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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.

Daisy Jacobs and the boy who threw rocks


When Mrs. Daisy Jacobs taught our second grade class she spent time after school with the neighborhood tough kid, Sonny. He threw rocks at our feet. This kept him from getting in trouble because the bruises didn’t show.

Sonny chopped his brother’s index finger off with a hatchet. His brother Raymond was the nice kid in their family, but Mrs. Jacobs didn’t have him in her class.

I don’t know how often we filed home past Mrs. Jacobs and Sonny, who were whispered to be having a heart-to-heart about his behavior.

Mrs. Jacobs bought Sonny gym shoes because his parents couldn’t afford them.

My mother taught second grade also, after Daddy died, but not in the same school. I’m not sure how Mother regarded her, but I thought Mrs. Jacobs was a great teacher because she liked me. She correctly predicted that I’d be a pharmacist some day. Well, she said that my interest in chemistry could help me.

Moreover, she lived just a few blocks away, so I often walked past her house where she and her husband had their store, the “Food Center.” They had no children. She looked in my ears when she caught me walking past. Said she could plant potatoes in my dirty ears.

Mrs. Jacobs was mid-career in the early 1950s when I had her for second grade. I learned that during the 30s and 40s, teachers were exposed to the progressive ideas of a pioneering educator, John Dewey. He taught the concepts of respect for student diversity and student-centered learning, ideas congruent with the methods of Mrs. Jacobs. I learned about Dewey when I Googled “teacher training in the 1920s.”

I also learned teachers then were beginning to form unions. In Montana it was the Montana Education Association and the National Education Association. Mrs. Jacobs expressed pride in her profession and her loyalty to the union.


PW Volume II number 1


Click the link below to read the entire issue.


Shelterfirst keeps people from freezing.

March 23, 2023

We’ve been helping get homeless people off the streets at night during the cold weather.

Shelter First is when Billings First Congregational church gives floor sleeping space to street people. 

When I arrived at the church at 6:15pm, I spotted dozens of folks gathered at the church front door.  Most recognized me from previous evenings and seemed welcoming.  Some were wheelchair bound.  Signs on the door requested the folks not crowd and to give way to the disabled.  The folks, in various stages of life, clothed in a variety of ways, mostly seemed patient.

Corey has a walker—the good kind with handle grips and a seat—festooned with his blankets and bags for his belongings.  He was at the head of the line, smoking a cigarette.  The others formed a line behind him that ran down the wheelchair ramp that zigzagged to the sidewalk below.  I heard banter among the mostly men, a few women, with the word “fuck.”   One man asked me in a strained voice, “How long do we have to wait?”  

Turns out the chief of security, a masked and gloved fellow named Dan, didn’t make them wait long.  He got them indoors early before the official opening time on an evening snowy and painfully fucking cold with a wind.

The homeless folk gathered inside the vestibule behind a ribbon barrier, the kind you see in airports when you wait in line.

These would have been known as hobos or hippies or worse names.  Mostly Whites, some Natives, a few Hispanics, two Blacks, old, young, men, women, trans.

One neatly dressed woman had recently started working as a housekeeper at Billings Clinic.  She couldn’t yet afford an apartment, so she came to Shelter First.

Another person told me he preferred Shelter First to the Rescue Mission.  He didn’t say why.

One night they each got a sack lunch (bologna sandwich, bag of chips), a pack of meat sticks, and a bottle of water.  Most of the quiet eaters sat at the periphery of the church lobby on straight-back or easy chairs.  

A few of the more animated, like Henry, a hip-looking dude with long black hair and black beard, sat at a central table, contemplating some of the deeper aspects of existence.  An intoxicated Northern Cheyenne woman, whom I recognized from Lame Deer, is an army veteran.  She was glad to see me, but when I asked her about her circumstances, she told me not to worry about it, so I didn’t pursue the subject.

I didn’t get the full name of Mark, a short-haired fellow who declined a proffered heavy winter coat, protesting that he is a minimalist—doesn’t want any extra stuff beyond what he wears on his back.

Lita Pepion, the general manager of Shelter First, voiced appreciation for his minimalist way.  Lita is Blackfoot, cheerful, thoughtful.  She said she often helps provide used shoes, mostly, from a large closet, labeled “Free Store.”  The store has new underwear, socks, used pants and shirts.  Demand is high for sweat pants and sweatshirts.

Let me start over.

P. and I have been volunteering at Shelter First this past month, or so.  Some nights the cold temps out there were brutal:  17 below with strong winds.  Another day the temp was about 40 degrees.  

One severely cold night I helped a guy get a ham sandwich whose hands were so cold and frostbitten he could hardly hold it.  The only other fare that night was granola bars, vanilla custard cups, and water.  Our pastor, Lisa Harmon, helped me get the young man the ham sandwich.

Despite the scant food offering, one of the men insisted someone say grace.

As I said, the two sleeping rooms barely hold 31 sleeping mats, with about a foot, or less, of floor separating them.  Perhaps a half-dozen cots line the walls, reserved for the sickest and oldest.  One man had been hit by a car and had a crushed knee.  He got a cot, but moaned in pain.  He thanked me when I turned down the room light.

Two rooms:  the one with mostly (but not all) women and girls held about 14 mats.  The larger room held 16.  One person slept in the hallway.

The routine:  everyone enters the church, but waits near the doorway until they are checked in, one by one.  Some of them are married couples.  At first we made them separate to sleep in separate rooms, but that practice was abandoned after a few weeks.  

Each person gets checked for weapons, then screened by a Crisis Center social worker for COVID symptoms.  

Dan, who has a remarkable way of communicating with and remembering each individual’s name, has them put their personal effects (often a backpack and coat) in a numbered tote.  A few carry loads of blankets.  Another has an army duffel bag.

A one-eyed blonde woman with hair cut short is denied entry for an unknown reason.  She said her belongings had been stolen.  Dan helped her get a coat and boots.  Only the boots didn’t fit.  She was shuttled off to the Crisis Center later.

Another woman, a transgender person, refused to let a security guard named Gary screen her for weapons.  She screamed that her rights were being violated and that we should all burn in the fires of hell.  I looked away and heard a crash when one of the stanchions got knocked over.  She continued screaming, sitting on the floor.  Our pastor phoned the police and two bearded plainclothes officers took her away in cuffs.  The rest of us in the lobby of the church sat in stunned silence.

