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Fields of barley near Dillon

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Jim Feathers’ daughter, wife Barbara, himself, and P. having supper recently in Dillon.

July 25, 2017

I confess.  I often nap after P. leaves for work in the morning.  This morning at 10 our daughter phoned me to shriek, “Get up!  Do something!”  Well, she was in Minnesota driving to their cabin to have it appraised for sale so they can move to SD, C.

Whenever I feel especially lazy all I have to do is consider my old friend Wade Hansen, the guy who climbed two mountains last weekend.  Or I consider our oldest son who Sunday completed an eleven-hour ordeal in which he swam 6 miles, bicycled 105, and ran 26.  Makes my trips around the block with Gunther seem like child’s play.

However, these super athletes clouded my vision so that I had difficulty contemplating ordinary athletes, the kind for whom a trip around the block is, well, a hike.

Of course, I am writing about my old friend, Jim Feathers, with whose family P. and I dined at the 50th reunion.  His wife Barb is a union carpenter.  Jim is a college professor at the University of Washington. Their daughter is going to UW next year, I believe.

I was the new kid in town.  In 1962, the year my mother took a job teaching college courses in education at Western Montana College in Dillon, I found it hard to adjust to being tormented by the other junior high students.  I mean, I didn’t torment anyone, but for some reason four or five of my fellows must have felt the need to physically and emotionally bother me each day as we walked home across this huge park.  Such a huge park it was hard for me to run across, even to escape.  It was even harder to run across while getting the “Struckman treatment.”  I don’t recall much more than the name they gave my hazing, but I do remember getting tossed to the ground.

One day in the eighth grade during art class Jim Feathers invited me to sit with him and a few others.  Turns out his dad also taught at Western and since he knew a bit about my family, I guess he considered me to be a legitimate person.  The hazing stopped.

Jim and I became best friends, inseparable.  Of course, when we went to Methodist summer camp at Flathead Lake the counselor separated us when we announced to her that we were inseparable.  Had one of the best weeks of my life.  I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere that they were liberal with sex education and one of the female counselors had me and the rest of a coed group leaf through a Playboy magazine!  She complained the women didn’t look good to her, but to me they were big and bouncy and thoroughly delightful.  Has to be one of the highlights of my high school years.  I don’t know if they did that with Jim’s group.

Well, I had a summer job moving irrigation pipes for Joe Helle, a major rancher in the Dillon area.  Hell, Joe ran cattle and sheep all the way from Yellowstone Park to Dillon, but he had to keep his barley crops watered with sprinklers.  That’s where me and a couple others came in.  The job meant getting up at dawn, driving five miles to the barley, shutting off the line of 50 40-foot pipes, then moving them about sixty feet.  We moved about three lines apiece, me and a couple other irrigators.  Then it was back home until about 4 p.m. when we’d move the pipe lines again.  We kept the lines straight by aiming them at a distant mountain.  Sometimes there’d be fish or a snake in the pipelines.  At the beginning of the summer we watered dirt.  By the end of the season the barley was so tall it was hard to walk through.

About the summer before our senior high school year I invited Jim to fill a job opening moving the pipes.  We got about $10/day, quite a lot in 1966.  Trouble was, Joe paid me a bonus for being in charge of teaching Jim the ropes.  Joe let me drive the truck and tractor when needed.  When Jim learned about this he grew angry, since we both did the same amount of work.  In fact, Jim slept in our basement and every morning I’d wake him at 4 a.m. and we’d eat cereal in silence.  I think the strenuous work, the getting up in the dark, the cold cereal, and the fact that I got paid more than he did, put our friendship on the rocks.  We didn’t speak, until at one point we were practically punching each other out.  Jim was so angry he threatened to burn down Joe Helle’s by-then golden fields of barley.

Jim and I didn’t speak our senior year until Jim extended his hand to me and suggested we mend our friendship.  I took it and promised to be his friend once more.  That was more than 50 years ago and we’re still friends.

Mountain Climbing

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Best Western Paradise Inn, Dillon, Montana.

July 22, 2017

At my 50th high school class reunion my first impression was to encounter Wade Hansen.  Well, not exactly.  Two anonymous looking old women looked through their pre-printed name tags for my name, but couldn’t find it.  I didn’t tell them my name because I wanted to know if they recognized me.  Wade was talking to an ancient woman and hadn’t noticed me.  To my surprise the aged woman was the same age as I was.

Hard to find enough superlatives when talking about Wade Hansen.  At the ten-year reunion he had the most children.  Yesterday, Wade and I enthusiastically shook hands.  His hand seemed about three sizes larger than mine and made of steel coated with … with whatever fingers are coated with.  Finger material, I guess.  You see, in 1966 Wade and I set a mountain climbing speed record for climbing Mount Torrey in the Pioneer Range about thirty miles, or so, from Dillon, Montana.  I told Wade it was my principal claim to fame.  We were about seventeen when we — Wade, actually, got a wild hair to race to the top of the mountain and invited me along.

