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Their mother was a USO singer in Seattle

April 22, 2014

Mark and Steve Fryberger’s mother died just about 2 years ago at her home at 710 Cook Avenue.  

Mark told me when I phoned about 5:30 so Penny and I drove over.  Steve greeted us at the door and we told him we were sorry.  Mark was sitting in the kitchen and we talked about how people need to hang out with each other at times of great loss.  We spoke for a few minutes.  I remembered that Steve told the joke about the French Legionnaire who got lonesome for women.  The new soldier asked an older one who winked and took him around the back of a tent where he said the men “took turns with the camel.” 

The young legionnaire shrugged and later tried to have “intimate relations” with the camel.  However, the older man saw him and cried out in horror.  Then he chuckled and said, “I meant that most of the guys take turns riding the camel into town where the women are.” 

My 92-year old hospice patient, himself a WWII veteran, whom I visited twice weekly for 2 years, told me that was the best joke I told him.  

I felt I owed Steve and Mark a visit when their mother died.  

Mark stood up and said that his mother Leona “has a cute little smile” and looked very peaceful and did we want to see her?  Or not?  

I and the others followed Mark back to his mother’s bedroom and sure enough, with the unmistakable pallor of death, looking as if she were carved from very fine white marble, was Leona, her small hands clasped.  Her fingernails were the same white as her wrinkled little fingers.  I was struck by the infinite detail, all white, bloodless.  A long cobweb hung down from the plaster ceiling, caught in the golden light of afternoon sunlight, directly over Leona’s body.  I imagined myself swinging my arm at it to get rid of it.  Of course, I did not.

Leona did have an impish little smile.  She had always worn makeup before, but not now.  Mark caressed her wispy hair, on her little round white head, remarking that her hair was still blond.

It wasn’t like her death was a surprise to them, because Mark had taken indefinite leave from his job in Missoula to be with his mother “for the duration,” meaning, “until she died.”  Turned out, his mother required quite a bit of care, even after she was enrolled in the hospice program.  The past few days Mark’s younger brother Steve stayed at the house with Mark and Leona.  Mark said he had gotten enough sleep the night before, but he felt very tired.  Emotionally, perhaps.

Mark, Penny, Steve, and I stood at Leona’s bedside for perhaps 10 minutes, talking about this very intelligent woman’s life and that she had birthed Mark and Steve.  Is that where the musical talent came from?  Also Steve said that earlier the same day she died the boys played guitar and sang for her and she waved her hand in time to the music [As a director might].  Mark said she died while Steve was taking a shower in the basement.  They phoned the hospice nurse who came to Leona’s house and she cleaned her up and changed her nightie.  Mark said he wanted to wait until nightfall to call Dahl’s Funeral Home to come and take Leona’s little 89-year-old body away.  

He said she would not want to be seen by the neighbors leaving her house [in a bag, on a gurney] and being loaded into a hearse in daylight.

We sat back down at the dining room table and talked about other deaths, their father, Don Fryberger’s in Missoula at Mark’s house and Tom Struckman’s.  Mark discovered Tom’s body in Missoula the end of August in 1997.  Mark looked through the back door window and saw what looked like a scarecrow’s leg on the floor.  He peered through the window and could see Tom’s arms sticking straight out from the sides.  He went to the police.  Mark said the officer who entered Tom’s house returned looking ill and white and holding his stomach.  

Then we talked about how my son Todd helped clean Tom’s remains from the floor, saying it was an intimate experience and an honor.  Todd was also traumatized to some extent and phoned us in Billings the next morning asking us to drive to Missoula as soon as possible.  (We did.)  Mark said he needed to make the obligatory telephone calls, so Penny and I departed for home.  We had planned to exercise, but we both felt kind of pooped out.  So we watched a movie.


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