When the door closed as the trio departed the church, the room erupted in applause.  I don’t know if any of us felt truly cursed by the transgender woman, but I sensed a general relief that the commotion had resolved.

A legless man in a wheelchair was wheeled in by his helper.  The wheelchair-bound man was obviously intoxicated—so much so, that Dan told him that he wouldn’t let him stay if he were that drunk the next day.  I was there the next evening, and the legless man was in much better condition.  Dan prepared a fairly thick camping mattress for him, with pillows and blankets.  I think the man’s helper left after wheeling him in.

Some evenings the suppers—hamburgers and fries—came from a west-end mega-church, another night, a caterer brought in pulled pork sandwiches with baked beans on the side.  The 31 diners seemed to feel well.  At least they were talking quietly.

Super Bowl Sunday Lita treated the “houseless neighbors” to a big-screen TV and lots of pizza.

The most important thing to give is respect.  

Freshman hippie wannabe

In 1968 I was a fake hippie at the University of Montana in Missoula.

September, 1967, University of Montana in Missoula

My mother insisted on helping me make my bed to get me settled. I was a freshman in 1967. Mortified that my mother was there, helping me move into Craig Hall. Then it was a men’s dormitory.

“Please mother, don’t,” I begged her. “Just leave me here!”

For background, I must note that there are grand old dormitories at the university. But Craig Hall doesn’t come close. It is ugly, plain and square, like it has a military crewcut. It stunk like a locker room. Sweat, only mingled with the odors of shoe polish and Brasso. The R.O.T.C. guys were always shining their brass belt buckles. Lots of guys didn’t change their underwear very often. They used cheap cologne and underarm deodorant.

I was familiar with all of the dormitories because, as an adolescent growing up in Missoula, I explored the university buildings every night after school. I did so for at least two years, hundreds of forays into the unknown. I knew secrets about the buildings. I had crawled through tunnels connecting the buildings.

But God! in 1967, as a freshman in college, I was lonesome! We lived in Dillon since the seventh grade and I didn’t much know anyone in Missoula except a few of my uncool friends from high school. I looked for some hippies around campus, but I couldn’t find any. At least none the first day I looked.

My dorm room had a grimy ground-level picture window, a marvel of architecture. Marvelous because it had been designed as if to eliminate any possible grace or beauty.

It was closest to the north outside door of the building, where countless feet tromped past my door to class every morning. The sound of anxious feet made me feel anxious too, like I had to join in the rush. My accommodations: Unsatisfactory. Just like my roommate, can’t remember his name, the super straight college freshman. Not artistic. Not cool. Not rebellious. Totally beat down by the establishment.

He had bad habits: he kept his hair short, he shaved, he didn’t like me, he talked in a loud voice, like someone from New Jersey. He had learned these habits at a military academy where his parents had sent him.

He had been a teenage criminal. Like me, he majored in journalism, one thing we had in common, although he said he didn’t care about journalism.

We treated each other politely, at first. He suggested I sleep on the bottom bunk, so I did. After all, my covers were neatly tucked in there.

I laid down on the bottom bunk and he climbed up to the top. I pushed my feet up against the springs overhead to jog him up and down. He responded by threatening me with a shocking surprise that would be quite painful if I did that again, so I didn’t.

He told me that he didn’t like me. He said he rejected all my values. Hippie values. Peace, love, drugs, rock and roll, sexual adventures.

One day, entering the room, he told me, “You are a nihilist. That’s right, a nihilist.”

He laughed. I had no idea what he meant. He said we had nothing in common. He didn’t like illegal drugs. He said he lost a good friend from a heroin overdose. Of course he was lying. Wasn’t he? I told him that hippies don’t take heroin. Just psychedelic drugs. For recreation and introspection. For scientific purposes. Like getting high.

Even more disgusting, each morning my roomie (his word) brushed his head briskly for about 15 seconds with a pair of brushes he kept on his well-organized dresser. In turn, I snubbed him and typically rolled out of bed chanting some secret hippie stuff. I often put on yesterday’s clothes and headed to breakfast. Or else I rolled over and skipped my 8 o’clock class. Or both.

After the first quarter I saw the military man roommate maybe once more, between classes. He was friendly. Said he got just one B, the rest A’s. Hell, I did just as well as he did. Well, not quite. But pretty good anyway. Good enough.

Missoula had always had beatniks, now it had hippies. Trouble is, I didn’t know any. At least not in Missoula. My brother and his friends in Eugene, Oregon, turned me onto pot when I ran away to visit them during the previous summer.

I wanted to find some hippies. Some dope-smoking people willing to share with me.

How to define hip? I’ll tell you. A hip person wasn’t straight. Straight people caved into the pressure from the town folk, their high school teachers, their adult relatives, their jock friends. These people made them get a short haircut and wear regular straight clothes and abstain from pot and drink plenty of alcoholic beverages and smoke tobacco cigarettes. Also watch TV. In short, straights were conformists.

Straight people were well-groomed and cared about television and sports and didn’t question the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. Straight people were mean. Straight people were knee-jerk patriotic and were allied with the old guys who belonged to the Elks or Masons or some other organization. They were the problem. Hippies were part of the solution, the revolution for peace and justice and harmony.

When I got up I did my best to act naturally. My hair was growing long, same with my beard. In that way I hoped to attract persons of like interests. Interest in being a part of the counterculture. You see, the counterculture people dressed in glorious colors, exercised the freedom to seek self-gratification. Freedom to shun the military and war. In those days all young men had to register for the draft in their hometown.

Eventually I made some friends with like-minded people, but it took weeks.

My friends spoke honestly and kindly, mostly. Unless angry. We were rebel men and women who hung out together wherever we could.

We were not locked into having to ask for dates to get together for university-sanctioned social events. Like in sororities and fraternities. Frat boys were not cool. They reeked of sexism, alcoholism, and underarm deodorant and aftershave cologne. My friends shunned all that. We looked and smelled naturally. Of sweat, of tobacco and incense. Sometimes of marijuana.

Those days were the nascent time of hard rock and electric blues music. I know that’s hard to believe now, but it was.

The folk music scene was drawing to a close in 1967. It had been reviled by the anti-communist John Birch Society that spread propaganda lies like, “buying a Bob Dylan album puts money in the hands of communists; even buys the bullets that kill our soldiers in Vietnam.”

