On Memories and Big Falls

The inside of Lois’ house was just as you would expect a grandmother’s house to be. Framed photos of grandchildren were everywhere among old knickknacks and vases of fake flowers. We sat on a lime green floral velvet couch in her sun-soaked sitting room in the same house she has lived in for over 60 years.

The first time Lois flew was in 1945 on a floatplane to Red Lake when she was coming to fill in as a teacher. Her predecessor was killed in a hotel fire, started by a cigarette in a trashcan, that claimed the lives of eight others and left her fellow teacher with a scarred face.

Arriving by floatplane was the only way to reach Red Lake at the time since there was no airport or highway. 

Were you scared, I asked her, thinking of my own anxiety and misgivings about moving to such a remote town. 

Not at all, she said. It was an adventure.

She remembered vividly the feeling of excitement as the plane flew over Howey Bay, slowly descending to land on the water.  

The mining industry was still booming here since the discovery of gold in 1925, and with one other teacher Lois taught 125 students.

Her face lit up as she talked about the days when the students would opt to stay in and hear her read from Uncle Tom’s Cabin instead of going outside to play ball. She told me about the dance hall that used to be right down the street from The Northern Sun News’ office where her future husband asked her to dance for the first time

Her husband, who analyzed ore for a living, built the first houseboat in Red Lake. It had four bunkers to sleep the whole family, a little kitchen, and a screened in deck that kept away the bugs. She told me about the time they found their diaper-clad toddler leaning far over the edge of the boat staring at the propeller. Needless to say, the boat went on the market the next day.

It was a good life, she said.

Before her husband died, they travelled to China, Australia and England together. She told me she was glad she retired from teaching so they could spend that time together.

I felt a little sad leaving her that day because she could have talked about life for three more hours if I’d had the time to spare, but I think recounting those memories brought her happiness. I couldn’t believe how much she remembered—the seemingly insignificant moments that now held so much meaning for her. 

Later that week Charlie and I drove to Big Falls for a picnic. The moist air was filled with the smell of flowers and the buzz of black flies and mosquitoes. We sat, bug-bitten and sweaty, watching the falls and enjoying steak salads with Daisy passed out in the shade of a bush.

I’m ever grateful for having these two beings to make memories with—and who knows, maybe when I’m 95 years old some idealistic writer will come to hear my stories.