I made my poetry slam debut last week. Sponsored by one of our high school seniors, I smiled “maybe” when she invited me to slam. Though intrigued, I had written little poetry to date.
Two days before the event, I resurrected a stream-of-consciousness piece from my cell phone. I revised. Rehearsed. Then spoke from my heart.
Update Your Progress: February 8, 2017 at 6:24 AM
you started reading
The Memory Book
41 days ago
Update your progress
My dad died 34 days ago
is that what you're asking?
dictate words into cell phone
read "time flies" on WaPoUpdate your progress
Calls and emails unanswered
Members of Congress ignored
voter suppression et al
he became president
Update your progress
We marched in Helena
The woman beside me said,
"isn't it nice to be aroundthinkers?"Update your progress
I fell on my driveway
wrist to shoulder swallowed whole
got me through
Update your progress
I returned to the treadmill
to walk and to read
Muslim ban and Cabinet nominees
sabotaged my mind
Update your progress
my heart bleeds for our country
my father rests in peace
We lost our Papa in January. In the months that followed, I cocooned myself in his gold and brown sweatshirt, softness and scent comforts on cold winter nights. Colors of Capital High School Bruins, its frayed neck and sleeves evidence of the years Papa spent cheering for his grandchildren.
On his eighty-ninth birthday, Dad asked, “Do you think I’ll live to be a hundred?” His question earnest, we vowed to have a ninetieth birthday bash if he made it that long.
He didn’t. He died less than six weeks later, five days after breaking his hip. As we surrounded his hospital bed, I was reminded of a family gathering twelve years prior.
Please keep everyone healthy and safe had been my silent plea, Dad foremost in my mind as extended family bid Eric bon voyage. Not yet seventeen, he was headed to Argentina for a yearlong study abroad. I fought tears when Eric said goodbye to Papa, wondering if it would be the last time they would see each other.
My eighty-nine-year-old father died on January 5, five days after breaking his hip. He was scheduled for surgery January 3–delayed until his body cleared blood thinners—but worsening congestive heart failure declared itself early that morning. “I’ve had a good life,” Dad said, voice breaking after hearing that his body couldn’t tolerate surgery, that we’d keep him comfortable until his reunion with an army of family and friends in heaven.
My mom and I ordered his breakfast, our thoughts shifted from hoping he would make it through surgery without complications to anticipating the logistics of in-home hospice care. When the first of my siblings arrived, Dad told her, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Inducted into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame in 2009 for his teenaged boxing prowess, we didn’t know whether those were fighting words or a reference to heaven. Fighting words, it turned out, when he mentioned his caregiver soon after: “Maria’s going to have a job.”
The hospitalist switched him to oral morphine, which relieved Dad’s pain without the sedation of IV Dialudid. He had a glorious day: visiting with Mom and six of their eight children, talking and singing on the phone to grandchildren, and visiting with Maria.
A champion of veterans’ rights, he had planned to testify on their behalf twenty-three times at the Montana legislature this session. Now, instead of Mom being chauffeur and copilot as he navigated the Capitol halls with his walker, Dad dictated testimony from his hospital bed for her pinch-hitter appearance. He talked so fast, it took two of us to take notes.
“Madam Chair and all members of the State Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee:
For the record, my name is Catherine Antonietti, wife of Dan Antonietti, who is in the hospital and unable to attend this legislative session. He is a member of Post 1448 in Butte, Montana, which is a mile high and a mile deep and all the people are on the level.”
He grinned, then continued in his own words.
“I was the Legislative Chairman of the Veterans of Foreign Wars at the state and national levels. I voted yes for all legislative bills for the last sixteen years and I continue to cast my vote for every veteran’s bill held in this legislature. I’m glad to see you all back. Thank you, Madam Chair. You’ve all been a big help and I am proud of all of you.”
I fought back tears at his tender words, thinking how proud I was of him. Laughter followed when he said he wanted a beer, then asked for ice cream instead. We told him he could have both. “Just ice cream,” he said. “The kind I like.”
