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Carl Colbrese

September 1965


Thirteen year old Carl Colbrese met with a cold reception when he arrived in Glendive from sunny Italy. Back in his old home region in Italy the climate was much like that of California, and the temperatures seldom dropped to the freezing mark. Not so in Montana, he found, and especially not that winter of 1908. Much of the time that winter the mercury hovered around thirty-five to forty degrees below zero, and that was what greeted him when he landed in the Gate City the fifteenth of January that year. And snow! There was more than he had seen in all his life before, and it just kept coming. It seemed to him there was more snow than anything else in Glendive.

Carl's brother Lawrence had come to Glendive in 1905, lured here by a cousin who had come still earlier, and it was the two of them who 'pulled' young Carl to the New World. One of his uncles came with him so Carl didn't make the long voyage alone. Lawrence was working for the Northern Pacific Railroad, and it wasn't long until Carl, too, was able to get a job with the N.P., carrying water from the cisterns. That marked the beginning of his railroad career, and he stayed with it until his retirement in 1957.

The three young fellows, Carl, Lawrence, and their cousin, lived together in a boxcar along the railroad, doing their own cooking and housekeeping. Carl didn't mind the cooking - in fact, he rather enjoyed that - but he didn't like the dishwashing.

Rabbits were plentiful in those days, but no one seemed to think of eating them until the Colbrese boys introduced them on their own private bill of fare. Then rabbit meat became so popular among their friends that one Thanksgiving some of their bachelor cronies asked Carl to cook them a rabbit dinner to celebrate the holiday.

Carl couldn't resist playing a practical joke when the opportunity presented itself, and opportunity came begging this time when a bobcat got in front of his gunsights. He cut up the cat and made 'Hungarian goulash', adding his own special combination of seasonings, and served it up in style, the nature of the meat completely concealed. His guests partook heartily of his Thanksgiving dinner, and when the stew was gone, he asked them how they liked it. They were enthusiastic in their response, assuring him, "It was good!" "Not enough of it!" "Bring on more!" Instead of bringing on more stew, he slipped outside to where the head of the bobcat lay and brought it in, whiskers and all, and set it on the table. What an uproar was triggered by the sight of that head! And the diners, without exception, had had enough.

But not all of his stews produced such a turbulent climax. Several years after he joined his brother and cousin in the boxcar three young ladies set up housekeeping in a little shack next door. The girls, whose parents had emigrated from Poland and homesteaded near Circle, could speak only Polish, and Carl's speech was still something of a mixture of Italian and English so conversation was a problem. But food has a universal language and the girls couldn't resist the smell of Carl's stews. They wondered how they might get an invitation to dinner, and once Carl got a hint of their interest in his culinary accomplishments it was simple; he invited them.

After this their acquaintance grew, and in time Carl developed a special interest in one of the young ladies, Agnes Molenda. The interest was mutual and this they managed to communicate to each other even though they didn't speak the same language. Carl was able to propose marriage, and she accepted.

Now they were faced with the problem of getting permission from her folks. Since the family lived beyond Circle and this was in the dead of winter, transportation was even more of a problem than communication had been.

After considerable counseling with his bride-to-be and her two sisters and her brother-in-law, they decided the safest and most comfortable solution was for them (the bride-to-be, sisters, and brother-in-law) to go in a sheep wagon while Carl went ahead on a saddle horse. There wasn't much of a trail between Glendive and Circle then and what trail there was was pretty well covered with snow. Carl decided to see if he could find a better route. The blowing snow was confusing and in the unfamiliar territory, Carl lost his way completely. He couldn't even find his way back to the trail he had left.

Darkness overtook him, and after what seemed an interminable interlude he saw a light. It was his only hope, and he headed for it. His knock on the door was answered by a rough-looking character who apparently had never shaved. Carl wondered if it had been a mistake to come here for help, but there was no turning back now so he mustered his courage to explain to the fellow that he was lost and would like to be directed to Circle, hastening to add that he would be glad to pay for the help.

He was soon made to realize that his fears were groundless. The man not only showed him which way to go, but he saddled his own horse and rode with him about ten miles until they were back to the trail (the same trail that Carl had left in search of a better) and refused the offered pay. Carl finally caught up with the rest of his party in the sheepwagon and they continued on their way.

Mr. and Mrs. Molenda granted permission for the marriage, but then the party had to come back to Glendive before the young couple could get married. There was no church and not much of anything else in Circle in 1915 so the wedding took place in Glendive in the Catholic Church.

Marriage in no way diminished his enjoyment of a practical joke. One day as his wife was walking home from town (their shack was on what would now be Sargent Avenue) he saw her coming, and thinking to give her a little scare, he lay down in the road and started rolling around, groaning and hollering, making a great ado. Seeing the strange figure and hearing the weird noises, she didn't come close enough to see that it was her husband but turned instead and started to run back toward town. At that turn of events Carl stopped his acting and jumped to his feet, calling to her to come back, but she wouldn't even look back to assess the developments. She just kept running until she reached the safety of the populated main street. That was more scare than he had bargained for, but her brother proved he could out perform even that performance.

Carl happened to hear his wife ask her brother to go to the cellar to get some potatoes so, unknown to either of them, Carl slipped down through the trapdoor into the cellar before Joe got there. When Joe lifted the door and started to swing down into the cellar, Carl grabbed his legs. With a terrified shriek Joe jerked away, jumped back from that hole and took off, almost hysterical. That was far beyond the reaction Carl had anticipated, and he never tried a trick like that again.

 

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