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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.

One person’s experience with COVID

All of us in our house have gotten two vaccine shots plus a booster before testing positive.

January 1, 2022

Still in the throes of COVID. 

The afternoon of the 27th I started to feel achy and congested.  My spouse P. had had similar symptoms the day before, but she thought missing her asthma inhaler made her chest hurt.  I remember cleaning the kitchen the morning of the 26th—dishes stacked to the ceiling with Norwegian meatball detritus and various charcuterie plates, dozens of beverage bottles, pitchers, glasses, cracker plates. 

What a time we had Christmas day evening playing games with Bob, Heather, Olivia, Josiah!  Also, Kate and her dog Maya had been over.  No wonder the dishes were dirty.  In my mind I kept hearing the Spike Jones classic, “Leave the dishes in the sink, mama!”

Then the night of the 27th my body–back, legs, neck, head– hurt bad enough I could hardly sleep.  I’d cough; down the hall 20 feet I heard sister-in-law Dolly answer with a cough of her own.  That’s when I had the nightmares that the whole world seemed to be a suffering face as big as a barn door.  I coughed mud at it.  Next morning P. asked if I wanted a COVID test.

She found an opening for a COVID test appointment at the CVS pharmacy, but it would take 1-2 days for a result.  Good, I’m thinking.  Probably a more sensitive test than the quick test.  Remember:  high sensitivity means low false negatives.  High specificity means low false positive results.  Of course, they don’t tell that to the lay public.  Instead they use the term “accuracy” and I don’t know precisely what that means, except in terms of plus/minus.

I was dismayed that the CVS pharmacist had me take my own nasal swab sample because I’m not trained to do it properly.  I swirled the swab which looked like a Q-tip, except the swab part was harder and more compact. Because I was in the passenger seat I couldn’t hear the instructions the pharmacist rattled off at the drive-through.  Did I mention we got the test at the drive-through?  Sorry I forgot.  I glanced at the instruction sheet.  Said you don’t have to poke the swab far into each nostril, but to circle inside three times on each side.  I did.  Then we poked the swab into a tube that had liquid.  I wasn’t clear whether to put the business end into the liquid, but P. was sure we needed to, so I did.  Then we returned home and I slept until the next day.  I took two extra-strength acetaminophen tablets every 6 hours for pain.  They helped quite a bit with the back pain, leg pain, arm pain, headache.  I drank coffee that tasted like colored water because I was afraid my headache might be caused from my not drinking my usual coffee.

No result from the test that day, or the next, but the following morning, after a much better night with less coughing, we got the result: positive test.

We didn’t check any temperatures, so I don’t know if any of us had a fever, but all three of us had similar symptoms.  The morning of the 30th, P. and Dolly went to the ER after our son Todd recommended she do so.  Dolly got a COVID test and a flu test, but the COVID was positive, so she got the monoclonal antibody shots.  I called my internist, Dr. Malters, who ordered the antibodies for me.  P. got the COVID test from her physician and the next morning the antibodies.

I didn’t notice a complete loss of taste or smell. In fact I had a great appetite throughout. I tried some of Dolly’s Sprite, but it tasted like carbonated water only. Soup tasted and smelled fantastic. I drank some white wine that tasted like vinegar.

We all feel much better, but still have fatigue, some headache.

Do you know about antibodies?  These are normally produced by our body’s B-Cells in response to infection.  The antibodies themselves are usually Y-shaped molecules that bind to viruses and inactivate them.  The antibody treatments are not well tested, but seem to be effective clinically.

Nor did we party New Year’s Eve. In fact we went to bed at our usual 7 pm.

Anvil looking for a hammer…

Anvil made from a piece of steel rail.

December 25, 2021

I feel Christmasy today.  A social media post by a fellow NOVA theater actor, Manni Ratliff, showed him ecstatic, pleased to be the owner of a new smithy forge!  

Who would have guessed? I have an anvil (albeit homemade out of a railroad rail) in my garage!  I got it from my brother-in-law John Aseltine and now I’m going to give it to Manni when I get the chance.  He messaged me that he would be honored to accept my offering.

At this point I’m the only one at our house who is up amongst the napping folk.  It’s noon hour, but P. has been up cooking and baking Norwegian meat balls since early.  Dolly, recovering from total knee replacement surgery, is napping after a morning of catching up with her friends on the phone.

Faithful dog, Gunther, is on my neck, mostly sitting on the back of the chair.  Lucy, Dolly’s miniature schnauzer puppy, is nestled by my foot.  Probably thinking about urinating on the floor.  Or pooping.  That seems to be her strong suit.  That and cruelly nipping at my fingers and toes.

I like puppies, only insofar as they eventually become mature dogs who do their business outdoors.  And quit biting me and chewing on my stuff. My big sister announced she “hates puppies. And kittens. Kittens’ mothers, at least, clean up after the children.

Santa was excellent to me this year.  I am nearly 73 and I don’t want much stuff.  In fact, my idea of a good time is to get rid of stuff, such as the useful anvil described above.  I did receive a book of sea shanties, three pair of pants, two shirts, a fantastic book and a calendar of Hawaiian flowers.  I’m sure I forgot something.

