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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.


Please, someone, corroborate Michael Fiedler’s fate.

Michael takes a photo of me in our house.


Soon after I received news that my dear friend Michael Fiedler died I posted an appreciation and lament. 

Soon after I got an evening phone call from Swain Wolfe, a man I had only the briefest connection with, more than 30 years previously.  I think he tossed me out of a meeting when I was a reporter for the Montana Kaimin, published by the associated students of the University of Montana.  I was a lousy reporter and a worse writer, so I studied chemistry instead.  That was my ordinary interest, and it led me toward a career in pharmacy, a career that was good to me and I to it.  I think I left the profession in better shape than I found it.

The same evening Peter Koch phoned me in appreciation of a piece I wrote about Michael. I told him about my conversation with Swain. Peter said he loved Swain. Swain is a sweet man, he said.

I meant to write about Swain.  He was my sister’s age, so about 10 years my senior. Therefore, he lived until he was about 82, or so.  Died by his own hand.  Suicide is the usual word.  Swain Wolfe’s death prompted a friend to write me a card of sympathy, in solidarity to those who’d lost a loved one to suicide, as she had.

Trouble is, I don’t feel bad that Swain killed himself because he said he had intractable pain he was unable to control.  Death is a natural part of life.

Is all suicide bad?  Perhaps most is bad.  We certainly feel bad when a youngster has a sudden urge to pull the trigger and does.  The ones left behind a young person suffer a huge amount of grief forever. 

Locally, the Suicide Prevention group stages an annual “Out of the Darkness” event involving a three-mile walk.  Our family has walked, worn the tee shirts, attended the rally, participated in the auction, listened to the speeches by the mayor and several city council members.

Somehow, it feels good to walk through town to prevent suicide.  But what about assisted suicide?

When I worked for Joan McCracken at Planned Parenthood I enjoyed looking through the magazines and journals back in the employees area.  I recall seeing one from the Hemlock Society, a group that advocated physician-assisted suicide.

Now I am conflicted.

I particularly am sorry I’ll never again be able to meet up with Swain Wolfe.  When he phoned me to ask about Michael Fiedler, he told me that he and Michael had been very close friends in recent months.  I didn’t mention the incident 40 years ago.  (Yeah, I said 30 years earlier.)

Swain sounded kind and humble.  He said he loved Michael and knew where Michael must have met his end, someplace in Texas.  Swain said he could show me on a map, but the place Michael went with his friends didn’t have a name.  It was in the country, somewhere.

Swain said he’d miss Michael until he died.  For my part, I wanted to know more about the place Michael went.  Apparently it was closer to Mexico.

Then Swain died.

All would be well and good.  Like I said, I was a lousy reporter and a worse writer.  Still guilty as charged!

The deal is, I got no confirmation of Mike’s death. 

I heard about Mike’s death from Bob Gesell, who got the news from Colleen Kane, who got the news from her daughter who got the news from Gary Scales.  Presumably Mr. Scales had first hand information.

I have googled Michael Fiedler numerous times without finding any news to corroborate Mike’s death.

This bothered our friend Mark Fryberger, who is an ace reporter and excellent writer.

Therefore, the mystery is open.  Fiedler’s death remains unconfirmed.  

I asked my son, an emergency room physician, if the lack of corroboration of news of a death was a thing.  He said it might not be.  Notice in a newspaper might not occur, depending.  

Therefore, Fryberger and I have a long-range mission to clear this mystery.

Cloying smell of death. April 6 is bitter sweet for me.

Tom poses for a picture with two of our children. He lived across the alley from the train yard in Missoula.


My brother Tom would be 77 today if he had survived the heart attack he had in August 1997 in Missoula.  In his Northside house where he collapsed on the floor, alone. 

Our friend Mark Fryberger discovered his body, perhaps a week or two later, badly decomposed.  Mark said he looked through Tom’s kitchen window and thought he saw a scarecrow on the floor, at first.

