When you’re “on the road,” you never know what may be around the bend. Mel Holman can attest to that.
Mel had not been having the best year, when his daughter suggested going back to Shenandoah, Iowa to visit family this spring. While staying with his brother, he got a call from a friend, “How about going up to South Dakota and pick up a load to lead to Charleston, South Carolina?”
Holman took his Big Sky Pilot Service out and did the job, returning to Shenandoah. He wasn’t ready to come back to Montana. All the while he was back home, Mel kept asking about old friends and buddies. Many were dead or gone in one way or another. Eventually, Mel had to ask about Arla. “Works at Lou and Al’s Cafe.”
“Still married?” The answer was NO and that got Mel off his perch. He drove over to the cafe and circled the block a number of times.
“I was a little nervous. (Probably more than a little.) My belly was turned upside down and my heart was flip-flopping.”
Arla was getting ready to close the business for the day, when she saw, “Oh, another cowboy.”
But, it didn’t turn out to be just another cowboy. When their eyes met, Arla said, “Oh, my God, Melbie Holman.”
That was on March 31 and life has changed in a hurry for Mel and Arla, both now Holmans. The two spent four or five afternoons together getting to know each other again. Then, Mel returned to Montana, but not for long. He returned to Shenandoah.
On top of a bluff in Wabaunsee State Park, Mel asked if Arla would ever move from Iowa. “I don’t know. I’ve never been to Montana. Maybe in a couple of years.”
So, Mel made his proposal, “Will you marry me on this bluff in two years?” I think Arla said YES.
Shortly thereafter, Arla came out to Montana for a week. “I wish I had bought a one-way ticket.” But, no matter. Mel drove back to Iowa to get Arla. He brought her back and they arrived in Harlowton on the 5th of July. Arla and Mel Holman were married by Richard Egebakken, JP, at the Oasis on October 21.
That was a huge life change. What did her children think about it? “Mom, whatever you do, we’re with you.” They haven’t gotten to Montana, yet. But, it won’t be long.
The Holmans met 53 years ago when their families were detassling corn. Mel was 16 at the time and from Farragut (about the size of Two Dot). Arla was 15 and lived in nearby Shenandoah. “Mel used to pick on me when I was a freshman and he was an upperclassman.”
“When he left me,” was a common refrain in Arla’s conversation and remembrances. Mel and Arla were always fond of each other, but Mel was forever going off somewhere.
“Well, honey, I’m going rodeoing. See you in a while.”
“A little wild, in those days,” might well describe Mel Holman. Still a little wildness there, today. Holman would still like to rodeo “one more time.” He left Iowa not long after high school to rodeo rough stock - bulls and broncs.
Arla and Mel crossed paths a number of times over the years, but marriages (to other people) and children got in the way of them ever having a relationship. “I always wondered where Arla was.”
“I did the same thing.” Arla would read the local paper looking for news about Mel and his family in Farragut gossip column. Whenever Mel was in town, he would look in the phone book trying to find Arla’s name.
It had been 25 years since the two had been in touch, when Melbie Holman appeared at Lou and Al’s Cafe on that fateful day.
Over the years, Holman drove 18-wheelers, worked on ranches, built homes in California, and lived from Baton Rouge to San Francisco. He also had another life as a musician and guitar player, although he says, “I never could play well.”
Mel grew up in a musical family with Mom, Dad and Granddad playing ‘Old Time Gospel’ music in the Ozarks. When he was eighteen, Holman bought a $20 guitar and worked at improving his skills. He eventually set with many different bands, “I played and sang quite a bit in southern California.” Holman backed up the likes of George Jones, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash. The Wagon Wheel in Ventura, California, was a favorite and memorable place to play.
Mel’s favorite these days is the Oasis. Not long ago, Quint Theriault was celebrating his birthday there. Mel let out, “Quint, if I knew it was your birthday, I would’ve played you a song.” Well, I reckon he has since played a few for him since that time. He sets in once in a while with the Quintana Band.
Arla says, “He sang to me a couple times. He sang the first time I was up here.”
Now that the Holmans are getting settled in Harlowton, Arla waits tables at Wade’s Drive-Inn a few days a week. Mel has given up his piloting service and will continue working for the Jawbone Creek Country Club. He is now clubhouse manager and plans to stay there.
How many times did that fella leave you? “Oh God, three or four times. But, he has settled down, alot. He ain’t leaving me this time.”