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30 years with Snow Bird

New Nike sneakers

August 16, 2019

In my almost 30 years with Mr. Eddie (Snowbird) Alden, I sometimes said to myself, Wow.  Someone needs to write a book.  He was unique.  Several people remarked on his singularity at his memorial service, that lasted two hours and forty minutes.  Eddie was unique.  I have never seen anyone even remotely similar to him.  His life made sense to him.  He was his own boss, a crime fighter. Like the Green Lantern.

Several times I asked him if I could call him Snowbird.  “Call me Eddie,” he said each time.

Eddie was an iconic figure in Billings.  He weighed more than 300 lbs, always wore a bright yellow fleece, unless the weather was hot, then he wore a clean white tee shirt.  He pedaled slowly across parking lots, across streets.  His hair was always cut short, less than a quarter inch.  He had vertical black stripes on his scalp where his hair was a bit longer.  He wore white Nike sneakers, white cotton socks, black sweat pants, the bright yellow fleece.  He owned perhaps a dozen of those fleeces, which he stored at a unit on the West end of Billings. I helped him take a lot of his belongings from an apartment near 6th Avenue. As we drove away an old guy, perhaps a property manager for the basement apartment, called out to Eddie, “Don’t come back!”

Aside from angry landlords, he was well known, even loved; but sometimes hated.  One Crow man told me as a child he remembered seeing Eddie and was afraid of him because he sometimes lurked at the corner of buildings.

How well known was he?  This blog you are reading typically attracts one or two readers a day, sometimes as many as ten, when I write about picking up my small dog Gunther’s poop in the neighborhood.  

The day I wrote about Eddie’s funeral service I got more than 500 readers!  I think the most I had ever gotten was around 30, when I wrote about being depressed.  I always took for granted that my blog posts are dull.

The day after that, the blog post about Eddie attracted nearly 8,000 readers!  That number was back to about 500 today.

Eddie always liked publicity.  I think he would be thrilled to know how his story attracts people.

Three days ago, Eddie’s memorial service was held at the Spirit of Life Four Square Church, in Crow Agency.  Right around the corner from the old Crow Mercantile, which was across the street from the Post Office.  I’d say 30 people attended, including four or five of us from Billings.  

Eddie’s service was gorgeous, elaborate, beautiful—all those things.  Two of his bikes were on display with his trademark 64-ounce Big Gulp soda holder.  A two-liter Pepsi bottle, some cologne, a couple of radios, tape recorders, yellow fleeces.  Lots of little touches.  Grocery bags hanging from his handlebars.  He didn’t always use plastic bags.  He started out with paper bags, each reinforced with a half-roll of duct tape. Probably that was before he was settled in Billings, complete with lots of bicycles.

Over the years, I often asked Eddie questions and he would answer cryptically, “Yeah?”  Example:  “Eddie, are you coming over for Thanksgiving?”  He would answer, “Yeah?”  Me:  “Is your apartment clean?”  Eddie:  “Yeah?”

The people at Eddie’s funeral extolled his virtues, which are approximately the same as those of any officer in law enforcement, except Eddie invented his own, volunteer, role.  They said Eddie had some sort of disability, but he valued his family’s tradition of police work.  Generations of policemen (and women, perhaps).  Therefore, according to Eddie’s uncle Art Alden, “Snowbird had a siren on his bicycle.” 

I think I’ve gotten ahead of myself again.

Eddie did not say much about himself, unless asked specifically.  Even then, he was often vague.  Example:  “Eddie, what are you doing tonight?”  Answer:  “Oh, you know, routines.”  I learned later that “routines” referred to the route he pedaled his bicycle.  

I was shocked to learn that he had enemies.  Oh yes.  They were often his victims—people he turned in to the police, usually when intoxicated, often when driving.

One year at Crow Fair, which is a huge annual encampment each August of literally hundreds and hundreds of tepees—possibly more than even one or two thousand—I found Eddie pedaling his bike on one of the many curved roads.  Typically, Eddie wouldn’t recognize me right away.  The reason:  non-Indians, like me, all look alike.  But I called out Eddie’s name and he pedaled slowly to me.  I never saw Eddie pedal quickly. I had driven over to Crow Fair early that morning for the annual “Teepee Creeper’s Classic” three mile run.  I was expecting breakfast at a relative’s camp, so I asked one of the women there if I could invite “Snowbird.”  She said, “sure.”  I didn’t know it, but she was just being ultra kind and polite to me!  

She fried up a rasher of bacon, which Eddie ate from a paper plate.  Soon, my son pulled me aside.  He told me that more than a few people in that camp had spent actual time in jail because of Snowbird’s ratting them out.  I was never never NEVER to invite him to breakfast there again!  

That’s when I learned of Eddie’s “zero tolerance” for the crime of possessing alcohol on a dry reservation.  Both the Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations are “dry.”  Eddie also had zero tolerance for any natives that crawl out of a bar and get into a motor vehicle in the small hours of the morning when the places closed down.  Eddie would certainly call the cops on them and that might result in going to jail.

But Eddie didn’t mind at all if I drank.  He even provided me with wine the last few years at Christmas.  Always great generous bottles of pink, or this last Christmas, merlot.  He had gone to some trouble to find out what kind I liked.  Last Christmas I sat with Eddie and drank a few glasses of the merlot.  Our conversations went something like this:

Eddie:  Dan?

Me:  Yeah, Eddie?

Eddie: Dan?

Me: What is it, Eddie?  

Eddie: Does Jon want to buy me a gift card for the Holiday station for Christmas?

Me: How would I know?  Why don’t you ask Jon?

Eddie: Yeah?

Sometimes I bought Eddie black sweat pants for Christmas, sometimes shoes and socks.  One time, I bought him a 12 pack of Mountain Dew, which I wrapped in shiny paper with little trees on it.  After he unwrapped it, he put it on the floor.  He looked at it, then at me.  “This is it?”  He didn’t bother to take it with him.

That’s why I often said that I didn’t really know Eddie that well, despite being acquainted with him for almost 30 years.  Part of the problem was that I frequently was critical of him.  I scolded him for teasing the Bureau of Indian Affairs police officers by carrying around pop in a Budweiser beer box at Crow Fair.  

I got perturbed when he got into trouble, usually having to do with his relationship with a landlord, and he asked four or five different people for help, but didn’t tell any of them about the others.  “Eddie, you need someone’s help,” I said.  “But you don’t need four people who each think they are the only ones helping.”

Eddie kept his business to himself.  He frequently lined up several unrelated groups to help him celebrate his birthday.  On the big day he stopped in at one after another:  the police department, legal services, the Billings Gazette, my house, his sister’s house.  When things went well, he couldn’t help exulting.

I didn’t know Eddie 30 years.  I knew Eddie 1 year, 30 times.  I miss him because his independence delighted me. A legend in his own time.

I criticized Eddie for hoarding stuff in his apartment.  That’s one of the reasons he got eviction notices.  His places were frightful.

I didn’t visit the last three places he lived because I felt depressed when I could barely fit through an aisle of plastic trash bags filled with filthy blankets, gray sheets, phones, sweat clothes, socks, batteries, tape recorders, hair clippers, bicycle parts, radios, cameras, new bike helmets (never worn—I don’t know how often I urged him to wear his helmet.  His answer was always, “Yeah?”) 

