Friday, July 22, 2011

A Short Story: Sam George Hill

Sam George Hill

The hill was actually a bench that stood a few feet in elevation above our little town.  It was about four miles from the town limits so it didn't appear overwhelming in size; it was just a hill on the prairie from our view.  I don't know where it got its name, Sam George.  It was the name for the hill that was handed down for generations and was a name sometimes for the general area of the hill west of town.

Sam George was a summertime diversion from the mundane play of three young boys, all age eleven.  Every so often a bicycle trip to Sam George was planned; usually when swimming and baseball had run the course of the boys' interest and adventure had stolen the conversation. 

Sam George adventures usually meant carrying a few hot dogs sacked by our mothers for the trip.  Sam George trips meant that we boys could start a camp fire and roast hot dogs and sometimes a potato on a stick.  That meant we could carry matches and sometimes a hunting knife.  We always thought that we might capture on of the hundreds of cotton tail rabbits that lived on the hill.  We never did -- at least not until we were twelve and old enough to carry a .22 cal rifle.

This particular adventure played out in the early part of June in the summer of 1958.  School had dismissed for the summer three weeks earlier.  Jerry, James and I had taken bikes, mitts, baseballs and bats to the high school football field on this sunny morning to play our own version of "Home Run Derby".  After all three had our turn at bat; we stopped our game to sit in the grass on the football field. 

The discussion turned to the 1958 New York Yankees Baseball Team.  We were all three Yankees fans.  A minor part of the discussion was the amount of money Mickey Mantle was to receive in 1958.  The sixty five thousand dollars was an amount so enormous we could not imagine how it could be spent.  We speculated that Mickey would find a way, however.

We were all infielders on our Pee Wee League baseball team.  Jerry was a south paw and our pitcher.  I played short stop and James was second base.  We were quite good and often the envy of our peers.  We practiced enough; it wasn't natural talent.  Our Yankee heroes were, Yogi Berra, Fritz Brickell, Andy Carey, Tony Kubek, Jerry Lumpe, Gil McDougald, Bobby Richardson, Bill Skowron and Marv Throneberry.  The favorite pitchers were Ryne Duren and Whitey Ford.  We talked about who would win the "Most Valuable Player" for 1958.  Mickey Mantle had won in 1957.  We were hoping a Yankee would win again.  We exhausted Yankees baseball within 45 minutes.  It was Popsicle time.

The best place to buy a Popsicle in those days was the swimming pool.  Popsicles were a nickel.  An ice cream bar was a dime.  That meant we could have two popsicles for the price of one ice cream bar.  Popsicles always won.  We jumped on our bikes and rode to ten blocks to the swimming pool.

The swimming pool was in the north east part of the Legion Park, comprised of one city block.

We bought our popsicles and lounged under an ash tree and the freshly mowed green grass in the park.  We strayed from baseball.  We talked for a while of swimming.  We decided we were not interested in swimming that afternoon.  Nearly every kid in town had a season swimming pass purchased by their parents for $3.  The three dollar fee included swimming lessons--should there be a need.  The north end of the pool was three feet deep and the south end with three diving boards was nine feet deep.  A rope divided the pool in half.  To be in the south end or deep end you had to pass a test--three laps across the width of the pool without stopping.

We finished our popsicles and hopped on our bikes and rode.  We had no particular heading.  We just rode on the sidewalks.  If one turned we all turned.  We talked as we rode.

One of us mentioned a bike ride to Sam George Hill.  We all liked the idea--we had not been there yet this summer.  Preparing for a bike ride to Sam George Hill was quite an undertaking and a fairly solemn ceremony for us.  It was a matter of logistics.  Who would pack the wieners and marshmallows?  We needed to gather the hardware we needed--BB guns and hunting knives, and farmer matches.

Now, the Hill was only a couple to three miles west of town; but it was many miles away to three eleven year old boys.  It was a major trip in merit of the best planning.

The time was nearing noon.  Jerry's house was closer; we stopped there for lunch.  Jerry's mother made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  The jelly was grape and came from a glass jar with Howdy Doody's picture on it.  When the jelly jar was empty it made a fine drinking glass.  Howdy's picture was on this one but you could buy them with each of the Howdy Doody Show characters on them.  Howdy's caricature seemed to make good jelly taste even better.  We washed it down with glasses of cold milk.

While we were eating we disclosed our Sam George Hill plans to Jerry's mother.  Then James and I went to our own homes to collect all those necessary items for the Sam George adventure.  Pocket knives, hunting knives, BB guns, matches and of course hot dogs--real franks straight from the butcher counter at Readers Grocery.