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan were some of the pioneer musicians prior to 1967, followed closely by the “summer of love” psychedelic San Francisco bands: The Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix. I almost forgot Procol Harum, which also started out in 1967. From the east coast came Velvet Underground. Frank Zappa came in that first wave. Creedence Clearwater Revival came in later. Also about a year later was Cream and a list of newer bands. Raw energy, message of freedom, anti-war, anti-establishment.

The straights in Missoula, on the other hand, listened to top 40 hits: A few big stars making music highly processed with violins and horns. Pabulum.

We didn’t shun all responsibility, although the straights often tried to portray us that way.

It always boiled down to hairstyle.

We hippies bravely fought the pressure to conform to “straight values.” Someone yelled at me from a car to “Get a haircut!” My mother told me to get a haircut. My track coach in high school threatened to pull my beard out with a pair of pliers. My sister’s adult friend told me in a forceful way that my long hair was unacceptable. There was a song on the radio with the lyrics” “…are you a boy or are you a girl? With your long brown hair you look like a girl?” Anti-hip songs with messages opposing marijuana, other psychedelic drugs, mocking the anti-war movement. We had to stand up tall for our values.

That’s what we were about. Freedom to be hip, to have hip friends, to be members of an underground culture that could fulfill the American dream of self-determination.

University Student in Missoula

Carl Ralph Bonde, Jr.

His scratchy sweater his mom had given him smelled sour like wool, all the more from the cigarette smoke where he and his friends gathered at the dormitory and talked about women, about ultimate reality, about where to get beer.  The air was ripe with possibilities, yet forces were in place to deny them any of the desirables.  The girls were locked up.  Dormitory rules.  Stern blue-haired dean of women.  Drinking age was 21.

No shortage of women — women their age, more than willing to socialize with them, even slip out the back door to love them up.  Carl licked his lips.  He loved how they smelled.  College was nothing but good.  Frustrating, but good, because hope was always alive.  Hell, he knew how to get a fake ID card.

Of course he had a mid-term exam in Botany 101 Monday.  He and a couple other guys would have to pull an all-nighter Sunday if they were to do well.  Hmmm.  Let’s see:  Kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species.  He ticked them off.  Plants, vascular plants, and so on right down to gymnosperms, pines, ponderosa.  He had gotten this from a different all-nighter in the dry winter air with its throat-scratching freezing temperatures.  A friend and he had sat up in the basement laundry of South Hall.

Missoula was a party town for college kids.  Had a reputation.  Come to think of it, Carl wasn’t sure about the order and family of the P. Pine.  He’d have to look that up before the exam Monday.  His shoes were not adequate for the cold weather.  Feet would freeze before he and his friends could make it downtown across the bridge to Eddy’s Club.  They’d shoot pool, maybe run into some older women who had been emancipated from the tyranny of dorm life.  Maybe he could get some pussy.  He was still a virgin.

In just one week everything would change.  The Japanese would bomb Pearl Harbor and the United States would declare war and just about every healthy young man would be drafted into the army or navy.

Meanwhile, Carl ticked off the kinds of fungi:  basidiospore . . . . In seven days he would have taken the mid-terms, but neither he nor any of the other guys would care about any of that any more.

News of no importance here

Weather is forecast to plunge from about 60 degrees to 26 tonight, so I’m practicing staying busy indoors.  Whoa!  Those who know me might tell how often I nap, but the secret is out.  Weather is going to change.  Our Hymer has been put to bed, dressed up from ground to roof a/c in a cloak of gore tex fabric.

A Hymer, my friends, is a 2016 Dodge Promaster van that was converted into an RV, albeit small.  

The odometer has gone from about 4,000 to nearly 60,000 the past four years.  We bought it prior to the COVID pandemic, but we had the excellent fortune to pick it up in Anchorage.  

Picture P., me, and Gunther landing in Anchorage in late August to be met by Ted Palmer, who handled all the paperwork and took our money in exchange for a two-week adventure.  We drove south and east through Canada to Lake Superior that time, alternating driving duty with reading about Louis Riel, great leader of Metis tribesmen.  We gobbled up the kilometers of highway while reading Joseph Kinsey Howard’s huge book, “Strange Empire.” 

In Winnipeg, we drove about the city in search of Saint Boniface Cathedral and Louis Riel’s grave.  A wee medicine bundle, tied with yarn or ribbon, lay on the ground near the marker.  This is a sign of reverence and respect for an indigenous martyr whom the Canadian government killed by hanging in 1885, age 40.

How is everyone? you may ask.  Gunther is advancing in years, and shows it.  His voracious appetite!  I estimate his weight at forty pounds.  A year ago he weighed two stone (28 lb).  We’ve been too involved in his diet, frying him eggs, making dog food from table scraps, giving him treats for being a “good dog.”  Excuse me while I hold him while standing on the bathroom scale:  245 lb vs 215 without the dog.  Okay. He gained only two, so excuse me.

I feel better, knowing Gunther’s weight.  His rabies shot is due this month; I’ll call Dr. Root for an appointment.  Otherwise, I don’t think the G-Man has any medical complaints.  Sometimes he looks bored, but I consider that a social prob.

P.  is in fine fettle. Her birthday is the 23rd of the month.  She seems tireless compared to me.

She and I start the day with Wordle, competing via text with our children and spouses and grandchildren.  Then we dig into crossword puzzles and Spelling Bee from the Times.

Having drunk the requisite three cups of coffee, we dig into a bowl of cereal, most days, Grape Nuts brand.  The old ways are best.

Today I brushed Gunther for about a half hour.  He digs it!  He looks good, even if he never quite loses that doggy smell that we enjoy.

Just got a call from Niece Becky.  It’s her birthday tomorrow.  We’re going to host a bunch of Meakins’ nieces and nephewlings tomorrow for supper of homemade noodles and chicken.  I’ll be responsible for two pies.  She will furnish beverages and potatoes.

Quest for Pickle Lake

Oct. 21, 2022

Tuesday P. and I returned from a Canadian adventure in the Hymer, our RV from a modified Dodge van.

We left town the day after I learned I would not be kept as a juror for a case of domestic violence and witness tampering.  I wasn’t interviewed; dismissed after four hours.  A $13 check for my services was waiting at the post office where our mail was being held.

