Caption: Mother’s Day 2015 — my mom (Belva), Grandma holding Marsi, and me holding Emi.
My family will be meeting this weekend to celebrate my grandma’s 90th (!) birthday.
Grandma is quite a lady. She’s still living in her own home and still keeping the rest of us hopping. This past Thanksgiving, for instance, she showed up at the feast with the makings for Moscow Mules (complete with tin mugs), so sure was she that we were all missing out on an international cocktail sensation. And she also usually has one family member or another on the hunt for something fabulous she spotted in her Cowboys & Indians Magazine.
In honor of Grandma’s big year, I thought it would be nice to share the story below, which I first wrote a couple years ago, and which describes her spunkiness a little more thoroughly.
Love you, Grandma!
Good ol’ Facebook, changing the way our world works. News gets around much faster these days thanks to social media. With a few clicks and taps you can catch the latest breaking news as it’s happening – and at the same time, find out what all your “friends” have to say about it.
Ironically, though social media is very streamlined and efficient, it can also be an incredible time-waster. Seems like we end up talking a lot more often on there and saying a lot less of importance. Print media will always have its place for that reason: some stories are just too timeless, too deep-rooted to fit on that glowing screen.
The words I’m writing here actually got their start on Facebook. When Grandma was ailing a couple years back, we cousins passed along news of her health via social media. When Grandma (otherwise known as Margaret “Peg” Quest Kuntz, of Custer, Montana) was recovering from surgery, I posted a picture of her on Facebook. In the photo she’s horseback at age 85. Tons of family and friends saw that picture and, in our modern high-tech way, showed their support and love for Grandma by “liking” the picture. My “friend” (and friend!) Susan Metcalf saw the photo, knew there was more to that lady pictured than could fit on Facebook, and asked me to write a guest column about Grandma.
… So the story itself gets its start in the Sorrel Horse Valley of the Bighorn River, north of Hardin. Grandma’s dad, Glen Quest, came to the Sorrel Horse Valley as a boy with his parents. They traveled from Upton, Wyoming as part of the “Upton Pool” – a group of settlers in search of communal grass for their cattle. They found it in what’s known as the Ceded Strip, north of Hardin on the east side of the river. Grandma says her grandparents settled on the opposite side of the river from the cows, at the Old Mission Ranch, because her grandmother wanted her boys to go to school and there was a school on the west side. After finishing primary classes at the Mission School, Glen Quest went to two years of high school in Custer… and there he found Grandma’s mom, Margaret Cooper, whose father was the depot agent in Custer. Margaret was a talented musician and played organ at the Custer Congregational Church.
Margaret and Glen married and made their life on the Quest Ranch in the Sorrel Horse Valley. Of four kids born to Margaret and Glen, Grandma was the youngest. She was born in ’26 right there at the ranch; her mother was something of the neighborhood nurse and midwife and, anyhow, you didn’t go to the doctor in those days unless something was wrong.
Horses were life for Grandma from the beginning. “I can’t remember not riding,” she’ll tell you. All of the Quest kids went to Sorrel Horse School; the school building was actually on a corner of Quest land. Even before Grandma was in school, she rode to school every day: “Mom fixed a hot lunch for the kids, and she would pack it up every day at noon and I would carry it horseback to the school, and my sister Lillian would come out to the schoolyard and take it from me.”
Grandma has written down memories of her early years in the Sorrel Horse Valley, and I printed many of her stories when I was the editor of Agri-News 2005-2008. In one, she talks about riding to the school Christmas program in a bobsled drawn by workhorses, sleigh bells jingling. In another, she tells of the time her family’s horses died from sleeping sickness one by one; afterwards her dad went to town to buy the family’s first tractor and, she says, was never the same again. One of her stories is about searching for the bell cow while riding double with her sister, Mildred… another is about her Uncle Roy coming to stay with the family during the Depression, about how he poached deer to keep the family alive and how they hid the meat before the game warden came knocking.
After Grandma finished primary school at Sorrel Horse Valley, she went to Hardin for high school (though the family lived closer to Custer, the ranch was actually in Bighorn County, and a bus bumped the Quest kids the 25 miles to school every day). Still, when it came to having fun, Grandma hung with the Custer crowd. And she can give a pretty good briefing on how to have fun the old-fashioned way. One summer her brother, Bud, drove their dad’s sugarbeet truck all the way to Yellowstone National Park and back… with Grandma and 20 other kids riding in the bed of the truck! That’s 200 miles one way! And my dear friend Susan Metcalf’s dad, Glen Roberts, actually made that trip with Grandma back in 1942.
