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More about Tom

February 25, 2016

Tom Struckman had immense pride.

Tom Struckman was a mysterious one.  At the Bon department store in Missoula, Tom was parked at the East end parking lot.  Remember?  There used to be an incinerator there that had long since been removed, but you could see the image of where it had been:  the incinerator, the flu, the chimney.  All of it emblazoned on the brick that faced the parking area.  Tom had parked his car there.  A guy was trying to get out of the lot and thought Tom’s car was blocking the way.  I was there.  I thought Tom would move his car, but no.

“You’ve got plenty of room,” Tom screamed.  I was awed by Tom’s forcefulness with a stranger.  I use the term, “screamed,” because that is how he expressed himself then.  The driver got out of the lot and drove away.  Yes, he had enough room.

Yet in other matters, Tom was timid.  He often said something, like:  “Other people can do that, but we cannot.”

He and I moved back to Montana from Seattle in 1969.  I remember we left Seattle early in June, before light, in the morning.  We stopped on the road, once we entered Montana and literally hugged a tree.  Do you know how a Ponderosa Pine smells?  The tree has a sweet odor, like sugar.  Tom and I were happy to be back and we hugged and kissed the tree.  Then we got back into his 1953 Chevy sedan and continued to Missoula.  Of course, we had no place to stay.  We drove up and down 4th and 5th streets, looking at the brick apartment buildings between Higgins and Orange streets.  We saw a “for rent” sign, so we knocked.  I remember that the landlord wouldn’t rent to us because he said he “didn’t know our habits.”  I think that meant we looked pretty disreputable with our long hair and long beards.  Tom and I laughed about it.  As we walked downtown someone yelled at us from a passing car:  “get a haircut!”  Again, we laughed.  Again, we became less and less sure of ourselves.  I can say this now because Tom died in 1997.  He cannot contradict me.

I had pretty much given up hope but Tom knew where Peter Koch lived, on Hartman Street, so he drove us there, and he knocked at Peter’s door.  The front door to Peter’s house had a homemade sign that read, “This door doesn’t exist.”

Peter answered the door that did exist:  the kitchen door.  I remember Peter said to Tom, “Sure, you can stay here.”   I was right behind Tom, so I pushed in afterward.  I was aware that Peter had not included me, but I was with Tom, and desperate.  I was his younger brother.  Tom could stay in Peter’s back room, with all of his books.  Peter had many books.  His bookshelves reached from floor to ceiling on three sides of the room.  I cannot begin to tell you the titles, but some of the authors’ names began with “W”:  Watts, Wilhelm, and on and on.  Many of the books had to do with Eastern religious thought.  Spiritual matters.  Poetic matters.  Important spiritual poetic matters that were wreathed in mystery.  The books remain in my mind.  I just cannot list them here.

Tom and I slept in Peter’s back room on a mattress he had.  We had our sleeping bags and blankets.

The next day Peter took us fishing at Gold Creek.  We didn’t have licenses.  Who needed anything that cost anything?  I remember cleaning fish and eating them that night, with the brown rice Peter had.  He had a large bag of rice.  Simple insurance against hunger, he said.

Peter called one of his neighbors a “damn thief.”  Then we went shopping for a hose and sprinkler by walking around the university district until we found the hardware.  Peter put them under his coat.  We would have taken Tom’s car back but it had a flat tire.  I remember pointing out that the tire was only 1/3 flat.  Just the bottom part.  However, we still had to change the tire.  Tom benefitted Peter in that Peter only had a bicycle for transportation, but Tom had a car.  And the car could take us to distant fishing sites.

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