Dear Howard,

Last week, my Darling-Brother-In-Law was up here at Glacier County Honey World Headquarters and as always, he brought his guitar and kept us thoroughly entertained.  You would love him, by the way — sometimes when he is changing brake pads or oil out in the storage bay, and covered in grease — like you were the summer you worked for Bill Marshall, changing tires on semis — I get confused for a second, and think he is you.

But at any rate, one night we were sitting around, drinking whiskey and singing Corb Lund songs, and he changed keys and sang a Willie Nelson song about rainbows that I’d forgotten about.  I focused on the winsome lyrics, and for a moment I was transported back to those first days without you, all those mornings I woke up in my tiny apartment in Grundy, Virginia, staggered into the kitchen, pressed “brew” on the coffee maker, reached for the half and half in the fridge and saw it: your obituary, taped to my freezer. Like a coal truck running over my heart, morning after morning, the news: you were dead, and in the peace that often came for me in the exhaustion of first-semester-in-law-school induced sleep, I had once again forgotten.

Mom and Dad couldn’t sleep in the months — years? — after you died, and sometimes I envied their wakefulness.  In my mind, at least they did not have to learn of your death again, and again, though we all probably sullied most dawns with our tears. I remember feeling as though my whole body, and not just my eyes, would glaze over, as I read and re-read your obituary, every morning before class: I knew it by heart, but the brief words encapsulating your not-quite-twenty years on this Earth fascinated me in their starkness.

How can these words be all that we remember you by? I would think to myself.  How will I explain to my children the quiet confidence in your Southern accent, your chivalrous nature, your goofy streak, the way your blonde hair would stand straight up from all the static you created bouncing yourself to sleep in the back of the old station wagon? And a darker, deeply selfish thought: what I will I do when they no longer talk about you?  What about me?  Will I forget all those things that made you you?

But I haven’t had to sit by myself with my thoughts of you.  New friends and old come to Montana every July to  help us celebrate you, and to help us celebrate that your death did not permanently sideline any of us.  Yes, we are forever changed by your loss, but more importantly, we were forever changed by your love long before your loss, and that has become the lesson I kept.

But lessons aside, we haven’t stopped talking about you.  Recently, because of the crystalline mind of one of your best friends, Jordan Gravely, we will for the first time have a tangible place to sit and think of you.  Yes, your ashes catch all the different lights that Gretchen’s Mirror reflects back to us, but now there will be a place on the Mirror to tell tales of your mischievous charm, and all that love that keeps coming back to us.

As a Masters of Architecture candidate, Jordan had the opportunity to build on a full scale, and she decided to create a meditative piece inspired by you and your affinity for Big Sky country.

photo credit to PD Rearick

Isn’t it beautiful? Jordan’s original plan to move this piece, that she calls Hillhouse, fell through, and she eventually created a Kickstarter campaign in order to move it from Michigan to the Big Field.  She met her goal in just a few short days, and every time I checked the link to see if she was getting closer, I was overwhelmed by the love that friends, neighbors, strangers, still have for you, and all that you meant to this beautiful world.

To everyone who helped Jordan, I offer a painfully inadequate thank you.  Such tiny words for such a huge feeling.

Howard, eight years after your death, Hillhouse will stand guard over your memory in the Big Field, reminding me in my daily travels that you are not forgotten at all, and that we now have a place to gather, and remember you better in each July, and on August 27, September 19, stormy Tuesdays, still Sundays, and beyond.

I was lucky beyond words to have you as my brother, and I am lucky, still, in your friends, some of whom I’ve yet to meet.

Oh, how I wish I could slip my hand into yours for one more dance across Charlie’s sticky floor.

GRD, baby bro.

Love, Court

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