Day 1:  Drove from Billings to Malta, then to Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs RV Park and Resort.  Early October, not many people in the RV Park, even fewer at the beautiful hot springs pools.  The woman in charge showed us how to let ourselves out of the storefront office, because she didn’t want to stay up so late. We saw a murmuration of some kind of little birds at a nearby swamp.

Day 2:  I gobbled up my last three cannabis gummies early that morning because I realized the Canadian Border Officer would ask me if we had any in the car.  Thus I was able to say no.  A good thing, too, because they searched the van with a dog anyhow.  They found the bear spray that I declared we had.  She asked me why I had bear spray!  I patiently explained the use in case of a charging grizzly encounter.

A stranger once gave me his bear spray when he caught me hiking in the Beartooth Wilderness without it.  Yes, this happened to me.  The guy who handed me his bear spray said I could keep it or turn it in at a place called “Silvergate” in Red Lodge. Of course I turned it in. Soon we were in Canada!

We crossed into Canada a few miles north of Opheim, Montana. We took a highway going east.

We found a town called Stauton that first day to camp at a city park.  We called a phone number inside the bathroom that advised us to not clog the toilet, but to plunge the toilet if we should clog it.  Soon Greg came driving up to our Hymer to collect $15 fee for a night of camping and use of the showers.

The shower was simple.  A copper pipe had a shower head soldered on it.  The valve was a simple ball-cock that had two settings: Off and on.  Half the water simply ran across the floor, but it was possible to avoid the river. Nonetheless, it was a warm shower and I appreciated that.

Day 3: We rolled across miles of land with oil pumpjacks around us until we got to Winnipeg, and thence to Birds Hill Provincial Park.  $25/night, and some hiking trails out to a pond with birds and coyotes.  We thought we heard wolves two or three years ago when we stayed a night at the same place, but the ranger said wolves have not been seen there recently.

Day 4:  Oilfields gave way to mixed coniferous and deciduous forest and frequent lakes.  We saw a few deer but no other big game animals.  We saw numerous instances of places where a tree fell against a power line.

We got to Ignace, Manitoba, north on 599 to camp at a trailhead across the highway from Sand Bar Lake.  We drove fifty yards on a sketchy dirt road to a clearing where Spruce Grouse ran and flew out of our way.  In the morning the water for the sink wouldn’t run because some of the hoses must have frozen in the night.  This frightened us until the water began running later as the day warmed. We told our experience to a Fb group of Hymer owners and wannabes. We were quickly reassured nothing bad was apt to happen.

Day 5: Drove from Sand Bar north on highway 599 several hundred kilometers to Pickle Lake, as far north as one can drive on pavement in Manitoba.  We saw helicopter pilots and women in traditional dress.

Pickle Lake proved to be touristy, despite its remote location.  Looks to be populated by Indigenous folk, and we had lunch at a hotel. 

Patty melt and poutine, proved to be too much food.  Remember poutine is french fries with beef gravy and cheese curds.  Deliciousness.

Pickle Lake was our ostensible reason to visit Canada this Fall. Location is everything. I was delighted to see pavement instead of deep mud and not too many of the giant shipping containers emblazoned with words like “Cosco.” I didn’t spy a single 55 gallon drum or pile of old tires, but I saw people crossing the road.

We picked up a young lady hitchhiker, dropped her off with a few bucks and a prayer in Ignace.  We found Davy Lake RV Park.  A beautiful park, great showers, laundromat.

Day 6: made it to Bekakaka Falls campground near Thunder Bay.  Huge campground, somewhat sparsely inhabited, despite it being near Canadian Thanksgiving. We spied a 20-30 adult get-together around a big campfire.

Day 7: Back in the USA, roll down Highway 61 to Duluth, to Todd’s house to help him build some fence. Well, set a couple of fence posts using a “Dingo” with 6” auger, a shovel, a wrecking bar, and 7 sacks of Quickcrete brand cement mix.

Days later: Headed west, camped at the Jamestown RV Park.  Sweet deal for $35. Had the park to ourselves, nearly.

Back in Billings to replace the cover of the air conditioner (probably dislodged when we drove in the Sand Bar trailhead road).

Also, to rent a place to store the Hymer, winterize it, purchase a canvas cover for storage.

On the bum. . . .

Writing is hard work, make no mistake.  One might think it is easy work, but those would be mere appearances.  One might see a writer staring vacantly into space, probably giving birth to an intense murder mystery.  Moments later the writer may flip open the laptop to type furiously into a word-processing program.  Fingers are moving quickly, but the rest of the writer appears to be quiescently existing.  This is hard work?

Yes.  But so is building a fence.  Well, the fence might be as hard a job, so the argument loses some of its punch.  I didn’t really want to get into the pros and cons of fence building here.  So I won’t.

Lucy is sleeping on the arm of my chair.  Gunther is asleep five or six feet away.

I was hitching rides across Canada in early 1969 when I fell in with a young man who knew people in common with me from Missoula.  I smoked tobacco in those days, so I gave him one of my cigarettes and we compared our list of folks.  I remember he remarked of Peter Koch:  “He is mysterious.”

Today I read that Peter is moving his printing press to new quarters in Berkeley, California.  Of course, that means the press, the type, the typesetting tables with imposing stone, and the press.  These machines weigh thousands of pounds.  

Peter was in his early twenties when I met him at his door in Missoula.  

Peter lived in a log, low-slung shake-covered house, on the edge of Kiwanis Park on the Missoula River.

Tom was in front of me, asking Peter if we could stay with him in his back room.  “You are welcome to stay, Tom,” Peter said, and I pushed in right behind Tom into P.’s back room, floor to ceiling with every esoteric book about Eastern religions and scholarly works by all of the great thinkers of the world.  We were fortunate to own a couple of mattresses and some bedding, and soon we were sound asleep.  We’d travelled all the previous day and night to arrive from Seattle in Tom’s 1953 Chevy sedan he’d gotten from his uncle Norman Ackley, a lawyer with lots of friends.

We tried to find lodging on our own, but Tom and I had little money and many of the landlords of Missoula had been previously burned by students with antisocial habits and who were not apt to pay rent in a timely way.

A potential landlord said it best:  “I don’t know what your habits are.”

Peter knew what our habits were.  We liked to take mind-expanding drugs, we enjoyed making music for hours on end, we enjoyed the Spring Missoula weather.  We didn’t worry too much about food to eat or clothes to wear.  If things got bad enough we figured we could find a job doing something to earn some money.  

