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Waskish woman weaves words

Marllys Hillman

"We can hear the wolves howling every night. Our son was deer hunting and suddenly a moose ran across in front of him. It was being chased by some wolves. There should be a bounty on them."

That may not show up in her report on the doings around Waskish, but it reflects the feeling of a lot of folks around there. The things they are doing and the folks they are visiting are what really makes Marllys Hillman's writings in the American so widely read.

She's been covering the Waskish news for more than a decade "since sometime in the 1990s" she smiles, and quickly remembers long-ago incidents with the same attention to detail as what may have happened just yesterday, in this community that stretches along Highway 72 on the north shores of Upper Red Lake.

Homer Hillman had his first store not far from where Earl "Shorty"Hillman and Marllys have their store and bait shop now. It's across from Hillman's Highway-the road that once the lake freezes over and the ice is thick enough, is plowed so fishermen can get to the ice houses that will dot the lake in winter.

He's listed as Earl in the phone book, but asking for him by that name will often draw a blank look followed by an "Oh, you're looking for Shorty."

Hillman was one of eleven children whose mother died-he was 21 months old at the time-and all eleven were promptly adopted by other Waskish families. Shorty and his sister, Mabel Nordrum, were adopted by Homer Hillman and his wife and raised as their own. The Hillman name is familiar around Waskish-nearby Hillman Lake was used as an Air Force bombing range during World War II.

"When Homer died, Shorty and his mother got this place," Marllys said. "He was just a month short of 8 years old."

Marllys was born in Litchfield, graduated from Eden Valley High School, and came north as a music teacher. She taught in Kelliher, Blackduck, Nebish, Northome and Bemidji. She met Shorty while teaching and remember that during the first year they were married, they lived in a 14x16 cabin heated by a wood fire.

"I was scared of fire," she remembers, "so if I was alone at night, I wouldn't touch the fire. I'd just cover up with more blankets."

Marllys returned to Waskish in 1970. She had worked in post offices in Minneapolis, International Falls and at Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage during the years Shorty was in Alaska. When back in Waskish, she spent 11 years in the post office there.

The Hillmans have five children, three sons and two daughters. Two others died in infancy and a son, Billy, died in an accident in 1986. Like many young men in the community, Billy had been an ardent softball player and a regular participant in the annual Sheephead Softball Tournament. With the Hillman's approval, organizers changed it and for many years it's been the Billy Hillman Memorial Tournament.

The Hillman store and bait shop is open 365 days a year but, Marllys says, "we do close at noon on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and Easter" She says the days sometimes get pretty long, and recalls a night when she got a desperate call at two in the morning.

"Someone needed gas for the trip home," she says, "so I got up, dressed, went out and met him at the gas pump. He bought just $5 worth of gas and left-I guess he figured he could get it cheaper somewhere down the road."

Omelet brunch set

There will be an omelet brunch/craft and bake sale Dec. 4 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Blackduck Area Senior Center.

Everyone is welcome.