Our oldest son Todd helped a couple of professionals clean up the mess, putting the remains into a metal box with a rubber seal.  The peculiar cloying smell permeated everything.  Todd bought a bunch of scented candles and placed them all around the kitchen.  He scrubbed the floor with Ajax.  This removed the design from the linoleum, so that a body-shaped image remained on the floor.  A spread-eagle image of Tom’s body. Later I snapped a photo.

Todd much later wrote a poem about this experience, part of earning a master’s in creative writing at the University of Montana.  Then he studied medicine at the University of Washington and became an emergency room doctor.

We drove to Missoula after Todd phoned us, saying he didn’t want to be alone with the trauma of the intense experience. 

Tom’s Northside Missoula neighborhood was dark, but we saw candlelight flickering through the kitchen window of Tom’s house.  I picked up a discarded rubber glove from the gravel path as we walked past Tom’s old blue volkswagen.  The first thing I noticed was Tom’s stove with its electric frying pan next to it.  Tom inherited the pan from our mother.  The stove had several scented candles aflame.

Mark Fryberger had visited Tom to see if he wanted to adopt a cat; in his words, to see if he was “between cats.”

I didn’t see the image of Tom on the floor because Todd had thrown down an old rug to hide it, presumably.  We didn’t linger in the house with its stench of death.  We piled back into the car to head across the river to visit Todd, to stay up with him.

Next day we checked into a motel near the Safeway store where I plugged up the toilet.  The manager thought I was joking and the next person to flush flooded the floor.

Nobody touched any of Tom’s stuff in his kitchen, except we pulled away the rug that hid Tom’s image on the floor.

I didn’t hang around.  I asked around, found Mike Fiedler’s house, begged him to come with me.  Of course he did.  I also phoned Tom’s daughter Hannah.  She was angry because I hadn’t told her about Tom’s heart attack, even though I knew about it several days before he died.  

She wanted to burn Tom’s bed.  Tom built the bed himself, about the size of a cot.  Nobody wanted to burn the bed because the workmanship of the simple construction was excellent.  We gave it to Mike Fiedler who took it home.

Many years later Fryberger and I were searching for Fiedler near South Fifth Street.  We drove down the alley and spied Tom’s bed, still in good shape.  Sure enough, Fiedler was in the house and he received us with much joy.

Two days later, after Hannah and her family arrived in Missoula, we had a feast in Tom’s house, even though the stench of death permeated everything. From Left, Michael Fiedler, Jason Wild, Hannah and Jacob, Penny, and Todd (with his back to the camera).

Happy birthday, Gunther!

This image is a year old, when our forsythia was blooming.

Today is Gunther’s unofficial birthday.  Yesterday three of us walked on Norm’s Island with G. when we met a woman who recognized him from Facebook.  “I know that dog,” she gushed.  I wanted to hear more about how much she loved him, but my companions, including Gunther, were walking on ahead.  I straggled behind.

“He will be five tomorrow,” I said, over my shoulder.

We aren’t sure of Gunther’s birthday because he’s a rescue dog whom we adopted when he was a couple months old.  I had never heard of his breed, “Brussels Griffon.”  At first I got it wrong.  “Belgian griffin, or maybe pug,” I told the writing group I paid to attend.

“I love Pugs,” announced Russell Rowland.  Then, when I showed him a photo, he informed me Gunther wasn’t even close to being a pug.

Took me a week or two to learn about Brussels Griffons, and Gunther fit the description, except he’s roughly twice the size (28 lbs vs 10-15 lb) of the classic Wikipedia description.

Gunther, like typical Brussels Griffons, is comically self-important, has bug-eyes, and wants to attack huge ferocious dogs.  This last trait is the reason for some scars on his butt and a $300 vet bill.  I had to give him pain medicine and an antibiotic for a week.

He’s a better dog now than when he was as a puppy.  He used to poop in the house and chew the furniture.  He even chewed my glasses.  My new glasses that cost, like $400.  They probably tasted salty.  I have them still.  The damage to the lenses is near the edges, so I could still wear them, damaged bows and all.  

We selected April 3 arbitrarily because P.’s father’s birthday was on that day in 1899.

Michael Fitzpatrick, Jr. bowled a 300 game.

