The 4th of July Red Lodge is a different kind of place. I have lived in a lot of different towns, large and small, and I have found nothing like it. Bill Linderman called it heaven. I was born on Platte Ave in 1935, and I went to 12 years of school and graduated from Red Lodge High school. One of the first and most important things I learned was it didn’t matter what ethnic background people had; they were all possible friends and companions. As people will do, we had a variety of jokes and names for individuals in the various ethnic groups, but little or no offense was taken since we all got slammed back. I wasn’t aware that I grew up in the Slavic part of town until two or three years ago.
My father and grandfather had a coal mine in S c o t c h C o u l e e . T h e y employed miners without regard to ethnic background, and were good friends with all of them. One of my specialties was that I could tell by the last name what group people were from and what church they went to. There was something intellectually stimulating about all those different cultures. A year or so after graduation, I left town to seek my fortune and was mostly gone for many years. However, I returned for the 4th, that is, of July, whenever I could. It was and to some extent still is considered disloyal to not show up for the parade and rodeo. It is the great homecoming for all of us old time residents, and perhaps newcomers. When I was young, we would go to the Swinging Doors after the rodeo and dance to Norrine and Rudy, 21 be damned. The next morning the city would clean the beer cans off the street with a front end loader. Yes some of us were up and on the street by then. I am hard pressed to remember any fights, ethnic or otherwise, that took place during the three day celebration.
The hail storm at the rodeo this 4th is not unique. There have been a number of storms during the rodeo including an intense snow storm. I remember that one well since I was selling tickets in front of the grandstand that day. Neither hail nor snow can ruin a rodeo; bad weather doesn’t bother real cowboys and it doesn’t ruin the gathering of old friends. While there are flags and bunting in the parade to remind us of the national holiday, the cowboys, cowgirls, and horses remind us more of our western heritage and our wonderful town on the edge of the mountains. The 4th is truly a Red Lodge holiday.
I love being overwhelmed with friends and relatives who come for the 4th . This year we had seven guests. Three were young women from the Czech Republic. Teresa, our foreign exchange student of 5 years ago, came home for the 4th and brought her sister and a friend. She felt it was the one important thing she missed in her ten month stay for her school year. She was able to reconnect with many of the friends she had made since they were home for the 4th also. I know I talk like one of the old timers whose grandfathers are buried on the hill outside of town, which I am. The traditions of tolerance, friendship, and love for our little town that our grandfathers taught us are worth keeping. I hope the newcomers, those who have been here 40 years or less, will learn them and perpetuate them for our wonderful home town.