Three older sisters welcomed him into the world August 12, 1934. They had great dreams for him, as all doting sisters do for their baby brothers. His life would come dangerously close to ending when, on October 18, 1935, during a 6.2 magnitude earthquake in Helena, Montana, a chunk of the wall fell into the crib where he had been lying just moments before. (Years later, his then-wife would miss the 7.4 magnitude Hebgen Lake Earthquake on August 17, 1959, as she had been camping there the previous night.)
He grew up in rough and tumble Butte, graduated from Boys’ Central in 1952, and made his way to Carroll College where he studied to be a teacher. One of his best pals was Maurice Mulcahy, a police officer in his adult life, and the pair could find trouble at every turn. When they were just wee lads, during World War II, between 19940 and 1942, Wings cigarettes were being sold in the US. Each pack contained a trading card with the photo and information for US fighter planes of the day. The boys, being fairly industrious, were ambling down Park Street when they came upon a distributor truck making deliveries to the grocers on the street. They found the truck open and inside, they discovered a case of Wing cigarettes. They were crazy about collecting the cards and while they were not interested in the cigarettes, they could not pass up the temptation.They took the case and stashed it in their cave, a hole in the ground above their homes in Dublin Gulch at North Wyoming Street. A smidgen of guilt riddled them, though, so they went to St Mary Church to confess their sins. During their confession, the good Father told them, “It is a sin to steal, but it is also a sin to waste.” After performing their penance, the lads discussed their dilemma and arrived at the only logical conclusion for eight year old boys at the time. They went to the cave, opened the case, and started smoking the cigs! (According to my calculations, at twenty-four cigs per pack, ten packs per carton, and ten cartons per case, that’s 2,400 cigarettes.) While Moe admitted that it took some time, they managed to smoke every cigarette. Neither was a smoker before that incident. Both became smokers thereafter. And no. It did not occur to either of them that the priest would have happily collected the cigarettes FROM them and smoked them himself!
At Carroll College, he drank Hires Orange pop with rum. He was a fun-loving guy who, upon meeting his soon-to-be wife, met his match. She was quiet, studying to be a nurse, and not the least bit impressed with the Butte boy and his ways. No one can really say what brought them together. And thankfully, they got together. They were married in Butte on December 27, 1958 after a most romantic (insert sarcasm here) proposal. The proposal? In a letter to her in October that year, he offered that he would be home for a few days over Christmas from the Army and there was probably time to get married if she wanted to do that. And so… They did.
As a teacher, he served in Wisdom, Ramsay, and Butte. His career was really based at Butte High where he was the typing, general business, and driver’s ed teacher. While not a coach, he was the coaches’ coach. They turned to him to keep stats, score books, the clock, or anything else that was needed. No one was too enamored of the pole vault in those days, so he judged the pole vault. The teams always needed extra chaperones to travel, especially to Kalispell and Libby, so he chaperoned. When he kept the score book, he always edited the information, keeping it colorful, literally. He used purple and green felt tip pens only ~ and usually added some witticism to the details of the game, whether the location, the date, or some other mundane piece of information. He was always behind the scenes, taking care of whatever was necessary to ensure that things ran smoothly. On Friday during Lent, he boarded the bus and asked all the team to bow their heads for a blessing. He then delivered special dispensation to the Catholics on the team from not eating meat on Fridays during Lent, a blessing endorsed by then pastor Father Kevin O’Neill.
He had a rather eclectic sense of humor. He allowed Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He loved Hee Haw. He never allowed Three’s Company or One Day at a Time. He reveled in the non-sequitur and each member of the family had a line that would set off the stream of all the other lines. His favorite joke at the dinner table, especially when there was new company, was: How many tacos does it take to shingle the roof of a doghouse? It depends on whether you walk to work or take your lunch.
He and his loving wife would raise nine children, five girls and four boys. They celebrated their 36th wedding anniversary in 1994, not knowing it would be their last. Just two days after the dinner celebration at the Uptown Café, he had a stroke. And two days later, after all those children were able to say goodbye and release him, he died on December 31, 1994 at the tender age of 60. The youngest child was 13. The first three grandchildren were under the age of four. And his wife was left in shock. Her partner, confidante, and best friend was gone.
Most days, I talk with him. Some days, I go to the cemetery where he was placed in the frozen ground in his deep green shining casket. He was a simple, dedicated, industrious man with a memory for details, a sense of humor that few understood at first, and a reluctant Christmas figure, helping Santa out with visits to many homes and parties in town during the last third of his life.
And today, twenty years later, I can see his mark on each of us. We have his sense of humor. We aspire to his commitment to family and community. And we love, maybe not as he loved (without saying much), but with the same depth of care and concern.
It is a blessing to be his daughter. It is a curse to be without him. Love you madly, dad. How many tacos does it take ….