A special Custer boy – my grandpa, Edwin Kuntz – caught Grandma’s eye. They married when he was home on furlough in 1944. She followed him to Texas and Florida, living in housing provided to the young soldier and taking in the new cultures around her. When World War II wrapped up in ’45, Grandpa was honorably discharged and the two of them moved home to the farm that Grandpa’s family leased just west of Custer.
And there she has been ever since. There she raised her own three kids – my mom Belva and uncles Rick and Cody. She and Grandpa eventually bought the farm. Grandpa was a hard-working farmer and she worked right alongside him (one time, to win a fight, she backed the tractor away and left him stranded atop a stack of loose hay for hours).
By the time the kids were old enough to fend for themselves, Grandma was able to turn more effort to the family’s dream of a cowherd. It was, after all, in her blood, and in those days farms were more diversified in an effort to make ends meet. The family already had about 50 cows running in the timber at the edges of fields in the Yellowstone River Valley. They also purchased and backgrounded calves each winter in their 400-head feedlot. Then, in the ‘70s, they got the chance to lease summer pasture north of Custer from Rockwood Brown. Their herd was complete with the purchase of 150 bred cull cows from Wilsall Hereford breeder Dan Landers.
So while the guys were busy farming each summer, Grandma (and she was a grandmother by this time) did most of the riding. She checked water every day, often with a grandkid bouncing along in the passenger seat of the old Ford. She rode through the herd often checking for health. She roped calves each spring at branding time. She rode horses she trusted and loved, including a black named Wishbone and palomino named Brandy.
She and Grandpa kept that lease, and their cows, for 10 years: “As long as I could ride and take care of the cows.” It was a memorable phase in Grandma’s interesting life… but certainly not the defining one.
What might define this grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of 19? Only that she has always, always liked to make waves. She’s got a lot of spunk, which she pulls off with an endearing style. I like to say she’s “sassy and classy.”
The first time I remember seeing Grandma, she pulled up to my folks’ house with a pickup-load of cousins and a new puppy for my family (which my parents did not expect and/or want). In my next memory of Grandma, we’re driving down the highway to a basketball game in Ekalaka. Grandma rolls down the window and, much to my mother’s dismay, throws out the remnants of a fast-food lunch picked up in Miles City, declaring the road to be endless and the leftovers to be stinking up the car. (Guess this was before the “keep America beautiful” campaign was widely accepted.)
She’s a diehard fan of basketball and the Custer Cougars. She can get a little mouthy, too, when she’s showing support for her team. One time when my uncles were playing in the ‘60s, the Cougars journeyed to Busby for a game. After a nail-biter of a game which the Cougars won, an equally enthusiastic, equally female fan of the Busby persuasion pulled Grandma to the ground by her hair in the lobby. (I can only imagine the men jumping in to break up the fight.) By the time I was playing ball in the ‘90s, it was tougher for her to find anyone willing to fight a grandmother, so she was reduced to verbal fisticuffs – once with my coach’s wife.
If heaven was a pie, it would be cherry. I think that line defines Grandma pretty well. She’s well known for the tender white piecrust she can effortlessly whip out, and for the cherry pie baked in a 9×13 which she brings to most family gatherings. My uncle’s wife remembers receiving a crust-rolling lesson from Grandma as a newlywed. Grandma couldn’t get the crust to roll out to her liking; she beat it around on the counter a bit and then — perhaps as a planned show to intimidate her new daughter-in-law — threw the ball of dough to the floor and stomped on it.
Grandpa was president of the Mountain States Beet Growers Association in the ‘90s, and the two of them traveled the nation attending meetings. She’s flown to DC, Orlando, Phoenix, Dallas, San Diego, Portland, and more. I remember as a young girl, back in the days when guests could go up to the terminal, racing my cousins to hug Grandma and Grandpa as they came off a plane. Grandma’s most recent flight was to Alabama for my wedding reception.
She and Grandpa built a new house with a daylight basement in the ‘70s, and the yard she landscaped around it is worthy of a magazine page – complete with two stairways. That house still holds us all tight each Christmas Eve as we meet for the traditional tacos and ice cream floats. Grandma gave great gifts then and now. Loves shopping, too – and she’s got a closet to prove it. She comes from a time when a lady didn’t leave home unless her hair was poofy and her outfit coordinated. She’s the most fashionable grandmother I know, and even sold Mary Kay in her heyday.
Some will remember her for dancing on the table during a beet association party at the Northern Hotel in Billings. She was probably around 60 when that happened, and though it wasn’t the first time she danced on a table, it’s the last anyone remembers.
That’s Grandma. That’s just the introduction. Just the newspaper-article version of a story that’s too timeless, too deep-rooted to fit on Facebook… or even in a newspaper.
© Tami Blake