Our family lived on dairy land then, two miles south of Great Falls, Montana, in a typical 1960s split-level, though ours was ringed with cottonwoods and surrounded by alfalfa fields, low hills, and river bottom. The house faced the gentle hills and road above, with fields, railroad tracks, and the Missouri opening out in back, blue silos of the Ayrshire Dairy to the south, and a shale outcropping bluntly known as “the Rocks” to our north. Fixed at the lip of the Rocks, directly in line with the concrete rectangle abutting our house, were two white crosses marking the spot where a pair of World War II flyboys practicing formation drills got tangled up and crashed, both of them dying.

For me the crosses had little to do with memorializing the dead. They were beacons on the hill, signaling to the awkward girl I then was the mortal peril of daring to rise too high, too fast. But somehow, they also urged me on. I understood that life could end without warning, even young lives, even on a blue and cloudless day.

People on couch
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