Pill box organizers, prescription bottles, envelopes, newspapers, hunters orange gloves, empty soda containers (large) cologne bottles, more envelopes, posters, tools, telephones, more telephones, more bike parts, underwear, camping gear, televisions, fake flowers, food wrappers, bottles of cleaners, vacuum cleaners, neck ties, suits, mattresses, more radios, toy police cars, flashlights, flashlight batteries, a bull horn, a siren, blue and red flashing lights, more toys, hats, hats, more hats, coats, old shoes.  Garbage. Newspapers.  Like 40 copies of the same date.

Fire crackers, bottle rockets, matches, other toys, an empty whisky bottle, pepper.  More pepper.  Thirty cans of black pepper.  And telephones, police scanners, police scanner parts, bicycle seats, bicycle wheels, tires, tubes.  More receipts, paper, a huge pile of bike wheels, bike frames.  A couch, under there somewhere.  ID cards for random people.  Panty hose.  Telephones.  Cooking pan on the stove, with grease.  

I’d ask Eddie the last few years:  “Are you keeping your place pretty clean?”  He answered:  “Yeah?”  

“Really?” I continued.

“Yeah.” He said.  Well, I couldn’t vouch for his honesty in that regard, but I never checked.


PW Volume II number 1


Click the link below to read the entire issue.


Family History for my Grandchildren

I was going to start with the basics, beginning with the earliest ancestors.  Of course, my mother came from two lines:  Bonde on her father’s side and Wichstrom on her mother’s.  History gets blurry and vague prior to 200 years ago.  There’s a matriarch on the Bonde side, from a farm in Vang, in central Norway.  A patriarch on the Wichstrom side, from Oslo, a coastal port city to the south.

I consider the past 200 years to be “modern.”

First the Bonde matriarch, Berit Bonde.

In the beginning our ancestors had pretty much moved from Africa to the steppes of Eurasia to learn how to herd sheep. Eventually, they got beat up by a variety of Tartars and other savage types, learned to ride horses, and ran west to the hills. They got into the area north of the Danube River and hid in the woods. That’s when they learned how to spin wool and flax and grind grain into flour. They didn’t eat well, unless they killed a deer or a neighbor’s ox. People only lived to be 30, give or take.

Mostly they had to avoid those damn Roman soldiers. The Danube kept the Romans away for a long time.

As far as I know, in the middle ages, Germanic tribes migrated from the mountainous areas of Eastern Europe north to what is now Scandinavia:  Denmark, Sweden, Norway.  I omitted Finland because their language is unrelated to the others.

We have Norse sagas and Beowolf in addition to archaeological evidence of life in the pre-Christian times up north.  

In the early 1800s my great, great, grandmother, Berit Bonde, and her husband, Thorstein, farmed in a little valley in central Norway, at present-day Vang.  A bunch of us went there two years ago.  It has rocky soil and a lake surrounded by nearby mountains.  We were there in March.  We stayed at a bed and breakfast owned by Arne and Berit Nefstad. Bob and Heather and their daughter Olivia, along with Cyrus and Roland (Todd’s boys) and Penny and I went to Vang by rented car from Bergen, a port city on Norway’s west coast. Vang doesn’t even have a gas station. It does have Berit Bonde’s log house, though. It looks like a fixer-upper, with a cat scurrying about.

While in Bergen, Penny and I agreed to meet everyone else at a certain restaurant. For some reason we went by cab, only we got dropped off at the wrong place. For some other reason we didn’t have a phone, nor did we know Bob or Heather’s phone number. For another unknown reason, we didn’t figure out we were at the wrong restaurant until dark. Also, we didn’t know the address or name of the place where we were supposed to spend the night. We decided to order cocktails. Then hamburgers and more cocktails. We knew we were lost, but we were indoors.

We were in a bind because our restaurant would close later. Luckily, Bergen has fewer than 300,000 residents, mostly able to speak English. Finally, we got the restaurant people to order us a cab and, using pigeon English/Norwegian, we had the driver go up one street and down another until we found our rental apartment. Olivia said she was relieved to be reunited with us. The boys hadn’t realized we were missing.

Bob sold an article about our trip to the Washington Post. He omitted certain details, because he is a professional writer.

Our family history has been sugar-coated and vaguely states Berit Bonde’s husband Thorstein had “litigation” trouble such that he couldn’t stay with Berit and the children in Vang.  He was able to provide them a house and modest income, but he had to go to Lillihammer to find work.  He died a few years later in his 20s or early 30s.  

A present-day informant said word back in Vang was Thorstein was alcoholic and drank himself to death.  Alcoholism seems to run in our family, as does mental illness. Just sayin.’ Near Berit Bonde’s decaying log house was a present-day Bonde descendent who was too mentally “special” to visit with us. We love him, and claim him and hold him to our bosoms. He is acting exactly right. I only wish he could visit my psychiatrist, who has helped me through such a pass.

Back to the story of Berit Bonde.

In Vang, after a suitable mourning period of several years, Berit married a neighbor farmhand, Einar Halvorson.  He took Berit’s last name because they lived on the Bonde farm.  Berit bore several more children.  This was the early 1800s. Einar Halvorson, starting as a neighborhood laborer, has become a Bonde family patriarch.

Other families in Vang also had kids.  Many kids.  More people than the meager land could feed, so Berit and Einar walked 237 km (142 miles) to Oslo with a few belongings.  One child died on the road.  From there they eventually got on a ship to Germany, then Canada, to a port of entry that was a better bet than Ellis Island, I was told.

I don’t know how they got to Minnesota, but Einar and Berit’s son Tosten and his wife Ingabor eventually quarried and built a two-story stone house near Nerstrand, Minnesota.  The family built a barn and created and placed a wooden water pipe.  The farm is still in the Bonde family today.

Einar and Berit lived long enough to see lots of grandchildren grow up in the stone house.  They are buried in a cemetery about 10 miles from the house.

Berit and Einar Bonde

One of Berit’s grandchildren, from her first marriage with Thorstein, lived a couple miles away in Nerstrand.  His name was Thorstein Veblen, a rebellious and witty academic who attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.  He wrote several books that earned him a prominent name.  One of those was an economics book, “Theory of the Leisure Class.” I believe it was meant to be satire, but most people couldn’t understand it.

That’s about all I know of Berit.  As I mentioned, we visited the house she left behind in Vang, on Easter Sunday two years ago.  Our son Bob drove us in the rented car past a barn and up a snowy hill where we saw Berit’s house on a gentle snow-covered hillside.  There weren’t any tracks, except those of cats which darted ahead of us.

It was a one-room log cabin with an open, corner fireplace.  It was the same design as we saw at the Oslo historical museum, the same design as the place we were staying.  The construction was tightly fitted logs.

Evidently the corner fireplace was for eating and cooking and sleeping because of its central location.  Cats poured out of windows about the place.  Did I already mention the cats?

Berit’s house had been converted into a woodworking shop, with a band saw and other tools.  Dust was everywhere and the old wooden board door was hard to open.  Everything was natural wood, in this case black and gray, from age and weather.  There were several other log buildings nearby and a post-WWII house down the hill a short space.  Our friends Arne and Berit Nefstad told us the modern house had a man with the Bonde surname, but he was “special,” as I mentioned, and refused to allow us to visit him.  Didn’t I think of my reclusive brother?  He would have acted like that.

I have mental issues too, so I considered our inability to connect with the man to be confirmation we are related.  We studied the house, took some pictures.  I picked up a small stone.  Bob put a piece of iron hardware into his pocket.