Mike, in the US Air Force. I was probably an infant when this picture was taken.

I want to share some thoughts about a Crow gentleman, Michael Fitzpatrick, Jr, a young 85-year-old with whom I enjoyed working.  His death notice appeared this week in the Gazette.  Bullis Mortuary provided an obituary on line, which I am including here.

I worked five years at Crow as a pharmacist, most of the time with Mike.  Working at Crow IHS pharmacy was no longer as much fun after Mike retired in 1995, so I returned to my job at Lame Deer, even though it meant driving 40 extra miles.

Michael had a rich sense of humor.  I wish I could share some instances here, but I don’t think I should.  I mean to assure you he was gentle, loved to tease in the Crow way.  He was always good-natured and kind.

Plus, he was laid-back and grandfatherly, and he knew how to deflect the slings and arrows of our hard-charging boss, Jim Carder.  

I was inclined to be lazy, and Carder always attacked me at annual evaluation when he criticized my inability to plan.  Because I didn’t routinely stock dozens of empty vials and lids into a drawer at the end of my shift, I got a poor grade.  I suppose I should have thought ahead, but couldn’t he have said something before evaluation time?  Sure, I should have been able to figure it out, but I was usually tired!  Also, I didn’t think it was my job.  Wasn’t I a professional?  Maybe, but not professional enough.  Because I didn’t plan. 

Enough of a rant. Back to telling about Mr. Fitzpatrick.

Mike started working as a supply/pharmacy technician in 1958, when I was nine years old.  

In those days, he said, he used to manage large post-WW II stockpiles of medicines for the Public Health Service. 

When I worked with Mike starting in 1990, he often sat in a little alcove, surrounded by the stock bottles of medicine that he made up for the nurses who worked nights and weekends on the inpatient ward of the clinic/hospital.  He kept meticulous records.

Well, if I couldn’t find a medication for a prescription, his mellow voice could be heard, “Look in the fridge!”  

If that failed, and I couldn’t find the medicine in a list, he’d say, “Look under ‘sodium.’”

He also told me about Crow cultural ways, such as language and the clan system.

He told me how one of his friends played marbles with an artificial glass eye. I later gave the friend, Robert Seestheground, a ride to Hardin, and I asked if the story was true.

It was. I asked Mr. Seestheground what happened that he lost an eye. He explained he got poked by cheat grass when he jumped off a fence. I asked him if it got infected? “Almost,” he said.

In those days we worked at the old Crow hospital, the one on the Western edge of the village of Crow Agency.  Mike retired before the new Crow/Northern Cheyenne IHS Hospital opened in 1995.

Here’s his obituary, copied verbatim:

Michael Edward Fitzpatrick, Jr., 85, passed away peacefully on March 29, 2021 at his home in Crow Agency.  He was born to Michael and Alfretta (Pretty Weasel) Fitzpatrick, Sr. on December 15, 1936 in Crow Agency.  His Indian name is Bache’xia’sash’ (Notable Man). He was a member of the Ties the Bundle Clan and a child of the Whistling Water Clan.  He was raised in Crow Agency area and spent many happy days with his grandparents Sidney and Edith Black Hair on the Black Hair Ranch. He graduated from St. Labre High School in Ashland, Montana in 1955.  While in high school, he participated in basketball.  Mike enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was a pitcher for his company baseball team and was honorably discharged. He married Minnie Little Light in 1959 and was lovingly taken into her family.  He enjoyed his brothers in law and spent many hours golfing and telling stories with them. He was the arrow throwing champion for ten years in a row. He was an excellent bowler and bowled a perfect 300 game during his bowling years.  Mike enjoyed playing horseshoes and golfing with his friends.  He was a member of the original Night Hawk Singers and enjoyed traveling with the drum group to many powwows. He had many good times taking his grandson, Eli Rock Above to powwows throughout Indian Country.  He was adopted into the Tobacco Society by Ivan and Pauline Small. Later Bill and Josephine Russell adopted Mike and Minnie as a couple into the Tobacco Society.  His adopted Tobacco Society children are the late Peter and Marella Grey Bull.  He enjoyed catfishing with his brother John and his dad, Mike.  Mike and Minnie made their home in Crow Agency where they raised their children Robert, PattiAnn, Rodney and Rex.  Mike was employed with the Indian Health Service as a pharmacy technician at the Crow – Northern Cheyenne Public Health Hospital.  He took pride in his work and retired after 35 years of service.

