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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

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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.

Link

PW Volume II number 1

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Click the link below to read the entire issue.

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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 immanent.

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.

Home alone, writing.

Me again.

February 20, 2022

Home alone.  Todd’s family (minus Todd) is visiting, but they are over at Vern’s house picking up some dozens of hand-warmers they can use to keep their phones alive while skiing in sub-zero weather at Jackson Hole.

What a pleasure it is with Cyrus.  He likes to play his banjo, a four-string tuned the same as a ukulele.  He picked up my ukulele and started strumming the “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” 

I can play along with guitar.  I have trouble with the banjo.  I have two such banjos. One is a Deering, the other is a Fender.

Just now I got a telephone call from Lansing, our adopted grandson, who is in the Yellowstone County jail for a serious felony charge: assault resulting in breaking a bone and causing a large laceration. 

He wants to pursue regular life choices, including learning to be a welder or have some other skill, and joining the armed forces.  This is hard when he keeps getting into trouble.

I told Lansing we love him (we do) and we want him to know that he is not alone.  

Lansing told me he is glad and he is going to call our son Bob next.

Nothing else to report.  Except I’m glad to be writing at all, especially when the muse is not cooperating with me.

Tom’s room had attractions. . .

February 7, 2022

Tom’s room. You can see Bill Wilborn and Terry Fitzpatrick in the foreground. Notice the painting with the ceramic jug.

I doubt you want to know the story of the beginning of time.  Why?  You know the story, have lived the story, know that the story is complete the way you know it.

Is my story different from yours?  Certainly, in particulars.  My mother had lots of hair on her cheek.  You could see it when the light was right and she was wearing makeup, the way she did when she left the house to teach second grade at Jefferson School in Missoula in the 60s.

She wore makeup almost every day, even on Saturday.  Maybe not on Saturday, but I think she did for sure on Sunday, if we went to church.  I used to lie in bed and hope she wouldn’t call me to come down and get dressed for church.

The house was a basic box, divided into a large living room, two bedrooms across the wall, then the back part had a kitchen across from a storage area my daddy fixed up to hold chairs and folding tables.  And a vacuum cleaner storage place.  All of that was squashed by the stairway leading up to my room and my brother’s huge room.  He had the Persian rug and the bunk bed.  Just one bunk, because he didn’t allow me to come into his room.  

Tom’s room had numerous attractive items:  a couple of rifles, a record player, a French horn, a rack of expensive records he somehow extorted my mother into buying.  

If I was home during the day I immediately went to his room to root through his things.  The French horn was hard to play, and once I tipped it up to play it like a hunting horn and a big nauseating drink of spit drained into my mouth.  Makes me gag to think of it.

The record player usually had a beautiful iridescent record already in it.  I inevitably scratched it trying to play it. Tom beat me up when he discovered what I’d done.

Tom even had a ceramic jug for some grapefruit wine he was brewing.  I never found out if it was potable.  He had a spittoon for his friends and him to toss their cigarette butts into.

Tom also was an artist.  He made oil paintings, lost to the ages.  Don’t know what became of them, but he painted on the canvas boards.  I used his paints to make myself a beatnik sweatshirt that I wore to a dance.  I rubbed against a girl who complained that I got her white sweatshirt soiled.  I was looking for a thrill.

History of everything … and everything.

February 6, 2022

In the beginning our people came from somewhere in Africa where they lived thousands of generations.  I don’t know how they made a living there.  Did they catch fish?  Did they eat fruit and nuts and berries?  I have more questions. Please.  If they ate fish, how did they catch them?  Net? Hook? Trap? Once on our way back from Alaska to Montana, we stopped on the side of the road where a kid or two ran down the embankment to a creek where they chased a 8-inch trout out of the water.  Like that.  Did our Africans chase fish out of the water?  I rarely fish, except when visiting my nephew, Chris, in Ketchikan, Alaska, where he is a tourist guide.  He catches wonderfully delicious fish:  halibut, shrimp, crab.  He lives there through the warm months and his door is open to me.