Peter’s back room connected to his kitchen by a hallway with access to a bathroom.  The kitchen accommodated about one butt at a time, and Peter’s living room, which he had converted to a generous bed with some chairs around it.  Peter slept on the bed.  The rest of us sat on the edge of the bed and played our guitars.  I’d drum or play blues chords, Tom used to turn his Gibson classical guitar over and drum on the wooden back.  Peter supplied the dope and papers and we toked freely.

Days passed, Peter, Tom and I went fishing up Gold Creek, then cooked the trout in Peter’s kitchen, serving brown rice along with.  

One remarkable evening two women arrived at Peter’s house:  Penny and Dana.  That was the first I’d met Penny, but I’d seen Dana among the hippies at the UM food service where we always put a bunch of tables together and feasted as a group of bearded and long-haired men, and equally long-haired women.  Our meetings on weekdays lasted until the food service personnel ushered us out.  Women had strict curfews at their residence halls.  Men didn’t, so we’d follow the women home, planting ourselves inside in front of the blaring televisions.  We’d claim to be waiting for specific individuals.  I got kicked out because I insisted on entertaining one of the women by letting her sit on my lap.

We dressed like clowns because our government was turning the men into soldiers, shipping them off to Vietnam to be traumatized or killed.  Or both.  We’d rather get stoned and get thrown out of the women’s dormitory.

Once liberated we walked down to the University Congregational Church to their downstairs coffee house for a few hours, then we’d be back to the dorm rooms to listen to heavy acid rock:  Rolling Stones, Beatles, Country Joe and the Fish, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendryx, Blue Cheer.  We sat on the edge of beds, toked weed, and smoked regular tobacco cigarettes.

Looking back, the worst drug experiences I had were with the legal drugs:  tobacco cigarettes and alcohol.  Alcohol wouldn’t have been much of a problem, because none of us bought it very often.  We were too young.  But a friend of Mark’s, a hispanic youth named Raol, got caught with a six-pack of beer and was expelled from the university.  The rest of us smoked marijuana in plain view of the RAs, and we got no punishment.  In fact we jeered at the RAs and called them tyrants.  Gary, a bearded hippie from New York, called our RA a tyrant.  

I got in trouble for typing late into the night.  I wrote some of my most enlightened pieces in those days of youth, of innocence, of freakishness.  I put a carpet up on the wall and put the typewriter on a stack of towels to deaden the noise, but the clacking typewriter got me into trouble.  The following term I was moved into a corner room on the first floor, over the laundry facility.  That facility proved to be a meeting place when I didn’t return home for the holidays my sophomore year.  There I spent time with the guys from the East Coast, such as Steve Franklin from Philly.  I didn’t wash my clothes often, but during the holidays when the residence hall was empty there wasn’t much else to do.  I don’t remember how I ate, but I did have a sausage or two hanging out my dorm room window.  A friend, Steve Spoja, visited me in my room and I shared the sausage with him.  Steve used to show up with some good dope.  I don’t know where he got it, but he and Larry Felton often talked about making some money on the side dealing dope.  Suited me, as long as the dope was of good quality.  That last requirement wasn’t always easy to fulfill, although Larry Felton denied that he had dope that was tainted.  I thought he did, though.

Smoking weed did not help me write my assignments for journalism school, so I elected to change my major to English, despite my lack of any knowledge of what a degree in English would entail, as far as academic work.

By the end of my second calendar year at Missoula, I was ready to quit school.  That in itself was a thrill because I wrote my final exam in world literature as a personal attack and critique of the professor who taught us.  I let him have it, his sniveling ways, his apologetic demeanor.  I ended up with a B, much to my surprise.

I thought I was a rock and roll star because of a brief stint with a band we named “Water.”  It was Gordon Simard on vocals, me on my electric Gibson hollow body, John Herman as a drummer, I don’t remember our bass guitarist, but he was our manager and got busted for selling weed to high school kids.  His lawyer was expensive, so he had to move to Idaho and work in the silver mines of Kellogg to get out of debt.

Our band “Water” played perhaps three or four gigs before we disbanded.  We did one in Missoula at a roller rink, another in the Copper Commons ball room, and one in Helena at a community center.  “Water” had a repertoire of three songs:  “Keep on Chooglin’” and “Slow blues.”  The third song was “I ain’t superstitious,” by Jimmy Reed.  We played these songs for extended sets to satisfy the time requirement to play for a high school shindig.

I had such a guitar!  Got it from Eliel’s department store in Dillon, Montana.  I believe someone from the local railroad street bar gave it up when he was in debt, or else he got shot.  Such was the underground population in Dillon.  Consisted of alcoholic railroad riders and ranch hands, all of whom were out of my hands.  I was glad to buy an incredible guitar, well broken in.  Came in a brown case and the amplifier I was able to rent from Hansen’s Music in Missoula was also brown, not a modern solid-state like Jerry Prinz’s public address system.  Still I could play loudly and fat.  In those days, the good bands had a big sound, so we did the best with the gear we could rent or borrow.

I thought the guitar was my ticket to playing with a good band. . .like I might find in Seattle.  I left a notice on a bulletin board at the ID bookstore on hippie hill in Seattle, but it got one inquiry, and although I promised him an insane experience to hear me play, the person on the other end of the line would have none of it.  Guitar pretty much stayed in its case in Seattle while I tried to make a living selling hippie newspapers:  “The Helix.”  I don’t know how long it stayed in print, but I think several years is a fair estimate.

My friend Bill Yenne made friends with the publisher of “The Helix” and sold him lots of illustrations done with pen and ink.  I’m talking Rapidograph pens and fine white board.  Bill has gone on to publish many books and he had made himself a nice living, still friends with Larry Felton in Sacramento, California.

Bill Yenne captured many photos during our hip years.

Cemetery tour in 2023

May 23, 2022

Wednesday we drove to Lewistown Cemetery to decorate graves.  

Then to Fort Benton to camp in our camper van.  Weather was bad, so we stayed an extra day in Fort Benton.  Stayed at the fairgrounds for $22/night.  Close to the river, wildlife, mule deer, crows, a robin.  

Gunther was listless, even though he got to run free because there were just one or two other camps set up, so we had the area to ourselves, almost.  The wind blew all day.

Outhouse was exemplary for a pit toilet.  Replaced a roll of t-paper.

