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Snow Bird

August 13, 2019
Edgar Max Alden, Jr.

August 4, 2019

            I’m trying to collect my thoughts.  My nephew’s wife, Kristi, called me a couple three hours ago saying she heard that Eddie Alden had been found dead in his apartment this morning. I posted my grief on Facebook:  A photograph of Eddie and me.  A friend in Hillsboro, Oregon, telephoned me with his condolences.  Turns out he has more trouble in his life than I do, so I tried to console him.  In many ways Eddie lived an ideal life, certainly an unusual one. He profoundly affected me.

            He was his own man.  You might say he was developmentally challenged, but he lived on his own.  He invented his role in life.  He was like a super hero, working to help the forces of law and order on his bicycle, traveling alone from dusk to the wee hours of the night.  

            People in Billings knew him simply as “Snow Bird.”

            I was terribly saddened to learn that Eddie passed away.  I worried about the many others of us who cared about him.  He trained us to care about other people.

            Eddie’s sister, Pam Garza, worked as a nurse at the Lame Deer Clinic when I did, so I looked her up on Facebook.  That’s how I got in touch with her and her sister Edwina who both loved Eddie.  They invited me to speak at Eddie’s service at Crow Agency.  

            Of course, I said I would be proud to speak.  I’ll be in good company because Eddie had a knack for making friends with journalists, policemen, and pharmacists. 

            You might have seen Eddie in Billings.  He looked striking, a 300-pound man wearing a bright yellow and black fleece, pedaling slowly throughout downtown.  

            I met him 30 years ago at the old Crow Agency hospital, where the pharmacy was on the end of the building near an exit.  Another pharmacist told me “Eddie is pinned down by a bunch of rock-throwing kids on the back ramp!” Turns out Eddie was hunkered down behind some heavy screen and several grade-school kids were pelting him with gravel. Outraged, I ran outside and yelled at them to stop!  They ran away and Eddie came inside.    

            Anyway, that’s when I met Eddie.  I gave him a ride to Billings, where he had an apartment near Deaconess Hospital.  This was 1989.  Donovan said he had also given rides to Eddie, as did our hospital laboratory manager, Marvin Flaten.  Marvin was kind to Eddie and noted that Eddie didn’t drink or do drugs.  I heard him reassure Eddie that none of us would let him go hungry.  That was a kind of mantra that seemed to quiet his anxiety.  That we wouldn’t let him go hungry. I learned to recite that also.

            When we prepared medications for Eddie, he would take his pills to Marvin at the laboratory who had a big calendar.  Marvin would put a pill in each square of the calendar to demonstrate that the quantity would be sufficient to last until the next month.  If there weren’t quite enough, because the month had 31 days, Marvin and Eddie showed up for the one needed pill.

            I always enjoyed how Eddie sometimes changed people’s names to suit them better. Example:  We had a very attractive female pharmacist named Yvette, whom Eddie called “Lovette.” 

            Trouble was, Lovette didn’t return Eddie’s affectionate communications. What could I do?  My boss even asked me to tell Eddie not to visit the pharmacy so often.  Like, limit to twice a day.  This is the part of the story I like best.

            That evening as I drove Eddie back to Billings, I told him my boss’s request that he visit the pharmacy no more than twice a day.  Eddie was silent for a couple of minutes.  Then he said, “No one else has to follow a rule like that!”  

            Wow, I thought.  Then I said, “You are right, Eddie.  I’ll tell my boss what you said!”  I learned an important lesson that day about fairness from Eddie. Even my boss had to agree with Eddie.

            He told me how he went to Texas as a young man to learn how to make computers. In turn, I sang him songs from an opera I was learning, a Mozart opera, called “Bastien and Bastienne.”  I sang my part over and over and he laughed at the funny parts.  You know what?  When we performed the opera, Eddie came to the Babcock Theater and wore a business suit with necktie.

            For a while Eddie was homeless, living beneath a bridge between Crow and Hardin.  I remember he bought Raid! insect spray for the ants and fire crackers that he hoped would scare away harmful people.  

Fortunately, Marvin helped Eddie get a bed at the Montana Rescue Mission.  Marvin said he visited Eddie there.  “It kind of stank!” Marvin said, but the beds were decent.  Next thing I knew, Eddie said he had been 86’d from the Rescue Mission. Someone was bothering Eddie’s stuff, so he threw a rock at the guy.  I think that’s when Eddie lost one of his front teeth.  Gave me a glimpse of what life was like at the Rescue Mission.