As we packed our food (hot dogs) we each included a potato to roast.  The hot dogs always cooked fine--the potatoes, however, never seemed to work out.  Roasting them on a stick, they were always burned on the outside and raw and cold on the inside.  We were persistent though and managed to waste three good potatoes on each Sam George adventure.

The time was close to one thirty when we mounted up and tackled the gravel road that slightly but steadily inclined to Sam George Hill.  Jerry's bike had a basket on the front clamped to the handle bars.  He was the lucky one when it came to carrying all of the equipment.  We had all of our equipment packed in brown grocery bags with the exception of the BB guns.  We strapped the bags and air rifles to the bike basket with cotton packaging string.  The ride to the Hill was a gruesome ride for our circa 1955 Schwinn bikes.  We looked forward to the downhill ride home, though.

It was a gruesome ride--but we were fresh and in good spirits.  We chattered happily as we rode and hardly noticed the bumpy gravel road that tossed us uncontrollably on the ride up.

We rode to the top where the bench flattened out.  The length of the bench was separated by gullies that were on the north and south sides.  There were probably fifty gullies on each side of the bench.  The gullies, each of them had their own features--rocks, wind blown sandstone sculptures that housed marmots, rabbits, snakes and horned lizards.  The sandstone in the wind blown gullies formed miniature caves and sheltered sandstone rooms--all perfect for feeding the imaginations of three adventuresome boys.

We walked on top of the bench toward the east.  The summer grasshoppers hopped and flew ahead of us each step we took.  We found what appeared to be a promising gully--one with an adequate number of sandstone features.  We dropped down into the gully and found a ten foot by ten foot room in the middle of sandstone outcrops; this would be our camp site.

The first thing we did was build a camp fire.  The temperature under the hot prairie sun was in the high eighties--but when you are on an outing of this nature a camp fire is necessary no matter the temperature.  The second task was of course, to cook hot dogs and roast potatoes.  We found adequate roasting sticks in the brush--not perfect, but adequate.  We roasted our hot dogs and ate our delicious meal.  We tossed the potatoes--they were inedible as usual.

We sat close to our camp fire and reveled in its primordial power.  We poked sticks into the coals and when the ends started in flame we blew them out so that the ends would smoke.  We broke the sticks to a manageable length and put them in our mouths and pretended they were cigarettes.  We held them between our fingers and mimicked our perception of grownups with cigarettes.  When we tired of that fairly unproductive play we threw sand on the fire and put it out.

It was now time to explore.  The Blackfeet that inhabited that area for eons before our little town was born, had erected their teepees for many seasons on the bench we called Sam George Hill.  The anchor rocks fixed in a circle from the teepees were still just as they were left by the nomadic tribe following the bison.  We sat in the dry grass in the center of the rings and imagined ourselves as mighty Blackfeet warriors passing the ceremonial pipe and recalling stories of bravery in battle.  As we sat in the teepee rings our moods became somber and philosophic and we felt a kinship with the past and the earth and early inhabitants of the area.  We killed the better part of an hour in the teepee rings before being alerted to movement in the gully below us.  We crawled on our hands and knees believing that the cottontail that we had seen could not see us if we stayed low to the ground.  The rabbit stayed very still as we approached but scampered off when we got too close.

As we continued walking on the tip of the bench, Jerry saw a shiny black stone partially covered by the white sun bleached soil.  We all stopped and keeled as Jerry used his small Glacier Park novelty hunting knife to scrape the dirt and dig up the black stone.  When the stone was free we saw the shape and knew that Jerry had found an obsidian arrow point.  We all marveled at its symmetry and beauty and again found ourselves pretending that we were part of the early tribes from the area.  It was not uncommon to find arrow points in this area but it was always a sacred ceremony to three young boys on an adventure.

The question that always seemed to surface was how did those ancient people make the stone points?  James said that his father said that a real Blackfeet chief from the Reservation in Browning told him that they heated the stones in a fire and then dripped cold water on the part of the stone that they wanted removed and shaped it eventually into an arrowhead.  We had tried that method on several occasions but it never worked.  We were beginning to think that there must have been another method.

We kept walking until we reached the eastern most end of the bench.  At the end we stopped and sat and looked east to our little town.  The three tall grain elevators were clearly visible above the flat sun drenched prairie.  We thought of the swimming pool in town and we thought of the popsicles waiting for us.

We walked without conversation back to our bikes and started the downhill ride to town.

copyright Terry Sutherland

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