Thursday, May 21, 2009
Heidi Thomas: Growing Up in Rural Montana
Jordan Dormitory alumni: Heidi’s Dad, class of 1942; Heidi, class of 1968
It is my pleasure to have Heidi Thomas as my guest during her blog tour. Heidi’s coming-of-age novel, Cowgirl Dreams, a story about her grandmother, has met with wide acclaim. At one time she mentioned to me that during her high school years she lived in a dorm during the school week, since their family ranch was too far from school for a daily commute. I find this fascinating and have asked her to tell us more about that part of her background.
What do you do when you live 150 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart (or K-Mart, etc.)?
Actually, when I was growing up on a ranch in eastern Montana during the 1950s and ‘60s, there weren’t any of those ’Marts, so I didn’t know what I was missing! The nearest town of any size was Jordan, population about 200.
You might say that I lived a life that was rather similar to that of my grandmother’s in many ways. So, in that respect I feel like I could identify with how she grew up.
We did live a mile and a half from a little country grocery store and Post Office at Sand Springs, so we could go there for groceries. But many people lived 30 to 50 miles farther from the main highway and they would take their big cattle or grain trucks in to a larger city in the fall to stock up for the winter. If it was a long winter with a lot of snow, we might not see them for four or five months!
So, because there was no bus service, when I attended high school, I stayed in a dormitory during the week and came home on weekends. About 60 out of the 150 students in high school, lived in the dorm, a two-story building across the street from the school.
Boys lived on the first floor and girls on the second and we had a no-nonsense dorm matron who made sure we adhered to the rules. After school hours, we were required to sign out and in, we each had chores assigned for a month at a time, we had to be present for meals, and we had a 9 p.m. curfew. The exception to that was the one or two nights a movie showed at the local theater. If the movie ran longer than 9 p.m., we were excused.
Because of the “baby-boomer” generation, the dorm was filled to capacity during the four years I lived there. Most rooms housed three (some had four) girls. Can you imagine that many teenagers sharing one tiny closet? We tried to pack clothes for a week at a time, but it was still a little on the crowded side. We shared a communal bathroom, with one shower stall.
Dorm life was something I had in common with my dad, who lived there during his senior year in 1942. He told me out of 109 students in high school, only three had their own cars, so more students stayed through the weekends during the winter.
My parents often took me to school on Monday mornings and picked me up Friday afternoons, or I sometimes rode with neighbors. I did have my own car when I was a senior.
Extra-curricular activities were few in those days. Some kids “cruised the drag” (Main street was about two blocks long), some boys were involved in basketball (no girls team and no football team). I was involved in chorus, band and the school newspaper.
I returned about 20 years later to do an article about the dorm for Montana Magazine. By that time, residents had dwindled to fewer than 20, because of a decline in the general student population as well as added daily bus service to the outlying areas.
In many ways, the landmark founded in 1936 had not changed much. The rooms were spartan by most teen standards. The bunk beds of the ‘60s were dismantled into single beds and some of the rooms were empty. But each still reflected the personality of its occupant.
The Jordan dorm was the last public high school dormitory in the United States when it closed in the mid-1980s.
Thank you, Mary, for hosting me today, and thanks to all of you for joining me on this blog stop. Come back tomorrow for an interview on Teens Read Too http://www.teensreadtoo.com/ and an article on “Connections” on the Women Writing the West blog http://womenwritingthewest.blogspot.com/