I get a lot of my information listening to a podcast “History of English.”  Turns out many languages can trace back to the Indo-European roots, some 4,000-5,000 years past.  Sanskrit, Germanic, Romantic, Persian, Greek.  Lots of languages.  Linguistic roots help trace actual human ancestors.  English is a Germanic language with lots of borrowed words from Latin and French.  Helps to know the history of England.

Our African forebear’s offspring eventually migrated northward and eastward toward India and around the east side of the Black Sea.  (I visited there a few years ago on a boat with my daughter-in-law, Susanna Gaunt.  She was the only person there whom I recognized.)  I have a photo, somewhere.  Turns out the politics in Istanbul were sketchy and Susanna grabbed my arm when I took a picture.  I didn’t know how sketchy things were!

So.  My collective memory of these early ancestor’s migrations is sketchy.  Lost in antiquity.  We’ve covered quite a few thousands of years by the time they finally got to Asia.  For some reason the grasslands there afforded them a living.  They lived in family-size communities and ate what they could find or what they could kill.  At first they were nomadic.  They must have suffered through many hard winters.  Think how we suffer yet today!  Winter on the steppes!

This would be perhaps 4,000 years ago.  They knew their mothers but not their fathers.  They invented pottery.  Well, they needed some way to carry water.  I suppose they could make a water vessel out of an animal skin.

I don’t know what people elsewhere on the globe were doing, such as the Chinese, the Americans, the Australians.

Today, linguistics scholars have been able to trace our language back to the Indo-European roots of 4,000 years ago in Asia.

Once on the steppes of Asia our ancestors learned to tend flocks and employ oxen.  They learned how to tend crops.

The way west took them around the north end of the Black Sea.  I don’t suppose their migrations took them much farther than the next hill or over the next creek.  Many littles made a lot.  And so on.

They migrated ever westward over many generations toward what is now central Europe and into Germany.  

Some of our recent forebears stayed in what is now known as low Germany, others migrated farther north to Scandinavia by land or by water.  Hard to know which.  This is all about a thousand years ago.  If our forebears could speak to us we wouldn’t understand much what they said.  These would be the precursors to “old English.”

My great-great grandmother lived in Vang, Norway.  Her name was Berit Bonde.  She was awesome, a farmer.  

Berit and Einar Bonde

My great-great grandfather lived near Bremen, Germany.  He was Gottlieb Struckman, a mine worker.

Both individuals quit their European countries about the middle of the 1800s, for differing reasons. 

Berit Bonde’s couldn’t afford to feed her children in Norway, so she walked with her husband and their kids from Vang to Oslo.  Then they shipped to the United States.

Gottleib Struckman had to get the hell out of Northern Germany for political reasons as did others of his republican party, about 1850.  There was a lot of violence there.  

Berit and her husband Einar eventually settled in Nerstrand, Minnesota to farm.  Their son Torsten, my great grandfather, built a stone house there that still stands.  He married Ingabor Hougen.

The Bonde stone house in Nerstrand, Minnesota. Carl is 2nd from the left, in boots.

My grandfather, Carl, was a younger one of a dozen or so of their kids.   Carl moved to Montana to seek a living as a grocer in Buffalo, Montana, then Kalispell.  Carl Bonde and Ellen Wichstrom had my mother, Helen, in 1912.

Gottlieb settled in Hanover, Illinois and he farmed 160 acres.   His son, my great grandfather, George, was also a farmer.  A republican, he served as Justice of the Peace, and as village president of Bartlett, Illinois.   He was an American Civil War veteran for the Missouri Union Army being chosen first sergeant, then getting promoted to lieutenant.  He married Christina Busche.

My grandfather, Emil, was one of their five children who moved to Montana to homestead.  He was no good at farming, so he taught school in Big Timber, Valier, and Malta, Montana.  Emil Struckman and Agnes Powers had my father Robert.