He was preceded in death by his wife Minnie and his parents; his brothers Sidney, Richard, John and Lansing Fitzpatrick; his sister Gail Fitzpatrick; his grandson Brendan Fitzpatrick; his special friends Mort Dreamer and his brother-in-law Bobby Little Light.

Survivors include his sons Rodney (Dora), Robert (Danelle) and Rex (Susan) Fitzpatrick and his daughter PattiAnn (Albert Stewart) Fitzpatrick. He took his nieces Carrie Old Coyote and Jordis Hugs as his own; his adopted son Ben Hudetz of Illinois; his sisters Regina Goes Ahead, Delma Yarlott , Mary Black Eagle; his brothers Clifford (Ardith) Birdinground, Dana and Larry Tobacco; his 11 grandchildren and 27 great grandchildren and 1 great great grandson; his brothers in law and good friends  Leo Hudetz and Cornelius Little Light, his life-long friends Larry (Agnes) Pretty Weasel, Sr. and John Paul Other Medicine, special neighbor and friend Robert Clarence Pickett and his golfing buddy Bud Moran; his sisters in law Lena and Ella Little Light and Janice Hudetz.   As well as his extended family including the Stewart, Pretty Weasel, Other Medicine, Pretty Paint, Shane, Doyle, Walks Over Ice, Long Ears, High Nose and the families of Edith Bird in Ground, Bernice Jefferson, Arthur Stewart Sr., Stacy Stewart, Theresa Guns Shows, Jeanette Adams, Catherine Little Light, George Little Light Sr. and Dorothy Takes Enemy. Mike was a well-known member of the community and had many friends who will miss him. His family is large and if we have forgotten you, please accept our apology in our time of grief. 

Needle in anus. No! I’d rather have a knife.

I have to laugh.

March 30, 2021

Household is just me and P. again.  And G., sitting on my neck, soothes my soul.  P. is making cookies again.  I cleaned the stove.  I try to be a good domestic partner.  I’m going to change my occupation in Fb to “kitchen stove cleaner.”  Has a certain sound I find pleasant.  Can’t write more, need to practice banjo.

March 31, 2021

Today I kept an appointment with my internist, Dr. Ed Malters.  He is a fine fellow, a board-certified internist.  This means he keeps up-to-date on the medical literature germane to the health of old duffers like me.  

My problem was I couldn’t pee without taking “Flo-Max,” a miracle drug.  The reason I take the miracle drug:  I have a huge prostate gland.  Perhaps it’s the biggest on the block!

Far from being a gland to feel pride in, or to boast about, my gland constricts my urethra so that my pee comes out in a mere dribble.  This would not be something to feel pride in or boast about.  Instead, I feel consternation when I can’t pee.

Anyway, a gland isn’t a point of pride for me.  Oh, it’s nice and all.  I even used to like it, back in the day.  Except when the doctors poked their digits into my rectal regions to check its size and surface characteristics.  These days, I don’t like it so much.  Hence, the “Flo-Max.”

Flo-Max is the same thing as a drug, called tamsulosin.  Try saying that 10 times.  Quickly.  It allows urine to flow freely, so life for me was great for about 10-15 years, now.  Every year my internist asked me if I wanted a “PSA” test and every year I asked him not to bother.  You see, I learned from fellow prostate sufferer Steve that a PSA test (prostate-specific antigen) would invariably be elevated in old guys like me.  

An above-the-limit PSA would result in the doctor recommending a needle biopsy test for cancer.  This would clarify the cause of the elevated PSA test.  Was it cancer?  Was it a normally enlarged prostate?  A biopsy would tell.  Wouldn’t it?

No, it wouldn’t.  Usually the biopsy would tell v. little.  And the biopsy is no walk in the park with the dog.  