Next, Bob drove perhaps a quarter mile where we visited an 820-year-old stave church with pews that were inscribed with the name “Bonde” among many other names.  A couple of men who unlocked it said the rocky land in the Vang area was unsuited to farming these days.  We paid a woman to show us around the inside of the church.  She was young, pretty, and chubby, but athletic.  She led us up several ladders to the upper reaches of the building where we saw carvings of Norse gods in the principal wooden posts.  

Norwegians seem to dislike war.

I am reading Joseph Heller’s book, Catch-22, and I admire the writing, also the format of the book.  I cannot adopt his style.  Not even close.  The format might help me in my own attempt to tell my story, which I hope to tell to my own grandchildren.  Yesterday I thought I’d write for my hippie friends back in Missoula, but now I realize we are all around 70 years old, and past most of our youthful folly, enjoyable as it sometimes was.  When I wasn’t terrified.

I am afraid of war, hate it.  Yet I ran toward the Marines when I was 20, to become a soldier during the Vietnam conflict.  At that time I realized I was healthy and strong enough to join and that often we must go toward and face the terrors of our time.  I still hate war, blustering, bullying, violence.  At the same time I came to love my fellow soldiers, found beauty, friendship, even a Marine who became a father figure to me.  Real brave people find how to help their fellow soldiers do what must be done.  Often they survive.  In my uncle Bud’s case, he did not.

And so Berit and Einar begat Tosten.  Tosten and Ingabor begat Carl T. Bonde.  (T for Tosten).  Carl begat Buddy.  Also Helen.  Helen begat me.  I begat this bunch of writing.  Also three children who begat seven grandchildren.  Who knows what’s next?

The house for Christmas was festooned with little paper stars hanging from strings in the doorway to the kitchen.  Larger stars hung from wooden beads draped from the divider between the living room and dining room.  Same for another double doorway to the front sunroom.  A spindly fir stood in water, decorated with lights and ornaments, some older than I am.  I’m 71.  Penny and I have been married 50 years and almost one month.

Our house is like a museum, with old photographs and paintings, bric-a-brac, occasional musical instruments hardly anyone plays these days.  That’s a pity, especially for the clavichord my brother Tom built in 1981, and the Martin guitar I bought for a thousand bucks in 2005.  I sawed the top off a bongo drum to make the drumhead for an improvised banjo, back when I collected guitars from thrift stores.  

Penny and Todd bought me a Deering banjo.  Now I am learning to pick the banjo strings with thumb and index and middle fingers, helped along with a book on a music stand.

Banjo. Deering.

I still have a lot of darkroom equipment, especially expanded when the Billings Gazette stopped using silver processes to make its offset printing plates.  I have two unused rolls of film, about 15 inches wide and perhaps a 100 feet long, slowly fogging away on a shelf in the darkroom.  For a time when I worked as a pharmacist in Lame Deer, Montana, I had three heated four gallon developing tanks for film.  I even had a vacuum pump from an offset press in an adjacent room so I could move the developer, stop bath and fixer from one place to another by switching a switch and opening a valve.  At that time I bought 5×7 black and white film in 100-sheet boxes.  My favorite was a kind of film that was orthochromatic, that is, insensitive to red light so I could safely work under the light of some red lightbulbs I got from my nephew from the Gazette.  The bulbs came from Larry Mayer, the news photographer.

My darkroom.

My nephew converted the Gazette from optical silver film to computer-generated laser images, direct to light-sensitive aluminum plates.  No matter how much money he saved the Lee Enterprises company, the more Lee squeezed its editorial staff.  Eventually all but a couple of reporters and a publisher remained.  I expect in a few more years the era of paper printing will have ended.

With all that technology, the world goes on.  I’ve heard the great physician, Oliver Sacks, explain that several phenomena we take for granted, i.e., perceived motion and passage of time, are constructs by our brains.  In other words, when we think we see something moving, we are really seeing many discrete still images joined by a specific part of our brains, much like the separate images in a motion picture.  The sensation of time passing is something like that, a construct of our brains.  Dr. Sacks said he cared for patients whose bodies would stay still, as if frozen, for ten years at a time.  Then for no apparent reason, the person would resume normal motion.

Time passage is an odd sensation, but most of us think little about it.  I wonder about my grandmother, Ellen Bonde, whose son mysteriously was “missing in action” about two years after he enlisted in the army and was shipped to fight the Germans during WW II.  

About a month after Ellen learned her son Buddy was missing in action, she received a second notification—a telegram—that his status was changed to “killed in action.”  Her daughters ferreted out the information that Buddy’s ship had sunk in the English Channel and that his body was not recovered.  But that was the extent of her knowledge.  You could write the final chapter of Buddy’s life on a matchbook cover.

The reason for the paucity of information about Buddy’s demise was simple.  The U.S. War Department kept the information secret.  At first the army didn’t want to give the Germans any satisfaction or comfort, knowing they’d sunk a troopship with more than a thousand soldiers aboard.  Another document, finally, after 50 years declassified, stated the large loss of life was a result of long-delayed rescue efforts and so reflected poorly on the United States and Great Britain.  They thought it better to let sleeping dogs lie.  Lie was the right word.  “Cover up” is a better term, the words of an expose published by the History Channel for television.

Here’s what I know about my grandmother, Ellen Margaret (Wichstrom) Bonde.  Or rather the story of her forebears.  We visited a family historian, Bjorn Wichstrom, in Oslo a few years back.  Bjorn was a man in his 80s, small in stature, dressed in dark blue suit and necktie.  We encountered him at the Frogstetergren Restaurant atop a mountain near Oslo, along with several other family members.  A replica of a famous painting loomed on the rustic wooden wall:  The Birkebiener picture of two ancient skiers whisking the infant king of Norway under their animal skin coats.  The ski tips made graceful curves upward ending in what looked to be brown golfballs.

Bjorn had the grace and charm of a scholar in the legal profession.  He gave us candy and books as gifts.  We gave him gifts from Montana, jars of huckleberry jam.  Also some bead work from the Crow and Cheyenne Reservations.  Mostly Bjorn sat quietly while the younger people conversed excitedly.  In the end we agreed to meet several more times before departing Norway.

My grandmother had a photocopy of some letters she received from her Aunt Margaret, written October, 1907.  These letters told about her ancestors from Oslo (formerly Kristiania).

The old man, Peter Wichstrom, moved to Norway from Sweden.  He was a master joiner, a carpenter.  He married a woman from Norway.  Their child, the one who would become my grandmother’s grandfather, became a lawyer who worked for the government.  He and his wife had 13 children.  

One of those children would emigrate to the U.S. and marry.  In LaCrosse, Wisconsin, my grandmother was born in 1887.  She was one of four children.  The family later moved to Valley City, North Dakota, where my mother told me grandma’s mother ruled the family with an ‘iron hand.”

The specter of a woman with a hand made of metal frightened and impressed me.  My mother never met her grandparents, who are buried in an old cemetery in Valley City.  I was with my grandmother when she bought a memorial head stone for her parents there.  More than 50 years later I snapped a photo of the stone.  Last year my wife and I visited the cemetery during the pandemic of Covid-19, but I couldn’t find the stone, although we walked all around and asked a man who was mowing with a tractor.  He said he remembered seeing a headstone labeled “Wichstrom,” but couldn’t recall where.

