Tag Archives: mothers

Queer is not a bad word.

It was a new word for me. Queer. 1967, age eleven, I sought out my twelve-year-old brother, careful to catch him out of earshot of younger siblings. “What’s a queer?” I asked.

Ssshhh!” He flicked his head toward the adjacent bedroom where our mother was putting away laundry. “Mom will hear you.”

His stage whisper so loud, I was certain she heard him, not me. I left, question unanswered.

I had a fallback plan: Julie, our thirteen-year-old neighbor. She would tell me. And she did. I don’t remember her words. Straightforward, they didn’t leave a lasting impression. The shushing did.

I didn’t fault my brother, though. Growing up in the 1960’s, the families I knew didn’t talk about “the birds and the bees.” I added “queers” to the list, and moved on.

Twenty years later, I had my first baby. When I changed Eric’s diaper, I practiced saying “this is your penis” and “this is your scrotum,” determined to say those words as easily as “Head of hair. Forehead bare . . .”

When he was four, I borrowed a kids’ library book to read to him and to one-year-old Colin. It had cartoonish drawings and talked about bodies and making babies, subjects I did not want to be taboo. That same year, Eric traced a panty liner on a piece of paper. He presented his drawing, pride palpable: “I drew a uterus!”

His drawing did look like the knitted uterus I used in my Lamaze classes. I reveled in his artistry, creativity, and in the way the word rolled off his tongue.

Eric and Karen Buley.
Eric and Karen.

Fast forward twenty-five years. I wish I had known to look for LGBTQIA books. That acronym was not in my vocabulary back then, but acceptance, empathy, love, and tolerance were. I have learned that I am an ally. And Eric is queer. He is also a Fulbrighter. A City Year AmeriCorps alum. An Education Pioneer. A TeamChild Board Fellow. And an MPA. A recent graduate of University of Washington, he was nominated to be both a Husky 100 and a Luce Scholar. He is fluent in Spanish; has lived on four continents; and is compassionate, kind, and an inspiration. His sexual orientation does not define him.

On the eve of his seventeenth birthday, Eric left Montana to spend a year in San Miguel de Tucumán, Argentina, as a foreign exchange student. Four days ago, I donned a pair of Argentine earrings he gave me, harnessing his courage as I prepared to embark upon my first solo door-to-door canvassing. His political activism began in high school when he restarted an Amnesty International club for his senior project. My activism, spotty throughout the years, kicked up last summer. In recent weeks, it has been on overdrive.

Montana has a special election coming up May 25. Our lone seat in the House of Representatives was vacated in March. I have been working hard to elect Democrat Rob Quist. He represents Montana values, including equity. His Republican opponent opposed non-discrimination ordinances in Bozeman and Butte. But equity is a Montana value, so both ordinances won easy victories: Bozeman unanimously; Butte 10-2.

At a recent Special Election Action Forum, a speaker shared a conversation she had had with her mother. When she referenced LGBTQ rights, her mom asked, “What does the Q stand for?” then said, “Oh. That’s a word I don’t use.”

Her mom is a Baby Boomer, like me. I didn’t use ‘queer’ growing up, either. I do now.

Last week, while tabling on the University of Montana campus, I talked with another Baby Boomer. He expressed concerns about the candidates. I rattled off Rob Quist’s Montana values: public lands, affordable health care, Medicare and Social Security, public education, Second Amendment Rights. He told me he had been in the healthcare field, so we talked about that.

Then I shared the heart of my story. I told him I had never really campaigned before. I said that Rob Quist believes in equity, and I was fighting for my queer son who cried for two weeks after our November election. The current Republican candidate had fought non-discrimination ordinances, I said. I tried to keep the quiver out of my voice when I added that my fight was to elect a man who believes in equity.

He listened, then said that my son should not have to worry about being treated equitably.  He put his hand on my shoulder, and told me he would vote for Quist “for your son. My wife will, too,” he said.

I thanked him, hoping he realized the depth of my gratitude.