The needle biopsy involves pulling down one’s pants while a guy (usually) jabs a large-bore needle into and through one’s anus to sample the prostate gland cells.  Thanks, but no.  OOOOhhh!  Pain!

My friend had the biopsy done.  “Wow,” I remarked.  Only, my friend said the biopsy didn’t show any cancer!  “Good” I remarked.  Only the biopsy needed to be repeated in six months to make sure.  “Too bad!” I rejoined.  And on and on.

Short story:  I didn’t want to be jabbed by needles into my arse every six months for the rest of my life.  

Instead, I opted to forgo the PSA test and I’ve been relatively happy until now.  

On one of my routine man-exams my internist inadvertently checked the box “PSA,” and of course, the reading was elevated.  I opted to decline a biopsy.  This resulted in my being denied a small life insurance policy which would barely pay to have me cremated.

Now, the piper is due.  Tamsulosin no longer can control my ability to pee without making my blood pressure so low I can’t stand up without falling down.  

Dr. Malters has referred me to a urologist.  A urologist is French for “bummer.”

He (all of them are male) will put me to sleep and ream out my urethra with a device inserted through my penis so that I may pee without taking any medicines.  That will obviate my need for two medicines.  

Now I will take meds for (1) depression, (2) hypertension, and (3) cholesterol.

I’m hoping that through vigorous outdoor exercise, occasional alcohol and marijuana use, and banjo playing, I will live the next 15-20 years of my ill-spent life without further trouble.

Amen and amen.

Chaos from an untimely death

Tyler and Chris Angel developed this set from Dodie Rife and Ginger Roll’s guidance.

March 19, 2021

In a week I could manage only the following diary entry:

An odd day.  Household has five guests:  Carol, Beth, Clara, Christopher, Tyler and Samantha.

March 26, 2021

Life has been chaotic since a week ago before noon Tuesday. 

P. and I were driving to help a friend and his daughter move into a house, when P. took a phone call from Kristi.  She said Katy found her brother, Bradley Angel, dead in his bed moments earlier, an apparent overdose.  

Turned out later, Bradley hadn’t.  I’m not sure what killed Bradley, but it wasn’t the “oxy” he thought he was taking. (Earlier, he offered one to Katy, who declined.)

As we made our way across town, I reviewed in my mind the procedure for CPR.  Finally, it occurred to me to call 9-1-1.  By then we met an ambulance with siren, so we pulled over.  Sure enough, Katy had called 9-1-1.  Her thinking was clearer than mine.

Things changed rapidly, we had hope for Bradley, the hopes changed to sorrow.  Then hope.  Then sorrow.  ER to ICU.  We yo-yoed like that for a week.  Relatives flew in from Pennsylvania, Alaska, drove from Nebraska, California, Bozeman, Minnesota.  Sometimes I couldn’t find a chair in our house to sit in.  Other times I crawled into the basement to practice the banjo.

Days later my brother-in-law, John Aseltine, died of a heart attack.  He was 91 years old.  More ER.  More ICU, but just a day, not a week, like Bradley.

Throughout the time my blood pressure was like, 80-something over 40-something.  I couldn’t do too much, except make an appointment to visit my internist.  I won every contest to see who had the lowest blood pressure.

Dodie, the manager at NOVA theater, invited me to build a set.  This turned out to be a great way to get me and my nephew Chris and his son Tyler out of the hectic house.  Chris and Tyler painted and built what Dodie envisioned.

I cried out my sorrow and anguish to Facebook and more than 300 people responded with reactions and sympathetic comments.  Made me feel good.  Also made me feel good that so many came to our house, but I couldn’t find a place to sit, so I plopped onto the floor until someone got up to visit the bathroom or find something to eat.  Their name wasn’t on the chair, so I claimed it.

We built a fire in a little burner out on the driveway and many of us sat around it.  Chuck Angel played some guitar.  Geoff and Chris Angel invented a game of “hide the egg,” for the youthful folks.  