Ellen’s parents died in Valley City, leaving a boarding house to her and three siblings to care for.  Ellen was good at sewing, so she earned money to raise her brother and two sisters.  Her brother Ralph was drafted into the army.  He and his wife, Gertrude, moved to Billings, Montana, where he painted commercially and painted artistically.  Outdoor scenes.  I have one of his paintings, a woman riding a horse with pistol and lasso.

One of Ellen’s sisters died in the flu epidemic.  His widower sent their child, a boy named Sigurd, to live with her after she married my grandfather, Carl T. Bonde.  My aunt Corinne said “everyone liked Sig.”  Near as I can tell, Sig lived with the Bonde’s only a couple of years.

One of Corinne’s sibs died of “scarlet fever” in 1919.

Carol Caatherine’s grave marker.

I don’t know of any photos of this child, dead at age three from an epidemic.

Missoula for me in the 1950s

My uncle Carl holds my sister Carol Struckman in Kalispell at his parents’ house.

Grandparents’ home.

Kalispell is 120 miles north of Missoula, where my grandparents, Carl and Ellen Bonde,  raised my mother and the rest of their family.  Carl was a wholesale grocery salesman who spoke fluent Norwegian.  He also wrote longhand with a fluid, looping style.  Family lore said he learned from Dr. Palmer, author of a textbook about handwriting, called “The Palmer Method.”  Carl’s skills in writing and speaking and generally being a “good guy” kept him working, even after he tried to retire.

Some in Kalispell, including grandma, made no secret they were racist against Native Americans. My mother’s high school annual had an ad for a business that said it catered exclusively to the “white trade.” My Aunt Corinne said grandma forbade her bringing home an Indigenous friend. These facts make me feel badly, but I think it’s important to be truthful. Especially now that lines are being drawn politically.

These days the Missoula city area spreads widely, lapping up against adjoining hills, in a valley west of the continental divide where three rivers intersect:  The Blackfoot and the Bitterroot join the Clark Fork which flows north, then jogs east, then north again.  Eventually the water skirts the mountains of the Lolo Forest somewhere in Canada, flows south again, and joins the Columbia River, thence to the Pacific ocean.

In the late 50s my brother Tom typed a cryptic message, folded and stuffed it into a tiny bottle with a cork stopper, and threw it into the Clark Fork River from the passenger seat of our car as we crossed the Higgens Avenue Bridge.  He explained to me how his message would travel.

The much wider, fertile Mission Valley to the north, gives way to Flathead Lake and north of that, the Flathead Valley with Kalispell.   The Flathead is a vast wetland fed by water from a variety of streams, notably the three forks of the Flathead River, draining the Bob Marshall Wilderness, Glacier National Park, and regions north in Canada.

Strikingly beautiful, the snow-capped chain of mountains east of the Flathead Valley is the Mission Range.  It rises vertically from the valley floor and runs north-south practically from Missoula to Glacier Park.  It has grizzly bears and hundreds of other shy species that are lesser known, less charismatic.  The wild Mission mountain chain is separated east of that from the vast Bob Marshall wilderness by the Seeley-Swan Valley that runs parallel north-south.

These days indigenous Salish Kootenai people call the wide, wet, Mission Valley their home; and East of Glacier National Park, the Blackfeet Tribe owns a large area.

If Missoula were, arguably, the best place in Montana, Kalispell might be the most glamorous.  (Feel free to disagree with me all you want.  I haven’t lived in either city for at least 35 years.)  Missoula has progressive, well-educated, liberals and Kalispell has tradition-bound conservatives (I am kind, no?).  “Supposedly,” I should have said.  However, I think conservatives like to think of themselves as “traditional.”  Liberals like to think of themselves as “progressive.”  Daddy was liberal; my grandparents were conservative. After Dad died, my mother was a Republican, although, she thought Nixon was over the top.

In the 50s and 60s Mother drove me on Highway 93 from Missoula to Kalispell and back scores of times.  In those days before seatbelts and airbags I often lay across the back seat and looked at the mountains and trees.  Sometimes in the winter we had to put on tire chains to make the top of Evaro Hill north of Missoula.  I recall our old car sliding sideways off the highway on the ice.  I don’t think the highway department plowed or sanded the road then.

Our houses in Missoula.

My parents, Robert and Helen, married in Kalispell in 1936.  Robert sold a short story, “The Night of the Pig,” to Esquire magazine and he bought Helen a diamond ring with the money.  They went to Missoula, where Robert earned a teaching certificate at the university, then moved to their first job as a married couple.  At White Sulphur Springs, Montana.  They lived in a rooming house everyone called the Castle.  Today the Castle is a museum.  A few years ago several of us visited the Castle.  I found a copy of the magazine “Frontier and Midland,” with another short story Robert wrote, “The Train.” H.G. Merriam published and edited “Frontier and Midland.”

Mother told me Robert couldn’t keep discipline in his class and would come home red-faced with anger.  After the year’s contract expired, they moved to Great Falls.  Robert taught journalism and writing at the high school for a few years until he took a job with the Great Falls Tribune as associate editor of a sister publication, the Montana Farmer.  

My sister Carol was born there in 1939.

Robert and several friends and colleagues formed a trade union, the Montana Press Association.  Joseph Kinsey Howard, Chick Guthrie, and Don Bosley were some of them.  Also Dan Cushman.

The Struckmans lived in Great Falls through the World War II years.  Carol said her uncle Buddy visited them there when he was home on furlough from training earlier during the war.  She said he was fun and physical and affectionate.  Also handsome in his uniform.

Buddy went missing Christmas eve, 1944.  A month later Helen’s parents got a telegram declaring him killed in action.  His body was not recovered, but they held a funeral for him in Kalispell.

My brother Tom was born in Great Falls in 1944.

Robert received a letter from L.C. Ford, Dean of the School of Journalism in Missoula, inviting him to find applicants for planned faculty expansion to accommodate the influx of ex-soldiers who would receive education benefits under the GI Bill.  

Robert applied for, and got an instructor’s position.  Once in Missoula, he taught courses in magazine writing and editing while earning his master’s in English.  His thesis was a collection of short stories, titled “Sundance and Other Stories.”  He was promoted to Assistant Professor of Journalism.  He was also active in the Montana Press Association union, serving as a liaison with the university.  

At first the Struckmans and several of the other new faculty families lived in the Strip Houses, or Married Student Housing near the university golf course.  Within a year the faculty members moved to Fort Missoula, a defunct detention center for Japanese and Italian interned for national security.

According to fellow journalism professor Ed Dugan, Robert was handy with carpentry and renovated the fort’s officer quarters.  

Across the street from the Struckmans and over a couple of houses was the Fiedler family:  Margaret, Leslie, Kurt, and Eric and Michael.

Kurt was my sister Carol’s age.  About 8 or 9 years old.  Eric was Tom’s age, 4 or 5.  Michael was an infant, born in 1947.  I was born in 1949.  Michael came to my first birthday party.

Carol and Kurt found ways to enter and explore nearly all of the buildings at Fort Missoula, including the hospital.  Carol said they entered the building through a basement window.  

Margaret Fiedler sewed a curtain for a production of “Peter Pan,” held in the Fiedler’s wide garage.  Michael and I were too small to be involved, but we took part in our siblings’ Missoula County High School plays.  Leslie did too, as did Kurt and my sister Carol.  

Kurt had a scar on his forehead.  Eric had a broken tooth.  Eric and Tom wanted to be beatnik Bohemian types.  When Kurt eventually went to medical school his mother was angry.  Said he sold out for conformity.

