My Forty Years Scribblin's
Maggie’s Journey

The Montana Journal May-June 1999 by Mildred’s daughter, Judith Lease

The little Jocko river wasn't very far from my childhood home near Arlee. In the summer the air was filled with the ear splitting rackets of hundreds of beautiful black and white magpies flitting and diving from the tall cottonwood trees lining the river banks. It was 1937 and I was ten and my brother Stan was nine. The mere fact that I was "only a girl," and therefore not worthy of his company hadn't yet entered Stan's head. Together we roamed the area around our home, decked out in our after school and weekend worn out overalls and ragged tennis shoes.

One day a large gathering of magpies were being especially obnoxious with their loud squawking and Stan and I ran around the barn to investigate. We watched a few minutes while the adults were teaching their little ones the art of snatching bits of food from the pigs' trough and escaping to the safety of the fence railing that surrounded the pigs' pen.

"Hey, look," Stan said, "I bet you I can catch one of those baby birds!"

"Oh, yes," I said as my ten year old female instincts kicked in, and I imagined having a pet bird in a cage to feed.

"We could take it down to that old man my friend knows and he could slit its tongue and we could teach it to talk and we could sell it and make a lot of money!" Stan continued.

My first reaction was horror, but then greed took over. I had never seen a lot of money; or hardly any money for that matter.

"Come on," Stan said, and so I happily followed him as he started around the back of the lean-to the pigs used for shelter. We crawled along on our hands and knees—making stupid noises we thought would fool the birds calling out in high squeaky voices, "Maggie, Maggie."

To our surprise one careless little bird was so engrossed in his own investigations that he paid no attention to the scoldings from his parents. Stan scooped him up in his arms, while the frantic parents fled to the safety of the barn roof.

"Let's go," Stan yelled and started up the road toward town, which we both knew was forbidden unless we had permission.

"Stop, turn him loose," I called as I ran behind him.

"NO," Stan threw back at me, "You will just let him go!"

Of course he was right, so I followed him into town; past the old hotel we thought of as being from the "horse and buggy" days.

I had always eyed the old hotel with awe because I had been told that it was owned by an elderly lady who had been a dance hall girl. What ever a dance hall girl was, it sounded pretty romantic to me! We skirted around the old Log Cabin Saloon (it was bad enough to be in town without permission, but to be seen in front of the saloon!) and moved on to the DeMers Mercantile.

We were both exhausted when Stan finally stopped at an old shed behind the mercantile. There was a big barking dog tied in front of the shed. Nightmares fade away and memories become less vivid as the years go by. Was there really an old man standing in the doorway shouting and waving his arms?

"You kids get out of here and take that bird back where you got it, do you think I'm crazy, to you want to kill the thing?"

Kill it? of course we didn't want to kill it, and we turned and fled back home, back to the barn on weak and shaky legs trying to catch our breath and hoping we wouldn't be seen.

Slowly Stan stooped and lowered the mangled heap of feathers to the ground, but the poor terror stricken baby bird just lay there.

"Oh no, we did kill it!" I thought. But as we watched, the pile of feathers began to move, then staggered to its feet, took a few hesitant hops to get its bearings, and flew off to the barn roof—where the exuberant parents were watching, filling the air with scoldings for their wayward offspring and a good share of scoldings for the two young humans who had learned a good lesson as well.