“Do you remember how long it took us?” he asked.  I replied two hours.  “One hour, forty minutes,” he said.  Then he added that he and his kids were going to climb two mountains this weekend.  He invited me along.  Scared the hell out of me.  I told him I had to work (I did).  Later, I got an idea for an excuse that would sound plausible.  “No thanks, I can’t climb the mountain.  I’ve got to get a colonoscopy,” I would lie.

Wade wore bib overalls and a straw hat and exuded great physical strength.  I couldn’t seem to evade him, even though I wiggled into and through knots of my classmates.  I eventually parked myself near a couple of intellectuals, Ed Mooney and Jim Feathers and his family.  Wade caught up with me, still with boundless energy.  He got my name and address and phone number and promised to call me when he got ready to climb the nearly thirteen thousand foot mountains in the Bear Tooth range.  Didn’t help that I protested that I’m so out of condition I can barely hike two miles on the flat.  I tried to fog the issue by changing the subject to our oldest son who is an iron man athlete.  “I’ll get a hold of him so he can climb too,” promised Wade.

The taste of pig wire

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July 19, 2017

Writing a creative nonfiction piece about my late uncle Carl Ralph Bonde, Jr., is like tackling a ball of barb wire.  There the story rolls up in the middle of a field, there I go toward it, but when I get to trying to work with it I come back with my hands bleeding from the barbs.  My dad called it “Bob Wire.”  I am Facebook friends with someone who uses that name.

See?  I start toward the tangle of wire, but soon find myself in orbit where the pokes don’t hurt me.  The barb wire analogy works especially well because my uncle’s childhood home, on the outskirts of Kalispell, Montana, had barb wire.  Wire woven into six-inch squares, or pig wire, down below, and a couple strands of barb wire above.  I remember trying to get over the pig wire and under the barbs.  Had to soften the tension by kicking the pig wire to break it down to give me room.  I remember tasting the wire as I crawled over, and I remember the way it smelled.  Tasted the way any other metallic thing tastes, such as the kinds of things a kid puts in his mouth.  I have forgotten a lot about how metal things tasted because the metallic item most … Hell, I admit putting tinfoil into my mouth to lick off gravy or some such.  Sort of a tingly taste, possibly because of generated electricity, such as one can get by putting a zinc nail and a piece of copper tube into a lemon and measuring the electrical out put with a volt ohmmeter.

Our oldest son, for my birthday, sent me a meter along with the wires, alligator clips, zinc coated nails, and pieces of copper so that I could measure the electricity produced by a glass of beer.  I think the glass of beer made 0.00016 volts, or something, measurable, but tiny.

I think my interest in science stems from the trouble I used to get into playing with my uncle Carl’s things at my grandparent’s house near Kalispell.  The best scientific apparatus lay hidden in the recesses of the garage and barn.  Took some time and effort on my part to dig them up so I could play with them.

I got the boot from Community Day Care

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July 18, 2017

I’ve been reading “The Best American Essays of 2015” and can’t put it down.  I recommend it whole heartedly.  Especially if you are like me (and I don’t mean to be insulting) and have trouble reading an entire book cover to cover.

This morning started at 0615 with my usual confusion as I tried to figure out my dream/waking worlds.  I crept down to Gunther’s kennel and surprised him, for once.  I must boast here.  When we crept out for the morning crapping, I caught the whole works behind him with my gloved hand.  No poop touched the ground!

My confession:  I’ve been removed from the board of directors of Community Day Care and Enrichment!  CDC is a Billings institution dating back to 1969, when First Congregational Church and the Junior League of Billings created it as Billings’ first not-for-profit child care.  My ouster came as a shock, but the board’s chairman said I had outstayed my term of six years, and, therefore, outstayed my welcome.  I admit to feeling a sense of loss, as though part of me has gone, the part that cared about the child care.

Licking my wounded pride (why hadn’t I quit the board, instead of waiting for them to fire me?) I’ve decided to attend my 50th high school graduation reunion.  I confess again.  I mostly want to see what the others look like after this major period.  God I hope they look older than I do, because I’ll feel nearly better after the day care thing.

Grandmother’s family tree

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Here are Celine Wichstrom and Samantha Angel, in the old country, in Oslo, Norway.  How are they related?  Well, a Norwegian by the name of Wichstrom had a bunch of children, some of whom migrated to the USA.  Celine’s forebears stayed in Norway and Samantha’s opted for the states.  Samantha’s dad, Chris Angel, noticed a family resemblance.  At least they have blue eyes and blonde hair.

My grandmother’s maiden name was Wichstrom.  She was Samantha’s great great grandma.

Catching poop and diagnosing sleep apnea.