Leslie taught English at the university, and at the Fort wrote “Love and Death in the American Novel.”  The children quickly discovered that disturbing Leslie while he wrote would trigger him to put his foot through the closed door with much bellowing.  He famously told the children to get out for “vigorous outdoor play!”  Carol was afraid of Leslie.

I was not afraid of him because after our father died he brought us gifts from Greece.  I remember him from the vantage of a small child, looking up at a kindly man.

I was a year old when Robert bought the house at 334 N Ave West in Missoula with a $5,000 loan from his father, Emil.  Three years later our father died of cancer.

What should I tell about next?  I don’t remember the first years in our house well.  My father’s sister Marion convinced mother to send me to live with my grandparents in Kalispell until after Robert’s terminal illness and his funeral.  Both places were important to me.

This was the era of the “absent Buddy.”  He wasn’t in Kalispell and he wasn’t in Missoula, but he was terribly, tragically, absent from both.  I encountered much left behind in his wake.  Tears, sadness, but also physical things like games, toys, books, electronics, a camera, a radio, bullets and a rifle.  Fishing gear.  Oilstone and knives.  The stuff a high school boy would leave behind, just as I left things behind for my own nephews, eventually.

My nephews found cooler stuff I’d left behind than the stuff I found from my uncle Buddy.  I left behind a .32 caliber starting pistol that shot blanks only, two .22 rifles, both bolt action.  Many pairs of handcuffs and leg irons, which I collected.  Many magical apparatuses, including linking rings, trick dice, card tricks, tubes, wands, fake thumbs and fingers, silk handkerchiefs, special paint for the fake thumbs and fingers, special powder for gliding cards, production tubes for silks, fake pitchers for pouring milk into hats, books about Houdini, card tricks.  (Eventually, one of my nephews gave me a small stack of the magic books.)  

Then there was the movie cameras, darkroom equipment: trays, enlargers, easels.

Me, as a chid in Kalispell.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

I don’t know whether to tell about our house in Missoula where my mother helped me set up a darkroom that reminded her about Buddy’s photographic exploits just a 10-15 years earlier, or our grandparents’ on the southwestern edge of Kalispell.  I spent a significant part of my early life at both places. Kalispell held mystery.  Our grandparents had five acres with a barn, chicken coop, root cellar, storage shed, garage, and, of course the house where they lived.  It had two stories and a cellar with dirt floor.  The cellar was the best of all because lots of Buddy’s things were stashed on the foundation ledge beneath the floor.

Wooden Contact Photo Printing Frame

My uncle Buddy’s given name was Carl Ralph Bonde, Jr., my mother’s only brother, who died in WWII, the “good” war.  He was the darling of his family.  

I knew about Buddy because mother spoke with animation and enthusiasm about him.  Clearly, she loved him.  No.  She adored him.  My grandmother Ellen’s heart broke when she found out he would never return from the war because a telegram from General Uhle of the U.S. War Department said he was missing and presumed dead.  

After grandpa died from emphysema after a lifetime of smoking, grandma moved in with us, spent her last years at our house, looking sad, crocheting a tablecloth she never seemed to finish.  She died the Winter before I graduated high school.  She never knew any details of what happened to her son.

Even in his absence, Buddy impressed me.  

When I was four or five years old my bedtime ritual included my mother rubbing my back, saying prayers.  At the end of my prayers she encouraged me to ask a blessing for a list of people:  grandparents, siblings, parents, like that.  I asked why I should pray for my dad—after all, he recently died.  

“His spirit is still alive,” mother explained.  “So is my brother’s.  We called him ‘Buddy.’  He died in World War II.  He was one of the best soldiers.  Private First Class.”

I could tell mother loved Buddy, loved him a lot, by the way she spoke of him as I lay on the smooth sheet with her cool hand gently rubbing my back.

I came to love Buddy too.  I grew up playing with the things he left behind in the house where he lived.  I read the books he left behind.  Studied them.

For example, he left behind his Boy Scout manual.  The first aid section and water life saving section impressed me.  It told how you could dive into the water to save a drowning person, diving deeply, then surface behind the victim, then lean him or her back and swim them to safety.  It also showed how to break a hold if the drowning victim panicked and tried to climb on top of you.

Sure, I loved and respected my father, but I knew him only briefly and sporadically when he was home from work.  That’s when I helped him by sitting on a board in the basement that he cut with a handsaw.  When he played with farm animals with me by the heat register.  When he told me stories.  Well, one story.  Goldilocks and the three bears, who, he explained, ate Wheaties.  I admired his creativity, even when I was four years old.  

Daddy spanked me if I played with his stuff.  I painted his tools one summer morning.

Well, I had good memories too.  Once he took me to his office at the journalism school at the university and I drew stairs with a pencil on a sheet of yellow newsprint.  Daddy wore tweed suits and a newspaperman’s hat, that is, a fedora-style hat with modest brim and dent in the top.

That evening with my father I remember being at eye level with his pants pocket when he inserted the key into the brass lock of the journalism building.  The western sun was setting and all appeared golden:  Daddy’s hand, the brass key, the keychain, the lock, the sunlight, his brown tweed trousers.  

I didn’t know then that he had cancer and wouldn’t live a whole year longer.

I was afraid of him.  He spanked me a couple of times and he hollered—bellowed— at my sister Carol because she hadn’t washed the supper dishes.  He looked scary when I gazed up at him and saw his red hairy nostrils.  I got spanked when I peed on a college annual and another time when I bent a mechanism on his folding camera.  

The adults sent me to my grandparents’ in Kalispell during my father’s last months of life.  Even though I cried after I found out he was dead from cancer, at least I didn’t have to worry about getting spanked.  I loved him, though.  He let me help him and he told me stories and sang and played his guitar.

He was the last significant man in my life for many years.  Certainly, family friends kindly visited after he died.  Daddy was a singer in the Missoula Mendelssohn Club and helped found the Montana Newspaper Guild labor union.  We had family friends of the university:  The Fiedlers, the Browders, the Dugans, the Coes, the Bues.  We had friends in Great Falls, but I knew them only from Christmas cards and letters.

My mother didn’t remarry.  She had a teaching degree from Valley City, North Dakota Normal School and took teaching second grade at Jefferson School in Missoula the same year her husband died.

On the other hand, nothing ambiguous about how lovable was the absent Buddy, the darling of mother’s family.  He was the youngest child, a boy, with three older sisters.

I was born in 1949.  World War II officially ended four years earlier, and I never met Buddy.  Although he died years before I was born, my mother’s memory of Buddy was fresh and she told me how she adored him.  My sister is 10 years older than me and she remembers Buddy.

During our evening rituals and during times when she showed me her photo album I learned more about Buddy. He was an amateur photographer who developed his own pictures.  I eventually found his equipment:  developing powder in a glass tube, a wooden printing frame, some metal trays.

Wish Lansing a happy birthday today!

Scarcely does him proper justice! I know he didn’t know he was taking this selfie with my phone!


First the sadness. Then the happiness.

Marcian Killsnight was 75 when he recently passed.  I think I have a photo of Marcian somewhere.  I took pictures of many who came to my pharmacy in Lame Deer.  Marcian was different.  He didn’t visit me because of prescriptions.  I don’t think he took any of our medications.  As far as I know he had only one chronic condition.  He was exposed to agent orange in SE Asia.  Anyway, he was a Vietnam combat veteran, U.S. Army infantry. A true warrior. Respect.

