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“Cremains”

June 18, 2015

Tom's house

We were in trouble! Like I said in my last post, this was 1997, shortly after my brother Tom died on his kitchen floor. As we finished clearing out his house, we made a sort of ceremonial bonfire of wood scraps in the back yard to mark his death, but the law in Missoula forbids open fires. How would we know? I think it has something to do with air quality. Missoula has limited air quality because the city is in the bottom of a great system of valleys.
Anyway, the fire department and a police car showed up at Tom’s. We had a hose with water running, so we put out the fire, which was actually small. Big enough to make smoke, though. Tom’s daughter Hannah, had always been famous for her mouth and her attitude. She defied the fire department and the police to stop her. Of course, I’m back there, saying, “nooo, shhhhhh, don’t . . .Hannah!”
I finally got the ear of one of the officers. I explained how I’d asked the police for help with my brother and it was not forthcoming. Moreover, they said Tom was fine, but he wasn’t! In fact, he died soon after they checked on him.
Bottom line, we had to put out the fire, but we didn’t get a citation for the fire.
A note about Hannah who died last year in Hawaii. She got Bob beaten up at the Oxford Cafe in Missoula when Todd got married in 2000. Hannah got into some sort of verbal exchange with someone at the bar. Bob stuck up for her. Bob is very tall and very large and muscular. Bob went to the bathroom and got jumped by the offended guy. Bob picked up the guy who punched him in the head and put him head down into a urinal. Then they got the hell out of there as fast as they could. Another time Hannah’s husband, Jason, showed up at our house in Billings with a black eye. Same scenario. Hannah offended someone in a bar, Jason defended her, Jason got punched. He did not seem too happy about that.

Tom's daughter Hannah
Tom has been a mysterious person, even to me, even though I grew up with him. One of my earliest memories was that he had a blue batman suit and headgear with erect ears. This was homemade, high quality. Mysterious.
Because he was born in 1944, he had enough years with our father, who died in ’53, to experience a father’s parenting. The two made Cub Scout projects together, but that came to an abrupt end, and partly finished projects laid around the house. A scrapbook, a telegraph set, a game of ring-toss. I figured that Tom felt betrayed and abandoned by our daddy when he died.
For an unknown reason Tom was disappointed in our mother, who loved Tom despite his obvious and vocal dislike of her. I always knew she loved me and I have memories of her gaining my trust through kindnesses and surprises. I know she loved Tom because she told him and because she always responded to his pleas for money—and they were many because he seldom had a job. He didn’t want to work for anyone, just himself. He wasn’t lazy. In his words, he had monumental pride.
I know that Tom respected and loved me, although he ridiculed me as a child. I think it impressed him when I joined the Marines, even though he knew I was afraid, that I detested the thought of being any kind of soldier and that I had a life of fun and pleasure to live in Missoula without joining; I could have gone back to college or just skipped the country. It’s just that I was afraid of Vietnam, but not of college or of leaving and I needed to face my dark fears.
Tom was impressed that I hit my commanding officer while I was in the Marines. He told me that it was the best thing I’d done in my life. When I went to basic training in San Diego, he joined a Zen Buddhist group in San Francisco and trained in a monastery near there.
Back to 1997. The same day that the fire department and police descended on us in Tom’s backyard, the mortuary sent Tom’s cremated remains (with the loathsome name, “cremains”) by delivery van to his address at the corner of Dickens and DeFoe in Missoula. Of course we inspected the box with great interest.
It was a cube-shaped cardboard box, weighing perhaps 10-15 lbs, perhaps 10 inches on an edge. Inside, a plastic bag with what looked like a silver-dollar size metal tag, with a hole so that a tie could fasten the bag shut held what looked like gray dirt with bits of bone.

Dan Struckman, September, 197.

Dan Struckman, September, 197.


I found out recently from a mortician in Billings that she burns the bodies in the cremation furnace for like—8 hours—at high temperature, then lets them cool. She rakes the ashes and bones into a sort of large metal blender that reduces all the identifiable bones to small chips. Any metal, such as artificial hips, knees, screws and pins are removed and put aside. She showed me her metal box that evidently held hot metallic items like that. I saw discolored artificial joints, strips of metal and lots of screws.
We divided Tom’s ashes. Hannah got half and our son Bob got half. I forget what Hannah did with hers, but Bob took his ashes back to Berkeley. He said he eventually visited the Zen monastery near San Francisco where Tom had trained, back in 1969. Bob said the people in charge didn’t allow him to place Tom’s ashes there, but he dumped them near some shrubs anyway when he thought they weren’t looking.

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