Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Century plus one

On September 16th, 1908 on the North Fork of the Milk River in a small log cabin, a boy was born. He was the seventh child in a family of fourteen. A young woman from England who would see all of her children be born and live, brought this young man into the world. What a life he would see. He quit high school after his freshman year to help support his family. He would mop the floors of the school he used to walk. A grown man during the Great Depression, he would ride the rails and see every state except Maine in the lower fourty-eight.

He rode Blaine County horseback as a brand inspector in the 1920's. In northern Blaine County one night he came upon a young Russian couple. The woman was in labor and 40 miles from the nearest doctor. No problem. The man helped deliver the baby, as he had helped his mother deliver his sister's children. They could barely speak English but named their child for him. All in a days work.

In the 1930's, he was climbing a cattle rail car to check how full it was. Almost to the top, a board snapped and he fell to the ground breaking his back. After almost six months in the hospital, with a plaster cast that covered his head, neck and back, he would walk away to go back to work.

World War II broke out and the man enlisted but, because of his back, couldn't pass a physical. His two younger brothers as well as two brothers-in-law would all serve with distinction, survive the war and return home. Although he would never say out loud, not serving was the biggest disappointed of his life.

In 1962 he met a woman 23 years younger than him. She was recently divorced with two young girls. He thought her the chance of a lifetime and made his play and married her. At age 54 his first son was born and 15 months later a second.

Never thinking he would live so long or have so much, my dad quit drinking and smoking when I was 17. When my brother Bill graduated from high school he turned to me and said, "I can die tomorrow. My boys did something I never did." When my brother graduated from college a year after me, Dad strutted down E Street in Billings and would have taken all comers. No one would have whipped him. A prouder moment in anyone's life I never saw.

He never yelled. Kind, gentle and hardly spoke a harsh word. He raised my sisters like they were his own and they loved as much in return.

Never one to use the "f" word, I was taking Dad to a birthday party for Old Man Curly. "How old is Old Man Curly?" I asked. "He's 90" my father replied "That's old." I looked at him and said, "Dad you're 84." "Yeah, but I ain't fucking 90."

He passed away quietly in his sleep November 11, 1994 at age 86. It is ironic that a man who wanted so much to serve his country and considered himself, at least in part, a failure for not having served would pass on Veteran's Day. He lived a great, full life that I can only hope to have. Not a day has past that I haven't thought about him or missed him greatly.

Keep the crib board close Pop, but don't get in a hurry to play me again. Don't think I don't remember who won the last one. You got lucky and I'm ready to get things even. Just not right now.

Thanks for everything. Thanks for showing me all the things you did. Thanks for the life knowledge you dispensed that I am only now understanding. Thanks for telling me when I get excited to "just settle down, don't make rash judgements. Sometimes we aren't ourselves. Step back and look at the situation, then you'll probably see it better."

Happy birthday Dad, to this day you are missed. Nothing makes me happier than when someone asks "where'd you learn that?" and I say "from my Dad."


ree said...

A beautiful tribute.

Milk River Madman said...

Thanks for the nice words Ree and thanks for following this mindless drivel. The bigger story for the Walt Gibbs Memorial will come close to Nov 11 and its a great story. Please stayed tuned for the read. C

pam said...

*dabs a little tear in the eye* ... yes, a beautiful tribute indeed. I've lost both parents so I can sympathize entirely. Not a day goes by that your life isn't impacted and those memories get more important as the years go by.

kmwthay said...

oh my word. this is a truly touching tribute to you dad.

Milk River Madman said...

Pam, I consider myself lucky to have had him so long. Two of my best friends had each lost both of their parents long before my dad passed.

Kym, I'm working on a good story about the annual Walt Gibbs Memorial where we drink Olympia beer and toast the fallen. The Prodigy wrote a little about it here http://crownrocks.blogspot.com/2008/11/november-11th.html

Ralph said...

I will certainly never forget Walt's gentle nature. Except when the Cubs would bring in Lee Smith to close the game. I still laugh to this day when I think about him cussing and turning off the TV and saying this damm game is over. He was a very good man Chip. I enjoyed your tribute. RG

Tanaya said...

You can always tell a good story, but the story becomes great when the subject is very close to your heart.

Milk River Madman said...

Ralph, you were always one of his favorites. The Lee Smith reference is a classic. The mofo was a stud and the Old Man thought he was a choker. Good times. Matt, Cleo, Joe, Ricci, Margaritte. At least they all have good company. I'll never forget what you said after Dad's funeral. "You were strong today man. Never shed a tear. Your Dad would have been proud." I'll never forget that you, Jim, Adrian, Dan, Delmer and Len made the trek to support my family and me. It meant the world.

Tanaya, thank you so much. The greatest compliment I can give is to say " I wish my Dad could have met you, he would have liked the hell out of you"

Jen said...

... a great generation of people. If we ever produce a generation like them again, we will have accomplished something worthwhile. We just don't build 'em like that anymore.

God bless him. And you, too!

TROLL Y2K said...

Great post. Absolutely superlative ending paragraph.

fishy said...

Most of us parents .... hope to accomplish what you Dad did. Honor, respect and love from his children.
Beautiful post.

wingaling said...

I am always so proud of you, but this is outstanding.