I’m lucky to live in the great state of Montana, but I wasn’t born here. My Montana beginnings occurred in my 20s, although I’d been fascinated by the West from a young age. The late 1950s and early 1960s were the time of the western on television: Daniel Boone, The Virginian, and, of course, Bonanza. It’s fun watching those old shows now and again.
When I was seven or eight, I was quite convinced I’d been a Native American in a previous life, or that my ancestors included a tribe that lived out West. My friends tried to explain to me why that was impossible, since my grandparents had immigrated to the US from Germany.
I stuck to my guns, so to speak.
Fast forward to college graduation. I’d outgrown my naïve belief, and had determined how my life was to be—marry my college sweetheart, find a teaching job, and soon produce two children. The first step went according to plan, but finding a teaching job in Michigan in the early seventies proved difficult. So I did what any sane person would do—I went back to school to get a Masters in Theater. (Yeah, I know. Practicality wasn’t my strong suit.)
Somehow I was surprised to find there were no jobs for a newly-minted college theater professor. I searched and searched and finally came up with a one-year position at Eastern Montana College in Billings, Montana.
(An interesting side note. The only college that would accept singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie at about the same time was Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana. He was as amazed as I was that there was such a place.)
So, I bundled my dog, a year’s worth of stuff, and myself into a train from Ann Arbor to Chicago. My husband stayed in Michigan to work in the film department. Since it was only for a year, we figured we could handle the separation. (Did I mention my youthful naiveté?)
After several hours of listening to my dog whine whenever the conductor came over the loudspeaker, I switched to a sleeper car, brought my dog in with me, and began the adventure to Montana.
I had no idea the country was so big. Or treeless. Or that cows had a habit of wandering on to track and there was nothing to do but wait them out. I ate in the dining car and stared out the window until night fell. Around ten o’clock the next morning, I stepped out of the train station in Billings, Montana. It was nothing I expected at all, but everything I’d known a western town would be.
It took another year before I got to my first Native American reservation. There wasn’t much to go home to. My marriage had failed under the strain of absence and poor choices. My mother had died the year before I took my Montana journey. So I decided to stay.
Finding a job was still a challenge, but a few days before school started, the desperate school board in Browning, Montana, hired me to teach junior high English, and I was about to hit an enormous life-learning curve.
My beginning career wasn’t sustained, but that’s another story for another time. The lessons I learned, both in college, and in life, were always useful in my life.
“Every piece of your life, no matter how difficult, matters in the end.”
~~~ Raul Mendez, California Dream (Work in progress).
How about you? What new beginnings have you had and how did they impact your life?
Don’t forget to enter the “New Beginnings” contest. The deadline is January 31. More details are available here.