raising little ones in the great outdoors

Montana Years: A Different Kind of Rich

By Danny Maynor

When I was three, my family moved to Montana to start a business and ended up with next to nothing. There were times where all we could afford for groceries was milk, eggs, flour and sugar. My mom made donuts and my brother and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I still love donuts. We lived in a sixteen-foot-long travel trailer parked inside a shop building, rode hand-me-down bikes, and didn’t even own a TV (wait, we did have a 5-inch black and white). My brother and I thought we had everything.

After several years, the home manufacturing business didn’t work out. My father went on the road as a long-haul truck driver. At certain stretches, he’d be gone for over a month. My mother took care of everything, chopping wood for the stove in the middle of a Montana winter, teaching (we were home schooled), cooking and making sure my brother and I stayed in line. We spent what many now would consider an undo amount of time outside. Usually the only reason we were indoors was due to sub-zero temperatures outside, but even then the benefits of living inside an industrial shop became more apparent, we could ride our bikes year round, even with a foot of snow on the ground outside! When Dad came in from the road, it was camping, hiking, fishing — everything outdoors and together. Of all my favorite memories, only one takes place indoors. I was a huge Joe Montana fan. My brother preferred John Elway. We crowded around the 5 inch black-and-white TV to watch the San Fransisco 49er’s dismantle the Denver Bronco’s in the Super Bowl.

Materially we had next to nothing, yet we felt like the richest, luckiest kids around. We would walk out the shop door and gaze out at the snow-capped Bitterroot Mountains. We would drink out of a perfectly clear spring, which bubbled up from — of all places — the ditch on the side of highway 93 in front of our home. Deer grazed in our yard. We could play in the woods, poke huge ant nests with sticks, and race our neighbors 3-wheelers through the forest. No computer, no video games, no air conditioning. A homemade wood stove kept us warm through the harsh Montana winters. Vacation was a family camping trip on Flathead Lake and learning to shoot out in the woods at the ripe old age of 5. These moments stayed with me, followed me through my adolescence and guided me into adulthood.

If my parents read this they will think I’ve lost my mind. They refer to the Montana years as a trial by fire, their 40 years in the desert. I look at it through the eyes off the child I was. No matter how bad it was for our parents, physically, financially, and emotionally, both my brother and I have nothing but positive memories and a sense of what childhood should truly entail.

Sometimes wisdom is hard earned. My parents did the earning. I’ve just been blessed to reap the benefits of that wisdom. Our years in Montana opened my eyes to the wonderful truth that true happiness is far deeper than physical comforts. We find true wealth and contentment only when we realize and embrace what we have.

I’m not about to return to the ’80s and move to the mountains of Montana (my wife would shoot me if I got rid of the TV, she does stay at home all day while I’m at work). I’m not in the backwoods of Victor, Montana anymore. I’m happy hunting down the little corners of nature that remain unpaved in Southern California. Usually it’s the fickle beach breaks of Huntington Beach or the cobblestone point of San Onofre; sometimes, though not for a while, it’s the slopes of Big Bear Mountain.

I just want my son to experience things that so many seem to be missing out on and I was fortunate to have as a child. It’s an intangible yet substantial legacy to pass on to the next generation. So many children in “developed” countries are living life in an online, air conditioned, risk-free bubble where the biggest danger is having an embarrassing picture show up on a schoolmate’s Facebook page.

I want Levi to grow up knowing that life’s treasures are not in the “stuff” that defines modern existence. He can find true wealth in the love of his family, and the experiences we share with him. He can find fortune in his own adventures. None of this can be realized without the possibility of scrapes, bruises, and going number two in the woods.

My father and mother were able to make what was arguably our family’s toughest time into memories to last me a lifetime. They helped me appreciate what truly matters, and gave me a clear picture of the life I want to be able to provide for my son — with some small modifications of course. I have a deep love for the outdoors and all that nature has to offer. I have seen how much better life looks through eyes blurry with saltwater. I’ve discovered that life is best lived when it is truly experienced firsthand, not through a digital window into other characters’ lives. This was my inheritance. This is my son’s inheritance.

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9 Responses to “Montana Years: A Different Kind of Rich”

  1. Mike Hahn says:

    Beautifully written. I grew up in Montana, and though we certainly didn’t struggle materially, I was nonetheless outside with my friends each and every day. Playing in the hills, climbing boulders, and riding bikes without helmets. Thanks for the great read… I’m canceling my satellite tv and taking the kids camping.

  2. Mom says:

    Well, I’m the mom who split the wood and taught the kids. And the very proud mom of an awesome son who wrote this. If there’s a misspelling in my reply it is because I can hardly see for the tears running down my face. Yes, we do call those years our “back side of the desert” experience, but we also say that, while we wouldn’t want to do it again, we also wouldn’t trade those years for anything. Through this article, our son has given us yet another reason for treasuring that experience. What his writing doesn’t mention, however, is the wonderful Montanans God brought into our lives during that time to befriend us, encourage us, pray for us, and sometimes to leave a bag of groceries in our truck.

  3. Will T says:

    This sounds like my growing years. If only we can remember what brings true happiness to a child and pass that onto our kids.

  4. Steve says:

    It’s kind of funny, but my parents didn’t struggle for money. In fact, my dad probably made more than many men in our area, but we didn’t live like it. My parents had grown up without many material things, and they didn’t want to turn us into junior materialists. That seems to be the opposite of most of our country now. It’s almost seen as child abuse for a kid not to have a phone and a TV in their (own) room. And yet, as you point out, kids don’t need that stuff to be happy.

    • Danny says:

      I have a constant battle going on inside over what I think is best. I want my children to have things I didn’t, but at the same time I don’t want to get trapped into the modern consumerist mentality as I think it cripples so many children. I’m very happy I grew up the way I did, wouldn’t have it any other way.

      Its great that your father was able to keep you grounded. I hope I’m able to do that as well should I become successful in my career.

  5. Cuz' says:

    This was beautifully written, and like your mother, I too have tears streaming down my face. I love you and your brother, and of course your mother and father like you are my true siblings and parents. YOU make me SO proud to be your “Cuz'”

  6. Belinda says:

    Danny
    What a wonderful testimonial for your Mom, and I know those donuts are just as great now. How truly blessed you are to have such parents who taught you to love and to love God. Say hi to Levi.

  7. Lisa says:

    I also grew up in Northern Montana and can relate to much of what you have said. Although we had plenty of food, we didn’t have many material things. My father worked on the Alaska Pipeline. My mother spend weeks on end alone with four kids. We were 60 miles from the nearest hospital or large town. We lived outside and worked hard…had a garden, hunted, fished, rode horses, took care of our animals. Recently my father died. In sharing stories with my siblings about our growing up years I began to realize what an exceptional childhood I had. I now truly appreciate all my parents gave me. I have a 13 year old son and struggle with how give these gifts to him…

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