July 6, 2017

This morning’s 7 a.m. dog walking started amiably with an encounter with a woman and her large white dog named Tobal, who seemed only bored with Gunther’s antics.  “Play with me!  Chase me!” Gunther seemed to say.  “Ehhh…” Tobal seemed to answer.  His owner acted only slightly amused as she hurried to the next block.  Well, she didn’t exactly hurry.  She had Tobal on one of those retractable leashes that allowed her dog to sniff trees and bushes and pee on this and that.  Gunther and I held back some to let them get ahead of us.  I don’t leash him for our morning jaunts.

I am happy I invented a new method for cleaning up after Gunther.  I’m used to him walking a certain way before he hunches down for a bowel movement, then letting fly with three or four of his …um…turds.  Gunther always swaggers when he walks, but he swaggers a bit extra before a BM.

This morning, however, Gunther’s swaggering fooled me into getting my plastic poop bag out ahead of time.  I had my hand in the bag fingers extended when he squatted.  I hurried up behind him as he looked intensely at his horizon and I managed to pick up his initial turd, then catch the remainder of his output with my gloved…er…bagged hand.  I had only to close my fingers around the warm stuff, invert the bag, and— no muss, no fuss, nothing on the neighbor’s lawn.  Well, maybe a trace from that first one.  I wouldn’t want to sit on the spot.

This will be my new M.O. for morning walks, but especially for the middle day walks when his output tends to be squishier and more apt to stick to the neighbor’s grass.

Occurs to me that everyone might not understand why I walk Gunther around the block to defecate on the neighbor’s lawns.  You see, Gunther refuses to poop on his own turf unless he is ill or has no choice.  He is a bit more liberal with the pee.  I’ve seen him pee on the tree in front of our place, but he never poops there.  He insists on pooping on the opposite side of the block about as far away from our house as you can get.  One of my strategies is to keep him in the house 15 minutes or so after he gets up in the morning so he’ll feel a bit more urgency in pooping.  Sometimes this works and I don’t have to walk him farther than around the corner.  But I digress.

Still feeling kind of high and giddy from my experience catching Gunther’s poop, I prepared to visit a doctor, a sleep specialist, who may diagnose me with sleep apnea so that I can get fitted for a CPAP, a kind of World War II gas mask to wear comfortably to bed each night.  And to scare my niece’s son, no doubt.

This morning Dr. Kohler examined me and asked me numerous questions about my sleeping and my propensity to feel drowsy in the daytime.  He explained that untreated sleep apnea is dangerous to one’s health.  One is at higher risk of heart disease, strokes, and motor vehicle accidents because of poor sleep and a propensity to fall asleep while driving.  He also explained that CPAPs don’t resemble the masks worn by fighter pilots anymore.  They sometimes fit over the nose only and are lighter and less intrusive, he said.

He stays busy, he said.  He makes his diagnoses based on sleep studies, in which his patients are festooned with wires and other devices to detect problems with sleep.  He is booked up for months ahead, such is the ubiquity of sleeping problems here in Billings.  My own appointment for a sleep study will not be until mid-September.  I promise I’ll fill everyone in later.  The instructions invited me to bring in my own pillow and blanket.

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Less than patriotic this fourth of July

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July 4, 2017

Not feeling terribly patriotic rosy.  Even then, we’ll celebrate with hamburgers and hotdogs and some watermelon.  Oh yes, beer.  I bought a sixer of “Blue Moon Belgian White” Belgian Style Wheat Ale.  For a guy like me who is still looking askance at the Belgian Captain of the S.S. Leopoldville, I seem to be running into Belgia.  I mean Belgium, quite frequently, what with Gunther, my Brussels Griffon, whom most of you know, as I do, as my honey child.

I should let you know about our trip to D.C. this last few days.  We took our granddaughter, Olivia Quinn Struckman, to her home.  This time, Gunther stayed at the Animalodge Dog Resort and Day Care in Laurel.  It is a place to board your dog, but they have dog day camp as well.  I had taken Gunther to day camp several times to get him used to the Animalodge Dog Resort and Day Care.

When I reserved a spot at this premier dog destination for Gunther, the woman asked me if we wanted him to enjoy day camp for a day, or perhaps every other day?  I said I wanted Gunther to attend camp daily.  Hoped he wouldn’t get tired of camp life.  Camp.  A woman at church asked me to consider being a camp counselor at Camp Miminagish, but I have to work.  I still work one day each week, but I take call one week out of three.  These are becoming burdensome, especially when it cuts into my being a camp counselor.

I know Gunther enjoys Animalodge because he invariably smiles broadly when we are reunited. although it’s hard to tell with this beast if he is smiling or snarling, though.  In this last case my dear niece Becky and her son Jack picked up Gunther and brought him home.  I reposted a photograph on Facebook that Becky took of Gunther sitting beside her son.

Anyway, I’m still sore at the Belgian captain of the ship where my uncle died on Christmas eve, 1944.  However, the beer and Gunther pretty much have neutralized my ill feelings.  However, the whole thing about warfare in general have me feeling not terribly patriotic.