My parents met in Missoula in 1931 at the university.  That’s one of the things college is good.  Young men and women mate with each other and learn the skills to keep house and work at jobs that pay the bills.

My intent to write the history of the universe could have started in the primordial swamps of Africa, or perhaps among the non-living molecules of the cosmos.  

After all, all living things are composed of non-living molecules.

Africa may have been linked up with Australia and the Americas in those earliest times: Pangea.

In the beginning I entered a world that was already very old, and I was young.  The world seemed to be dozens of years old.

Most of the action had happened, the mess had been cleaned up, swept and mopped, and only a few broken toys and roller skates were available to me.  Leather straps to some sort of contraption one could wear on his shoe to make it look like a “cowboy boot.”

I asked my mother where I came from.  She sat me next to her with her photograph album.  I remember seeing an image of a young woman holding a baby.  Black and white, Spring of 1949.  That was me.  The woman in the photograph looks lovingly at her baby.  Mother smoked her adult life, dying of cancer in 1976.

In the beginning was the Word.  Or so the Bible would have us think.  Mother gave me a Bible and I couldn’t get into it, although I tried to read through the book of Genesis.  The stories didn’t track the way other stories did.  I tried to be very religious when I was in the second grade, walking down the alley to the Bickle house to ride with them to the Episcopal church for Sunday school.  I made a few attempts, but gave up.  For one thing, my mother gave me a dime for the offering.  Later I found a nickel in the alley.  The next week I told the Sunday school teacher I forgot my dime.  Then I showed the dime to my mother.  Somehow she guessed I didn’t find it in the alley the way I had found the nickel.

In the beginning, God sat on his throne, thinking.  [Thanks, Mark Twain.]

In the beginning.  Men knew their mothers only, not their fathers.  [Thanks, I Ching.]  The world is as new as ever!  I’m almost 73 and don’t know the plan much better than I ever did.  

I wish I could make some sense of the world; I’d share with my grandchildren.  Many generations of creatures have gone extinct on our planet.  Giant dinosaurs, huge forests of ferns and trees, trilobites, clams, snails. Ammonites.  Fish and giant birds.  Like Mark Twain said, giant fish.  And coal to fry them on.

Ordinary day in Billings, Montana

Daniel and Gunther

January 26, 2022

An ordinary day here in Billings, Montana. 

My doctor’s nurse phoned a prescription into the Osco pharmacy for amlodipine 2.5mg tablets.  She did this because I had been trying unsuccessfully to split the 5mg strength with a pill cutter. 

This had worked for me for several months until Rene, our pharmacist, was unable to get the brand I had been splitting in favor of a much smaller pill.  The teensy pill was difficult to split.  Impossible, really, so friable it exploded beneath the blade of the splitter. I tried taking the whole 5mg tablet but my blood pressure dropped below 90/60. Then I tried taking a 5mg tablet every other day, but I suffered low blood pressure the days I took the pill.

I think of other ways I could have resolved the problem.

True, I could have dissolved the 5mg pill, then drank half the solution, but I didn’t think of that.  Instead, I left a message with the nurse to phone in a prescription for the lower strength tablets.  Like that. And she did.

Problem solved. New problem:

Last week my brother-in-law broke the sheetrock in his sister’s double-wide.  His leg gave out and he crashed, leaving a great broken area of wall near her front door.  Looked like the wall was crushed inward.

I agreed to help ameliorate the damage.  My job is to repair the sheetrock, so today I made a trip to Ace Hardware to buy joint compound, tape, a 5-inch taping knife, 1-inch sheetrock screws, a piece of 1×3” lath, a razor knife, and some 2-inch sheetrock screws.  The taping knife cost the most.  I probably already own one of every known size, but I couldn’t find a small one this morning.  

When I examined the damage to my sister-i-l’s wall last week the broken sheetrock looked very thin, possibly 1/4 inch.  Where would I buy a sheet of that?  How would I transport it– on our passenger car roof?  I’m thinking I don’t want to try replacing it.  I’m going to repair it.

