Many of you know Terry Palm as a watercolor artist, born and raised in Billings. He now lives in Minnesota and his annual art show in Billings draws hundreds of admirers, but it is less known that for several years Terry has been writing short stories based on his early adventures along the Yellowstone River in what is now Josephine Park.  Today’s installment is the second of six short stories in a series he’s titled, “Always a River”

The Awful Truth

We never had any money, so Arvid and I collected pop bottles and beer bottles to turn in for cash. The longneck beer bottles were worth 3 cents and pop bottles, 2 cents. Armed with gunnysacks, we would walk the highway ditches for miles picking up bottles. Sometimes we would work at it all day, returning home towards evening, each toting a gunnysack full of bottles. After rinsing them off, we would take them to the little grocery store to cash in. Most days, we would have a total of about 100 bottles which meant splitting about 2 or 3 dollars. Doesn’t sound like much today, but you could see a movie for 25 cents, get a box of Dots for a nickel and a bottle of pop for a dime. (Don’t forget to keep the bottle and turn it in for 2 cents!)

One more thing on my friend, Arvid. On Christmas Eve, dad and I would leave a bottle of Coke and a couple of cookies on the table for Santa Claus. We would wait in the dark in the car out front, hoping to get a glimps of the sleigh or at least hear the bells of the reindeer. I was in the first or second grade and this was a big deal. Of course, I had no idea that my mother was inside taking a bite of a cookie and drinking some of the Coke and putting presents under the tree. Santa had come every year so far. He must be sneaky because I haven’t seen him yet. Will he come tonight?

Later in the week, I told Arvid all about our Christmas Eve. He had no problem telling me the unbelievable crushing truth. I was mad and bolted through our door and yelled at my mother, “Do you know what that DUMB Arvid said?” Decades have past. Do I remember Arvid more for all of the hiking, fishing and hunting adventures or that DUMB Arvid telling me there was no Santa Claus?


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