Two sisters went on a grocery run, returning with a half-gallon of ‘Mocha Me Hoppy’ and beer—just in case. Dad had three servings of ice cream that afternoon and evening. He had a couple of bites the next morning, which turned out to be his final meal. He began a steady decline, transitioning from oral morphine to a continuous IV infusion by the time the hospice nurse and social worker arrived for a family consult the following morning.
They asked if we wanted to go to a conference room. Dad hadn’t talked or opened his eyes since the previous evening, but they reminded us hearing was the last to go. We said we wanted to stay.
The nurse listened to his heart and lungs, then said it might only be hours before he passed. She talked about end-of-life care and offered condolences. The social worker did too, lingering to take contact information for bereavement follow-up—offering thirteen months for any or all.
She suggested one-on-one goodbyes with Dad and, after she left, we exited the room so Mom could go first. All eight of us and one brother-in-law followed. Dad’s brow wrinkled in concentration. He didn’t open his eyes, but he moaned and moved his lips. I felt his words in my heart. He died peacefully eleven hours later.
As we reconvened the following morning to discuss funeral plans, Vice President Biden and Congress met to formally count electoral votes. That morning I read factual news, not fake, about fifty-plus ineligible Republican electors—ineligible because they didn’t live in their Congressional Districts, or because as elected officials, they were barred from being “dual office-holders.”
I felt joyful driving to the mortuary. I imagined Dad and his fellow warriors working the Democratic Caucuses from above, particularly Senator Tester who had known and respected him for his veterans’ advocacy. I sang en route:
Papa Dan, you are the man, you’re up in heaven to take a stand to help change the history of our country. The country you loved and fought hard for, Donald Trump will be no more president-elect of this, our great country. Hallelujah, Hallelujah. Hallelujah, Hallelujah.
I knew my chorus of angels might be hypothetical, but I believed the Democrats would fight for justice. Constituents had urged objections for weeks. President Obama had imposed Russian sanctions. Fifty ineligible electors tipped the scale.
I checked my phone when we broke to look at caskets, certain that Colin Powell’s three electoral votes would multiply and he would be elected President. Premature I knew, because objections, debates, and subsequent votes would take time, but I checked again before we segued to our meeting at the cathedral.
Dad emboldened me with the motto: “You can’t win if you don’t try.” Numbed by the Senate’s inertia, I didn’t cry until driving one hundred twenty miles the next day to pack for his funeral. Angry tears spilled down my cheeks. I cursed Democratic senators and told them about my dad.
He was a fighter. Not a quitter. His dad died when he was ten. Butte-tough, he was a fourteen-year-old featherweight champion. He would have excelled at other sports, too, but he had to work to help support his family.
He was a WW II Veteran. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1945, but was honorably discharged after breaking his back in a car accident. Determined to serve his country, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1946 and served in the post-war occupation in Japan.
He was a Blackfeet Nation Indian Chief. Honored for his role in securing programs and funding for the Blackfeet people, he was adopted into the tribe in 1972 and given the name A-pi-na-ko Si–pis-to: “Morning Owl.”
He liked Bernie Sanders. Days before he died, he said to me, “I wanted to vote for Bernie but you said that would be a vote for Trump so I voted for Hillary.” He was heartsick that Hillary won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College.
He loved his country, and was proud of his legacy. Seventeen grandchildren. Five great-grandchildren. He wanted to make their world a better place.
But not one of you Senators put up a fight.
That morning, I talked with a lifelong friend. She said one good thing about Dad’s death was that he would not have to see Trump get inaugurated. We shared our hope that her eighty-six-year-old dad wouldn’t either. After nine months of hospice care, he died peacefully four days later.
On January 21, she, her daughter, and I marched in the Women’s March on Montana, carrying our special angels in our hearts. We toasted them afterward with my mom and sister—reveling in memories of two proud Americans and their lives well lived.
