In just a few short days I will be flying solo to Great Falls, Montana. From there I will rent a car and drive approx. 4 hours northwest to a magnificent place called Glacier National Park. I will be staying at the Many Glacier Hotel where I worked as a singing waitress for two glorious summers over 30 years ago. I will be meeting up with a small group of very dear friends with whom I spent those magical days. We will be joined by many others from different decades who also spent their summers in this quintessential National Park Hotel. I was there in 1982 and 1983 and, without a doubt, they were the best summers of my life.
I was hired as a waitress in the Ptarmigan Dining Room, a prized job among employees at the Hotel. Not only did we make good tips, but we sang as a choir two times a night as part of our duties. We were “singing waiters.” My second summer I was the director of the Dining Room Choir. This was a great boon for me because I was preparing to direct choirs as a career and it significantly increased my nightly tips. Our waitress uniform was a black or red dirndl skirt with a white peasant blouse trimmed with embroidered ribbon. There was a Swiss theme that ran throughout the hotel due in part to it’s designation as the “Switzerland of North America.” The most prominent peak across Swiftcurrent Lake, Grinnell Point, was likened to the Matterhorn.
Here’s a side by side comparison of Grinell Point over Swiftcurrent Lake and the Matterhorn in Switzerland:The Swiss theme could be found outside the Dining Room as well. Our bellmen wore lederhosen.Here are a few fellas from the late 70’s.
The first summer I worked at MGH I brought all the wrong shoes. The worst offenders were the cheap fake leather white shoes I purchased in Nebraska as part of my waitress uniform. They were stiff and uncushioned but the price was right for a impecunious college student. I hadn’t waitressed before and learned the hard way about the importance of comfortable shoes. Huge crescent moon shaped blisters formed on the back of my heels making life miserable for weeks on end. The nearest department store was a 50 mile drive over the mountains in a car that I did not own. And online shopping, of course, did not exist. I was stuck with what I brought. The next summer I wised up and spent good money on nursing grade white shoes.
My second mistake was hiking boots. Or, that is to say, my lack of hiking boots. I thought I could get away with sneakers but soon found out they were missing the structure and support for trail hiking in Glacier Park. Some of my new friends suggested that I borrow a pair from a fellow employee
So that was my third mistake- borrowing a pair of broken in hiking boots which had already conformed to their original owner’s feet. I went through a lot of moleskin in 1982.There’s so much more to tell you. ” Glacier time” was not analogous to real life. What transpired there in 24 hours was easily 10 times greater than normal. We were all young, somewhere in our 20’s. We came from all over the U.S. (although there was a curious concentration from the state of Minnesota and Seattle, Washington). Most came with some kind of talent; vocal, instrumental, theatrical and the like. Mr. Ian B. Tippett had hired us primarily for those gifts. He had created a hotel where its employees, in addition to serving, also entertained its guests.
On Tuesday nights there was a Hootenanny (or Hoots) which consisted of folk music, bluegrass and old favorites accompanied by acoustic instruments. Every Hoot concluded with a group rendition of “Good Night Irene.” The Thursday night program was called Serenade. This was Mr. Tippett’s baby. He was the master of ceremonies and would introduce each performer with his unique British flare and swagger. This was the night for Broadway songs, operatic arias and classical music. We had so much fun putting these programs together every week. Creating and practicing group numbers was part of our off duty fun. Here’s a quartet from 1983:That’s Mo, Tim, Christopher and Gail. Mo looks like she came straight from the dinner shift in the Ptarmigan Room. We performed in the grand lobby of the Hotel.
And, as if that were not enough, we would also mount a fully staged Broadway Musical complete with costumes, make-up, lights, and a full orchestra. We had a small stage in a large room on the lower level of the hotel. My first summer we produced “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” My second summer we did “Kiss Me Kate.” Here’s a scene from that show:I’m the one with arms crossed and head tilted. We were impossibly young. What’s happened to all these kids? Has life been good to them? Did their dreams come true? If not, did they find some new dreams? Will they be at the reunion and, more importantly, will I recognize them? I know Christopher (sitting down, in the red t-shirt and white sweater draped over his shoulders) will be there.
And when we weren’t waitressing, cleaning rooms, hauling luggage, washing pots and pans, preparing food, taking reservations, selling souvenirs, practicing music, or performing….we were HIKING the magnificent Rocky Mountains of Glacier National Park.
These are my Salomons. They fit like a glove and they are mine, all mine. I’ve taken them out for a few test runs and I think I’m good to go.
So, I hope you follow me on the Hiking Boot Chronicles. Fingers crossed that internet is up and working at MGH.