My sister-in-law Dolly gave me her late husband’s banjo as a birthday present.  I played it last night, I know only one song: “Boil Them Cabbage Down.”  I’ve been working on a second song for a month, but I can’t seem to get it.  I’m getting it slowly, but my thumb doesn’t want to pick the correct string to play “Shady Grove.”  Eventually, I hope to play along with other musicians.

Our daughter, Clara, bought a puppy when she visited.  The dog is a mixture of poodle and something else, but mostly poodle.  Soft fur. Quiet disposition.  Knows how to sit and be quiet.  As you might guess, chews things, wets, poops with abandon.  Clara texted that her older dog, Kirby, didn’t cotton to the newcomer.  Gave Clara reproachful looks.

Around Montana in a Hymer

Between Norris and Willow Creek, Montana, we saw backlit snowy peaks. The view was better before I managed to get out my phone, park the truck, snap a photo. That’s how it is, like that.

March 13, 2021

Started Thursday noon in Billings, I-90 to Bozeman. Our goal: meet our friend Pat in Willow Creek, Montana, to help her tear down a shed. I envisioned one of those sheds you can buy at a hardware store, the kind that looks like a barn. I was to be surprised.

Thence Main street of Bozeman through town clear out to four corners.  We stopped at the Food Co-op jonesing for cream puffs. We got no such thing. Upstairs was closed for Covid. No lurking allowed, but you could use the bathrooms. We bought pastries to go and asparagus.

Through to Norris.  We stopped for gas at a place that let us spend the night in the parking lot. In the morning when I thanked the woman behind the counter, she told us how to find the ringing rocks near Butte. Buy local, I’m thinking.

Turned Norris to Harrison, Montana, from there to a road to Willow Creek. 

Willow Creek is a certifiably weird town,  it is as if Three Forks, a small town nine miles away, had a little brother.  In Willow Creek, if you need to go to the city, you drive to Three Forks.

Willow Creek looks a lot like Three Forks, if you glance quickly.  It has a few sidewalks, a sort of downtown area with a bar/cafe. Only Willow Creek has no mayor. 

Both towns have bars open in the evening with regulars, red-faced and most of them overweight, good at slurring words.  The saloon in Willow Creek is famous in a book, “Blind Your Ponies,” by Stanley Gordon West. There’s an antique Sears tandem bicycle out front, not chained to anything, with flat tires. One might need to lock one’s doors at night in Willow Creek, but I wouldn’t worry about that. Pat said she was more worried about locking the hitch on her trailer.

We arrived at her house before Pat, who had gotten her Covid vaccination. Several high school kids smashed and swung at the splintery wood on an ancient tin-roofed shed, slumped like a sinking ship. Lots of dust.

Our dear friend Pat Zuelke is renovating a small house with a small workshed for her to sew.  Quilts, probably.  We spent a couple days with her tearing down a small garage that was probably built 100 years ago in the 1920s.  The dust in a place that old is astonishing and deadly to a person with breathing problems.  We found a newspaper:  Great Falls Tribune, a Saturday edition, from August, 1960.  You could buy a new car for $2,000.  I enjoyed the funnies page.  

I read a strip called, “Nancy”:  A little girl runs up to Nancy, saying “Minnie, Minnie, I heard the good news!  Your parents bought an ice cream store!  Oh, wait a minute.  I thought you were my friend Minnie,  but you’re not.  Sorry.”  

The little girl turns and leaves.  

The next frame has Nancy crying to her mother: “BAW!  I wasn’t Minnie!”

I looked through the many articles on each yellowed page of the paper.  Obviously this paper was printed with “hot type.” In other words, on an old fashioned rotary newspaper press that used lead alloy typeset headlines and linotype line matter.

I was surprised to see an article on the front page that mentioned the racial segregation and exploitation in South Africa in its discussion of the Krugerrand and the international stock market.  I didn’t know the situation there was on anyone’s radar in Montana in 1960. Interrupted, I didn’t get to look more at the newspaper.  The impression I got from scanning the headlines was local news had a lot to do with the Great Falls Fair and a long article about a local woman who committed suicide by running a hose from her car’s exhaust to a back window.  The paper seemed to have more news about distant places, places in Africa, especially.  Our esteemed professor of Journalism, Nathaniel Blumberg, called such newspaper verbiage “Afghanistanism.”  In other words, ignore the problems locally, report the distant problems.  Of course these days the problems are not distant.  The US has been embroiled in war with Afghanistan and other countries in the area for 20 years, now.   Ever since the War Powers Act following 9/11 attacks.

