Sharon Lauderdale Sloan: The hanky. (I was ironing today and had a wonderful memory of helping my grandmother iron and she started me out ironing Grandpa’s hanky. I thought the hanky would be a very flexible subject. Will be fun to see what you come up with.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a connection to the Imer family. Sheri Imer was my first friend in first grade. Her dad, Dick Imer, was the football and wrestling coach at Hardin High School and my oldest brother, Tom, was one of his first star athletes. Dick Imer’s roots were in Chicago, a mysterious and distant city I only knew of because every Christmas the Imer family would drive to Chicago, depriving me of my best friend during the long holiday break.
But Betty Imer’s roots were in the hills of eastern Montana near Lame Deer. At the time, it might as well have been as far away as Chicago—Lame Deer was 70 miles from Hardin, and their ranch was probably another 15 miles from there. Betty’s maiden name was Broadus—related to the founders of Broadus, Montana another 50 miles beyond Lame Deer to the east, and I was always so impressed to know someone who was connected to the founder of a town.
Betty grew up a cowgirl on the family ranch. There are pictures of her in cowboy boots, spurs, chaps and plaid shirt that epitomizes her life growing up. It is iconic. Ranching on the Rosebud Creek was every bit a struggle as a person could imagine—semi-arid land that’s measured in sections rather than acres; range fires, water shortages, fights over mineral rights, winters that would blow in with nary a tree to break the blasts of cold.
Behind all that was Betty’s mom, Margaret Broadus. Margaret lived in an era where the family trip to Yellowstone Park was in a horse drawn wagon. She was a rancher’s wife, no stranger to hard work and isolation living miles from civilization. Sheri and her family referred to Margaret as Gram, so that was how I knew her. She was a tall, long-faced, weathered woman, a little bit scary, and always a mystery to me. I wondered what her life must have been like on that ranch. Wondered what it was like when a person couldn’t just “run” to the grocery store for milk or eggs. What life was like for someone so old they rode a wagon to the Park, yet still alive to drive a Buick sedan.
As Margaret got older and after her husband died, she moved into town—Hardin—and volunteered at the Catholic Church. Father Fabian was the priest in charge. I didn’t know exactly what she did there, but she lived or stayed at the rectory and did church things. She drove her own car for years and then later she caught rides with people in town. My mom, who would have been in her mid-seventies at the time, gave Margaret rides to Billings to shop and run errands.
At one point, Margaret lived in some apartments near the church. She stayed active for all that time. Finally, in 1998, she ended up at the Hospital, and then probably the nursing home. It was around Christmas, and her health was failing. We were home from Minnesota, and my mom hadn’t put up Christmas lights, so my husband, Scot, was up on the ladder stringing lights on the house when he fell. He caught himself and ended up at the hospital with a minor fracture in his hand. I was away from the house, probably spending time with my own mom. So while Scot was at the hospital, he went to see Margaret and sat visiting with her. I meant to go in to see her later but never had the chance. She died on New Year’s Eve, 1998. She was 91 years old.
Her funeral was in Colstrip, which was not that far out of the way for us heading back to Minnesota. It was a cold and windy January day. The place was packed with family and friends—mostly Betty’s generation, since Margaret’s friends had passed on already. The rooms were warm and crowded. My daughter, Maiya, who was nine years old and close to Margaret’s great granddaughters, was running and playing with these cousins. One of the aunties had brought a box of Margaret’s hankies and began giving them to the girls. They gave one to Maiya, too.
The hanky was grayish lavender, with a flower pattern of leaves and vines. It was soft, soft cotton, probably a result of being washed countless times in the wringer washer and then later in the automatic spin washer. It was folded neatly, the fold lines evident, even as the girls unfurled the hankies and ran about the room. The girls were oblivious to the sad occasion, vaguely aware that the hankies were symbolic of their grandmother, unaware that Gram was gone forever.
But there is comfort in laughter, and the laughter of children is even more consoling. The girls chased each other, pausing only to let a younger cousin catch up, reminding us all that Gram lived on in the little girls at play.