The summer between High School and College, I worked for Yellowstone Park, along with about 100 other young people from Spokane, Washington. That summer of 1967, half of the Park's recruits were from Spokane while the scattering remaining summer staff came from all over the United States. It was an experience of a lifetime for me, precious and protected daughter, oldest of four children, first one to leave the nest and the state of Washington for a whole summer on my own.
I trained at the famous Spokane Davenport Hotel although I was never a maid once I reached the Park. I, along with one of my best friends, Mary, and two guys from Ohio, manned the Laundry/Shower at West Thumb, the southern-most location in the Park, with a motor home park the last stop. West Thumb was the most primitive of all the locations in the park, with one-room cabins and wood burning stoves. No extra amenities, no kitchens, no bathrooms. Employees slept on the northern edge of the “village,” four to a cabin. Ten years later, the tv series, M*A*S*H, mirrored my life at West Thumb. We even had a small cabin that was our movie house, all of us crammed into one small room and watching movies on an old fashioned reel, like we did in grade school.
Back at the laundry, I was stapling a receipt to another piece of paper, when I accidently stapled my thumb, in front of about a dozen people picking up their laundry.
“You ok?” One of the witnesses asked. “o yeah,” I teared, “just fine. I’m fine.” And keeled over backwards and mere seconds later opened my eyes to several pairs of eyes looking back down at me. “Really, I’m fine.”
After my work-related injury, I was repositioned at the reservation building which was above the cabin area, across a man-made berm that divided a swamp, which housed a moose. Charlie. Charlie was a lone eccentric moose. He ruled the swamp and wandered back and forth in a sporadic pattern. He wanted to be pals and then he didn’t. If you made eye contact, he’d pause for a second and then charge at you because it just dawned on him that this was HIS swamp and you had trespassed on holy ground. His ground. And we would invariably have to streak as fast as we could to the other side of the berm to escape Charlie. Now – if we didn’t make eye contact (and after one day of this, you learned to never make eye contact), he thought you couldn’t see him, and he would continue his lazy grazing of whatever he was grazing in oblivious bliss and you were safe to walk at your leisure across to the other side. He was still king of all he could see. (I usually flat out ran.)
Every day I would look both ways before leaving my cabin – not for Charlie, but for bears and, you won’t believe this, weasels. Real authentic weasels are understated models of their cartoon prototypes. They are small, carnivorous (meaning MEAT eating = ME), sly and sneaky little animals that you do not want to mess with. I passed one once who was head first in a garbage can, butt in the air, rooting for something edible. I scurried past him as stealthily as I could manage, and then fended my way through the swamp, sneaking by Charlie who figured since I wasn’t looking at him then he was invisible. (Invincible?)
Upon reaching my final destination of the reservation building, I would prepare to meet creatures of the human kind. All shapes and sizes. And mentality.
I grew to meet people with giggling fits because they would ask such silly things like “When will you be turning on Old Faithful?” I couldn’t contain myself, I would giggle hysterically until one of my co-workers would take over. They would chide me for my unprofessionalism and I would really, really try to keep a straight face. Then someone would come in and say something like, “I’m rushing today and would you please turn on the geyser right away so I won’t miss it?” Out of my mouth would raise this muffled gurgling “murphphph” and I’d clamp my hand over my mouth and run to the storage room.
When I first applied for work at Yellowstone Park, the application requested I list any talents I have. Well, yes – I am talented! I sing, play the piano, and I sing, play the piano. Guess I'm not THAT talented. Yellowstone Park has a very, very short summer – it happens in July. Towards the end of August it is possible to get snow. The Park employees celebrated Christmas in August and we had a traveling tour bus of any of the "talented" employees. When I arrived at Yellowstone, I was given a song book of Handel's Messiah and told to practice my part (alto) of the Hallelujah Chorus. By myself. So I practiced my fa-la-las walking to and from the reservation building (stifling my la las when passing Charlie), and got on a bus on August 25 where I was joined by stragglers throughout the park who also had talent – maybe a tenor, maybe a soprano. We arrived at one of the bigger lodges in Yellowstone that was decorated to the hilt with Christmas lights, trees, decorations, and all things Christmas. About 40 of us gathered together and performed the Hallelujah Chorus in front of a fairly large audience of tourists. And we did remarkably well, having had no rehearsal with each other. It was amazing! And as we were traveling back to our various locations, it snowed.
I missed Charlie and have been collecting stuffed moose ever since which are displayed in nooks and crannies around my desk at work (very professional, don't you think?)