I don’t know much about his history, except his sister was Roseanne Headswift, who died of Covid-19.  I suspect Marcian also died of the same cause, but I don’t know for sure.  He didn’t have money, but he was a true Cheyenne warrior and my friend.

We shared an interest in physical fitness, long distance running.  I met Marcian soon after I started working in Lame Deer, in August, 1988.

The good news.

Some of you don’t know I have an adopted grandson, Lansing Stewart, whom I love like all my other grandchildren.  Well, today is his birthday.  He’s 18.  He proclaims himself to be a man, and I think that is a mere formality.  He has been a Crow man for years.  Living life, working, learning, playing basketball with his team. He will continue to prosper!

I had a few minutes alone with Lansing prior to P. coming home, to tell him of some of my experiences that were formative.  I knew I had only a few minutes, so I told him about the time a girlfriend called me to tell me she was engaged to marry someone else.  I was 19. I told Lansing I had a feeling that I’d been kicked in the stomach.  I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep.  My mother accepted a dinner invitation to a friend’s, Almeda Mann and Byron Brown.  We ate meat that tasted like cardboard and I couldn’t taste it.  I told Lansing how I dismissed her a few months later, then watched her walk over a bridge over the Clark Fork River.

Lansing played a bit of music for me, sort of a combination of lilting melody with harmony and disharmony that reminded me of how I once felt when I was 19 years old and in love.  The music went on and on and I loved it.  Sort of sawed at my emotions in a sweet-sour way; a thing Lansing said spoke to him.  I can tell he’s been in love.  I said I hoped he was in love now.  Someone gave him a valentine’s day gift bag a couple days ago. I am not cynical, although I’ve felt some pain.

Then I told him how I joined the Marines and never went to war.  I told him how a Marine major invited me to sock him and I complied with his request.  Then I showed him a newspaper clipping that told how the US Court of Military Appeals exonerated me.  Then I told him some “war stories” about basic training.

When in boot camp a bunch (platoon) of us were standing rigidly in a row.  We were somewhat near another platoon with a black drill instructor.  The DI asked one of his privates if he thought he was a “nigger.”  Lansing giggled nervously.  Then I told him how the same DI asked the private if he liked him.  The private lied and said he did.  “That means you want to fuck me?” asked the DI.  Lansing looked shocked.  But that’s how they talked, back in the day.  They also used to call anyone who was a Native American, “Chief.”  That made Lansing laugh.  Lansing is Crow.  Totally.  He will wear that with pride to the end of his days, even if some asshole with a couple stripes on his sleeve calls him “Chief.”

I think I left the Marine Corps in better shape than I found it.  I got the Major in a world of hurt for calling me a coward.  I am here to testify that nobody who joins the military service is a coward.  By definition, anyone who joins the military, especially during wartime, is brave.  Not a coward.  The prick is the one who calls such a person yellow. In fact, he is a liar.

I love Lansing.  He is always going to be welcome at our house, with me.  He is 18, a man, today.

Impress Girls with the Banjo

Buy a banjo from Hansen’s Music in Billings, Montana.

My psychiatrist, Dr. Stiles, added a prescription, Rexulte 2mg/daily.  Doesn’t mean anything to you?  Good.  It’s not meant to.  The point is, I’ve developed a trusting relationship with my psychiatrist.  I think I was lucky.  I’ve been taking the additional medication and I feel improved.  Of course, other aspects of my life have changed.  (Turn, turn, turn.)  They have worked in concert to make life bearable for me.

My oldest son Todd, and my spouse, P., threw in together to buy me a banjo.  A typical 5-string Deering banjo.  And a book.  I’ve played other instruments and I know the importance of taking extra care and time to learn the fundamentals.  This is what I’ve learned over nearly 72 years of existence on this planet.  Glossing over the fundamentals of a skill is a grievous mistake.  Don’t do it!

I spend a few minutes at a time, perhaps 3-5 times a day, working on the basics.  I start by accurately tuning the instrument.  I use an electronic tuner.  Then I go to Exercise C.  I’ve mastered making the G, C and D7 chords.  Well, the G chord is simply strumming the strings without fretting any.  The 5-string banjo was tuned to open G.  I’ve played the guitar and the ukulele a bit, so I know how to make chords.

My time’s been spent picking individual strings in rhythm.  That’s why I’m still on exercise C.  In a month I may be ready to play my first song, “Boil Them Cabbage Down.”

I tried to quit Facebook, but I mourned missing my friends.  Some folks I communicate with regularly are on Facebook only.  Some I am quite fond of.

Therefore, I fell off the wagon.  

Set for Delaney Hardy’s play, The Vote.

I’ve auditioned for a play that will show on Youtube, or perhaps Fb.  It is one of the Anton Chekhov plays, The Bear.  Or The Boar.  I will play the part of a retired artillery lieutenant, Grigory Stepanovitch Smirnov.  I’ve been dreaming I’m him, a loathsome type, who has been jilted by ten women.  He has walked out on a dozen others.  For him, love is clearly dead.  The show will play in March.  It’s supposed to be funny. 

Smirnov doesn’t play the banjo, but Steve Martin plays it wonderfully.

I’m also working on creating a set for a play for Delaney Hardy, an amazing young woman who wrote and directs a play, The Vote.  It’s about Jeanette Rankin, and the vote is, no doubt, the vote she cast, in opposition to the entire U.S. House and Senate, to declare war on Germany.  I haven’t had a chance to read her play, but I’ve read about Ms. Rankin, from (near) Missoula, Montana.

My dear departed friend, Michael L. Fiedler, knew Jeanette Rankin, who died in 1976, in California. Michael’s older brother Eric took care of Ms. Rankin for a time in her dotage. I’m thinking that was a time when she lived in Georgia, but I’m not sure.

Goodbye, Facebook!

I tried deactivating on a phone, but couldn’t figure it out.


Yesterday I deactivated my Facebook account.  I usually spend hours scrolling through my 2500+ friends’ posts, reacting, posting comments, so this is a big deal to me.  I did this to see what will happen.  Also, I’ve been feeling poorly these days, even before I got my Covid immunization, which made me feel a huge amount of fatigue.  I took to my bed for a couple days.  

I felt depressed, so I reached out to my excellent psychiatrist, a football fan, my coach.  He responded with a prescription for an amazingly expensive pill that worked well for me before.  I have a followup appointment in three weeks.

Even getting a speedy reply to my phone message has made me feel pretty good.

If you want to stay in touch with me, follow my blog, 

Here are the usual photographs from my morning routine with Gunther, the love of Penny and my lives.  

Cold as hell today, but no snow.
Keeping Gunther on a string keeps him from wolfing down garbage he finds. Old frenchfries, chips. Like that.

Our 50th anniversary is this Saturday.  I bought her a ring and pair of earrings, festooned with Yogo sapphires.  I believe we will stay home, Covid-style.  And go to bed early, 71-year-olds.

I hope to add to this narrative in a regular fashion.

I’m reading The Periodic Table, by Primo Levi; and 600 Generations, by Carl Davis.  I recommend both, especially the one by Carl Davis, a new work about the archaeology of ancient people in Montana.

Gunther: G-Man of Power

Gunther is thinking. Just thinking.


