Wrote the first weekly newspaper column for the Hungry Horse News on Feb. 2, 1962. It was actually a letter to the editor, Mel Ruder, from Washington, D.C., giving a mountain boy’s view of the Kennedy New Frontier. Mel called to say thanks and asked me to write a letter to him every week. Continued this assignment in D.C., and after returning to the Flathead kept doing “A Weekly Letter.”
Struggled along for years using a pencil on yellow legal tablets, which Iris then deciphered and typed on our old manual machine while holding off several small crumb smashers. Got Iris an electric typewriter in the late 1970s.
I began doing everything from first draft to finished copy with a keyboard when we got a computer in 1985. At first I couldn’t think without a pencil in hand. It was very hard to type holding a pencil so I put it in my mouth. Would eat two to three pencils per column.
Here in 1996, it has been 34 years and five months. Average fifty columns a year. Approaching 2,000 total. Up to 1,000 words a column. That means two million words.
Is it any wonder I can no longer remember what’s been covered and what hasn’t?
My Glacier Park mountain climbing guru, Dr. Gordon Edwards, says, “George has the gift of creative recall.”
Often catch myself asking something like, “Iris, have I ever written about the time those guys pulled my pants down while I was standing on a box, in a row boat, fighting a 60-pound king salmon at Kilbella Bay?”
She says something like, “Gee, honey, I didn’t remember the fish being quite that big, but if neither of us can be sure, it’s probably OK to tell it again.”
Iris is an excellent columnist’s wife.
What got me to thinking about all this was the discovery of a story on the Associated Press wire that was so different and wild, I automatically knew nothing like it had ever been mentioned in this column.
I’m going to grit my teeth and tell the repulsive adventure of Valentin Grimaldo.
Valentin and his brother Fidel were walking along a highway in the Rio Grande Valley near Edinburg, Texas, when Valentin reached into some grass and was bitten on the hand by a highly venomous coral snake, a member of the cobra family found in the southern U.S.
The AP release said, “He grabbed the snake and bit the head off...skinned it and used the skin as a tourniquet to keep the venom from spreading.”
A passing car took Valentin to the hospital. Doctors declared the tourniquet probably saved his life.
It is uncommonly reassuring on column day to absolutely know that I’ve never written about this incident before. However, snakes give me the willies. I’m not likely to relate anything so repulsive again, no matter how desperate I get.
Next week, maybe I’ll tell about how those guys pulled my pants down while I was standing on a wobbly box, in a small leaky rowboat on roaring high seas, using ultra-lite tackle, fighting an 80-pound king salmon in the North Pacific.
Today, in 2017, 21 years after writing the above column, I want to clear up one thing. That salmon officially weighed out on the Canadian warden’s dock at 48 pounds. But I am positive he sweated a lot during the fight.
Life is good.
G. George Ostrom is an award-winning columnist. He lives in Kalispell.