The long cold winter wound down and spring announced itself abruptly. Montana was always windy and I remember having to adjust matchbook covers to quell the howling from our front door frame, but when a dreaded dust storm loomed in our direction, the Havre Air Force Station operator would call each house to give us an estimated time before it would hit. We knew to get inside. Close and lock any open windows and doors.
As the storm approached, a huge brown cloud could be seen on the horizon and as it got closer, like the song, tumbling tumbleweeds leapt and danced across the road until visibility became zero. Within minutes, all was quiet and still again and the sun would bear down on us once more. The only indication a storm had even passed through was the color of the walls and furniture in our homes. Everything was brownish-beige. Time to get out the vacuum cleaner. I couldn’t remember ever having to vacuum walls before. All surfaces were covered with a fine layer of gritty dust, even though I had “battened down the hatches.”
Every day, my son, Rob, and I would play a game. It involved flash cards and actually taught him how to read. When people expressed their amazement as he looked at me with excitement and pointed to a box of cereal or a sign and spoke the words he saw, I felt so rewarded and proud. Sometimes, being inquisitive, though, can be frightening.
One day, I was playing the piano and Rob asked to go outside to ride his tricycle. With his little red jacket on I let him out the front, and continued playing, checking on him every few minutes. It was one of those days that makes one glad to be alive, gloriously warm and sunny. I never had to worry about traffic, because all the husbands were working up at the radar site and the street was deserted. Rob rode up and down the road, around in circles and then, suddenly, I didn’t see him.
I walked outside and still didn’t see him, or his trike. I walked up and down the street. No luck. I walked all the way around the housing circle. No Rob! Now I was beginning to worry. Where could he have gone this time? I alerted several neighbors and we set up a search party. We contacted base security and they checked the radar site area. We checked the fields behind our homes. An hour passed. Two. Still, no sign of Rob.
I was “frantic” personified! All the mixed feelings of fear, frustration and aggravation, had turned to worry, even terror. Where was my baby? We were on a secure military station with a guard gate at the entrance. How could my child have just disappeared? Neighbors were checking in with me regularly, either to report places they’d searched or to give me comfort. All of us were totally perplexed.
In the fourth hour, a car pulled up in my driveway. It belonged to my neighbor, Sgt. Knight, across the street. His wife, Shirley, got out with a tearful Rob in her arms. She approached with a knowing expression that said, “It’s okay now.” I practically screamed, “Where and how did you find him?” They explained they had gone thirty-eight miles into Havre for groceries and spotted Rob and his red jacket in a pasture on their return trip, a couple of miles from home. They were familiar with Rob’s adventurous disappearances since this wasn’t the first time he had gone missing. Their daughter was his babysitter and probably has stories to tell about him to this day.
Between Rob and Shirley, I found out why we couldn’t find him. He had ridden his trike up to the base gate and because the window in the phone booth shaped guard house was up so high, Rob had slipped under the guard arm and out onto the main road, unseen. He was playing, Daniel Boone, explorer. After riding a while, he noticed some cows grazing off the side of the road in open range and decided to get a closer look. He left his trike and scampered down an embankment into the field. These animals resembled highland cattle from Scotland, since they hadn’t yet shed their long winter coats, but as Rob got closer, he realized they were bigger than he thought they’d be. He got scared as he wandered among the beasts, and started crying. This was when he was spotted and rescued by Cliff and Shirley Knight. Bless them always!
That night, there was a celebration at Havre Air Force Station and Rob was the center of attention. I didn’t have to scold him at all. His fear had taught him not to ever do that again. Forty-nine years later, Cliff and Shirley and I still exchange Christmas cards each year and I am eternally grateful to them both.