            Eddie knew how to defend himself.  He kept a tape recorder and a camera handy to document things.  I remember once when he lived on 2nd Street North across from “Goofy’s Bar” he got arrested, but then they let him go.  “Wow!”  I said. “What happened, Eddie?”

            “This guy was trying to crowd into my apartment,” Eddie said.  Then, pulling a photograph out of his pocket, he showed me an angry-looking man entering a door with the number of Eddie’s apartment plainly visible near the perpetrator’s head.

            “I stabbed him.” Eddie said.  “What?” I asked.  “What with?”  “Barbecue fork.” answered Eddie.  The police apparently didn’t charge Eddie with a crime because he had evidence that the man he stabbed was being aggressive.  

            I could go on and on.  Eddie had a hard time getting an apartment, for a while.  My nephew Jon Angel went to the property management outfit and got a copy of the criteria they used to decide if a renter was a good prospect for the property owner.  It was clearly discriminatory against people with disabilities, and Eddie was disabled. I was never clear what his disability was, and I didn’t care, either.  Eddie needed a place to live.

            When the Crow Hospital moved to the new facility near the Little Bighorn Battlefield, Eddie was concerned that the Service Unit Director, Tennyson Doney, wouldn’t have a designated parking spot.  “I’m worried about where Tennessee will park,” he said.  I loved Eddie’s subtle turns of speech.

            Eddie celebrated all of the different holidays with us:  New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s, Fourth of July, his Birthday on July 19, Crow Fair third week in August, Halloween, Thanksgiving,  and Christmas.  The weeks leading up to each of these events were always busy for him.

            New Year’s eve was especially important.  Once he and I were the only ones still awake at my house, and it was midnight.  Eddie still had some fireworks left over from the previous fourth of July.  In fact it was a bottle rocket.  We went out on the porch where I lived near downtown in Billings and lit off a bottle rocket.  The rocket shot across the street and landed on the porch of a pair of 90-year-old spinsters, the Hansen sisters, before exploding with a loud bang.

            Eddie and I turned off all the lights and peered out the front window of our house before he left for his home.

            Another memorable New Year’s Eve was 1999.  Eddie, Emily Witcher, and I sat on our front porch watching the snow fall in silence.  The great millennium disaster didn’t happen.  No streetlights went out.  Everything seemed fine.  We wished each other happy new year and went our separate ways.  Just three souls together for a brief time, watching the year turn over.  Once, Eddie bought a new suit, complete with white shirt and necktie.  

            Sometimes when Eddie came to our house I fried him an egg or two.  

            One of the most exciting times with Eddie was a halloween when he had a particularly scary mask.  I don’t know where he got his masks, but they were not just scary.  No, they were combination wolf, African lion, and crazy hyena with a great shock of hair.  I talked him into wearing his mask and giving out candy to the next person to ring the doorbell.  When the five-year-old child saw Eddie, he screamed and sobbed and ran to his mother! That might be the only time Eddie was actually angry with me!  

            Helping Eddie move from one apartment to another was an adventure.  I think I only helped him do it a couple, maybe three times.  The first time, they were tearing down his apartment building next to Smith Chapel to put in a city parking garage.  Eddie lived on like, the third floor.  It was Wednesday—I had to work— and Eddie needed someone to help him carry out his stuff. Our kids’ friend, Emily Witcher had a car, and I agreed to store his belongings in our garage.

            She hauled stuff three days:  Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  Box after box of things.  Boxes with telephones, their curly wires dripping over the sides.  Tape recorders and cassette tapes, jumbled all over. Socks, double-A batteries, hair clippers, bicycle wheels, pill bottles, newspapers, bright orange signs that said, “Snowbird.”  More telephones.  More telephones.  I quit counting telephones and started counting bicycle wheels.  

            Saturday morning my nephew Jon and I showed up to help Eddie move.  The apartment was still full of Eddie’s things! At one point, I saw a dead mouse in amongst the stuff.  Eddie sort of grinned and threw it out the window.  

            I miss Eddie.  He was thrifty and kind.  He did like to tease the “BIA Cops,” carrying around a Budweiser box full of Pepsi at Crow Fair.

            * The time he recorded the highway patrol calling me in for speeding, then getting home before me to play it for my wife.  Then he played the recording for me as I ate supper.  Over and over again.

            * The time Lame Deer citizen Olivette Glenn told me how Eddie had saved her from some tough guys who were bothering her in Billings.  She told me Eddie pedaled over on his bike and made the tough guys leave her alone.