Weeks since we said goodbye to my dad, I miss him. I am grateful, too. Grateful that during his graveside military honors when Mom was presented a medal and the words, “On behalf of the President of the United States . . . ,” Barack Obama was President. I am grateful Dad is not here to watch Trump unravel the country he loved, the country he fought for. Most of all, I am grateful he is pain free and resting in peace. Continue reading “I grieve my father. I grieve his beloved country more.” »
At times I carted board books and picture books to class, one for each student to peruse as I pitched our public library and its special children’s offerings. I hoped those efforts resulted in some library visits, not only because of my lifelong love of reading and libraries, but because one of my parenting highlights involved my lap, two boys, and good books, which segued to sitting on the couch, bookended by Eric and Colin reading “a page and a page.”
My days and nights of Lamaze classes, OB nursing, and read-alouds are long behind me. I miss the magic of birth, but I love the magic of books. Last week a teacher shared a conversation she’d had with her four-year-old grandson about a “chapter book” he’d recently finished, and about his pride at listening to longer books. We talked about Imagination Library, which prompted me to take another look at its website. Two days ago, the number of U.S. children (birth-age five) registered was 900,712. Today, that number has morphed to 939,462. Beautiful. I hope stories and books continue to thrill those kiddos into high school and beyond.
I had the honor and pleasure of spending special time with my parents this summer. Before every outing, my father would faithfully don his WW II Veteran cap. When he, Mom and I visited the Montana State Capitol to pay homage to the fallen Marines of Lima Company 3/25, several people shook Dad’s hand and said, “Thank you for your service, Sir.”
The tender moment he and Marine Mike Strahle shared brought tears to my eyes. “Thank you for your service, Sir,” Mike said, echoing those words that made me proud.
“Thank you for yours,” was Dad’s soft reply.
Surrounding us were the hauntingly beautiful paintings of The Lima Company Memorial: The Eyes of Freedom. Many of the twenty-three Marines who lost their lives in Iraq in 2005 were younger than my twenty-three- and twenty-six-year-old sons.
Two weeks after visiting the memorial, Dad was hospitalized at Fort Harrison VA Medical Center. Over and over again I heard staff say to him and to others, Thank you for yourservice. Mike, an RN and a veteran, wrote those words on the whiteboard in Dad’s room.
Dad’s been home for one week. Following his discharge, we spent time looking through and sorting some of the treasures he’s collected throughout the years. On the title page of one of his books I found this poignant inscription:
The Greatest Generation indeed.
A few days ago while at dinner with Dad, Mom, a sister and a niece, I noticed a father and son watching as we played musical chairs—not once but twice—in our efforts to avoid an overhead draft. My assumption that the men had found our around-the-table antics humorous was dispelled when they stopped to shake Dad’s hand on their way out.
“Thank you for your service,” the father, who looked to be about my age, said. His voice caught as he added, “My dad was in World War II. We lost him eighteen months ago.”
We said we were sorry to hear about their loss, but our words felt inadequate.
As Mom and I held Dad’s hands in the ER the previous week, I’d wondered how much more time we would have with him. Three hours later, he was sitting up in bed, looking much better. “Can I go home now?” he asked, after finishing his dinner.
My dad is tough. He didn’t go home that night, but he did days later. I was able to stay with him and Mom for five more days. On the morning of my departure, we went out for breakfast. I asked Dad if I could take his picture, this post rolling around inside my head.
Often, one of the getting-to-know-you questions is, “Where are you from?”
“I’m from Butte.”
I grew up saying this, even though I was born in Missoula, Montana. We moved to Butte when I was eight, as summer vacation was nearing an end. My parents, Dan and Kay Antonietti, were born and raised there, so we weren’t lacking relatives. But being on the cusp of entering third grade, I wondered if it would be hard to make friends.