High wind warnings up by Browning, hence the extra day at Ft. B.  

We got a pretty good rainstorm.

Friday we left Ft. B, drove to Chester on a back road.  

Joined highway two, drove through Cut Bank, Browning, East Glacier, then had lunch at Izaak Walton Inn.  Food was terrific.  I love that place for its railroad memorabilia and vintage charm.

We continued to Kalispell.  We’ve tried getting flowers at many stores, but Rosauer’s on Kalispell’s southern edge is our only reliable source of pots of chrysanthemums.  We bought 8 at $6 ea.  

Finding the Conrad Memorial Cemetery in Kalispell is damned hard.  We always end up driving all around looking for it.  We were lucky, and gaining experience.  Next year I plan to use the GPS.

We continued from Kalispell to Missoula.  First, spent $100 at the Good Food Store on granola, dog treats, bread, and wine (chateau-neuf du Pape).  

Next day we decorated graves at the Missoula Cemetery.  Then it was off to Hall, Montana to Valley View Cemetery for —you guessed it.  More graves.

We took turns driving back to Billings.

Drive to San Diego

April 28, 2022

Sunday before last Penny and Gunther and I drove to San Diego in our RV, a Dodge Promaster van made into a camper by the E Hymer company.  The Hymers are supposedly popular in the UK.  It’s like a little house in a truck.

Ours has a bed, lots of drawers and cabinets, a bathroom shower, sink, toilet; kitchen sink, refrigerator, and fold-out table.  We’ve lived in it for two weeks at a time and it is bearable, if not fun.  You can sit on the toilet and flip pancakes.  You can drive anywhere there’s pavement.  It has only a few inches of ground clearance.

Sunday before last we drove from Billings through Bozeman, Whitehall, Silver Star, Twin Bridges and Dillon before getting on I-15 over Monida Pass to Idaho Falls.  Earlier in the month on highway 93 we saw a herd of elk cross the road in Idaho.

It’s 140 miles from Dillon to Idaho Falls and in the 1970s my mother and one of her old lady friends drove that distance only to have supper and return to Dillon.

We camped at the Snake River RV Park.  They were closed, but our information was tacked to a cork board near the office door.  The back-in space had water and electricity but the hard dirt was not particularly level.  Gunther barked for hours at some people from Switzerland camped next to us.  I apologized the next day when I was disconnecting hoses and wires.  The guy from Switzerland apologized for making Gunther bark.  The Snake River park pleased me.

We spent $75 to fill our gas tank and less than $40 to stay at the Snake River RV Park.  That’s with the retired commissioned uniformed services discount.  I always enquire about discounts:  Triple A, military, senior citizen, good citizen, nice guy.  Often there’s a discount.  I make up categories.  Big nose discount.  Flannel shirt discount.  Sometimes the clerk gives me a discount in order to get rid of me.  I think most clerks have some discretion in giving discounts of 5-10%.  Pays to ask.

Monday we drove from Idaho Falls to Hurricane, Utah, close to St. George.  There is a KOA at Hurricane that charges about $50 a night.  The campsites are paved and level and flat.  I get a retired uniformed commissioned service discount for answering my country’s call first as a supply sergeant in the Marine Corps, then to be commissioned as a pharmacist on Indian Reservations and other public health duties as may be assigned.  I was never privileged to serve as a pharmacist in a disaster area, but I was qualified physically and I had specific training.  I came closest to getting called up in July after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  I was in the midst of retirement when the hurricane struck the coast of Louisiana.  Hurt my feelings that they didn’t delay my retirement.

We drove from St. George to our daughter Clara’s in Poway, California.  Gunther happily greeted his doggy cousins Kirby and Bear.  Penny and I parked our Hymer nearby.  

The Hymer has a 30-gallon water tank, a 3-gallon propane tank, and several storage batteries to store electricity from 250-volt solar panels.  It has a cassette toilet that holds, perhaps, two gallons.  Another holding tank holds gray water from the sink and shower.

Clara had us and her brother Todd’s family to feed and house.  Well, it almost like that.  Todd’s sister-in-law lives in San Diego, so they fed Todd’s family part of the time, and Todd’s wife flew back to Duluth several days before Todd and the two boys, Cyrus and Roland.  We managed to run, swim, play games, climb a 2000 foot mountain, go swimming in the ocean the few days we were together with the Roberts family.  Two dogs, three kids.  A little sunburned neck.

Returning we visited Death Valley National Park.  I couldn’t have liked it more.  

I saw pupfish in Salt Creek.  These fish live in Death Valley in a small salty creek, cavorting back and forth like a school of minnows.  Did I mention the big pup fish are an inch long?  I didn’t dip my finger in the water to judge its temperature, but the water was brilliantly clear and clean.  The creek apparently flows all year in this area of Death Valley.  The creek I saw was perhaps 3-5 feet wide and 2-3 inches deep.  The water flowed rapidly and the pupfish would dart around the shallows along the sides of the creek.  Little or no vegetation in most of this sandy area.

The temp was 85 when we went to bed and 65 the next morning.  I had to wear a jacket.  The air was dry, birds were scarce.  Penny looked at the night sky, said it was generous with stars.  I was too lazy to get up.

We drove from Death Valley to a place near Reno where our friend Aleada Bushyhead is buried.  

Aleada taught head start with Penny for more than twenty years.  I remember a meal I ate with Penny and Aleada’s class.  Each of us poured her own milk and I just remember Aleada patiently sawing through an apricot half with a fork and plastic knife.  Aleada liked me, but I don’t know exactly how I know.  Aleada died of COVID-19 last year.

We met her son, Ben Johns, who waited in his pickup at the post office.   He guided us to the cemetery for the Paiutes who live at Pyramid Lake.  He told us of Aleada’s last days on earth, when she caught COVID and couldn’t breathe.  Aleada didn’t want to be kept alive by respirators, and so forth, so she was kept comfortable until she died.  Ben was there for Aleada. While Ben spoke I studied his square-toed cowboy boot.  He had a food stain on his shirt, so I surmised he is single.  Ben is finance officer for his tribe.

The same day we drove east and north from Reno to a Nevada state park at a lake near Idaho.  We spent a happy night boon docking, but I forgot to empty the pee cassette the next morning.  

