There’s nothing skerri about the Big Sky State
By Kerri McInnesspecial to the action”Home is not where you live but where they understand you.” Christian Morgenstern
This week I take a break from my Skerri World. My hat full of topics has dwindled as I write from the road visiting friends and family in my home place of Montana. My everyday life in California provides me so many entertaining topics on a daily basis that I have a plethora of ideas stored up in my little brain just waiting for release. However, as I arrived in Montana for the holidays, those topics seemed to have dissolved as simplicity gets the better of me. Things are as they are here. There’s none of the California candy coating and no one expects it. For example, our first evening in town, we went to see my little brother play high school basketball. As we are watching the game, my family in the stands tries to catch us up on who’s who on the court and kept referring to the “black boy.” It was not done in whispers but in shouts across the bleachers, “the black boy got another foul!” You could have referred to him in a number of different ways, perhaps something like “the quicker-than-lightening point guard” or simply by the number on his back like everyone else. But he was indeed the only black boy on the team, just as I had only one black boy in my high school of nearly 1000 students. So you call them as you see them. No need to get the ACLU involved. He is a black boy so they call him the black boy and he seems to be quite content to be the black boy. My husband, however, who grew up in Southern California, had eyes the size of pizzas when he heard people shouting in the bleachers about the “black boy.”
While we’re on the subject of diversity, we can’t forget to include the Native American population of Montana. I had forgotten, growing up on jokes about Indians. Going out for pizza the other night, a group of Indians (yes “Indians,” not “Native Americans,” not “members of the Blackfoot tribe”) was in front of us for a table and the jokes began: Would there be any beer left after Charlie Drinks-Lots-of-Hops gets served? Would there be any pizza left after Jack Eats-Like-a-Buffalo finishes? We are not only socially less progressive up here north of the 48th parallel, but legislatively resistant as well. People are still trying to deal with the smoking ban that has taken place in restaurants in Montana beginning back in April. You’d think after eight months, people would be catching on, but nearly everywhere we went, we witnessed people getting ousted for lighting up. With a roll of their eyes, they shuffle out of the booth mumbling something under their breath.Last spring, a bill was passed to ban open containers of alcohol while driving. The ban didn’t take effect until Oct. 1, 2005 to allow Montanans to get used to the idea. So, they gave Big Sky State residents about six months to get used to not drinking and driving on the highway. That’s too good. At least the state has a speed limit now so when we are NOT drinking and driving, we’re doing it at a modest 80 mph. I’m somewhat making fun of this region I still call home and somewhat feeling regret that I am no longer a resident of this peculiar territory.
As I wander the streets of my hometown in search of a natural food store that sells Kombucha, everywhere I look I see overweight people smoking (curbside after getting the boot from the local café), drinking and doing all their Christmas shopping at the same Wal-Mart that was protested a number of years ago. And although it is 180 degrees different from my current lifestyle, I feel a bit nostalgic. I don’t want to be an overweight, smoking, drinking redneck whose entertainment is cracking jokes about the schools on the Indian Reservations where you can, no kidding, major in basket weaving. But these people are real. They tell it like it is, not with the intention of offending, but with the unintentional result of being genuine. So, for the time being, I forget about my search for Kombucha and join my family for an old-fashioned brunch of biscuits and gravy where I actually miss the hazy atmosphere from the smoke. Here it’s not much of a Skerri World. There are manger scenes with baby Jesus in just about every other yard, dogs are out running around herding the cattle, not indoors wearing nail polish and bath robes, people do their part in fuel conservation by driving their 4-wheelers and snowmobiles about town. The biggest news of the week up here was the accidental fire that broke out at the Anheuser-Busch plant just north of town. While my stomach turns at all the greasy diner food I’ve eaten this past week, I feel more serene than I’ve felt in quite some time. But the vacation must end or I will not have anything else to write about. So tomorrow we will stow away the alcohol in the trunk and prepare for the sober journey back to California. I just hope that as I head back to the bustle of the surreal world of Northern California, the nostalgic thoughts in my head will dissolve just as the wisps of smoke finally dissolve from the last of the Montana restaurants. E-mail Kerri at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Over the past year, various “keep out” signs have appeared near the Hirschdale Bridge, causing concerns for river users. Those concerns led to a community meeting last week