I had lunch at home with P.  I resolved to repair her sister’s sheetrock tomorrow, but I’m keeping the joint compound in the house tonight, thinking if it freezes it’ll be ruined.  Lunch was some leftover soup from a couple nights ago.

P. and Gunther were antsy, so we drove over to Norm’s Island park to do some dog walking. 

Gunther wouldn’t cross the footbridge to the island.  Therefore, we walked toward Josephine Crossing housing development.  I couldn’t talk either of them into crossing the ice to the island when we neared the Yellowstone River, either.  

We walked until we frightened an amazing number of Canada geese that rose up in a gauze-like swarm all honking in a sort of roaring sound.  I felt a bit guilty, but the geese would be fine, I know.

Back home I bathed Gunther because he was sandy and muddy from our walk.

I feel threatened by our lack of newspaper coverage.

Dan Struckman

I’m troubled, a troubled man for troubled times. 

I wanted to read about A.B. Guthrie, Jr.. 

I wanted to read about the Montana Newspaper Guild Union, formed in the 1940s in Great Falls.  I wanted to read about the Great Falls Tribune which is, or was, owned by Gannett newspapers.  Trouble is, the articles I could find on line were sparse and didn’t tell me much.  I did find a recent piece about the Montana News Guild, an entity formed in Billings by the staffers of the Billings Gazette. The piece sounded like a cry for help from one drowning.

If I had a life ring, I’d throw it to the drowning victims of Big Journalism, such as the victims of Lee Newspapers.  We subscribe to the Billings Gazette, a Lee paper.  It gets scrawnier every month.  We have to walk farther and farther away from our porch to find the scant paper out on the driveway.  We even got a robot-call informing us that no contractor could be found to deliver our paper before the six a.m. deadline.  “Please don’t call before seven a.m.” said the robotic voice. I told the publisher I am mad as hell, but to no avail.

Okay, I get it.  We don’t get to have a morning manufactured newspaper in the future.  But what do we get?  We used to have a reporter who had the “cops and courts” beat.  A year or two ago, this reporter exposed the misdeeds of a couple of policemen who fucked the woman in charge of keeping the closet where the good stuff—the evidence—was stored.  The Gazette after some shifting from one foot to another, eventually disclosed the identities of the cops, but the reporter was the real hero. Who knows what’s happening now at the Billings PD?

Where is the hero now?  The current Gazette has hardly any police news.  Just whatever the department gives out, I’m thinking.

The good reporters are hunkered down somewhere else, or they retired early.  Our days of COVID are bereft of reporters and newspapers.

Remembering the Marine Corps

Going to the base chapel and running were two low-cost entertainment options.

A couple more days of lockdown until we can emerge from our quarantine from COVID.  Last Tuesday I had a test that came up positive.  I was sicker then heck for a while.

Five days seems to be the official period of sequestration.  

I’m not sure I’ll be quite feeling up to it, but the two women in our house, who seemed to get milder cases than I, are eager to get out and into the world.  P., especially, has been sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, dusting, bustling about.  I’ve been mostly supine in our room, thinking.  Wishing for the end of my illness.

I remember years ago my one-year tour in Japan in the Marines, back in Fall of ’72— Fall of ’73.  Most of my fellow Marines became drunks.  Or if not drunks, Jesus freaks.  I had to leave my little family in California.  

I did not become a drunk in Japan.  In fact, I didn’t enter a bar.  I was one of those who was a Jesus freak.

One, I was grieving my being away from my little family: two small boys, a wife, and a small dog with a pup.  We owned a Volkswagen fastback and little else.

Two, our little family often went to the on-base chapel in Santa Ana, California.  Cheapest entertainment available to a family of four living on base earning $2,000 a year.  I earned extra delivering the Orange County Register.  My route consisted of seven trailer courts out on Harbor Boulevard.  The other low-cost entertainment was running.  I started running about three miles a day.

The first year of our marriage we grossed about $1,000.  We couldn’t afford butter or bacon.

