“The Girls with the Grandma Faces” were known to travel around and about in their “machines.” Only three drove, however.
My Aunt Bea’s 1939 Plymouth did not qualify as a suitable “machine.” It was but a three-passenger coupe and too old to stretch its tether from Pennsylvania to Montana in that autumn of 1966. Besides, it had no radio, a deficiency Aunt Bea considered correcting.
“I talked to Mister Lamb about it and he’ll see if he can fit one in. Now that Erie might get an NPR station, I think I’ll try it.” Two other machines were enlisted for the trip west.
Gladys Teasdale volunteered her pea-soup green Dodge. “The trunk’s big enough to fit eight two-suiters side-by-side.” Irene Waterhouse offered her new Olds, a Suitably Gray ’65 Eighty Eight with front seats that reclined.
And so with transportation secured, “The Sisters of Sacajewea” set off for Yellowstone, Glacier, and Mount Rushmore on the return. United by the First Presbyterian Church, the Bird-and-Tree Club, the college, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and arthritis, they bundled into the “machines,” four apiece, silently acknowledging this might be their most ambitious and perhaps their last and grandest effort yet. Together.
They’d known each other for decades, some from girlhood. While most were amused by one honest young nephew’s label, the “girls” shared more than grandma faces. Bound by family ties, career and community, hope and disappointment, retirement, resignation, they decided a little folly might do them all “a world of good.” Fanylla Harper, Rebecca Cooper, and my Aunt Beatrice were cousins. Pearl and Gladys Teasdale, sisters. Irene Waterhouse and Virginia Carelton were fixtures at the college. Virginia Fendershot recently retired as the area’s Red Cross Administrator.
Yellowstone entertained them as predictably as Old Faithful. The Mission Range was mistaken for Glacier by one of the girls. They marveled and toured the birding sights as described by the guidebooks, rode the “Jammers,” luxuriated in the lodges, and pledged to paint the vistas of Russell Country when back home.
The arrivals and departures were captured largely by Irene Waterhouse and her “kodak.” Postcard memories were framed by “pleasant weather, though nippy . . . not an anxious moment . . . wonderful colors and wildlife . . . drove there and back, 4,000 miles and more, and not a hint of car trouble.” And, later, whenever my Aunt Bea shared her highlights, no account failed to mention what she called “the Missoula morning.”
“We’d left very early, wanting to reach our Glacier stop before nightfall,” she would say, “and the sunlight was just wonderful, with the sun following us along the river. The trees––we learned they were Cottonwoods––were turning nicely and led us right to Missoula where we tuned in and heard Mozart . . . Mozart in the morning on their national public station there! Oh my. It just set the tone. Both cars stopped for gas and then up the road for breakfast and we made sure everyone found the station.
“And we all agreed: if there’s an NPR station on the frontier of Montana, why can’t we have one back home?”
“The Sisters of Sacajewea” and the grandma-faced girls coasted back to old lives and some to new. Over the years that followed, a couple left the area to be closer to family. Another moved in with a daughter nearby. My Aunt Bea’s “machine”––the black 1939 Plymouth Road King Coupe––was sold to Mister Lamb who had maintained it faithfully all its years, and Aunt Bea settled in to what we call assisted living today.
Erie did indeed acquire a National Public Radio station much to her pleasure back then. She became a faithful listener and supporter. “One of my treasures,” she’d say, then repeating Missoula’s magic morning from the grand tour. “We were escorted by Mozart one morning and drove to the sun, the next.”
From our recurring series published across our family of blogs and titled, "Aunt Bea's Plymouth." This vignette, an entry in Montana Public Radio's recent short story contest, was written to comply with the station's rule to celebrate its 50th anniversary.