Sure, there were the usual bottles of wine and popcorn and cookies.  Lots of cookies from neighbors who say they are glad I clear their sidewalks of snow.  I clear their sidewalks with my 24″ Briggs and Stratton snow thrower so I can later freely walk Gunther around the block without falling on the ice.  Selfish reasons.  The cookies are nice, though, and the candy.  I like to clear the sidewalks, makes me feel like a big shot.  I haven’t been a big shot since 1974, when a Marine sergeant told me to “let them know who is the boss” when I was conducting close order drill for a lot of Marines.  

I drilled soldiers exactly once in my 7 years of Marine Corps experience.  I think I could do it again, but there’s some pitfalls to guard against.  When ordering “column right” or “column left” you have to start the command on the proper foot or the soldiers in the platoon can tell you don’t know shit about marching.  Suffice it to say I don’t know much about marching.

I would refer you to the chapter in Joseph Heller’s book, Catch-22 , when he describes how Lieutenant Scheistkopf won a pennant drilling soldiers at the airbase in Santa Ana, California. After I got out of jail the Marine Corps sent me to the airbase in Santa Ana. I conducted close order drill there myself, as described above.

Nor did I win a pennant.

Uphill one way. . .

Henry, actually. Recently.

Winter Solstice, 2021

My childhood memories are jumbled like a UPS truckload of Amazon packages.  Yes, many were sunny and optimistic, as I suspect yours were, but I had my share of blizzards to brave.  Like many blizzards, I often endured them alone. What a strange phenomenon. Perhaps you endured yours solo also. Not all of them, but the most memorable.

I’m recalling things in 1954. That was a tough year for us because Daddy died a few months previously of a brain tumor. His promising career as a journalism professor at the university in Missoula was finished.

Amazes me my mother let me out of the house for me to stump stiffly around to the backyard where the wind made my head ache and my eyes water.  I was four years old!

Maybe today’s not so good for playing outdoors, I thought, as I crunched my rubber overshoes into the icy snow.  My jeans were lined with flannel but my legs got cold anyhow. Normally, I’d find a friend or two outside. 

My friend Mike Kohler, especially, was apt to be outdoors playing on any day of the week—even Sundays—because his family didn’t make him go to Sunday school. I had to skip out on Sundays. I could do it because nobody else in my family had to go, only me. If I went to Sunday School I’d walk a short way up the alley to the Bickel’s house and ride with them.

One snowy day Mike and I planned to take a day off from Mrs. Bloom’s kindergarten to play in the snow.  We met as we usually did for kindergarten, walked to the corner of the block, but took a right, then another right down the alley back to my house.  Mother taught second grade at Jefferson School.  My older brother and sister were in grade school and high school, so nobody saw me return home to retrieve my collection of little rubber army men.  Mike and I built a snow fort to kill the army men by throwing snowballs at them.  We played all morning, then went home, as if from our half-day kindergarten.  Trouble was Mike’s mother knew we finished too early.

Later Larry Bickel chanted at us, “Hookey players, hockey players.”  I had to ask my mother what that meant.

Beating oneself into submission, perhaps.

What a hike! Gunther fell asleep in his water dish when we got back to our car.

December 20, 2021

The past two years have brought much grief and loss to many of us.  And yet we try to put one day in front of the last.  Many happy futures might help ameliorate and cushion the last.  How are we to go on?  

The same as I often dream guilty memories, things done and left undone, a path toward the North stretches through the wooded valley.  I see Kalispell Rock in the distance, standing proudly amid the aspen.  The aspen, because the hillside has been clearcut of pine, fir, larch, and cedar.  The scrubby aspen allows us to slide down the hillside, but prevents easy passage up.  Not easy if you are trying to reach Kalispell Rock.  Best way is to find your way to the ridgeline between the Colville and Priest Lake drainages, then follow North along an ancient trail.

North is the mysterious, cold region of death and the resting phase, always followed by East, South, West.  Never been different, really.  East for awakening, South for work, West for harvest, then resting again.

I go on and on like this because I “cannot write.”  If I could write, I would have written professionally.  You see, I never did.  Now I am at wits end, wanting to scribble some sense, not able to.

I do not want to be talked out of my grief, I came by it honestly and I own it. I lost my best and oldest friend on the planet, Mike Fiedler, amongst a list of other dear friends who have passed on, over the great divide. I’m thinking of Lloyd Yellowrobe and others. I do not need reassurance of my ability to scrawl words. I scrawl many words, and many of those words could well be edited out. Editing didn’t hurt me, never did hurt me. My folksy voice does me no favors. Needs editing. I grimace.

A dear friend, Duke LaRance, berated himself, shouted curses at himself as he wrote. I was incredulous at first, but he is having fair success these days, so I am thinking, not such a bad method. I may hope for success like his.

I learned in college that I cannot write, paid plenty for a professor to beat it into my head. Slowly, like ice melting, I’ve regained my courage, my writer’s voice, my ability to put one thing after another. It’s good. Friends who are encouraging are good.

I’m thinking of hiring a counselor again, one who will make me pay attention to my stories, the ones I am writing for my grandchildren.