Our dog, Ning, Todd, and Penny at base housing in Santa Ana.

When I got orders overseas the Marines sent me to Treasure Island, a base between Oakland and San Francisco to a casual company.  Another name for it would be perdition.

You march around when you aren’t picking up litter or raking leaves.  How do you keep your sanity?  I found a garden tool and a file so I sat down and sharpened, thus finding a niche for myself that didn’t involve endless bending and picking up.

Evenings I attended a Bible study and hymn sing-along with a bunch of hoarse, loudmouth bully types, each trying to outdo each other in their piety.  It was okay.  I had been running every day, so I put in an hour or two of running around the base, up one street and down another.  The place was lush with California greenery—holly hedges, ivy, deciduous trees, palms.

(The following year, on my return from Japan, they sent me back to Treasure Island for another week, awaiting further orders.  Many Marines were getting out of the service and garbage cans were festooned with uniforms discarded by gleeful soldiers.)

The plane ride to Japan seemed to take a couple of days, but the sun remained high in the sky throughout the trip.  My beard grew and my armpits stunk by the time we stopped to refuel in Hawaii, then refuel again at Midway Island.  It was a military jet with ancient looking flight attendants.  Eventually we landed in Yokusaka in the rain.  My fellow fliers were vomiting into the little paper bags.

Japan shocked me when I saw tiny little people squatting to pee on the side of the road!  And little!  Most of them seemed to be about four feet tall and the city smelled of urine.  Yokusaka.  From there we got on a Marine CH-46 helicopter and rode several hundred miles to Iwakuni Air Base.

At first it rained every day.  Fall was the beginning of the rainy season.  Rusted bicycles under tin roofs.  I rented a bike for $10/month.

I was assigned by the First Marine Air Wing Supply sergeant to Marine Air Group 12 supply.  I was hoping for an aviation supply job, but the sergeant asked me if I wanted to go to Vietnam where half the squadrons were deployed.  I told him my wife and children would be bummed if I went to Vietnam, so he assigned me to MABS-12.  A support squadron for the base in Iwakuni.  This was essentially a backwater squadron assigned to deal with the red clay-encrusted garbage being shipped back from Vietnam.

My supply shop that looked like a modestly outfitted garage, had Lieutenant Roach, Sergeant Ortega, me, Lance Corporal  Ragsdale, PFC Thigpen, and Private Humphries.

Lieutenant Roach, our supply officer, was living with a whore in town, and things got dicy when his wife came to Japan for a visit.  Roach also had a two-cylinder car with A-4 nose wheels on the back, giving the car a kind of playful forward stance.  I don’t know how he got the nose wheels, but I do know how he got a lot of other cool things from the supply department. 

I thought it interesting that Lt. Roach was promoted to captain while in Iwakuni, ahead of Lieutenant “shithead” Robertson who was squadron personnel officer, a tightly-wound career Marine whom everyone hated.

Sergeant Ortega made staff sergeant soon after I arrived.  An immigrant from Mexico, he was divorced and had several small children.  He spent every evening drinking beer in the enlisted club.  Eventually he got up in the night, peed in his wall locker, and got put on medical leave.  He cried about his broken family.

“Rags” Ragsdale was a black kid from Philadelphia, extremely intelligent, small in stature but large-hearted.  He thought my religiosity was a lot of bullshit.  As did the other black guy, Charles Thigpen.  “Thig” was a fairly good basketball player and a problem for Rags when he got promoted to corporal.  

At one point, a kid from another division, Pvt. Flowers, sucker punched Thig and knocked out a front tooth, broke his jaw.  Thig had to drink soup from a straw for a month, or so, until they unwired his mouth.  

Despite such interesting fellow Marines, I spent all my spare time with the Jesus freaks, or I ran.  I ran every day, 6,7,8 miles/day around the base perimeter.  A concrete sea wall had a walkway on top and I could run three or four miles each direction.

“It’s Christmas, you idiot,” yelled someone one morning when I loped along the sea wall.