I had another tender conversation when I knocked doors two days later. The man told me he had lost his wife the week before. His words matter of fact, I asked about her. Sixty—my age—she died too young. He told me about her cancer and her medical bills. I told him about my dad, who had passed away three months before, five days after breaking his hip. Eighty-nine, he had a good, long life. We talked about affordable healthcare for all.

I told him I was campaigning because I had a queer son, and because Rob Quist believes in equality.

“Your son is what?” he asked.

“Queer.”

“What does that mean?”

“It’s an umbrella term for non-heterosexual,” I said. I told him it was a reclaimed term, not the slur of our youth.

“I did not know that,” he said, words thoughtful and deliberate.

We talked a bit more about his wife’s upcoming celebration of life before saying goodbye.

When I reached the sidewalk, he called, “Tell your son there are people out there who support him.”

“I will,” I replied, voice catching.

Tears threatened as I walked to the next house. His words affirmed what I knew, and gave me resolve. Montana has a single seat in the House of Representatives. I will continue to fight for Montana’s voice to be one of affirmation, safety, and inclusiveness.

I grieve my father. I grieve his beloved country more.

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.”

Dan Antonietti. A fighter until the end.
My dad, Dan Antonietti, wearing his favorite WW II Veteran cap.

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.”

Days earlier, I had contacted numerous senators and representatives, urging them to object to electoral votes because of voter suppression, Russian interference, and because electors’ requests for a briefing on foreign interference had been denied. That morning, I called Montana’s three Members of Congress again, pressing for objections based on this new information.

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.

An hour later, I read the devastating truth in a grocery store parking lot: not a single senator objected to the votes.

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.” »

Children should not fear the President.

Children should not fear the President.

My heart ached on election night. I wanted to turn off the television after Trump was declared winner, but didn’t. I forced myself to stay up and listen to his speech. His demeanor and tone were better than I’d seen. He said: “I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all Americans . . .” As a woman and a mother of a queer son I wanted truth in those words. All became my mantra as I tried to sleep.

Non-supporters did not share my forced optimism in subsequent days. Then Daniel Brezenoff started a petition asking the Electoral College to make Hillary Clinton president on December 19. I signed. Resignation shifted to hope. Her 2.7 million popular vote lead continues to climb.

Three days after the election I drove one hundred twenty miles to celebrate Veterans Day weekend with my parents. My dad, an eighty-nine-year-old WWII veteran, said, “I wanted to vote for Bernie, but you told me that would be a vote for Trump so I voted for Hillary.” He, Mom, and I shared our disbelief and concerns for our country. I told them about the petition—already three million signers by then—and shared my hope for a just outcome.

I awoke the next morning at three thirty. Unable to sleep, I got up at four and typed stream-of-consciousness ramblings. Then, awake for the day, I spent too many hours reading twitter hashtags: #StillWithHer and #NotMyPresident. I didn’t know then that that morning as my mind spun with ideas for action, a Peace Rally launched in downtown Missoula. A weekly event, I’ve since been to two, and I’ll march in the Missoula Solidarity Alliance Unity March on December 10. Please join me if you can.

My resolve to do something toughened after Steve Bannon was named Senior Adviser. After racist fliers peppered our community. I felt foolish that I’d tried to believe “I’ll be President for all Americans,” despite Trump’s hateful rhetoric and Mike Pence’s opposition to gay rights and same-sex marriage. I explored logistics and costs of blocking off streets or reserving a park for a rally to encourage electors to “flip the vote.” I planned a postcard event instead, facilitated by an offer to share space with Montana Book Festival’s TextCraft at Imagine Nation Brewing on December 4.

Concerned citizens gathered in solidarity after I announced the event at Missoula Rises and at a Peace Rally. While penning our cards, we learned of Standing Rock water protectors’ DAPL victory. Serendipity: affirmation of the power of voices as we exercised our own.

Writing postcards to electors at Imagine Nation Brewing.Book art and postcards and beer at Imagine Nation Brewing.Postcard champions at Imagine Nation Brewing.I’ve been told that hoping the electors will flip the vote is a pipe dream. I disagree. The day after we rallied, Texas elector Christopher Suprun wrote in a New York Times op-ed he would not be voting for Trump. And in the weeks since the election, a plethora of nonpartisan, non-ideological concerns have been raised about a Trump presidency.  

