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 and an article on “Connections” on the Women Writing the West blog


Heidiwriter said...

Mary, Thank you for hosting me on my Blog Book Tour today. Many people find it odd that I lived away from home while in high school, but that was the way of life "back then." With towns so far from ranches, dorms or boarding with town families was the norm. Some mothers even rented houses in town to stay with their kids during the school year. It was a difficult decision for parents.


Jean Henry Mead said...

You brought back old memories of high school days, Heidi, although mine were in Los Angeles. I'm about to find out what rural living is all about when we move to our little retirement ranch in the mountains.


robynl said...

your reminiscing brought back memories for me when I went to Bible School for a year. We lived in dorms, one for girls, one for boys. We had a head mistress and we had to sign in and out also. There were 2 to a room and we had duties as keeping our rooms clean and kp duties(kitchen).

Cristina K. said...

Wonderful story. Inspiring. Vividly recreates the place and time.
Thanks, Heidi!

Cristina K.

Renaissance Women said...

Wow, Although I did not live a dorm, it brought back memories of the country school I started in. It also reminded me of the 'farming' community of the mid-west. Different circumstances, same people. Thank you for sharing. I loved it.


Renaissance Women said...

Thanks! Your story reminded me of growing up in the mid-west 'farming' community. Different area, similar people. I started in the small country school although no dorms. Still snow, driving distances etc. Thanks for the memories.


Anonymous said...

Another great stop on this tour - enjoyed reading more bout you Heidi, and hey - "We are mighty, we are great - we're the class of '68!"

LOL - graduated HS same year as you and your pic looks SO like this cutie I had a crush on in biology class. :)

The Old Silly from Free Spirit Blog

Gwyn Ramsey said...

A very interesting article. Thank you Mary for a quick glimpse into Heidi's life during her younger years. I went to a one room school. Dogs were allowed if they behaved and didn't mess the floors. The outhouse in back was used, but during winter the seats were cold and the wind blew through the cracks. When we moved closer to the junior high, I just lived within the boundaries of not being able to ride the bus. What's that old saying, "I walked 10 miles in the snow, up the hill, backwards." Oh well, my kids never did believe that one. Thank you again for the great article.

Virginia said...

Hi Heidi, I was raised in a small comunity and I lived about a mile from a country store and we also had a small post office. That little community doesn't have the post office or country store anymore.

Heidiwriter said...

Oh yes, Gwyn, the old outhouse days! I remember those SO well. We actually didn't have an indoor bathroom in our house until I was a junior in high school!

And the snow... you can just imagine!


Virginia said...

Hi Heidi, I really enjoyed your post. It reminds me of the old days when I was growing up. Up intil I was about eight we didn't have an inside bathroom, we had an out house. We carried our water in buckets from a cystern outside. We didn't have running water.

Anonymous said...


I enjoyed reading about your high school years. I recognized it from the manuscript you were reading to me a couple of years ago. By gone days!

What is it about that picture? My high school pictures is taken with the exact same angle to my neck. Huh? You look sweet, though.

robynl said...

after high school I went to a Bible School for one year and we lived in dorms. This brings back memories; there were 2 to a dorm and we had chores (Kitchen duty), floors in the dining hall, dishes; yes dishes for 100's of students. We walked to class and to church and had to wear dresses.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Like many others responding, I'm old enough to remember the outhouse. Some memories just will not go away.

Excellent post, Heidi.


Helen said...

Very interesting. I'd never even heard of a high school dorm. Wow. My first experience with dorms was college. I loved it! Freedom, at last.

Straight From Hel

Heidiwriter said...

Thank you all for commenting! It's such fun to reminisce! And to count my blessings that I don't have to live like that anymore!


Linda Suzane said...

How does it feel to be a part of history? The last high school dorm in the United States. It is certainly a different world.

Anonymous said...

Hello People, I was on a holiday for a month just passing by read this interesting post its great to see that every thing here is getting more lively...thanks a lot for these keep them coming....

Best place for your complete Internet marketing