I often take Gunther around the corner to Mrs. Johnson’s yard to relieve himself.  He likes her yard because she feeds birds and squirrels.  Also a cat from across her street poops under one of her bushes.  Yes, I always pick up after Gunther. But yesterday he hurried past Mrs. Johnson’s in order to confront, as usual, the pair of clownish dogs that live midway up the block.  Behind the mustard-colored house.  Behind a fence. One dog stands and howls, almost sings. The other fills in with rhythmic barking, a duet. We’ve come to expect a show.

Gunther taunts the dogs when they are out, barking and running at them.   Then, as we walk ahead, the dogs usually race ahead, around to bark at us from the other side of the mustard-colored house. 

Sometimes we confront the dogs from the alley.  One dog is tan, the other white with black spots.

A couple days ago, we tricked them when they ran up to their fence to bark at us.  Instead of going ahead to the other side of their house, we turned back so the dogs would wait for us in vain.  I thought we were pretty funny.  We fooled them.

The next day when we tried the same stratagem, the dogs split up.  One dog raced ahead.  The other stayed to bark at us, when we turned back.

Yesterday, I was ready for more fun at the dogs’ expense.

Gunther barked and raced at the two big howling dogs.  He charged, feinted, charged again, tearing up the lawn as he went.    He snarled. He growled. He pawed at the ground.

This drove them wild.  I smiled with amusement.  I envisioned many pleasant days ahead.

Then one dog–the white and black–quickly jammed his body beneath and through the chain link fence, racing at Gunther, just three feet away.

Before I could react, the bigger dog had Gunther on his back yelping in pain.  He had rolled him over, like he would kill him.

I grabbed Gunther up and the menacing dog ran away a short distance.   

Gunther cried and yelped in my arms like he was hurt.  I hurried him away and up the sidewalk, but he was in distress, shrieking and yelping.  After walking him 50 feet or so, I looked for blood, but finding none, I put him down.  He trotted up the sidewalk quietly, but began yelping again when I tried carrying him.  Again I put him down and he trotted around the corner and pooped.  When we went past the alley I saw the white and black dog 50 yards away, near his house.

Billings has a non-emergent police number, and I have it on speed dial. This is a holdover from when we took care of homeless people in a local program called “My Backyard.” If we needed an officer, we didn’t want to call 911, necessarily.

So I reported the loose dog in the alley to animal control.  “He lives in a mustard-colored house on Alderson,” I told the dispatcher, who said he’d send an officer.  

I hurried back to the alley and through a passage between two garages to the street, to the mustard-colored house to check its address.  I saw activity there.

In the dog’s yard I saw my neighbor Sharon, who lives next door to the two dogs, putting the loose dog back into the yard.  A mother and her child who live on this side of the mustard house cheered and threw a stick.  

I hailed Sharon to show her where the dog got loose.  She said the owner of the two dogs was not home.  She put a cement block where the dog had busted under the fence.  The child’s mother wedged a branch.  The two dogs knew Sharon and acted friendly around her.

Back home I rubbed and pressed all over G-dog’s body; he didn’t show any sign of tenderness or soreness.  His gait was normal.  His appetite was good. I decided he had been scared.

I called back the animal control officer, confessed how Gunther teased the dogs, how the loose dog was back in his yard, and withdrew my complaint.

Today we couldn’t entice Gunther to walk past the mustard-colored house.  

Rest in Power: Rosanne Headswift March 12, 1947 – January 8, 2021

It’s hard to sort out my grief and disbelief when I learned that such a humble and dedicated servant of the Northern Cheyenne tribe has passed away.

As a Community Health Representative, Rosanne Headswift visited our pharmacy at the IHS Clinic in Lame Deer almost every day to deliver medicine to the elders in the area of the reservation she served. She worked tirelessly and faithfully. She was serious, but cheerful and optimistic. When I remember her I see a smiling face. I thought she was excellent. In those days Lynwood Tallbull directed the CHR program. Five or six–maybe more–men and women took care of vulnerable people in various parts of the reservation. Elders, mostly.

She worked quietly, usually behind the scenes, but what she did was vital to the health of the wisest, oldest, and most loved members of the tribe: the young ones called them grandmothers and grandfathers. Many of the elders lived way out in the country and had limited transportation, so clinic outreach by CHRs like Rosanne was vital.

She is gone way too soon, way too young. A hero to me.

Often I’d see her and her husband, Wayne, at some kind of community event, perhaps a powwow or feast. Rosanne would probably be scurrying about, serving food, or perhaps cooking. Every month at diabetic clinic the tribal health people brought the elders together and the joy would show on their faces when they got to see each other.

Covid-19 is destroying the best of the Northern Cheyenne people.

I found the following obituary for Rosanne on line:

Rosanne Killsnight Headswift (Ho’neheevahtoohe’e) Wolf Howling Woman – left us on January 8th, 2021, due to complications of Covid-19, on her journey of life, back to the place where her departed relatives have gone and will prepare her a place within their heavily household.

She came into the world on March 12th, 1947, at the Holy Rosary Hospital in Miles City, Montana. A child of James Francis Killsnight and Regina Long Roach-Killsnight.

She spent her childhood years in the Killsnight Creek Valley, east of Lame Deer.

Rosanne would always reminisce about playing along the hill ridges and picking juneberries along the creek bottoms. Rest of the time, she grew up in the Lame Deer area. She attended Lame Deer Public School Elementary. One year, she attended Chilocco Indian School, one year at St. Labre Indian Mission School, and two years at the Busby High School, where she graduated in May of 1966. She then graduated from Chief Dull Knife College in May of 1998 with an Associate Degree in Applied Science.

Rosanne began working as a Community Health Worker in April 1969. As years passed, the title of the program was changed to the Community Health Representative (CHR). For some time, she also worked as an Optometry assistant. She then applied for the program director position. She was then selected as a Program Director. She held this position until she became ill with Covid-19.

Rosanne was currently serving on the Board of Trustees for Lame Deer Public Schools and also the Board of Directors for Chief Dull Knife College. She enjoyed being on both boards – she encouraged quality education.

Rosanne was always an avid sports fan, she would watch the L.A. Lakers and the K.U. Jaywalks on T.V. She was also an avid fan of her grandson, Tharyn Headswift, as he played baseball, football, and basketball. She followed him on away games, always taping him on her cellphone. The support became intense when Tharyn began playing High School sports.

One of her hallmarks was helping other people, and constantly giving advice to whomever needed additional help. We are going to miss her frybread, and oven bread. She was usually called upon to make her frybread, and she eagerly obliged.

Rosanne is survived by her husband Wayne, Lew (Carlene), Frank, Langdon, Sonja (Tyrone), and Wally (Diandra) and by Joshua, Gareth, Shanyell, Cianna, Cierra, Abigail, Chloe, Byron, T.J., Shalee, Tharyn, Hayden, Madilynn. And the great grandchildren, Lakel, Amiyah, Adree, Blake, Quintus, Rynleigh, Kaiser, Ansleigh. Survived by brothers Anthony Killsnight Sr, Marcian Killsnight, and sister, Velecia Killsnight. And she leaves numerous nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, cousins, sisters and brothers on the Killsnight and Headswift sides of the family.

She was preceded by sisters, Gertrude, Drucella, and brothers, Xavier, Ferdinand, James Jr.,Clement, and Christopher, and her parents, James Sr. and Regina Killsnight.

