the family except for the jeans or overalls. 

One year, Bird, their saddle horse, had a colt and the boys chased the colt ahead of her.  Bird bolted to catch up with her colt, and Stella rolled right off the back of Bird. Blondie had to hang on for dear life, because they were bareback.  She slid off to one side and rode that way, until Bird caught up to her colt.

It was 3-7 miles to school and they either walked, rode in the teacher’s car, or rode horse back.  In the winter, when the snow was deep, her dad would hitch up the horses, put hot rocks in the sleigh and cover them with straw to keep their feet warm.  Then he would drive them all to school covered with blankets. One day her dad drove the sleigh to school, then went on to Clyde Park to pick up mail at the post office, and found out the temperature was way below freezing,(-35) and right then and there he decided it was time to quit going to school for a while. So he picked up the kids on the way home and they stayed home for days.

One December day when Sid went to get the mail in his sleigh, the post man had a package waiting for him.  The postman saw it was an orange crate from California, so he put it near the pot belly stove in the post office, so it wouldn’t freeze. Sid put it under blankets in the sleigh and as soon as he got home, he put it near the wood burning stove until Christmas morning. Everyone was expecting to have juicy California Oranges for Christmas morning, but when the package was opened it was hard Ribbon Christmas Candy..now all melted together into one big piece!
The kids chiseled the candy off a bit at a time…it lasted until spring!

When they lived in Clyde Park they were 17 miles from Livingston, so they got a Model T to drive into town. Eva did most of the driving, but one time  she drove off the road, rolled the car and hurt her arm.

The Billington Family moved to Dixon in 1935 when Blondie was 13 years old. Her dad worked on his brother-in-law, Pat Bishop’s, ranch. Blondie and Billy were the outside help, Stella worked inside with mom and El Dee took care of the horses and brought them in from the pasture. Blondie could pitch hay as well as her brothers.  

 When the family moved to the Arlee area, they first rented  various ranches, such as Doc Smith’s place, Renfro’s place and then they finally bought a place of their own around 1936. Blondie  graduated from Arlee Elementary School in 1937 and Arlee High school in 1941. Blondie’s high school friends were Doris Christopher,  Albert and Willis Paul, and Wilma Madsen.  Through Doris, Blondie met her brother Lester.

 On June 11, 1941, Blondie and Lester were married by the Justice of the Peace at the Missoula Court House.  Doris Christopher and Albert Paul were married at the same time and place.At first they lived in Arlee with Lester’s parents, Carl and Inga Christopher, then moved to Portland where Lester worked in the Military Stock Yards.  He joined the Army and they were stationed in Texas for a while, then moved back to Arlee. Blondie’s youngest brother, Jack, was born in January of 1942 and Blondie’s first child, Goldie Jean, was born on June 10, 1942.  They grew up as if they were cousins. Goldie remembers going to 1st grade at Arlee Elementary School.

One of the most  tragic time in her life was when her dad died, in August 1945. Jack was only 3 at the time.. Blondie was in Texas at the time, visiting Lester while he was stationed there.  By the time she got back she had unfortunately missed the funeral .  Her mom soon sold the ranch and moved into Arlee with Jack, Carol and Donna.  She bought a small house there and  worked at the Fountain and later the Log Cabin as a cook.
Blondies brothers and sisters grew up and married. Blondie and Lester moved to Missoula on 1st Street across the street from where Doris and Albert lived.  Later when Lana Marie was born in 1946 they were living in Missoula on 2nd street and Lester did some logging with his brother- in- law Lyall Spooner.   Then Lester got a job in Anaconda, working as a carpenter at the Anaconda Copper Mine. He moved there, while the rest of the family stayed in Missoula on 6th street. While visiting in Anaconda, staying with Bondie’s sister Stella, Lana contracted Polio.  The doctors were not sure what it was.  Returning to Missoula she was put in Community Hospital where she stayed for three months for therapy and exercise. Blondie was able to get a job there as an aide so she could be with Lana most of the time. She moved to Front Street, right across the street from the hospital and a few blocks from Central Elementary School where Goldie attended.

  After divorcing in 1950, she worked at Woolworth’s Five and Dime Store, then the 4B’s Café.    Blondie’s sister Jo, or her mom, Eva, watched the girls while Blondie worked. .  During this time, Blondie married Fran Rasmussen from Arlee and they moved to Pattee Street, not far from Front Street in Missoula.  The girls welcomed a baby brother,  Kenny, on Dec. 20 1953 and enjoyed watching him grow up.Fran worked on the Northern Pacific railroad and Blondie worked for the Forest Service Nursery planting tree seedlings.. The family loved the out of doors; fishing, swimming, camping, picnicking all over the Arlee-Missoula area. They visited relatives and friends on weekends. Blondie and Fran enjoyed hunting, fishing and gold panning. Blondie used her sewing talents to tailor clothes for others, and make clothes for her children and doll clothes for the girls’ dolls. But still, she enjoyed being outside the most.
Blondie was talented in many ways; crafts, upholstery, gardening, cooking, canning, pickling, and jamming. She made many of the Christmas gifts for the family and became an expert at recycling, long before it was popular to do so.  She was gifted in embroidery and crocheting which she had learned from her mother. Also talented in leatherwork, she made beautiful  hand -made leather gifts for her family and friends. As the children grew they enjoyed spending time with relatives: Blondie’s brother El Dee’s girls, brother Bill's boys, Sister Jo's girls and brother Jack. Blondie loved the out of doors. Everything from walking in the woods looking for birds and wild animals to picking wild flowers and berries of all kinds.  Often the family would hike up to the huckleberry patches and fill their buckets, then go fishing in the creek nearby.  They would be sure to have huckleberries with cream for dessert that night along with trout for dinner.  Blondie was an excellent cook. Her family loved her apple pies, pumpkin cookies, potato soup and pot roast. Deer, elk, or fish were often part of the dinner meal.

