Bozeman — it can hardly mean anything to you but, it means a great deal to me! You see, it was my home for the first 23 years of my life. And what a great place to grow up. There was a pasture across the road with a creek and two prominent willow trees, the “Big Tree” and the “Little Tree”. Each with their respective forts. Everything I know about falling in and getting wet, I learned at “The Creek”.

Just beyond the creek were two ponds. One of them just happened to be bigger than the other. So, as you may have guessed, we called the larger pond “Big Pond” and the smaller one “Little Pond”. Not very creative on our part I must admit, but instead, practical. When we talked about these places everyone immediately knew what we were talking about.

Beyond the ponds where a series of creeks, really just glorified irrigation ditches, that we numbered sequentially. Now, way out there, at the edge of where we dared to wander was “Seventh Creek”. It was always a little confusing because, seventh creek wasn’t really the seventh creek. We must have just liked the sound of it. Seventh Creek is where I performed one of my early acts of chivalry when my best friend “Bubba” Roy’s sister got her feet wet and I offered her my dry socks. I had probably been wearing them for three days and couldn’t wait to get the crusty things off. But, she graciously accepted and wore my dry socks back to civilization.

My father always came up with the most clever and creative ways of manipulating us. I really like to think he wasn’t so much trying to manipulate as simply guide us in the right direction. The problem with Big Pond was that it was big, and it was deep, and none of us knew how to swim. So, my dad took me out and got me one of those bright hunter orange life vests and said, “You can go to the Big Pond any time you like as long as you are wearing your life vest.” He was probably afraid that I wouldn’t want to wear it; it made a pretty sad fashion statement. But, you know what? I wore that darned thing everywhere. I wore it to school! And on top of that, it was a hit! I remember the kids congregating around my locker to see my brand new bright orange life vest. We were a strange bunch of kids in the early sixties; makes you wonder if they were performing some kind of experiments on us.

Now, Big Tree was haunted! We knew it was haunted because many of the respected elders of the neighborhood, kids in the upper (fifth and sixth) grades and even Junior High, told us so much. Besides, it looked haunted, especially at night when one could see it’s haunted looking branches reaching out into the dark haunting sky. So, one night, exercising the theory of safety in numbers, about a dozen of us set out to see just how haunted Big Tree really was. We crept through the barbed wire fence and out across the pasture towards Big Tree. It was a particularly spooky night with shadows cast by the moon creeping out between clouds. As we got closer to Big Tree we could see those haunted looking branches reaching out into the dark sky. All of a sudden someone screamed, aaugh! And we all screamed, aaaugh! It was each person for themselves; these were desperate times! We scattered out across the pasture, running for the safety of our neighborhood. Some of us even suffered barbed wire damage before reaching our homes. Later we discussed the events of the evening and the more we talked, the more of us became certain that we had seen lights and shadows coming down from the highest reaches of Big Tree. Coming down it’s trunks and chasing us across the field. And so, once again we determined that yes, Big Tree was truly possessed!

Craig Shanholtzer lived across the street from us. He could be a good kid when he wanted to be and everyone respected him. He was the toughest kid in the world! At least in our world and that’s all that mattered. The only problem was that Craig was also the neighborhood bully. He would do some really rotten things like swing cats by their tails and flip them up on his roof. One day, when we were at the Big Tree, a big piece of it had broken off and he dropped it on me. Wham! I remember a big branch hitting me on the head and slamming me into the ground. I was always proud of my reputation for not crying but, I’m sure I came up crying and I had dust up my nose and was spitting dirt.

It just so happened that my sister was there. I’m sure my sister wasn’t tougher than Craig Shanholtzer but, she was tough and you did not want to get on her seek and destroy list, which is what Craig just did. She picked up one of the branches and chased him across the pasture. I still savor the image of him in his frantic haste getting caught in the barbed wire fence and my sister thrashing him with that branch from the Big Tree. He gained a good bit of respect for her from that experience and later they became good friends.

One day I was passing through Craig’s backyard on my way to Bubba Roy’s house. What I did next I’m not particularly proud of and can’t condone but, I saw Craig bent over a water spigot on the side of his house. He was filling up a water balloon. Now, this was Craig Shanholtzer and I knew he was going to fill up that balloon and then go stalking for some innocent victim which could as easily be me as anyone else. So, I crept up behind him, clinched my fists together and lifted them high above my head. Wham! I slammed them down on him, making a direct hit right between his shoulder blades! He never knew what hit him. The instant that I did this I knew, I was dead meat. I took off running and swear, as I rounded the corner of his house I could see my life passing before my eyes. I ran all the way around his house and could feel him right on my heels. I’m not sure that I’ve ever run harder in my life. I reached the street between his house and mine and was puzzled when I didn’t hear his footsteps on the pavement behind me. When I crossed the street and still didn’t hear him, I was both surprised and relieved. No Craig, where was he? I looked back and there was no Craig in sight. I decided to investigate. Cautiously, I approached his backyard from a distance and sure enough, there he was in the middle of the yard still bent over and making loud gasps for air!

I’ve lost contact with Craig Shanholtzer but, I often wonder what he thinks about when he looks back on Dickerson and fifteenth. And what about that fine summer day when he was filling that water balloon and was struck by a bolt of lightning! Where did that come from anyway?

© 1996 Gary E. Hehn