Still Standing after All These Years
By Melinda Stiles
Winter came early there and lingered late, increasing the sense of isolation. But friendship became more all-inclusive and intimate.
— J.H. Holst, teacher at Gibbonsville School, 1902-1905, from Follow in His Footsteps: The Adventures of My Father, by Barbara Maltby
As I drive toward Gibbonsville, I reflect that J.H. Holst could not have known how enduring his words would be. They’re as true today as they were when he wrote them in one of the journals he left his daughter. The turnoff from US Highway 93 toward Main Street in Gibbonsville is thirty-two miles north of Salmon and thirteen miles south of the Montana border. I make that turn and am greeted by the four-foot, brightly painted wooden angel advising, “Our children aren’t angels. Let’s keep it that way.” The angel is next to a 20 mph speed limit sign, which warns that speed is checked by radar. I couldn’t guess when a police car may have patrolled Main Street last but I slow down, the better to observe and sense this quiet community.
Ponderosas populate the steep canyon that enfolds Main Street, like sentinels guarding the privacy and way of life of the twenty-three people who live here. Gibbonsville stretches north and south a bit on Highway 93, which makes a total population of about one hundred. As I drive, a refrain pads through my brain: “The peace of this place, the peace of this place . . .” Wind whooshes through the ponderosas and pine scent delights my nose. A silent, caretaking presence is obviously at work here.
In my eighteen years of living in Idaho, Gibbonsville was a place I passed on my way to Missoula. It also was the place where I would feast upon the best Mexican food in the county. I’ve long admired my husband’s oil painting of a Gibbonsville house, and he has regaled me with his memories of attending the Gibbonsville Centennial in 1977. There were foot races, buggy rides, games, horseshoes, barbecue and “all the free-flowing beer you could drink.”