The next day we drove to Idaho Falls back to the Snake River RV Park.  Same great place as before, and I was able to walk barefoot in the night from our van to the bathrooms about 150 feet away.  The cassette toilet pulls out for emptying in a regular toilet.  I don’t know what would happen if one were to allow the cassette to fill up and overflow.  I hope I never find out.  We’ve sworn off pooping in our RV toilet, but I’ve got some wilderness bags to use if anyone gets desperate.  With normal peeing, the cassette needs to be emptied once daily.  One opens a shutter, then pees in the toilet, then closes the lid and presses the flush button to send the pee water into the cassette.  Then one closes the shutter to the cassette.

From Idaho Falls we tried making a beeline for West Yellowstone, then drove the Gallatin River to Bozeman, then went to Billings.  That cuts at least a 100 miles off the trip if one takes I-15 and drives over Monida Pass to Dillon.

We took a rock chip to the window this trip.  The RV awning wouldn’t deploy when we were in Death Valley, but it worked without any problem when I tried it again at the state park in Nevada.  Death Valley reminded me of photos by the Mars Rover.

The Hymer is fussy and many of its features are lightweight and flimsy.  I don’t understand much about the electronics in the cabin area.  Two 12-volt batteries power the appliances and lights.  Solar collectors and an extra engine generator charge the batteries when the batteries are connected by a heavy solenoid switch.

I discovered it’s not a good idea to keep the coach batteries connected when not in use.  If they get run down the cabin electronics have to be jump-started by climbing under the front of the car with a set of jumper cables.  On the other hand, it doesn’t do much good to leave the batteries disconnected.  The fridge will turn off and mildew.  One wants to intermittently activate the electronics to keep the batteries charged through the cold winters here.

The water system has to be winterized with food-grade antifreeze every fall and de-winterized with bleach water each spring.  That’s not much of a chore, although the water tastes funny in the spring after de-winterizing.  Every spring I de-winterize and winterize a couple of times because I am apt to de-winterize too early.  I read the weather forecast and hope there’s no long period of freezing imminent.

Price of gas ranged from $4.20 in Montana to $6 in California.  Seems like the price went up as we went south.

A couple days

My new coiffure and beard trim.

April 12, 2022

About a foot of snow fell today, so I ran the snow thrower around the block about five times.  I cleared the sidewalk three times shortly after nine a.m.  Problem was I couldn’t always locate the sidewalk under the snow.  Sometimes I ran the two-foot wide thrower down mid-walkway.  Even then I ran up on the lawns a few times.

I always feel a sense of accomplishment.  I ran the snow thrower.  I am good.  There.  Nobody asked me to do it, but I did it anyway.  

I’m in a dither about our camper van and its coolant leak.  God damn it to hell.  I’ll take it to a mechanic first thing tomorrow.  This is an old problem that has cost thousands in tow truck and mechanics fees.  It all stems from the second under hood generator, the one that energizes the coach battery system.  The second generator requires a second fan belt that runs where the lower radiator hose runs; thus slicing into the hose and causing the lower hose to leak coolant.  At this time the leak is relatively minor, but has been getting worse.  I thought my nephew and I solved the problem six months ago with some heavy zip ties to secure the radiator hose.

I started the van engine and allowed it to run a few minutes.  I checked the coolant level in the reservoir; below the lower level of acceptable.  No matter, I’ll take it to Brown’s automotive to Chuck tomorrow morning first thing.  Then I’ll get my eyes checked.  At three I’ll see Matt Buettne at Gucionne for a coiffure.  Gotta cover all the bases.

All this trivial stuff while the great turd Putin attacks Ukraine, killing children and pregnant women.  Always something evil to keep an eye on.  

Next day: not much new snow.  Chuck at Brown’s said they had trouble finding the coolant leak.  I urged him to keep trying, to remove a protective plastic device for a better look.  Got my eyes checked.  New glasses will cost more than $700.  That’s after I protested the high cost of $800+.  Matt Buettne made me look fresh and new.  Got to Queen Bee in the Times’ Spelling Bee. Again.  (Dopamine burst.)

Tom shut me out of his life for 10 years

Tom with his high school friends.

My brother Tom and I had not spoken for about 10 years.  He got tired of me: he was disabled with schizophrenia and agoraphobia, but damned intelligent, with a degree in English.  He believed in the concept of “voluntary simplicity,” of living well with little money.  A perfectionist, he didn’t like my pragmatic ways.  He was one of the last of his bohemian generation, one of the last who never sold out.  I, on the other hand, went to school, got a degree in pharmacy, worked a career to support my family.  I don’t remember why Tom finally had enough of me, but he was blunt.  I was working on a guitar solo in his small house in Missoula.

“Fuck you,” he said.  I put down Tom’s guitar.  My family and I stood.  We filed out in silence.

We drove away from his house and although I later tried to reestablish our friendship, it never took.   One time I sent Tom a message on a scrap of paper: just a scrawl telling him I loved him. He gave the scrawl back to me later without comment. We were still not friends. Another time I knocked on his back door. I opened the door and called his name. He hollered back, “what the hell do you WANT?” I asked him if he wanted me to leave him alone. He screamed back, “YES!”

In my basement, the other day, I found 31 color photos from early September, 1997. My brother Tom Struckman died then, 53 years old.  Tom had severe chest pain.  A couple weeks before that our nephew Geoff Angel telephoned me from Missoula that Tom asked him to return a copy of Adam Smith’s book, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), usually abbreviated as The Wealth of Nations.  Tom was destitute, but was interested in wealth as a social phenomenon.  
[Wikipedia said Smith’s book “is considered his magnum opus and the first modern work of economics. Smith is cited as the “father of modern economics” and is still among the most influential thinkers in the field of economics today.”]  Tom was good at using books for knowledge, for instruction.  Once he reviewed a book about swimming for The Whole Earth Review.   

Tom had gotten the book from a Missoula bookstore, but it was an abridged edition, so he was returning it. Geoff also helped Tom get a wool blanket for his bed to use as a mattress. His wooden bed had sublime, but simple, craftsmanship. It also had a plywood deck for sleeping.
            Like I said, Geoff called me from Missoula because Tom had complained of the severe chest pain that had lasted many days. He told me that Tom had taken so many over-the-counter pain remedies that his ears rang. Tom had no telephone, so I phoned the Missoula police to ask them to check on Tom. I got no report back, so I phoned the police again the next day. Someone there said that Tom told the police officer he was   “fine,” so the officer left.           

