the reason we tell stories

I may be confusing my fountains. This is the only sentence I heard from the lady in red walking past me downtown. Both she and I—intent on separate conversations—brushed shoulders passing each other in the street. While I waited for my friend to unlock the car doors, I turned for a better glimpse of the lady who had confused her fountains. She was just disappearing around the corner from the horse statue the cowboys visit with their herding dogs (that’s another story.)

So, I’ll never know anything else about these fountains, or that lady. But I felt a kinship with her. She and her fountains, confusing. Me and my mountains, moving.

Last month my daughter and I were treated to a banquet in honor of my father for his work to promote Montana history. The organization didn’t know how frail my parents have become and how impossible it’d be for either to make the journey for this banquet. I was asked to give an acceptance speech in his behalf and share the details of his life with the audience.

I don’t know the facts of my father’s life.

What I do know are some stories. Would that be enough to share? The way he taught himself trigonometry without a text book while his five kids did homework at the kitchen table every night. The way he was called out at night during the 1964 Flood to become the man  suspended from a cherry picker to cut stanchions from Black Eagle’s dam. The mountains of debris and driftwood were threatening to destroy the sixty-year-old dam and he was the one man in town who dared to wield the cutting torch.


Roadey is a one-hundred pound Rottweiler devoted to my parents. He lives for the early morning drive to the confluence of the Sun and the Missouri rivers, eager to bound from the truck and chase the scent of gopher and cottontail.

Lately, the six-year old pup doesn’t bound anymore, my mother confides to me during our weekly phone call. My mother is the brave one in our family, telling me how slow Roadey walks now, matching his gait to the pace of a cane and a portable oxygen tank. He knows something is changing.

All three photos by William O’Keefe.


About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit. website:

26 responses to “the reason we tell stories

  1. This brought a sadness inside of me. I saw my parents become old and my dogs leave, one by one. Iit’s the way of all things. I may be “confusing my fountains”, but I think that people or dogs are worth the knowing… and there is always a story to be told.

    • redmitten

      oh, that’s beautiful. beautiful in the way life hurts. i can write about the fountains and the mountains but not about what the dog knows. it’s too hard to say it.

  2. so many delicate threads here, deftly woven. i felt the strength of your father’s life coming through loud and clear in your words. bet you did a hell of a job with your speech. like you, i loved my father very much, who passed away this past april. but i never really knew all the facts of his life. i think he wanted it that way, and perhaps if we are to be honest, we all do.

    some days we confuse fountains, some days we move mountains. that’s poetry sherry.

  3. Todd Peterson

    Choosing A Dog

    “It’s love,” they say. You
    touch the right one and a whole half the universe
    wakes up, a new half.

    Some people never find
    that half, or they neglect it or trade it
    for money or success and it dies.

    The faces of big dogs tell, over the years,
    that size is a burden: you enjoy it for awhile
    but then maintenance gets to you.

    When I get old I think I’ll keep, not a little
    dog, but a serious dog
    for the casual, drop-in criminal —

    My kind of dog, unimpressed by
    dress or manner, just knowing
    what’s really there by the smell.

    Your good dogs, some things that they hear
    they don’t really want you to know —
    it’s too grim or ethereal.

    And sometimes when they look in the fire
    they see time going on and someone alone,
    but they don’t say anything.


    William Stafford, from The Way It Is, Graywolf, 1998.

    All Best,


  4. ahhhhh. i’ve had my redmitten dose, my load is lighter, as usual…
    (i took your snippet of overheard dialogue and put it on my FB group page, hope that’s ok?)

  5. poorly written, should have said “now my load is lighter, as happens every time i read a redmitten blog.”

  6. I was a tad saddened by this post…of age in all of us, dogs and humans. It’s a fragile scene.
    Then I read the poem which Todd sent in and the waterworks really began.
    I too have an aging big dog and his character is so big that the gap it will leave when he’s gone is unbearable to think of…but OH! what joy he has brought to me in such a short span! Dogs really know how to get the most out of living in the present. Lovely thoughts on your da, Sherry.

    • redmitten

      kerry- the aches from living. and if we could all learn to give more the way our pups do…..your dog’s big heart comes all the way through your blog.

  7. as always, a visit and a read here is pure inspiration and poignancy tied up in simple bark string. love it. thank you! x love janelle

    • redmitten

      janelle- good to hear from you. i have some bark strips on my bookshelf for fond keeping, thinking if i could wrap it round the parts that hurt the most life would be easier. x s

  8. Tim

    In a different age, an artist would have rendered the scene of your father and his cutting torch over that storm-swelled dam in a heroic painting twenty-five feet across. What a man to have at the helm!

    • redmitten

      tim- i see it that way, the painting never painted. and you know- i only heard of this feat a few years ago when my kids and i were on a small island below the dam with my dad. nearby was a small tour group and the tour guide was talking about the 1964 flood when she suddenly recognized my dad, so she invited us into her group. and then we heard the story of how he was suspended by a cherry picker to cut the stanchions in the middle of the night. . . . years later when he became the superintendent of all the dams, a cherry picker failed at a critical moment on the dam whose power camp i was raised in and a man fell to his death. i suppose that is more what my father remembers than his own moment at the helm.

  9. I think your dad and mine would get along just fine. Photography, trigonometry, communication that comes sideways.

  10. Hi Sherry, It’s difficult, I know. Your post touched me to tears, with your words about your father, and the image of his dog, being faithful by his side and adapting to the change. ~ Annie

    • redmitten

      annie, so good to hear from you. and it is interesting that my parents were quick to note the dog had changed, not really realizing how much they have been adapting to the latest changes in their lives. (which came first?)

  11. warm glimpse into your family… but a familiar situation to many of us

  12. Hi Sherry – have been failing to get in touch with you to ask for permission to use your small stone in our anthology – if you get this within 24 hours (we have to send off the proofs) please email me – thank you!

  13. Rose Hunter

    What a sad and beautiful post. Aesthetically I love how it comes together of course. But as to real life stuff, 😦 . I relate to this a lot also. I talked to my parents last night. They are also in bad health, and “frail,” yes. And my father is so the same. I don’t know his life at all. “What I do know are some stories.” … This time, it was about the AFL (football) grand final. I don’t know. It’s odd/funny I come to read this post of yours this morning. Thank you.

    • redmitten

      rose- i thought of you and your father when i wrote this. dang. and in a few days we are northbound to visit said parents. i hear chocolate cake will be served. the good kind that has to be made a day before and then chilled for 24 hours.

      • Rose Hunter

        That is some kind of masochism (the cake I mean!) and one of the reasons I don’t cook, apart from boiling or frying things for immediate consumption.

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