            * We went to buy him socks at JC Penney for his birthday.  He insisted on white cotton socks in packages of 8.  Two clerks swore up and down they were available only in packages of six.  Eddie looked all around until he found the packages of 8!

            * Snow melt.  He bought several stores out of salt because of an ice dam out behind his place. We’re talking hundred of pounds of salt. We are thinking he succeeded.  The ice had been a foot thick and a block long.

            * Eddie’s story is complicated and difficult.  However, he could glide around town on his bike.

            * How he managed to get 128 ounces of pop for the price of 64.  Of course he always got a lot of ice.  He used gift cards and coupons expertly.

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10 Comments
  1. Nicole O. permalink

    What a lovely account of a wonderfully eclectic life. Rest In Peace, Eddie. You’ll be remembered by many.

  2. Walt Gusler permalink

    I remember to great kind soul! Over a year or so ago there time escapes me I was in my Harley heading to church with my club when I stopped at 4th Ave and saw this gentleman being harrased by some other individual’s. I gunned my bike and pulled in front of them at which point they scattered! Snowbird introduced himself and asked if we could ride together, I couldn’t say no despite ending up late to church. So we rode up towards North Park him on his bike me in my Harley! I could tell he LL had a genuine kind soul! Only saw him a few time after that. Sad to hear the news of him passing. Rest in peace brother!

  3. Lynnette swinehart permalink

    I worked at the conoco on 6th Avenue north..He always came in to fill his huge cup with ice..never once causing any trouble..always trying to help law enforcement…with good intentions..so sorry to hear of his passing..seeing him on his bicycle all over town..going to miss seeing him around town

  4. Ronda Harris permalink

    I remember Eddie when he was much younger . Always a kind soul. Took care of his dad many times when I worked in Hardin hosp and then at the old Crow hosp. His life was not easy. May he rest in peace.

  5. Kathy Stedman permalink

    Eddie was a customer of ours at The Bike Shop. He was a very nice man. So polite all the time. It’s very sad that he has passed away. I’m sure he will be riding his bicycle in Heaven keeping tabs on everyone! RIP Eddie

  6. Tayler Reichert permalink

    I’ve know Eddie for almost 5 years. He came to Wells Fargo Bank almost every week. Sometimes he would come in daily to tell me about his day cleaning up Downtown Billings. I would help him order his flashy neon green/yellow reflector jackets and make sure he had a large supply on shorts for the hotter months. He was definitely considered family, we would pitch in for Christmas gifts and Birthday Cakes. Eddie always held a place in my heart and will surely be missed. He was loved by so many and I am so proud of him for teaching me patience.

  7. Karen permalink

    I live in Helena but my son is a police officer in Billings. I went on ride alongs with my son and met Snowbird. I was impressed with his dedication to the Billings police department and their dedication to him. On my ride alongs, Snowbird was a fixture of the night shift complete with appropriate red and blue lights on his bike’s handle bars. My son told me of times off duty cops rode bikes along side of him. I am saddened to hear of his passing.

  8. Natasha permalink

    He was a snitch known to all

  9. Melissa aragon permalink

    Nooo! There has to be an ending to his life story!! Your choice of words or how you explained his character was so detailed and I hung on each word, feeling my tears gather . This has got to be one of the most genuine heartfelt testimonies I’ve ever heard for someone who has passed on. In my entire life from childhood to now I can’t remember one week go by of not seeing him ride past me. I have to admit I was a smidge peturbed in my 20’s as I parked on the side of hrdc at 11 pm at night , talking to a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile , snow bird rode by, and was immediately SUSPECIOUS of my friend and I as we literally weren’t breaking laws just talking in the night under a street light. And sure enough here roll in the cops. They found us to be innocent of breaking any laws that moment..but I had bad habits of not paying my fines so I had a warrant and that was the very first time I saw the inside or ycdf. Man I was so pissed with him 😂. The end result for me though was he actually did me a favor without knowing so..and I ended up sitting my fines out never to deal with that particular issue again. *Sigh. Eddie, was a very very good soul. And he will always be remembered by this community and his name will forever be brought up in rememberance of his deeds and sometimes ordeals he got into..may he rest in peace and we all know where that man went in his after life..he is finally home and without one blemish in heaven. Now would someone please finish his story all the way?!?

  10. Lyne Jordan permalink

    Amazing. I didn’t know Snow Bird but after reading these comments, I wish I would have . The one comment about being an snitch shows me he wanted to do the right thing and tried living live that way…

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