My Mother was all of 5 feet Tall, 120 pounds, and tough as a bag of hammers, with brilliant red hair and fair skin. Helen Francis Berigan was her maiden name.
She was as Irish as a paddy’s pig and proud of it. She married my father at sixteen in Missoula, Montana and nine months to the day I was born. A pair of years later, my little sister came along. We resided Northwest of Dillon Montana on 160 acres where my father scratched out a livelihood farming and ranching.
Both parents were stern task masters, but my Mother held a singular quality she had a way of making mundane
chores seem tolerable with a smile and lots of laughter. When the world hit us hard, she would remind me of the perils my father was enduring, and we were compelled to keep moving forward.
The day-after Pearl Harbor my father joined the Army in Missoula, and we did not set an eye on him until four years later. Before he departed his commands were crystal clear; I was the man of the house and take care of my Mother and little sister. This was by necessity, not nature I was only 12 years old, and it was my duty while he was away doing his.
He would send what money he could but the job of making a livable income was up to all of us. We share cropped your ground, and I cut and sold firewood year around. No outsider to hard work. My Mother labored tougher than I did. Baking pies and selling to anyone who happens by or in Dillon when we could get to town. She helped me cut firewood, cleaned the house, mended bodies; torn clothing cooked every meal never voicing a protest.
We added to our menu with big Brown’s from the Beaverhead River when the three of us could steal a few hours. My Mother loved to fish and knew right where the trout lived. I hated to fish without her. We laughed and always caught fish. She would tell me about Ireland and how proud to be Irish and now Irish American. I too was to be proud along with my sister and to never forget you will always be Irish.
She would remind me when the weight of the world rested upon my shoulders, the end of summer was close and my first love hunting was on the horizon.
Days were growing shorter, nights cooling and leaves changing and covering the ground. I could monitor deer grazing in the foothills. With a bolt action 30.06 and half-dozen rounds to feed us for months every shot needed to hit its mark the first time. A scant six projectiles did not offer the luxury of practice.
There were Elk in the mountains and with a vestige of good fortune. I might be able to bring one home. We would feast for months.
Overnights in the mountains were forbidden, and game procured had to be between sunrise and gloaming. My Mother would wake me with inspiration that today was the day. When I returned empty handed, she would tell me not to worry tomorrow our treasures would change. I wanted to quit school and hunt full time, but she would have none of that. I would missing school but my heart was elsewhere.
Weekend’s necessitated hunt and stay out all day. Every step, hour by hour struggling to get close spotting Elk and deer but distance made it too challenging for a dispatch shot.
I needed to harvest game; none of us wanted to eat potato soup for the next six months. Time was not a well-wisher; our stores were shrinking. With mountain snows, animals move to the low lands, and my opportunities increase. Our lot could change quickly.
She woke me like she did every day but this daybreak she had news; something was grazing on the boundary of the property.
My eyes focused, it was a cow Elk. I had to get near enough without her smelling or spotting me. Exposed ground lay between hunter and prey. I moved like a cat, squeezing the earth before she looked my way shifting rapidly and prudently when she put her head down. If she rushed off I would shoot in spite of distance praying for a miracle hit. I arrived without notice and close enough for what I trusted a solid shot.
Down she went, my heart hammering my chest. I looked in the direction of the house, with a smug on my face. My Mother was racing in the direction of the down beast with a fry pan in her hand and apron on. I assumed she was in the middle of washing dishes and in her enthusiasm held it tight.
We reached the cow at about the same time eyeballing it with great joy, meat for all.
My mother was standing over its head, in a burst the cow stood up on all fours eye to eye nose to nose with a Red-haired Irish woman. Without hesitation, she swung the frying pan like a bat hitting her square against the side of the head. The cow hit the ground and gave out a soft moan. I stood frozen unable to move and my Mother just glared at the now departed Elk. This was one of the most extraordinary performances I had ever witnessed.
A smile arched my Mothers lips, and I followed with a low laugh that rapidly became an uncontrollable roar by both of us. My Mother had bested an Elk with a frying pan.
We started back to the house to get the means to dress our frying pan Elk. I held her hand the entire way, like a child.
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