Twenty-nine voices. Five hundred postcards.

Twenty-seven voices. Words without pretense.I have faith that our electors will, like Christopher Suprun, do as they are tasked: vote with conscience to keep a demagogue and foreign influences out of the White House.Children should not fear the President.Children should not fear the President.

Missoula : Much to Celebrate.

I was born in Missoula but grew up saying I was from Butte. Birthplace of my parents and older brother, we moved to Butte when I was eight. Roots ran deep. We moved into Mom’s cousin Eleanor’s home, newly vacant following Eleanor’s marriage and relocation to Oregon. We lived blocks from Nana, an aunt, uncle, and cousins. Extended family peppered the city and, on the cusp of third grade, it didn’t take long to embrace Butte as my own.

I’ve been back in Missoula nearly thirty-eight years. The hospital where I took my first breath became the hospital where, as a new nurse, I had to call a wife to tell her that her husband had taken his last. My memory bank overflows with this and other Missoula memories—those forged in my early years and newer ones from 1978 and beyond.

Jon Krakauer’s Missoula and a subsequent Montana Supreme Court hearing thrust the Garden City into the national spotlight. It’s time to give shout-outs to recent Missoula news.

  • Noting our “rugged outdoorsy spirit,” Thrillist named Missoula one of “The Most Hippie Towns In America (That Aren’t Berkeley Or Boulder).” Though I neither drive a Subaru Outback nor own a Labrador retriever, this designation makes me proud.
  • Big Dipper Ice Cream is a “Best Ice Cream Parlor” nominee for USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards. Started in the back of a brewery more than twenty years ago, what’s not to love? Currently number 2 on the leaderboard, you can vote daily here. (Voting ends May 23rd at 10:00 a.m. MST.)
  • In utero blood transfusions—possibly the only successful case in the United States to date—resulted in an early Mother’s Day gift for a Helena mom May 4th. According to Dr. Bardett Fausett, “In little old Missoula, Montana, we’re doing world-class fetal therapy.”
  • Missoula is preparing for another world-class event, too. Our tenth International Choral Festival will welcome thirteen choirs spanning four continents, July 13th-16th. Last festival, Rich and I had the privilege of hosting three lovely Taiwanese singers who still call me “Mom.”

 

Taiwanese singers Rainbow, Amy, & Tiffany at Missoula People's Market 2013.
Rainbow, Amy, & Tiffany at Missoula’s People Market

Imagination Library

I sent A Shout-out to Books, Libraries, and Dolly Parton to Hellgate High School staff fourteen months ago. Since then, I’ve talked with fathers, mothers, and a grandmother who subsequently registered their children and grandchildren in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Their smiles and enthusiasm were heartwarming and made me wish I’d been able to offer Imagination Library to my Lamaze students years ago.

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.”

Bedtime reading with Colin and Eric. 1992.
Bedtime reading with Colin and Eric. 1992.

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.

US v Belgium: 2014 Round of 16

World Cup 2014

Brazilians love their futbol. O jogo bonito, they call it. The beautiful game. I had the good fortune of witnessing this love firsthand when, topping my husband’s bucket list, World Cup 2014 drew our family to Salvador, Brazil.

Truth be told, though I was looking forward to seeing some games, I was more excited about spending time with our sons, Eric and Colin. Living five hundred miles apart, our opportunities to get together are limited. Anticipating more than three weeks of family bonding had me over the moon.

What I hadn’t envisioned—something zealous soccer fans will have a hard time understanding—is just how electrifying it would be. To be. In Brazil. For the World Cup.

I’m no stranger to soccer. Rich and I began playing in our mid-twenties and, years later, I became a soccer mom. That status segued the summer of 2010 when our family played together on a co-rec team. Playing short one sweltering July evening, I was assigned to midfield. I still smile at the memory of Colin hollering, “MOM! GO TO THE BALL!”  O jogo bonito it was not.