Civil War Pistol


Unseasonally warm, dry winter.  I walked Gunther to Mrs. Johnson’s yard, where he dutifully dropped a pair of poops, which I caught with a bagged hand held beneath his little butt.  Mrs. Johnson’s lawn stays pristine, I think. 

“Good boy,” I murmured.  Gunther trotted home.

I noticed Mrs. Johnson’s neighbor’s Trump flag has been removed.  My guess is he’s leery of being blamed for the rioting and insurrection at the Capitol last Wednesday.  Or, more likely, the people who live with the Trump supporter are tired of being advertised as fascist.  Or racist. I think about the American Civil War and how it doesn’t seem over yet. My grandfather’s dad was a Civil War veteran.

George G. Struckman lived in Bartlett, Illinois, during the Civil War.  The village president, he organized citizens for a Union military company to fight the confederacy.  Only the Union army officials would not accept his unit, so they all enlisted instead.  George was commissioned a lieutenant by the Governor of Missouri.  He and his men fought the battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas, which was more of a rout than a battle.  Shortly after that, his unit was disbanded and they returned to Illinois.  Civilians again.

I was probably nine or ten years old when my mother decided to show me the “civil war pistol.”  It was great-grandfather’s, and I got to play with it.  Tom made a leather holster for it.  It was too heavy to run around with, and the mainspring that operated the hammer and cylinder was broken.  I took it to school for show and tell.  A fifth grade classmate, Virginia Stewart, took it from my desk and made me chase her around the playground to get it back.  That romance never got far.

That Spring, I enjoyed picking lilacs and leaping ten feet from our back porch roof to the lawn, soon breaking a bone in my foot.  I left a huge bouquet of lilacs on the lawn.

I know.  I think I enjoyed the sensation of sailing through the air. I knew I was hurt, and I couldn’t walk.

I crawled up the cool cement steps from the garage into the house, whimpering and crying in pain.  Mother called Dr. Lowe.

I spent three or four days in the hospital for the swelling to subside before Dr. Lowe put a cast on my leg from toe to knee.  I was out of school the last two weeks of the school year.  Mother brought home my schoolwork and the pistol.  She said Mrs. Jay was disgusted because my desk was a “rat’s nest.” In those days having a real gun (albeit an antique) at school was unremarkable.

I was in agony. Not from pain, but I longed to play outdoors in the warm weather.

Our neighborhood droned with the sound of a lawn mower and I heard shouts of children playing games each evening while I did multiplication and division problems.  I almost always got the wrong answers, and I hated the homework.  My bedroom window was open and the gentle breezes of June with the sweet smell of lilac bushes wafted in. At eight o’clock the sun shone through my window as it set. My brother’s friends trooped through my room to his, remarking how early I had to go to bed.

The Civil War pistol was easy to take apart and put together with a sort of sliding mechanism you could pull out most of the way.  The barrel and charging lever came off, then the cylinder, then the grip and hammer.  Each part had a serial number stamped.  I could take apart the grip and hammer with a screwdriver.  Easy.  Then simple to put back together.  I recall making notches in the wooden grip, and using the pistol to hammer nails when I was too lazy to go to the workbench in the basement.  Luckily the pistol was heavy duty. I chipped a piece of wood from the handle.

In high school I kept the pistol displayed in my room, along with a bunch of magic tricks and handcuffs and other stuff a teenage boy finds compelling.

When our mother died we divided the family heirlooms.  Tom got the pistol.  He took it to a pawnshop and got, like, $50, because he was out of money. He didn’t get the pistol back.

I have a photo I took when I was in high school.

71-year-old tries to write some damn shit.


Two months ago I hired a life coach to guide me to write a piece about the hippie era of my misspent youth.  Three of the most important hipsters died this year, so I’m sad.  It’s hard to lose Jerry Printz, Frank Sonnenberg, and Michael Fiedler.  These join the ones we lost years before: Dana Graham, John Herman, Grant Lamport, Sally Mullen, Tom Struckman, Bill Reynolds, Mary Reynolds, and Gordon Simard.  The list goes on.

John Hayden Herman (left) and his friend play guitar in Seattle on the porch of the place Larry Felton and Bill Yenne rented.

Although I paid my coach $50 for each weekly session, I “laid about” for a fortnight without writing.  Except a a couple thousand words of how depressed I was, at first, during the time I enlisted in the Marines.  I keep getting more and more depressed the more and more I write.  

You missed out if you are younger than 40.  

The Vietnam war years (1964-73) had two important aspects as I recall:  unspeakable stupidity, pain and cruelty in Southeast Asia amid guns, helicopters, rice paddies, red gritty dirt, and jungles, on the one hand; and stateside the glorious psychedelic drugs, striped bell bottom pants and bearded, long-haired drug- and sex-crazed hippies on the other.  I forgot to mention the arts.  Rock groups.  Big amplifiers, electric guitars, bands in every town.  Also underground comics, newspapers, vinyl records, and head shops.  Did I mention civil rights?  Black Panthers, women’s liberation.  Heroes, martyrs.

Michael Lynn Fiedler, when he visited me in Billings a few years ago.

I couldn’t make myself write.  My depression made me want to crawl under the wool blanket I keep on a chair in our room.  

Looking back on the late 1960s in Montana, I see more clearly how four beautiful hip women each, in turn, kissed me before kicking me out of their beds and lives forever.  At the time I thought I was ugly, an artist.  Those thoughts made me crazy.  The thought of war made me crazy.

Depression is a deadly disease and I was never the hippie I thought I was.  The one I wanted to be.  It was fun to strive, though!  In good weather we played outdoors.  In winter we made music indoors.  

Anyway, writing for at least thirty minutes daily is good.  Might help me redeem value for my $50.  

Today, I’ve come to believe walking 4-5 miles outdoors with wife and dog will give me energy for writing.  

Fortunately, my wife was not among the four women who gave me the boot.  She had the wisdom to see past my vanity, my pretense.

Instead, she took a chance on me, married me, and relocated to live with me in Orange County, California.  I was in the Marines there, learning to thrive in a strange environment with other, equally inexperienced, men and women.

We newly married California people were optimistic, strong, young, and we spawned three children before returning to Missoula.  

Next month we will have been married 50 years.  

Today, still shy of our anniversary, we walked nearly five miles, giving me the energy to write this, thus.


Gunther the smiling dog

Not mistaken for a farmer’s hog

Or the pig that the farmer haaaas

The piggy wig of the farmer’s laaaass

Stay back little Gunther, don’t get in my way

When I ask you to stay you must mind right away

Don’t inconvenience me when indoors you must stay

Because outdoors I am going to bring in some wood

The fire is indoors and is heating us good

So stay inside Gunther, as you know that you should

Don’t bark little Gunther it bothers my ears!

You yap at the mail carrier we’ve had all these years

You harp on the same old refrain that you know

And jump on the windowsill from the armchair below.

Truth is, I’m a disabled veteran.  I have hemorrhoids, hearing loss and high blood pressure.  This is 30% disability.  Piles, “huh?” and “psh psh psh.”

All that, because I enlisted in 1969 in Missoula.  A hippie who no longer had a railroad job on a steel gang.  An ex-gandy-dancer.  


Early March, 1970.  Old dirty snow.  I’m in my Marine dress green uniform, a Private, driving to Butte, Montana.   I was returning to duty after 30 days of leave.

Now I’m driving my mother and me about 60 miles from Dillon, Montana, to the Butte airport for me to go to Memphis for Avionics training. I feel hopeless and it takes an effort for me to not s