When I put Betsy on the plane at the Helena International Airport, after a perfect week together, and after a passionate goodbye kiss, she couldn't resist showing her new engagement ring to the stewardess. And then I moped my way slowly out of the airport, distressed at the thought of twelve more days without her. The stewardess, noticing this, approached Betsy in mid-flight and told her how sad I looked after she left. So when Betsy changed planes in Salt Lake, she called Paul and ordered him to give me a call and cheer me up.
And in fact it WAS a perfect week. We began with lime and strawberry freezes at the Parrot, one of the last pre-Depression Era confectionery shops still in existence. Then some window shopping up and down Last Chance Gulch and an unexpectedly good meal at the Windbag Saloon before heading up into the mountains.
Our time together in my little cottage in the mountains was idyllic. Perfect stillness, absolute privacy, breathtaking scenery: rainwashed freshness outside and cozy grandmotherliness inside. Our only problem was finding the strength to leave it for even a few hours.
Our first major expedition was several hundred miles north to Glacier National Park. I had hoped to take Betsy over the world-famous Going-To-The-Sun Highway, but even after a struggle involving twenty snowplows, the Army Corps of Engineers, and more than two months of effort, Logan Pass was still closed. No matter. We just drove up one side as far as they would let us, and then drove around the mountains instead of over them.
We stayed at an enchanting, hidden place called the Izaak Walton Inn. It used to the be the three story bunkhouse for the Northern Pacific Railroad, and is now a luxury hotel. We stayed in room 230, one of their best!
Unfortunately, due to CONSIDERABLE dawdling that morning, we arrived too late for dinner and had to find food elsewhere. This proved the most humourous event of the trip, as we stumbled naively into a deserted greasy spoon called "Denny's." It was a dim shack inhabited by a lonely old woman who stood about four feet high. There was an inflatable Oscar Meyer Wiener hanging from the ceiling and a World War II eye chart on the wall that spelled out a subliminal message in praise of Ranier Beer.
For your sakes, gentle friends, I will refrain from a description of the meal itself. Suffice it to say that Betsy managed only three bites, and those were among the worse three bites of her life. Above our table was a faded newspaper clipping from 1962 detailing the only interesting thing that had ever happened at Denny's: the day it blew up.
Unfortunately, and over the protests of the local inhabitants, the owners of Denny's managed to rebuild. Betsy had no doubt that an irate customer had been behind the original blast, and was openly advocating some direct action to help history repeat itself. In fact the next day, as we drove past Denny's on our way back into the park, it was all I could do to restrain her from tossing a burning rag into the "methane escaping from back of the kitchen." It was the one perfectly awful meal of our perfect trip.
Once back inside the park, we went on a four mile hike through a gentle rain up to Avalanche Lake. So impervious were we to the elements that we even sang to each other as we climbed and the sun rewarded us with a brief respite just as we reached the lake.
That night we drove to within a few miles of Canada to one of the most breathtaking corners of the planet, a place I had not seen since I was a child, Many Glaciers. And then a long ride home with Betsy sleeping softly at my side.
On Saturday Betsy began to bake things for me, beginning with some strawberry, hucklberry, sweet onion, cinnamon and ginger crepes that were out of this world. That night we went to a barbeque with a bunch of my friends and a movie at the Myrna Loy.
On Sunday, after baking a loaf of the best homemade bread I've ever tasted, Betsy finally met my parents. The evening was a smashing, red white and blue, star-spangled success from beginning to end. My father's only vice is a peculiar passion for olives, and Betsy managed to obtain the holy of holies in the olive world, a can of Graber's green olives, which she presented with her usual sweet smile. She was witty and warm, charming and sincere, and I was beaming with pride the whole time.
Monday was the day we found our rings, and to celebrate we drove to Missoula to see the Chapel of the Dove. On the way back we lingered at the Continental Divide just as the moon rose next to a rare allignment of three planets. That was our last night together in Montana.
All along the way Betsy was surprising me with little presents: an attractive tie, some fine chocolates, a good bottle of wine, and even a book of Feminist Folk Tales which I read aloud to her one night as we lay in bed. We also went online one evening and shared a keyboard as we bounced from one electronic room to another. And Betsy and I collaborated to produce a clip-art postcard (see picture at left) with the slogan "I Caught The Big One in Canyon Creek, Montana."
Of course, I have chosen to keep the best moments of our vacation to myself. Suffice it to say that Montana has been very good to me and now has given me and my love the perfect prelude to our lives together.