We camped he first night in Willow Creek parked on the street in front of Pat’s house.  Our RV is winterized, so we fixed coffee in Pat’s empty and still mostly gutted house.  Her bathroom is in finished condition.  I used those words  because the wooden ceiling over the tub is warped because no bathroom fan had been installed to dissipate he moisture from showering.

The second night I pulled the Hymer into the area  behind the house.  I moved it  back to the front in the morning  because we could get cell phone service there.  We like to listen to public radio news streamed through the phone.

We drove from Willow Creek to the landfill outside of Three Forks several times with debris from the small garage we’d razed.  Some of the neighbors said they wished for a big bonfire, but Pat didn’t think that was a good idea.  Pat has a trailer she can tow behind her Subaru Forester and she knows how to use it.

We stopped in Lennep, Montana, to visit a Lutheran Church where our friend Char Schmedeskamp preached.
This building has a first-class wooden outhouse around back. TP in a coffee can.

Returning from Willow Creek:  Three Forks, Bozeman, Highway 86 to Wilsall, then 89 toward Martinsdale, then to Harlowton, Ryegate, Lavina, Broadview, Acton and Billings.  We saw deer, eagles, hawks, redwing  blackbirds, geese.

Hymer systems worked well, except the toilet flap doesn’t fully open.  The problem isn’t in the cassette, because I can operate the flap with the orange device on the cassette top.  The lever at the base of the toilet won’t budge after about an inch of action, which is enough to open the flap about a quarter inch.

The electrical systems worked well, as did the mechanical.  Exception:  Plastic handle for window shade broke off.  Shade works, though.

I will probably de-winterize the Hymer prior to a trip to San Diego next month. I plan to fix the toilet, but not the window shade.

Musing. . .

Lighting farts in the sixth grade.

March 9, 2021

This year is already better than last year.  Vaccination for Covid-19 is underway.  Joe Biden is President and has a Democratically controlled Congress.  The good and bad alike in this country will benefit from great leadership. Marijuana was legalized in Montana.  Gunther is a fine dog.  P. is doing well.  Our kids are decent people.  Every grandchild is decent.  All of them can beat me at cards.

What a headache 2020 was.  Could it get worse? The invasion of the Capitol Jan. 6 made me physically ill.  But now the wheels of justice are turning and the perpetrators of the insurrection will face the consequences.  At least I hope they do.  Nonetheless, I feel shell shock.  Post traumatic shock.

Seems too soon to declare victory.  Our new Montana governor seems a bit nutty.  I think he means well, and so forth.  He likes rich people, anyhow, a minority in Montana.  City government seems good.

Does Gianforte really think Indians rode the backs of dinosaurs?  Did he know much about the museum in Glendive before he donated for it?  Or is he really stupid?

Our weather has been unseasonably mild, warm, pleasant.  We walked four miles with Gunther trotting.  He’s sleeping now.  Well, he was.  Now he’s on the back of my chair, half-sitting on my neck.  So warm!

My creative self is less confident.  That’s the hazard in the writing business.  That’s the business of writing.  It is writing.

The zen of reviewing trunk’s contents.

March 4, 2021

On this day in 1943, my Uncle Carl Ralph Bonde, Jr., was inducted into the United States Army.  He was 19 years old.

It’s why Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., subtitled Slaughterhouse Five “The Children’s Crusade.”

Today I went through one of the trunks with old pictures, kids’ artwork, photo albums, like that.  Envelopes had stacks of photos, and I didn’t look at them all.  A couple cigar boxes had a stray mitten, assorted junk.  A clamp for … I don’t know what.  Broken glass at the bottom of the trunk, presumably from a framed picture.  I don’ know.  I left it there.