I called back to Geoff to tell Tom that a doctor at the emergency department could treat him with a drug. 

Later, Geoff told me that Tom said, “There’s a drug? Let’s go!” Soon he had been admitted for a heart attack that had destroyed about a third of his heart. The people in the ER told him that he had been misinformed about the drug. It was far too late, they said. No use giving him any hope, I thought. Anyway, I had been thinking morphine—palliation, not a clot-buster.
            Geoff visited Tom the next day in the hospital. Said Tom was hip to the pathophysiology of a myocardial infarct, but also turned on to the philosophical, wondering about losing a third of his heart, the center of his emotions. Tom dug the sound of his own heart on a doppler when he was undergoing tests.
            My nephew Jon Angel spoke to Tom in the hospital by phone and he said he seemed cheerful. 

I quickly telephoned Tom when I heard about Jon’s success, and Tom answered, “hello.”

 “Hello!” I said, “Tom it’s me! It’s Dan! How are you?” I heard a clunk, then a dial tone. Hurt my feelings, sank my hopes.
            That evening Jon told me he was going to Missoula with his 1-year-old son, Bradley, and he insisted I go along. “Well, he hung up on me,” I protested. But I went.
            We got to Tom’s house on Missoula’s north side the following afternoon. I knew Tom used chewing tobacco so I bought a generous supply of Copenhagen and Skoal as a gift.  

At Tom’s little house, we walked up to the back door.  Jon barged in without knocking, and I followed. I sat across the room from Tom who sat on his bed and to my surprise he didn’t object to my being there.. Turns out Tom dropped the phone in the hospital and didn’t know that it was me calling him. We talked. We reminisced about our days working for the Northern Pacific railroad. 

Tom didn’t want the chewing tobacco. “Causes heart attacks,” he said. He showed me his two medications: lisinopril and nitroglycerin tablets. Tom said he wouldn’t take the nitro because he wouldn’t need it. Tom said he tried to dig in his garden but he felt so short of breath and weak he had to stop.
            I promised Tom we would come back when he felt stronger. I was amazed that he was alive after such a massive heart attack. We shook hands all around and Tom made a saluting gesture toward me as we departed. I told him I was glad to be his friend again.  We didn’t embrace. We touched when we shook hands.
            We spent the night with my oldest son Todd who was staying by himself in Missoula because his fiancé was out of town. Jon and I slept in their bed and Bradley vomited on us in the night. The next day Bradley had such a foul-smelling diaper on the road back to Billings that I nearly vomited when we stopped near Big Timber. Nonetheless I was elated.
            Mark Fryberger phoned me a couple weeks later: “Tom died,” he said simply.
            Mark said he had had an extra cat and wanted to check with Tom to see if he was still between cats. When Mark looked through Tom’s back door window he thought he saw a scarecrow on the kitchen floor, so he opened the back door. Then Mark called the police. I thanked Mark.
            Our daughter Clara was home with me and we cried. Later that day Todd phoned me. He had helped put Tom’s body in a metal box with rubber seals. Tom’s body was decomposed, full of maggots, putrid smelling. Todd said he went to Tom’s and encountered a pair of guys from a mortuary who told him to go home and leave everything to them. 

Todd said he started to leave, then realized he didn’t have to do as they said. In the end Todd stayed at Tom’s until late, scrubbing the floor, then scrubbing the steps leading into the cellar. Tom’s body had lain on the trapdoor.
            I started to ask Todd if the body could have belonged to someone else, but he quickly disavowed me of that. Much later, I asked Todd about his experience. He said he felt it was an intimate experience with Tom and a great honor and responsibility. Perhaps that is why Todd eventually studied medicine after completing his master’s in fine arts in poetry.
            Todd asked us to come to Missoula because he didn’t want to spend a night home alone after cleaning up Tom’s house. We drove to Missoula that night. At Tom’s some scented candles were still burning throughout the house. It had the cloying putrid smell of death. A rubber glove lay on the ground near the gate to Tom’s backdoor. We snuffed the candles.
            The next day I walked over to Mike Fiedler’s house to tell him the news. I made numerous phone calls.
            We phoned lots of family and friends to tell them about Tom. Tom’s daughter, Hannah, was angry with me for not telling her when Tom had the heart attack. Lots of family came to Missoula. My sister and her family from Nebraska. Hannah and her family from Yakima, Washington. People from Missoula. Our aunt Corinne from Kalispell. Todd’s siblings from Berkeley and Billings.
            Most stayed with Geoff, except Hannah and her family stayed at a motel downtown. We ended up sending most of Tom’s stuff home with her and her husband Jason in a rented truck. Other stuff got divided up among everyone else.
            The 31 photographs show what Tom’s house looked like before we emptied it. Tom had been a recluse for nearly 20 years, living with schizophrenia, untreated. He was a voracious reader. He made cassette tapes for his nephews. He raised vegetables, he made things in his wood shop.  He kept meticulous lists of the songs on each of the cassette tapes, so to avoid sending duplicates.
            Todd said Tom’s desk light was on when he died. Looked like he had been applying for heat aid when he walked into his kitchen and collapsed on the floor. His body was spread eagle. We could see his imprint on the linoleum where Todd had scrubbed with an abrasive cleanser.

Tom's image showed as a light-colored area on his floor.

Tom’s image showed as a light-colored area on his floor.

            Tom’s life was remarkable for a number of reasons. He lived humbly, yet had a monumental ego. He told me that he didn’t believe in God’s existence, but took responsibility himself. “Isn’t that noble?” he asked. He was well-educated, not quite achieving a master’s in English from Eugene at the University of Oregon. I think I’ll write more about Tom later. He was 5 years older than I, prone to pummeling me, but he inspired many. He lived with a certain elusive feeling. He read a book about swimming, then used it to learn to swim. He did the same with drawing, skating, riding a bike, juggling, building musical instruments, carving classical statues from soap, and playing classical guitar.

The next night we prepared a meal in Tom's kitchen to remember him.  From L:  Mike Fiedler, Jason Wild, Hannah B. Wild,  their son Jacob, Bob Struckman (with back to camera) and Penny.

The next night we prepared a meal in Tom’s kitchen to remember him. From L: Mike Fiedler, Jason Wild, Hannah B. Wild, their son Jacob, Bob Struckman (with back to camera) and Penny.