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Montana—where the men are men, the women are men, and the women are glad the sheep can’t cook.

Next weekend marks the occasion of my 4th time in Montana. The first was as an 8 year old, when we went to a family reunion for my Mother’s side of the family. We drove in my Grandmother’s rust-colored 1981 Toyota Camry, and I still remember that I was reading “The Secret of Terror Castle,” an Alfred Hitchcock Mystery. The main character was a teenaged boy named Jupiter Jones, whose uncle owned a junk yard, but I don’t remember what the Secret of Terror Castle turned out to be.

As we passed through Montana, we stayed the night in a motel in Missoula. I’m not sure of the day, but after we checked in, when my grandfather looked out of our window, the hillside above the town was on fire, and he called the fire department.

“Hello” he said. “I’m not sure if this is something that’s supposed to be happening, some sort of controlled field-burn or something, but are you aware that your hill is on fire?”

They weren’t. It turned out that the entire resident population of the town was downtown, at some type of harvest fair. It took people who had no connection to the town to recognize the danger creeping toward it.

The second time was the return. We didn’t stop in Missoula. We didn’t stop anywhere.

The third time was August 2002, when the band played our first out-of-state gig, at the Zebra Lounge in Bozeman. The only unblurred detail from that trip is that the air was so thin, I could barely breathe. My singing sucked because of it, but Wa and I did have a nice conversation with a Swede who told me our music was a cross between Depeche Mode and Blondie. I think she meant it as a compliment.

So, next weekend, I’ll be leaving (on a jet plane) for the Bright Lights and Big City of Billings. Joy. I’m going to visit The Dad.

The thing is, I’m scared to death. I’m not particularly crazy about The Dad anyway, and this trip is supposed to be one whose purpose is to iron out the details of what will happen to The Dad’s Crap when he finally enters the Giant Shit Hole In The Sky. So what am I so freaked out about?

Item One: I have to go on an airplane. Strangely enough, since this will be my 4th trip to Montana, it will also be my 4th trip on an airplane. Even though I know airplanes are safe (believe me, I’m related to a lot of people who’ve worked at Boeing over the years, and they don’t just fall apart in the air, like I thought they did when I was little.) I’m still not crazy about them. Mostly, it’s because I’m not crazy about buses either, and an airplane is just a giant bus in the sky. Another reason is that I’m scared shitless of heights.

Item Two: I’m scared shitless of heights. When I was about 5, The Dad, The Stepmom, The Stepsister, The Sister and Moi went to Multnomah Falls. We walked up what seemed to be a very long path. Eventually (it must have been 8 or 9 minutes later) we got to the bridge. This bridge, for those unfamiliar, is only about 50 feet above the water, but to a 3 foot tall kid, that’s a long way down. The Dad thought I wanted to be able to see better, so he picked me up and dangled me over the edge—You may have wondered where Michael Jackson got the idea, now you know. The more I screamed and cried, the more he said things like “It’s okay. I’m not going to drop you. Whoops! Just kidding.” And eventually “Stop crying. Be tough. Be a Marine.”

On another occasion, we were at Oaks Park, and he took me on the Ferris Wheel. The operator warned me very sternly “Don’t rock the car when you are going up, or when you’re on the top. It’s dangerous.” Then he told The Dad “Don’t let your daughter rock the car, okay?” “Sure. I won’t let her rock the car.”

Guess who rocked the car, until I cried and begged him to stop.

I could go on, but I won’t.

Item three: I could go on, but I won’t.

I won’t, because it’s all moot anyway. I’m going to Montana, whether I like it or not. I’m going because I’m not a kid anymore, and my Grandmother’s rust-colored 1981 Toyota Camry now rests in my driveway. I’m not crazy about the idea, but the money was sent, the tickets are bought, and I’m going. I’m going to see The Dad. I’m spending three whole days with him. We’re going to write a will. I’m going on an airplane. And all this is possible because somewhere along the way, I learned how to stop being a tourist in my own head. Instead, I’m one of the townspeople, totally unaware of the danger creeping slowly toward me.

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