Last month, I told you about moving to Havre Air Force Station, thirty-eight miles north of Havre, Montana and six miles from the Canadian border. By the way, that’s pronounced HAV-ER, rather than the pronunciation one would imagine, since it was named after a city in France.
Life there was pretty basic. On the station, we had no doctor, dentist or minister. A trip into the town of Havre was necessary to fulfill those needs. We did have a small commissary that supplied milk, bread, cereals, canned goods and occasional fruit. But since we were all in the same boat, those hardships didn’t seem too bad. We shared the good and the bad, like family.
In the winter, that part of Montana typically had several feet of snow each year. Often, early in the morning, we wives were out shoveling our single-car driveways so our husbands could get up to the radar site to go to work, and we knew it was important to keep those driveways clear in case of emergencies. I’ll always remember my next door neighbor, Toni Spaconi. She was a little shorter than my 5 feet 4 inches, and one day we were both out shoveling. After about thirty minutes, as I looked next door, all I could see of her was the bobbing pompom on the top of her ski hat and phantom shovel-fulls of snow flying up on either side of her driveway. It was such a funny sight, I had to laugh.
Later, the wives would all congregate at one house for morning coffee and all the children would play together in one of the bedrooms. We rotated for a change of scenery. Since the winters were so cold, the base telephone operator would call us each morning to tell us how long it was safe to allow our children outside to play in the snow. All the moms would bundle their kids up in boots, snowsuits, gloves and scarves and we’d let the herd out, and sometimes only five minutes later, we’d call them all in again, unbundle each one, throw their clothes in the dryer and start all over again after an allowable time period. I remember, the winter I was there, we had a low of 54 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.
Because of the frigid winters, plug-in headbolt heaters were required to keep our cars from freezing up. To save money, my family’s car’s engine was treated at night to a quilt, a heating pad set to “medium”, and a blanket placed on the hood, inside our garage. It’s probably a miracle we never had a problem. But then, we spent only one winter there.
At the time we were stationed in Montana, there was a law that when temperatures plummeted, if you came across a stranded driver on the highway, one had to pick him up and take him to safety, and there was a steep fine for noncompliance. The possibility of someone freezing to death was very real there. That was long before cell phones. I imagine that law is no longer on the books these days. Luckily, we never ran into that situation in winter at least, but I’m sure it happened from time to time.
Even though it was difficult dealing with hardships, they were offset by wonderful people who became lifelong friends. Next month, I’ll tell you just how wonderful, especially after two particularly harrowing experiences!