Here’s Jamie, my cousin Muriel, my cousin-in-law Bill, and me on their farm.
Muriel has always been my favorite cousin. I love all my other cousins, too, but Muriel spent every December at our house when I was a kid so I got to know her better than any of the others. And then, of course, she married Bill which really sealed the deal.
Muriel’s dad was a real estate agent in Kalispell. He couldn’t sell much land when it was covered with snow, so he came up with the brilliant idea of bringing Montana Christmas trees down to Southern California. He was a smokin’, drinkin’, gamblin’, cussin’, dirty joke tellin’, incredibly charismatic guy. He seemed really exotic and fun compared to my parents‘ milquetoast circle of friends and I couldn’t wait until Uncle Dick and Aunt Noma and Bill and Muriel and the rest of the cast of characters showed up at our front door every year. It was the best day of the year, even better than Christmas.
Muriel prides herself on being tough as nails. No one who knows her would dispute that self assessment.
For some reason, she stayed behind here in Montana one year after the rest of the crew headed down to California to sell Christmas trees. She was supposed to drive down later with her two infant daughters. Well, a major blizzard hit the Canadian border just as she left Kalispell driving one of those tiny, rickety, original VW bugs.
She reached the Rocky Mountains just as night fell. So much snow was falling that she couldn’t see twenty feet in front of the car. Most rational drivers pulled over and didn’t even attempt to cross the mountains at night. But family lore says that snow and darkness didn’t deter Muriel.
She pulled into a gas station on the eastern side of the Rockies and approached the drivers of two 18-wheelers.
”Would you two be willing to guide me across the mountains in the dark?” she asked. “If one of you drives in front of me I’ll be able to follow your tail lights, and if the other one drives in back your headlights will light the road in front of me.”
They agreed to her crazy scheme. And that’s how Muriel and her two infant daughters crossed the Rocky Mountains and got to California in time for Christmas dinner with our two families.
Yeah, she’s tough. And Bill has had to put up with that toughness for seven decades now. They’ve been married for 65 years and together since junior high school.
My Aunt Sarahjane always said, “You’re a saint, Bill.”
She was right, of course, but I have a feeling he wouldn’t want it any other way.