Fast-forward to June, 2014. In the preparatory reading I did on the plane, I learned new—to me—soccer terms. Matches. Penalties. Pitch. Set plays. I read about the World Cup groups, teams, and star players. I learned that, after sixty-four years, Brazil’s devastating 1950 World Cup loss to Uruguay—coined el Maracanaço, the Maracanã blow—remained an open wound. A 2014 Brazil World Cup victory at Estádio do Maracanã could erase the lingering sorrow.

As we queued with hundreds of others to watch the opening match at Salvador’s FIFA Fan Fest, the excitement was palpable. Brahma flowed; drum beats, cheers, and vuvuzelas created a cacophony of noise; Brasil’s yellow and green ruled the night; and the home team won. It was magical.

FIFA Fan Fest™ -- Salvador

Throughout the ensuing days, the air sizzled as futbol reigned supreme. Soccer jerseys, flags and team colors led to conversations among strangers—filled with either pre-match anticipation and speculation, or post-match jubilation or angst. Whether watching a match at our pousada, in a restaurant, at the Fan Fest, or live at Arena Fonte Nova, it was a treat to gather with others—including more than fifty thousand in the Arena—and be a part of the ebb and flow of groans and cheers, high fives and stadium waves.

Before the France vs Switzerland match, I crafted a rudimentary sign, hoping to connect with our French student, Jordane, across the airwaves. Approaching the stadium, I was on a mission to score face paint to increase my odds. I spotted a young woman painting flowers on her cheeks—mirror in one hand, brush in the other. A young man, whose entire face was painted blue, white and red, supervised her handiwork. They were Brazilians, I learned, supporters of Esporte Clube Bahia, the local team which shares the French colors. As the woman interrupted her artistry to finger paint two flags for me, I told them our French friend was hoping to see us on TV. Her friend laughed and, carefully sandwiching his face between his hands, said, “I want to be on TV, too!”

I hope he was successful.

France v Switzerland. World Cup 2014.

Television cameras did not swing our way during the game. Outside the stadium, though, Colin and I hurried to a random camera to wave my sign and cheer France’s victory. Perhaps someone—somewhere—saw us, but we did not receive reports of a sighting from anyone we knew.

Added sweetness to our World Cup adventures included being joined by twenty-four other Missoulians three days before USA played Belgium in the Round of 16. In Salvador. On game day, Rich, Colin and several of the Missoula crew bused to the Pelourinho, the Historic Centre, where they found a dance-club-turned-game-watching-venue to watch Argentina beat Switzerland.

Joined by a group of boisterous Belgians, there was playful bantering regarding the anticipated outcome of the USA vs Belgium match. Many of the Missoula fans shared a confidence that the US would triumph.

US and Belgium fans share pre-game fun.

Dressed for victory, a faction of Missoulians was interviewed by Norwegian and Ukrainian television stations before the match, and by NBC and BeIN Sports after. ESPN captured them on camera, too; later replaying their enthusiasm on Sports Center.

USA!

But a victory was not to be had.

US v Belgium: 2014 Round of 16

Still, it was thrilling to see the US play. Watching them, and witnessing Tim Howard’s record-breaking sixteen saves in a World Cup match, was priceless. They played a hard-fought battle and, though they lost, USA deserves a thumbs up for making it to the Round of 16.

The Belgium team deserves a thumbs up as well. Their fans’ cheers permeated the stadium at the end of extra-time as they reveled in their team’s success. Not wanting to watch their post-game celebration, we scooted to the exit.

As we made our way through the Pelourinho, a Brazilian woman stopped Eric and me. “She wants to talk to you,” she said, gesturing to the school-aged girl beside her.

“I just want to say,” the girl said in a quiet voice, “that I’m mad that we lost, but I think we’ll win the next World Cup.” She lived in California, she told us, and the woman, her aunt, lived in Salvador. Her mom had watched the game with them, too, “but she’s over there.” She motioned across the square before adding, “She’s mad.” We ended our conversation with smiles and a shared hope for a 2018 USA victory.