I made a friend before school started, which felt huge. I wasn’t welcomed as in the words of Teddy Roosevelt below, but to my eight-year-old self, the welcome I did receive on the playground of my Nana’s apartment complex was just as memorable.
For the next ten years, I lived, studied, played and worked in Butte. I went away for college, came back for the summer, and then after two more quarters on Montana State University’s campus in Bozeman, I was back in Butte to do my nursing clinicals.
Butte was the home I loved. After fifteen months back, though, I was a twenty-year-old ready to get out of Dodge for the summer. In June of 1977, I left to be a mother’s helper in New York City. I had no idea my summer would unfold as it did, nor did I have any awareness that years later I’d be compelled to write a novel based on that summer.
A novel, Nanny on theRun, which I recently read excerpts from in Uptown Butte.
My first reading was at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives, partially housed in the old fire station. As a young girl, I had the privilege of sliding down the fireman’s pole, courtesy of my Uncle Joe. It was a thrill to read my work near Uncle Joe’s old digs.
Between my two readings, I visited Butte’s indie bookstore, Books & Books. As I relayed the story of my novel’s trajectory to two booksellers, I mentioned that my early working title was Nanny on the Run: a Far Cry from Butte.
“You should’ve called it that,” said one of the women. “We get people asking all the time if we have Butte books.”
Hopefully the book’s description will capture readers who are interested in Butte stories. Though my character Bridget goes to New York City, she’s fromButte, and threads of those deep roots are woven throughout her story.
My second reading was at Headframe Spirits, across the street from the Elks Club. I grew up four blocks away. Bridget didn’t live far from there, either.
Headframe Spirits is a place for tasty drinks and lively conversations. Owner John McKee was gracious when I asked about doing a book signing, and perhaps an accompanying reading, there. It was the most animated reading I’ve done to date, and I’m grateful I had the chance to read some of Bridget’s story in my old neighborhood.
I’m grateful, too, that my parents were able to travel to Butte for my readings. They’re still from Butte, even though they moved away nearly thirty-six years ago. I’m from Butte, too, though after having lived in Missoula for the past thirty-five years, I’ve begun to modify my answer.
My introduction to powwows was North American Indian Days in Browning, Montana in the 1970’s. At the twenty-first annual event in 1972, my father, Dan Antonietti, was adopted into the Blackfeet tribe and named an honorary chief. That was, and still is, a big deal.
My Dad worked for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Manpower Administration. In his role as Project Officer for the Bureau of Work Training Programs, he was instrumental in securing monies and programs for the Blackfeet people. To honor and thank him for bringing Neighborhood Youth Corps and Operation Mainstream to Browning, Pete Stabs by Mistake named my father A-pi-na-ko Si-pis-to (“Morning Owl”) in a touching ceremony nearly forty-one years ago.
A Southern-Piegan Indian named Na-to-si (“Sun”) was awakened one morning at dawn by the hooting of an owl. After he fell back to sleep, the owl came to Na-to-si in his dreams and told him to give the name “Morning Owl” to someone he loved. When Na-to-si awoke, he remembered his dream. He called to his adopted son and said, “From now on, your name will be A-pi-na-ko Si-pis-to.”
I have attended other powwows since then. In 1991, Rich and I took our boys to their first powwow. Colin wasn’t walking yet, so he and Rich watched as Eric and I moved to the rhythm of the drums and joined the “All Dance.” We modeled traditional dance steps as best we could, foregoing any attempts at fancy dancing. Had Chief Morning Owl been in Missoula to watch us that day, I think he would’ve been proud.
I thought about Chief Morning Owl as I watched the dancers and listened to the drummers. In 1979, Dad’s work changed when he moved to the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. As I sat in the Big Sky gymnasium that afternoon, Mom and Dad were nearing the end of a trip to Washington D.C. The previous week, Dad had attended the National Legislative Service Committee meetings as Montana’s legislative chairman for the VFW. Eighty-five years old, he’s still championing for the rights of others.