The Generous Years – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Generous Years, Remembrances of a Frontier Boyhood” by Chet Huntley, published in 1968.

Born in March 1911, the author grew up in Montana. When he was about two years old, his immediate family took advantage of the Homestead Act, claiming 320 acres of ranch and farm land in northern Montana. Extended family members acquired hundreds of additional acres. His mother’s father was particularly helpful in beginning to make the land livable and workable. The author detailed the extensive hard manual labor required for doing so.

They had to dig a well, construct various buildings on the site as residences for people and animals, for storage; not to mention outhouses. They had to purchase and maintain farm machinery (primitive at the time, of course), and install fences. The author learned how to approach and care for farm animals without getting injured. Regardless of the author’s grandfather’s accumulation of life experiences that warded off reasonably preventable problems, there still occurred all kinds of disasters beyond the family’s control.

One year, in less than ten minutes, a hailstorm ruined the flax crop. Other years, devastation was wrought by: locusts, rust spores, tumbleweed of thistle, fires resulting from a lightning storm and other causes, blizzards, drought, etc., etc., etc. The author described the tenor of the times– one of virtue and cooperation among the members (not just his relatives) of his community. “There were bills to be paid in town. They must be settled; that was a point of honor and conscience.”

Due to financial struggle, the author’s father was forced to return to his previous career as a railroad telegrapher, which required the family to move around Montana every few months or years. The author began his formal education in a one-room schoolhouse, with about a dozen other kids (which eventually included his three younger sisters) in grades one through eight, and one teacher.

Read the book to learn how the author’s education of the outside world accelerated when his family moved to urban areas such as Saco and Butte (hint: he and his high school friends were treated almost like adults in the gambling halls, speakeasies, bordellos and elsewhere), and many more aspects of the kinder, simpler America of his generation.