Two blocks later, we were stopped again in the Praça da Sé. A reporter asked Eric if she could interview him for TeleSUR, a Venezuelan news station. Serendipitous, since Eric had worked in Venezuela a few years ago. The reporter asked him to add my USA scarf to his nondescript blue shirt, then the camera rolled.

Throughout our stay, I watched people from all around the world come together, and I witnessed how quickly a smile or a thumbs up transcended language barriers. A special thumbs up for Joseph Santini, proprietor extraordinaire, and his entire staff of the Pousada Manga Rosa, Portal do Mar Restaurante, and Dolce Vita Pizzaria. They love their futbol. And I feel their pain.

1974 Butte Central Classmates Janet Finn, Leah Joki, and Karen Antonietti. Then...

Forty Years Later

It is the time of year when many high school seniors are immersed in college applications. Some have ideas about what they want to pursue after graduation. Others do not.

As I worked my way through my final year of high school forty years ago, I knew I wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps and become a nurse. A Butte Central classmate, Janet Finn, was planning to study pre-med. Another classmate, Leah Joki, had plans to undertake a fifth year of high school in Belgium, then come back and become a film critic. None of us envisioned that, years later, we would be authors.

1974 Butte Central Classmates Janet Finn, Leah Joki, and Karen Antonietti.
1974 Butte Central Classmates Janet Finn, Leah Joki, and Karen Antonietti.

Last month, the three of us took a road trip back to our roots to read from our most recent works. We read at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives at noon and at the Finlen Hotel Copper Bowl Ballroom that evening.

Janet Finn, Leah Joki, and Karen Buley.
Janet Finn, Leah Joki, and Karen Buley.
MINING CHILDHOOD: GROWING UP IN BUTTE, 1900-1960; JUILLIARD TO JAIL; NANNY ON THE RUN.
MINING CHILDHOOD: GROWING UP IN BUTTE, 1900-1960; JUILLIARD TO JAIL; NANNY ON THE RUN.
Janet, Karen and Leah signing books at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives.
Janet, Karen and Leah signing books at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives.

Our audiences were a mix of people we knew and people we didn’t; of folks with longtime Butte ties and relative newcomers. At our evening reading, a three-generation family whom we did not know sat in the front row. We learned that the grandmother had penned a memoir about growing up in China and the Philippines during WW II. The dad, a Golden Gloves boxer, had coached prison inmates in the sport. The mom had worked as a nurse at Saint Patrick Hospital in Missoula, and their daughters—one in college and one in high school—aspired to become an actor and a writer.

Years have passed since Janet, Leah and I were the ages of those girls, and our lives are different than what we had imagined they would be. Janet teaches in social work, women’s studies, and international development studies at the University of Montana. Leah received an MFA in acting from the University of Montana last spring. She recently wrote and performed her one-woman show, PRISON BOXING, at Missoula’s Downtown Dance Collective. I, after a long and fulfilling nursing career, am working as a library media assistant in a Missoula high school. We all have works in progress.

To the girls who were seated in the front row at the Copper Bowl Ballroom, best of luck as you pursue your dreams. To Leah and Janet, our high school English teachers would be proud.

My dad, Dan Antonietti, and Marine Mike Strahle share a tender moment at the Lima Company Memorial exhibit.

Thank You for Your Service

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.

My dad, Dan Antonietti, and Marine Mike Strahle.
My dad, Dan Antonietti, and Marine Mike Strahle.

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.

Twenty-year-old LCPL Nicholas Bloem from Belgrade, Montana.
Twenty-year-old LCPL Nicholas Bloem from Belgrade, Montana.
Admiring Lima Marine Travis William's handcrafted knife while Dad and Mom rewatched The Eyes of Freedom video.
Admiring Lima Marine Travis William’s handcrafted knife while Dad and Mom rewatched The Eyes of Freedom video.

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 your service. 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.
The Greatest Generation.

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.

Dan Antonietti. My dad. My hero.
Dan Antonietti. My dad. My hero.

Thank you for your service, Dad. I love you.

Special thanks to Lima Company Memorial for the first three pictures.

The International Choral Festival

The International Choral Festival marked its debut in 1987. That year was memorable on two accounts; it was also the year I became a mother. Following the success of the first Festival, a second followed three years later. So, too, did the arrival of our second son.

