Bury Me In Montana - Authored by Joseph White - "The Sweet Grass Kid" ... from Sweet Grass Montana

Sweet Grass Kid - Bury Me in Montana - Compelling Family History by Joseph White of Sweet Grass

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It's Him or Us!

It seems strange that I can't remember the exact date so significant in my life, but it was late August, maybe September, 1956, in the wee hours of a Sunday morning.  The pre-dawn was crisp, autumn cool, clear, and lit by a full moon.  At not quite sixteen years old, I had discovered the truth in some old adages.  If something needs doing, do it now.  If you want something done right, do it yourself.  It takes one person to keep a secret. The secret part was the toughest; my brother, Tracy, could not be told.  And we had no secrets, not from one another.  He and the younger kids, Nancy and Bert, now slept.  They must remain totally innocent in this affair.  My mission.  Mine alone.   

Shortly before two o'clock in the morning, I snapped off the kitchen lights.  The room was cool, yet I felt beads of sweat trickling down inside my shirt.  It was time.  I squeezed into the narrow space between the kitchen range and refrigerator, back tight against the wall.  Full moonlight spilled through the window and ricocheted softly around the room.  After my eyes adjusted to the dimmer light, I put the rifle to my shoulder. 

Author - Joe White - Bury Me in Montana


 "Good.  Good!" I said to myself.  I could see the sights clearly, and my aiming point on the back door ten feet away.  Everything was ready.  Now it was purely a test of my resolve.  How much courage did I have?  Did this really require courage?  An ambush?  Voices in my head argued.  Conscience and the Devil, I guess.

"You can't do this!"

"The hell I can't!"

"Can't!  It's not right!"

"Bullshit!  I can do it!  I have to do it!"

"Jesus!  Jesus!  This is so wrong!  You'll go to Hell!"

"Shut up, Goddammit!"  Curse words were not in my normal vocabulary.  I was a Christian kid.

"Is swearing in my head, a sin?" I wondered, and then, "How big a sin, in light of what I am about to do?"

"It's him or us!  I gotta' do it!"  To quiet the voices in my skull, I took up a whispered chant, "It's him or us.  Him or us.  Him or us."

The son of a bitch came every week now, sometimes twice, to brutalize our family.  It had gone on for too long.  Each time he got crazier, meaner.  "It's him or us!"  My chant subdued the voices in my head.  If I could hold my ground, stand right here until he twisted the doorknob, I had to pull the trigger--I knew.  Or he would!  He'd kill me.  Maybe kill us all. 

Fifteen agonizing minutes stretched out like hours, but I stood fast, fought the urge to chicken out.  Then, when I heard the first footfall on the wooden sidewalk outside our back porch, I became inexplicably calm, detached, almost a spectator.  "Remember, fire the first five shots through the door," I thought. "You can't miss at ten feet."  My mark was chest high, carefully measured; the thin panel would hardly slow the bullets.  They'd still do the job at that range.  The rifle held eighteen shots.  Only seconds from now, the son of a bitch would get all eighteen.  The terror would end.

The son of a bitch was my father, the meanest drunk I ever saw.

Excerpt # 2

Frank McCourt, in Angela's Ashes, decrees that only a miserable childhood deserves to be written about, that a childhood less than miserable would be a dull tale.  I submit that my childhood is worth telling, though I cannot honestly deem it miserable.  After considerable thought, I have chosen different adjectives; my childhood was difficult, at least, and interesting.  I think you will agree. 

Only with the advantage of age have I reached the proper perspective that allows me rational thought concerning some events in my life, especially in the case of my father's cruelty--inflicted only when he drank.  Through the emotion charged writing of these tales, by reliving them, I have reached a point where I can totally forgive.  Never will I understand, but I can forgive. 

Samuel Beckett, the Irish playwright, said, "We are all born mad.  Some of us remain so."  That is the case with my father, my younger brother, Tracy, and me.  Montana is our madness.  I thank my father for this peculiar affliction.  His love for Montana is my proud inheritance.  For me, any absence from Montana has been a temporary and unhappy circumstance. Montana is my home.  My feet may have strayed, but my heart has never left Montana.  Every man has priorities.  After God, country, honor, and family, my priority, the White insanity, is to live and die in Montana.  Like my father and brother before me, my last request is this: "Bury Me In Montana!"

Some might imagine that I seek to live in the past by telling my story.  Not so.  I search the past not to dwell there, but to visit again those souls and events God set in my path to shape my destiny.  I visit memory often and without guilt.  Each time I travel back, I see beloved faces; I hear familiar voices.  I feel their love; it echoes constant and true.  Every visit helps me clearer understand events in my life, the people I loved, and who loved me.

Excerpt # 3

"Grandma," I asked when I was ten years old, "Why doesnít my Dad believe in God?"

"He did, when he was your age," she answered.  "LeRoy was a very religious little boy."

As though she had anticipated my query, she reached surely into her closet and brought out an old shoebox filled with treasures only mothers store.  She showed me beautiful Bible verses written in my fatherís exquisite "Palmer Method" handwriting and pictures he had colored or painted in Sunday school.  I still envision her, near tears, speaking in almost a whisper.

"He believed in God.  Oh, my!  Yes, he did!  When his daddy was sick he prayed and prayed.  He prayed God would make his Daddy well.  When Lee died...,"

Her voice trailed off as she began to cry silently.  She searched as tears reached full flow, struggled, and mouthed words I could not hear, ending audibly again with "...your Daddy stopped praying.  He said there could not be a God."

