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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving with Grandma Jane in Southeast Texas

At the Pompano Club, Thanksgiving dinner.
This Thanksgiving, Alex and I took a trip to visit my 85 year old grandmother in Pt. Neches, Texas. My brother, the kids, and I are Grandma Jane's only blood relatives. She's my father's mother.

Grandma was born in Miles City, Montana in 1927 and lived there through her high school years. Her mother had also been born and raised in Miles City, but her father (Bill Leavitt) was an East Coast transplant; he came out to Montana after law school in Michigan (Grandma said he drew straws with a law school friend over who would take the Montana job), spent his professional life as a lawyer in Miles City, and even spent a few terms in Helena as a State Representative. In fact, the law firm he started in Miles City still exists under a different name: Lucas and Tom P.C., see this link for more detail.

Grandma's stories of growing up in Miles City include visits to Indian camps, the nearby army fort, spying on local people visiting the red light district (for which she spent a night in jail), and visits to the ranch of the Brewsters who were local ranching royalty link. Grandma tells stories specifically about Lyman Brewster, who it seems was also trained as a lawyer, but from Grandma's description was a hard drinking fellow who had burned most of his fingers off falling into a camp fire as a kid and could handle a horse like no other.

Grandma married my grandfather Barney, who was ten years her senior, in her early twenties. They moved to Billings where my dad spent his growing up years. Around the time Dad went to MSU for college, Grandma and Grandpa moved to southeast Texas for a business opportunity with Barney's brother. Not many years later (before my parents met) Barney was shot and killed.

Grandma was traumatized by the death of her husband, but eventually came out of it and remarried a local fellow named Homer Wallace, who was a fun-loving, crude-humored,  hard working, honorable Texan. He died a couple of years back and had been sufficiently miserly that though his station in life had been modest, he was able to give one million dollars to Lamar University to establish the Wallace Chair in Fine Arts (link) when he died.

In addition to the shock of losing her husband violently, Grandma also lost her son, my dad, to murder here in Missoula in 1999. Most people in her position would have simply given up at this point, but she has persevered, even now alone in Texas, she still enjoys life and so fights on. She's still feisty and enjoys verbal sparring.

And she loved Alex, who is an ideal person to have along on such a trip. He charmed her effortlessly and she raised her game because of his presence. Her and I are both combative, so we have a tendency to banter and argue, but with Alex there it ended up the best visit in recent memory.  I hope we're able to get down there one more time, hopefully with Ellie in tow, who Alex says Grandma Jane reminds him of.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cyclocross Season 2012

Gathering after one of the early races this season.
The end of cyclocross season is already weeks back. Here in Missoula, we have a six week Wednesday night series, culminating in Montana's largest cross race, Rolling Thunder. This year, I made it to all but the last race and Rolling Thunder, which I hated to miss, but overall it was a great season.

For me, cyclocross season is foremost about the many trips, ostensibly for training, that I make around Mt. Sentinel: from my office at UM, out the Kim Williams trail, some variation up Deer Creek Canyon, and then down Pattee Canyon. During fall, I've come to prefer Deer Creek Canyon to Missoula's more popular spots. Maybe it's because I feel alone back there most days, or that the larch trees explode with color in October, or perhaps it's just the repitition: with each lap, the canyon's imprint on me deepens.
larch turning golden
But cyclocross season is also about the races, because they drive me to ride more and harder, they bring me together with a community of bike lovers, and they feed that competitive itch that I love to scratch. Missoula's cyclocross race series brings color to my fall, much like the larch trees whose needles have now fallen.
more of the same.

Saturday, November 3, 2012