From April 28, 2009
The VFW in Bigfork is about a quarter the size of the one in Kalispell.
It’s a shack on the side of a hill and most of the parking is for the handicapped.
There’s a small table inside reserved for the unnamed soldier. It has a white tablecloth and white dishes and there is no dust on the cutlery or glass. The seat is draped with a black cloth that has POW/MIA stitched in white.
It was here – since it was our fourth Miller-time stop of the day – that I started to feel a little drunk. It was here than Aunt V started telling family stories while Aunt L played the machines.
I grew up in the east, so I never saw The Aunts more than once a year (and rarely that much). Yet I am so much like them.
This summer, my brother was shocked (and somewhat appalled) at how much I look like our mom. But Aunt V and I are the ones with blonde hair and blues eyes – everyone else is dark. We all put too much salt on our food and though we’re interested in what everyone has ordered, there is no picking off each other’s plates. I hate sharing my food, but in Montreal that’s seen as weird and maybe selfish. Apparently in my family, that’s just the way it is.
The other thing we share is a talent for attracting … uh … characters. One of these is J.R., the old Mexican man who takes care of Aunt V’s Montana house. He’s 83 (and so’s his girlfriend) and he says he doesn’t drink, so Aunt V had to offer him a scotch twice before he accepted. He sat down to chat and Aunt L and I lit cigarettes.
“When are you going to stop that?” he asked me.
I said: “Tomorrow.”
Then he told me a story. Seems that back in 1973, he was living near San Francisco. He was driving along in an old black car. A big old boat of a thing. He had the windows down and he was smoking and just enjoying life. All of a sudden, he couldn’t catch his breath. He managed to pull the car over and stumbled out, got around to the front and draped himself over the hood till he got his wind back.
“The next day, I was driving in the same car, going the same way, and it was the same time of day – it happened again!”
“I would have started taking a different road,” I suggested.
He turned to Aunt V and said, “She’s a quick one. You’d better watch her.” The moral of his story was that he quit smoking right there and then. Good for him – 83 looks great on him.
I have more J.R. stories, but my flight’s about to board and I’m anxious to get on and get home. Meantime, please enjoy this picture from the inside of the washroom at the VFW in Bigfork. Why yes, that is Ronbo hanging on the wall. He watched me pee several times.