In the winter, she loved looking for birds, deer and elk through her binoculars, cross country skiing or just walking through the snow covered forest grounds. She made sure her kids dressed warm for the Montana cold weather, but always encouraged them to go outside and enjoy making snowmen, sledding or having snow ball fights. When the family got a TV everyone enjoyed watching together shows such as The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, Ed Sullivan Show, Red Skelton Show, Lawrence Welk Show, Bob Hope Show, Jack Benny Show, Rawhide, Wagon Train, and Gunsmoke.  The kids liked the Mickey Mouse Club and Kung Fu.  Fran liked boxing and wrestling. Blondie liked the soap operas and the Carol Burnett Show.
 The family loved going to rodeos, pow wows, parades, circuses, stock car races, drive In movies,  Missoula County Fair, reunions, and spending holidays with family members. Goldie, Lana, and Ken all attended Central School, Hellgate High School, or Sentinel High School and engaged in all the normal activities there.  Goldie graduated in 1960….Lana graduated in 1964 and Ken graduated in…1972.
 Goldie married Roger Indreland and they had two boys: Rory Evan  1964: Ryan Dean 1965. Blondie’s first two grandchildren were delightful and fun.  They added a lot of joy to the family outings. Ken married Kathy Long  in 1972 but the marriage was dissolved (no children) and he moved to Seattle to work there. Lana married Bill Rankin in 1973....and soon added Blondie’s 3rd grandchild to the family—Eva Marie, 1974. Lana had 4 more girls:  Emma Lee, 1977, Christina Faye, 1979, Sara LeAnn, 1982, and Rebecca Jean, 1985.  . . and two boys, William Michael, 1989 and Christopher Scott, 1993. 

 Goldie's boys were raised in Missoula, so Blondie and Fran enjoyed attending their sports games, birthdays etc .Lana’s children were raised in California and spend many of their vacation time back in Missoula with their Great Grandma D, many cousins and their “Gramma B and Grandpa Fran.”  Blondie had 9 grandchildren!

Dean married Karen and later, their baby Kelsey became  Blondie’s first great grandchild. 
Rory married Mary and began their family with Ely, Blondie’s second great-grand child.
Then Kaitlyn joined Dean’s family,  Abby came to Rory’s family.  Wyatt came to Dean’s family and Owen came to Rory’s family  Blondie was thrilled to have 6 great grandchildren.  She loved being around them and watching them grow up.  Also during this time Blondie enjoyed family reunion with extended family at Bison Springs, her mom's birthday and many family other events.  

After Fran passed away at age 73, in July 1992, Blondie bought a corner lot in Missoula where she spent her time working on her landscape and her flower garden making it the best looking place in the neighborhood. During this time she had much  needed support from her son Ken and daughter Goldie and Goldie's family.

 In 1993 Blondie's mom passed away at the age of 91. By this time, Blondie had outlived both her husbands, and two of her brothers. She enjoyed having visits from Ken, Lana and her family and Goldie and her family at her Gleason Street home.  Her brother Jack often came by to help with household maintainance.  Many other family relatives visited her throughout the years and she even held a family reunion there one time. 

In 2004, when Ken passed away in Seattle, many of his friends and relatives came to his memorial at Goldie's place in Missoula.  During this time Blondie had much support from her children and grandchildren, but also from her siblings and their families, her neices and nephews which she was very grateful for.   

By Blondie's 85th birthday (2007) which was celebrated at Goldies place, Blondie had 13 great- grand children. Lana's girls had grown and married. Emma had 2 boys, David and Timothy Grigg and one girl, Amy Grigg; Tina had 1 girl, Elizabeth Cheney; Rebecca had 1 girl, Hali Bell and 1 boy, Colby Bell; Sara had one girl, Hannah Bingham. 

In July of 2010 another reunion at Goldie's was very special to Blondie as she was able to visit with so many extended family members and enjoyed being close to her grandchildren and great- grand children.  Everyone enjoyed the Blue Grass Band (Blondie's favorite kind of music). 

To celebrate her 90th year, another reunion was held at Goldie's place.  Although Blondie was quiet, she smiled a lot and really appreciated everyone who was there.  The cake was huge and the pot luck delicious.  She was happy just walking around Goldie's beautiful place and enjoying be outdoors with her family and extended family.  Her life story was presented on a lap top computer and family stories were shared.  At the close of the reunion, the traditional Indreland Bon Fire was a big hit.  By this time Blondie had 17 great- grand children.  The four that were added are:  James Cheney, Troy Bingham,  Liam Bell and Melanie Grigg.

Blondie spent most of her golden years in her home taking care of her yard and flower garden, watching sports on TV, and doing crossword puzzles (even when she had to use a magnifying glass to see the puzzles in the newspaper.)  She had a strong desire to remain independent and live on her own, which she accomplished until her last week of life. Goldie took care of  her and all of her needs during those last few years.   She died peacefully in her sleep on Oct 29, 2012 having lived a long eventful life.   Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren owe their very lives to her as without her, they would not have the life they have now.  We are grateful to have known and loved Blondie and we will cherish her memory for ever more. 

Pictures of Blondie and family are on a previous blog..check the archives. 

Next blog will have a photo history to go along with this narrative.