I could feel her pain in my heart.  I had hit a nerve I promised myself I would never trigger again.  Maybe he will believe again, someday.  I will pray that he does, Grandma."

Excerpt # 4

If I could choose my place to die, it would be in a place just coming to life, let's say in the middle of a roaring logging camp, circa 1948, just at the beginning of a new day.  This, too, is an inheritance from my father.  He took my brother and I to live with him the loggers' life in camp for a week.  Dad's crew came to camp late Sunday evening and stayed until Friday night.  They slept in wall tents on canvas cots and took their meals in the cook tent.  It was our first long taste of outdoor life.  On the first night, coyotes started howling just after dark.  Tracy and I were frightened.

"Whatís that, Dad?"

"Calm down and go to sleep," he replied, "Itís just coyotes.  Nothing to worry about.  Better get used to it.  They sing us to sleep every night."  His presence and steady baritone voice reassured us.

Lumberjacks came in every size and shape, tall and thin, short and stocky, small men and near giants.  The one attribute they shared, regardless of size or shape, was toughness.  Rough, tough sons-of-guns, every man-jack among them claimed to be the baddest of the bad.  Many times Tracy and I expected fights to break out; none did--except my reluctant battle one mid-week lunch time.

A big, burly, boisterous logger challenged me just before lunch in the cook tent.  "Hey!  Kid!  You look like a boxer.  C'mon, let's you and me duke it out!"

"Naw!  I ain't very tough.  You're too big."  This guy was a genuine giant.  What was I?   Not three and a half feet tall.

"Aw, c'mon kid!  Let's go!  You and me!" said Big Burly.    He feinted punches, shadowboxed and danced around.

Other men joined in, cheering, "C'mon, Sonny!  You can beat this big ape.  He's nothin'!"

Tracy, little brother of mine, danced and chimed in, "Yeah, Sonny!  Let 'im have it!"

Big Burly kept dancing, challenging, still feinting, jabbing, coming close but not really aiming to hit me, I knew.  His fists were clenched not tightly, but four fingers curled into his palms and his thumbs sticking up, so he could touch his nose with each thumb as he sniffed, snorted, danced and jabbed.  I hopped off the bench and began to spar with him.  He made a wide looping swing with this right fist, toward my jaw.  I ducked my head back and swung as hard as I could with my right toward his jaw.  Our two fists, each coming in a roundhouse arch toward the other, collided hard.  My fist caught his up-thrust thumb squarely and dislocated the digit.  Big Burly yowled a howl like nothing I had ever heard in my brief lifetime.  I stood still, scared to death.  Big Burly stuck both hands between his knees and danced around like Hollywood redskins I had seen yip-yipping around a fire with someone tied to a stake.

Adrenaline!  I had not heard of it, but it kicked in!  Fight or flight!  I'd already had the fight.  It was time for flight!


Excerpt # 5

Even after separation during our Air Force hitches, "we" were brothers, now distinctly separate individuals, but always "we" through thick and thin.  "We" would always be there for each other.  It didnít need saying.

"There's not much daylight left," Tracy said, "Better let me out to get my running done."

I pulled over to the side of the road and let him out.  "Okay, I'll click off five miles on the odometer, then park and wait."

Twilight passed into darkness minutes after Tracy jogged up to the car.  As we hit the road, I pulled the headlight switch.  Twin beams shone on a sign that told me we were on US Highway 200, three miles west of Clark Fork, Idaho.  I will never forget the time and place of this particular exchange.  It is forever impressed upon my mind.  It was, I thought, a strange subject for two men so young.

Tracy asked, completely out of the blue, "Would you want to know if you were going to die?  Or would you rather just lie down and go to sleep?"

"I guess I'd like to have some warning, so I could make sure I was right with God," I replied.  "What brought that up?"

There was a strange expression on his face, and in his voice, as he answered.  "Not me.  I'd just like to lie down and go to sleep."

"Yeah," I said, "but what brought this up?  You know somethin' I don't?"

"Just asking.  But, I want you to know--," he paused, considering his words carefully, "In case anything happens, bury me in Montana."

"Sure thing.  That goes without saying" I replied.  "You do the same for me.  If anything happens."

"You bet," he said, "Goes without saying."

We fell silent.  I looked at Tracy; in the dim, green glow of the dashboard lights his expression revealed little.  He stared straight ahead.  I did not imagine his words would prove prophetic.


Excerpt # 6

Six months after Tracy's death, Dad and I sat drinking beer in a favorite haunt.  He said, "Ya' know, Sonny?  Something really strange happened the morning Tracy left for Montana.  When he backed out of the driveway, a voice in my head said, "This is the last time you'll ever see him alive.'"

A cold shiver ran up my spine.  I had heard the exact same words in my head at the same instant!  Was it coincidence?  Premonition?  A thousand thoughts ran through my mind at once, but without giving me time to contemplate, Dad blind-sided me with a question.  It is the saddest memory tucked away in the recesses of my mind.

"Sonny, do you think Tracy knew--?"  He paused, struggling, fighting to mouth the word aloud, "Do you think Tracy knew I loved him?"

I knew the anguish I felt in my heart compared as only an ember against the hellfire raging in my father's soul.  I blinked back my tears.  How awfully he must hurt, not to know.  A simple question.  With the impact of a bomb.  My heart ached for him.  For my brother, who never heard the question.  For myself.  For Mother, Bert, and Nancy.  My emotions barely in control, hardly able to hold back tears, I was unable to answer. We sat for eternal seconds in silence.  The question echoed in my head.  "...do you think Tracy knew I loved him?" I struggled for composure, sought control of my trembling insides, and answered firm.



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