Typical of many couples, we had dozens of photos of our oldest son, Todd, a few of the next, Bob, and a few of our youngest, Clara.  I saw an album with several photos of Clara’s namesake, her great-grandmother Clara McMain.  She was in a nursing home in Lewistown, a victim of diabetes.  Clara had one leg and was nearly blind.  But she had a happy smile, holding Todd in one picture, holding a knitted throw rug in another.  Posing with P. in a third.

We have another trunk, one that belonged to my mother when she went away to college, from Kalispell to Valley City, North Dakota.  That one has much older material from my childhood, even some from hers.  A few of the Household magazine issues with Robert’s short stories.

A wooden box that had once held a cream separator is upstairs, and it had the suitcase from P’s father, some memorabilia from our wedding in 1971, and some stuff from our grade school and high school years, most of it belonging to P.

Downstairs in the basement I’ve got a pile of stuff from my own high school years, including my photo album.  Mother gave me a photo album when I was in the 7th grade, so I scotch taped pictures into it.  Unfortunately, the scotch tape dried out and the pictures came unstuck.  Since then I bought, or found, a packet of adhesive corners for fixing photographs into a picture album, but I never seemed to find the time to use them. Actually. I tried using them but I didn’t have the knack.

Retired people do their families a favor when they comb through the memorabilia. Reminds me of a joke my brother Tom told me once: A man climbed up to a guru high in the mountains. “What is the meaning of life?” he asked. The wise man didn’t hesitate to say: “Life is a fountain.”

That’s it. The seeker after the meaning of life got his answer from the wisest person on the planet. Might as well have been a wise woman. The seeker said, “It is? Really?”

The guru said, “Yes. Isn’t it?”

A little more history. Fragments.

My Great Grandfather bought this house in Bartlett, Illinois, to raise two boys and two girls.

George G. Struckman left Germany during a politically repressive time during the mid-1800s. He was one of the so-called ’48-ers. We think he chose Bartlett, Illinois, to be close to other German immigrants. He had a good education, but I don’t know from what school. I’ll share it with you when I find out.

His wife’s maiden name was Bouchee. She was a musician and a 7th-Day Adventist. She and George’s house still stands in Bartlett, privately owned, but it is a landmark. I recall as a 6th grader visiting the house with its distinctive facade.

I think I mentioned that George fought in the American Civil War for the North. Because his grandson (my father) died when I was a small child I didn’t get the history lesson like I got from my mother and her side of the family.

This is a work in progress.

March 4, 2021

On this day in 1943, my Uncle Carl Ralph Bonde, Jr., was inducted into the United States Army.  He was 19 years old.

Today I went through one of the trunks with old pictures, kids’ artwork, photo albums, like that.  Envelopes had stacks of photos, and I didn’t look at them all.  A couple cigar boxes had a stray mitten, assorted junk.  A clamp for … I don’t know what.  Broken glass at the bottom of the trunk, presumably from a framed picture.  I don’ know.  I left it there.

Typical of many couples, we had dozens of photos of our oldest son, Todd, a few of the next, Bob, and a few of our youngest, Clara.  I saw an album with several photos of Clara’s namesake, her great-grandmother Clara McMain.  She was in a nursing home in Lewistown, a victim of diabetes.  Clara had one leg and was nearly blind.  But she had a happy smile, holding Todd in one picture, holding a knitted throw rug in another.  Posing with P. in a third.

We have another trunk, one that belonged to my mother when she went away to college, from Kalispell to Valley City, North Dakota.  That one has much older material from my childhood, even some from hers.

A wooden box that had once held a cream separator is upstairs, and it had the suitcase from P’s father, some memorabilia from our wedding in 1971, and some stuff from our grade school and high school years.

Downstairs in the basement I’ve got a pile of stuff from my own high school years, including my photo album.  Mother gave me a photo album when I was in the 7th grade, so I scotch taped pictures into it.  Unfortunately, the scotch tape dried out and the pictures came unstuck.  Since then I bought, or found, a packet of adhesive corners for fixing photographs into a picture album, but I never seemed to find the time to employ them.