Though anticipating the birth of our first child during the inaugural Festival and being sleep deprived during the second, it was welcome respite to listen to choirs in various locations around Missoula. Since then, we have enjoyed the diversity of the choirs and their music in this triennial event.

The Ninth International Choral Festival was held July 17-20. For the first time, Rich and I served as hosts. We didn’t request a specific age group, sex, or country on our volunteer application. Instead, the thrill of the unknown we felt while awaiting the births of our children was magnified fourfold. Will our guests be males or females? Adults or youth? Where will they be from? Will they speak English?

We learned the answers to our first three questions days before the Festival began. We’d be hosting three young women from Taiwan’s Formosa Singers.

Formosa Singers at Southgate Mall
Formosa Singers at Southgate Mall

Our fourth question was answered when we met Lin Ying-Jyun, Fan Chih-Jung, and Li Szn Fang—AKA Amy, Tiffany, and Rainbow Amy—at Missoula Children’s Theater. Yes.

Hosting Tiffany, Amy, and Rainbow was a treat beyond measure. Sprinkled between rehearsals and concerts, we prepared and shared meals, sang, laughed, and enjoyed learning about their culture while sharing some of our own.

Rainbow, Karen, Amy and Tiffany at UM
Rainbow, Karen, Amy and Tiffany at UM

We reveled in seeing Missoula’s beauty through the eyes of our guests…

Tiffany, Amy and Rainbow at Greenough Park
Tiffany, Amy and Rainbow at Greenough Park
Amy, Susan, Rainbow and Tiffany at Farmer's Market
Amy, Susan, Rainbow and Tiffany at Farmer’s Market

…and at times we were guests, both at Festival events and at a fellow host family’s home for an evening filled with food and drink, laughter and song.

The sing-off winners! Cody, Bob, David, Tung Tung, Meko, Hsin-Hsin, Tiffany, Rainbow, Amy and Tyrone
The sing-off winners! Cody, Bob, David, Tung Tung, Meko, Hsin-Hsin, Tiffany, Rainbow, Amy and Tyron

In addition, the Formosa Singers prepared a luncheon for their host families, introducing us to some tasty Taiwanese dishes and affording us an opportunity to visit with other choir members and hosts.

Rainbow and Dai Rong serving spicy tofu and rice
Rainbow and Dai Rong serving spicy tofu and rice

The final day of the Festival fell on my birthday. There were so many moments of sweetness throughout the day, highlighted by the card the girls made for me with its inscription, Dear Mom.

A special birthday card
A special birthday card
Ju, Amy, Sunny, Alice, Tiffany and Rainbow at the After-Festival Party
Ju, Amy, Sunny, Alice, Tiffany and Rainbow at the After-Festival Party

“When are you coming to Taiwan?” our girls asked, more than once during our time together.

“Maybe in 2014.”

That hope lessened our sadness—somewhat—as we shared tearful goodbyes when our days together ended much too quickly.

The connectedness of our world was affirmed that day, though. As our girls left Missoula, our son Colin spent four hours in Taiwan enroute to Thailand. And according to a recent article in the Missoula Independent, Whistling Andy Distillery in Bigfork is going to be selling spirits in Taiwan.

If Rich and I are fortunate enough to visit our Taiwanese daughters someday, perhaps one of our toasts will be with a Made in Montana spirit. Full circle, indeed.

Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives

Butte America: Back to My Roots

Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives
Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives

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.

It wasn’t.

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.

Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives
Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives

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 the Run, 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.

Intro by Ellen Crain at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives
Intro by Ellen Crain at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives
Q & A following the reading
Q & A following the reading

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 from Butte, 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.

Home of Headframe Spirits
Home of Headframe Spirits
Headframe Spirits under the watchful eye—and windowed reflection—of  Our Lady of the Rockies
Headframe Spirits under the watchful eye and windowed reflection of Our Lady of the Rockies

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.

With my parents at Headframe Spirits
With my parents at Headframe Spirits

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.

I was born here, but I’m from Butte.